THE GRACE BASED CHURCH — WARY OF THE WORTHLESS
by Pastor Mike Fortune
January 22, 2011
Ted Williams was a guy most people ignored outside a Lowe’s hardware store in Columbus, Ohio just a few weeks ago with a cardboard sign that read, “I have a God given gift of a great voice.” But after a photographer from a newspaper posted video of him online, job offers started pouring in. All the morning shows wanted to interview him and eventually did. Sadly after that, during an appearance on the Dr. Phil show on January 13, the 53 year old Brooklyn native admitted he had relapsed into drinking. So he entered a private rehabilitation facility where his fairy tale may or may not turn out happily ever after.
While his estranged family is no doubt struggling with his sudden rise to fame and continuing addictions, his story reminds us that none of us are worthless. Our value does not depend on whether we’re clean or sober, wealthy, middle class, or living in poverty without a home. If it did, Jesus would be worthless because Matthew 8:20 says he was homeless too.
This is important to clarify before we begin because if all we had were the first eleven verses of Philippians chapter three, some might come to another conclusion regarding the worth of the control freaks, perfectionists, and fair-weather friends we’re studying today who relapse again and again or never love God back. Hopefully, you’ll see what I mean from Philippians 3 so please turn in your Bibles.
Philippians 3:1-11 [NLT] says, “1Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith. 2Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved. 3For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort,4 though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more! 5I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law 6I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault. 7I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. 8Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God's way of making us right with himself depends on faith. 10I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!”
Our passage today begins with Paul’s reminder that he never gets tired of telling us stuff to safeguard our faith. Parents do. Paul doesn’t. Which is a good thing to do I guess. So after this series concludes in a few weeks, I’m going to be sharing some sermons on doctrinal things I want my kids to know about. Hopefully, it helps them build a Biblical foundation for what they believe and draws them a little closer to living like crazy for a God that loves them like crazy. But with this friendly precursor out of the way, Paul gets down to business with the first of three warnings in verse 2. “Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved.” In the east, dogs were mostly without Masters and wandered in the streets and fields. They were considered unclean and to call one a dog was a strong expression of contempt. Do you remember the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17? Do you remember what Goliath said to David? “Am I a dog that you come at me with a stick?”
To the Jews, the Gentiles were dogs as well. When Jesus left Galilee to retreat in the northern Gentile regions of Tyre and Sidon, a Gentile woman who lived there came to Jesus pleading that Jesus would heal her daughter. And while Jesus eventually did, his initial response, uncharacteristically brutal was, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.” He was calling this Gentile woman a dog right to her face! And to her credit, she humbly replied, “That’s true Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters table.” So the Jesus Luke 2:52 says grew in wisdom and stature was also wary of the worthless, but He too learned to love them and even work with them.
But apparently, the dogs in Paul’s day weren’t nearly as agreeable. Most commentators believe Paul was probably referring to a shameless, impudent, malignant, snarling, dissatisfied, and contentious group of people known as Judaizers. They were wolves in sheep clothing. And newsflash! They were inside the church causing all kinds of problems as verses 3-11 imply. One of the most troublesome was their insistence that all Gentile converts be circumcised in order to be Christians. But Paul had said in Galatians 5:1, “Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you.”
So in Philippians 3:3, emphatically in Greek, he contrasts himself and the Gospel he is preaching with those of the Judaizers. “For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us.” Paul said similar things about true circumcision becoming spiritual not literal in Romans 2:25-29 and Colossians 2:11,13. But these guys wouldn’t let the literal go. They kept hammering from the inside on what people far from God had to do and be before God would consider them worthy. And Paul was not going to allow this to continue. So he went all Popeye on them.
You remember what the cartoon Popeye would do when he couldn’t tolerate Brutus and his nonstop shenanigans anymore? He would pop open a can of spinach with his bare hands and swallow the green lump in one giant gulp. Immediately, a stream of supernatural strength flowed into his body and he’d crush the opposition in time to save his precious Olive Oyl from all sorts of distress. He’d say, “That’s all I can stands, and I can’t stands no more!” and then he’d sing, “I’m strong to the ‘finach, ‘cause I eats me spinach...I’m Popeye the Sailor Man!”
Sometimes, control freaks only clearly understand someone else equally adamant. And I think that’s why Paul calls them dogs. The priceless value of knowing Jesus was being jeopardized by people inside the church who insisted on others conforming to their convictions.
So Paul blasts away with point number one: Be wary of the worthless conclusions of control freaks. Not because those who proclaim them are inherently less valuable or precious to God than the Gentile converts they’re trying to circumcise, but because the conclusions they’re reaching about those converts undermines the Gospel of grace and teachings of Christ and was dividing the church. And Paul couldn’t stand it anymore.
Jesus Himself realized there are times for this. In Matthew 7:6 He said, “Don't waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don't throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.” And these guys in Phillipi were definitely trampling the Gentiles and attacking Paul for protecting them. So Paul tells the church to be wary of them. Be careful. Don’t let them compromise the Gospel of grace or tear apart the body of Christ.
And I know that’s not what some sincere people in the Adventist church think they’re doing when they send petitions on email asking people to sign documents pressuring leaders into doing what they want them to do, but I think they are tearing at the body of Christ. Recently the Voice of Prophecy announced that Elizabeth Talbot, the senior pastor at Grace Place, a Seventh-day Adventist church in California will be teaching Spiritual Formation on the Hope Channel soon. But some folks inside the church condemn Spiritual Formation because they say it includes techniques such as meditation and contemplative prayer that are new age and are something that Catholics originated and are therefore bad.
Never mind that Jesus meditated and spent hours in prayer and that Catholics were the ones that made first sense of the Trinity and pioneered the current way we organize elders and deacons in the Adventist Church. Never mind the reputable research by The Barna Group that reveals Adventists rank 10th out of 12 groups of Christians in any kind of prayer and that with all their dangerous praying, Catholics rank 12th! So we don’t need more dogs telling people not to pray. We’re already not doing that. We need more prayer! Any kind of prayer! I’m glad Pastor Rachel is getting a Masters degree in London right now on Christian Spirituality. Laodicea needs some help!
So point number one: Be wary of the conclusions of control freaks. Truth can afford to be fair. The Great Controversy theme is based on love, trust, and freedom. We must rely on what Jesus has done for us. We must trust the Holy Spirit to lead us. And He promised He will.
Moving on, Paul warns us to be wary of the conclusions from perfectionists as well. This is point number two. Look at verses 4-6. “If others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more! I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.”
Paul was not a Gentile convert. He came from the tribe that gave Israel its first king [1 Samuel 9:1-2]. 1 Kings 12:21 says the tribe of Benjamin alone had been faithful to Judah at the division of the Israel into northern and southern kingdoms. Paul had no control over the fact that his parents were Hebrews and that he had been given a Hebrew education, but he chose to be a Pharisee [cf. Acts 22:3; 23:6]. He vigorously persecuted those whom he counted as heretics [cf. Acts 8:1,3; 9:1; 22:4; 26:10-11]. And as for righteousness, he says, “I obeyed the law without fault.”
Another version says he was blameless. Perfect. Surely none of his opponents could say the same. But then he turns the tables on them by throwing himself under the bus. “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage.”
Paul can hardly find words sufficiently emphatic to express the intensity of his convictions. So much so that he uses a word in verse 8 [skubala] that roughly translated means dung hole. It’s the word to describe the contents and place where human excrement emerges. Can you imagine how startling his use of that word in church must have been to his congregation? The guy reading his letter out loud in Phillipi might have just said BLEEP right there instead! “For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as BLEEP, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law.”
This is an area Adventists especially have a hard time cheerfully accepting. Because so much of our identity is wrapped up in keeping the commandments of God specifically the 4th. But if we take Paul as seriously as he obviously intends to be taken in verse 8, we’re confronted with the fact that even our most sincere Sabbath keeping cannot save us. Now or in the end of time. And it was never intended to! Because God does not save people in different eras of time in different ways. There’s a popular school of thought being taught in nearly every Evangelical seminary in America today called dispensationalism that implies otherwise. But this wasn’t always the case.
Rightly understood, it has always been about Who you know. The wise man Solomon said it this way in Ecclesiastes 7:20, “20Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins.” That’s why we need a Savior and always will. It’s why Jesus told a different group of dogs in John 7:19, “Moses gave you the law, but none of you obeys it! In fact, you are trying to kill me!” Sadly, the day they were trying to keep holy was the day they were simultaneously trying to kill him.
You see, even our most sincere attempts to keep the Sabbath and obey the commandments of God could not save them then. So there’s no way ours will later on. Worship has always been important to God. And judging by the number of times the word shows up in Revelation, it will be in the end of time. But we are not saved by the way or even the day we worship. Philippians 3:8 reminds us that we are saved by knowing Jesus. So point number two: Be wary of the worthless conclusions of perfectionists implying otherwise. For they are many. And they are inside our church.
But there’s one more group we need to be wary of and that’s the fair-weather friends of whom we might be some. Look at verses 10-11 to see what I mean. “10I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” Paul’s final warning is for us to be wary of not being willing to suffer with Jesus. Because’s Christ’s call in Luke 9:23 to pick up your cross daily and follow Him is really an invitation to be crucified. To literally die. The phrase has been spiritualized away to the point that it has practically lost its original meaning. Paul is the one most guilty of making us think this way because that’s what he said in 1 Corinthians 15:31 “I die daily” describing his spiritual life. But picking up your cross was not an invitation to suffer and die spiritually. It was what Jesus literally did on Via Dolorosa on the way to the cross!
And in reality, that is what Jesus was offering his fair-weather friends in Matthew 26:26 when He said, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.” Verses 27-28 adds, “And he took a cup and gave thanks and gave it to them saying, ‘Each of you drink from it for this is my blood poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.” He was saying. I’m willing to suffer and die. Are you? Because it might come to that! But because I love you like crazy, it’s worth it!
Paul was willing to die as well. Acts 21 makes this clear in verses 13 and 14 when Paul contemplating a return to Jerusalem asks his church family, “Why all this weeping? You are breaking my heart! I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus."14 When it was clear that we couldn't persuade him, we gave up and said, "The Lord's will be done." And eventually, Paul did suffer and die. As did Jesus. Because God loves all of us like crazy!!! Whether we’re inside or outside the church. Whether we’re near or far from God. Whether we’re wolves or sheep. Even if we’re control freaks, perfectionists, and fair-weather friends who relapse again and again or even never love God back.
We know this is true because this is what else Jesus told His fair-weather friends he knew would abandon him when they left that upper room. “Mark my words—I will not drink from this cup again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.” Are you looking forward to that day? If you are, please join me in participating in the Lord’s Supper.