Philippians 3:1-11 - Knowing Christ 1 : Rubbish 0

Sun, 30/09/2012 - 10:30 -- James Oakley

Anyone who’s ever applied for a job knows all about making a CV. Curriculum Vitae. The story of my life. You set out your credentials. Why should this employer like you? Birth. Education. Work history. Other interests. Sell yourself.

What would you put on your spiritual CV? If you had two sides of A4 to list your spiritual credentials, what goes on? Imagine they’re handing out the accommodation and the jobs in glory – as you’re waiting in the queue, what would go on your papers?

Birth, perhaps. The names of your parents. Date and place of baptism. Or dedication. Or thanksgiving. Date and place of confirmation. And the name of the bishop. First Communion. A list of the different churches you’ve attended. Responsibilities you’ve held – PCC member, sidesman, music group, choir, homegroup leader. Christian leaders you’ve met, or known personally. The date of the Billy Graham rally when you went forwards. Or the more humble things: People you’ve helped, lifts given to hospital, a family looked after.

The thought of that exercise probably leaves some of us feeling a little depressed – we can’t think of much to write. Others of us would have quite a bit to put down.

One of the wonders of being a church is that we’re all different, so they’d all read slightly differently. No 2 of us have the same story.

What would you put on yours? And what might you leave off, because it could count against you? Robbed a bank when I was in my 20s. Better not mention that. A few too many drinks after an office leaving do – that’s one to keep quiet about.

This is what Paul is talking about in Philippians chapter 3. He’s talking about our credentials. What qualities, what upbringing, what achievements would we list? He’s not using the language of the CV, he’s using accounting language. Write a list of who you are and what you’ve done. Two columns. What goes in the left hand column (profit, credit, asset)? And what goes in the right-hand column (loss, debit, liability)?

Losses: The good things I do

Let’s start with the losses, the liabilities, the things not to put down. These are the good things I do. The good things I do.

We might be shocked by Paul’s strong language in verse 2: Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. It’s a strong warning. And the heart of what he warns against comes out in verse 3: We are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh.

The problem with the people that he’s warning about is that they put their confidence in the flesh. That’s what he’s cautioning. Or, as verse 9 puts it, having a righteousness of my own.

So he asks us the question: Where is your confidence? What do you boast about? What do you put on your spiritual CV? What do you think makes you acceptable to God? On what basis do you say that God loves you?

And if the answer is anything in me, then I have a righteousness that is my own. I put my confidence in the flesh. In myself. And this is so serious that Paul warns us against it in the strongest language. Be very careful, he says, of thinking that God accepts people on the basis of who they are or what they do.

Now it’s tempting to dismiss Paul as having a serious case of sour grapes. The only reason he’s saying that we shouldn’t put the good things we do on our CV is because his would be a little thin. He’s moving the goalposts to bolster his own case. The only reason he could possibly disallow putting down that I’ve met 3 separate Archbishops of Canterbury is because he doesn’t hold that card.

It’s like the person who says that they would never sell their house. No matter how much money they were offered. And then when you press them, they’ve never actually been offered 20 billion pounds. See what they do then! Or you often hear it said that it’s more important to be happy than to be rich. But I’ve never heard a rich person say it.

Well, Paul knows how easily we could dismiss him like that, so he sets out his own CV to show us just how impressive it would be. There are elements of upbringing here – circumcised on the 8th day, an Israelite by birth, of one of the most famous tribes, from a pureblood Hebrew family. And there are achievements here. We see the word Pharisee and think it’s a bad thing, but it wasn’t. His observance of God’s laws was meticulous. His zeal for God was so great he chased the church around for years. And nobody could make any charges stick from any of God’s requirements.

Paul was not motivated by sour grapes. He was burning the most impressive CV you’d ever find. He left everyone else in the dust, and yet whilst he used to count all those things as profit, they’re now in the loss column of his balance sheet. They count against him, and it’s best not to mention them on your CV at all.

Indeed, his language is very strong indeed. Verse 8 says that Paul now counts all these things as rubbish. He’s taken them to the tip. In fact, the word rubbish is a euphemism, because no English Bible can bring itself to translate the word. The best I’ve found is refuse, which is still not quite it. Effluent would be better. In fact, this is probably the only four-letter expletive you’ll find in the Bible. He’s saying that all those things that he used to think set him up as a model believer, he now regards as a steaming pile of … !

Now, when it comes to thinking how this affects us today, we have a couple of problems. Blindness and misunderstanding. It’s so important that we do hear what Paul’s saying, it’s worth clearing those obstacles out of the way.

So we might have trouble hearing him because we’re blind to it. We’re so used to thinking that what we do should count on the credit column, go on the CV, that it’s hard to see things any differently. The problem is that we’re talking about things that are good in themselves. They’re things we rightly take some pride in. But the moment we think they make us even a tiny bit closer to God, they’re a pile of … .

I know that none of us would be quite as crass as to think these things make us OK with God on their own. We know that. But once we start thinking they help, they top us up, we’ve turned them into something foul and stinking.

Some of you who work will be building up a company pension. It gets a little bigger each month. And occasionally you’re reminded that you can top it up. You can make some additional contributions of your own to make sure you have enough to retire on.

It’s not just that the good things we do don’t give us enough to retire on for eternity. Paul’s warning is against thinking that they top up God’s grace, give us any advantage at all.

Which brings us to the second possible obstacle. There’s a danger we miss what he’s saying because we misunderstand him. To help us see what he’s saying I’m going to have to suggest things we may have done, the kinds of people we may be, things we may do, that are good in and of themselves. But the moment we put them on our spiritual CV, the moment we think they affect how God sees us, they’re bad. Which means some of you might misunderstand and think I’m saying these things are bad. They’re only bad if you try and pay them into your spiritual bank account.

So, let’s take some examples. Only you will know which of these are for you. Which you are tempted to try and bank with God?

Start with upbringing. A particular education. Your baptism. Your confirmation. Your nationality. You’ve been a churchgoer all your life, not one of these recent converts. You know your hymns. Or we could take achievements: Acts of kindness to complete strangers, consistent care to loved ones, visiting the sick in the community. Or we could take religious pedigree: You take Communion regularly, you read the Bible, you pray every day, you always buy Fair Trade, you give money to charities, especially to disaster relief, you are one of the more generous donors to the church.

And then add your own examples. What are the things you’re really glad I didn’t mention?

Then read verse 7: Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as excrement, in order that I may gain Christ. Put the whole lot on the trash heap. In terms of how God sees us, they all go in the loss column. Write them off. They don’t help us. And if we think they do affect how God sees us, it’s only going to be for the worse.

What this does is turn the popular perception of Christianity on its head. Most people think that the church is telling people to be good, that God helps those who help themselves, and that God is only interested in the decent, the upright and the religious. The reality is that those things don’t help at all. If we think we’re OK because we’re decent, Paul punctures a massive hole in that. But he injects a wonderful draught of hope if we think we’re beyond the pale because we’re not decent.

So that’s the losses and liabilities column. The good things I do.

Profit: Knowing Jesus as my Lord

The profit column is very simple. Verse 8: I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. To my credit is one thing and one thing only: Knowing Jesus as my Lord. He said the same thing in verse 3: We put no confidence in the flesh. Instead, what? We glory in Christ Jesus.

Verse 7 – he loses everything for the sake of Christ. Verse 9: He wants a right standing before God that comes through faith in Christ. Knowing Jesus as my Lord.

Paul doesn’t spell out why this is the one thing that’s needed. In his other letters he explains that every one of us sins. We do things that do not honour God in the way that we should. It’s boils down to an attitude that says that I matter more than anybody else.

We could never be friends with God, but God loved us so much that he sent Jesus, his only Son, to live a perfect life, to die for us and rise again. And by doing this, he would pay the price of our sin, bring us back to God, and open for us the prospect of a wonderful future living with him.

That’s why the one thing that matters is knowing Jesus as my Lord.

And this climaxes on the day when Jesus returns. Paul says in verse 9 that he wants to be found in him. One day Jesus will come back. And when he does so, the only place to be is “in him”. Connected with him.

I don’t know whether you’ve ever been taken by a friend to tea at Buckingham Palace, or to some other prestigious party. They received an invitation for them to come, “plus one”. And you got to be the plus one. You’d never have got in on your own merits. But they are entitled to be there, and you simply go in because they say those magic words: “This one’s with me”.

That’s where Paul wants to be when Jesus comes back. He’d never get to heaven on his own merits. That’s why he’s just put them in the bin. But he looks forward to those magic words, when Jesus says: “This one’s with me”.

And in case we think that Paul has just made this up, this is exactly what Jesus said is the one thing that matters. We heard his chilling words from Matthew chapter 7. People will turn up at the gates of heaven having done all kinds of wonderful things, and thinking that those deeds somehow get them admission. But Jesus will say to them: I never knew you. I never knew you. That’s the one thing that matters: Knowing Jesus as my Lord.

It may be the one thing that matters, but that doesn’t mean it’s a static, one-off thing. Paul is still saying in verse 10 that he wants to know Christ. All his life this remains the highest thing, the one thing that matters. He wants to get to know him more. And so will we. We’ll want to listen to him. To talk to him. To learn what pleases him and what saddens him. To walk through life with him.

And saying it’s the one thing that matters doesn’t make it an easy thing. Knowing Christ means becoming like him in his death and resurrection. Daily, we have to die. We have to let go of saying that my own well-being is what matters. And then we discover that dying with Jesus always means rising with him, and giving up ourselves for Jesus never leaves us impoverished.

It’s not easy. It’s a lifetime’s business. But it’s the one thing that matters: Knowing Jesus my Lord.

Which is why Paul wants to warn us. Knowing Jesus my Lord really is the one thing that matters. But we’ll be tempted at times to find other things to add to our CV. We’ll meet others alongside whom we feel inadequate. They seem more holy, more spiritual than we are. But if we know Jesus, God accepts us and he loves us as his own children. What more could we want?

So “watch out,” says Paul. You’ll meet people who imply that they ride in the 1st class carriage with God. Watch out that you don’t start to feel second class, because with just Jesus on your CV you’re in a better place than they are.


You see the most important thing is being accepted. Being accepted and loved by God.

It would be tragic to make the mistake of thinking God accepts me, when he doesn’t. The paradox is that the more full our lives are of good things, the more likely we are to make that mistake.

It would be tragic to think that God cannot accept me because my life is such a mess. Tragic, because Jesus died and rose again so that we can know him and find the acceptance and love of God.

It would be tragic to have been given God’s love and acceptance as a gift, and then to go back to relying on my own contribution for a top-up, when in reality those things pull me away from God.

Please don’t make those mistakes. You don’t need a CV full of credentials.

Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.


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