[K:NWTS 21/2 (Sep 2006) 3-10]

Sharing Christ

Philippians 3:1-11

J. Peter Vosteen1

If there is one thing that is central to the teaching of Paul and to the Scriptures, it is union with Christ. There are other things, of course, that are very important, but if you were to choose just one item, it would be that we have our life in union with Jesus Christ. Now that's a theological concept indeed which is taught throughout the Scriptures, particularly in Ephesians 2 and Colossians 3. But it's more than that and that's what we're going to see here this morning. It was the warp and the woof of the life of the apostle Paul. It was that which captured his soul; it was that which motivated him. It was that which controlled him in his ministry in the church. And I trust that for everyone here, it will be a controlling idea as well; but especially our student and those who minister in the Word.

We're going to see that in the union with Christ, we are united to his righteousness; we are united to the power of his resurrection; and we are united in the sufferings of Christ himself.

When Paul went to Philippi, he was called there in the Macedonian call out of Asia Minor. This was the first city that he reached in Macedonia. When he arrived, there was no synagogue of the Jews and so he went down by the river, found some devoted women and there proclaimed the gospel to them. As you know, Lydia was converted and she and her whole household were baptized. Later on, Paul was cast into prison on account of his preaching and his healing. There he met the Philippian jailor. He too was converted and he, with his family, also were baptized. Paul then he went on his way.

Paul is now in prison, probably in Rome. He has good hopes that he will be released from prison because he has more work to do. For him to live is Christ, to die is only gain. And so it is that as he writes to these Philippians, he comes now to the third chapter. Here in particular, we find that he calls upon all the people of the church to rejoice in the Lord. Prior to this in the epistle, he has talked about rejoicing, but this is the first time he says, "Rejoice in the Lord." Now he is going to center his attention precisely upon the Lord and the relationship with the Lord. But before he gets to explaining his own personal relationship with the Lord, he warns them of the Judaizers who have infiltrated the ranks. Evidently, these Jewish Christians looked for these places, even though there was no synagogue there in the beginning—looked for the places where they could come and spread their doctrine. They thought of themselves as watchdogs, but that's not what Paul says of them. In great satire he says, "you're dogs." Dogs—those were the words that were used of the Jews, the true Jews when they referred to Gentiles. They were the unclean. Dogs went around scouring the streets, eating garbage. That's what dogs did in those days. They weren't friendly household pets. And he says, you're like that. You're bringing the impure into the pure: you're dogs.

Yes; and he says, you're men who do evil. You think you're keeping the law. You think you are righteous and doing what is right, but in actual fact what you are is converting, and changing and destroying what God is building up through his Son Jesus Christ. Therefore you are doing evil. You think you are the circumcised, the peritome, but really what you are is the katatome. You are mutilators, like those prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel who cut themselves in their ritual to worship their god Baal. Yes, that's what you are. You are cutting the flesh. You want to see to it that every man out there, every Gentile in the church too is circumcised. It's only of the flesh.

We are the circumcised. We, who are now Israel—we are the true people of God, the covenant people of God. And we are therefore the circumcised: not necessarily circumcised in the flesh, but circumcised in the heart as the prophets of old said we must be. Yes, that's who we are because we are those who serve God by the Holy Spirit. You want us to serve by the law and have these ceremonies and all these other things that must be done—these outward effects, but the real circumcised are those who by the work of the Holy Spirit serve God. And we glory, we boast in the Lord Jesus. Yes! We do not boast in the law. We do not boast in Moses. We boast in Jesus Christ. He has come and that which is old is past and the new has arrived. Yes! And we put no confidence in the flesh. That's what you are doing, he is saying. The word `flesh', of course, can be used with many different nuances as it is found in the Bible. But to have confidence in the flesh means confidence in that in which Jews boasted.

He says if you think you're all so good in that regard, look at my heritage. I was circumcised on the eighth day—not on the ninth day, not on the seventh day, not later on as a proselyte into the church. I had it done precisely as it was decreed by God to Abraham and carried out through the dictates of the law. On the eighth day!— I am indeed properly circumcised. I am of the tribe of Israel. I am born into the descendants of Israel-Jacob. I am a real Jew all the way. I didn't have to fake my papers; I didn't have to be brought in through some other means. I am a real Jew of the Jews. And furthermore, he says, I am of the tribe of Benjamin. My name is Saul. You remember the great king who was a Benjamite—Saul, the first king of Israel. I was named after him; I'm part of that. And you remember the Benjamites. They stayed with Judah and they followed the true way of God. They aligned themselves with Jerusalem when all the ten tribes to the north went their way and were eventually taken into Assyria. Yes, I'm a Benjamite—the finest of the finest, a Hebrew of the Hebrews. I didn't have to go to synagogue school to learn Hebrew. We spoke Hebrew in the home. Yes, I am a true Hebrew—a Hebrew of the Hebrews. That is my lineage, that is my genealogy and it is impeccable.

And all these Judaizers who think they are so Jewish who come in and tell you about their credentials, they don't know about my credentials. And furthermore, as to my personal life, I followed the way, the proper way. Yes, I followed the law and I didn't do so as a Sadducee. I wasn't loose in my way of handling the law. I was a Pharisee, a true Pharisee who kept track of that law, who saw to it that every jot and tittle was there—who studied at the feet of Gamaliel, the finest teacher of the Pharisees. Yes, I was one who upheld the law in all of its ways.

And as far as zeal for that law and zeal for the people of Israel, I had that too. I persecuted the church; I was there when they stoned Stephen and I consented to it. Yes, that's what I am. And as far as the keeping of the law, I was blameless. In no way ever could you accuse me of violating the law.

Those are quite some credentials, aren't they? He shows who he was in relation to these Judaizers who are trying to promote the flesh. But notice what he says. He says, "Whatever was to my profit I consider loss for the sake of Christ." Now those are two very interesting words in the Greek, profit and loss. They come from the financial world. The world whereby you add up all the numbers and when you come to the end and get to the bottom line, it's either black or red. It's either a profit or a loss. And so when he added up all these things that were true of him and the way he lived, then he could come and say, "Yes, there was a profit. I was a good Jew and I was righteous according to the standards of being a good Jew. There was a profit there, not a loss." However he says, "I now consider it all a loss for the sake of Christ." I gave it all up. It wasn't really a profit after all.

I am a new person in Christ. All of these things have changed. My standards have changed. My view of life has changed. My realization of righteousness and sin has all changed. All of that which was part of my former life is gone. It's a loss. I consider it a loss. I put it in the loss column for the sake of Jesus Christ. "Not only so," he says, "but I consider everything as a loss for the sake of Christ." Prestige, power, wealth, standing in a society, being accepted by men—all of that I consider as a loss, that I may know Christ. Yes, it's a loss because of its comparison with the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ my Lord. Yes, Christ my Lord. In knowing Jesus Christ there is a submission to him as Lord. You know that he who controls the universe, he who rules in the heavenly courts over all things, and in particular over his church—he is my Lord! The direction he gives me in life is the direction I must go. The provisions he gives me in life are the provisions that are necessary and that all of this fleshly accounting is for nothing. My life is in the hands of my God and I know him. I consider everything as garbage. It's actually stronger than that. It means dung. "I consider them garbage that I might gain Christ" that I can have the profit on the ledger in Christ—that I might be found in him.

And when you're found in him, then what is true? "I will have then a righteousness not of my own that comes from the law." No. "I will have a righteousness that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith." See, you don't have to earn it; you can't earn it. You don't follow the old principles of do this and do that and the other thing, follow the law and somehow or other you'll be righteous. That was the old way. No! No! No! I've found the new way in Christ. By being united to Jesus Christ, I have his righteousness which God has provided. The only way that you can get to God is through Jesus Christ. That righteousness, you see, is the righteousness of his perfect obedience to the law, which no other man could have. I've learned now that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. I've learned now that I of all men am the worst of all sinners. No, I've learned the righteousness, the only righteousness that can be found, is found in Jesus Christ—his righteousness, which is now mine when I'm united to him by faith. I've found in him the one who can forgive my sins, who paid the debt—the penalty—for my sins when he died on the cross. He took care of my sins—they're gone. They've disappeared. They're completely removed and in their place, I've been cleansed and all is new and all is fresh. Yes, that's the righteousness I've found—a righteousness that's only there in union with Christ.

And Oh, how important it is that that be the foundation for the church. The problem, of course, is that foundation in many places is crumbling these days. That foundation is being attacked. E.P. Sanders says in his book, Paul, the Law and Jewish People (page 44), these words concerning this passage in Philippians: "There is a righteousness which comes by Law, but it is now worth nothing because of a different dispensation. It is this concrete fact of Heilsgeschichte which makes the other righteousness wrong." That's rubbish! That goes in the same ash can with the Judaizers. There is not a righteousness that comes by the law. That was never correct even in Old Testament times. The Heilsgeschichte, yes the "salvation history," is that from Adam's fall until the end of time there's only one way to be saved and that is through faith in Jesus Christ. No other way. You cannot be saved by keeping the law. That was true of Noah, that was true of Abraham, that was true of Moses and Joshua, David and Solomon. They all had to be saved by looking forward to the coming of Jesus Christ and his fulfillment of the law. All of the sacrifices of the Old Testament are there to show us that we cannot keep that law, to show us that there has to be one atoning sacrifice and that atoning sacrifice was in Jesus Christ alone. Now that's the righteousness that we must preach. That is the righteousness that we must live by. You see, to know Christ in your life is to know that righteousness.

You know you're going to find that that's so important in your ministry. Very important because, you know, sometimes you're going to get up and you're going to preach and you're going to say, hey, that's a pretty good sermon. I like that one. And you're going to get accolades from people when you walk out the door. Oh, that was a great sermon. Then you're going to feel pretty good about yourself. Maybe I can do this job pretty well. I think you've already had a few of those things. On other occasions, you may be up half the night with mental turmoil or with some sickness or something else and then get to the pulpit and fumble around. And you're going to say, Oh that was terrible. And this old lady comes to you at the door and says, Oh that was a tremendous sermon, Domine. And you're going to say to yourself, what was she listening to? It sure wasn't my sermon and you're going to have all of these ups and downs that will invade your life. There are weeks when it is going to look like the congregation is growing, you've got visitors coming. There will be week after week when nobody new shows up and maybe somebody leaves here and somebody is moving there to another city and you say to yourself, I wonder if this thing is going to go. There will be all of these ups and downs and you have to find your life not in what is happening, not in what you are doing but in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. You go back and cling to him. Your place before God is not in all the things that you do or in all the things the Lord has called you to do, but your place in God is in Jesus Christ and you are accepted in him and you sit with him in heavenly places now. Whatever transpires has to be taken with a grain of salt. All the ups and downs, the ins and the outs. I hope you learn that early. It will help you a lot, believe me.

But union with Christ, you see, if its foundation is in the righteousness of Christ, is more than that. It's not only the position that you have in Christ, that you are now raised with Christ, that you have died with Christ, that you now sit with Christ in heavenly places. It's not only that. It is that and upon that you rest. But it is more than that. As Paul goes on to say here in this marvelous verse. He says, "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. I want to know Christ." It's not just something that you have that is a present possession. It is that and it's more. It is a growing in Christ, a learning in Christ so that what you do in your life and in your ministry is done out of the power of Christ's resurrection and not out of the power of your flesh.

Indeed, the Lord has given you great talents and you have demonstrated those talents while here in this institution. But it's the power of his resurrection. He must keep you; he must motivate you; in him, you must find your confidence for your ministry—no one else. Otherwise, you will stumble and fall because it is Christ who has called you to this ministry; it is Christ who will equip you for this ministry; it is Christ who will use you in this ministry. The power of that ministry is in Christ and in his resurrection alone.

But Paul doesn't stop there. He not only wants to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, but also the sharing in his suffering. Now a lot of people want to leave that one out. That's not quite so pleasant, is it? How do you share in his sufferings? You have to go hang on a cross somewhere and there share in hanging on a cross? There are some foolish people who think that that's what is being meant here, but that's not true. No. Christ indeed completed his sufferings when he declared, "It is finished." But in a way those sufferings continue. We read in Colossians 1:24: "Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body which is the church." How can he fill up the afflictions? Well, this is his body, is it not? this church that's on this earth? It's his body and his body is still going through all the turmoils and the troubles and the afflictions. All that is transpiring and we are involved in that. We're in the world, but we're not of the world. We are here participating in all of the effects of sin that invade this world and we're groaning until the day when it shall be redeemed. But he's not referring just to that. If you're part of the church, you're identified with Jesus Christ and when you are identified with Jesus Christ, you are identified with his sufferings. And as he is suffering in his church until we are conformed to his image, as he is suffering in your life and in my life and in everyone else's life here, so that has to continue and we have to participate in it. When someone is weeping, you have to weep. When someone is going through great turmoil, you have to go through great turmoil with them. You cannot just stand to the side and say I feel sorry for you, brother. This is a terrible hard time you are going through. We understand. Let's pray. You have to suffer with them. Christ is suffering with them—with all the afflictions of this age until we come to that finality, that great age when Jesus returns and we have the new heavens and the new earth when all things will be well. Until that time, we have to share in Christ's sufferings. Yes, and Paul wants to know that. He actively seeks that. How many of you actively seek that? How many of you?

Most of us like to avoid suffering. There's always the strange one who climbs in the bathtub full of ice and says, I do this because it's so good when I get out. Strange people. The world has plenty of strange people. But this is a biblically oriented participation in Christ, a sharing in his sufferings because we have to go through suffering to glory; because it is a part of sharing in the church; it's part of the ministry of the church. Someone calls and they're going through great hardships. You can't say, well it's my day off, I'll talk to you tomorrow. Oh, I know ministers who do. I've had that experience right in my own family. It's horrible. It does not represent Christ properly. It does not cause us to grow in Christ and to have that intimate, absolutely intimate union with Christ whereby we participate not only in his power that comes through the resurrection but also in his suffering. Yes, that is what we must do so that we will become like him in his death. We have to die to our own selfish ideas, die to our aggrandizing of our own position and ways. We have to die to this world. That's part of that union with Christ so that in the process of going through this development of union with Christ, we arrive finally at the resurrection—to somehow attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that Paul's feeling that he's not going to make it. That's not the idea at all; that's what it sounds like to some, but that's not what he is referring to at all. Rather this is the means by which he gets to that attainment.

Well, that's the ministry. That's what it's all about. We welcome you to the ministry. I trust you know what's coming and I trust that, like Paul, you will seek to know more of Jesus Christ in union with him. Amen.


1 This is a revised version of the graduation address delivered at the First Commencement of Northwest Theological Seminary, May 14, 2005. Our thanks to Doris (Mrs. Gerald) Vander Vate for the transcription.