This morning we continue with our series studying the letter from the apostle Paul to the Christians gathered in the city of Philippi. As I have mentioned, this was not a church comprised of Jewish Christians, but of non-Jewish or Gentile Christians, people who did not grow up following Jewish laws. Ironically, Paul is in prison but he's writing to encourage them! In this letter he encourages them to choose joy regardless of their circumstances. He invites them to transcend their differences by being like-minded in their commitment to Jesus as Lord. This counter-cultural commitment leads them to live differently; those who have experienced God's salvation stand out in the world as they live into that salvation. In these verses the apostle Paul is inviting us to consider where we place our trust and how we measure our value.
Scripture Readings Philippians 3:1-11
Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is not troublesome to me, and for you it is a safeguard. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh!
For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh— even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
This is the Word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
This morning as we prepare to celebrate Communion together, I would like spend just a few minutes thinking about righteousness. In this morning's text Paul says, "I want to gain Christ and be found in him. Not having a righteousness of my own whose source is the law but a righteousness whose source faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith."
Righteousness is a word that has fallen out of fashion in churches like ours who embrace a more progressive theology. It gets associated with a holier-than-thou attitude, the idea that we have magically received something from God that makes us better than other people. Which is kind of gross. However I don't think that's our only option for understanding righteousness. So let's see if there's something here that we might want, and even need, to reclaim. The righteousness that Paul desires is the righteousness of God.
The righteousness of God throughout the Old Testament refers to God's character and will for justice in the world, and also to the actions that God takes to enact that justice on behalf of the vulnerable. That's good stuff. At our core, we all want to be that kind of righteous, right? I do. To be a compassionate non-violent avenger! To be as we were designed to be, to have integrity, virtue, purity of life, uprightness.
And here's the thing: none of us are like that. I'm certainly not. Now this does not mean that we are worthless or unacceptable to God. On the contrary, we are created in God's image and no matter what we do, or what is done to us, the image of God can never be erased in us. But can we please be honest and admit that many times our character and actions don't meet our own standards for ourselves? In another letter the apostle Paul says that we all fall short of God's glory or God's righteousness. So now what?
Well the first thing is to remember the goal. We want that righteousness. We want to be people who live with Jesus as our Lord, who make no compromise with oppression, who don't judge other people or ourselves by what we look like or how much money we make. We want to be good stewards of this incredible creation. We want to be a force for justice and peace and love in the world. We want to stand against evil.
Paul says there are two ways to have righteousness, or maybe two kinds of righteousness: one is by doing all the right things and counting on that to make you righteous. That's righteousness that has it's source in the law. It's what the first section of these verses is about. Some people were saying that non-Jewish Christians had to be circumcised and follow the Jewish religious laws and Paul says no. Our confidence in our righteousness doesn't come from "the flesh," from our race, or our family, or our education, or even any good thing that we try to do to earn it. Because the righteousness we really want, God's righteousness, is not something that we can earn. The righteousness we really want is not a label we acquire as a result of what we do. It's something that we do because of who we are. We don't develop a righteous character by doing righteous actions. We do God's righteous actions because we have God's righteous character. The righteousness flows out from us.
Through faith, through trusting that we are already accepted by God's grace, we come to know Christ. This word does not mean a head-knowledge, but an experience-knowledge. A life-knowledge. And the more we experience Christ, Paul says, the more we will become like him. Verse 10 says we will be conformed to Christ's death, which remember, was an act of self-sacrificing love. It was a refusal to meet violence with violence. Self-sacrifice is radical because it is totally outside the natural pattern. Every living creature is wired for self-preservation. Except for God. Jesus came to show us what it would look like for a human being to live completely in sync with God's righteousness up to and including sacrificing himself. This act, and every righteous act of sacrifice breaks reality open and allows something extraordinary and unexpected to happen. It allows resurrection to happen.
Which is what we celebrate when we come to this table. We come to this table to know the real presence of the real Christ. Not the Jesus that we are comfortable with, who perfectly fits within our theology and doesn't challenge us. We come to experience the Divine One who exists apart from and beyond our understanding and so is the only one who can always call us, invite us, woo us forward into a form of ourselves that is more righteous and more beautiful than we currently are. Not because we aren't good enough for God, but because we know there is more abundance, more justice, more LIFE for all of us. And here at Christ's table, we have the opportunity to receive it.
Because, beloved, as our ancestors in the faith have proclaimed for hundreds of years, This is the joyful feast of the people of God. People of all genders, all ages, and all races — every BODY — come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and gather about Christ’s table.