Philippians 3:2-11 NKJV
2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship [a]God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, 4 though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. 7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain[b] to the resurrection from the dead.
I am going to be preaching on the text of Philippians 3: 2-11. It is in one of the prison epistles which Paul wrote. It is the book of Philippians. This was therefore written in the time which he served in Rome around A. D. 62. So while I was preparing my sermon, I was telling myself to read the passage as a part of a letter that a Christian leader in the first century had written to a church that he planted in the area of Philippi. We must keep this in mind because the tone of a person writing a letter will help us get to the bottom of what Paul is trying to convey in the passage we have taken.
But before going into the text, I would like to explore the general themes that Paul has penned in his letter to the Philippians. There are four chapters in the book. In the first chapter, Paul begins with a greeting to the church and then speaks of his confidence in them, that they will walk worthy of the call of the gospel. He also encourages them in this regard not to be distressed in trials but to persevere through them. In the second chapter, Paul takes the focus of the Philippians to the example of Jesus Christ and asks them to follow the same example in His humility and obedience to God. Then Timothy and Epaphroditus are also praised, that they would also be sent to the Philippian church to take care of their spiritual well-being for Paul trusts these two men.
In the third chapter, Paul warns the Philippians of those false teachers and Judaizers who put their trust in the flesh rather than in Jesus Christ. He writes about such kind of teachers who are the enemies of Christ and reminds the Philippians that they do not belong to such groups. In the fourth chapter, Paul proceeds to give a few instructions to the church, to also maintain unity in the Lord. As Paul ends the letter, he thanks and praises the church on their giving and that such sacrifices are pleasing to God. So the letter is written to the Philippian church by Paul to commend them on their good standing in the gospel and to encourage them to press on looking at the upward call of God. With this kind of a concern, Paul is writing to us today the passage of Philippians 3: 2-11.
The Warning of Paul
The text begins in verse 2 where Paul starts with a warning. He says, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!” The word ‘beware’ has been used three times which means to say that this warning is really really important. Living in the 21st century wouldn’t help us at once to get what Paul is saying because he is actually writing about a group of false teachers called as the Judaizers who in the first century distorted the message of the gospel. They taught that the gospel of Jesus Christ must be believed along with an obedience to the old covenant. This is not to say that we disregard the Old Covenant completely because of Jesus Christ (like not obeying the Ten Commandments). We fulfil it through Jesus Christ.
But for the false teachers, all of the parts of the old covenant should still be kept, specifically in the passage referring to the rite of circumcision. One must not only believe that Jesus Christ has paid the penalty for his sins but also now learn to obey what God had commanded to the Israelites in the old covenant. This meant that the Gentiles who had heard the gospel were asked to be circumcised to be able to receive salvation from God in Jesus Christ.
Here is where Paul jumps in with the warning. He directs the warning to the Philippian church which had a mix of Jews and Gentiles against such kinds of teachers. He does not want the church to listen to their teaching nor promote its audience. The words used like ‘dogs,’ ‘evil workers,’ and ‘mutilation’ suggest that these false teachers are not from God. They are the enemies of God and they are from the Devil. So it is important for us to be able to see through this false teaching clearly that we may discern what is true and right and rebuke the false teachers of today likewise.
The True Circumcision of the Philippian Church
In verse 3, Paul identifies the Philippian church as “the circumcision.” This is the way of Paul to say that the Judaizers who see that they are the circumcised according to the Law of Moses, that is, circumcision being the sign of being chosen to be the people of God, are not the true circumcision. Instead, Paul reminds the Philippian church that they are the true circumcision. He explains it saying that those who are truly circumcised “worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” This is a way of encouragement to the Philippian church.
Even if they had been looked down upon by the false teachers of the day or rebuked by them that they are not going to be saved but be thrown into the pits of Hell, Paul looks at the church to say that they are the true circumcision, not the ones who worship God based on their performance of keeping the Law (for by the Law no one can be saved but condemned; Romans 3). The Philippian church came to receive the gospel, trusted in its message, and rejoiced in the finished work of Jesus Christ for their salvation, not going back to work themselves up through their flesh to be found justified in the sight of God. The heart of man is corrupted in the nature of sin which cannot please God. It’s like believing in a broken system that does not work.
Paul’s Confidence in the Flesh
Paul in talking about who the Philippian church is and who the false teachers are turns to himself in verse 4. The context shows us that he is warning the church to stay away from those who put confidence in the flesh. But in verse 4 he turns to talk of his own confidence in the flesh to make the church know that he is not talking as if he doesn’t know what putting confidence in the flesh would look like. He not only knows the teaching of the false teachers. He has also lived it which is what he explains to us in the following verses (v. 4-6). He turns the tables upon the false teachers to tell them that if they want somebody who has put confidence in the flesh, then it should be him. But what does this confidence in the flesh actually mean? The word “flesh” used here is “sarx” in Greek. It means body, human nature or materiality. Paul uses it here to refer to the sinful nature of man, with all of its faculties, physical, mental and emotional.
So when Paul is speaking of having confidence in this nature, it means that a person would rely on his sinful self. Now when we turn to Paul’s explanation of how he has done this, he tells the Philippian church his testimony before coming to Christ, when he relied on who he was and what he had done. But when Paul begins to boast in his flesh, he thinks no one can actually boast of themselves like he can as he says, “If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so.” Then he makes a list in which we find the confidence of Paul in the flesh. It’s in verses 5 and 6. There are seven things on the list.
The first is his circumcision on the eighth day of his birth (a true Jew and not a proselyte), the second is that he is an Israelite (of the chosen people of God in the Old Testament), the third is that he belongs to the tribe of Benjamin (the tribe that remained faithful to Judah when other tribes revolted against Judah, the tribe that probably had the Temple close to it’s vicinity, the royal tribe from which Saul the first king of Israel arose), the fourth is that he is a Hebrew of Hebrews (he is of the purest of the pure lineage of Jews who had no mixture with Gentile blood or background keeping the tradition and culture of the Hebrew people), the fifth is that he is a Pharisee when it came to the Law or the Hebrew Old Testament (the Pharisees are the strictest sect when it comes to the observance of the inspired Scriptures of God with legalism, adding to God’s Law their own rules and regulations), the sixth is his zeal of persecuting the church (his actions showed how much he loved God though in ignorance, he went after the Christians to oppress and kill them), and finally, the seventh is that, according to the righteousness obtained by the Law, he is blameless (not the perfection of moral stature but it means that he cannot be found fault with in the instructions of the Law of the Old Testament in the legalistic sense of how the Pharisees saw the Law to be).
Having completed this list, we must remember that to the ears of a Gentile, all of this wouldn’t make much of a deal as much as it would to a Jew. But in the circle of the Jews, Paul would be considered as a legend, someone who is an exemplar of a man of God. Paul is saying that there is nothing more that a Jew could possibly attain which he has not. He is the Jew when all is said and done. He is at the top of the list of the most respected Jews.
The Surpassing Worth of the Knowledge of Christ
The time comes for Paul to bring Christ into his testimony (v. 7). And when Christ came, it changed everything for Paul, the same happens to those whom God would call around the world to Himself. But something happened to Paul. When Paul saw the revelation of Christ, the things that he gained through the flesh became as loss so that Christ could be gained. Not only that, in verse 8, Paul goes even further to show the “excellence of the knowledge of Christ” by saying that everything is counted as loss for it. We must understand an important Christian principle here and that is that both confidence in the flesh and Christ cannot be gained, this is how Paul speaks in these verses.
Paul talks in such a way of Christ that what can be gained by trusting in sinful human nature should be loss if Christ should be gained. Both cannot be gained. One should either put their trust in Christ or their own sinful selves. This is the reason why those who are blind to the beauty of Christ cannot understand the folly of trusting in their own selves. It is also attractive isn’t it to trust in our own selves. It is the pivotal point that distinguishes Christianity from other faiths and philosophies. Any religion except the Christian faith will tell you that you can do it. Everybody loves to hear that because they want that motivation. But Christ says the opposite, that no one except Him can do it, that they must learn to come to Him to see His perfection, incomparable and that He must be gained which would mean that everything else that is of the self must be counted as loss for the sake of gaining Him. The self has to die in order to gain Christ.
There is another question which we must ask here. What is the “excellence of the knowledge of Christ?” That is what is in the mind of Paul when he counts all things as loss for this excellence. In other words, he sees the excellence. He knows who Christ is. The key is in seeing this excellence, of the knowledge of Christ that the believer would count all things as loss for the sake of gaining Christ. What is then the question that must follow this? The question is, “Do you know the excellence of Christ?” What about the love of Christ, the mercy of Christ, the holiness of Christ, the power of Christ or the justice of Christ? When we come to know the person of Christ revealed in Scripture, we would say the same as Paul said, that we don’t want the whole world even if we could have it without Christ. I kept asking myself, if I could gain the whole world, would I still choose Christ over it?
How is Paul able to see the worth of Christ to be above everything that we could ever think or imagine? He saw that Christ is Lord and proved to be so in Acts 9:5. He saw the perfect obedience that Christ gave to the Father in Phili. 2:8. He saw that Jesus Christ was God Himself as in John 1:1. He saw that all things were made for Him and without Him nothing will exist or continue to be as in Col. 1:16-17. He saw that the righteousness of God which was spoken in the Old Testament that is by faith is revealed in the work of Jesus Christ according to Romans 1:16-17. He saw that the Hebrew Scriptures spoke of this Christ who was the Messiah that was sent by God to redeem man from sin. In essence, he understood the truth, that Christ is the only way for man to be rescued from the power of sin and death (1 Cor. 15:14). He is the same Christ who is going to come and judge every man according to his deeds and He is the same Christ who left heaven for you and for me to die on a cross. How much excellent is He!
Paul knew this about Christ and wanted to gain Him by any means possible. I want us to go back to the road of Damascus where Paul travelled with a violent aim of persecuting Christians. As he was travelling, he understood that Christians should be eliminated because they were following a false messiah called as Jesus Christ. But after Acts 9, when he was struck by God’s presence that he fell to the ground, he asked to know who it was that had done this to him, to prevent him from going to persecute the Christians. Wasn’t it not blasphemy that Christ made Himself to be God and Messiah? Was Paul right or wrong? He was about to find out. He was wrong! When he asked, “Who are you, Lord?” the answer he received is “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Do you see what happened? God could have killed him right there. But Jesus loved Paul even after all the persecution and violence he coordinated against the Christians. Do you see a glance of the excellency of Christ? He is a holy God who must strike you and me dead. But He chose not to and instead, came down Himself to die for the sake of rescuing us from the curse of sin and death. This is the Christ whom Paul wants to gain.
What does it look like then to pursue the excellency of Christ? Read the Scriptures and meditate on the truth of who Christ actually is. Pray to Him and ask Him to reveal Himself more to you so that you will see Him in His glory. Come to Him when you are weary and burdened to find that His presence is sweeter and comforting than anything else you could go to. Taste the goodness of Christ and see that He is good all the time, excellent in all His ways. Seek Him and see Him to then realize like Paul that He is more than who you think He is, everything is to be counted as loss for Him, and He is worth living and dying for.
The Righteousness that is by Faith and not by the Law
We have moved on from understanding how a person should gain Christ (it is by leaving the confidence in the flesh through the “excellence of the knowledge of Christ”). Paul does not stop here to speak about Christ. He now wants to be found in Him (v. 9). How can we be found in Christ? Paul explains to us in the rest of the verse, by receiving the righteousness of God through faith in Christ and not by the righteousness of the law which means to be in complete obedience to all that it says without any fault (the law refers to the commandments of God). We know that when we come to believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, His perfect sacrifice has cleansed us from our sins to have His perfect righteousness imputed to us. Thus we are free from the condemnation of sin. We no longer have to be guilty and fearful of death because we have eternal life through the righteousness of Christ.
But Paul talks about none of these things. He is talking only of Christ. Paul wants the righteousness by faith to “be found in Him.” That’s it. For Paul, Christ is all. Paul sees the excellence of Christ and he can’t help but say I want Christ, Christ and only Christ so much so that He counts all things as loss for gaining Him and now wants to be found in Him by receiving the righteousness of faith which is through Him. This is not to say that Christ will not bless us or that we will not have eternal life. Christ will be with you and He will give you everything you need. He will carry you and give you strength. He is there for you. But do you see the passion of Paul?
We can never measure the worth of Christ because He is God who is infinite in His worth. He loves you and if you desire to “be found in Him,” you don’t have to be in perfect obedience to keep the righteousness of the law. If there is anyone who must keep the righteousness of the law, it should be us, who disobey God by our sinful flesh. Yet Christ does not look at you and say to do everything thing perfectly according to His standard of holiness and then He will accept you. That’s not what He says. He calls us to believe in Him and thus we will “be found in Him.” Now again I am not saying that we are not to love the benefits of the gospel. Like I said, God is good and He will be good to you. I am asking you to look at the heart of Paul and ours.
From warning the Philippian church of “evil workers” who put confidence in the flesh in verse 2, we saw how Paul went on to show that putting confidence in the flesh is loss for gaining Christ in verse 8 and then to be found in Him in verse 9. So we are getting there to see the actual work that the false teachers are doing. They want the church to focus on themselves rather than on Christ. They are more concerned about their own glory than the glory of Christ. But Paul wants the church to see the excellence of Christ to come to the conclusion that if Christ be so excellent, then He is the One whom they must be concerned about. He is the One who should get all of their attention and He is the One whom they must put their trust in, losing everything that gets in the way of it.
In talking about Christ, Paul moves on to one more thing, that he wants to “know Him” in verse 10. How does this happen? It is by looking at verses 7-9. Counting all things as loss to “gain Christ” and to “be found in Him” will lead a believer to “know Him.” Paul is not talking about knowing of Him but about knowing Him, a personal knowledge of Christ. It is an unspeakable privilege that God has given us. We can only remain speechless as we do not deserve any of these blessings to be able to know Christ who is God Himself. I find great difficulty however in explaining this blessing because to know God would mean that we know the One who is above us, who is infinitely greater than us, the heights of which we can never even begin to have a slightest idea of. Yet Paul speaks of the reality of knowing Christ. One thing is sure though, that knowing Christ is the unspeakable gift of God to us and there is no gift that can match this. Knowing Christ is also the goal of every Christian. There is nothing beyond knowing Christ. He is everything and above everything.
In knowing Christ, Paul wants to know the “power of His resurrection” and the “fellowship of His sufferings.” This he adds when he clarifies that he is “being conformed to His death” in the latter part of verse 10 to complete it in verse 11 saying that “if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Once we get these parts in place, we will understand the reason why Paul says that he wants to know Christ’s resurrection power and share in His sufferings. It is because he wants to walk the life that Christ walked. Going through that, he would be able to know Christ, a personal knowledge of what He had experienced when He walked on this earth.
Knowing Christ is what we must be focused on. The entire passage leads us away from ourselves, the flesh, to Jesus Christ, to understand that Christ is worth more than anything and it is Him that we should pursue and love which is why it does not talk only about resurrection power but also about sharing in suffering. It means that we will both experience the power of God in our lives when He leads us miraculously every day and also that we will have our own appointed sorrows in the time that we have. The prosperity preachers only want the resurrection power and the poverty gospel preachers would cling to the world of suffering alone. Paul’s thinking is centred on Christ, that in knowing Him, he is ready to be exalted and to be humiliated like how He was, being obedient to the Father’s will. The part of experiencing pain or blessing is there so that we may know Christ more through it. It leads us to Christ more and more because it is the Christ whom we are looking at, to be the treasure of our lives.
In doing so he says, “If, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” in verse 11. Paul sees the final fruit of knowing Christ, that eternal life will be his. He is not going to die in sin but he is going to rise in a resurrected body just like Christ did. But it is not attained by putting confidence in the flesh. The flesh is corrupted and it will only lead to destruction which is why Paul directs the Philippian church to know Christ which is the secret to attaining eternal life. If we do not want to die and perish in our sins, then we must know Christ. Knowing Christ is the only way to salvation. Those of us who do not know Christ will face the everlasting wrath of God in Hell. But those of us who have tasted and seen Christ in His glory to savour Him continually will one day see Him face to face and rejoice together with Him in attaining the final fruit of our ‘knowing Him’ which is the resurrection from the dead, having a resurrected body like His to enjoy an eternal life of worship with Him.
Paul got us started with a warning that he was giving to the Philippian church. This warning applies to them as well as us as we are also just like them, the body of Christ, His church, His precious bride. What is the warning that is echoing to us today? It is not to put confidence in the flesh which manifests in doing things externally but has no power to cleanse the heart of the power of sin. It is to “beware” of the teachers who teach these kinds of things. As Paul stood in the truth of Christ to show How excellent He is and that He deserves to be known and that He is the only way to salvation, let me also say that do not look to yourself but to Him. Putting confidence in our sinful flesh is only going to take us down deeper into a spiral hole of death and eternal punishment. But believing in the name of Christ will give us life and true happiness for He is the perfect One and by His sacrifice we can finally know Him. Let me end by saying exactly like Paul said, “Beware….beware…beware” to then say ‘Behold, behold, behold’ the God-man, the One who took your place on a cross. Know Him and Him alone. He is worthy above all. Amen.
This is the word of the Lord,
Matthew 21:23–27 ESV: 23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.
As we’ve traversed through the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 21 has marked a stark distinction in how Jesus approaches his ministry on the earth.
He is no longer quiet about his Messianic identity. He is going all out. He has entered Jerusalem, the heart of the nation of Israel. He is marching to the cross.
He knows he will die here. His words and actions in Jerusalem will catapult the opposition into a blinded rage in an attempt to destroy this Jewish carpenter.
That is what the mind in the flesh does when it encounters the immovable and unstoppable truth of the Spirit. When you can’t argue or reason your way out, you suppress, you throw tantrums, and then you lash out.
Romans 1:18 ESV: 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
Today’s sermon is about the suppression of truth, which is the de facto position of the human flesh. And now, as Christians, before you assume that I’m talking about those who are out there in the world and of the world and now about us, let me say it as clearly as I can, I’m talking about suppression of truth in your lives.
Even though you and I are a regenerate people who have our sins crucified on Christ’s cross, who are freed from the curse of sin and death, we are still beings in the flesh and the effects of sin and temptation continue to wage war in our bodies.
Jesus said in his High Priestly prayer, in John 17:15-16
John 17:15–16 ESV: 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
He also told us that, Matthew 18:7
Matthew 18:7 ESV: 7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!
We are no longer under the bondage of sin but sin is still a very pressing reality in our lives. We are called to fight because we have been given the means to defeat our flesh. We are not helpless anymore for the Lord Himself is our help.
1 Corinthians 6:19 ESV: 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,
So, the force of temptation, the allure of sin and selfishness, pride, and all the weaknesses of the flesh are ever before us. The question is, “How intentional are we in this war?”.
Romans 6:1–2 ESV: 1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
This is how unintentional Christians think about their salvation. Since we are no longer under the curse of sin, how bad can it be if we fall? And Paul’s basic response is that such thinking isn’t Christian thinking. The Christian response to all sin is, “How can I live in this when I have died to it? I’m dead to this!”
The Christian does not justify or make room for sin, he knows it to be wrong and deals with it accordingly, like one who is dead to that kind of life.
Unrelenting Sleuth On the Scent of Truth
The most crucial and transformative period of my life in coming to a strong and rooted faith in Christ, as I’m sure is the case for many of you, was when I resolved to pursue truth. At some point in my life, it suddenly mattered as it should for all of you, what the truth was.
And when I say truth, I mean it from top to bottom. Not just about the higher philosophical realities of existence and purpose, but also about the reality of day-to-day life and decisions. I realized that it matters that we know why we do what we do and whether we should do what we do.
Life hung in the balance for me at that point because I had to make sense of questions like,
- Why am I here?
- What must I do?
- How must I honor my Father and Mother?
- When and how do I disagree with my parents?
- When do I pursue marriage?
- What do I do with my money?
- Whom do I marry?
- Can I fall in love?
- How do I treat women?
- What are the boundaries of friendship?
- Why must I do engineering?
- Do my grades really matter?
- How high should I aim?
- Can I have ambitions?
- How do I make the right decisions about career and lifestyle choices?
- What movies can I watch?
- Do I need to be a part of the church?
- How must I steward my generosity?
- How must I steward my time?
- Do I join this college or do I accept this job offer?
Trust me, I can go on and on and on and on, and not stop. So many Christians are stuck on so many of these questions because they’ve never bothered to be intentional about their pursuit of truth (about reality, about what really matters) in the small things that suddenly they are caught off guard as though something strange were happening to them. Then, they run to their prayer closets to seek God’s magical answer to their problem while also praying that they wouldn’t catch a cold from all the dust in that unused closet.
John Piper in his poem, The Calvinist, has this phrase – unrelenting sleuth on the scent of truth. Are you unrelenting in the pursuit of truth? I was and that has always been the bottom-most foundational reality in my Christian life. Everything I pursue has to align with what I believe to be true, and what I believe to be true must be ratified by the Bible.
Romans 1 against the whole wide world
Allow me some time to take you through the nature of the flesh as it is revealed in Romans 1. Now, mind you that when a sleuth finds himself in this chapter, he may end up MIA – Missing in Action. Romans 1 is like a mirror maze. Whichever way you turn and run, you run headfirst into your exposed self and it hurts. If there was ever a chapter in the Bible that was written to send the worldliness inside of you reeling in horror and fear, it is this one.
So, have a prayer in your heart for me as I go into Romans 1 and try to navigate our way through some of this truth in under 10 mins.
Paul begins by mentioning his intention in Romans 1:15
Romans 1:15 ESV: 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
• The apostle Paul is a very logically minded guy and you have to follow his reasoning. What we find after this statement is a cascade of causes. The conjunction ‘for’ in the Bible is a word that points you to the cause. It is a word that precedes the explanation, the reason.
• He is eager to preach the gospel. Not the five ways to please your wife or the 10 ways to hold your tongue. The Bible does speak about all these things and they need to be preached, but Paul’s talking about the essence of preaching, the centrality of the message regardless of what your topic might be. Everything comes out of this most central and unavoidable message, of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Your eagerness to preach anything must be at its most fundamental level a desire to preach the Gospel.
Romans 1:16 ESV: 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
• According to Paul, the eagerness of preaching the Gospel is an unashamed love for it. This means that the hesitation to preach the Gospel may be a strong indicator that you are ashamed of the Gospel.
• Paul can’t imagine how one could be ashamed about the power of God that saves everyone who believes, whether Jew or Greek.
Romans 1:17 ESV: 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
• The Gospel is the power that saves because it is the revelation of God’s righteousness that is revealed from faith to faith.
• So you have to work your way back from these three cascading ‘for’s and see how God’s righteousness which is his just approval, moral perfection, the purest right that has no wrong; how this perfection of light with all its power is presented or revealed in the message of the Gospel which is that Jesus died and rose again so that if you believe in him you shall not perish but this pure and perfect light shall cleanse you, but if you do not believe in Christ, you will perish without any hope of a salvation.
He hashes out this judgment in the next verse,
Romans 1:18 ESV: 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
• See how the Gospel is the revelation of God’s righteousness, his salvation, and those who reject this salvation are called suppressers of the truth.
Jesus, when talking about our salvation said, in John 14:6
John 14:6 ESV: 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
This is the glory of the truth, that Jesus is the truth.
When Moses asked God for his name in Exodus 33, God responded with ‘I AM’. There is a reason that this is the highest name. When you and I use our names we are using words to represent who we are. They are identifying titles to who we are as a person. But who God is as a Being is Existence as we know it.
John 1:3 ESV: 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
No creature can claim to exist apart from God. We exist because he exists.
In much the same way, when Jesus says that he is the truth, he means to say that there is no truth if there is no Christ. He is the Truth.
Paul tells that Christ is the One,
Colossians 2:3 ESV: 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
There is no knowledge apart from knowing Christ. The one who forsakes Christ is forsaking knowledge.
Therefore, what sin does, what the flesh in unrighteousness does, is forsake Christ because you can’t argue with truth, you have to yield. But if you don’t want to yield, the only thing you can do is ‘suppress’.
And when you suppress, you forsake knowledge, wisdom, and above all, truth.
And God’s wrath is revealed against such people.
Romans 1:19–21 ESV: 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
• God has made plain to us the truth. Every act of creation, the cosmos is a constant megaphone declaring to you the truth about God. You cannot escape it. Therefore, sin is not ignorant, it is intentional. It is foolishness.
Hebrews 1:1–2 ESV: 1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
God has always been speaking, and the coming of Jesus was the loudest and clearest speech. The Gospel is the loudest statement from Heaven.
So, in summarising this cascading causes in Romans 1, God has always been revealing the truth to the world, and the Gospel is the loudest and clearest message of truth. And through the Gospel is revealed the power of God for righteousness and salvation to those who are in the unrelenting pursuit of truth, but for those who suppress the truth the Gospel is the decisive stroke of judgment.
The Centrality of Truth
When the Gospel took such root in my life, I understood that I cannot answer any of the questions in my life meaningfully without the reality of this God in my life.
I understood that the only place that I can find the answers to all the questions pertaining to my life were in the pages of the Bible.
Cornelius Van Til, a Dutch-American philosopher and theologian was famously known to have said that The Bible is authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything.
And this has been the foundation stone of much of my practical Christian life and even my apologetics.
Armed with this understanding, let us look at this short passage in Matthew 21
Matthew 21:23 ESV: 23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
• Here we find Jesus back at the temple teaching the people. The Messiah had gone from cleansing the temple to healing the sick and now teaching them.
For all the parents in the room, here is a picture of how the rod of discipline should be used. Discipline is meant to drive out the evil, heal the wounded and to teach.
If you use the rod only to punish and not to heal or to teach, then you are in greater need of the rod than your children.
Be Christlike in your parenting. Let your anger heal and train, not destroy those whom God has placed under your care.
• If there was one thing that the people could not deny, it was the authority with which Jesus spoke and did what he did.
In an earlier passage we’d read,
Matthew 7:28–29 ESV: 28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
So, when Jesus chases out the money changers and traders from the temple courts and then heals the truly needy and teaches them in the place where only yesterday was buzzing with trade, the crowds are watching an authoritative man.
In fact, such was the authority with which he conducted himself that none opposed him as he disrupted trade across acres of land overturning the table of the money changers, beating and driving out birds and goats and the people.
• This again is the nature of Christ, the truth. Since God is the I AM, the only uncaused cause, the very embodiment of existence as we know it; that when he shows up, the authority of his presence will be unlike anything else that exists. When God walks into the room so-to-speak, it’ll be unlike anyone else walking into the room. His very existence is existence.
And here, standing before these Jews was the very truth incarnate, the highest truth and instead of falling flat on their face, they wanted to know his credentials.
This is what the flesh does when it encounters truth. You cannot deny it, debate it, overpower it, so you suppress, you dismiss, and what better way to do that than you try and discredit it.
• By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?
This question is two-fold. It questions Jesus’ authority and the one who gave him that authority. They cannot question the reasoning behind his cleansing of the temple, they cannot deny the reality that people are healed, and they cannot argue with his teaching. So, they ask for his qualifications.
Matthew 13:55 ESV: 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?
John 1:46 ESV: 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
Matthew 21:24 ESV: 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things.
• For those of you here who are more technically aligned, here is an example of what we call pre-suppositional apologetics. Jesus does not rush to satisfy their request to see the evidence of his qualification. Instead, he presupposes their worldview according to which it does not matter if someone is speaking the truth or doing good things, it matters that he is officially given such authority.
Matthew 21:25–26 ESV: 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”
• According to their worldview, if they denied John’s authority, the crowds would turn against them because they believed he is a prophet. On the other hand, if they agreed that it was from heaven, then they are caught for not believing him. Jesus knew that the Chief priests and elders were behaving inconsistently. That they were swayed not by credentials but by the lust for power and the authority they possessed over the people. This forced them to behave inconsistently in how they dealt with John’s ministry. Though they themselves did not believe John, they did not oppose him in front of the crowd.
• Now, see how when push comes to shove, they weren’t bothered about the truth. They did not want to answer truthfully. ‘If we say this, then…’
So many of us in our flesh deal with life in this manner. These chiefs, elders of the people would not answer truthfully because it would either lose them their popularity or it would hurt their ego.
Is Truth your higher treasure? Or are you all about truth when it is most convenient for you?
• How would you deal with sin if it were pointed out to you by your children? Would you receive it or would you question the maturity of their age, their authority?
• The piety of these elders of Israel was an outer display with no inward reality. They prayed aloud so that they could be seen by others, they were generous so that people would speak highly of them.
Are you the same Christian on the inside as you have shown yourself to be on the outside?
When push comes to shove, are you as heavenly minded as you say you are? Do you desire the glory of his name, the glory of his church, and building of his kingdom above all things? Or do you desire your own welfare more?
• Doug Wilson talks about how Christians like to put sin and righteousness on the stuff rather than weigh it upon their hearts. Some like to see their righteousness in the fact that they don’t watch movies, listen to secular music or hang around with unbelievers. Yet none of these things prove any measure of your righteousness.
If you must know, your pastor watches movies, listens to secular music, and hangs around with his unbeliever friends. The measure of my righteousness is not found in me avoiding this world because I am in this world. It must be measured by how much the world has not mastered me, but how in Christ I have mastered the world.
Have you not read Paul who wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:23
1 Corinthians 10:23 ESV: 23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.
• How true is your faith? How genuine is your confession? How passionate are you to want truth to be the banner over your home?
It is easy to be a Christian on a Sunday morning and behind a pulpit. But how Christian are you at home?
Matthew 21:27 ESV: 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.
• We do not know – In what they thought would be a wise response, they revealed their foolishness. These who came to question Jesus’ authority were people without knowledge. They were left empty and their response shows their lack of authority.
Christ who spoke and worked with such authority stood in stark contrast to these who could not answer his question.
So, Jesus establishes his superior authority by revealing the spiritual nakedness of the Jewish elite.
• And as John Piper pointed out, “Jesus does not deal with those who suppress the truth.”
Jesus who is the very embodiment of truth, does not deal with those who do not love the truth.
The spiritually mature person is one who has gone down further along the road of truth, those who are more aware of it and have aligned their lives to it.
• Anxiety – Trust
• Interests of others
• Dependence on God more than money
• Obey scripture more than culture
• Pray more
• Whose ambitions serve the Glory of God and the good of his Church