“Pressing On”
Philippians 3:1-14
We continue today with reading Philippians, which was originally a letter written by Paul, while in prison in Rome, to the church in Philippi, around 62 A.D. The church had sent money to Paul to provide for his food and needs while in house arrest. Today’s section of the letter is where Paul encourages his friends to hang tight, and not give up. 
How did a letter from a prisoner, to a home church end up as a book of the Bible? How did any of the 66 books of the book we know as the Holy Bible manage to be chosen. I believe it is important for us to recognize exactly what we are reading when we pick up the Bible. In the English language we call them “books” but within their historical context, many of them were not “books” in the sense we in the 21st Century view books. 
Instead, they were the copies of the Torah, the Jewish history of papyri writings we know of as the Old Testament, along with a compilation of letters that were being passed from church to church. It wasn’t until 367 A.D. that the church father Athanasius compiled the 66 books which are called the “canon.” He came up with this list because it was understood that all the documents that were being distributed and read throughout the Christian churches were not all inspired by God. This list was universally accepted as inspired by God and authoritative for faith and life. The choosing of the canon wasn’t something that happened immediately, but was a product of centuries of reflection. 
This letter to the Philippians, is just that, a letter, and as such, should be read as if we were sitting in a 1st Century church and having someone read it to us.
Like any letter we would check in when we hear something that resonates with us personally. As if Paul were writing it to the Damariscotta Baptist Church to assist us in our walk with God. 
In the midst of this letter, Paul continues to remind his brothers and sisters to “Rejoice in the Lord!” This is an excellent practice for anyone whose life is going crazy, and things don’t seem to be at peace. Paul even writes that he finds it no trouble to keep writing the same thing over and over. It sounds simple, “Rejoice in the Lord!” but how often do we forget it? About as often as it takes for the tyranny of the urgent to take over. The kids are restless, the dog is sick, you’re not prepared for whatever is next on your agenda, and for some reason you failed to get enough sleep last night. Life has its way of taking over. 
Paul knows that, and so he gently reminds us to, “Rejoice in the Lord!” Take five. Sing a praise song. Whisper a prayer. Check in with God and breathe. 
Secondly, Paul gives his often repeated warning and contrast between the Judiazers and the believers in Christ. Followed by his personal story where he demonstrates the failure of putting trust in the Torah observance. He concludes with his striving for the eschatological goal of eternity with Jesus, by participating in Christ’s suffering which leads to participating in Christ’s resurrection. 
Paul starts his appeal against circumcision, in verse 2. This has been a common warning for Paul so you have to wonder what the attractiveness the Judiazers presented to Gentiles to make them even want to entertain the prospect? 
In fact, there is no reason to believe that there were people in Philippi promoting such heresy. Paul may have wanted to remind the church to put Christ first before any human made stipulations. Paul establishes his warning to “look out for” Jewish Christians who promote circumcision among Gentile believers. He calls them “dogs” which was a metaphor as “low-life” as dogs at his time were seen as scavengers and generally detested by Greco-Roman society, and considered unclean by the Jews. 
Paul also calls the Jews, “evil-doers.” Paul saw Jews who were trying to make Gentiles submit to Torah in order to make them “righteous” as down right evil. He then calls them “mutilators of the flesh.” The Greek word for circumcision means literally “to cut around,” and the Greek word for mutilator literally means, “cutting to pieces.” 
Paul was using a Greek word play, as he focused on the activity itself. Rather than the service of “cutting away the flesh” to demonstrate one is a true member of God’s family, Paul writes it is the service of God’s people in terms of their devotion and evidenced by the way they live that demonstrates righteousness. The Torah claims “laws need to be observed.” Paul claims that because of what Christ has done, the Spirit is the one who circumcises the heart, and replaces the flesh with Himself. The believer receives righteousness when they place their trust in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit. No more need for a physical circumcision. 
God has established a new covenant and the observance of the Torah is no longer necessary. What is necessary is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and when that occurs the confidence in the flesh is no longer needed. 
Although Paul continues with the premise that the Judizers want to continue to play their game, Paul concedes and says, “Game On!” This was a game in which Paul excelled and he was about to demonstrate just how fruitless their game really was.
Paul wasn’t telling his friends at Philippi anything they didn’t already know. This section of the letter is where Paul puts forth his own list of “status” symbols. Basically he was a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” Not only did he receive these symbols from birth, such as being born of the tribe of Benjamin, his parents had him circumcised on the eighth day. He studied hard and became an exemplary Pharisee and went over the top in defending Judaism to the point of hunting down Christians, to persecute them. He ends by stating, as for righteousness based on the law, he was faultless. That is a pretty amazing statement. 
I looked it up what it would take to be faultless in Jewish law and there were 613 commandments one must follow. 365 negative commands from which to abstain, which coincides with the number of days in the solar year, and 248 positive commandments which matched the number of bones and main organs known in the human body. 
Paul was making the point that what the Judiazers were claiming was “righteousness,” Paul had excelled and what did it get him? 
Empty and meaningless
There was no future in it. 
Whatever human gains he had, he now considers them rubbish, for the sake of Christ. 
Paul uses a gain/loss metaphor in light of the loss of his accomplishments and concludes by giving an explanation of what it means for him to “gain Christ.” 
The argument  Paul presents is profound. In the world’s eyes, he was at the top of his game. There were few Jewish leaders who could compare to his birth, upbringing, education, and status within the religious establishment. Can you imagine what his parents said when he visited them after his encounter on the road to Damascus? 
“What do you mean you no longer want to be a Pharisee?” “What on earth has persuaded you to follow Jesus?” 
“We need to get you to a doctor, something is seriously wrong with you.” 
“Think of all the money and time we have invested in you.”
“You can’t just throw it all away on some cult!”
You see, once Paul met Jesus, face to face he was able to see clearly. 
From that point on, Paul considered his former “gains” as “losses.” Knowing Christ outbeat anything the Jewish faith could offer. As Christ was found in human likeness, Paul was now found in Christ.
There was another young man that met Christ, he too was blameless, and he asked Jesus what good thing he needed to do to obtain eternal life. Jesus returned with a question 
“Why do you ask me what is good? Keep the commandments.” 
“Which ones?” asked the young man.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Even the disciples thought the way to eternity had been and always would be, for those who were blessed with wealth and did everything according to the Torah. 
Yet with God, anything is possible. 
That statement alone should remind us that our trust in our bank accounts, in our jobs, in our status, in our place in society, for all extensive purposes, is worth nothing, save the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We may not have Judaizers checking up on us to make sure we are“correctly religious.” Although it might be a good idea, because often we become so entrenched in the world, that we forget the very message Paul was giving to those at Philippi.  
He focused on two items:
That their love for one another would increase as they learned in humility to consider the needs of others to be more important than their own. Just as Christ demonstrated by his death on the cross
That they learn to “rejoice in the Lord” even in the midst of suffering. They were to understand that in order to be “conformed to Christ in His resurrection,” they needed to first be “conformed to Christ in His death.” 
For us today, it may seem painful, yet for Paul, he was not limited by such stoicism often exhibited in historic Christianity. Somehow in America we have this idea of Christians having to “slug it out in the trenches,” with little or no sense of Christ’s presence and power. 
Not Paul, since his encounter on the road to Damascus, Paul had thrown himself line, hook and sinker, with reckless abandon, full of rejoicing thanksgiving into his relationship with Jesus. To Paul, suffering was just part of the game, he chose not to focus on the suffering but to focus on the presence of the Spirit of Christ within him, always. In fact, for Paul, the presence of suffering was evidence that he was right where he was supposed to be.
Paul concludes, reminding the Philippians that although he has not reached the goal, which was “to know Christ,” fully, he continues to “press on,” or work with all he is and has, in order to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold for him. Paul may be seen as a leading apostle, just like he was looked upon as an outstanding Pharisee, but for Paul, it wasn’t about what Paul had done, but what Christ had done first for him, that he was even able to live for Christ. 
Paul then reveals his humility to his brothers and sisters in Christ. If Paul could say he hadn’t yet taken hold of “it,” then who could? Paul’s desire was to relay to his fellow believers that perfectionism was not the issue; perseverance with regard to Christ and the gospel was what they should be striving for. So Paul sets up the analogy of a runner whose reason for running was one thing, to win the prize. First Paul sees the runner as not being distracted by other things, namely others in the race. Am I first? Are others beating me? These questions are not part of this runner’s thoughts.  No way, this runner is focused, straight ahead, she is not looking behind, but straining for what is ahead. This runner presses on towards the goal, the finish line, which for Paul was the consummation of what he already had, “being with Christ.” Paul uses this analogy to encourage the Philippians to join him in the race. 
He wants them to keep a firm grip on their certain future, not to get distracted along the way with lesser things, whether it be the Torah observation or oppressors. He wants them to join him with achieving the prize, that of gaining Christ fully and completely. 
Paul believed that this prize was received because God had called him heavenward. Paul saw all of Christian life in terms of “God’s calling.” First, God calls us into fellowship with His Son, (1 Corinthians 1:9). This call results in us becoming “saints,” and we are joined to His people who are going to heaven. This has been God’s plan all along, it happened “in Christ Jesus” meaning in his death and resurrection.” This plan is for those of us who trust in and therefore live in “Christ Jesus.” Ultimately, Christ is both the means and the end of God’s call: and knowing Him fully, being with Him eternally is the prize. 
Somewhere along the line, the idea of having a singular and passionate focus on eternity with Christ, has often been lost in today’s Christian church. Oh it’s okay to have your own faith, and keep it to yourself, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of others. Apologetics has lost its fervor. The world promotes a scientific view, not one where you spend eternity with a personal God. Everywhere we turn we are bombarded with consumerism. If we are not focusing on the bottom line, making a profit, establishing a pension for retirement, something is wrong. 
For those who have all those things, who needs Jesus? 
Yet it is in our human nature to be oriented for the future, but for many in the world today, the future is bleak. This is where Christians should seize the day. 
This is an opportunity for those who recognize Christ as the beginning and end of all things meaningful, to be reminded, we need to share this hope with the world. God’s purposes for His creation are not finished until He has brought our salvation to completion. For those of us who believe, Paul encourages us to “Press On,” not be discouraged, but to be encouraged, as there is no other prize, in fact nothing else on earth, that counts, except “knowing Christ,” both now and with clear and certain hope for the future.  
Let’s pray.