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Read Philippians 3:1 - 4:1.

Two undesirable extremes ...

  1. Self-Righteousness. The characteristics are as follows:

    1. The confidence is in laws, rituals, and customs. In Philippi, there were some who were insisting that Gentiles had to take on the practice of the Jewish system. Circumcision was the first step. The confidence is misplaced
    2. Tradition vs. Traditionalism – There’s nothing wrong with tradition. It is good in many ways. Just as there is nothing wrong with law. But when our confidence and maturity depends on these externals we have traditionalism. “Tradition is the living faith of dead people, traditionalism is the dead faith of living people.” (Jaroslav Pelikan)
    3. Arrogance – Self-righteousness leads to the mindset that our self-designed system is the only means of salvation. We become “brokers” of God’s grace and others have to come through us to get to God. We get over-confident in our efforts and our achievements.
    4. Anxiety – Of course this can also make us anxious. If it is all up to us to figure this out, then that is quite a burden. We don’t want anyone to tamper with our efforts and we are threatened by anything that seems to threaten the “system.”
    5. Appearances – Since the focus is on the externals (a checklist mentality) faithfulness and righteousness tend to be judged on appearance only. The observables. This is how we evaluate ourselves and others.
    6. Materialistic – Spirituality becomes nothing more than what is tangible and quantitative. This is not to say that embodied practice is not spiritual, but if the material is the extent of the experience, then spirituality is limited.

  2. Self-Indulgence. The characteristics are as follows:

    1. There’s no confidence in spiritual things. Enemies of the cross. Spiritual things are useless or too hard to understand. It’s magic and/or academics. No interest in the spiritual.
    2. Worldliness – God is the belly. God is the body. In poverty, you have to think about bodily survival. In wealth, even moderate wealth, we focus on sensual satisfaction. Think of the indulgence industry in this culture: entertainment, thrill-seeking, porn, appearance and beauty, mood adjustment – “make me feel better, make me happy!”
    3. Justifying Shame – We don’t want to hear God’s challenge. We want to be okay just as we are. We don’t want to be ashamed. Please don’t make us repent – Don’t make us change.
    4. Dead Future – Destiny is destruction. It will kill us and consume us. Emptiness, Loneliness, Anger are the result of excess indulgence.
    5. Materialistic – No spirituality, the focus is on worldliness. So if there is any grasping about for something spiritual, then the self-righteous is actually attractive. Why? Because it is a materialistic faith that promises a few quick fixes that satisfy self.

So which option is best? Are they really that different? Which way should we lean? Neither tendency seems acceptable ...

What if there is a different, more excellent way? Not a mid-point or a balance, but a way that pushes out the empty, unsatisfying options – even the unsatisfying blend of options.

This is the righteousness of the cross – the attitude of Christ Jesus.

  1. Worship by the power of God's Spirit and take pride in Christ Jesus. That’s our confidence
  2. We don’t brag about our heritage or our accomplishments. It doesn’t mean we cannot appreciate tradition nor does it mean we shouldn’t do anything. There’s nothing wrong with it, but we don’t boast about it. We don’t seek advantage based on our efforts or past.
  3. We simply have a perspective that puts Christ above everything else. Christ and his power and person is the test of all things.
  4. So we want to KNOW Christ – It’s not what you know, but who you know. Since Christ is alive, we don’t just learn about him, we learn from him. We imitate him. We want to be like him. We imitate those who follow him. [Christianity is not a degree, it’s on the job training.] (Nothing wrong with education or academics – it beats ignorance, but that doesn’t insure righteousness! We have to learn how to live and learn character and spirit).
  5. Righteousness is about developing faith and trust in God, not a checklist of do’s and don’ts. Do’s and don’ts are for beginners, for infants.
  6. Maturity is developing perfection in Christ. We grow. We learn from God along the way. This is not a stale and static system. It’s a living process. Developmental.
  7. So, we come back to these old lessons ... We live life worthily. Life has meaning; it’s worth living if we live it worthily. (Philippians 1:27) We can say no to sensual indulgence and get past legalistic concerns because life has meaning in God. We are citizens of heaven – that’s special.
  8. We have something to look forward to because our lives are changed and they are being made new by God as we go along. This is the power of the resurrection at work – even now!
  9. We practice love. (2:1-4) That’s Christ’s attitude – taking interest in others (Philippians 2:5-11). That is commUNITY. We are joined together in CHRIST. So we are not alone. We have genuine relationship that are not possible through self-righteousness (always worried about what others think) or self-indulgence (using others for our pleasure)
  10. Stand Firm – This is how we strive together and work together. (1:27-30)

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 17 February 2008

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