The objective of this lesson: To emphasize the essential importance of depending on God's achievements in Jesus Christ rather than depending on our achievements in obedience. Only then will we begin to grasp the importance of people to God.
The premise of this lesson: "You cannot begin looking at others correctly until you change the way you look at yourself."
We must allow God to teach us how to look at ourselves differently in order to learn how to look at other people differently.
When you read today's text, these elements should be obvious: (1) Paul gave an encouragement, a warning, and a contrast to the Philippian Christians. (2) Paul said if it was a matter of comparison, he would compare well to the Judaizing teachers. (3) Paul explained the enormous transition in his life by extolling the significance of Jesus Christ's influence on him. (4) Paul acknowledged that he recognized himself as "a work in progress." He had not yet reached his potential in Jesus Christ. (5) The Philippian Christians must allow God in Christ to establish their standards.
These are the five obvious sections of today's text. Each of them could be a lesson of itself. Paul's change did not result from comparing himself to other religious people, or from looking at his pedigree and past achievements, but from realizing God's work in Jesus Christ.
For both Jewish Christians and gentile Christians, Paul as a man required explanation. How did a man who was such a fierce opponent of Jesus become a person who championed Jesus being the Christ, the Jewish Messiah God promised Israel? How did a man who killed Jewish Christians become a Jewish Christian? How did a man who fought Jesus' influence in Jewish society become a man who was Jesus' apostle to the gentiles? How could a man in the "who's who" of Jewish society (Galatians 1:14) become a man who was alienated to his pre-Christian friends? How could a man who preached so fervently against Jesus preach so fervently for Jesus? How could a man be so harsh with fellow Jews and so kind to gentiles? Why would a man give up so much to be a Christian?
Those Christians had to account for the changes in Paul and his attitude. It likely was far more obvious to them than it is to us. Driven, single-minded Jews were not known for being kind to gentiles.
The focus of this lesson will be on Philippians 3:9. There are many valuable lessons in the text. This lesson is not chosen because the other lessons are inferior or not needed. It is chosen because it best explains Paul's actions. In understanding Paul's motivation for his change, we are blessed in numerous ways.
This focus should not be taken as an evaluation of the merit of other lessons in the text. Philippians 3:9 goes to the heart of the change in Paul's motivation in comparing his pre-Christian existence to his Christian existence.
Two factors account for the enormous change in Paul's focus. (1) He realized God was at work in Jesus. Prior to being a Christian, Paul thought that Jesus was in opposition to God's purposes. When Paul understood Jesus was God's purpose, his understanding of scripture totally changed. Israel as a nation was not the culmination of God's purpose. Jesus was the culmination of God's purpose. The world could not be brought to God through Israel. The world could be brought to God through Christ. When Paul saw the fulfillment of God's saving purpose in Jesus Christ, that realization changed everything--including him! (2) When Paul realized that salvation depended on what God achieved in Jesus' death and resurrection, not on what we achieve in obedience, it redefined his understanding of righteousness. He understood that the purpose of obedience is not divine approval, but appreciation for God.
Paul's realization that God was at work in Jesus Christ was enormous! He in his pre-Christian existence viewed Jesus as an opponent of God's purposes. To realize God was at work in Jesus required that he rethink and reconsider everything--including the meaning and application of scripture. To see human salvation as a divine achievement rather than a human achievement was enormous!
To obey to seek divine approval means salvation depends on me. In Paul's concept, "If I obey the Law, divine approval is mine." That was a very Jewish concept in the first century and a very American concept in the last half of the twentieth century. In Paul's words, it was possessing "a righteousness of my own." It is an approach to righteousness that says, "Look at me and at what I have done."
Certainly, we must obey God! How can we refuse to do as God asks without rebelling? The emphasis is not on the necessity of obedience, but on the motive for obedience. We do not obey to gain divine approval. We obey to express endless appreciation for what God did for us in Jesus Christ.
There are two problems with that approach. (1) If a person becomes so self-deceived that he or she thinks, "God owes me because of what I did," the person becomes extremely arrogant. In Paul's case, arrogant enough to kill those who disagreed with him. When that type of arrogance envelopes a person, he or she is blind. Though he or she may be pitiful, he or she never sees his or her own flaws. (2) If a person becomes filled with personal awareness of flaws in trying to be "perfect" in obedience, spiritual disaster looms. The harder he or she tries to be "perfectly" obedient, the more aware he or she becomes of his or her failure. Thus attempts to be "perfectly" obedient only intensify the person's guilt feelings. The harder he or she tries to be perfect, the greater the sense of guilt. Finally, hopelessness and despair consume that person.
An attempt to make God "owe us" because we obey Him is arrogance. An attempt to become perfect through obedient acts results in a growing guilt that produces hopelessness and despair. We cannot save ourselves, regardless of how obedient we become.
Thus the person dedicated to the "righteousness of my own" condemns himself or herself to either arrogance or guilt. The solution to being a righteous person is not and cannot be found in human achievement. It is found in divine achievement.
Were it not for what God did in Jesus' cross and resurrection, all of us would be in a hopeless situation.
Paul wanted the righteousness produced by confidence in God's achievement in Jesus Christ. When it came to the matter of being righteous before God, Paul did not want to depend on Paul. He wanted to depend on God! Jesus Christ was sinless. Paul was not! Jesus Christ was totally submissive to God. Paul did not even know all "the rules" to keep. Jesus Christ forgave. Paul could not. Jesus Christ showed compassion. Paul did not. If Paul depended on Paul, he was in trouble! So are we!
Our hope lies in what God did in Jesus' death and resurrection, not in our human achievements. We trust God's acts, not our achievements.
It was that insight into being righteous that motivated Paul to a desire to know Christ, the power that raised Jesus, fellowship with Jesus' sufferings, and being conformed to Jesus' death. He understood that is why God chose him. He must be as dedicated to understanding God's work in Christ as God was dedicated to his salvation. To Paul, understanding God's work in Jesus was an unending commitment!
The man who was not interested in knowing anything good about Jesus became the man who wanted to endure pain for Jesus.
It is only when we begin to grasp God's work in Jesus that we begin to understand the importance of people to God. Make it your unending commitment to understand God's work in Jesus Christ! Only then will you understand God commitment to your salvation, and His commitment to people!
Understanding God's work in Jesus is the beginning of (1) changing the way we see ourselves and (2) changing the way we look at other people.
For Thought and Discussion:
The premise: You cannot look at others correctly until you change the way you look at yourself.
Paul required explanation.
It focuses on Philippians 3:9.
It means salvation depends on me.
The two problems of that approach are (a) the self-deception of arrogance or (b) a consuming guilt.
He or she condemns self to either arrogance or guilt.
Paul wanted the righteousness produced by confidence in God's achievements in Jesus Christ. Paul was doomed if he depended on his efforts.
His insight into the route to being a righteous person motivated him.
It will lead to understanding the importance of people to God.
Link to Student Guide Lesson 12
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