“Righteousness” Philippians 3:1-11 November 7, 2010
SI: We’re studying Paul’s letter to his favorite church—the Philippian church.
Bible teachers have often called Philippians, the Epistle of Joy.
Because even though Paul was writing from a Roman prison,
he talks about the joy of Christ, rejoicing in the Lord,
and gives us great insight how believers walk through the difficult times.
INTRO: A few weeks ago I got a call from a young man, late 20s, early 30s.
I didn’t know him but we had a mutual friend.
He was hoping to become a pastor and wondered if I would please keep
him in mind if I heard of any empty pulpits, put in a good word for him.
He said he would email his resume. I asked him to tell me a little about himself.
He told me the seminary he had attended—it was a good seminary.
He told me about his internship—he had done that under a well-known minister.
And then he told me that just a few months before he had returned from
Scotland where he had gotten a doctorate in Old Testament from St Andrews U.
Now, let me tell you something about Presbyterian ministers.
We are very impressed by anything Scottish.
Scotland is the home of Presbyterianism.
The Church of Scotland is the mother of all Presbyterian churches.
When we hear Scotland, bagpipes start playing in our heads!
We think of John Knox and the Covenanters and Thomas Chalmers and
Robert Murray McCheyne and the Erskine brothers.
Even Presbyterian ministers who don’t have a drop of Scottish blood, like me,
have a weakness for plaids and tweeds and argyle socks!
So when someone has a doctorate from one of the great Scottish divinity schools—
from Edinburgh or Aberdeen or St Andrews, we are very impressed.
I couldn’t help being impressed with this young man and I told him so.
I told him his credentials would open lots of doors.
I asked him about teaching Old Testament in a college or seminary.
He said, I think my gifts are the pastoral ministry and I love the church
and want to be a pastor. So I said, Send me your resume.
I’ll pass your name on if I hear of anything.
But stay away from my church!
Paul had an even more impressive resume as a Jewish rabbi and scholar.
Circumcised on the eighth day of the people of Israel.
In other words, born into a devout Jewish home.
Of the tribe of Benjamin.
Two tribes were faithful to the house of David—Judah and Benjamin.
If you could trace your family tree to one of these tribes, you were a blue blood.
A Hebrew of Hebrews.
There were many Jews who had adopted Greek culture and ways. Not Paul.
In regard to the law, a Pharisee.
This is really a reference to his academic degrees. The Pharisees were scholars.
This is Paul’s Old Testament degree from St Andrews.
As for zeal, persecuting the church.
Paul was an up and coming leader in Judaism of his day.
As for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
And he as a man who was utterly self-disciplined
in applying his learning and religion to his life.
What’s Paul doing here? He’s giving us his credentials. Giving his resume.
He’s saying: I had it all. I had the pedigree. I had the grades.
I had the diplomas. I had the references. I had the talent. I had the drive.
I had impeccable credentials. There is not a door that would not open in my world.
But then Paul says: I consider all these things rubbish.
That’s a polite translation. It’s actually the Greek word for excrement.
To really get the force of this, you have to hear Paul say:
I consider everything on my impressive resume crap.
Why? Why would Paul say that?
Because, he says, I have found something of surpassing greatness.
I’ve found something so great, that everything else I used to think was great,
and all the things that used to control me and be so important to me,
and all the things that use to drive me—now mean nothing by comparison.
So what is it? What is this thing that is so great that it caused Paul to look
at the impressive credentials of his life and say—loss, rubbish? Here it is.
“To be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”
Righteousness. That’s what Paul says is this thing of surpassing greatness.
Righteousness which is not his own, but righteousness that comes from God,
and is received through faith in Christ.
This righteousness is so great, that when you have it, all the other things that are so
important—accomplishments, money, influence—shrink to nothing.
Let’s look at this under three points and it will become more clear.
1. Righteousness is your greatest need.
2. Righteousness is your greatest problem.
3. Righteousness is God’s greatest gift.
Credit where credit is due: A sermon by Dr. Tim Keller on this passage.
MP#1 Righteousness is your greatest need
When most people hear the word “righteousness,”
they think means being good, living a good life.
But righteousness does not mean living a good life—
it means to be judged and found acceptable.
Let’s think some more about Paul’s list of his credentials.
Circumcised on the eighth day, of the tribe of Benjamin, Hebrew of Hebrews.
What’s the purpose of a list like this? What’s the purpose of a resume?
Why do you at certain times in your life, sit down at the computer,
and type up a list of your accomplishments and skills and experience?
You’re presenting an argument. A resume is basically an argument.
You’re on the outside and you want to be let in.
You’re on the outside of a job, and you want to be let in, want door to open.
Or you’re on the outside of a school, and you want to be accepted.
So you present your resume.
It says: I should be hired for this job, or I should be accepted into this school,
because look at my merits. Look what I’ve accomplished.
Look at my grades, or look at my sales, or look at my awards.
Look at my righteousness.
Now, here’s Paul’s point with giving us his resume in the letter.
He’s reminding us that making lists of our merits as a way of getting in,
is something we do at every level of our lives.
When Adrienne was in middle school, and I would take her some mornings.
I would start joking with her about middle school kids, because every one of
them was dressed the same. Blue jeans, t-shirt, Wallabees, Northface jacket.
She would say: Dad, stop it. And I would say: Look, there’s another one!
That was their resume. Their righteousness.
Wallabees—circumcised! Northface—Tribe of Benjamin! Accept me. Let me in
That’s not fair making fun of middle schoolers, because grownups do it too.
We want to appear righteous, so that people will let us in.
It’s even deeper than other people—righteousness affects the way you look at self.
You have your own internal resume. Your accomplishments and standards.
And you either accept yourself, or you hate yourself, based on that.
The way you look at yourself in the mirror is determined by your righteousness.
Tim Keller said something in his sermon on this passage that made me
laugh and I made Allison listen to it—because it was so true of us.
He said: When there are problems in my church, when things aren’t going well,
I feel terrible about self. I question my worth.
And when I mention this to my wife she says: Why are you thinking that way?
Don’t you believe church belongs to God? Don’t you believe he is in control?
You just need to turn this over to the Lord in prayer.
He said: My wife loves the church and wants it to be successful,
but the difference is that the success of the church is my righteousness.
On the other hands, when we’ve had problems with our children.
Times my wife has been worried they are going to be troubled or poorly adjusted,
she falls to pieces, and I say: Don’t you believe our children belong to God?
Don’t you believe he is in control? You need to pray.
I can say that, because I love children, but their success not my righteousness.
Everybody has a different resume.
Everybody has different list of what will make himself or herself righteous—
those things that will open the doors and make us accepted
in the eyes of others, and ourselves, and ultimately, in the eyes of God.
That’s the deepest level of righteousness.
That’s the greatest and most fundamental need of righteousness.
For us to have a record and a list to present to God, so that he will let us in.
After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit the Bible says:
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked;
so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”
They had to do something to make themselves acceptable—
to themselves, to each other, and to God. They had to cover themselves.
Those fig leaves were their righteousness.
Why must middle-school girl have the right jacket to go to school confidently?
Why does the pastor’s sense of well-being rise and fall with church attendance?
Why does the mother’s sense of well-being rest on popularity of her children?
Why is the size of a man’s wallet, or the size of a woman’s dress, or degrees on a
wall, or giving to charitable causes, or being known as good person—
why are those things so important?
Because they are echoes of Eden. It’s the eyes of God we feel.
It’s the deep understanding that unless God accepts us, we are lost.
Righteousness is your greatest need. You live and die by it.
But that also means—and this brings us to the second point—that
MP#2 Righteousness is your greatest problem
There’s a sense in which your sins are not your greatest problem—
your righteousness is your greatest problem.
Because your righteousness can blind you spiritually and keep you from God.
Let’s look at Paul again.
Before Paul knew Christ, if you had asked him if he was a sinner,
he would have said, Yes, I am a sinner.
Paul knew the Bible and the law of God. He knew he wasn’t perfect.
As a devout Jew, regularly asked God for forgiveness.
And yet, Paul by his own testimony was far from God and Christ.
How can that be? How can a person admit he is a sinner,
and even ask forgiveness of his sins, yet not be saved?
Here’s how. Even though Paul knew he was a sinner,
he was trusting in his own righteousness for salvation.
He was trusting in his resume—His spiritual heritage, his knowledge of Bible,
his commitment to moral purity, even his zeal for the things of God.
He even says of himself in another letter that he was zealous for God.
But it was his righteousness that was actually keeping him from trusting God.
And that is the way it is with almost every person.
It’s not our sins that keep us from God, it’s our righteousness.
Most people will admit to committing sins.
They will say—I may have done some bad things.
But deep down I’m a good person. Here’s my resume.
God, here are the good things I’ve done. Now you owe me.
At the beginning of this reading, Paul tells the Philippians:
“Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil. Those mutilators of the flesh.”
He was talking about those in the early church who argued that you had
to be circumcised and follow the Jewish food laws to be right with God.
The Judaizers they’ve been called.
Paul used the harshest language for these people.
Even though they were very disciplined, moral people who took the Bible
very seriously. But what were they preaching?
Not pure faith in Christ.
But building up your own righteous record, and giving it to God.
In Flannery O’Connor’s first novel, Wise Blood, the main character a young man
named Hazel Motes. His grandfather is a fiery evangelist.
Preaches passionate sermons about how Jesus died to save you from your sins.
Jesus is determined to rescue lost sinners and claim for his own.
To Hazel Motes that sounds awful, to be rescued and claimed by Jesus,
and have to belong to him and submit to him and trust him.
Thinks: If Jesus came to save sinners—the best way to avoid Jesus is to avoid sin.
So does everything he can to live a moral, religious life—even becomes a preacher
so that he will not have to come to Jesus personally for forgiveness
and give his life to him.
Flannery O’Connor was making a point with this character.
People can use the Christian religion and biblical morality
as a way of avoiding God and the Gospel.
She even said that in the South, the way most people avoid Jesus is by being good.
That’s a profound statement.
You can avoid Jesus by being really bad—by being a drunkard and a whoremonger.
Or, you can avoid Jesus by being really good—and trusting in your righteousness.
And of the two, it’s trusting in your righteousness that is the most deceptive.
Now let me tell you another story that shows you the other side:
When George Whitefield came to the America in 1740, he preached the Gospel
up and down through the colonies. And thousands came to hear him, thousands
turned to faith in Christ. One man was a farmer named Nathan Cole.
He wrote about it in his diary. This is what he said:
“My hearing him preach gave me a heart wound and by God’s blessing my old foundation
was broken up and I see my righteousness would not save me.”
Has that happened to you? Has your own foundation been broken up?
Have you seen that your righteousness cannot save you?
Have you come to a place in your spiritual life where you can say:
All the good things I’ve done in my life that I’m so proud of,
my record, my righteousness—it’s rubbish, it’s filthy rags, it’s dung.
In order to be a Christian, you not only have to repent of your sins—
you have to repent of your righteousness.
And when you do, not only are your sins forgiven,
but you receive the righteousness of Christ. Brings us to the last point.
MP#3 Righteousness is God’s greatest gift
Paul says that there is a righteousness that comes from God.
“To be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that
which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”
And Paul doesn’t just say that he wants God’s righteousness—
he says that he wants to be found in Christ.
The beauty of the Gospel is that God finds us in Christ.
That means Jesus gives you his righteousness. His resume becomes yours.
And God finds you in that. He sees you in that.
In the eyes of the most important Person, you are completely accepted.
Paul says that being found in Christ, having his righteousness,
is a thing of surpassing greatness that makes everything else loss and rubbish.
Why does Paul say that? What’s so great about being found in Christ,
and having the righteousness of God?
Well, you might say: It’s great because it means you’re saved, going to heaven.
Yes, that’s true. But how is it great Monday morning at 10:00?
In Ephesians 6, the “armor of God” passage,
Paul calls it the breastplate of righteousness.
You can imagine a Roman soldier wearing a bronze breastplate—
or more up to date, imagine a police officer or soldier wearing a bullet-proof vest.
What does that vest do? It protects the most vital organs.
And that’s exactly what Christ’s righteousness does for you—
it protects the most delicate and sensitive part of your soul.
Christ’s righteousness like a bullet-proof vest, that enables you to handle anything.
Why do you sometimes get very discouraged and cast down?
Why do you sometimes lose your hope and joy?
Why are there times in life when you struggle with debilitating negative
thoughts, feelings and emotions?
It’s usually because something you have made your righteousness
is being threatened or has been lost.
Something on your resume that you count on to be accepted and approved
by other people, self, or God, is threatened or lost.
Usually it’s something good in itself—think about Tim Keller’s examples.
It’s the success of your church or your business. Your children’s well-being.
It could be your moral uprightness, being a good person, your marriage,
your career, your standard of living, your creature comforts.
All good things. But instead of having the proper place in your life—
you’ve made them your righteousness.
So when they are threatened or lost, the most tender parts of your heart are pierced,
and you lose your joy and peace of mind.
But Christ’s righteousness can never be taken away.
And if you know that—I’m talking about your experience here—
if you, like Paul are so aware of being found in Christ—
then it becomes a breastplate the protects you.
And you can say: This is a good thing I’ve lost, but it’s not my righteousness.
That doesn’t mean you don’t weep.
You don’t say: I don’t care about losing these things.
Christians aren’t stoics. This is not about forcing things down.
It is recognizing and living in the reality of how God sees you in Christ.
The next time you are cast down or discouraged, this is what you need to pray.
Not just: God, please change these circumstances.
But, God, please help me to believe that I am righteous in Christ.
This has so many applications—it’s hard to know where to start.
You commit a sin and you feel terrible about it. It casts you down.
You think, I’m not that kind of person. I hate myself for that. I’m better than that.
I’ve ruined everything with this foolish sin. What kind of Christian am I?
You have to get out the breastplate of righteousness.
Tell yourself: Yes, I’ve sinned, and it’s terrible. But I never presumed to stand
before God in my own righteousness. What I did was terrible.
But if I hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t have been any more worthy in God’s presence.
What makes me worthy of God’s presence is the righteousness of Christ my Savior.
My sin shows me the grandeur and greatness of Christ.
Can ask forgiveness, and pick up the pieces, and move ahead.
When people criticize you, when your children are not accepted,
when disappointments happen—are you crushed, do you respond with anger?
You have a breastplate of righteousness. You have a thing of surpassing greatness.
It enables you to say—all those things I consider loss, I consider rubbish—
compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ and being found in him.
You can have that joyful life. Paul had it. And many others have too.
What about you? Have you been found in Christ? Is he your righteousness.
Lots of people think they are Christians but they aren’t.
They’ve never really trusted in Christ as their Savior.
Jesus is their example. He’s their model. But he’s not their Savior.
One way you can test yourself is to ask:
Am I devastated by disappointments?
Am I clobbered by criticism?
Am I a proud person who looks down on people who are moral failures?
Am I an anxious person, overwhelmed with guilt all the time?
Those may be signs that Jesus is your example and your model—
but not your Savior.
Because you’ve never really accepted and rested in his righteousness.
You can do that right now. We’re about to come to the Lord’s Table.
On this Table, the bread and cup, signs and promises of Christ’s
perfect obedience, his perfect record.
Don’t let another day go by, without taking your record, good or bad,
and giving it to the Lord, and putting your trust in him.