Philippians 3:1 – 14
Accounting with different rules
Last Sunday the American media reported that an accountant, formerly from Adelaide, had been found guilty of aiding and assisting the terror group al-Qaeda.
Sabirhan Hasanoff, aged 37, who had worked for top accounting firms like PriceWaterhouse Coopers, will be sentenced by a Manhattan court on Tuesday, for providing financial and technical support to the terrorist organisation.
There are, pretty clear laws and expectations, about how accounting ought to be done,
In Australia we have the Australian Accounting Standards Board,
The Australian Prudential Regulating Authority,
The Australian Securities and Investment Commission,
All of these lay down the rules for accounting:
What gets counted where?
What’s considered profit?
What’s considered loss?
How do we categorise things of different value?
But it appears that Mr Hasanoff decided, that he was going to use a different series of categories and standards for his accounting, and now he’s looking at 20 years in a Federal prison.
All of us are accountants
Of course, not many of us are accountants!
But all of us, engage in what Paul the Apostle, pictures in Philippians 3 as spiritual accounting:
Assessing value, not financial value but spiritual value,
Asking the question, “How much is enough?”
What do I need to have, to have confidence before God?
When I stand before God on that last day, because that’s what’s in the background here in Philippians 3, that on that last day, when God asks, “Why should I let you into my heaven?”, where is your confidence, that God will welcome you, and be pleased with you.
Maybe you’re not a Christian, but you think you have every reason for confidence.
Maybe you echo some of Paul’s words here, you’re quite sure that you’ve done enough in your life,
But equally, maybe you find Paul’s words troubling, when he says we put no confidence in the flesh. If Paul, great religious leader, thinks that his efforts are no reason for confidence before God, maybe that shakes your confidence a little.
Or maybe, you are a Christian, but you have moments, or more than moments, of lack of confidence,
Days, weeks, months, where you wonder, “Actually, what could I give, as my reason for God inviting me into heaven?”
Watch out for religious accounting practices1 – 3
I’m sure you noticed as we read it, how eager the Apostle Paul is to warn his friends in the church at Philippi, about wrong accounting methods, what we might call religious accounting, where religious achievements like circumcision and obedience to the law, are all kind of tallied up, as counting for something before God.
Look with me from verse 1, Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence
Watch out for dogs, evildoers, mutilators of the flesh!
Maybe you got one of those “Wanted” posters printed up at
Sovereign Hill or somewhere when you were a kid!
“Wanted! Clayton Fopp, for bank robbery. Considered armed and dangerous, do not approach!”
But when Paul says watch out for these dogs, it’s more than just
“Don’t join in with them.”
‘Do not approach.”
Every other time these words are used in the New Testament they mean “consider”,
Remember those Mitsubishi ads?
“Please consider”, take note of this, see what you can learn.
In this case, learn from their error.
See the thing with Paul’s language here, dogs, evildoers, mutilators of the flesh, it’s not that he’s just trying to be rude,
He’s being ironic,
He’s speaking in religious categories
Dogs was a term that Jews used for Gentiles,
It was a word for outsiders.
Paul’s saying these people who pride themselves on being in with God, are actually on the outside.
Evildoers doesn’t just mean bad people, but it’s a way of refuting the claim of this group, that they were doing good works, God’s works, even. Paul says “You’re not ‘God’s-work-doers’, you’re evildoers.
And mutilators of the flesh, people who said you had to be circumcised in order to be a Christian, often as a group, they were called “the circumcision”, but notice here that Paul can’t even bring himself to call them that.
They have so misunderstood God’s intention in giving his people that outward sign of relationship and belonging, that they don’t even deserve to have that title, “the circumcision”, and in fact, he calls them literally “the mutilation.”
Do you see why the Philippians have to learn from there error?
They think they’re doing the kind of accounting, but they’re confident in the wrong things.
And though we stand 2000 or so years after the Philippians, the warning is just as loud for us, isn’t it?
Watch out for people who impose religious duty,
Who think religious achievement gives you credibility before God.
Take note of them,
Learn from their error.
See the mistake of religious accounting:, thinking that religious devotion, and legalism, and obedience to rules, giving money, turning up to things, counts for something, or gives you any confidence before God.
It will leave you on the outside!
Paul had reason for religious accounting 4 - 6
But the Apostle Paul, as it turns out, has more reason than anyone to think this religious accounting method would count for anything.
Have a listen to what he says, If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews;
in regard to the law, a Pharisee;,
6 as for zeal, persecuting the church;,
as for righteousness based on the law, faultless
Paul uses his own life as a case study, to show us exactly what it means to have confidence in the flesh, to have confidence before God based on your religious accounting,
The things you can add up, to show how valuable you are.
You might have noticed as we read them, the first 4 things Paul lists off, are all his, simply by virtue of his birth.
Circumcised on the 8th day, to the letter of the law,
Of the people of Israel, that is, not someone who converted to Judaism, who were sometimes thought of as second class Jews. Think of all the issues Barack Obama had, and still has, trying to prove that he’s a native born American, not an immigrant. Paul’s making the same kind of claim.
And you couldn’t get any closer to the centre of God’s people than being of the tribe of Benjamin,
On top of all that, Paul’s family didn’t just go to church at Christmas and Easter, they weren’t just Jews when it was convenient, he was a Hebrew of Hebrews;
Think of the most Australian Australian you can.
Paul Hogan, I don’t know.
Paul’s saying here “I’m the most Jewish Jew, imaginable.”
Occasionally, if you read obituaries, you’ll see a little line at the end, something like, “Joe Bloggs was a long-term member of Trinity Church” or something.
But for Paul, his religious devotion couldn’t have been contained just in one little line at the end of his obituary, it would be his entire obituary!
If the first 4 lines in Paul’s accounting tally are about his birth and family, then the last 3 lines in his ledger, are about how the entire rest of his adult was shaped!
in regard to the law, a Pharisee;,
6 as for zeal, persecuting the church;,
as for righteousness based on the law, faultless
If anyone could stand before God on their merits,
Open up their ledger, and say, “Here, God, look at this,
Look at how all these things add up!, it was the Apostle Paul.
Religious accounting amounts to nothing 7
But he says, But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.
Tallying up all the things you can do to, to find some grounds for confidence on that last day .
It amounts to nothing, Paul says.
You’ve got to come up with a whole new way of accounting!
Jack Higgins, author of bestsellers like The Eagle Has Landed once wrote, I didn’t know at 18 that when you’ve got to the top of the peak, you’re left with an emptiness
Paul’s saying the same thing about religious effort.
“I got to the peak, and it will do nothing for you.”
I read of a study once where university students were asked to name the most devoted Christian they could think of.
Think, maybe Billy Graham, Mother Theresa,
No, these students thought that Christianity was summed up in the face of Ned Flanders, from The Simpson!
That’s more than just a little depressing, isn’t it?
But Paul was the Ned Flanders of the first Century AD, just less annoying!
The most high-achieving, religiously devoted, guy you can possibly imagine, and he says, achievements,
Religious rule-keeping, are no grounds for confidence before God.
We’re not likely to slip into thinking that persecuting the church is going to add to our spiritual bank account, are we?!
But, whether it’s us as individuals, or us as a church,
There are achievements that we can think count for something,
Aspects of behaviour, religious performance, that we can easily think, will all be credited towards our account before God.
For some of us, like Paul, it’s our religious heritage,
“I’m OK with God, because I come from a Christian family.”
“I was baptised, of course God will welcome me!”
Or maybe you persevered and persevered and finally overcame some persistent sin, that ought to count for something, right?
Or as a church, there are things we might be tempted to think are a sure sign that God will be pleased with us.
We grew to 2 Sunday morning gatherings last year, and we didn’t do that because we wanted to, particularly, did we?
We didn’t do because 9 and 11 would be more convenient for us,
We did it solely so that more people could sit under the sound of the good news of Jesus!
And we’re in the process of looking for an Associate Pastor,
And again, the reason we’re doing that is not so that you know, I can take every second weekend off, or anything like that! Our whole reason for doing it is so that out of this community, more and more people will hear about Jesus, So we can start new Sunday services, plant new churches,
That’s all really good stuff!
What could be said about us?
In regard to the Bible – dedicated!
A church plant of church plants!
But friends, we dare not put our confidence in any of that!
Those are blessings from God,
They’ve made our church an exciting community to be a part of,
But those things don’t count as deposits in our spiritual bank balance, towards acceptance with God.
In fact, Paul says, “If you’re a religious accountant,
If you’re in the habit of tallying up all the reasons that God should be pleased to welcome you into his heaven,
Finding your confidence in those things, will actually stop you gaining Christ.
Religious accounting will stop you gaining Christ 8
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ
This language here is straight t out of the pages of the Financial Review.
It’s profit and loss statements.
Paul has a completely new system of accounting, and it’s the very opposite of his old way of accounting.
Paul tallies up his human achievements, those things he listed off earlier,
And he says, once upon a time, I thought all these things were in the profit column.
But now, he says, when I look at them, I don’t put them in the profit column, but in the loss column.
Once upon a time I thought they were assets, now because of Christ, because my goal is to verse 8, to gain Christ, I count them not as assets, but as liabilities.
And this is where the rubber hits the road for us,
Because most of us, if we’re Christian, we know really, that religious accounting doesn’t work,
We’re not going to front up to God with a list of our achievements and say “you ought to be pleased with this.”
Most of the time, for most of us, we think of our achievements as neutral.
They don’t count before God, but they’re not bad, they’re not harmful.
Well, Paul says “yes, they are!”
I consider them loss. Verse 7.
I consider them garbage verse 8.
As always, the NIV translators are mindful that church is a family show, there might be children present! Because a slightly less polite translation of that word, would be “excrement”, “manure”, think about words you know that mean that same kind of thing!
I had quite a time this week, reading my books, and finding words that I never thought I’d come across being translated out of the Bible.
Do you get the picture?!
All those things that Paul had once considered were to his advantage, piling up in the assets column,
In encountering Jesus Christ, he’s realised that all those things were not to his advantage at all, and in fact they were destroying him,
Leading him to death,
Leading him away from God, because they were blinding him to the great need that he had:
The need for righteousness.
The need for a right standing before God.
Those religious achievements were making him think he was fine with God,
That God was pleased with him, and all the while that confidence blinded him to the need that he had.
I couldn’t help but think of the terrible situation with the breast cancer screening here in SA, with the change-over in screening equipment that meant that women with cancer, were given a false all-clear prognosis.
At least 2 of those women have since lost their lives to the cancer.
Cancer screening, great, right?!
Something to give you confidence, when you get you the all-clear!
Except in these few cases, the screening gave a false confidence.
It hid from those women, the seriousness of their problem,
And instead of them seeking help, finding what they needed,
They depended on something, that actually blinded them to their great need.
So let me say to you, if you’re not a Christian, until you can view your own efforts,
Your religious achievements,
The energy you’ve expended in trying to find God, until you can view them, as Paul viewed his religious credentials, as something that will blind you, and stop you getting to God,
Until you realise that religious accounting will stop you gaining Christ, verse 8, you cannot come to God.
I talked about resisting sin before, If I’m confident before God, ready to stand before him on that judgment day, because of my ability to resist sin, to defeat temptation, Then great achievement which on its own is a good thing, but it has just become for me, not good, not neutral, but excrement.
My confidence in that will stop me gaining Christ.
If we’re confident before God because of the ministries of our church.
We teach the Bible to men,
To big kids,
To little kids,
To kids in schools,
To kids after school!
Those things are great!
I love that we can do them, and hope you love that we can do them. But the moment that those things become for us, our confidence, the moment we start, tallying them in our religious accounting, even just pencilling them in to our ledger,
They stop being good for us,
They’re not even neutral to us,
They’re blinding us to our greatest need.
Do you see that the things don’t need to be bad in themselves, in order for them to become excrement?
Let me give you another example.
Blokes, you who are married. I hope and pray, that you are keeping your marriage vows.
Lay down your life, all of that.
That’s very important, and God thinks it’s important.
Work hard at it!
Do it even when it’s not easy!
Do it when it takes effort!
But don’t think that those efforts will see God welcome you into heaven?
Don’t think that those efforts, can somehow make you pleasing to God.
And blokes the moment you me we, start thinking that our efforts in that really good area, count in our spiritual ledger before God, then those efforts instantly become for us, excrement.
The problem isn’t in the keeping the vows, of course. The problem is in the religious accounting, that says, these efforts will win God’s favour, therefore blinding me to the fact that God’s favour has to come from somewhere else.
Anything that we might be tempted to put our confidence in, can actually hinder us “gaining Christ”, receiving the benefits and blessings of being in Christ;, eternal life, forgiveness.
The only thing to count on – a free gift from God v 9
Please hear me. I’m not saying our achievements, or our religious efforts, will hinder us gaining Christ,
But if our confidence is in those things, we’ll think our right standing before God is all stitched up, and we’ll ignore the only true means of gaining that right standing before God,
That is, God’s own action for us.
Paul says, “I consider all those things garbage, verse 8, that I may gain Christ 9 and 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 on the basis of faith.
Why can’t I have confidence before God, based on what I do?
It’s a perfectly reasonable question, but it shows that we have completely underestimated the scale of our offence against God.
We turn our backs on the God who created the world,
Who created us for a relationship with him,
Who established a pattern for life, for our benefit,
And we say, “no, thankyou God, I’m going to live my life my way, and I’ll just call on you from time to time when things get tough”,
We ignore his only Son, his chosen king, who he sent into the world, to reconcile us to himself,
And we have the audacity to think that because I hang around church, God will be pleased with me?
Or that because I have overcome that sin I struggled with for a time, then I’m my way to being in his good books,
We think that counts for something before God!
Friends, it’s not even on the scale.
Remember the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2006?
4.9 Million barrels of oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days.
Trying to gain righteousness, a right standing before God by our own achievements, is like trying to clean up those 4.9 million barrels of oil, with a bar of soap and dish cloth.
The offence is so great, we need God himself to make us right with him.
In January next year, I have the great joy of taking the wedding of Richard Austin and Kate Harrington.
We’ll all be down there at Trinity City. I imagine there’ll be quite a crowd!
And when it comes to signing the paperwork, I’ve got a choice, I can sign it, “Clayton Fopp – Civil Marriage Celebrant for the Trinity Network of Churches”, or I can sign it according to this certificate I printed off the Internet, my ordination certificate into the Universal Life Church of California!
One Thursday night after Bible College class, Dave Brown, who now works in the University Ministry and I, found a website, typed in our names, and got ordained!
And now, I’m apparently authorised to perform marriages in certain counties of the state of California!
What’s going to happen at Richard and Kate’s wedding, if I use this as my authorisation for performing the wedding.
Aside from the bride’s father, who happens to be my boss, having words with me?!
Well, a few days after the wedding, the Attorney General’s department will pay me a little visit, and say that bit of paper, is no grounds for performing marriages here,
It gets you nowhere.
If you want to perform marriages here, they’ll say, you need to do it according to the bit of paper that we gave you,
Paul says, I want to be found in Christ, 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, on the basis of faith
You see to have confidence before God, we don’t need our bit of paper, with all our achievements scribbled on it,
We need God’s bit of paper.
Of course it’s not a bit of paper, but it’s the righteousness, the right relationship that God offers us, through faith in Jesus’ death in our place.
And you see this is where Christianity is the one true level playing field. If our achievements could give us this righteousness, this confidence before God, then who would be good enough?
Well, not me, because I’m definitely not the smartest person in the room,
I’m not the highest achiever,
And despite the fact that I’m paid to be here, I’m sure I’m not the most disciplined person in religious activity,
And probably neither are you,
Most of you aren’t the kindest person in the room,
The most religiously devout person in the room,
And even our achievements as a church,
We’re not the biggest church in the world,
We’re probably not the friendliest church in the world,
We’re not the fastest growing church in the world,
And believe it or not, there are even churches with better preaching!,
Even if achievements could make people right with God, it could only work for the very best people, the most obedient, the most legalistic, people like the Apostle Paul.
And yet we know it didn’t even work for him.
But anyone of us can believe,
Anyone can have faith in Christ,
Anyone can trust that his death paid the penalty we deserved!
Any one of us can receive God’s piece of paper, that says, “have confidence, you are in a right relationship with me.”
And that is the only grounds, for confidence before God.
To have Jesus stand in your place, and take the penalty for sin and rebellion that you deserve, that I deserve.
Where is your confidence?
In your own accounting,
Or in what God freely gives us in Christ.
There’s a building in the city, that I can get into, that to my knowledge, no one else in this room can get into.
I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m the only one.
It’s not that I’m particularly good at getting into buildings, I don’t have any special skills, but this one building, it’s in Pirie St, it has guards, security gates, bullet-proof glass, video surveillance, it’s a hard building to get into.
Except that I can get in. Easily.
I walk up to the security guard, I talk to him for a few seconds, and a moment later I’m ushered in with a pass around my neck.
Now, like I said, it’s not that I can do something to get in, sweet-talk the guard, “these are not the droids you are looking for”, that kind of thing,
My ability to get past the security, into that building, is nothing to do with anything that I’ve done, or anything I can do, it’s all about a relationship.
You see my father is the General Manager of Department of Public Prosecutions, and that’s their building. And so when I tell the security guards who I am, a quick check shows, yes, he’s allowed in, unescorted, no problem.
Where’s your confidence?
In God’s free gift?
A right standing that comes to us through no effort of our own.
Of course, Paul says, Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
We’re 3 years old as a church, we’ve done lots of the things we wanted to do.
Many of us have been Christians a lot longer than that,
But no matter how old we get as a church, and how many years we’ve been a Christian, we still haven’t reached our goal!
Our goal is to see people with Christ in heaven.
The other problem with religious accounting, other than the fact that it gets us nowhere, and it blinds us to what we really need,
On top of all that, it always has us looking back, looking at the things we’ve done!
Paul would have us looking forward,
Confident in what God’s done for us in Christ,
Confident in the completion of his work in our lives.
Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus