I am preparing to teach this evening from Paul’s epistle to the Philippian church. We are covering the first 11 verses of chapter 3. The previous lesson was from chapter 2 about working out your salvation with fear and trembling. Paul teaches us how to do this in our daily lives.
In chapter 3, Paul’s desire is that we know Christ specifically, above all else. The reason that he motivates us to focus on Christ is because of our sin nature, we have a tendency to turn to idols. Idols are anything that take the #1 place of Christ in your life. Even noble things can become idols and when they do, they become negative. Idolatry is a sin that enslaves us before we come to Christ and a sin that tries to take our focus off of Christ once we have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. That is why 1 John ends the way that it does. The entire epistle is about the love of God, how it is manifested to us, in us, and through us.
21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.
Idols keep us from walking in the love of God daily, not because God removes His love, but because we lose our focus, taking it off of His love and placing it on an idol(s). Having seen all of this, let’s take a look at Philippians 3 and see how Paul chooses Christ over idols.
I. The idols of Paul’s life
Paul had plenty of idols in his life before he came to faith in Jesus Christ. He lists a few of them in the first part of chapter 3 in Philippians. In verses 4-6, here are some of the idols:
- pride in himself
- inherited religion
- national pride
- family heritage
- national religion
- personal religion/career
- zeal (even if it is placed in the wrong thing)
- self righteousness
These are all the things that Paul placed confidence in before he was saved by Christ. These are the things that kept him from coming to Christ. These were the idols in his life. Are any of these idols present in your life? How do we see this manifested? I can give some personal examples. I lived in a Christian Orthodox country for almost 9 years. I served as a missionary in that country for almost 13 years. While teaching the Word of God to the natives, many of them would not repent of their sins and accept Christ as Lord and Savior because:
- they did not think that they needed to do this
- they had an inherited religion and did not want to turn their back on that religion
- their national pride was connected with their inherited religion and they could not turn their backs on their nation
- their family heritage was attached to the Orthodox church and religion and did not want to ruin their name
- their personal religion was more important that a genuine relationship with God
- their religion was attached to their careers and they did not want to risk losing their jobs
- they were zealous for what they called “good works” but were in fact works that went against the clear teachings of God’s Word
Some 2,000 years later, as you can clearly see, this still happens. Once Paul came to Christ, his focus changed. His #1 focus now is the Lord Jesus Christ. Even though he was changed by the Lord, he still had a sin nature and that sin nature loves idols. He had to make a conscious choice to focus on Christ every single moment of every single day.
II. Paul’s focus on Christ
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, Paul’s focus changed when he came to faith in Christ. Verse 3 tells us that he no longer put confidence in the flesh. In other words, he no longer trusted in the idols that he once boasted about. In verse 7, he began to place confidence in Christ. In verse 8 Paul tells us that he continually chooses to focus on Christ moment by moment and not focusing on the idols that his sin nature likes so much. We do not chose Christ once and for all. Yes, we do choose Him at a certain point and then we constantly choose Him over and over again, moment by moment, day by day. The moment we choose not to focus on Christ, the idols begin to appear and take our focus further away. In order to keep our focus on Christ, we need to know Him specifically and Paul teaches what those specifics are in verse 10.
- the power of the resurrection
- fellowship of His sufferings
What does Paul mean when he writes, “the power of His resurrection”? In Romans 6, Paul explains what he means by this statement. The power of the resurrection sets us free from our slavery to sin’s death grip on our lives. This is the reason that I should place Him above my idols, because He set me free from those idols. He is the only person who has the ability to set me free from the idols that enslave me. This is why Paul counts all his idols as rubbish when compared to the value of knowing Christ. Once we have been set free from our idols and we now serve Christ, we can expect to experience Christ’s sufferings. The word fellowship means “to have something in common”. When we walk with Christ on a daily basis, we will be persecuted because those around us who serve idols will see that we are different and want to stop us. This is what Paul teaches Timothy in his second epistle to him.
12 Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
Living godly means turning away from idols and following Christ moment by moment, day by day. What are the results of being led by idols and what are the results of being led by Christ?
III. The results
Those who are led by idols may be religious but their religion does not connect them with God. The actions of a person led by idols is an evil life, even if he is religious. He may be zealous but his zeal ends up causing evil instead of good. The problem is that he is self righteous. He does not measure himself with God’s standard. He finds his own standard and uses that standard to make himself feel better about himself, even though he does evil things. He is controlled by his idolatry. He is false or fake, even if he is a religious person because his righteousness is not the righteousness of God. Righteousness being right or correct in the eyes of God, according to God’s standards.
On the other hand, people who are focused on the Lord Jesus Christ, walking with Him moment by moment are no longer enslaved by idols. They have had their hearts and lives changed by Christ. The receive the righteousness of God. The previous group works to have their own righteousness. These people simply receive righteousness from God. They live in that righteousness moment by moment. He has been set free from his sin nature. He still has a sin nature but he is no longer controlled by that sin nature. One day, he will be resurrected from the dead when Christ returns to rapture the church.
So my dear friend, are you controlled by idols or by the Lord Jesus Christ? If you are a follower of Christ, are you choosing to focus on Him moment by moment, day by day or are there idols that have crept in to take your focus away from Him? Whose righteousness are you living by day by day? Has your life been transformed by the Lord Jesus Christ. If you are still controlled by idols then you need to repent, accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and be born again. May the Lord help us stay away from idols and choose Christ above all else.