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Dying To Self


My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
(Philippians 3:10-11 NET)


When Jesus was nailed to the cross and subsequently died, He did so as a perfect human being. He had lived a life in complete submission to God the Father by forsaking the temptation to live in His own power and to satisfy His own desires. He had completely died to self in a figurative sense.

The life that God calls us to is a life of self-denial. This does not mean intentionally living in poverty or not taking care of our own needs. It means looking out for the needs of others rather than looking out for our own wants [Philippians 2:3-4]. This is how Jesus lived.

Jesus did not neglect Himself. He took care of His own needs. He slept. He ate. But He did not attend to Himself more than was necessary. Rather, He lived for others. No where was this more evident than in His willingly going to the cross and experiencing the wrath of God in our place. No greater sacrifice has anyone ever made.

While God doesn’t always ask believers to experience physical death for Him (although He may), He does command us to take up our own cross [Luke 9:23]. That is, we should put to death our selfish human nature and live for Him by serving others [Colossians 3:5]. This is what Jesus did.

Jesus’ life was 100% committed to doing the will of the Father. He did not cling to His own rights [Philippians 2:5-8] or seek to serve Himself [Matthew 20:28]. His entire life on this earth was focused on doing for others what they could not do for themselves.

No one can save himself from the penalty of their sin which is eternal separation from God (aka “hell”). We need someone to save us from that destiny. That is what Jesus did. He created a path to heaven for those who believe [John 3:16].

Once a person believes (i.e. is “born again” [John 3:3]) he/she has been figuratively crucified just as Jesus was [Colossians 2:20] and no longer exists. The person who exists is a new creation [2 Corinthians 5:17]. The previous person is dead. This is the death Paul is talking about there.

When we walk in someone else’s shoes and experience life as they do we can relate to them. When we live as Jesus did – by dying to self and living for others – we will “know” Him more, which is Paul’s ultimate goal and should be our goal too.

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Value In Suffering


My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
(Philippians 3:10-11 NET)


In Paul’s letter to the Philippians he has been describing the goals he has for his own life. These should be our goals as well. Paul’s overall goal was to “know” Jesus. The path to that goal is to experience Jesus’ power as we studied yesterday and to “share in His sufferings”.

Everyone in life experiences pain to some degree but many people have trouble with the concept of suffering as part of the Christian life. But this should be no surprise as Jesus told us this would happen [Matthew 21:34-36; John 15:21; Acts 9:16]. We see it occurring all the time in our world.

Pastor Saeed Abedini is an Iranian-American and Muslim convert to Christianity. He is now serving an 8-year sentence in an Iranian prison for being a Christian where he has been repeatedly beaten by inmates and guards.

While we don’t see this level of persecution in the United States (yet), we do see a government that forces Christian business owners to compromise their beliefs on issues such as same-sex marriage and a society that unashamedly ridicules people who openly live for Jesus (e.g. Tim Tebow). Even I have received several death threats since I started this blog eighteen months ago.

Since Jesus Himself suffered there is no reason for any Christian to believe that he/she won’t suffer too. But we will not suffer nearly as much as He did. While on the cross Jesus experienced the ultimate suffering – God abandoning Him. This is the worse thing a human could experience and is the equivalent of being in hell.

Thankfully, this is something born-again believers will never have to experience because Jesus experienced it in our place.

When we are rejected and ridiculed (or worse) as Jesus was we become closer to Him. People who only share good times aren’t very close. Their relationships are superficial. The closest friends we have are those with whom we go through difficult times.

The other benefit of suffering for Jesus is that it is the only way we can experience His strength [2 Corinthians 12:10]. When the world brings us low, Jesus will raise us up [John 16:33; John 14:27; 1 Peter 4:16 et. al]. This is great encouragement.

The world around us tries everything it can to remove pain from their lives. But in so doing they are not growing or becoming better. Disappointments, failures, and hardships grow our character and make us better people. They make us more like Jesus, which is God’s goal for His adopted children [Romans 8:29].

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Experiencing Power


My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
(Philippians 3:10-11 NET)


Yesterday we studied what it means to know Jesus – which Paul stated was the goal for his life. In addition, Paul wants to experience “the power of His resurrection”.

The Greek word for power here is δυναμισ [pronounced: doo'-nam-is]. It means “the ability inherent in something’s natural state”. Here Paul is referring to the very power of God.

When a person becomes a believer in Jesus Christ he/she has God – in the form of the Holy Spirit – indwelling them [John 14:16-17, 26; Romans 8:11; et. al]. We have God Himself living inside us. All the power of God is available to us for the rest of our lives. This is the exact same power that raised Christ from the dead [Ephesians 1:17, 19].

But just like knowing Christ is a life-long process, so is learning to experience His power. Having this power does not make us miracle-workers or magicians. We don’t automatically have the ability to move mountains or raise people from the dead.

Rather we need this power to overcome the sin that is in us and around us. There is nothing inherently good in any human being. None of us are righteous in the least [Ecclesiastes 7:20; Psalms 14:3; Isaiah 64:6]. Paul wanted to experience the power of Jesus’ resurrection – the very power of God – in his life because that is the only way to overcome sin and live the humble life he has been calling the Philippians to in this letter [Galatians 5:16].

God’s goal for His children is to become more like Jesus. We can’t do that through our own efforts. We must abide in Christ [John 15:5] who will strengthen us and change us to be like Him. Then, and only then, can we display the fruit of the Spirit [Galatians 5:22].

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The Goal of Every Believer


My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
(Philippians 3:10-11 NET)


Paul has just explained that he has put his faith for eternal life in Jesus. But his faith was not a blind faith. His faith was based on his knowledge of who Jesus was. One would think that Paul would have known everything about Jesus by this point. But here he states that the goal for the rest of his life is to “know Him”. This should also be the goal of every Christian.

The Greek word for “to know” here is γινοσκο (pronounced: ghin-oce’-ko) and it means “to gain an understanding over time”. When we initially meet a person we do not know them. If we meet a person once and never see them again we will never know that person. We need to spend time with someone in order to get to know them.

But that does not mean that we can ever fully know someone. Even couples who have been married for many years continue to learn new things about each other. Getting to know someone is a life-long process.

In the same way we need to cultivate a life-long relationship with Jesus by spending time with Him. We do this primarily through Bible study and prayer.

Man-made religions like Catholicism, Hinduism, and Islam emphasize human accomplishment. These are examples of the false teachers Paul referenced and debunked earlier [Philippians 3:2-3]. These people erroneously claimed that one can enter heaven on his/her own merit.

Christianity, on the other hand, is not a religion. It is a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus, who is a friend to those who believe [John 15:15, James 2:23]. Friends know each other.

God has revealed Himself through the Bible. He is more than willing to meet with us in prayer and give us more knowledge and wisdom [James 1:5]. For this to happen we need to spend time with Him. This means the responsibility lies with us.

Deists believe that God created the universe and then left it alone to go on without Him. This is not true. God is here. He is active in our lives. And He wants His children to know Him. He has proven that by giving us the Bible and making Himself available through prayer 24/7.

This is important because it is only through knowledge of Him that one can have eternal life [John 17:3].

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The Right Credentials


Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—
(Philippians 3:8-9 ESV)


Paul had willingly rejected the value of chasing after earthly gain because he was focused on his eternity. Paul knew that one day he would stand before God to give an account of his life. It was with this long-term view that Paul made his decisions.

We can plan on standing before God after we die and relying on what we have done (and not done) during our life (“righteousness that comes from the law”) as our credentials for getting into heaven; we can try to convince God that we are “good enough”. This will not work [Matthew 7:21-23].

Perfection is the standard for getting into heaven. Sadly, all human beings fall well short of that standard. But God wants us to be with Him forever. So He sent His Son to take on our sin [2 Corinthians 5:21] so that we can be counted as righteous on Judgment Day. The only “catch” is that God will only do this for people who want Him to do it.

This is where it gets tricky because human nature wants to put confidence in self. We want to think we are good – or at least more good than bad. Pride gets in the way of accepting God’s offer – we don’t think we need it.

When someone accepts Jesus’ payment for their sins God attributes Christ’s perfection to that person. Now that person has the credentials to get into heaven because the penalty that would keep them out of heaven has been paid for by someone else (Jesus).

We all have a choice in life, as Paul did. We can choose who we are going to put our faith in. We can put faith in self. Or we can put our faith in Jesus. Even though Paul had adhered to the law of God more than pretty much anyone [Philippians 3:4-6] he came to realize that even that was not going to help him on Judgment Day. If Paul didn’t have the credentials to get into heaven on his own merit, how much less do we?

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The Value of Knowing


Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—
(Philippians 3:8-9 ESV)


Paul has just explained how, upon meeting Jesus along the Damascus road, he realized that his Jewish pedigree and social standing were not worth holding on to. Now, some thirty years later, as he sits in a Roman prison having “suffered the loss of all things”, he determines that everything and anything is worth losing in order to know Jesus.

Once again this is a reasoned decision by Paul (“I count”) who weighed the benefits of earthly gain against having a relationship with Jesus. Having a nice home, or a secure job, or fame are not bad things. But if those things become the focal point of one’s life or, worse, if they stand in the way of knowing Jesus in the first place, then they are spiritually damaging.

The only thing that can gain someone eternal life is a relationship with Jesus [Matthew 7:21-23, John 3:16, et. al]. Therefore, there is no ultimate value in anything else that can be attained on this earth. While earthly things such as money and power have utilitarian value, they have no spiritual value. Their usage is temporary – limited to earth – not eternal. So in the long-run they are rubbish.

In its original language the Bible is often very graphic. Our English translations clean up the original Greek and Hebrew. But in doing so we can lose the intense meaning behind the given author’s choice of words. This verse is a perfect example. The word “rubbish” hardly paints an accurate picture of what Paul is saying here. In the original Greek the word is σκυβαλον (pronounced: skoo’-bal-on) which means “animal excrement”.

Paul had as much use, spiritually speaking, for the things this world has to offer as he had for animal excrement. In other words, the things that the world had to offer him were useless, offensive, and toxic. This is a very strong statement. But it was true for Paul 2,000 years ago and it is true for us today.

No one would disagree that the more education a person has the more successful they can become. Knowledge provides opportunity. This is true of our lives and it is also true when it comes to our eternity. “Knowing Christ Jesus” has a “worth” which surpasses all else. It is the ultimate education.

The Greek word for “knowing” here is γνοσισ (pronounced: gno’-sis). It describes a knowledge that is acquired over time through experience and relationship. Knowing Jesus is a life-long process, but is worth more than everything else on earth combined.

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A Worthwhile Exchange


though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
(Philippians 3:4-7 ESV)


Over the past two days we’ve read Paul comments on the uselessness of relying on human rituals to create a right standing before God. Today he offers up himself as an example of someone who previously bought into the lie of salvation by works but who subsequently realized he was wrong.

If any Jew had reason to boast about being right before God, Paul had more. He was “circumcised on the eighth day”, according to the law [Leviticus 12:3], making Paul a native Jew. I used to live in Texas but I was not born there. There are Texans and then there are “native Texans” who take pride in being born in that state and are proud to point that out. Paul proudly points out that he was not a convert to Judaism. He was born into it.

In fact Paul was born into the blessed tribe of Benjamin which produced Israel’s first king. Paul’s original name was “Saul” and he may have been named after King Saul, the first king of Israel.

In addition to his heredity Paul could also point to his adherence to the law as a reason for his righteousness. Paul had been a member of the Pharisees, the elite sect of the Jews. He also zealously persecuted the early Christian movement by killing Jews who converted [Acts 8:3, Acts 9:1, Acts 22:4 et. al].

If anyone had reason to take pride in themselves, it was Paul. And he did. At one time Paul believed that all these credentials gave him an “in” with God. But he came to realize that was not true. Now all these things meant nothing to him.

Interestingly, the word for “gain” means “advantages”. The word for “loss” means “damage”. Achievements that Paul had thought were to his advantage he came to realize were really damaging to him, spiritually speaking. He therefore made the conscience choice (“I counted”) to exchange all his earthly accomplishments for a relationship with Jesus.

Notice also that the word for “gain” is plural in Greek but the word for “loss” is singular. Paul was willing to exchange all he had for one thing – the most important thing – knowing Jesus.

The kingdom of God is more valuable than anything else we could have. All possessions and status we gain on this earth are temporary. We lose them when we die. There is no reason to put any faith in them.

Rather, we should be willing to forsake any earthly gain in exchange for knowing Jesus [Matthew 13:44-46]. It would be useless to hold onto our man-made successes, hoping they will get us into heaven. They will not [Matthew 7:21-23].

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True Believers


Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—
(Philippians 3:2-3 ESV)


Yesterday Paul exposed the false doctrine of salvation by works. He debunked the theory that circumcision is required for someone to be a true child of God.

Jews back then, and even today, believed that they were the only true children of God. They rejected Jesus as the one through Him salvation is offered. Certainly God had a special purpose for the Jewish people. It was through them that He brought the message of salvation to the world.

But salvation was always offered up to all people, not just the Jews [Romans 1:16]. In fact, there are examples of Gentiles becoming saved in the Old Testament, including Ruth, Rahab, and many others. The only requirement for becoming one of God’s adopted children is to believe [John 1:12]. Only those who believe (i.e. are born-again) will see heaven, as Jesus explained to Nicodemus [John 3:3, John 3:16].

Although God demanded physical circumcision of all Jewish males, being circumcised did not automatically lead to salvation. Circumcision was an outward sign of the covenant between God and Abraham [Genesis 17:11]. It still required faith to get to heaven, as we can tell from the fact that Gentiles – who were not circumcised – could be saved long before Jesus went to the cross.

Spiritually speaking, circumcision of the heart is what God is after. And only He can perform it [Deuteronomy 30:6, Colossians 2:11]. God wants to remove that part of us that defiles us and keeps us from getting close to Him – faith in self.

Paul points out that a true child of God worships Him through the Holy Spirit who lives inside every believer [John 4:23-24] as opposed to worshipping God in the flesh – through works. True believers also “glory” (“rejoice” in other translations) in what Jesus did on the cross rather than in our own abilities, which fall woefully short. We do not have confidence in our own abilities. Our only faith is in our Savior.

Many try to earn God’s favor through human effort. This has been true since the Garden of Eden. But Jesus will reject those who offer up such credentials [Matthew 7:21-23].

Those who truly belong to God are those who believe the Gospel message – that Jesus was God who came to earth, lived a perfect life, died, was buried, and rose again for the forgiveness of sins.

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Counterfeit


Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—
(Philippians 3:2-3 ESV)


In today’s passage Paul has very harsh words for those who were trying to teach a false doctrine - that circumcision was required for anyone to be saved from their sins. In other words, these people were claiming that God saved people based on what they did rather than on His mercy alone. People who believe and teach this are called “legalists”.

Legalists believe that a person can earn their way to heaven based on their so-called good deeds. All man-made religions are legalistic as they all teach that people can please God and earn eternal life based on what we do on this earth. This includes all major religions such as Islam, Catholicism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. These religions essentially state that we can force God to reward us in the next life, thereby turning God into a puppet who is controlled by man.

But this is not the teaching of the Bible, which unlike these religions is not man-made but originated from God [2 Timothy 3:16]. The Bible is replete with verses and passages that tell us that there is nothing we can do to earn salvation [Ephesians 2:8-9 et. al].

People who are legalists think they are doing “good”. But Paul points out that they are actually “evildoers” who are not accomplishing anything spiritual. Paul’s words for these people is actually quite harsh in the original Greek – emphasizing just how spiritually damaging this false doctrine is.

When we look at the major religions of the world we see that the overwhelming majority of people are subscribing to this false doctrine and will be terribly disappointed when they come face-to-face with Jesus after death. They will think they are going to heaven only to find out they are not.

That is why Paul tells us to “look out for” such false teaching. The Greek word translated “Look out for” is βλεπο (pronounced: blep’-o). It means “to examine or to weigh carefully”. We need to examine what we believe to make sure it is actually true. The truth is that belief  is how someone enters heaven [John 3:3, John 3:16 et. al].

If someone has a counterfeit dollar bill in their wallet they don’t realize it until they try to use it and have it rejected. The bill may look real but it is actually worthless. The same is true of the doctrine of salvation by works. It seems to make sense. But it is actually worthless. It is a counterfeit.

The sad truth is that many people will buy into this false belief [Matthew 7:13-14]. Many people, when they die, will offer up their good works as proof they should get into heaven. Sadly they will discover that they believed a counterfeit and will be rejected [Matthew 7:21-23].

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Cause For Rejoicing


Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
(Philippians 3:1 ESV)


There are many things in life that can make us happy. Paul had just received a monetary gift from the Philippians which probably eased his mind a bit considering his situation (being in prison with no means of earning a living). We may win the lottery, or buy a new house, or see our favorite team win a championship. But none of those are reasons to rejoice.

The world offers many ways to seemingly be happy. But that is a counterfeit happiness. In this next section Paul will discuss a false belief system that was confusing believers. Before he gets into that he reminds his readers that first and foremost our joy – our focus – needs to be on God.

When we stay focused on God and rejoice in Him and not our circumstances we will be “safe”. We will be safe from all that surrounds us and tempts us to fall into a false way of thinking, as Paul will shortly explain. Joy in the Lord brings strength [Nehemiah 8:10]. It protects us from evil.

Paul felt is necessary and appropriate to remind us of this truth because its easy to forget. Human beings tend to be forgetful. Its never a bad idea to continue to remind ourselves of God’s truth, especially when we are going through tough times. Paul was in prison facing possible beheading, yet he has repeatedly expressed his joy in this letter. He could rejoice despite his situation because he kept Jesus in the forefront of his mind.

Our circumstances constantly change. If we are focused on them our emotions will follow. But if we are focused on our God, who loves us unconditionally and who died so we could spend eternity in heaven, we will undoubtedly have joy [Psalm 16:8-9]. That joy will far exceed any counterfeit happiness the world can offer [Psalm 4:7].

Notice that rejoicing in the Lord is an emotional response to an intellectual truth. Christianity is not simply a blind faith that makes one feel good. It is based on the fact that while we were sinners God demonstrated His love for us by sending His Son to die for us [Romans 5:8]. This is a rock-solid truth that will not change. It has been true since day one in the Garden of Eden and it remains true today.

Knowing the truth is cause for rejoicing. It is also the only way to avoid the false teachings that permeate our world. Paul will expound on that in the next few verses.

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