Proper 22 · Philippians 3:4b–14 · October 8, 2017
Editor’s note: David Schmitt provides this homiletical help as the third of four in a sermon series on the lectionary’s successive readings from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
By David Schmitt,
At this point in his letter, Paul opens his heart and offers a personal confession of faith to the Philippians (3:4–14): having the righteousness of Christ (3:9) changes how Paul considers his past, his present, and his future.
As Paul speaks about his life, he models for the Philippians how Christians understand their lives in Christ and the way in which they persevere in the midst of suffering and service in the world (3:15–21).
This portion of the letter is saturated with Paul’s faith in Christ. At the heart of this all is the fact that “Christ Jesus has made me his own” (3:12). By this gracious act of God in Christ, Jesus has become Paul’s Lord (3:1 and 8) and Savior (3:20). Paul begins by encouraging the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord (3:1) and then reveals to them what such rejoicing sounds like. It involves boasting not in oneself but in Christ (3:3), trusting not in our righteousness through the law but in his righteousness that is ours by faith (3:9), and sharing his sufferings in this world (3:10) as we await his final revelation (3:20).
Re-evaluating the Past
Because of God’s work for him in Christ, Paul re-evaluates his past. He sees things differently. That which is prized by the opponents of the gospel is dismissed by Paul as a disadvantage (3:7), as something which takes his eyes away from Christ and what Christ has done for him.
Pressing on in the Present
God’s work in Christ also changes how Paul views his present circumstances. Christ power over all things, revealed in his resurrection, encourages Paul in times of suffering. In prison, he shares in Christ’s sufferings, trusting that ultimately God will deliver him. Though the world opposes him and false teachers attack him, because of the power of Christ, Paul presses on as a runner in a race (3:12 and 14).
Hoping for the Future
Finally, God’s work in Christ gives Paul a glorious vision of the future. He trusts that Jesus will return and raise our bodies from the dead, transforming them to be like his glorious body, even as he renews all things.
As Paul confesses his faith, he holds on to the death, resurrection, and return of Christ and offers the Philippians an example of how the gospel shapes our lives, past, present, and future and encourages them to look for others who do the same.
Connections for Application
When Kirk graduated from college, he realized that he needed to change his social media presence. He began to look at his profile, his interests, his posts, his connections, and re-evaluate them. He considered how they looked through the eyes of potential employer and tried to scrub his social media clean. For Kirk, a change in his life situation resulted in reconsideration, a re-envisioning of his past for the sake of the present and the future.
In our text, Paul undergoes a similar re-evaluation but, unlike Kirk, he does not seek to hide his past. Instead, Paul displays it. Because of Paul’s clear confession of the gospel, he is freed from the endless process of self-presentation. He does not worry about what others will think of him. Instead, he boldly speaks of his past, his present, and his future in a way that confesses his faith.
Sometimes, the church presents the gospel in a very narrow way. It points only to the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. In this portion of his letter, Paul writes with a larger understanding of the gospel. For Paul, the good news of God’s work in Christ involves not only his death, but also his resurrection, his rule and return to restore all things. When Paul sees his life through the large lens of the gospel, he reconceives his past, present, and future. Because of Christ’s death, Paul lives confidently in the righteousness of Christ; because of Christ’s resurrection, Paul is empowered for service in difficult circumstances, and because of Christ’s return, Paul lives in hope of the final resurrection and the restoration of all creation.
In a world of paparazzi, we are accustomed to catching popular figures in unguarded moments. We get a glimpse behind the fragile illusions of celebrity status and see what daily life looks like for these people. For some Christians, their life of faith is like the fragile image of celebrity status. It involves carefully crafted moments of religious activities. They need to demonstrate to others that they live uprightly, that they are patient and loving, that they give to the poor, and that their lives are filled with God’s blessing. Such Christians live in fear of one small slip, because then the illusion would be shattered.
For us, the apostle Paul’s self-revelation is a blessing. He takes us behind the scenes of celebrity status to see what a true Christian’s life looks like. As Christians, our confidence lies not in our works but in the work of Christ. His death forgives us from sin and therefore we treasure and remember our baptism. His resurrection empowers our living, and therefore we press on in the present struggles. We live sacrificially in a world of consumption, we seek the interests of Christ in a world of self-interest, and we participate in the community of Christ in a world of individuals. Finally, his promised return to restore all things gives us hope. While we labor in his kingdom, we look not to the results of our work to justify our efforts, but rather turn to his promise, trusting that in his time, he will return and restore all things.
Activity for the Week
As the family of God, we are united in Christ, and this changes how we live. For the apostle Paul, it caused him to re-evaluate his past, to press on in his present circumstances, and to foster hope for the future.
Using this three-fold perspective of Paul, identify and sponsor activities that support your members in re-evaluating their past, pressing on in the present, and being filled with hope for the future.
For example, in re-evaluating the past, you could establish a program wherein members are sent a card of remembrance on their baptismal birthdays or you could encourage a congregational small group to spend some time this week sharing with one another how we reconsider our past and remember Christ’s work in our lives.
For pressing on in the present, identify how members can offer support to those involved in a communal or vocational effort where there are struggles. It could be something as simple as a prayer request or something more involved like organizing an appreciation day for such workers.
For having hope for the future, you could identify those who have lost loved ones within the past year and encourage members to pay them a visit, give them a call, or send them a card to converse with them and to reaffirm the hope we have in the resurrection of the body and God’s promise of eternal life in the new creation.