March Madness has begun. The best men’s college basketball teams have faced off in the NCAA tournament and some have been brutally surprised by their opponents. Purdue was the #1 seed in the East, but they lost to #16 seed, Fairleigh Dickinson. Another surprise was #2 Arizona being beat by #15 Princeton. Most of the higher ranked teams probably had confidence that they would easily beat the lower ranked teams. But where is their confidence now?
In the last message, we started a conversation about our confidence toward God. Paul had listed many good things that he could be confident about in verses 4-6. But he had considered all of those good deeds as loss and rubbish because he had found all that he needed in Christ. He was confident in what Jesus had done for him instead of being confident in himself.
Paul’s words should cause all of us to ask ourselves a few questions. Are we confident in the good things we have done? If so, we would say, I am confident in myself and my achievements. I am a good person who should be allowed to stand before God on my own merits. The other question is this. Are we confident in what Christ has done? If so, we would say, I am confident in Christ. I am not a good person, but I am trusting in what Jesus did for me instead of my own good works. Today we will consider the second type of confidence.
2. I am confident in Christ (Philippians 3:9-11).
This statement summarizes what our confidence should be in. God did not ask us to become righteous enough to earn His favor. We find all that we need in Him by trusting Him, knowing Him, and being ready for Him.
a. Are you trusting Him? (9)
Someday each of us will stand before God and we will be found in one condition or the other. Paul says that he wanted to be found in Jesus as opposed to his own righteousness. This means that he was trusting in what Jesus did for him on the cross. Jesus paid for his sins and now Paul was trusting in Jesus alone as his confidence.
Paul was not confident in his own righteousness.
What is righteousness? “Its leading idea evidently is that of acceptance, satisfactoriness, however secured, to law” (Moule 92). In other words, righteousness is what we cling to when trying to be accepted by God.
Paul looked at all of his character and achievements. While they might have impressed some people, he realized that his own righteousness was not impressive to God. Perhaps Paul was thinking of what the prophet Isaiah said years before.
Isaiah 64:6 – “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”
All of the good things we have done do not cover up our sinfulness. God knows it all and is not impressed by the few good things we do. Paul knew that it was futile to dress himself up in his own good works hoping to impress God. It would be like a dirty beggar trying to impress a wealthy king with his rags.
If Paul, an impressive, religious man, was not confident in his own righteousness, what was he confident in?
Paul was confident in the righteousness of Christ.
We all have that natural desire to do something to make God think better of us. We do it when we go to court wearing a suit and tie—hoping to impress the judge with our good character. But God is perfect and holy and is not at all impressed. The only righteousness he will accept is that of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus, who never sinned, became a man and willingly gave His life on the cross to pay for our sins. He gave his perfect life for our sinful lives so that we could become righteousness in Him.
You may have noticed that there is no action needed on our part. Paul says it is the righteousness which is from God by faith. “‘By faith’ is the important word. That is the only way in the world you can get it. You can’t work for it; you can’t buy it; you can’t steal it. You just trust Him” (McGee 314). Do you see that? God doesn’t want you to work to become righteous. He simply requires faith.
What does faith mean? “The leading and characteristic idea of the word is personal trust… It is certainly not mere assent. … The word ‘faith’ consistently conveys in Scripture the thought of personal reliance, trustful acceptance of Divine truth, Divine work, of the Divine Worker and Lord. …a bringing of nothing in order to receive everything” (Moule 93-4).
Paul was confident in Christ. He didn’t come to God with his merit badges on display. He came to God knowing that he was undeserving of being right with God. But he knew God’s promise to save those who put their faith in Jesus. With that in mind, he put his confidence (full reliance) in Jesus’ righteousness being given to him simply… by faith.
Are you confident in Jesus? Because if you are, this faith is just the beginning of a relationship with God. As we continue, you will see that Paul wasn’t satisfied to just be made righteous by faith. He wanted to develop his relationship with Jesus even more.
b. Do you want to know Him better? (10)
When I am hiring a new driver for the company, I often use stories to convey ideas. If the person is interested in sports I tell them about someone I know who plays in the NBA. But when I do that, I often pause because the “friend” is more of an acquaintance. He is someone who played basketball in middle school with one of my sons. If you were to ask me anything personal about the athlete, I would know very little. So I have to admit that I really don’t know that person very well.
If I were to ask you if you know the Lord Jesus, what would you say? You might say, yes, but what would that mean? What do you know about Him? Do you know Him well? Do you have a good relationship with Him? Can you tell me a little bit about Him? Paul, who wrote a large part of the New Testament, knew the Lord. But he states here that he wanted to know Jesus even more. This ought to be the attitude of every Christian.
A well-known radio preacher writes that “Today some saints give me the impression that they have complete knowledge and they only need to polish their halo every morning and are ready to take off at any moment. Yet Paul, the greatest missionary the world has ever seen, said at the end of his life, ‘My admission is still to know Christ…'” (McGee 315).
Paul wanted to know the power of Jesus’ resurrection.
When we attend a funeral service, we are painfully aware that we have no power to help the deceased loved one. But God raised up Jesus from the dead after three days. That same power is available to us to serve Him and endure what may happen daily.
“The power that raised Jesus from the dead—is the power that is at work in us to make us holy, to make us a fit place for Jesus to dwell, to enable us to grasp the limitless dimensions of God’s love for us (Eph. 3:14-19), to strengthen us so that we have great endurance and faith and lives constantly characterized by thanksgiving (Col. 1:11-12). It takes extraordinary power to change us to become like that. in fact, it takes nothing less than the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead” (Carson 87).
As you get to know the Lord better, there will be opportunities to see God’s mighty power at work. While we enjoy hearing powerful testimonies of people who were miraculously saved by God, delivered from bad circumstances, or healed from diseases, the most personal knowledge of Jesus is found when He is working in our own lives. Have you seen His power at work in your life? And do you want to see Him continuously working in your life?
Paul wanted to know the fellowship of Jesus’ sufferings.
This part of the Bible may be a bit difficult to understand at first. How can we have fellowship with the sufferings of Christ? When we think of fellowship, we think of friendship, church dinners, and fun times. What do these have to do with the sufferings of Jesus?
Paul wasn’t talking about suffering on the cross with Jesus. That would be impossible. What he was wanting was to be so close to Jesus that he would go through some of the same troubles Jesus went through. He wanted to live out what Jesus told the disciples they would face. If they hated Jesus, they would hate his disciples. Paul wanted to know the Lord so well and to be so close to Him that he was willing to suffer for the Lord.
Did Paul ever suffer for the Lord? Yes, he did. And this was part of God’s plan for him. When the Lord sent Ananias to newly converted Paul, God told him that he would “show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” As you read through the Book of Acts, you see that Paul did suffer for the Lord. It wasn’t that he wanted to be hurt. His desire was to have such a close relationship to the Lord that he would willingly suffer with Christ.
Do you love the Lord so much that you would be willing to suffer with Him? This was not only to be part of Paul’s life but also part of our own lives.
Philipians 1:29 – “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
As we faithfully live godly lives for the Lord, we are promised that we will face persecution. The world hates Christ and those who follow Him. But we love the Lord and when we suffer persecution, we grow closer to Him and understand some of what He went through when on this earth. This is probably what Paul meant by us “being conformed to His death.” As we suffer for Christ, we are becoming like Jesus by facing the same things He did.
c. Are you working for Him? (11)
This part of the passage may be difficult to understand. Paul has already told us that he was trusting in the righteousness of Christ. He has also told us how much he wants to know Jesus better including suffering for Him. We know that he was not seeking to gain God’s favor by doing things. But what he says in verse 11 is a bit confusing.
Philippians 3:11 – “if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
Paul wanted to attain something.
Keep in mind that Paul is no longer talking about attaining righteousness by his own works. Here is he is talking about attaining something during his Christian life. While we do not work to become righteous, we should work for the Lord after we have been saved. Consider several other Bible verses:
Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
Philippians 2:12 – “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”
2 Peter 1:5-8 – “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In each of the above passages, we see that God wants Christians to do good works, to work to show their Christian lives, and to add character to their faith. This is what Christians do. They don’t think they have “attained” a top degree at some point and then quit living for the Lord. Real Christians keep working for the Lord. They keep striving.
So what was Paul still trying to attain?
Paul wanted to attain the resurrection from the dead.
The meaning of this phrase is not explained by Paul. If you look through Bible commentaries on this verse, you will find many ideas regarding what this passage means. Some say that this is talking about the Rapture. “Perhaps he was using this word to refer to the Rapture, thus expressing the hope that the Lord would return during his lifetime” (Lightner 661). But Paul has already told the Thessalonian church that all believers (dead or living) will be resurrected when Jesus comes back (1 Thess. 4:13-18). It was not something they had to attain to. Others think this refers to someone attaining a spiritual resurrection out from the spiritually dead around them. But this doesn’t make sense either because we are raised to new life by faith in Christ not by doing something else.
While I don’t really know exactly what Paul was talking about, I have an idea (see Barnes and Clarke). We know that he is not trying to attain acceptance by God or to attain the Rapture that all Christians will experience. However, there is a possibility that there will be a difference in resurrection depending on how each Christian has lived. Consider what the apostle Peter says:
2 Peter 1:10-11 – “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Peter was not telling Christians to earn their way to heaven. He was telling them to add character to their faith by living for the Lord so that their entrance into the kingdom would be abundant. If they were to follow Peter’s advice, their welcome into heaven would be extra special. Think of the “Well done faithful servant” that Jesus talked about.
With that in mind, Paul may have been saying the same thing that Peter was. He wanted to live faithfully for the Lord so that when Jesus returns, he would have that extra special welcome when he is raised from the dead. That is something that we all can work toward—receiving God’s approving smile when we finally go home.
During this message, we have looked at the right idea of being confident in Christ. We considered this idea with three questions.
First, are you trusting Him? This is a question that only you can answer. Are you putting your confidence in what Jesus accomplished on the cross for you? This is not just knowledge of what Jesus did. Instead, it is full reliance on what He did for you.
Second, if you are trusting Him, do you want to know Him better? Every Christians should have the desire to get to know the Lord better every day. We should never think we have arrived with nothing more to learn. And as you get to know Jesus better, you should be willing to share in His life including suffering and even death if needed. He did so much for us, how can we hold back for Him?
Third, are you working for Him? It ought to be our desire to faithfully do God’s will every day. And while you may not care about trophies or lapel pins, you will be happy to hear God say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That commendation from the Lord ought to motivate each of us to work faithfully for Him this week.
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible as viewed at https://biblehub.com/commentaries/barnes/philippians/3.htm on 3/18/2023.
Carson, D. A., Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996, pp. 86-88.
Clarke’s Commentary as viewed at https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/philippians-3.html#verse-11 on 3/18/2023.
Lightfoot, J. B., St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, pp. 149-51.
Lightner, Robert P., “Philippians” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983, pp. 660-61.
McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, 1 Corinthians through Revelation, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983, pp. 314-15.
Moule, H. C. G., The Epistle to the Philippians, Cambridge: The University Press, 1889, pp. 91-97.
“What does Philippians 3:10 mean? as viewed at https://www.bibleref.com/Philippians/3/Philippians-3-10.html on 3/18/2023.