Devotional Reading: Ephesians 2: 1-10
Lesson Scripture: Philippians 3: 1-11
Lesson Aims: To recognize the futility of worldly success; to understand and to appreciate knowing Christ; and to deepen our relationship with Him because that yields true JOY.
Background: Paul was in a Roman prison facing an uncertain future yet he had joy. The world didn’t give it to him and the world couldn’t take it away! He graciously thanked the church at Philippi for their donation and took the opportunity to instruct and warn them about the days ahead. This church didn’t have the problems like some of the other early churches. However, the apostle knew that issues would arise. Human nature is the same yesterday and today. Don’t get comfortable as a church without issues. Threats will come no matter how good you are. The package is wrapped differently; the marketing more advanced; but the aim is the same – getting believers side tracked.
The Libertines were mentioned in the January 6th lesson without an explanation. They were individuals who joined the church believing that the body did not matter only the soul counts. Thus they were free to pursue pleasure in any way, shape or form. Simply put, as long as the believer kept his/her body pleasures (not just sex) separate from the soul, they could remain in good standing with God. Paul refuted this mindset of “confidence in the flesh” as the means to happiness in chapter three.
Lesson: I’ve begun this lesson at verse one of chapter three.This is different from your printed commentaries; don’t worry our destination is the same. Paul cautioned the church to be aware of the “dogs” (verse 2) in their midst. A harsh term, yes, but he wants them to be on guard against anyone who will mutilate the good news! To be on the lookout requires that you know the good news for yourself! The Libertines embrace the idea that confidence in the body led to happiness. The apostle then offers a comparison of himself before and after the Damascus Road. He was circumcised on the eighth day and raised as a devout Jew. Paul traced his linage back to the tribe of Benjamin.
This was important for status back then and remains so in some circles today. As a member of the Pharisaic Party (Pharisee) his zeal for the Law was outstanding and people knew him. He was somebody in the community and had reason to boast until he met Jesus. After that encounter, he transformed from a self-centered individual to one centered on Christ which gives true Joy! Everything that was important suddenly didn’t mean anything. Throw it away; it’s junk! Having the knowledge of Christ goes beyond intellect to include a deep, abiding, ongoing personal relationship with Christ. In other words, it’s not some catchy phrase, church membership or how holy you look. The transformation that accompanies this relationship renders worldly accomplishments trivial. The apostle goes on to say that his righteousness isn’t based on the world but on God through faith! For him “the Law is holy, good and just” (The New International Interpreter’s Bible) but keeping it doesn’t save. Relying on works doesn’t save either. Believers are to follow the Savior, including the suffering to experience the power of His resurrection! That brings everlasting joy!
Application: Our search for happiness has taken us down many roads. Somewhere along the way, we recognize that this isn’t it. We try another path. We even get caught up in titles, awards and other manifestations of worldly success. God isn’t against our happiness; He just wants us to get the real thing – joy. Notice how some people with all of this worldly success lack true happiness! Lasting joy and happiness is rooted in our relationship with the Savior! Mr. Willie Griffith, a Sunday School teacher, always says, “Joy is Jesus, others, and then yourself, in that order.” Think about it. That pattern follows Jesus. He put God first.
You are not being asked to live an ascetic life (rigorous self denial) but to acknowledge Him in all things. We have no righteousness on our own; it is His righteousness alone. We can’t get there on our own; it’s futile. Joy is everlasting (joy to the world); there’s no end to it. That Joy, however, can only be found in Jesus – Jesus alone. In Him, we gain; without Him we lose.