Status as Lost
Status as Loss, 5.31.20
I’ve mentioned a number of times that while Kathryn and I lived in Dallas during seminary, I worked as a security guard. I worked there for a little over five years. It was not a prestigious job. It wasn’t glamourous. My pay was fair but low. I was basically like a rent-a-cop or a mall cop. If you’ve seen the movie “Mall Cop,” then you know what my job was like. I had no weapon. I used no force to stop people from doing wrong. I basically was a professional tattle-tale. I told my boss everything I saw. That’s about it.
Despite the fact that the job was not glamourous, the place where I worked was glamorous. I worked at The Dallas Petroleum Club. The Club was a restaurant, bar, and lounge. It was at the top of a really nice high rise right in downtown Dallas. The Club started as a place for rich oil men to network with each other. Over time, the Club started allowing other professions to join—doctors, lawyers, accountants, government personnel, financial analysts, etc. You had to be wealthy to join the Club. I don’t know how wealthy, but you had to be wealthy. We would host large parties, weddings, and gatherings. People would spend lots of money for these parties. It was a place for the well-to-do.
One way we might be able to understand this Club, the Dallas Petroleum Club, is through the lens of social status. To be a part of this Club, the Dallas Petroleum Club, meant that you had a certain status. This status was usually the result of your social circle, your income, and your job. To be a member was a symbol of a certain type of status. “Important people” we a part of this club. It was a club for the successful, the rich, the privileged.
The Bible has something to say about status. Specifically, as we will see this morning, Paul has something to say to us about status. While Paul did not know about the Dallas Petroleum Club, Paul did know a thing or two about social status. Paul himself, prior to coming to Christ, had a certain status that was quite exceptional for his time. Prior to coming to Christ, Paul was a man of tremendous social and religious status. He was a somebody within first-century Judaism. He had at one time lived that type of life, acquired for himself some tremendous honors and privileges, and yet, as we are going to see from the passage this morning, Paul, after he came to Christ, came to see that his reliance upon his status actually became for him something that separated him from Christ. Paul came to understand his status as a liability. Paul came to see his status as loss. I’ve titled this morning’s sermon “Status as Loss.” What we are going to see this morning, through Paul’s testimony about himself and his status as a Jewish man in the first century, is that social status, religious status, any type of status must not be trusted in. Status, Paul teaches us, is a liability when it comes to trusting in Christ. Status is loss when compared with Christ.
Let’s go ahead and open to our passage this morning. The passage is Phil 3:4–7. We’ll be covering a large chunk of Scripture this morning. Nevertheless, it all concerns the idea of status as loss. The passage reads,
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.
Playing the Status Game
Three points for you this morning. The first point is this, “Playing the Status Game.” To begin this first point, we must set up the context a bit. Look with me at the beginning of chapter 3, v. 2. Paul says,
Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.
While they are not mentioned by name, Paul is discussing the Judaizers here. Paul is warning the Philippians to watch out for the Judaizers. The Judaizers taught that for a Gentile to be a Christian, Gentile males must submit to physical circumcision. For a Gentile male to become a Christian, he must be circumcised first. Paul has very harsh words for this type of teaching. Paul’s not having it. He’s saying, “Beware of these people. They teach terrible doctrine.”
Now look with me at v. 3. Paul says,
For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh
As we discussed the past two weeks, Paul gives four reasons here why the Judaizers are wrong, and why he, Paul, and the Philippians are correct. The last reason is mentioned at the end of v. 3. It is this: “put no confidence in the flesh.” Paul is saying that Christians are marked by the tendency to not those who rely upon circumcision to make them right with God.
The Logic of the Transition
Paul makes a transition in v. 4 that can be confusing if we don’t understand what he is doing between v. 3 and 4. As a Christian, Paul does not place a confidence in the flesh. Paul is not a hypocrite when he says what he says in v. 3. Paul does not place confidence in his flesh. Paul does not place any confidence in his religious status.
However, if we read v. 4 it seems like he does place confidence in the flesh. He says,
Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also.
What Paul is doing here is he is playing a game with his opponents, the Judiazers. The Judiazers put confidence in their flesh—specifically, in the act of physical circumcision. The Judiazers boast in circumcision. That’s their identity. That is the symbol of their status. What Paul says to the Judaizers is that he can beat them at their own game of placing confidence in the flesh. He says, “You want to play the game of “putting confidence in the flesh, in physical circumcision and religious/social status? I can play that game.”
What we call this today is “beating someone at their own game.” What this means is that you use the same methods that your opponents use, but you use them more successfully and gain an advantage over them. An example of this can go something like this. I really want my children to have integrity, to be honest, to keep their word. That is a very important quality for parents to teach children. Teach your kids to be honest and keep their word. If they some they’ll do x, y, or z, keep them accountable to do that. I try to keep my kids accountable. If one of my boys tell me they’re going to do something, I say, “Are you going to be a man of your word?” If my daughter tells me she’ll do something, I say, “Are you going to be a woman of your word?” This question is a helpful teaching device. Here’s where it gets funny. Here’s where my kids are smart. You know it’s not just the kids who have to keep their word. Parents do, too. When my kids ask me to do something for them, I might respond, “Yes,” without giving it much thought. When it comes time for me to execute on this task, you know what my kids say to me? “Dad, you’ve got to be a man of your word. Are you going to keep your word, Dad? Dad, keep your word.” My kids take the tactic that I use with them and they flip it around and us it with me. They “beat my at my own game” of keeping them honest.
Bringing this back to Paul. Paul takes the tactics that the Judiazers are using—placing confidence in the flesh as a means of salvation—and he uses those same tactics against them. Paul doesn’t want to play the “confidence in the flesh” game. That’s the false way of attaining peace with God. That goes nowhere. But for the sake of argument, for the sake of persuasion he plays that game with Judiazers. Verse 4 is his admission that he will and can play that game. In fact, he is most suited to play that game based upon his life before Christ.
So Paul says in v. 4, “If you want to play that game, then let’s do it. I have far more reason to boast in the flesh, to be a spiritual confidence in what it is that I have achieved as a Jewish man than you do. Far more. I am the supreme example of someone who has a reason to place confidence in religious status.” That’s what v. 4 is about.
In vv. 5 through 6, Paul proceeds to lay out why he can say what he did in v. 4. Paul proceeds to lay all of his achievements as a Jewish man on the table. He shows all of the reasons why he has more reason to boast in his religious status than anyone else.
A Silver Spoon
Paul lists seven reasons why he out of all people can boast in the flesh. There are seven reasons. All of these reasons come from his life. They involve bits and pieces of his autobiography. The first four reasons pertain to the religious context into which Paul was born. Look with me v. 5. This verse reads,
circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews
All of these reasons have to do with Paul’s birth, the family he was born into. Let’s look at them one by one.
“Circumcised on the eighth day” is an allusion what physical circumcision. Paul is saying that what the Judiazers have taught, he himself had undergone as a child. The specification, “on the eighth day,” is a reference to what the OT taught about physical circumcision. In Lev 12:3, the OT law states that baby boys should be circumcised on the eighth day. Paul is saying, “Not only have I been circumcised, but I was also circumcised in the correct manner, on the eighth day.”
“Of the people of Israel” means that Paul’s bloodline is Jewish. What Paul says here highlights one of the problems that we run into today with the title, “Jew” A “Jew” can mean refer to someone who practices the religion of Judaism or to someone who has a Jewish bloodline. These two meanings of the word don’t necessarily go together. You can be a Gentile, someone who does not have a Jewish bloodline, but also be a “Jew,” someone who practices Judaism. Paul is saying here that he is not a Gentile. Paul was a practicing Jew who had a Jewish bloodline. Paul is a pure-blooded, full-blooded Jew.
“Of the tribe of Benjamin” is a reference to the tribe of Israel that Paul was born into. If you remember the history of the Jewish people in the OT, Israel was broken up into twelve different tribes. To be a true Jew, which Paul is trying to show, means that one belongs to a specific Jewish tribe. A true Jew isn’t just labled as a “Jew.” They also have a specific tribe they belong to. Paul shows an intimate knowledge of his Jewish bloodline, which further validates his Jewish credentials.
The last statement Paul makes with reference to the Jewish status Paul received upon birth is “a Hebrew of Hebrews.” This statement could refer to a number of different ideas. It could refer to Paul’s ability to read and speak Hebrew, or it could refer to Paul’s sheltered upbringing in which he was not influenced by Gentile ideas, or it could refer to Paul is as Jewish as you can get. I’m not sure which specific meaning is true. On some level, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that Paul had a very Jewish upbringing. With regards to his birth, Paul had an exceptional resume.
Paul is basically saying that from the perspective of having a proper Jewish upbringing, he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Paul’s pedigree for Jewish status as a child is impeccable. He matches all of the qualifications that Jewish boys needed to have. Paul’
Nevertheless, Paul was not who he was simply by birth. Paul had taken the privileges he was born into and he ran with them. He made something out of his life based upon his Jewish social status. He was not only born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was not just born into “Jewish privilege.” He worked hard to earn for himself even more Jewish privilege and status.
That’s what Paul discusses at the end of v. 5 through v. 6. There are three different achievements Paul specifies. Verse five ends with this achievement: “As to the law, a Pharisee.” The Pharisees were a very popular group of Jewish religious leaders in the first century. Jesus encounters them all the time in the Gospels. The Pharisees were fervent law observers. They knew the law and they followed the law. They had developed an oral law that they thought complimented the OT written law. They had a law for everything. They studied Jewish law and tried to follow it scrupulously. To be a Pharisee was a badge of honor within early Judaism. It was a title reserved for the most fervent of Jews.
“As to zeal, a persecutor of the church.” Paul was a zealous Jew. Prior to his conversion, when he bore the name Saul, he showed his zeal for the Jewish cause by killing Christians. Paul’s zeal drove him to bloodshed.
“As to righteousness under the law, blameless” sums up what Paul has been saying. Paul is not saying that he was sinless or perfect. Rather, he is saying that he was “blameless” as a Jewish man. He had a rightness about him before his fellow man. Before his fellow Pharisees, he was without fault.
Paul covers a lot of ground in vv. 5–6. I’ve tried to explain each qualification that he present to us. The purpose of all of this is to play the status game. Paul says, I can play that game. Been there, done that. Paul’s played that game before. What’s his conclusion about the matter?
Status as Loss
What Paul Used to Think
In his former life as a law-abiding Jewish man, Paul used to think very highly of this religious status he had. Look at the beginning of v. 7. Paul says,
But whatever gain I had
Paul acknowledges with this statement that he used to believe that these birth rights and achievements were of “gain” to him. He used to think that he benefitted from them.
The Greek word for “gain” is an accounting term. You think of someone compiling a balance sheet with one column of the page dedicated towards listing the “assets” and the other side dedicated towards listing the “liabilities.” Paul has a balance sheet. And prior to coming to Christ he placed all his accomplishments, the various aspects of his religious status, in the “assets” category. These qualities, he used to believe, were advantageous for him to have. He believed that these assets placed him on a better ground with God. He believed that these qualities somehow brought ultimate value and significance for him. He believed they added some level of worth and value to his life and to his relationship with God.
What We Naturally Think
Paul confession here highlights a tendency of the human heart. A tendency that we all have. Paul’s situation was considerably different than ours. These types of achievements strike us as odd. We don’t naturally identify as those who place much importance on being circumcised on the eight day. I believe my boys were circumcised on the second or third day of their birth. It doesn’t matter to us. Nevertheless, the underlying spirit of status does very much resound with us. While circumcision might not be any longer important, status still is. Remember the Dallas Petroleum Club reference at the beginning. People pay lots of money, spend lots of energy trying to attain status in this world.
This tendency reveals how the human heart is prone towards self-exaltation. The human heart is prone towards self-exaltation. In our sinful tendencies, we long to be recognized, applauded, praised, and valued by others. We tend to think of ourselves as important. That is the natural way
of thinking. And the way this reflects itself on the outside is status. We buy big houses, big boats, nice cars, we get lots of different titles after our names, we post pictures on social media of our exploits, we let everyone know how successful our children are. Status is sought after to boast. Flexing status, pursuing status, being interested in status is a passive way of boasting. It is a passive way of being prideful.
And I want you to notice the connection that Paul makes here with boasting in the flesh and the Judiazers. What is the mark of false religion? The mark of false religion is boasting in the flesh, pride, self-exaltation. Dear friends, I have said this again and again. And it is worth repeating. The greatest spiritual challenge we face in life is our own selves. We are our greatest problem. Specifically, our tendency towards boasting. Our tendency towards inflating our ego and wanting everyone to see our status. It will lead you away from God, dear friend. Boasting in self and Christianity are opposites. You cannot simultaneously hold onto status and Jesus Christ at the same time.
What He Thinks Now
Paul’s thinking on the matter changed, though. What happened to Paul is that he has progressively come to see that his religious status isn’t to his advantage. On the contrary, his religious status is a liability. Paul writes this,
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
Paul mentions that his religious status he no longer regards as gain, as an asset. Rather, he regards his status as loss. The word “loss” here is also an accounting term. “Gain” I defined
The change in Paul’s perspective is rooted in what he says at the end of v. 7. Why does Paul now count his religious status as loss? What changed his opinion? We get the answer to these questions from the last prepositional phrase at the end of v. 7: “for the sake of Christ.”
Paul is saying this. Now that he has seen Christ, he has come to see that his former religious status resulted in loss because of Paul’s boast in it. Going back to v. 4. Paul’s played this game. He out of everyone has the most reason to boast in the flesh, to put confidence in human credentials and status. And he used to do that. He’s played that game. However, that’s a game of loss. That type of thinking results in judgment and wrath. By Paul trusting in his religious status, by him placing his source of identity, trust, confidence, and boast in his religious identity, that misplaced confidence resulted in loss. It was all loss. What Paul had lived his whole life pursuing was one giant liability for him. He places all of his eggs in the wrong basked. He placed his hope and peace in the wrong thing—namely, his own religious status.
Bring it Home!
The way I want to end this morning is by forcing a decision upon you. As I’ve alluded to already, what Paul shows us is that placing confidence in status results in loss. Status does you no good before God. Whether it’s some religious status, status of wealth, family status, whatever, all status before God is sinking sand. Status does not make you right with God, it does not save you, and if you trust in it, it will lead you to hell.
Should you pursue success in this world? Definitely. Should you strive and work hard in your job? Yes. Is it OK to be a wealthy Christian? Absolutely. Should you attend church and tithe? Yes. Is it OK to be a part of the Dallas Petroleum Club? Definitely. Those things are OK. We go astray, though, when we believe they add lasting value to our lives. We go astray when we put our trust, love, and hope.
I want to end with this question this morning. What is it that you have built your life on? What it is you are building your life on? Is it status? Whether religious, family, financial, vocational status? Or, is it Christ? Is it his gospel, his worth, his death and resurrection for you, his mission in this world? In which basket are your eggs.
Jesus makes us choose, dear friend. You must choose. You cannot have both. You cannot trust in your status and trust in Christ. Jesus isn’t like Burger King. With Jesus, you can’t have it your way. You cannot have it your way. Jesus forces you to choose.