Philippians 3:1-9: How Joy Kills Legalism
June 20, 2023
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Legalism is a great enemy to joy. Technically, legalism is the teaching that—in one way or another—tells you that the way to be saved is by obeying the law. Many non-Christian religions basically teach a form of legalism. But legalism is also prevalent in Christian denominations and organizations, albeit usually in more subtle forms. Few Christians would overtly deny that we are saved by Jesus. But are we also required to keep the law in order to be saved? Paul here is fighting for joy and against legalism that is the joy-killer.
First, he fights for joy. He tells them to rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice is in the imperative: he is commanding, telling, urging, exhorting them to rejoice. It implies that rejoicing in God is something that Christians need to put in the effort to do, and that they can put the effort in to do. We rejoice in the Lord by joining in with the singing on Sunday morning, perhaps even if we do not feel like it that week. We rejoice in the Lord by reading a favorite psalm or two in the morning that lifts us to praise God. We rejoice in the Lord by reminding ourselves of all that he has done for us. Actively, proactively, rejoice in the Lord. But why are we to rejoice in the Lord? We are to rejoice in the Lord because it is a “safeguard” for us. That means it gives us security, it protects. Rejoicing in the Lord protects against sin by reminding us that we have all we need in Christ. Rejoicing in the Lord protects us against laziness by reminding us of how much Christ is worthy of serving. Rejoicing in the Lord protects against doubt and anxiety by reminding us of how good our God is and therefore how much he can be trusted. So first, Paul is fighting for joy.
Second, he warns against the joy-killer that is legalism. In that situation there were people suggesting that it was necessary for Christians to be circumcised. Unlike today when circumcision is often thought of as a medical procedure, and rarely as something religious outside of Jewish circles, then circumcision was more universally viewed as a sign of the covenant. These teachers were saying that in order to be saved, the Philippians had to be circumcised. But this is legalism—putting something else on top of Christ as also necessary for our salvation. And Paul warns against legalism here by reminding the Philippians that he has every reason to have confidence “in the flesh” (meaning the circumcision). He was an exemplary Pharisee. Paul knew all about that path—and he knew it was moribund and failing. He considers all of that now as garbage compared to knowing Christ. In fact, everything he considers as garbage compared to knowing Christ. What counts is that he has a righteousness from Christ, not on the basis of the law, a righteousness that comes by faith.
So now we come to the sum of it: joy and rejoicing come from Christ and knowing Christ. Therefore, rejoice in the Lord!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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