JUNE 7, 2009

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            Confidence is an interesting commodity.  Some people have too much of it.  Some people have too little of it.  Take George Bernard Shaw for example.  He said, “My specialty is being right when other people are wrong.”  I would say George Bernard Shaw did not suffer in the confidence department.  Just the opposite, his confidence bordered on arrogance.

            Or take the atheistic philosopher Frederick Nietzsche.  His confidence went beyond arrogance to blasphemy.  He said, “There cannot be a God because, if there were one, I would not believe I was not he.” 

            On the other hand there are those who surprise us in their lack of confidence.  For example, listen to this admission from a Oscar-winning actress.  She said, “My mouth is too big and my smile too gummy.  Only my wardrobe people know how paranoid I am about my body.  I say to them, ‘Let’s get one thing straight: these are the parts of me that I have a problem with, these are the ones we will hide.  This is your job.’”  Who said that?  Julia Roberts.

            Or listen to this world-renowned recording star.  This person said,


            All of my will has been to conquer some horrible feeling of inadequacy.  I’m always struggling with that fear.  I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being and then I get to another stage and think I’m mediocre and uninteresting.  And I find a way to get myself out of that.  Again and again.  My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre, and that’s always pushing me, pushing me.  Because even though I am Somebody, I still have to prove that I’m Somebody.  My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.


            Who confessed that?  Madonna.

            Should we be confident?  If so, how can we be confident?  What is true confidence?  What is false confidence? 

            Before we get to that, let’s take a moment to explore the event, the situation in Philippi, that triggered Paul’s discussion about confidence. 

            Listen to his words ...


            Beware of the dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh.  For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh, even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3:2-4).


            Paul comes out this morning with both guns blazing.  Why?  What’s going on in First Church Philippi to rile him up so?  Who exactly are the dogs, the evil workers, the mutilators of the flesh?  Most likely they are a group visiting teachers from the mother church in Jerusalem who are insisting that new Christians should be circumcised, forcing a Jewish rite on Gentile Christians in order to make them “real” Christians, arguing that faith in Jesus Christ is not enough, they need more.  They need to adopt the Jewish rite of circumcision.  If they have faith plus circumcision they can be confident before God.

            This sort of thing happens much too often.  For some faith in Christ is not enough.  “Unless you believe as I do about abortion, or gay marriage, creationism, or family values, or ecology, or home schooling or unless you adopt a conservative agenda or a liberal agenda, then you are not a “real” Christian.  You are a Christian poser.  You look like the real deal, but you are not the real deal.  You see what that does?  It pushes something from the outside to the inside, into the core.  The core is Jesus Christ, belief in Jesus Christ.  That’s what should unite us.  That’s what makes us a real Christian, but throughout history people have pushed their pet project, their pet theological or political outlook into the core, saying, “You cannot be  real Christian unless you also” ... and then fill in the blank.  Unless you believe this about abortion or gay marriage or unless you are circumcised ... whatever it is, fill in the blanks.

            So that’s what set off the Apostle Paul ... a group of people pushing circumcision to the core, and Paul says the only thing that belongs in the core is a belief in Jesus Christ as one’s Savior and Lord.  That’s it.  Paul doesn’t have much use for people who try to add something to the core, whatever it may be and in this case he uses disparaging language to describe the core expanders: dogs, evil doers, mutilators. 

            OK, that’s what triggered Paul’s discussion about confidence.  Now let’s look at that discussion.  As we do, let’s divide what Paul says here into two sections, false confidence and true confidence.  We’ll begin with false confidence.

            Any of you ever owned a pure bred dog?  I mean, you had all the papers from the American Kennel Assocation?  We got a cute little beagle shortly after Trudy and I got married.  We lived on Sycamore street at the time so on her official papers from the American Kennel Association we named her, “Sweet Samantha of Sycamore”  And she was a sweet little, dog.

            If they had an association where you could register pure-bred Jews, Paul would have been in it, and he reminds his readers, and his opponents about that.  The church in Jerusalem where these visiting teachers had come, was made up of Jewish converts to Christ.  As such the church in Jerusalem differed from the Gentile churches Paul founded.  The Gentile churches were made up of Gentiles, not Jews, so these Jewish Christians come to Philippi and teach them that they need to be circumcised, and if they are circumcised in the flesh, then they can have confidence before God.  Well, Paul takes these false teachers on, and he says, “You think you have the credentials as Jewish Christians?  Well, check out my credentials.  Check out my pedigree!!!”

            He begins,


            If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day ...


            In other words, his parents had not been heathens, but Jewish believers.  He was circumcised on the eighth day.


            a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin,


            Remember back to our series on the Book of Genesis?  Remember the twelve sons of Jacob/Israel who became the twelve tribes of Israel?  Remember Benjamin being born and how Rachel died during his birth just outside Bethlehem?  Remember all that?  Well, the tribe of Benjamin gave Israel it’s first King, King Saul.  Being from the tribe of Benjamin was like coming over on the Mayflower or being one of the Daughters of the Revolution.  Great pedigree.  Great pedigree.


            a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;


            Paul belonged to the strictest sect of Judaism, and was scrupulous in keeping every law and every rule.  He was a Southern Baptist of his day.


            as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.


            Note, in the days before his conversion to Christ, Paul was not burdened with a bad conscience.  He considered himself without fault.  He compared himself to others and came out on the winning end.

            In a sense, then, Paul is saying “OK, if these traveling Jewish teachers think they are better than me or if you think they know more than me, well match their pedigree against mine.  I beat them every time.”

            Then reflecting back on all this he says,


            Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.


            His confidence in his pedigree, his birth, his parents, his religious practices, his tribe, his successes, meant nothing, however, when compared to Jesus Christ.  It was confidence placed in the wrong things.  He says,


            For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, (by the way, that word has been sanitized for our benefit.  The word for rubbish in the Greek refers to human excrement), in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.


            In other words, it’s from the core, in Jesus Christ that he has his confidence.  That’s true confidence, faith in Jesus Christ and nothing else: circumcision, pedigree, religious practices, country of origin, works ... nothing else.

            I collected baseball cards as a child.  I began collecting them in the mid-50’s, and organized them, color-coded teams, traded them, and made sure I collected everyone, every year.  While in college my mother, during a spring cleaning binge threw them all out.  I’d be living in a home next to Bill Gates if she had not had done that, but I’m not bitter.  I’m not bitter.  I’m not bitter. 

            I mention all this because I read about a guy who also collected baseball cards as a child and he has one worth $100 today.  The card is called “Future Stars” and there are three players on the card.  The first is Jeff Schneider.  Schneider played one year of major league baseball, pitched in eleven games, and gave up thirteen earned runs in those eleven games.

            The second player is Bobby Bonner, who played four years of major league baseball but only appeared in sixty-one major league games, with eight runs batted in, and no home runs.

            The third “Future Star” played twenty-one years for the Baltimore Orioles and appeared in 3001 games.  He came to bat 11,551 times, collected 3,184 hits, 431 of those home runs, and batted in 1,695 runs.  His name is Cal Ripken, Jr.

            Now imagine if you met Bobby Bonner, and he shook your hand and boasted, “Did you know that my baseball card is worth over $100?”  You might laugh at that because you know the worth of the card has nothing to do with him.

            That’s how it is when we come to Christ and point to our good works, our statistics and ask, “Is this good enough?”  If we want to hold up our stats to God we don’t stand a chance.  But when we put our faith in Christ, his statistics become our statistics, and our baseball card becomes worth a lot because of his stats.

            Bobby Bonner and Jeff Schneider’s baseball card is worth $100, not because of their statistics, but because of what someone else did.

            That’s where Paul’s confidence comes, not in his own statistics, but in Christ’s statistics.  That’s where our confidence before God comes as well.