We are at the midpoint of the book. The road we are on makes a sharp right, and uphill. Chapters one and two offered generic instruction and admonition. Chapters three and four shifts to specifics. The first word in chapter three, “finally,” begins that transition and cranks the steering wheel firmly to the right onto and by creating a higher road toward more specific principles for believers to grasp and grow in. For an exploration of this higher territory, we will use our outline for a map:
Believers should be:
Rejoicing: verse 1
We are to rejoice “in the Lord,” not in fleeting things such as ourselves, our stuff, or our situation. It is important to note that the Bible almost never mentions happiness. When it does it refers to a “blessedness,” or “blessed happiness,” that comes from knowing God and His Word, not from easy and fun times. Instead, the Bible focuses on joy and contentment. Both of those are rooted in Christ, trusting His promises, and walking with Him. Both of them endure, and they overcome circumstances.
Counting accurately: verses 2-11
- Don’t count on yourself – 2-6
Paul describes for us that even through he was well-qualified to look inward for help or stability; he did not trust in his heritage, reputation, or himself. He counted on Christ. Before becoming a Christian Paul had an impeccable and impressive reputation as a zealous Pharisee and religious leader of his day, but apart from Christ it meant nothing. We cannot trust our religious heritage, or religious traditions, we must trust Christ. Do you have a religious tradition or experience that you hold onto more firmly than to Christ?
- Do count on Christ – 7-11
There are some fascinating terms in these verses used to illustrate what Paul is saying in this section. While not present in English translations, the original language that Paul wrote in (Greek) uses accounting terms in verses 7. The term in verse seven for “gain” refers to a sizable profit by a businessman, and “loss” refers to a business that lost it profits, or ruin.
Paul knew that his reputation and religion apart from Christ equaled zero on the God’s spiritual ledger.
Paul could count his losses as gain because he saw what he had lost as something that could have been a barrier to knowing Christ and walking with him more intimately. The term for “knowing Christ” in verse 8 means more than having knowledge of (head knowledge), it means a relationship with experiential, intimate knowledge.
The word for rubbish is very specific, but not palpable term. It means manure or human waste. So, Paul was saying that he counted all that he left and lost as crap. Literally. He removed “crap” from his life so that he could know Christ better.
In verses 8 and 9 we see that we have more that forgiveness in Christ, we also have righteousness from and in Christ. The great news is that the righteousness of Christ is attributed to all who are in HIm by faith. This imputed righteousness is not one that we can attain or earn, it is granted to us in Christ by God’s grace. So, when God views you, He sees you as forgiven because of Jesus and clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. That demonstrates why we can have an eternal relationship and standing with God in Christ — it is all because of Who Jesus is and what He has done on our behalf!
Pressing on: verses 12-16
In these verses Paul uses specific Greek terms to make his point. He paints the picture of a sprinter exerting great effort and doing his best to reach the finish line. The word used by Paul for “pressing on,” has the idea of running hard and then stretching for the finish line.
In verse 13 he reminds us again not to rely upon ourselves, but to rely upon Christ and His Spirit for our growth.
One key to becoming more like Christ is outlined in verses 13. It has a two parts. First, we must forget the past. Those in Christ who are chained by their past are so because they choose to be (that sounds harsh, but it is biblical accurate). Christ sets us free completely from our past. To say that He does not is to say that He cannot. He offers forgiveness for and freedom from our past, all of it! Second, we must press on, which takes daily effort. Effort that is focused on reading His Word, praying, and living out what He teaches and directs us toward.
Watching: verses 17-19
Paul was an example, though he would admit, an imperfect one. We sometimes look to Christ who is perfect and can grow frustrated by our lack of growth. On the other hand, we can be encouraged to press on by the growth of a fellow flaw-ridden follower of Christ. We are to watch and learn from both.
Waiting: verses 20-21
All of this is possible because our Lord and Savior has made us children of God and citizens of His Kingdom. We look forward to the day when forgetting the past and pressing on toward growth in Him is no longer needed because we are with Him. As the old hymn says, “what a day that will be!”