Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility, Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study of Philippians: Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility, Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study of Philippians (36): When Gain is Loss, and Loss Means Greater Gain

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on April 13, 2008

Philippians 3:1-11

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The Lord’s Day

April 13, 2008

Communion Sunday

Philippians 3:1-11

Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility,

Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes
: A Study of Philippians

“When Gain is Loss, and Loss Means Greater Gain”

Dr. J. Ligon
Duncan III

“O come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord, our maker;
for He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His
care.” Let us worship Him.

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to
Philippians 3. We’re again reading from Philippians 3:1-11. We’ve been looking
at this passage for a few weeks now. In the first verse of Philippians 3 the
Apostle Paul exhorts us to joy: not to a shallow joy, but to a deep joy; not to
fake joy, but real joy; not to joy that is circumstantially derived, but joy
which is based upon the Lord and the Lord’s goodness, and the Lord’s grace; that
is, it is a gospel joy.

Paul is serious about this joy. We’ve said this
before. In Philippians 1:25 he makes it clear that the reason why he is willing
to forego the greatest desire of his heart — and the greatest desire of his
heart is to be communing with Christ face to face in glory. The reason why he is
willing to forego that experience, that delight, that goal, is so that he can be
here and work for your joy. How serious is Paul about joy? He is serious enough
that he is willing to forego for a time the immediate enjoyment of Jesus in
glory so that he can work for the Philippians’ joy–and, through His word, for
your joy. So joy is a very, very important part of the Christian life.

Then, as we looked at Philippians 3:2-6 we saw the
Apostle Paul attack a false teaching which kills joy, and that false teaching is
to put confidence in your flesh: to trust in yourself, in your own goodness,
rather than trusting in Christ alone for salvation, as He is offered in the
gospel. And the Apostle Paul gave us a phrase, a dictum, which could actually be
a motto for the whole of the Christian life: “Put no confidence in the flesh.”

In verses 4-6, the Apostle Paul basically says, ‘If
anybody could be confident in the flesh, it’s me.’ But he tells us in verse 7
that he has counted all of that fleshly confidence as rubbish as loss, as
nothing, in comparison to knowing Jesus Christ. And so Paul has made it clear
that if we are going to enjoy and express the kind of joy that he speaks about
in verse 1, then we are going to have to not put confidence in the flesh, but
rather put our confidence in Jesus Christ.

Beginning in verse 7, the Apostle Paul virtually
summarizes his gospel…and that’s saying something, because Paul has a lot of
gospel to summarize, and it’s almost impossible to think of putting it into a
few words! But Paul comes about as close as you could possibly do to putting the
gospel into a few words here in Philippians 3:7-11. So it’s very appropriate
that we would, as we’re coming to this gospel feast — the Lord’s Supper, it’s
very appropriate that we think for a moment about the gospel that Paul preaches
in Philippians 3:7, especially 7-10.

And today I want to direct you to how Paul
describes, or even defines, Christians in this passage. There are four phrases
in particular that he uses to describe what Christians are that should really be
helpful to us as we come to the Lord’s Table.

If we’re Christians today, it ought to remind
us of who we are and the enormous grace that God has given to us in Jesus
Christ. If you’re not Christians today, it’s a very, very blessed truth to hold
before your eyes to see what it means to be a Christian, so that you could come
to this table as well…having been saved by grace, having been included in the
number of God’s people, having enjoyed the benefits and blessings which we’re
going to talk about today.

Let me point you to four words to be on the
lookout for today, especially in verses 7-10, which characterize these four ways
that Paul talks about being a Christian.
The first word is to knowto gainto be foundpowerknow, gain, found, power. Let’s look at
how Paul uses these words in the context of some very important phrases in which
he describes to us what a Christian is.

Let’s read God’s word; and before we do, let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, this is Your word. We need Your
Spirit if we are to understand and embrace it aright–not because Your word is
not clear, for it is…it’s crystal clear–but because our minds are clouded by our
own opinions (which are so often wrong), by our own desires (which are so often
misdirected)and consequently, sometimes as crystal clear as Your word
is, our minds are foggy on what it means. So we need Your help. We need the Holy
Spirit to open our eyes, to disabuse us of our prejudices, of our false
opinions, and of our misguided will, and simply to listen…to stand still and see
the salvation of the Lord displayed by His word in the Bible. This we ask in
Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear the word of the living God in Philippians 3:

“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things
to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

“Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for
those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the real circumcision who worship by
the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the
flesh–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. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of
the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have
suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, 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 that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness
from God that depends on faith–that I may know Him and the power of His
resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that
by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

One of the things that Paul makes so clear in
verses 7 and following is that knowing Jesus Christ is more valuable than
No earthly birthright or human accomplishment can remotely compare
to knowing Jesus Christ. Believers treasure a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ
more than anything else in the world. But what does that mean? What does “a
saving knowledge of Jesus Christ” mean? What does “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”

Well, the Apostle Paul fleshes out what that means
in the passage before us. Notice especially in verses 8-10 the language of
salvation and fellowship that he uses to richly describe to us what it means to
have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. There is first of all that phrase
“knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” — to know. To be saved, to be united to
Christ by faith is to know Christ Jesus as your Lord. And then there’s that
language to gain:

“I count all things as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ. Whatever
gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”

So Paul says for the Christian gain is loss, but
loss means a greater gain. So, to know Christ, to gain Christ.

And then Paul speaks of being found in
Christ, to be found in Christ. He’s looking forward to the Judgment Day. He’s
comprehending what it would be like to stand before the judgment throne of God.
‘How would I want to be found on that great day?’ Paul thinks. And he answers,
‘Ah! I would want to be found in Christ.’

And fourth, he uses the language of not only knowing
Christ, but knowing Him in the power of His resurrection. To know; to
gain; to be found; to know Him in His power
…in these four ways he describes
for us what it means to be a Christian. Let’s consider those things together

I. To know Christ.

First of all, Christians know Christ Jesus as
Christians know Christ Jesus as Lord. Look at verse 8:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing
Christ Jesus my Lord.”

That is an incredibly intimate phrase, and it is
utterly unique in all of Paul’s writings. Never again anywhere else in the New
Testament do we find Paul using the phrase knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
I once heard a very famous New Testament scholar mock the phrase “a personal
relationship with Jesus Christ.” He said, “You know, evangelicals are always
talking about ‘a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.’ Why, that phrase is
never used in the New Testament, and I’m not even sure Paul would have a term by
which he would describe something called ‘a personal relationship with the Lord
Jesus Christ.’” Well, my friends, here it is! Philippians 3:8–“To know Christ
Jesus my Lord.” Christians know Christ Jesus not simply as Lord in the
abstract, but as my Lord.

You know, there’s an amazing passage in John 10
where Jesus is talking to His disciples about the difference between Him, the
good shepherd, and those who were thieves and robbers and hirelings. You
remember one of the things He said is, ‘My sheep hear My voice. They know My
voice, and when they hear My voice they follow Me. Now when the thief and the
robber come, they know that’s not the shepherd! They won’t follow the thief or
the robber. But when My sheep hear My voice, when they hear My name, they know
it’s Me. They know Me.’

And so it’s especially precious, isn’t it, when you
turn ten chapters forward in the Gospel of John to where John is describing the
resurrection morning, and Mary has gone to the tomb to apply the precious myrrh
and incense on Jesus’ body. (Jesus’ body didn’t have time to be adequately
prepared because the Sabbath Day was almost upon them as He was taken down from
the cross, and they had to hurriedly place Him in the garden tomb.) The women
didn’t have time to properly prepare His body for burial, and so out of
reverence for their Lord, the women went to the tomb that early Sunday morning
after the Sabbath was over to appropriately equip and prepare Jesus’ body for
burial. But when they got there, He wasn’t there. And you remember Mary is
deeply, deeply concerned about this, and a gardener strikes up a conversation
with her, and she says, “Sir, where have they laid my Lord?” And you remember
the interesting conversation. He asks her, “Why are you seeking the living among
the dead?” and it’s a fascinating exchange, and she doesn’t realize who it is
who’s speaking to her. And finally, John says, He turned to her and He said,
“Mary.” And immediately she knew the voice of her Lord. And you remember the
first thing she says to Him? “My Master — Rabboni.” Not just a master; my
Master, my Lord. Because…why? Jesus had said, “My sheep hear My voice and
they know Me.” And here she is saying, “My Master, my Lord.”

Well, this shouldn’t surprise you. You remember the
Apostle Paul met Jesus in a very different circumstance than Mary meeting Jesus
in the garden. Paul was then named Saul. He was on the road to Damascus to kill
Christians, and the Lord Jesus Himself appeared to him, blinding him with
brilliant light. And Paul, on his face, groveling in the ground, heard the Lord
Jesus speak to him and say, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting Me?” And you
remember what Saul’s first words to Jesus are? “Who are You, Lord?” The first
words out of the converted Saul’s mouth is an expression that Jesus is his Lord.
This is why when people were baptized in the book of Acts and in I Corinthians
the adults would confess what as their vow? “Jesus is Lord.” Because Christians
know Christ Jesus as Lord. And how do we express the lordship of Christ? We
listen to His voice. And where do we hear the voice of Christ? In the Bible. He
speaks to us by His Scriptures, and His followers — those who trust in Him —
hear His voice speaking to them in the Scriptures, and therefore they don’t cut
and paste. When the Lord speaks to us in His word, we listen! We listen when
there are tender words of promise and we listen when He makes us uncomfortable
with His commands, because it’s the voice of the Lord speaking to us. Christians
know Jesus as our Lord.

II. To gain Christ.

Secondly, look again at verse 8. Paul makes it
clear that Christians know that gaining Christ is better than anything else:

“For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish,
in order that I may gain Christ….”

Christians know two things. One is that everything
that they had apart from Christ and before they had Christ is nothing in
comparison to having Christ; and, secondly, Christians have moved from a concern
to have all those other things apart from Christ, to having Christ even if they
can’t have all those things. That’s why William Guthrie said in his famous book,
The Christian’s Great Interest, of Jesus Christ, “Less will not satisfy
than Jesus, but more could not be desired than Jesus.” All things will not
satisfy apart from Jesus, and nothing more could be desired if you have Jesus.
Christians count all things loss and Christ as gain, because they know that
gaining Christ is better than all things.

As we were walking down the hall after the second
service last Sunday morning, Billy Joseph said to me, “Ligon, do you think that
Paul could have been the rich young ruler?” I said, “Well, I don’t know, Billy,
but I do know that many of the church fathers thought that.” Now whether that is
or isn’t, you understand why Billy was asking that, because this passage looks
like the mirror opposite of what happens when Jesus has the conversation with
the rich young ruler. Remember the rich young ruler? He has so much that when
Jesus says ‘Sell everything that you have and come follow Me,’ what does he
choose? He chooses all things, not Jesus.

Here Paul is saying ‘I have come to realize that
whereas used to I thought that everything that I had was worth living for, but
when I came face to face with the Lord Jesus Christ I realized that all of that
was rubbish, compared to gaining Christ. And so I gave up all that I thought was
precious as refuse, as dung, compared to gaining Jesus Christ.’ It’s almost like
the exact opposite of the story of the rich young ruler, and that’s why early
Christians wondered whether this is Paul talking about his own conversion

But where are you today? Are you one of those people
that has everything the world has to offer, but there is a gaping and yawning
emptiness in you? That may well be the Lord by the Spirit convicting you to see
that all that you have apart from Christ is worth nothing if you don’t have Him.
Christians know that gaining Christ is better than all things.

III. To be found in Christ.

Third, a Christian wants to be found in Christ on
the Last Day.
A Christian wants to be found in Christ on the Last Day. Look
at verse 9:

“…And be found in Him, 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 that which comes
through faith in Christ.”

The righteousness from God that depends on faith.
You remember that after Adam and Eve had rebelled against God in the Garden of
Eden (in Genesis 3) that when the Lord came to walk in the garden to commune
with them, they hid themselves. They covered themselves with fig leaves, and
they hid themselves in bushes. But God still found them. And they had nothing to
cover themselves in their shame and sin and disobedience.

Well, here’s the Apostle Paul thinking to himself
‘How do I want God to find me on the Last Day? With my little fig leaf? I tried
to be a good person. I tried to keep the Ten Commandments. I helped the poor.

No,’ Paul says, ‘I don’t want to be found in that
line on Judgment Day. I want to be found wrapped in the perfect righteousness of
Jesus Christ. That’s how I want God to find me on the Judgment Day: dressed not
in my own righteousness, but dressed in the righteousness of Christ alone, which
I have gained not by my doing, but simply by faith.’

That’s a Christian. A Christian wants to be found in
Christ and in His righteousness.

IV. To know Christ in His
resurrection power.

And fourth and finally, look at verse 10. A
Christian longs to know Jesus’ resurrection power at work in him: “…That I may
know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share in His sufferings,
becoming like Him in His death.”

In other words, Paul is saying, ‘I want to know
Jesus’ power at work in me now, changing me so that I become like Him in His
resurrection.’ He’s talking about the sanctifying
work of the Holy Spirit
, and he’s saying that Christians long to see
the power of the Spirit, the power of Jesus’ resurrection, at work in
them…because before we knew Christ, apart from Him, we were what? Dead in
trespasses and sins, Paul says (Ephesians 2:1). But now we are a new creation,
and we are being renewed by the Holy Spirit by the power of the resurrection of
Christ, and matured. And Paul says, ‘I want to see the power of resurrection at
work in me so that I hate sin more and more, and I become more and more like
Jesus Christ. I don’t want to just be forgiven
I want to see the power of sin broken in my life.’

Four glorious ways of describing a Christian:
Christians know Christ Jesus as Lord; Christians gain Christ and count
everything else as loss; Christians want to be found in the righteousness of
Christ in the Judgment Day; and, Christians want to see the power of Christ’s
resurrection at work in them now.

My friend, if you’re a believer you know something
of each of those realities. And however imperfect that reality is in you as you
come to the table, you are strengthened and assured in those graces that God has
given you freely in Jesus Christ. But if you don’t know these realities of which
I’ve just described, don’t come to the Lord’s Table in a few moments. Instead,
go to God. Go to Christ. Trust in Him, and as you do, you’ll find that you will
know Him as Lord, you’ll be dressed in His righteousness, you’ll lose those
things that cannot satisfy you, and you’ll gain something that you cannot lose
which will always satisfy you. And He’ll begin to transform your life by the
power of His resurrection.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your word, and
we ask that even as we come to this gospel feast that You would prepare us to
receive it in faith and transform us by the grace of Your Holy Spirit. We pray
in Jesus’ name. Amen.


The Lord’s Supper

The Words of

As we come to the Lord’s Table, it’s appropriate
that we read the words of institution recorded in I Corinthians 11, that the
Apostle Paul says he received from the Lord Jesus Christ himself:

“For this I received from the Lord, that which I also delivered to you, that the
Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had
given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is My body, which is given for you;
do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way He took the cup also, after
supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as
you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat the bread and drink
the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats
the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of
the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so
doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and
drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy word.

The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament. That means that it
is a sign of a promise that God has made to us, a promise which He has secured
to us by making a covenant with us. It serves to confirm God’s promise and
strengthen our faith. Augustine called sacraments “visible words, promises from
God that you can see.” So, it’s to strengthen our faith. It’s appointed by God
as a means of grace whereby a Christian grows.

When we come to the Lord’s Supper, we feed on Christ
— not physically, but by faith, believing God’s promises, communing with Him by
His word. So the Lord’s Table is for those who are trusting in Christ, because
it’s designed to assure those who are trusting in Christ. Because it is for
those who are trusting in Christ, I would invite to this table today believers —
all those who are trusting in Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the
gospel, all those who have joined themselves to His body (that is, His church).

If you are not a believer in Christ who has trusted
in Him for salvation and identified yourself with His church by receiving
baptism, don’t come to the Lord’s Table. Rather, wait and think and pray, and
then repent and believe in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; and then, next
time come with us as our brother or sister in Jesus Christ to the Lord’s Table.

So also, parents, your children who have not yet
made membership vows should refrain from coming to the table until such time as
the elders have examined them as to their profession of faith in Christ and
their ability to discern the body, and their capability of self-examination in
accordance with this passage in I Corinthians 11.

Now let’s set apart these common elements to a holy
use, in prayer. Let’s pray.

Eternal God, You are the Lord of creation. You
are the Triune God made manifest in the incarnation of Your Son, Jesus Christ,
our Lord. We gather at Your table today at Your own bidding. You have called us
here, and we acknowledge Your grace to us. Make these common elements to serve
as Your means of grace to Your people, and grant that we would receive them by
faith and so taste of heavenly mercies bestowed by Your Holy Spirit. This we ask
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Apostles’

Dr. Thomas: Now, since the Lord’s Supper is for
believers and we’ve just heard the admonition to discern the Lord’s body, it’s
appropriate that as Christians we affirm our faith in the words of The
Apostles’ Creed
. You’ll find it on the inside of your hymnbook.

Christian, what is it that you believe?

Dr. Thomas and Congregation:

I believe in God the Father

Maker of
heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only
Son, our Lord,

Who was
conceived by the Holy Ghost,

Born of the virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius
Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried.

He descended into hell.

The third day He rose again
from the dead.

He ascended into heaven,

And sitteth on the right hand
of God the Father Almighty.

From thence He shall come to
judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;

The communion of the saints;
the forgiveness of sins;

The resurrection of the body;

And the life everlasting.


The Ten

Dr. Thomas: Now by reciting the Law, the Ten
Commandments, which you’ll find on your bulletin this morning — by reciting the
Law directly adjacent to the gospel ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, we’re
reminded both of our need of the forgiveness of sins and the wonderfully rich
provision that is made for the forgiveness of our sins in the perfect obedience
of Christ.

Dr. Thomas and Congregation:

You shall have no other gods
before Me.

You shall not make for
yourself an idol. You shall not worship them or serve them.

You shall not take the name of
the Lord your God in vain.

Remember the Sabbath day, to
keep it holy.

Honor your father and your

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false
witness against your neighbor.

You shall not covet.

The Elements

Dr. Thomas: On the night that Jesus was betrayed,
He took bread, and after giving thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body
which is given for you. Take, eat. This do in remembrance of Me.”

passed to congregation.]

Likewise, after supper, Jesus took the cup and said, “This
is the blood of the new covenant, shed for many for the remission of sins. Drink
ye all of it.”

[Elements passed to

After supper they gave thanks. Let us do the same. Let us

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that
saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found; blind, but now I
see. Lord, we can scarcely take it in that You should love us so that our Savior
should come into this world, take human flesh and blood, be found in fashion as
a man, in the fullness of our low condition; that He should become subject to a
baptism of repentance; that He should have to utter those words, “My God! My
God! Why have You forsaken Me?”And it was for our sin and for our transgression,
and for our wrongdoing, for all the failures and acts of wretched rebellion that
arose within our hearts that He gave himself for us. He bore Your unmitigated
wrath, our Father, in His own body upon the tree.

Our Father, we pray that You
would just fill our hearts like a cup that overflows…that You would fill our
hearts with love and gratitude and thanksgiving and praise to You. Greater love
hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for a friend. And He has
called us friends. Our Father, we thank You. We thank You from the bottom of our
hearts, and we pray as we sit in these pews this morning, ‘Take our life and let
it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.’

We pray that You will accept
the offering of ourselves, our complete selves, as we give ourselves away to
You. We want, as we were hearing this morning, to count all things loss for the
sake of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. We want to know the power of His
resurrection, and we want to share in the fellowship of His sufferings. Lord, we
pray this not knowing what it is we pray for, or how it would be that You would
answer that prayer, and we are a little frightened that You might just answer
that prayer. But along with the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ, You will
also give us that grace to be able to bear it. We know that it comes from the
loving hand of a loving Father and a loving heart; and do with us then as You
would, and with those whom we love, because we trust in You and we rest in You,
and there is none other to whom we can go. You alone are the one true and living
God, and our Savior in Jesus Christ. Receive our thanks, O Lord, we pray, and
bless us now. And all of this we ask in the name and through the merits of our
Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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