A young Pastor spoke to me this week about her struggle in preaching a message that she hadn’t herself perfected in practice. She felt disqualified to speak the message. Where did the thought come from that she had to be perfect in order to be used of God? Comparison has been the key disqualifying voice of the first part of my life. I compared myself with what I saw and what I heard in others. As I got older and came closer to those heroic figures I soon realised that they had the same character flaws as myself and some had worse ones! Superstars are usually people we don’t really know.
Today you can walk into any situation and have confidence no matter who is in the room. You have every right to be there. You may be dwarfed by educational qualification, beauty, wealth and experience yet still feel this is the place where you should be. You belong here. It is not because of your own ability, title or prestige but because of Jesus and your confidence to be anywhere is always found in Him.
Let’s see what the Apostle Paul has to say on the matter.
In what appears to be a whole new chapter in his letter (and we have made it so) Paul launches into something that disturbs him greatly. It is the age-old problem that still exists today: religious people making ordinary believers think they are disqualified.
“Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put 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; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” (Philippians 3: 1-6)
Paul’s language becomes angry. He uses despicable words that we cannot fully appreciate. Dogs, evildoers, mutilators of the flesh. These were offensive words and he chooses them carefully. He is referring to those who say in order to be in right standing before God you have to be in right standing before men. They use Scripture to prove it. Circumcision was an ordinance in the Word of God. If you want to become a true child of God then you must be circumcised. Legalists are found in every generation and they force the outward performance upon those who are trying to be the best they can be and blind them to the spiritual truth of that symbol. Can you imagine the person who having circumcision forced upon him so that he would be accepted before God then found out it didn’t need to happen?! Can you imagine the upset knowing God wasn’t in the slightest bothered whether he was circumcised or not?!!
Paul lays down the challenge to any Jew who thinks performance religion is the right road to go down. He teases them to compare themselves with what the Message translates are his ‘impressive credentials’. Today I will be attending an ordination service where the ordinands will be given their credentials of ministry. A piece of card, a certificate and the title ‘Reverend’ signals a wonderful moment of succeeding in their training but should this make them feel they are a better person now, not at all. We don’t despise these credentials at all but we don’t glorify in them. We will look tomorrow at Paul’s credentials and see what he thinks of them.
Rejoice in the Lord! That’s Paul’s opener to this subject.
Don’t let anyone take your joy away. Even yourself if you are a perfectionist.
How? Here are the 4 things we should know:
- We are the circumcision. Meaning we have seen the cut of the flesh in Christ’s death on the cross. The flesh has been judged as being incapable of keeping the law of God that makes us acceptable to Him. So we have laid down the performance.
- We serve God by His Spirit. We partner with the Holy Spirit in our lives who does the work of God through us. We do not. He does. The fruit of righteousness is not ours it is His fruit.
- We boast in Christ Jesus. We talk about Him, what He has done, not who we are. If some people stopped talking about themselves they would have nothing to say.
- We put no confidence in the flesh. A Christian’s performance is no more powerful than an unbeliever’s. Our ability is nothing. It cannot transform anything. So we don’t gain confidence from it.
To any young Pastor I say don’t wait until you are more perfect get on with it today.
To all of us let us ask for the Holy Spirit to work through us and let us be committed to speak about Christ today more than we did yesterday.
Above all, be happy, don’t let the joy-stealers come anywhere near your door.