Sitting in the Right Chair Back to all sermons
Date: February 9, 2014
Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Scripture: Philippians 3:1–3:9
Synopsis: This message (Sitting in the Right Chair) is the first of two messages from Philippians 3. If you were sitting in a waiting room between heaven and hell - and you were asked, “Why should you be allowed to enter heaven?” how would you answer? All answers ultimately fall into one of two categories. We are all sitting in one of two chairs. Which one are you sitting in?
Years ago, when I was in university, I attended a very interesting drama presentation. It was put on by a Christian drama club. The entire play took place in a waiting room. Only this was no ordinary waiting room. Each of the characters who entered the room had just died. It was in this waiting room that their eternal destiny was decided. There were two doors out of this room. One was the door to heaven. The other door led to hell. Each of the characters in the play arrived with a different story to tell, of the kind of life they had lived and how they had died, and why they thought they should be allowed to enter the door to heaven.
I want you to imagine that you are in that waiting room. Your life on earth has ended. Your eternal destiny is about to be decided. Your case history is read and you are asked a very simple question. “Can you show any cause or reason by which you should be allowed to enter heaven?” How would you answer that question?
Now I want you to tuck that answer away for the time being as we consider the passage of Scripture in front of us this morning. (Read Philippians 3:1-9) in NIV, earlier version.
In this passage, we can discern two possible ways to answer the waiting room question. And it is interesting to note that both of them are supplied by the life of the Apostle Paul in a kind of “Before” and “After” format.
Chapter 3 introduces a change in topic in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He has been talking about fellowship and unity and Christian witness. In this section, Paul turns to another topic, one that is very near to his heart. Look at verses 1-2: Finally, my brothers, 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 men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. (NIV)
Paul is not pulling any punches here. Who were these people whom Paul describes in such harsh terms? They were a category of false teachers that dogged Paul’s footsteps. They are sometimes referred to as Judaizers. They would come into communities after Paul had preached the gospel and planted churches. They would teach that anyone who wanted to be a “real Christian” had to be circumcised and keep the laws of Moses. In other words, they had to become Jews if they wanted to enter heaven. This was a very controversial issue in the early church. There was a council in Jerusalem, described in Acts 15, where the leaders of the church and the Apostles met to discuss this matter and agreed that it was not necessary for Gentile believers to be circumcised and observe the various ceremonial rites of the Old Covenant in order to follow Christ. But wherever Paul went, there were false teachers following after him trying to confuse the new believers and divide the church. This explains Paul’s willingness to go over the matter again. It also explains his strong emotions as he describes these false teachers.
In his warnings against these teachers, he paints a clear contrast. It relates to two kinds of answers to the “waiting room question.”
The first kind of answer is what we might call a “confidence in the flesh” answer. I call it that because that is what Paul calls it. In verse 4, he states, “Though I might also have confidence in the flesh.” He continues: “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more….
He goes on to describe his confidence: 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 legalistic righteousness, faultless (NIV).
As we look closely at Paul’s words, we find two categories of things he could have put confidence in. One we might refer to as his pedigree. These are the things that he inherited by right of birth. He was born into the right family, the right tribe, the right nation. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews. You just couldn’t get any more “Jewish” than Paul. But then he also adds things that relate to his own performance. He kept the laws. He studied and espoused the most rigorous and conservative theology. He demonstrated extraordinary zeal for the sake of his religion. He describes his early life this way in Galatians 1:14: I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. (NIV) His birth or pedigree gave him the right start, and his own performance set him apart from his contemporaries.
If Paul had died and come into the “waiting room” between heaven and hell at some point during the first half of his life, this is how he would have answered the question: Why should you be allowed into heaven? He would have cited his pedigree and his performance. This was his “before” answer. It was an answer that was based on “confidence in the flesh.” It was an answer that was inspired by religion.
Let’s think of this as a chair. (Put a chair on the platform.) Let’s call this chair “religion” or “confidence in the flesh.” This is the chair that Paul sat in for the first half of his life. These are the answers that he was relying on to open for him the door to heaven. There are many people today still sitting in this chair. The details of their religion may vary. Some may put a different emphasis on pedigree and some on performance. But at the end of the day, their confidence is resting in the flesh, either the family or community into which they were born, or their own religious performance or legalistic observance. Or their confidence is in their own “good” life.
Maybe you are still sitting in this chair. When you answered the question at the beginning of the message (Why should you be allowed into heaven?) what kind of answer did you give? Was it a “confidence in the flesh” answer? Was it something to do with your “pedigree”? (I was born in a Christian home? I came from a good family?) Was it something to do with performance, religious or otherwise? (I’ve always gone to church! I’ve lived a good life. I try to do what’s right. I’m better than most people I know.)
Maybe you are saying, “Yes, that’s the kind of answer I gave. That’s the chair I am sitting on. What’s wrong with it?” That’s a good question and a fair one and I am glad you asked it. Look at Paul’s words in verse 7: But what things were gain to me those I counted loss for Christ. (KJV) Why did Paul give up this chair? Why did he stop “trusting in the flesh”? Why did he conclude that his pedigree and his performance were not enough to get him into heaven?
Two verses say it clearly. The first is in Romans 3:23: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (KJV) Paul came to realize that no matter how hard he tried, he could never be good enough. He could never measure up to God’s standard. He always fell short and he always would. And religion and the law didn’t help. Look at Romans 3:20: Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (NIV)The law, when he understood it properly, only added to his problem and made him more aware of his own sins and failures.
What’s wrong with this chair (called “flesh”)? If I could mix metaphors for a moment and convert this chair into a ladder, it doesn’t reach high enough. Our best attempts to please God by our own efforts will always fall short. That is the testimony of Scripture. And a ladder that doesn’t reach high enough is ultimately useless. No one will enter heaven by trusting in the flesh. This is the human dilemma. And we all share it.
But in verses 7-9, Paul introduces a second chair.
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. (KJV)
This chair is the “faith” chair instead of the “flesh” chair. It’s not just a “faith in anything” chair. It is the “faith in Christ” chair. Paul tells us in Romans 3:21: But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. (NIV)
If we call this (first) chair the “religion” chair, then we might refer to the second chair as the “relationship” chair. Paul refers to his coming to faith in Christ as “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…” That is a relationship word. And that is how it all began for Paul.
The story is told in Acts 9. Paul was a rising and influential religious leader on his way to Damascus to arrest more Christians. He was sitting securely in his religious chair. He was high on his religious ladder and climbing. Suddenly, God knocked him off his ladder with a blinding light. He lay there, blinded on the road, with his ladder lying in pieces around him.
A voice spoke: Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?
Paul answered, Who are you?
The voice responded: I am Jesus.
What happened on that road? Paul met Jesus and entered into a relationship with him that turned his life upside down. And the first thing Paul was forced to do to reassess his religion, his ladder, his confidence in the flesh and his own achievements. His assessment is recorded in Philippians 3:7: But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
That tells us something important. If we want to sit in the faith chair, we first have to get up out of our “flesh” chair. We have to stop trusting in our own pedigree and performance. We have to realize, as the Scripture tells us, “all my righteousness is like filthy rags” in God’s sight. It’s all a “write off”. In Philippians 3:3, Paul describes himself and all true Christians as “we are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus and who put no confidence in the flesh (NIV)
Tell me, do you think leaving the “confidence in the flesh” chair is an easy thing to do? No! It is a very painful thing to do. And the higher you have climbed on your own particular ladder, the harder it is. In fact for many people, giving up their religion, their “confidence in the flesh”, their ladder is more difficult than giving up their sins. We like our ladders. We like relying on ourselves.
During the first half of his life, Paul had put his “confidence in the flesh”. When he met Christ, the first thing he had to do was give up his religion, leave the “flesh chair”; give up his confidence in his own ability to earn his way to heaven.
Paul didn’t just lose his religion that day. He also lost all the human prestige and privileges and many of the relationships that went with it. Paul lost everything: his social, economic and family status. Following Christ involved incredible loss for Paul. But the amazing thing is that Paul could never contemplate what he lost without thinking in terms of what he gained that day on the Damascus road.
Look at verse 8: Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. KJV
He gave up his religion, but he found a relationship.
What about you? Let’s go back to that waiting room scene. How did you answer the question? What chair are you sitting on? The “flesh chair”? The religion chair? The ladder chair? Or have you realized the futility of trusting in your own pedigree and performance? Have you left that chair to come and sit in the faith chair, the relationship chair? You see, there is only one answer that will open the door to heaven. “I have put my trust in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.”
Prayer: Dear God, I recognize that I am a sinner. I have been trying to satisfy you with my own efforts. I now recognize that I can never live up to your standards. Jesus, I believe that you are the Son of God. I believe that you died for my sins and rose again. I ask you to be my Savior. Forgive my sins. Come into my life. Amen