As you read through this short epistle to the Philippians, the theme of joy becomes apparent. The word joy is mentioned 5x and rejoice/rejoicing 7x. In verse one of this chapter, Paul seems to be closing out the letter as he writes, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord..”; but then, seemingly changing course, he gives a word of warning against the Judaizers. (As you recall, they are the ones that the Jerusalem council addressed in Acts 15 and Paul also in his epistle to the Galatians. They insisted that the Gentile believers keep the Old Testament ceremonial laws, starting especially with the law of circumcision.)
But on closer examination, we can see the link between his warning about these false teachers and the theme of his epistle- namely joy. Nothing would rob a Christian more of his joy in Christ and the assurance of his salvation, than the thought that he needs to add his own works to Christ’s work on the cross in order to be accepted with God.
Paul uses his own testimony to refute these false teachers; and in so doing, he gives us one of the most beautiful passages on what it means to believe in Christ and what we are to aim for as we live out our Christian faith.
In the first place, to believe in Christ is to renounce all confidence in our goodness to gain favor with God, and to look to Christ alone as our only hope of being accepted with Him. Before meeting Christ, Paul thought he kept the law of God perfectly and he was as moral and righteous as they come; but once God exposed the sin of his heart, he acknowledged that he was a murderer (Acts 26:9-10), a blasphemer (1 Tim 1:13), and a covetous man (Rom 7:7-8).
Paul not only renounced his credentials for self-righteousness, but counted them as refuse when compared to Christ’s righteousness (:7-8).
Now that he is in Christ, Paul goes on to tell us what the goal of his Christian life has been (:8-11), and the manner in which he pursues that goal (:12-14). God willing, this will be the focus of our study together.
The goal is to experience more of the reality of Christ’s presence in our lives through our union with him in His death and resurrection, in order that we may be conformed more and more to His image.
And the manner in which we are to pursue this goal is not by looking back and reminiscing on past accomplishments and growth in grace, but by pressing forward and straining, as a runner does when seeking to reach the finish line.