Sunday’s Scripture: Philippians 3:4b-14
Build it up… tear it down… build it up.
Paul starts Sunday’s Scripture by building up his past religious life. “I have more reason than anyone to boast on what I did,” he says. And he stacks up his accomplishments like a tower built of blocks:
Circumcised on the eight day.
Born an Israelite out of the proud tribe of Benjamin.
Following the law exactly as a Pharisee.
Passionate enough to persecute the Christians.
Faultless in legalistic righteousness.
What Paul has built here looks like a rock-solid construction that climbs right up to one of the most respected positions in society.
I should know. I’ve built a tower like this before.
My teenage faith was constructed out of what I now see as works-righteousness. At the time it felt pretty high and proud. Mostly, these teenage religious accomplishments were a stack of “don’ts.”
I don’t drink.
I don’t smoke.
I don’t do drugs.
I don’t shoplift.
I don’t cheat in school.
I don’t lie to my parents (…much).
Isn’t it nice?
But towers like that aren’t built to last.
Here’s how Paul tears his down:
“Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.”
“I consider everything a loss compared to knowing Christ as Lord.”
“All things are like rubbish to me now.”
Paul makes it sound like this was some kind of controlled demolition, but those of us who have read the book of Acts know the full story. We know about a man originally called Saul who was struck blind on the road to Damascus. A man who thought his tower was pretty great, until he was trapped by a dramatic impairment and then released with an equally dramatic healing. The world he saw through new eyes was one in which his tower no longer stood.
When my tower of religious accomplishments fell, it wasn’t all at once; no dramatic miracles here. Instead, it slowly crumbled. During college that list of “don’ts” didn’t seem to hold the same kind of status. There were still a lot of things I didn’t do that my friends did, but I started to wonder: “Most people know I’m a Christian because I don’t smoke or drink. Shouldn’t they know I’m a Christian because of my love?”
What finally brought my tower to the ground was learning more about grace, and it really wasn’t until seminary that I fully understood it. That’s weird, right? I grew up in a Methodist church. I was taught from the beginning that we are saved by faith, not by works. And yet, I had never really believed that. I still thought that my works were what made me better – better with God, and, if I’m going to be honest about it, better than other people.
After spending three years with professors and friends who taught and lived grace, I believed it for the first time. It’s not works, and it’s not the law. It’s God’s love.
And the last blocks of my tower fell.
This would be a bleak lesson if it ended here, but it doesn’t. Paul continues:
“having a righteousness that comes through faith in Christ.”
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.”
“I press on to take hold of that for which Jesus Christ took hold of for me.”
“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…”
Paul rebuilds his tower of blocks… out of the grace of Jesus Christ.
It looks different.
I know, because I’ve built this tower before, too. When I first started building my tower of grace, I wasn’t too sure about it. I worried that if I let go of all those “don’ts,” then maybe I’d lower my standards. If I didn’t strictly – legalistically – follow some rules, then I’d go wild, or apathetic, or both.
But as I gave in and began building my tower out of grace, I found that it actually called me to a higher standard.
I want to be more like Christ, the Christ who has shown me grace.
I want show that kind of grace to other people
I want to be more like Christ, the Christ who has forgiven me.
I want to forgive others, really forgive them.
God has loved me so much.
Out of gratitude, I am going to love God as much as I can.
This is a much better tower.
What Paul is trying to say is: The kind of faith we build matters.
Is your faith built on your own accomplishments?
If so, I won’t knock your tower. It probably looks pretty good. Mine did.
But a tower built out of God’s material – God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, God’s accomplishments – is a tower that is better. A tower that will last.