Philippians 3:4b-11 If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 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; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. 7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
How many of you like going to rummage sales? You can usually find some great deals on baby items, toys, clothes, tools, electronics, and furniture.
You know how a rummage sale works. People are trying to get rid of their old or obsolete items that they don’t want anymore. Those items are resold at a much lower price than the original purchase price from the store. Those old items that people once valued highly no longer have much worth.
I want you to imagine St. Paul sitting in his prison cell in Rome. He asks his guard to hang a sign outside his cell door. He has a few things he wants to get rid of. There are a few items that Paul once valued highly that no longer have any worth to him.
The guard likes Paul and so he dutifully hangs the sign outside Paul’s cell. It is a sign advertising “St. Paul’s Rubbish Sale.”
Yes, you heard me right – St. Paul’s Rubbish Sale – rubbish, not rummage.
Let Paul tell you himself about this sale. “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. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them [rubbish] …”
Paul is writing his own life story here. He’s giving you a brief synopsis of his own life experience. He wants you to know what he had once treasured highly, but now is nothing more than rubbish to him.
Paul’s not selling his old tube TV or his Sony Walkman or his collection of Abba records. He has something that is worth even less than all of those combined.
The tables at Paul’s rubbish sale are full of his “confidence in the flesh.” They are littered with his own works, his righteousness, his thoughts of earning God’s grace. Paul even has an itemized list of this confidence in the flesh.
First on the list is Paul’s circumcision on the eighth day. Every Jewish male child would have received the mark of God’s covenant one week after they were born. That made him one of “the people of Israel.”
Next on the list is that Paul is from the tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin was one of the important tribes of Israel, very prominent in Israel’s history. Paul, or to use his birth name – Saul of Taursus – was named after the most famous person to come out of the tribe of Benjamin – King Saul, the first king of Israel.
Paul used to be stuck-up about these next few items on the list. They were like trophies that he displayed proudly for all to see. He was “a Hebrew of Hebrews.” He had an impeccable ancestry. “In regard to the law, a Pharisee.” Among the Jews, he was a religious leader that everyone looked up to. “As for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” When he graduated rabbi school, he had been at the top of his class.
These last few items are all clean and nicely polished. But the next item on the list is dirty and grungy. Pretty embarrassing to be sitting out on the table for everyone to see.
“As for zeal, persecuting the church.” Paul is ashamed at this last item. He had once gone out of his way to persecute, imprison, and even kill Christians. He was so good at it that he describes it as being “zealous” in his persecution.
And what does Paul say of all these things? “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them [rubbish] …”
“Rubbish!” That’s a pretty strong word. Different English Bibles translate that word a little differently – but no less strong. Our New International Version (NIV) translates it as “garbage.” The English Standard Version (ESV) has “rubbish.” The dearly loved King James probably has the strongest translation – and the closest to the original Greek – “dung.”
Cow pies, road apples, excrement – there is no polite term for what Paul has set out on the table at his rubbish sale.
Everything set out on these tables had once been used by Paul to try to gain God’s favor, to win God’s grace. They had been Paul’s prizes that he had relied on for his salvation. These once highly treasured possessions are now nothing more than rubbish to Paul ever since his conversion by Christ on the way to Damascus.
What about you? Are there things you have relied on for your standing with God that really should be put in the rubbish pile? Maybe you’ve thought: “If anyone has a right to say he’s a good Lutheran, it’s me. I am third generation in this church. I went to Racine Lutheran and then sent my kids to Shoreland. I memorized all 376 questions in the blue catechism. In German.”
Or maybe you don’t have such a strong Lutheran heritage, but you put your confidence in other things: “Hey, I’m a pretty good person. I’m not like those bad people selling drugs or shooting at police. I haven’t had an affair or cheated on my taxes. In fact, I do a lot of good in my community and church. I donate clothing and food and school supplies. I take care of my ailing parents. People respect me.” But that’s still putting confidence in the flesh and counting up points that you’ve earned with God. Those are exactly the kinds of things that Paul used to do. But now he realizes those things are all rubbish when it comes to God and His salvation.
Paul is getting rid of all those things to make room for his one true treasure: “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, 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 is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”
From trash to treasure! From rubbish to wealth! From manure to inheritance. That’s what happens when we get rid of the garbage of our own righteousness of keeping the law and rely on the righteousness that comes from God through faith in Christ.
Sarah Keepers and her husband went to a rummage sale and bought an old, plywood chair for $5. At first they used the chair to play their video games. Finally, tired of looking at the thing, Sarah told her hubby to take it out of the house and put it in the garage. “After all,” she said, “a plywood chair doesn’t match anything else we own.”
The five-dollar chair sat in the garage for about a year. Then time came for spring cleaning and Sarah thought the chair might be donated to some thrift store. As she was playing around with the idea, she looked at the bottom of the chair. It said that this chair was a Herman Miller chair.
Now, that probably doesn’t mean anything to you, and it didn’t mean anything to me. So I Googled it. A regular Herman Miller plywood chair can be worth around $1,000. This particular chair the Keepers’ owned have sold for as little as $14,000 and for as much as $150,000. What someone thought was trash turned out to be a real treasure!
Jesus Christ is the same way. He was nothing special to look at. This is the way Isaiah describes Him: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:2-3).
Basically, we treated Jesus like garbage.
He was born among the cattle. He was the foster son of a carpenter. When He grew up He was surrounded by smelly fishermen, hated tax collectors, and despised lepers. He had no house of his own or even a place to lay his pillow.
Much of the world still considers Jesus as a figment of Christians’ collective imaginations, or a nice guy who had some pithy sayings, or a raving lunatic.
Many people today still consider Jesus as nothing more special than yesterday’s trash.
Yet Jesus is our righteousness! Christ is the only Son of God. He came down from heaven to take on human flesh and blood. He did this to fulfill God’s law on our behalf. Everything that Paul had thought he had done so well early in his life, Jesus did better – Jesus did perfectly.
Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day. That was when He first shed blood for our salvation. He was of the people of Israel. A true Hebrew of Hebrews. Unlike Paul, Jesus was not from the tribe of Benjamin. He was from the tribe of Judah. He was a descendant of King David, the great king from whom the Messiah would come. Jesus was perfectly righteous under God’s law. He never sinned … not even once. He was truly blameless. He did everything He was supposed to and He didn’t leave anything out.
Our righteousness always fails. It is dung. But Christ’s righteousness works. It is a treasure beyond compare.
When someone in your neighborhood puts up a rummage sale sign, suddenly others in the neighborhood start going through their homes and garages to try to sell their junk. Well, St. Paul is having a rubbish sale. It is a good time for us to get rid of our rubbish, as well.
When we get rid of our rubbish of righteousness, then we can exchange it for a true treasure that’s worth more than anybody can put a price on. This treasure is the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ. This righteousness makes us right with God – not by our flawed and filthy works, but by the perfect redeeming works of Jesus Christ. This righteousness is ours through faith in Christ. It is completely free, and it will keep its value for eternity.
Pretty good pick-up at a rubbish sale! Amen.