Philippians 3:1-12

aged 13 art exam. the party. roast chicken and a lot of carpet. Help! 

didn’t need just help, didn’t need good advice .. i needed salvation. i needed her to sit down and do the exam in my place. I needed a saviour!]

What is life really all about: is it about a stairway or is it about a saviour?

Is life a stairway TO heaven and you’ve got to climb?

Or is it about a Saviour FROM heaven and how He has come down?

Every human religion is about a stairway and you have to climb it. Karma in Hinduism, the Eightfold Path in Buddhism, the 5 Pillars of Islam – it’s all about US making a journey towards spiritual improvement.

And even if you’re not at all religious, life is still about getting ahead, getting on top, climbing the greasy pole. being all you can be, proving yourself.

Whether religious or completely non-religious, the whole world is looking for a stamp of approval that says “YOU’RE ALRIGHT. YOU CAN HOLD YOUR HEAD UP HIGH.” To put it in Bible terms, we all want to be declared “RIGHTEOUS” – to be declared “IN THE RIGHT” with those that matter.

And the whole world thinks it knows HOW you get that verdict: You climb the staircase. YOU pull yourself up by your bootstraps and do it yourself.

But there’s one significant exception to the rule. Christians are different – or at least we should be. Christians are the one group of people on the face of the planet who believe in a Saviour. No-one else believes in a Saviour the way Christians do. We believe that Jesus Christ – the Perfect Son of God – He ALONE deserves to be called Righteous. He has always thrilled the heart of His Father God even before the world began and when He came to live a life in our world, He lived the Righteous Life so exceptionally. Compared to Jesus none of us measure up. We fall far short of Jesus and His matchless glory. BUT, this is the thing: Jesus is not a STANDARD who we have to now LIVE UP to.  NO – He is our Saviour who has COME DOWN to SHARE His righteousness WITH US! 

The whole direction of travel is different for the Christian. We don’t work up to righteousness.  Righteousness has come down to us because Jesus: the Righteous One, is heaven’s Gift.

Look at the last 10 words of verse 9. Paul writes that in Jesus, there is:

a righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

Here is everything the world tries to live up to. And Paul says, it’s come DOWN, as a Gift.  

Baptism pictures the giving of this gift to us. By faith, simple trust, in Christ Jesus My Lord we are joined to Jesus who died for our sin and went down into the watery grave - our sins are crucified with Christ. And then just as Jesus the righteous was raised - we have been raised to life and are clothed in his righteousness. He comes down to give every drop of his blood to lift  us UP. 

See how Paul puts it in verse 9. Now that you have gained Christ, you are...

found in him, not having a righteousness of [your] own that comes from [obeying] the law, but [a righteousness] which is through faith in Christ

It’s not about a staircase it’s ALL about our Saviour, Jesus. It’s not about climbing, it’s about receiving. 


all of us, even Christians, even though we’re meant to believe in a Saviour, we slip into Staircase Religion. It’s our pride you see. We desperately want to do it ourselves. But that’s death. We were made to depend on God, that’s what makes us truly human. Truly strong. full of life.  THIS passage will call us out of the death of Staircase Religion and back to Security in our Saviour. And when we refocus on HIM, EVERYTHING changes. Let’s see in our passage the 3 things it changes according to Paul. 

Firstly, it changes our mood. Verse 1:

Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! 

In this short letter, Paul talks about joy or rejoicing 14 times. This is often called the letter of joy. And repeatedly Paul commands us to rejoice. 

How do you feel about being commanded to change your mood?

We actually do it all the time when you think about it. 

“Have a nice day.” And what if I don’t? 

“Enjoy your meal.” Well, I’ll eat it, but whether I ENJOY it is largely up to your chef.  

Actually we know what we mean by those ones the one that really grates is: “Cheer up. It might never happen” Dont’ you hate that becuase maybe whatever mihght never happen is happening..

But you know, when Paul commands - rejoice! He’s not being like the idiot who says Cheer up. It might never happen. Because it’s happening for him. He writes from a hell hole prison in Rome knowing that at any moment he might be executed. Paul doesn’t say cheer up. Praise the Lord anyway. Rejoice in your circumstances. He says rejoice in the lord. 

There’s nothing joyful about his circumstances. There may well be nothing joyful about yours. But Paul rejoices IN THE LORD. Paul knows Jesus and he knows the Jesus who COMES DOWN INTO OUR PIT to be with us, to be for us, and one day soon to bring us out.  He rejoices because, first and foremost, he doesn’t think of himself as in prison. First and foremost he thinks of himself as IN the LORD – In Jesus. And in JESUS he can rejoice.

Ca you? Can you rejoice? Can i? Even in terrible circumstances? We will never be able to rejoice if we’re climbing the staircase. If you think life is about getting ahead, then suffering comes and knocks you off course, it takes you down a peg or two, it’s a dead loss. If you’re on the staircase you can only rejoice when you’re on top, never when you’re suffering. But if you have a Saviour – who meets you IN the pit – then it doesn’t matter how low suffering brings you, Jesus is there. His love goes deeper still.

If we know nothing of rejoicing in suffering, maybe it’s because we’ve started to buy into the staircase vision of life. Look again to Jesus: With our Saviour, even a dungeon can be a place of praise.

So with Jesus as Saviour, it changes our MOOD. Secondly, it changes our MESSAGE.

From verse 2, Paul starts talking about false teaching that was threatening the Philippian church. Essentially the message of these false teachers was Staircase Religion. They held the Bible in their hands but their message is basically self-help, self-improvement, self-realisation – “You’ve got Jesus but there’s stuff that you need to DO TOO. 

And Paul can’t STAND this message because it is the opposite of the message of the SAVIOUR. It downgrades Jesus’ total glory. So from verse 2 he uses the strongest language against these false teachers:

 “Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.

It seems these preachers called themselves “The Circumcision” strange name… But they called themselves the Circumcision dudes because they preached that the gateway to ‘TRUE CHRISTIANITY’ was to come to Jesus and then obey the Old Testament Law.  which included being circumcised. 

You know if you heard these guys preach you would probably be impressed by their religious seriousness, by their commitment to holiness. But it’s Staircase Religion – it’s ANTI our Saviour Christ. So Paul is so harsh with them in verse 2. He calls them dogs. It’s a brutal accusation, because these Jewish/Christian preachers would have thought of non-Jewish people as unclean dogs. Paul says, No the circumcision sect – they are the unclean ones, they are outside of the true people of God. What’s more, they lift up “goodness” in their preaching but really – by distracting people from their Saviour – they are ‘evildoers’ says Paul v2.  And while they preach circumcision, all they end up doing is mutilating the flesh.!! Eww 

No, says Paul v3 to these ordinary Christians, it is WE who are the circumcision. 

Simply by trusting in Jesus ALONE, we are the true children of Abraham, the true people of God…

we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.

That’s the heart of it you see? The big question is always, Where are you putting your confidence in life?  Are we trusting our own powers and performances: that’s what “flesh” means here.  Are we putting our hope in ourselves?

When you listen to any ‘Christian’ message, hear a sermon online, or read a christian book, that’s the question to ask. Is this message telling you to put confidence in yourself? Or to put confidence in Jesus? Is this message pointing you to your own righteousness or to Christ’s righteousness GIVEN to you? Christ the saviour changes your mood, your message and finally your …


From verse 4, Paul tells us about his past experiences of Staircase Religion and boy oh boy - he was the stair master. 

4 … I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: [let me list off 7 steps I ascended in my day, says Paul] 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 legalistic righteousness, faultless.

You could not get more spiritually successful than Paul. He had everything: right nation, culture, religion, pedigree, upbringing. And he doesn’t just rely on his circumstances, he lives right too. He had joined the “Pharisees” – an ultra-conservative religious grouping. Their name means “Those who keep themselves separate.” That was Paul, a cut above. But he wasn’t just morally pure, he was also zealous (v6). He was consumed by religious devotion. And  if you tried to dig for dirt on Paul you would not find any. According to outward legal requirements, Paul had been 100% faultless.

And back in the day Paul would have taken immense pride in his many spiritual credentials. 

And we can be tempted to do the same. 

My baptism, my church, as for zeal, i never missed a prayer gathering as for righteousness, i’m reading the bible in a year don’t you know. 

Look praying is good, reading the bible is good, caring for your churches theology is good but you don’t want to be doing things for you and to be seen by others as a means of self justification, of stair climbing! That can’t be your motivation! 

What does Paul think of all that stair climbing that once motivated him so? 

7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ

Here Paul weighs up everything he’s ever been proud of in his life on one side of the scales. And then on the other side of the scales he puts Christ. And when he puts Christ into the equation, everything else he had ever trusted is seen as a dead loss. He had tried to climb higher and higher. But now he looks back and he says to himself: I wasn’t standing on anything solid. I was standing on a dung heap (that’s what the word ‘rubbish’ means in verse 8). i was standing on Crap. All those things might have been fine in themselves but I trusted in them as steps to climb – and that makes them dung.

But CHRIST. He is so different. You see CHRIST is not one more step up towards heaven. He’s not a helper who gets you up the staircase.  Christ is the abolition of the staircase. Because Christ comes down and joins us in the pit. And He embraces ANYONE who is honest enough to say “I’m helpless, I need rescue.” Anyone who gives up on the stair-climbing and says “Jesus, I know I can’t do it, I want YOU” – instantly that person GAINS CHRIST. And HE is what really matters.

Do you see how obsessed Paul is with CHRIST in these verses?

Verse 7 – Paul loses everything for the sake of Christ

Verse 8 – he describes the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ. 

End of verse 8 – he wants to gain Christ

Verse 9 – we wants to be found IN Christ.

Also verse 9 – he has faith in Christ.

And verse 10 – he wants to know Christ.

He is Christ obsessed. When you’re climbing the staircase, you don’t really love Jesus. Even if you’re a Christian, if you’re on the staircase, Jesus isn’t EVERYTHING to you. He’s a Helper on your way to heaven. If you’re on the Staircase, the Christian life is about abstract duties to perform and doctrines to believe. Is that how our Christianity feels sometimes? Is that our MOTVIATION? Things to do, things to believe but it’s not personal?

Do we KNOW Jesus?  Is our motivation, verse 10: I want to KNOW CHRIST?

Cos Christianity is not a lifestyle, a regime, a hobby, a philosophy, it’s not a staircase to climb – it’s JESUS, the Saviour who has come DOWN. And He’s come down in Person.

And you are meant to know Him? Maybe you’re not a Christian, but you realise your whole life you’ve wanted to know whether you’re ok. Right in the eyes of those that matter. you’ve wanted to know whether ‘God’ might ever accept you. Let me assure you – if you’re trying to lift yourself up towards Him it will never work. JESUS has come DOWN.  But He’s come down as a pure Gift. If you want to leave off, climbing the stairs your way. If you want to admit, “Jesus, I’m in the pit and I can’t get out. Jesus I want you.” You know what?  He’s yours. On the cross He gave Himself for you with every drop of His blood. And right now I’m extending that offer – God gives you Jesus, will you have Him? To know Him, to Know His surpassing greatness, His worth, His love. Call out now and say Jesus “I want to know you.”

And maybe you’re a Christian and you realise that – like all of us, your mood is less than joyful, the messages you like to hear are all about confidence in the flesh, your motivation is all about raising yourself up. Maybe you’ve gotten sucked into the Stairclimbing Religion. Maybe the person of Jesus HIMSELF has been stripped out of your Christianity, and it’s all become very abstract. Do you want to forget that rubbish and know Jesus?

Again, let me declare you you to myself: He’s yours. With every drop of His blood, He is yours. And the whole of your life, and the whole of eternity is not about lifting yourself up towards Him, but knowing the depths of His love towards YOU.