The Cross as the Motivation: Philippians 3:2-11



What is this? This is a flame, right. Have you heard of the expression, light a fire under him? It came from chimney sweeps. If they were going up the chimney a bit slow, you would light a little fire under them to get them to move. That fire motivated them, you know. 


What motivates you? For me, I love getting things done. I love exercising, learning, and the thought of adventure with my family. I am inspired by things that make me happy. What about you? What should motivate you and me? I mean there are all types of motivation. Are there nobler ones? What does God’s Word say? I want to take us back two thousand years to hear about the Apostle Paul’s motivation. He had a hard life and a challenging call to be a missionary to the non-Jewish people called the Gentiles. What drove him to fulfill his mission when the going got tough? What kept him on track? 


May is Missions month. So we are talking about missions. That is why we had the banquet last week. (Thank you, team, by the way.) That is why we have the flags up and our Sunday School time talking about missions. That is why we are raising pledges for missions. We have already met our budget through May, but what would God have us give for our next fiscal cycle? Together, we can do more than apart. We help work in Africa, Asisa, the Middle East, India, and Mexico. But why? Why do we care so much? It is the same reason I think Paul cared. Let’s explore Paul’s motivation and our own this morning. 


A few weeks back we enjoyed the glory of the resurrection of Jesus on Easter. Then we explored the message of the cross, and the cross as the magnet for missions. Today, let’s see it as motivation for missions. Why? The cross is not just any ancient tool of death but the locus of Jesus’s work. Several things are remarkable about the cross: 

  • Our spiritual debt to God was paid for on the cross, 

  • Our sin was forgiven at the cross, 

  • Our souls were ransomed by the cross. 

  • We were redeemed through the cross. 

  • We were saved with the cross. 

  • The cross demonstrated God’s love for us. 

The cross was the pinnacle of Jesus’s life, accomplishing all that and much, much more. The cross and what it signified motivated Paul, and it should motivate us as well as we think about missions and following Jesus.  


This morning, I picked one of my favorite verses to share. The passage broadens out a bit the focus of motivation from Jesus’s death to Jesus himself and his resurrection. But I want us to see this motivation in its context. So, let’s start at verse 2 of chapter 3 of Philippians. If you have Bibles, open to Philippians chapter 3.  I am going to have J.Y. read for us. Please stand in honor of God’s Word, if you are able. 


2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for 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; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order 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 comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:2–8)


Thank you, J. Let’s pray. Dear God. Thank you for your Word. It is light and life for us. Speak to us now by the power of your Spirit. Help the message and our thoughts be pleasing in your sight. You are our rock and redeemer. In Jesus’s name, we pray, amen. You may be seated. 


Let me share a bit about what J. read. The Apostle Paul wrote the letter of Philippians to the church in what is now Greece, in a city called Philippi. Paul planted this church. We first read about this city in Acts chapter 16. It was a leading Roman city in the region of Macedonia. Here is a picture. The red x in the middle is where Philippi is.  

Paul went there with Silas and Luke to share the good news about the cross. In Philippi, they met a slave girl possessed by a demon. This gave her the ability of divination. She followed Paul and Silas around and told everyone, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17). That was true but bothersome. I imagine her demon possession was coloring how people viewed their message. It was like having the bad guy as your promoter. She got attention, but not the kind of attention Paul wanted. So, he cast the demon out of her. When that happened, she stopped being able to “divine” things. Her slave owners didn’t appreciate that because of the loss of income. They were so furious that they dragged Paul and Silas into the center of the marketplace and sought legal action from the government. The slavers said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice” (Acts 16:20–21). The city leadership sided with the slave owners and had Paul and Silas stripped naked, beaten with rods, and thrown into prison. They hung out all evening singing psalms. In the night, God sent an earthquake and miraculously broke open Paul and Silas’s cell. The guard on duty freaked out, assuming his prisoners escaped. If they had, his head would roll. Thus, to avoid punishment, he sought to end his life. Paul saw the guard in this distress and stopped him in his tracks. Paul basically told the guard they weren’t planning on leaving and instead shared the gospel. Subsequently, the jailer and his whole household came to faith. He brought them to his house and Paul and Silas baptized them. In the morning, the civil servants who imprisoned Paul learned of his Roman citizenship and told him and his friends to leave the city for good. They didn’t want to be detaining or punishing a Roman citizen. That would look bad. But they didn’t want any more rabble rousing. Paul was not welcome anymore in Philippi. He obeyed but didn’t give up his mission. He continued to plant churches and encourage believers throughout the Mediterranean area.


Years passed. Paul went to Jerusalem. City leadership arrested him again. They transferred him, and he spent years in lockdown. Eventually, they moved him to Rome. Meanwhile, the church in Philippi had grown and heard about his incarceration. They sent a financial gift to help him out. The Philippians asked if he could send Timothy to them for their spiritual encouragement. Paul wrote saying no, but he did send their messenger back with the letter, Philippians. There are many great quotes in it. Like: 

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” Philppians 1:21.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philppians 2:2–4

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice”  Philippians 4:4.

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13.


The book is a manual for joy in following Jesus on a path of suffering. How do we follow Jesus? What is the motivation that keeps us going even if persecuted for our faith or dealing with false teaching.  


Take a look again at chapter 3. In the passage we read, Paul wanted the church to look out for false teachers. The false teachers were relying on religion, not a relationship with Jesus. They promoted obedience to the Old Testament as what makes God happy, not faith. In the verses we read we can see four sections: 

2–3 Paul warned about false teachers who bank on their religion

4–6 Paul wrote he was a prime example as a religious person

7–9 Paul counted his exemplary work as worthless

10–11 He contrasted God’s work with his own as priceless

Let’s dig a bit more into the immediate context before we see Paul’s motivation. 


In verses 2 through 3, we read about the false teachers. Like in Galatia and Antioch, some false teachers tried to convince people that God was happy with them if they followed the Jewish law. According to these Judaizers, that meant that every man needed to be circumcised. Paul hated that teaching. He called those promoting this rule dogs. They were scavengers, preying on the weak. They were distorting the gospel. They were wolves among sheep. I imagine their encouragement was for the followers to “Work harder. Strive more. Earn God’s pleasure.” They were not teaching the message of the cross. They were teaching that you had to work for your salvation.   


What was the alternative message? Pastor Joe shared with us it a few weeks back. Jesus did what people could not do. He died on the cross in the place for sins (1 Corinthians 15:3). He forgave and loved people to death. Paul believed that message so much that he gave his life to communicate it. He ended up dying a martyr for this message. 


As verses 4 through 6 note, Paul wrote that he would be a prime candidate to be righteous if it was based on behavior or nationality. He was a superstar among the Jews. He studied under an eminent scholar Gamaliel. He followed the Torah to the ‘T.’ He was a straight-A student, valedictorian if there was one. He knew his stuff and toed the line before coming to his convictions about the cross. He was so passionate about his Judaism that he went on a rampage to eradicate Christianity. The chief leaders in Jerusalem gave him permission to arrest believers and punish them. He oversaw the first martyrdom. In Acts chapter 9, Paul was headed to Damascus when Jesus stopped him in his tracks through a vision. That was the turning point in his life. God called him to become a missionary to the non-Jewish people to tell them the message. Paul invested his time studying and seeking God and serving Jesus


Look at Philippians chapter 3, verse 7. Paul contrasted his work with Jesus’s work. 

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish. (Phiippians 3:7–8)

Notice the word count. Paul used the word count three times. First, whatever gain he had, he counted it as a loss. Then, he counted everything as a loss. Not only that, he counted it all as rubbish. 


That word for rubbish, in Greek, is the word for litter, trash, garbage, and dung. That being the case: 

  • He saw his education was dung. 

  • He saw his ethical behavior as dung. 

  • He saw his national identity as a Roman Jew as dung. 

  • He saw his family connections were dung. 

  • He saw his promotions and achievements were dung. 

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish. (Philippians 3:7–8)


Paul was not saying that the Old Testament law, doing the right thing, or education was inherently garbage. He was making a comparison. He was saying it was trash compared to what? “Jesus.” He said that because of the surpassing worth of knowing “Jesus.” What motivated Paul? What helped him get up and move on when attacked verbally and physically again and again and again? Look at verse 9. 

For his sake [Jesus’s sake] I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish [Why?], in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him. (Philippians 3:8–9)


He wanted to gain Christ. He committed his life to “gain Christ.” Christ was so much to him, more than education, nationality, family, and accolades. What did he mean? It relates to being found in Jesus. What does that mean? Wasn’t Jesus in heaven and Paul on Earth? Didn’t he know Jesus? Yes. What was Paul getting at? How did he gain Christ or be found in him? 


Picture being in school or at work. When you are in school or at work, you are in something bigger than yourself. You are there in the classroom. You are at your desk. You are under the roof. Being in Jesus meant identifying with him where he was at, who he was with, and what he was about. 


Keep reading. Verse 9: “And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law” (Philippians 3:9). Paul was connecting his relationship with Jesus with his standing with God. Gaining Christ and being found in Jesus was about a spiritual standing before God. To be found in Jesus was to have a right position before God. Paul wasn’t saved by his effort. Being religious didn’t save him.  


How does he become righteous or in Christ? Keep reading. 

And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—. (Philippians 3:9)  


Did you catch that? In verse 9, Paul shared the gospel’s message that the center of rightness is through faith. Faith in what? Faith in Jesus. What does that mean? We are saved through faith in Jesus’s substitutionary death on our behalf. We are hidden in Jesus, and God sees us as right with him relationally when that is the case. Jesus’s blood covers our sin through faith. His body takes our punishment through faith. He suffered God’s anger, so we would never have to through faith. That is the good news of the cross. That is the message of the Bible our missionaries spread throughout the world through your mission giving, your prayers, and your service. 


We all are born on a level playing field no matter what skin color, gender, education we attain, or the money in the bank. We are all in need of this faith from birth. And where does that faith come from? God. He is the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). 


I picture Paul waking up in his prison cell thinking. “How am I going to face those who hate me? How will I meet those who don’t like what I say? How will I keep preaching the message to people who will reject it? How will I be bold if I am beaten down one more time?” What motivated him to keep the faith? 


He had a hard life. In his second letter to the church in Corinth, he details his trials: 

I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. [That is thirty-nine if you are counting] Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:21–28)

In the next chapter, he wrote, 

A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. (2 Corinthians 12:7–8)


Why did Paul catalog his tragedy for his reader? He was not seeking sympathy. His abuse was not a badge of honor or foundation for his salvation. He wanted to highlight what he would talk about in chapter 3, verses 7 through 11. He wanted to share what Jesus shared with him. Jesus told him why he suffered so. Jesus said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). That is encouraging and motivating. We can face our weaknesses because our sovereign God ordains them for our good. So in strength and weakness we can have faith to persevere. 


In our weakness and darkness, God’s power shines brighter. Have you seen that? I have. Paul contrasted all his worldly status and accomplishments with gaining Jesus in Philippians 3. Now, in verses 10 and 11, he contrasted knowing Jesus and his suffering with resurrection. 


Look at verses 10 and 11. Let’s break them down. 


Paul’s motivation or goal was to know Jesus. He wrote that he counted all these things as rubbish or a loss so “That I may know him” (Philippians 3:10). This was not just knowing a person like you and I had just met. We can say we know each other. But it is like going to coffee every week or doing a carpool Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, or working on a project together. It is intimate knowledge. It takes time. It is personal. Paul wanted to know Jesus in that way. But that is not all. 


Paul also wanted to know “the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). This is an already but not yet reality. We can know his power now, but we will know the resurrection for sure one day personally. I think Paul was looking forward to that reality. No more pain. No more suffering. No more tears. Living in the presence of God the creator and Jesus the Savior. He says as much earlier in Philippians chapter 1 verse 23, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” At the same time, I think there is a sense that Paul wanted to know the power of Christ at work in his life at the moment. He wanted to see the power of God in his life in his day. He had before. He had seen healings, conversions, exorcisms, and supernatural interventions. Paul wanted that for others as well. In his letter to the Ephesians, he wrote, 

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead. (Ephesians 1:16–20)

Let me read that last part again. 

that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead. 


Paul also wanted “And may share his [Jesus’s] sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10). That sounds wrong. What was Paul getting at? He wasn’t choosing suffering for the sake of suffering. He left Philippi when they forced him. We learn later that he appealed to Caesar when his life was threatened. It is okay to defend oneself. I think he was willingly submitting to the suffering God brought along his path. He followed Jesus wherever he led, even if it meant death. Often, in such suffering, we can experience God the closest. I find that in my worst moments, I am closest to Jesus. I see Jesus better when I share with him. Paul could also be thinking about crucifying his flesh. The pruning can lead to more fruitfulness. 


The following phrase in chapter three helps interpret what he is getting at. “That by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10–11). Paul used the word “may” in the ESV. That seems tentative here about his future resurrection. He is thinking about his future resurrection when he is sharing Jesus’s sufferings and being like him in his death. Did he doubt his salvation? Not exactly. I think he was humble and not presumptuous. Paul has spoken like this to the Corinthian church. He is bold and confident but humble. His hope was in Jesus, not his performance. He was saved by grace alone in Christ alone. 


I like how the NLT translates this verse. They take out some doubt about Paul’s language and put the accent on his hope. “I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” (Philippians 3:10–11). 


Therefore, what do we see as Paul’s motivation when the going got tough? What kept him going when he was in prison? What spurred him on in his mission? 

  • He wanted to know Jesus. 

  • He wanted to know the power of Jesus. 

  • He wanted to share in the experience of Jesus. 

  • He wanted to become like Jesus. 

  • He wanted Jesus. 


Do you? Do you want him? Do you want to know Jesus? Christianity is not about a decision you made twenty years ago, church attendance, or abstinence from sin. Sure, you demonstrate what you believe by what you do; however, Christianity is about what you believe right now. Do you want Jesus? Do you want to be found in him? Do you want to know Jesus? That can be scary at times, especially when it means sacrifice, yet it is the best thing to happen to you. 


This reminds me of what David Sunday read to us. Jesus said to his followers, 

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:24–25)

Jesus loved us to death so that we may love others to death. Whoever would keep his life will lose it, and whoever hates his life will keep it. This is the upside-down kingdom. Jesus modeled a great reversal. In dying, we live; in giving up, we gain. Paul sacrificed family, friends, money, prestige, popularity, and even his life to spread this message of the cross. If they killed him, he goes to be with Jesus. If they keep him alive, he will keep sharing the message. He will obtain the resurrection one way or the other. You can’t kill a Christian for good. They will rise again. 


God called Paul to be a missionary to the Gentiles to share this fantastic message. Paul sought to take this gospel where no one else had gone before. It was costly, but the benefit was priceless. The benefit for him and others was Jesus. 


What is your motivation? Can you join Paul in wanting to know Jesus and his power and experience? Do you want more of Jesus? Do you want him in control of your life? Do you genuinely value him more than all otherworldly treasures and trinkets? 


The missionary Jim Elliot once said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Are you willing to give up what you can’t keep gaining what you can’t lose? Will you give up your resources to know Jesus? Many of you will and have. Will you give up your time to know Jesus? Many of you will and have. Will you use your talents to know Jesus? Again, I know many of you have. That is why some of our people have spent years serving Jesus on the mission field or in Christian service. Our congregation has given over a million dollars to missions in the last ten years. Some of you pray for hours each week, interceding for others. 


Experientially, you can start today seeking Jesus and knowing Jesus. He died for those of you who turn to him and believe in the message of the cross. How? Paul devoted himself to the Scriptures, prayer, and service. Much more could be said about those three things. Be in your Bibles, be talking to God, and follow Jesus in a life of service. There are other ways to know Jesus, but those are key. 


What would it look like for you to know Jesus more and the fellowship of his sufferings and the power of his resurrection? Consider that. What would it mean to count him more valuable than anything else in your life? What is the Holy Spirit saying to you? 


Let us quiet our hearts and think about what motivates us. Let us ask God how we can pursue knowing Jesus and his power and share it with the world? Write whatever he told you down. 


Let’s pray. Dear God, please help us know you, your power, and your ways. We want to be with you and thank you for our time here. May you get all the glory in Jesus’s name, amen. 

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