Trinity 23, 2015

 

The Epistle. Philippians 3:17-21

The Gospel. Matthew 22:15-22

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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

 

The BBC has a television program (a comedy) called Keeping up Appearances where the main character is a woman, who is consumed with appearance…. outward appearance. 

 

Everything is done and said with an eye to making sure everyone around her is aware of her status, her class.  The irony is she is not as classy as she portrays or thinks she is. 

 

The Scriptures today have a message that runs 180 degrees counter to that whole idea.

 

 

 

The Collect today calls us to devout prayers…earnest and sincere.

And that we ask faithfully so that we may obtain effectually…

 

The Apostle Paul writes today to his audience in the Philippian Church, eternal words for people in all ages. 

 

Backing up a few verses, again to get a bigger picture, …. just before the section from today, Paul sounds as if he is addressing something similar as he did in his letter to the Galatian Church.

 

He says: “…Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh…”

 

 

 

He is addressing people in the Church who were championing the Law of Moses and teaching others that circumcision was a prerequisite to and a badge signifying salvation. 

 

He says, “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.”…not by some act of mutilation….as others do.

 

Circumcision was an outward rite by the Law of Moses. An outward symbol signifying membership in the covenant with God.

 

Paul's point is, that Christians are to be inwardly circumcised in the heart.  The heart is what is changed by God making one a child of God….not outward things….in this case, circumcision.

 

So there was an effort for outward show, more than inward transformation and renewal by the Spirit of God.

 

He sarcastically goes on:  “—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: 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; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”

 

So he is using here the very language and arguments for himself that he condemns in them….just not to make the same point.

 

He is saying to them in other words, “so you want to compare who has the better credentials?”

“You want to say that outward appearance has any standing in the eyes of God? Go ahead and make that claim.  I can do one better.”   

 

I could argue the same way….  I was circumcised on the 8th day, in strict obedience to the Law.

 

I am a Hebrew – meaning my parents are not grafted in but are of the original stock of Israel.

I am of the Tribe of Benjamin – more proof that I am purebred.

 

As to the Law, a Pharisee – meaning, I am trained by and belong to that special class of Hebrews who guarded the deposit of the faith…. Handed down to us and we are held in the highest of esteem.

 

I am considered to be in the category of the epitome of the educated and pious Jew in every way.

 

But we can see how much all of that mattered when he goes on to say: “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, in order 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 comes through faith in Christ,

the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

 

Now there is a statement about what is truly important.  Being found in Christ…

Not having a righteousness of our own…as if we had any worth boasting about…or any works to boast about.

 

It is similar to our Prayer of Humble access.  “Not trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies…”

 

Paul’s only outward thing he desired to point to was his lack of outward appearances.  “Join me,” he says, “imitating me.  Keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”

 

Everything outward vanishes.  Our eyes are to be set not on earthly things, but on heavenly things…. since our citizenship is in heaven.

 

Those who are concerned with outward appearance, says Paul, …their belly is their god…their minds set on earthly things…and they glory in their shame.

 

One commentator says, “The unbridled liberty of which they boast, thus perverted, becomes their deepest degradation.”[1] 

 

And as we turn to the Gospel, we find this one line that might slip by if we aren’t careful.

 

The Pharisees are today in the lesson plotting how to entangle Jesus in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying,

 

 

 

“Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

 

Here comes the flattery.  “Teacher. We know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully…”

 

“They called Him ‘Teacher,’ even though they had questioned His authority only days before.

 

They said He was true, which was not how they felt about Him at all; they really believed He was false.

 

In a similar vein, they said that He taught the way of God in truth, but, of course, they had challenged His teaching again and again throughout His ministry.”[2]

 

Further, they saw the growing influence Jesus was having in His teaching and preaching and by the miracles He was performing.

 

These men could not have been more disingenuous toward the Lord.  They didn't believe a word of what they were saying.

 

Matthew says…knowing from experience being with Jesus for three years…they were plotting to entangle Jesus in His own words.  ….which they were never successful in doing.

 

As we know, in the end they had to drum up charges and twist His words in order to bring even the most flimsy of cases against Him.

 

But Matthew makes sure he reminds us, “But Jesus, aware of their malice, (their attempts at flattery) said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?  

 

You hypocrites….  You who only care about outward appearances.

Don't flatter Me with words about “we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully”….because they thought nothing of the sort.

 

They were so blinded by their attempts at outward show and appearances and ceremonies that Jesus’ way was offensive to them.

 

Though the Psalm speaks as to an individual, the meaning still applies to these men:

“His [their] speech was smooth as butter,

            yet war was in [their] his heart;

      [their] his words were softer than oil,

            yet they were drawn swords.

(Psalm 55:21 ESV)

 

They couldn’t see that Jesus understood and lived out the Law as it was intended.

 

Ryle: “It becomes all professing Christians to be much on their guard against flattery. We mistake greatly if we suppose that persecution and hard usage are the only weapons in Satan’s armory. That crafty foe has other engines for doing us mischief, which he knows well how to work. He knows how to poison souls by the world’s seductive kindness, when he cannot frighten them by the fiery dart and the sword.

Let us not be ignorant of his devices. By peace he destroys many.[3]

 

The only thing they were saying that they believed it would seem, was that they observed that He did not care about anyone's opinion, and that He was not swayed by appearances.

 

And this doesn't mean that He had no compassion for people for He clearly did.  Look at all Jesus tirelessly did for people.

But, mixed within their condescension were both true observations and false.

 

To not be a swayed by appearances means that he “…did not spin His words according to the reactions of His audience.”[4]

Jesus was not like that. He spoke the truth. He never wavered from it, even for a moment.”

 

To be concerned about our own (or other people’s) outward appearances, or to be swayed by flattery is not what God is working in us and is unbecoming of a Christian.

 

Those who put these things first, must remember that Paul says again, “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”

 

Our “…citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body…our bodies that from time to time desire flattery and smooth words….especially when they are directed toward us.

 

Where our treasure is, there our heart is also.  Is our heart treasuring the outward appearances??? Flattery?  Or is it striving to treasure eternal things….is it treasuring Christ?

Paul is saying that Christ “…will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body…”

 

So what outward appearances do we really need to be concerned about anyway?  What is flattery getting us?  We are lowly according to St. Paul.

 

And these bodies are going to be transformed into the likeness of Christ’s own glorious body.  Whatever appearance we think is glorious now, cannot compare to what we will become.

 

Thanks be to God that Paul’s words are true and as we await our Savior’s return from Heaven, we can by meditating on these words turn our eyes away from ourselves and others, and turn them to the One who is our greatest value, Christ Jesus. 

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.



[1] Lightfoot, J. B. (1994). Philippians (p. 169). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] Sproul, R. C. (2013). Matthew (p. 632). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

[3] Ryle, J. C. (1860). Expository Thoughts on Matthew (p. 285). New York: Robert Carter & Brothers.

[4] Sproul, R. C. (2013). Matthew (pp. 632–633). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.