By Gregg Bing
Continued from last issue.
In our last issue we began looking at Paul’s warning to the saints at Philippi about the false teaching of the Judaizers, legalistic Jews who insisted that circumcision and keeping the law were required for salvation. These self-righteous Jews, particularly the Pharisees, sought to establish their own righteousness by the works of the flesh, and, thus, refused to submit to the righteousness of God. Paul declared that “the true circumcision” are those “who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).
Paul’s Confidence in the Flesh
Paul understood the attitude of these Judaizers; he was, himself, a Pharisee before he trusted Jesus Christ as Savior. No doubt, this is part of why his heart’s desire was for his people, Israel, to see what he saw on the road to Damascus (Rom. 10:1-2). Paul used himself as an example of one who might have “confidence in the flesh.” He almost challenges the Judaizers to compare records; “If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so” (Phil. 3:4). Paul then lists the claims he once had “in the flesh.”
“Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” (Phil. 3:5-6)
“Circumcised the eighth day.” Paul was confident in his strict adherence to the ordinance of circumcision, the sign God gave to Abraham to emphasize his separation from other nations (Gentiles), an ordinance later incorporated into the Mosaic Law. In contrast to many Jews who were circumcised later in life (especially after Israel and Judah had gone into captivity), Paul had been circumcised when he was eight days old, exactly as prescribed by God (Gen. 17:12; Lev. 12:3).
“Of the stock of Israel.” Paul was confident in his nationality, being part of the commonwealth of Israel, God’s chosen nation. He was not only a descendant of Abraham (the father of that nation), but of Isaac (the promised seed), and of Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel).
“Of the tribe of Benjamin.” Paul was confident in his tribal lineage, being descended from Benjamin, a very respected tribe because of its association with the tribe of Judah in the southern kingdom of Judah (where the term “Jew” comes from). The capitol of this kingdom remained in Jerusalem where the temple of God was located.
“A Hebrew of the Hebrews.” Paul was confident in his family purity. He was a Hebrew of Hebrew parents. Following the captivities and dispersion of Israel and Judah into different foreign nations, many Hebrew families adopted the culture and language of these nations, some corrupting their lineage through mixed marriages. This was not the case with Paul’s family. They remained true to their Hebrew heritage.
“Concerning the law, a Pharisee.” Paul was confident in his religious affiliation, being trained and then living as a Pharisee, the strictest sect of the Jew’s religion (Acts 26:5). While the Sadducees had become quite liberal in their views (denying the resurrection and the existence of angels or spirits; Acts 23:8), the Pharisees remained more fundamental, believing in strict adherence to the Mosaic Law (though they also stressed the traditions of the elders; Matt. 15:1-2).
“Concerning zeal, persecuting the church.” Paul was confident in his zealous dedication to God (Acts 22:3). Being convinced that he must do “many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9-11), he “persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it” (Gal. 1:13).
“Concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” Paul was confident in his own righteousness, a righteousness obtained through the works of the law. In his own eyes, in the eyes of his fellow Pharisees, and in the eyes of most Jews, Paul was considered blameless, having done nothing that people could find fault with.
However, as Paul traveled to Damascus to continue his persecution of the church, he came face to face with the risen Lord, Jesus Christ. He came to see and believe that Jesus of Nazareth, whom he had once zealously persecuted, was not only Israel’s Messiah, He was the Lord of glory (Acts 9). That very moment, Paul was saved from his sins by the grace of God (1 Tim. 1:14-15). Suddenly, Paul’s evaluation of what was important in life changed.
Loss for Christ
“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.” (Phil. 3:7-9)
The things Paul once considered great gain, he now viewed as loss for the sake of His Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Indeed, Paul counted all things loss for one thing, the thing he held above everything else: the knowledge of Christ Jesus, his Lord.
Paul was likely from a well-to-do family. His family was from Tarsus, the chief city of Cilicia distinguished for its wealth and as a center of education (Acts 21:39). His father was a Pharisee, a well respected member of the Jewish religious community. As a youth, Paul was sent to Jerusalem where he was trained at the feet of the well-known rabbi, Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). While growing up, and even as a young man, Paul never lacked for his physical needs, and he must have loved the things this lifestyle afforded him.
However, Paul’s greatest love was not for material possessions, but for his Jewish heritage and his religious deeds, all accomplished in the strength of his own flesh. Not only did Paul love these things, he trusted in them to give him a righteous standing before God.
When he met Jesus Christ on the Damascus road, Paul saw clearly that everything this world has to offer, whether wealth and material possessions or respectability and religious standing in the eyes of men, were worthless; they were “rubbish,” that which is thrown away from the table or thrown to the dogs; they were “dung” (KJV), that which is cast out from the body. The only thing of real value is knowing Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
Thus, Paul was willing to suffer the loss of all things that he might gain Christ; he gave up his lifestyle as a Pharisee, his position of authority in Israel, and his respectability in the eyes of both the Jewish rulers as well as the Jewish people. All that he might gain Christ.
To Gain Christ
What does it mean “to gain Christ?” It doesn’t mean to gain salvation by one’s own efforts. This is what Paul sought to do as Saul of Tarsus; what he learned to be a complete loss, a worthless effort. Salvation is not about “having our own righteousness, which is from the law.” The Scriptures make it clear that “nothing good dwells” in us, that is in our flesh (Rom. 7:18). Salvation is, therefore, “not by works of righteousness which we have done” (Tit. 3:5), for “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). Therefore, “A man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:16).
Our confidence must not rest in the works of our flesh, but in the finished work of Jesus Christ which He accomplished for us when He died on the cross for our sins and rose again from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3-4). The only hope we have of salvation, of acceptance by a righteous God, is to “be found in Him (Christ).” Salvation is not about “having our own righteousness, which is from the law;” it is about “having the righteousness which is from God by faith,” faith in Christ alone (Phil. 3:9).
What About You?
What do you love? What is most important to you? What are you unwilling to give up? Are you so enamored of your wealth and material possessions that they have become the most important things in your life, more important than eternity? Or, as Paul once did, are you trusting in your own goodness, your good works, your church affiliation, or your religious service, the things you have done in the flesh, to attain a righteous standing before God?
Consider, carefully, the truth of these Scriptures. Nothing this world has to offer compares to knowing Jesus Christ as Savior. Nothing can satisfy now; nothing can satisfy for eternity. You are a sinner, we all are, and your sin separates you from a holy God (Rom. 3:23; Rom. 6:23). But God loves you; He loves you so much He was willing to send His only Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die for your sins (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8). He died for you and rose again that you might be reconciled to God and have eternal life (1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Pet. 3:18). Salvation is the gift of God, given to us by His grace, but each of us has to receive this gift by faith (Eph. 2:8-9).
Won’t you trust in Christ as your Savior today. The moment you believe in Him, God’s Holy Spirit baptizes you into Christ (Gal. 3:27); He seals you there until the day of redemption (Eph. 1:12-14). From that moment on, God sees you in His Son; He sees you just as holy and righteous as His Son (2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 1:4; 1 Cor. 1:30).
What could be more important than gaining Christ as Savior by simple faith in Him? Going back to the question Jesus asked in Matthew 16:26, “What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or, what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” What is your answer to these questions?