Thank You, Heavenly Father, for providing us with the witness and example of St. Paul. Help us, Lord, to learn from him. Help us, Lord, as we study these words of his, to hear You.
4 And yet I could trust in things about myself if I wanted to. If any other man thinks that he has something about himself to trust in, I have more things. 5 I had the mark of a Jew cut in my body when I was eight days old. I was born of the people of Israel. I belong to the family of Benjamin, so I was born a true Jew. I was a Pharisee, so I obeyed the Jewish law very carefully. 6 I was so full of my own ideas that I sent Christians to prison. But I was a good man in the way the Jewish law calls a man good. 7 But all these things that might have helped me, I call them all nothing, because of Christ. 8 Yes, I call them all nothing, because to know Christ Jesus my Lord is much better. It is for his sake that I have given them all up and call them just dirt. I have lost them but gained Christ. 9 I do it so that I will belong to him. I do not want to be called good because of the Jewish law. But I want to be made good by believing in Christ. I want to be put right with God through faith alone. 10 I want to know Christ. I want to know the power that raised him from death. I want to have a part in his trouble. I want to be like him in his death. 11 Then I hope to be raised from death. Link to WEB Link to ASV 3:1-16
In this passage St. Paul opens up to us with his Jewish claim. No one, he says, can claim a greater heritage, a greater right to boast of his Jewishness, than he. Notice vs. 5. “Hebrew of Hebrews” according to one commentator, means that he has no Gentile ancestors. Not even Jesus can claim that! Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba were not Israelite women. If that is what Paul is actually claiming, then he has more claim than David.
Regardless, the claim he makes is that his right to boast in his Jewishness is greater than that of those who are of the Circumcision party. He shows that, so far as Jewish Law was concerned, he was faultless*.
And then he pulls the rug out from under the feet of the Circumcision Party. All that means nothing, because his Jewish righteousness and obedience to the Law did not keep him from being, as he says elsewhere, “chief of sinners”. In these verses he does not argue with the Circumcision Party, he merely points out the Truth to the Philippians.
Paul was, according to the Law, faultless*. But obedience to the Law was not God’s intention when He gave the Law to Moses. Instead, the Law was a guide, pointing the way, to righteousness. Jesus confirms that the ‘Greatest Commandment’ is to ‘Love God with all your heart and your Neighbor as Yourself.’
This is tough. Many, when they comprehend this, give up. Some cannot believe that this is possible. And, with human power, human will, it is impossible. You have to let the Holy Spirit be your “Advocate”. Others are Unwilling to give control to God. Ultimately, this means that they, those Unwilling, do not trust God.
So the Philippians must decide between what the Circumcision Party says and what St. Paul and Timothy say. And now they have Paul’s testimony that the LAW was helpful, but that the Holy Spirit is much more helpful. This should give them cause to rejoice. They don’t have to choose between the Law and Christ in order to obtain righteousness.
Look at the New King James translation of these verses:
7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 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 9 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; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain[b] to the resurrection from the dead. Link to NKJV
St. Paul tells the Philippians that through his faith in Christ he is overcoming the ways of human understanding. Look carefully at vs. 9. The Law provided a way for personal righteousness; Faith in Christ provides His Righteousness. And, in vs. 12 he tells them that he is not yet perfect. We will look at that in more detail next time. It might be good to meditate on these verses.
Asbury Bible Commentary on 3:4-7 & 3:8-9.
*A great analysis of “faultless” is found in the IVP commentary on 3:4-6.