Paul begins this chapter with of the strongest and most severe warnings that we have in the word of God. It was against certain Jewish teachers who saw the need of Christ but still thought that salvation was found in being Jew and living under the Law. They compelled that Gentile believers or non-Jewish Christians should be circumcised. Paul warns them not to let these individuals steal their joy in Christ. Look at verse 2. He says, “beware of the dogs.” “Dogs” were not cute and cuddly animals that you kept in your home but they were scavengers and known as unclean. The play on words is that the Judaizers would say they are making people clean but Paul says these men are unclean. He says also that they are evil workers. The idea again, is by puting people under the Law they viewed themselves as workers of righteousness. But any that add to the Gospel deplete it of its righteousness. Righteousness is found in Christ alone. And then he calls them the “false circumcision” or “false mutilators.” The rite they were pressing for could not achieve that which they said it could, and that is to make them the children of God. Again, the reason is that standing is found in Christ.
Look at verse 3. He says we are the true circumcision and there has been no physical act or righteousness. The signs that this internal salvation has gone on are heart-felt service to God, lauding and praising and boasting in Christ, and having no confidence in self. This is where our joy is. It is found in Christ. This is the only place where salvation is found. God has done something that we could not do ourselves. When we discover what He has done in a greater degree through the Word it creates an awe, and love and devotion where we cherish Christ, but so often we can forget how high and grand the Gospel is and graceful God has been in our lives and start to trust other things.
It might be that the Philippians were going through such severe persecution that circumcision began to look attractive to them as a way to escape many of the things they were going through. They would just be thought of as one aspect of Judaism and it would not be that bad, but Paul realizes that there would be such a loss of joy. And the amazing teachings of this epistle are that two of the themes are joy and suffering. We think they are mutually exclusive, but in Paul’s theology our joy is based upon the indestructible and finished work of Christ.
And what we have in verses 4 and following is Paul’s personal testimony that these believers would have known and been aware of. If they thought that circumcision was the way to go, Paul warns them and says in effect, “I’ve been there.” “I gain all that there was in Judaism and I count it loss and rubbish in the face of having Christ.” All of the religious assets that Paul says were gain were really loss. They had no ability to bring him closer or make him acceptable in the sight of God. This is what it means to know Christ. It means not to look for any advantages of any kind. All is found in Him.
One of the favourite human activities is to compare ourselves with others, and to see our righteousness. It is what makes gossip and arguments so appealing. I am not like you. I am righteous. But all human righteousness is of no value when compared to the righteousness of God. The thing about the Law is you only have to break one aspect to be a Law breaker. A judge doesn’t let a bank robber off the hook because he has never beaten his wife, or murdered, or been guilty of speeding. He is guilty. The standard is given by Christ in Matthew 5:48, “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” We can be so proud that we are so different from everyone else and never realize that we are like everyone else. Seeing God’s righteousness is the only way to see your sin and see what you really deserve. But even beyond that, all the righteous acts that we even perform are laden with sin or polluted with sin. The best and most noble things that we have ever done are laden with sin. So, even the noblest things that we can do outside of Christ can actually lead us away from God. And this leads to one of the most incredible and humbling pieces of Scripture in all the Word of God. There has been never a greater boast then the one Paul makes here about all his accomplishments and accolades, yet at the end it brought him no nearer to God, and actually kept him from God. When your convinced of your own righteousness than you do not need a Saviour from God’s wrath. Those who are sick don’t need a physician. And even in our own life we can be so distraught about what we do not get or what we deserve. We can be so amazed at our own works and think God owes me. As someone once said, “After all I’ve done for God this is what He gives me?!” How about you? Have you been struggling with your own self-righteousness thinking you deserve something from God? God wants us to see that all of the spiritual assets that call upon us to say “I deserve or I earned” are really debits that keep us away from God, and the joy of our salvation.
1. We can put confidence in inherited position. V.4-5.
Again, this comes back to the question of where do you get your identity? Who are you? If you were to describe yourself how would you describe yourself? Many times people describe themselves by some position. Many pastors love to say “I am a pastor.” Many others “I come from so and so family,” or “I’m related to so and so.” Some like to say they came from a good background, still others from a poor background but look at what they have made of their lives. Identity many times goes to pride and goes to what we like to talk about and boast about. This is the humbling but glorious aspect of Christianity. There is nothing to boast or complain about as far as ourselves or who we are. Our boast is in the finished work of another and His eternal love for me. And that is where we are to find our joy and our identity. Ask yourself: what feeds your pride?
Look at verse 4, “although I myself might have confidence even in flesh.” The Judaizers would have played “one up manship” among the Gentiles that they know the truth because look at who they are. They are Jews. They are God’s chosen people. So Paul plays that game and says, “If you think that they have something to boast about I have so much more to boast about.” Look at what he says, “If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more.” The idea here of “far more” is greater in degree. His credential and work in Judaism far exceed any of the Judaizers. If confidence is found in these aspects of humanity then I have all the more confidence. It is so incredible how easy it is to gain confidence through our comparison of others and even the advantages that we have over other people.
Look at Paul’s list of boast. There are seven items listed here, and notice that here in verse 5 it deals with his position in life. And look at the item he begins with: “circumcised the eighth day.” This was in keeping with Jewish custom. This was to fulfil the requirement of the Law carried In Genesis 17:12, and Lev. 12:3. Jewish boys were to be circumcised the eighth day. Paul was not a proselyte or a late comer to the faith of Judaism but was there right from the beginning of his life. He received circumcision long before they even heard of this right. This was an essential rite of Judaism and really pictured the need of cleansing but became a badge of righteousness, and trusted in the right rather than directing them to their need. No rite in the church performed brings us into a righteous relationship with God. Baptism or the Lord’s Table does not make us righteous. The reason we carry on those practices is because God commanded it and we do it out of a heart of gratitude and joy and not out of earning righteousness. This is why Paul sees this as a debit and no longer an asset because it was something that he trusted in, and kept him away from Christ.
Look at the next one: “of the nation of Israel.” Now this is a crucial point because this is what the Judaizers hoped to accomplish by circumcising these Gentile converts is to bring them into the nation of Israel, and therefore they would have the privileges of this chosen race. Paul had these privileges by birth. He was a physical descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but physical birth and heritage cannot save anyone. There is no such thing as household salvation. The Jews thought they were in because of birth, and therefore since Paul relied on this, it was a debit.
Look at the next debit, “of the tribe of Benjamin.” This one is certainly of effect because many Jewish proselytes could claim to be part of Israel at this time but none of those could trace their lineage back. Paul could trace his line all the way back to Benjamin. Many of the Jews because of inter marrying could no longer trace their family roots, but Paul could. And this really was a prestigious tribe. This is the only tribe that stayed loyal to Judah during the division of Israel in the O.T. Listen to what the Lord says about Benjamin in Deut. 33:12, “May the beloved of the Lord dwell in security by Him, who shield him all the day, and he dwells between His shoulders.” No matter who you are and who your family is, it has nothing to do with salvation.
When you look at these three designations Paul did not do anything to earn them but inherited them from His parents. So often we forget what God has given us and how God has orchestrated our lives. I have said this before but most of the major decisions in my life were made for me. Very little did I have a hand in bringing about. I never decided what country that I would be born into. Think of all the countries and all the conflicts, and why was I born a Canadian by birth? It had nothing to do with me. I never chose my parents who would shape much of my thinking and life. I never chose where I would go to high school. At the end of finishing high school I never considered becoming a Christian and was not even interested in that direction. I never thought that one day I would marry the sweetest Christian girl who lived at the other end of the province. I never planned to become a pastor and never thought I’d ever live in Windsor Ontario, and pastor a flock I have grown to love. If all of that is true, what do I have to boast. And if I start to think that I have made myself those blessings cease to be blessing and blur my vision of my need and his grace. I can turn the greatest blessings around in my life and make them debits as God owes me because of who I am. All of these advantages have kept so many back from seeing the wonderful salvation in Christ, but many of these advantages have become impediments to seeing and savouring Christ, and that is why he will count them as rubbish, as garbage and refuse in a few verses. Where do you find your identity? What gives you pride and causes you to boast?
2. We can also put confidence in what we have accomplished. V. 5b-6.
Something that is even more appealing and more intoxicating to pride and self-righteousness is the things we do. We forget that even the things we do that are beneficial, loving, and glorifying to God are all according to God’s grace or we would not have those accomplishments in our lives. We must recognize that the things we do and accomplish do not earn points or standing with God.
Look at what Paul says in verse 5, “a Hebrew of Hebrews.” This is really a swing term taking us from the first three to the last three. Paul was born of Hebrew stock. “Hebrew” was a designation that many Jews had for themselves. Now Paul appendages that title with the word “Hebrew,” which spoke of his “Hebrewness.” He was well indoctrinated in all their ways. He knew Hebrew and Aramaic and was able to read the Hebrew Scripture. He was trained under the famous Rabbi Gamaliel in Jerusalem, we find in Acts 22:3. He didn’t assimilate in the culture around him but was committed to what he learned and valued all of the traditions of Judaism.
Now look the end of verse 5, which is really an outgrowth of this one: “as to the Law, a Pharisee.” Pharisaism was really a lay movement. This is was not so much the scribes and priests but man off the streets that really took holiness seriously. It really took off during the four hundred silent years between the O.T., and the N.T. The Jewish historian Josephus said that they numbered about a thousand. They were greatly esteemed among the people of Israel. The term means “separated ones.” And that is basically what they were. They would not eat with anyone who was unclean, or a non-observant Jew. The idea here is that Paul was a Pharisee concerning the Law is that this was a matter of choice. He voluntarily place himself under the thousands of oral traditions of the Law. Paul cherished this status and this reputation. Again, it so easy to find our all in that we know more, or be belong to a certain theological circle. We believe this and hold this or practice this compared to others. But just belonging to some group or sect does not make us a believer. In fact if we trust in anything of that nature then it becomes an obstacle which cannot be conquered. We trust in something we have become rather than Christ.
He says next, “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church.” During the Maccabean wars where we have people like Antiochus Epiphanese who came against Israel and defiled the temple came the zeal to protect the nation and protect the purity of worship against anything contrary to Judaism. You have the political and military group known as the Zealots who opposed Rome and willing to take up arms. And that is the idea of “zeal” is the willingness to take up arms. There is a willingness to go to war. And this is what it means “a persecutor of the church.” In Galatians 1:13 describes it this way, “how I used to persecute the church beyond measure.” No one was more extreme in his zealousness to exterminate this heretical sect than Paul. He loved the traditions and the law so much and these Jewish Christians would say that none of that could earn you a place and standing before God this sect had to be snuffed out and Paul was willing to imprison or kill or whatever. As to the Law as being a way of salvation Paul was a zealous persecutor of the church.
Now look at the last boast which no longer holds its appeal, “as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” Notice he doesn’t say sinless but blameless. There are 613 commands in the Law and the orthodox Jew believed that they could really keep all of those Laws. The idea of “blameless” that if you look at the external living of Paul you couldn’t bring any accusation against him as a law breaker. He lived above the fray and above all others around him. You couldn’t find anything against him, and you can imagine the reputation he had among all of his contemporaries. No one outshined Paul.
So you can see that when Paul says that if any has reason to boast he has all the more to boast about his accomplishments. It is incredible to see where people get their significance and pride. And this idea of boasting in origin, nationality, accomplishments have a long history in humanity. But we as believers have our all in Christ. If we would truly grow in seeing our own selves through Scripture and seeing the sufficiency in Christ alone it is truly humbling, but the same time there is a joy that cannot be destroyed.