If Anyone Had Reason To Boast In The Flesh (Lesson 22)
by John Lowe
Paul, in his zeal, persecuted the church; as for righteousness based on the law, he was faultless.
Title: If Anyone Had Reason To Boast In The Flesh, It Would Have Been Paul (Phil. 3:4-6)
• NIV Bible is used throughout unless noted otherwise.
Scripture: Philippians 3:4-6 (NIV)
4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put 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; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
Paul has just attacked the Jewish teachers and insisted that it is the Christians, not the Jews, who are the truly circumcised and covenant people. In response, His opponents might have attempted to say, “But you are a Christian and do not know what you are talking about; you do not know what it is like to be a Christian.” So Paul sets out his credentials, not in order to boast but to show that he had enjoyed every privilege which a Jew could enjoy and had risen to the highest rank to which a Jew could rise. He knew what it was to be a Jew in the highest sense of the term, and had deliberately abandoned it all for the sake of Jesus Christ. Every phase in this catalog of Paul’s achievements has its special meaning revealed in this short passage.
(3:4) though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:
(3:4.a) though I myself have reasons for such confidence
It cannot be emphasized too strongly that Paul did not put any confidence in the flesh. He had gained victory over that temptation of the devil. His presentation in these verses was intended to review for the Philippines the things in which he could have placed confidence if he had wanted to. In fact, the list included things in which he did place great value and trust before he met Christ. His intention was to show that in the flesh he had more in which he could have boasted than any of the Judaizers.
(3:4.b) If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:
The "someone" else referred to all who place confidence in the flesh. Paul wrote as though he were challenging the Judaizers to a showdown. His preliminary conclusion before he even got specific was that no matter what advantage was brought forth by his opponents, his advantages exceeded theirs (Gal. 1:14). Paul was willing to stack his religious life against that of any man, and he knows that he could measure up to him and surpass him―I have more.
(Gal. 1:14). ”I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”
There are seven advantages listed in Philippians 3:5-6 that demonstrate what Paul used to have in the flesh but what he later counted as loss for Christ. Two kinds of advantages are enumerated. First, are those things which the apostle had by birth, apart from his choice. Four of these are listed―circumcision, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, and a Hebrew son of Hebrew parents. Next, he named those privileges which he voluntarily chose―Being a Pharisee, being a persecutor of the church, and having a flawless external record of legalistic righteousness.
(3:5) circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;
(3:5.a) circumcised on the eighth day,
Circumcision was a big deal with the Judaizers. Paul’s specific time, the eighth day, stressed that he was not a proselyte or an Ishmaelite but a pure-blooded Jew. Proselytes were circumcised later in life and Ishmaelites, after age 13 (Gen. 17:25-26) But Paul had been circumcised when he was eight days old. It had been the commandment of God to Abraham: “every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised” (Gen. 17:12). And that commandment had been repeated as a permanent law of Israel (Lev. 12:3)
(Gen. 17:25-26) “And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. In the very same day Abraham was circumcised and Ishmael his son.”
(Lev. 12:3). “On the eighth day, the boy is to be circumcised.”
(3:5.b) of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews;
Paul was of the people of Israel, which describes his heritage. His parents were both true Jews, unlike some of the Judaizers. He could trace his family lineage all the way back to Abraham. He was a true member of the covenant people (2 Cor. 11:22). It was the Israelites alone who could trace their descent to Jacob, whom God had called by the name of Israel. By calling himself an Israelite, Paul stressed the absolute purity of his descent.
(2 Cor. 11:22) “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I.”
He was also a Benjamite, from which tribe came Israel’s first king (1 Samuel 9:1-2). This tribe had a special place of honor and was viewed with great esteem. Even after the kingdom was disrupted the tribe of Benjamin remained loyal to the house of David. When Paul stated he was of the tribe of Benjamin, it was a claim that he was not simply an Israelite, but that he belonged to the highest aristocracy of Israel.
(1 Samuel 9:1-2). “Now there was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah, the son of a Benjamite, a mighty man of valor. He had a son, whose name was Saul, a choice and handsome man, and there was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel; from his shoulders and up he was taller than any of the people.”
“Hebrew” was Paul’s native tongue. Unlike some of the Israelites, he did not adopt Greek customs. He knew thoroughly the language and customs of the people of God. He was a Hebrew son of Hebrew parents―he said he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews; he belonged to that segment of the nation that had held onto its original language, customs, and traditions. A Hebrew of the Hebrews means he was a leader. He was in the highest strata of the religious circle. He was up at the top.
(3:5.c) in regard to the law, a Pharisee;
In regard to the Law, Paul was a Pharisee, a member of the strictest sect among his people. In addition to the Law of Moses, the Pharisees added their own regulations which in time were interpreted as equal to the Law. The Pharisees had remained orthodox, whereas the Sadducees had abandoned the doctrine of the resurrection. The Pharisees thought they could bring about the kingdom by manipulation. They wanted to establish the kingdom of God here upon this earth.
There were not many Pharisees, never more than six thousand, but they were the spiritual athletes of Judaism. Their very name means The Separated Ones. They had separated themselves from all common life and from all common tasks in order to make it the one aim of their lives to keep even the smallest detail of the Law. No man knew better from personal experience what Jewish religion was at its highest and most demanding.
(3:6) as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
(3:6.a) as for zeal, persecuting the church;
What greater zeal for the Jewish religion could anyone boast of than that he persecuted the church? Paul did this relentlessly before his conversion to Christ (Acts 9:1-2). No Judaizer could match such zeal. Paul sincerely thought that he had been doing God’s service when he had attempted to wipe out the “sect” of Christians. He saw in it a threat to his own religion and therefore felt he must exterminate it. To a Jew, zeal was the greatest quality in religious life. Paul had been so zealous a Jew that he tried to wipe out the opponents of Judaism
(Acts 9:1-2). “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”
(3:6.b) as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
This cannot mean that Paul had perfectly kept the Law. He confesses in Romans 7:9-10 that such was not the case. He speaks of himself as being blameless, not sinless. We can only conclude that when Paul violated any part of the Law, he was careful to bring the sacrifice required. In other words, he had been a stickler in seeking to obey the rules of Judaism to the letter. Thus, Paul also excelled in legalistic righteousness. In fact, in his own eyes, he was faultless.
These were the seven things that Paul had on the credit side of the ledger. It was such a big total that he felt all of these things commended him to God. He thought they were all credits to him.
On the debit side of the ledger was a person he hated. That was Jesus Christ. Out of his hatred, Paul was trying to eliminate the followers of Jesus Christ.
Then one day the Lord Jesus met Paul on the road to Damascus, and Paul changed his whole bookkeeping system. What had been a debit became a credit, and what he had considered a credit became a debit. It was a complete revolution.
Romans 7:9-10. “I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me;”