Read and pray through Philippians, chapter 3, specifically, Philippians 3:3 – 7.


Reflection | Paul began the next section of his letter to the Philippians warning them to beware of an emerging sect later known as the Judaizers, a group of believers who were insisting that Gentile converts to Christianity had to be circumcised and adhere to other Jewish traditions and practices in order to “be saved.” Paul has strongly rebuked any such notion. He has unequivocally stated our confidence as to the good news of our everlasting forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, and transformation is in the work and glory of Christ alone. Belonging to Jesus is not a matter of earning or deserving such a relationship. Belonging to Jesus is about following and relying on Jesus and in so doing, glorifying Christ through our lives.


Now, Paul further underscores this point by temporarily assuming the argument of his adversaries, these Judaizers. Paul then proceeds to present his bona-fides for rhetorical effect. Beyond this, it is possible Paul wants to make it clear to the Philippians that his critique of the Judaizers is not based on jealousy or envy. To the contrary, Paul argues, “If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more…” (v. 4).


As Paul lays out his impressive credentials, it soon becomes clear, if anyone has a basis for speaking on this issue, he does. After all, Paul was “a Hebrew of Hebrews” (v. 5). He was not a proselyte or a convert to Judaism. Paul had been born a Jew and was circumcised when he was eight days old, as prescribed in Leviticus 12:3. His Hebrew ancestry came from both his father and mother’s side and he belonged to the tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin was the only son of the ancient patriarch Jacob to be born in the Promised Land, and he was a son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel. Of all the tribes of Israel, only Benjamin was loyal to the house of Judah when it split from the northern ten tribes. Israel’s first king (who had the same Hebrew name as Saul) was a Benjamite. Moreover, the Holy City, Jerusalem, is situated in land that has been allocated to the tribe of Benjamin.


Paul’s family lived outside of Israel, in Tarsus, the capital city of the Roman province of Cilicia. Nonetheless, they had continued to strictly observe all the elements of Jewish culture. So much so that Paul grew up to become, like his father (see Acts 23:6), an enthusiastic member of one of the stricter Jewish sects, the Pharisees or “the separated ones.” The Pharisees were known for separating themselves from other Jews in their rigorous observance of the Old Testament Law. Elsewhere we learn Paul had studied and trained under the famous and highly respected Rabbi Gamaliel (see Acts 22:3). Paul was highly educated in that he was fluent in both Hebrew and Aramaic, the ancestral Jewish languages, as well as the lingua franca of the Roman Empire, Greek (see Acts 22:2-3).  


Paul’s reputation for being zealous in his work of defending the faith proceeded itself. At first, seeing followers of Jesus as a dangerous, heretical movement within Judaism, Paul earnestly hunted down Christians, arresting and imprisoning them – sometimes even personally authorizing their execution (see Acts 7:58 – 8:1). And while his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road brought to light the error of Paul’s ways, it must be remembered that all he had been doing previously was not done out of malice but with the best of intentions – to faithfully serve the Lord by protecting His glory and honor.


And yet, for Paul, “whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (v. 7). For all that Paul once believed he had going for him – his pure and privileged pedigree, his rigorous and acclaimed education, his impressive standing and long-standing reputation in the community – he now views as potential liabilities in his relationship with Christ. Paul has learned from his own experience and his encounter with divine revelation – by the grace of God literally knocking him from his high horse and opening his eyes – something foundational. It’s not about YOU.


Paul’s contrast between gain and loss here is a paradigm shift in what we so often value and place our confidence behind – our lineage, our education, our membership, our rank, our reputation, our achievements. And yet, our lives are not our own – in coming into this world, in how we live in it and in moving beyond this world to the world to come. When we place our faith in our own stock and performance, it destroys faith in God. Rather than move towards the Lord, we move away from Him.

Any righteousness we claim as our own rather than repeatedly confessing that anything and everything good comes from the Lord alone, leads us to divorce ourselves from Christ’s presence and power to shape and transform, and thus save, our lives. One wonders as Paul wrote these words to the Philippians if Jesus’ own counsel was on his mind: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). Or perhaps the more pressing question is, are Jesus’ words, let alone Paul’s, on our mind and heart as we walk through these challenging times?    


Consider & Discuss | Paul lists several of his qualities that would be a reason for him to put confidence in himself rather than Christ. What would your self-confidence list include? How do the things Paul describes compare with things we ourselves might regard as “gain”? What are the things we have regarded, or sometimes regard, as “gain” or as things that give us status? 


What have you lost in following Christ? What have you gained? If you can’t answer these two questions, is it possible you aren’t actually following Jesus? Is it possible your confidence remains in yourself rather than in Christ?

Prayer Focus | Steadfast loving God, as we read and reflect on Paul’s words, we perceive both something of who we are and also the promise of who we can become thanks to Your grace. Like Paul once did, we confess to being consumed with managing our image rather than reflecting Your image within us to each other. We confess to priding ourselves on our personal resume and reputation rather than living out of and sharing the work and the good news of Your Gospel. Like Paul, we repent of such gains even as we now consider them losses compared to all You have offered us in Jesus Christ. With our eyes and our hearts set on You, lead us, Holy Spirit, in walking by faith – not in ourselves, not in our sincerity or obedience, not in trying hard or in doing more, not even in our repentance. No, teach us to walk out of the faith you’ve placed in us, abiding in Christ alone – in the work Jesus has done for us and continues to do in and through us. Amen.