though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
(Philippians 3:4-7 ESV)
Over the past two days we’ve read Paul comments on the uselessness of relying on human rituals to create a right standing before God. Today he offers up himself as an example of someone who previously bought into the lie of salvation by works but who subsequently realized he was wrong.
If any Jew had reason to boast about being right before God, Paul had more. He was “circumcised on the eighth day”, according to the law [Leviticus 12:3], making Paul a native Jew. I used to live in Texas but I was not born there. There are Texans and then there are “native Texans” who take pride in being born in that state and are proud to point that out. Paul proudly points out that he was not a convert to Judaism. He was born into it.
In fact Paul was born into the blessed tribe of Benjamin which produced Israel’s first king. Paul’s original name was “Saul” and he may have been named after King Saul, the first king of Israel.
In addition to his heredity Paul could also point to his adherence to the law as a reason for his righteousness. Paul had been a member of the Pharisees, the elite sect of the Jews. He also zealously persecuted the early Christian movement by killing Jews who converted [Acts 8:3, Acts 9:1, Acts 22:4 et. al].
If anyone had reason to take pride in themselves, it was Paul. And he did. At one time Paul believed that all these credentials gave him an “in” with God. But he came to realize that was not true. Now all these things meant nothing to him.
Interestingly, the word for “gain” means “advantages”. The word for “loss” means “damage”. Achievements that Paul had thought were to his advantage he came to realize were really damaging to him, spiritually speaking. He therefore made the conscience choice (“I counted”) to exchange all his earthly accomplishments for a relationship with Jesus.
Notice also that the word for “gain” is plural in Greek but the word for “loss” is singular. Paul was willing to exchange all he had for one thing – the most important thing – knowing Jesus.
The kingdom of God is more valuable than anything else we could have. All possessions and status we gain on this earth are temporary. We lose them when we die. There is no reason to put any faith in them.
Rather, we should be willing to forsake any earthly gain in exchange for knowing Jesus [Matthew 13:44-46]. It would be useless to hold onto our man-made successes, hoping they will get us into heaven. They will not [Matthew 7:21-23].
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