It always makes for interesting conversation when you’re engaged in dialogue with someone who can “one-up” your story. You know the scenari you share one of your great achievements in life, an outstanding vacation you’ve taken or even a life-changing moment you’ve been a part of-only to have the other person tell you a story that expresses how his experience was better than yours.
This passage has a bit of that feel to it. The Apostle Paul is unashamed in his attempt to “one up” the Philippians who would be reading this letter. He wanted to establish credibility that if anyone was ever qualified to brag about his place in life and what he had accomplished on his own, it was him.
I. Paul validates his perspective (
Much like numerous, prestigious degrees that hang on the walls of someone’s office as validation of his knowledge, Paul made sure to display his reasons for permission to live in the flesh. There were two sets of valid reasons. First were the advantages Paul had by nature of his birth: he was legally Jewish by birth, a member of God’s chosen people, part of a well-respected family tree; and he was steeped in Hebraic customs and rituals.
The second set of advantages was things he had chosen voluntarily: being a Pharisee, possessing unparalleled passion in persecuting Christians, and a flawless reputation of legalistic righteousness. Yes, indeed, if it were possible to be close to God by what you did and what you controlled, then Paul was that man.
II. Paul was mistaken about God (
After painting such a credible picture of his personal experiences and accomplishments, Paul now firmly grips the edges of that canvas and begins to slowly tear it apart. In the process, he communicates how his previous life experiences were a barrier to appreciating the person of Jesus, a humble servant king who happened to be a carpenter. He had placed his hopes of salvation, and a Messiah, in personal experiences and expectations. But when he realized who Jesus was and what He had done, Paul now had a new perspective on all those “former gains” he once considered important. “Though we once viewed Christ in this way we do so no longer” (
Everything up until the point of becoming a Christ follower Paul now considered rubbish. The Greek word here means that it was the equivalent of food scraps or excrement. Not exactly something you want to spend your life working toward.
Paul said there was a greater goal, a more worthy achievement: to know Christ personally-to escape the trappings of religion and legalism that he had known as a devoted Pharisee and to move into a covenant relationship with the person of Jesus Christ.
III. Paul wanted the full package (
Take a moment and reflect upon the fact that God has conquered death, and reflect also on the power God used to bring Jesus out of that tomb. Jesus promised that His followers would receive this same power through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (
And as an ongoing part of his desire to know Christ intimately and live in the power of the resurrection, Paul wanted to share in the sufferings of Jesus. Think of times in our own lives when we truly want to be part of God’s kingdom work, but we don’t acknowledge-much less invite-the sufferings that might come along with it. Paul knew that to yearn for intimacy with Christ meant to live as one who had died with Christ.