A dramatic re-evaluation

In the bible, we first see Paul as the man holding the coats of the Jewish men who were stoning Stephen for preaching about Jesus and the living King of all. We’re told he was approving of this stoning – one might imagine him standing there with the coats in his arms and a grin on his face, while this brave Jesus follower was being crushed by rocks and stones, bleeding to death.

When Paul became a follower of Jesus, it is quite remarkable how differently he acted and lived. He give up his successful career climbing the religious ladder, he travelled around the mediterranean now as the persecuted rather than as the persecutor,  and was able to find great joy despite his impending martyrdom.

Why?

What was it about Paul that made him have this dramatic re-evaluation?

I believe Philippians 3 gives us some insight into answering this question.

Here’s the first 12 verses:

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put 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; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal,persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

One of the ideas Paul refers to in this passage of the letter is the putting ‘confidence in the flesh’. This moniker stood for an important idea in Jewish thinking.  This refers to our innate tendency to try to obtain right-standing with God and to secure by own effort, approval and acceptance. In this context, flesh is our ‘self-made merit’. It’s what we think is true about ourselves that we lean on for a sense of worthiness, and feeling good enough.

What is your ‘confidence in the flesh’?

In what things do you trust to provide you with a sense of feeling ‘good enough’ to yourself, before others, and before God? What are the trophies or accolades or accomplishments or attributes that you might use as ‘confidence in the flesh’?

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.

Reflect on the above verse.

  • Is knowing Christ of surpassing worth to you?
  • What of your ‘confidence in the flesh’ do you need to ‘let go’ of, so that you might ‘gain’ Christ in the experiential way that Paul describes here?

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

  • What des it mean that ‘Jesus took hold’ of Paul/you?
  • What does it look like to ‘press on’ to take hold of your sanctification (the process of becoming like Christ?).

This is a magisterial chapter from Paul that I think we would do well to meditate deeply on.

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