Online Bible Commentary
Confidence in the Flesh
Philippians 3:4 though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. 7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul has just finished writing about some Jewish false teachers, who were very proud of their high religious standing in the Jewish community. As he sat in house arrest in a Roman prison, it brought to mind his own standing in the community prior to following Christ. He says that back then he had even more ”confidence in the flesh”, the things of the world, than the boasting Jews (v.4).
Paul then gives his resume that qualified him as a leading Jewish citizen. First of all, his circumcision happened exactly when it should for any faithful Jew, on the eighth day (v. 5a). In some cases it could happen anytime from the ninth to the twelfth day after birth.
Next, he was proud to be “of the race of Israel”, in the literal Greek (v. 5b). He was a true Israelite. He was a member of God’s chosen earthly people.
He follows that with boasting of being from the aristocratic tribe of Benjamin, the tribe from which came the first king of Israel, King Saul (v. 5c). “Saul” was also Paul’s Jewish given name prior to him changing it to Paul after becoming a Christian.
The fourth thing he could boast of was being a “Hebrew of Hebrews”, since both his parents were Hebrew (v. 5d). Paul was part of the Israelites who held on to their own language and customs. Finally, he boasted of being a “Pharisee”, the highly religious sect of the Jews, those whose traditions followed every minute detail of the law to the point of being legalistic (v. 5e).
There were three sects of Judaism; the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essenes. The Pharisees were known as “Formalists”. The Sadducees were known as “Freethinkers”, and had abandoned the doctrine of the resurrection. The third Jewish sect was the Essenes, who were known as “Puritans.” The Pharisees were the Orthodox Jewish sect. Paul, as a teenager, was brought up in Jerusalem and was privileged to learn from the great Pharisee doctor of the law, Gamaliel.
Next, Paul changes course from who he was to what he had accomplished. In the literal Greek he boasts “concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (v. 6).
So the first accomplishment he boasts of was that he had been the top persecutor of the church, including the murder of Christians. He had been the leader of protecting the purity of the Jewish religion through persecution of the apostate members of “the Way”, the name used to first refer to Christians.
The second accomplishment he points to is being “blameless” “in the righteousness which is in the law” (v. 6b). Note that he uses the word blameless, and not sinless. He was blameless because he had been careful to make animal sacrifices to atone for his sins, along with his adherence to the other legalistic traditions.
So, Saul of Tarsus had been an outstanding and upright citizen of Israel. But now he understood just how shallow a person he had been. He had been very “religious”. Religion can be defined as man’s attempt to please God through his deeds, his works. Whereas, Christianity can be defined as man’s attempt to please God by allowing God to work through him. Now Paul, the Christian, knew the difference.
So in verse seven Paul writes that all of his pedigree and accomplishments, while great in the eyes of some men, he had gladly given up for Christ. As long as Paul had confidence in the flesh, the things of the world, he could never have become a Christian. But once he became a Christian, the things of the world seemed like nothing in comparison to what he had gained.