“3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and place no trust in the flesh.
4 Although I also could have confidence in the flesh. If anyone thinks he has reason to trust in the flesh, I have more:”
In verse three, Paul states emphatically that we Christians “place no trust in the flesh,” that is, in ourselves, in our own corrupt nature. Our trust is fully in Christ, who did for us what we could not do for ourselves.
But here he makes the argument that if anyone had reason to place trust or confidence in the flesh, it was him. In other words, if there was anything within ourselves that could merit favor with God in regard to salvation, there was no one who had more reason to trust in himself than he – especially within the scope of Judaism. In the next two verses he gives the reasons for such confidence:
“5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee;”
“Circumcised the eighth day”
Paul was circumcised according to the requirements of the law.
“of the people of Israel”
He was a natural born citizen of God’s chosen people.
“of the tribe of Benjamin”
“Benjamin was one of the two tribes which remained when the ten tribes revolted under Jeroboam, and, with the tribe of Judah, it ever afterward maintained its allegiance to God. The idea of Paul is, that he was not one of the revolted tribes, but that he had as high a claim to the honor of being a Jew as anyone could boast. The tribe of Benjamin, also, was located near the temple, and indeed it has been said that the temple was on the dividing line between that tribe and the tribe of Judah; and it might have been supposed that there was some advantage in securing salvation from having been born and reared so near where the holy rites of religion were celebrated. If there were any such derived from the proximity of the tribe to the temple, he could claim it; for, though his birth was in another place, yet he was a member of the tribe.”
“Not from one of the lost tribes, but from that which gave to Israel its first king; which alone was faithful to Judah at the separation under Rehoboam, and which had always held the post of honor in the army. See Judges 5:14; Hosea 5:8. Benjamin only of the twelve patriarchs was born in the land of promise. Mordecai, the deliverer of the Jews from Haman was a Benjamite. Paul’s own original name, Saul, was probably derived from Saul the son of Kish, the Benjamite.”
“a Hebrew of Hebrews”
Of pure Hebrew lineage.
“regarding the law, a Pharisee”
“In my views of the law, and in my manner of observing it, I was of the straitest sect – a Pharisee; see the notes at Acts 26:5. The Pharisees were distinguished among the Jewish sects for their rigid adherence to the letter of the law, and had endeavored to guard it from the possibility of violation by throwing around it a vast body of traditions, which they considered to be equally binding with the written law; see the notes at Matthew 3:7. The Sadducees were much less strict; and Paul here says that whatever advantage could be derived from the most rigid adherence to the letter of the law, was his.”
“In his relation to the law he was a Pharisee. Acts 26:5. The Pharisee was noted for his strong attachment to the law-for his observance of all its ceremonial minutiae-and his determination, at all hazards, to uphold its validity. Winer; Real-Wörterbuch, sub voce. Nay, Paul was not only a Pharisee, but “the son of a Pharisee” -brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, a famous teacher of the sect. His mind had never been tainted by Sadducean unbelief, nor had he been fascinated by the ascetic theosophy of the Essene. If the apostle would not bind the law on the Gentile churches, it was not because he had not studied it or had not understood it, nor yet because he had either lived in indifference to its claims or been trained in prejudice against its venerable authority.”
“6 regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless.”
“regarding zeal, persecuting the church”
(Read Acts 7:57-8:3; 9:1-2, 13-14, 20-21, 26; Gal 1:13-14, 21-23)
Paul’s point is, he was once so faithful to religion of Israel, that he tried to wipe out Christianity, seeing it as in opposition to, rather than the continuation of or the fulfillment of Judaism. He makes this point because the Judaizers were still clinging to it, and trying to incorporate Christianity into it.
Paul’s argument is, if anyone understands the religion of Israel, it’s him. If anyone supported the religion of their fathers, it was him – even the point of trying to wipe out what he considered to be the biggest threat to it at the time. He’s trying to demonstrate that no one supported Judaism with more heart and might as he did. Thus, if adherence to the law could merit favor with God, he was at the top of the list. However, unlike the Judaizers, he understood that Christianity has its roots in the Old Testament.
Where he was once zealous in trying to destroy the church, he was now zealous in building up the church. That was Paul’s heart for God. He was sincere and passionate in his service to God. He was resolute in following the truth as he believed it to be. His zeal for the God of his fathers carried over to his zeal in serving Christ, whom he came to see and believe was their promised Messiah, indeed as God in the flesh. He came to understand that to reject Christ would be a rejection of the God that he believed in and served all his life.
“regarding the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless”
Paul here is talking about faithfulness to the standard of the law. If one was considered to be righteous for following the law, then he met the requirements.
Paul is not saying that he was without sin, but that he followed the law with a passion, with a total commitment to obeying it. He was so committed to keeping the law, that he became a Pharisee. It was his whole life.
He was “found” blameless, in the sense that he proved himself to be blameless, or without fault. Up to the time he met Jesus, one could look back over the course of his life and see that he had an impeccable record. No one could raise any legitimate accusations to the contrary.
In conclusion, Paul’s argument is that if anyone had reason to “trust in the flesh,” as far as meriting favor with God, it was him. The Judaizers had nothing on him. Paul wants the Philippian Christians to know (as with the Galatian Christians), that he fully understands – better than most – the Jewish religion, and how Christianity relates to it. He wants them to know that he fully understands how Christ fulfills the teachings of the Old Testament Scriptures, and what God’s plan of salvation is. He further wants them to know that he fully understands how we’re to live today under that New Covenant.
The Judaizers, on the other hand, lacked the understanding that he had. Thus Christians in those days needed to “beware” of them and what they taught (Phil 3:2). As was true then, is true today – there are false teachers among us. We need to keep a watchful eye on them, and to be careful not to believe everything that comes down the pike. The only way to guard against deception is to become diligent students of God’s Word, and to be willing to follow the truth wherever it leads, without bias.