8.4 Philippians -- the Value of a Pedigree
Paul's peacemaking had its limits. Remember all he said about living in unity?
Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose (Phi 2:2).
Well, that's over now. In chapter 3, he changes subjects and tone. Here Paul gets pretty intolerant -- of those very enemies he fought all his ministry:
Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh (Phi 3:2-3).
This is only a 2-verse summary of what the entire book of Galatians covers, so we can assume Paul was building on prior instruction given to the Philippians.
It is clear that these enemies were the Judaizers, who seemed to dog his tracks around the Mediterranean. Notice the explicit racial teaching: the community of those who worship Jesus in the Spirit supersedes the faith of those who rely on the flesh. The flesh can be taken in two ways -- 1. physical circumcision, food regulations and obedience to Law. 2. physical descent from Abraham. Paul brings both of these definitions together in a remarkable resume:
If anyone else thinks he has 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 legalistic righteousness, faultless (Phi 3:4-6).
And he turned his back on all of this! It would be one thing if Paul had been a mixed-race Jew, or a non-observant Hellenist. If this had been his background, his opponents could have attributed his antipathy to the Law to his upbringing. But he had been one of them! -- a 'golden boy.' He who had been an acolyte of the Law and the Temple observances was now an apostate in their eyes.
This issue, the relation of Jew to Gentile, Old Covenant to New, was of top priority to Paul. Remember, this was the man who went out of his way to compliment Athenian philosophers and idolaters ("I see that you are in every way very religious" Acts 17:22). But he despised those who tried to reconcile Moses with the Cross of Christ. They were the very enemies of the Truth! Why? Because they were asserting that Jesus' death was not sufficient to remove human sin -- justification required more than faith in Jesus' atonement, it also required an act, a personal sacrifice, a discipline, a ritual. According to the Judaizers, humans had a part to play in their own salvation. Jesus supplemented Moses, but did not replace him.
So how does Paul now view his privileged upbringing, his ethnic credentials? He repudiates them in most vehement terms!
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowingN)">Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him (Phi 3:7-9).
All of this stuff that the Judaizers valued, and he himself once boasted of, Paul calls "rubbish" (Gk -Skubalon), compared to knowing Christ and receiving his acceptance, his rightstanding, with God. This is the only usage of this term in the entire NT. It is a compound of "dogs" and "thrown", ie. thrown out to dogs, or thrown out by dogs -- animal excrement. This is graphic language that the English translators gloss over. And Paul applies this word to all the most holy things of the Old Covenant: his blueblood genealogy, his status as a Pharisee, his adherence to the Law. No wonder the Jews and some of the Jerusalem Christians hated him!
But Paul realized that to admit one iota of Law was like allowing a little leaven (yeast) in the dough -- it would affect the entire loaf. We are gullible creatures -- it takes very little to get our minds off of the Spirit and our hearts away from trusting faith. Peter, when walking on the water, began to sink as soon as he took his eyes off of Jesus. Likewise, the local church must keep its focus on Jesus and the life in the Spirit, and avoid attempting to recapitulate the Old Covenant. Israel had failed to keep that covenant, it was broken, and thus dead -- and God help anyone who tried to breathe new life into it. The New Covenant was built on a new foundation, the life and work of Jesus Christ, and maintained by the Presence of the Spirit of God living in their midst. There was no going back, there was no stitching together the old and new wineskins, God was doing a new work in their midst if they could receive it.