Misreading Philipians 3:8?

What is Paul Speaking About in Philippians 3:8?

[Read: Philippians 3]

There are many who are of the opinion that Philippians 3:8 teaches us that Paul gave up all of his personal possessions, etc in order to follow Christ. However, we know that it is Christ who approached Paul, blinded him, granted him faith, and gave him eyes to see (literally!). What is Paul talking about here? Simply put: Paul is talking about his attempts to become righteous before God by his adherence to the Law. Prior to his conversion, Paul sought to be justified, i.e. accounted righteous by God, by his obedience to the Pharisaic understanding of God’s Law. That, and not the pursuit of wealth and power and fame etc, is what he gave up. The irony is that there are professing believers who see in this verse justification for believing that Paul is teaching us that men must give up all their belongings and become perfect in order to be saved.

A brief examination of Chapter 3 shows us that this is not at all what Paul is talking about. Our brother begins by admonishing the Philippians to “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!”(3:2) This warning sets the context for what follows. Paul is here speaking against the mutilation, the Judaizers who were teaching that men are justified by faith and works. The word mutilation should be an indication of the nature of what these men were teaching: Justification is by faith and circumcision (hence the reference to “the mutilation”) and, therefore, obedience to the Law (cf. vv.4-6). Paul’s concern for the Philippians is that they would not be led astray by such men, but that they would look at Paul to see (i.)the emptiness of such a pursuit evidenced by (ii.)the change wrought in Paul by the Holy Spririt. But even still, the focus is still not on Paul.

Rather, the focus is on the righteousness that comes by faith versus the righteousness that comes from pseudo-law-obedience and is, in the eyes of an infinitely holy God, excrement. By faith, Paul saw Christ, who revealed these things to him, and by faith he understood that his attempts at self-righteousness were damnable in the eyes of God. Whatever manner of good things he could have done to attain the praises of men and, in his own mind at least, the favor of God, were shown to him to be absolutely false. He is not, therefore, talking about himself in such a way as to say: “Look at what I’ve done!” He is pointing to himself to say: “Look at what I am not. I am not good. I am not righteous by my own efforts. I am not better than any of you. If any of you wants to boast in your credentials, your obedience, your goodness, your titles – well, you are lost. And you know not the righteousness that comes from Christ alone.”

How can the idea that Paul is talking about his abandonment of worldly pursuits (of fame, wealth, etc) be what is in view, when Paul goes on to say:

                        and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which

                        is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ,

                        the righteousness which is from God by faith;

                        (v.9)?

It would be completely foolish to think that the pursuit of earthly lusts was, in Paul’s Pharisaical mind, a means of attaining a righteousness that comes from the law! And yet, unfortunately, there are many Christians who don’t think through what Paul is teaching us, and some even seek to do exactly what Paul warns them against by seeking to be accounted righteous by works of the law, works which God tells us are dung, excrement, feces – i.e. worthless.

Is Paul teaching us that he gave up all his material goods and gave to the poor in order to be found in Christ? If he is then he is teaching works righteousness, for in Paul’s mind the idea would run thus: “I want to forsake all of my earthly goods in order to be found righteous in Christ!” And that, my friend, is heresy. A flat-out contradiction of what Paul elsewhere teaches us, namely: Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Moreover, it is contradictory to what Paul states in verse 9 where he contrasts the righteousness that comes from God by faith in Christ alone and the wretched pseudo-works-righteousness that comes from the depraved hearts of men who think that their law-keeping somehow brings them into fellowship with Christ and His Father. Not only this, but to say that Paul is speaking here of abandoning his goods for the sake of being found in Christ is to teach Roman Catholic theology, for they deplore the doctrine of Sola Fide, and teach that no man is justified by faith alone.

Paul does go on to speak of resurrection from the dead and the return of Christ, but remember, this is in the context of his warning against the Judaizers. Paul does not think that his abandonment of earthly pursuits (fame, wealth, etc) will justify him. He believes that it is only by leaving behind confidence in the flesh and solely appropriating the righteousness of Jesus Christ by the empty hand of faith – apart from obedience, good works, etc – that he will be counted righteous in the eyes of God, and that he is now counted righteous in the eyes of God.

Sola Fide!

-h.

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