Summary: The Big Idea: Intimacy with Christ changes our perspective

Legend holds that near the end of the 19th Century, a Swedish Chemist and Industrialist named Alfred awoke one morning to read his own obituary in the local paper. It read: “This great scientist, the inventor of dynamite, died yesterday. His innovation made it possible to efficiently kill more people in war than ever before. As a result of his genius, he died a very rich man.”

Actually, it was Alfred’s older brother who had died. A newspaper reporter bungled the epitaph, but the false account had a profound effect on him. He decided had lived for the wrong kind of thing: the means to kill people efficiently and for amassing a fortune in the process. So, he initiated an award for scientists and writers who foster peace. You and I know it as the Nobel Prize, named for its founder Alfred Nobel. Five years after his death in 1901, it became an annual event.

Nobel said: “Every man ought to have the chance to correct his epitaph and write a new one.”


1. Paul’s life is a textbook example of a man given the chance to rewrite his epitaph. While several opinions exist concerning his motive in writing his epistle to the Philippians, most scholars agree that whatever his purpose, he used the occasion to give instruction to the young believers within the church, using his own life as an example of God’s grace and power to change one’s life. OYBT Phil 3.

II. BACKGROUND (vv. 1-6)

1. Paul uses part of his letter (3:1-4:1) to address a specific problem within the church; some legalistic Jewish believers (a.k.a. Judaizers) were misleading their Gentile counterparts by implying that Christ alone was not sufficient for salvation.

A. They maintained that their status as God’s chosen people (i.e. Jews) was of great significance, establishing a form of class distinction between Jewish and Gentile believers. They arrogantly maintained that one had to become a Jew in order to become a Christian.

B. Paul warns his fellow believers to “watch out for those dogs, those mutilators of the flesh” (the Jews held to the practice of circumcision, which the Gentiles did not). “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” (3:2-3).

2. The Judaizers retaliate (as you might expect). They try to discredit Paul and his message, claiming that his conversion was a sign of weakness (abandoning Jewish tradition), and his imprisonment a sign of failure.

3. Interestingly, Paul responds by associating himself completely with Christ, ignoring for the moment that he is, in fact, a Jew. He adds however, that if ethnicity had power to save, he, of all people, should be most confident; his Jewish upbringing, after all, was unmistakably striking.

A. He then rehearses his impressive pedigree by reciting seven evidences of collateral in his past - four through birth, three through devotion. (vv. 4-6)

(1) Evidence through his birth: [1] circumcised on the eighth day (the appropriate time), [2] of the people of Israel (God’s chosen), [3] of the tribe of Benjamin (a small, but highly esteemed tribe), and [4] a Hebrew of Hebrews (steeped educationally and traditionally in Jewish culture, though born in a Hellenistic environment).

(2) Evidence through his devotion, asserting himself [1] a Pharisee (strict adherent to Jewish law) [2] filled with zeal (to the point of persecuting the early church) and [3] legalistically righteous (as defined by the Jews).

III. CONTEXT (vv. 7-8)

1. Paul takes an interesting turn in verse 7. Having made it clear that he was not a failure in Judaism, Paul announces that in light of Christ, he considers all his previous accomplishments worthless – a total loss. This is significant!

A. F.F. Bruce, in his wonderful commentary on Philippians, suggests that Paul did not simply find something better than what he had before, but rather that since coming to know Christ, these sources of pride moved from the “credit” side of the ledger to the “debit” side. The two experiences are diametrically opposed to one another.

B. This is not a matter of “good” vs. “better”, but a matter of absolute perfection versus complete evil (depravity, as Bro Henry Heagy discussed Tuesday night).

2. Were verse 8 not included in the text, Paul’s testimony may have been discounted as unique to him; merely a personal conviction. We learn in verse eight, however, that knowing Christ transcends (goes beyond) personal experience.

A. Postmodern theology teaches that the way to heaven is “whatever works for you”. There are millions of people on their way to hell this morning because they believe this false doctrine; that includes many churchgoers who call themselves Christians.

3. Paul was no stranger to loss. His claim is not cliché. Abandoned by friends and intellectual peers, and without the security of home, he became a constant traveler with no fixed abode. The suffering he endured after his conversion is both remarkable and extensive (cf. 2 Co. 11:23-29). Christ was rewriting Paul’s epitaph.

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