Wednesday, 1 February 2017
…concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. Philippians 3:6
Paul gives a completion to the list of his points of earthly boasting in this verse. It is not that he is actually boasting in them, but that if he were to boast, it would be in these things. He notes, “…concerning zeal, persecuting the church.” There is an irony in this thought. As it says in Galatians 1:23 –
“He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.”
Paul was definitely zealous towards those things he was passionate about. Before coming to Christ, he lived as a Pharisee. In this position, he felt that the church was the aberrant sect, and that he must do everything possible in order to stamp it out.
In Romans 10:2, he shows how Israel which had not called on Jesus was in the same position –
“For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.”
Without understanding the Person and work of Christ, there remained a zeal within the Jewish community for the Law of Moses which established them as a people. It is natural for one to be zealous about such things. However, Christ is the end of the law for all who believe. Therefore, the zeal is misdirected. In this misdirected condition, he was zealous for persecuting the church. He notes this specifically numerous times in his other letters. For example, he says this in 1 Corinthians 15:9 –
“For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
He also notes this in Galatians 1:13 & 1:23, and he hints at it in 1 Timothy 1:13. Even more, the book of Acts describes his efforts in detail concerning his persecution of the church. If he were still one who held to the law as necessary, he would be able to boast more than anyone about this matter. But he goes on. He next says, “…concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”
This was the righteousness of which Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:23 –
“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The scribes and the Pharisees were meticulous in how they observed the law, carefully following every precept. They held so fast to the law that they felt they had merited God’s favor because of it, considering themselves blameless. However, this showed that they didn’t really understand the law as well as they may have. Within the law was the mandatory Day of Atonement which they were required to observe. The fact that this was required should have shown them that they still needed mercy. As this is so, their righteousness was still lacking. This is why Jesus said that a person’s righteousness needed to exceed that of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Paul was only righteous before the law insofar as he held to every precept externally, but he needed an internal change to grant him true righteousness. This will be realized in his coming words.
Life application: When someone does something truly harmful in the name of their religion, it is because they really believe it is the right thing to do. What they need is to be shown the truth of Jesus Christ. This is why missionaries go even into Islamic nations. They are willing to put their own lives at risk in order to show these wayward souls that the path they believe is incorrect. When we can empathize with the viewpoint of others, we can then work to correct their faulty views of what God expects of each of us.
Lord God, it is truly sad that we as a species believe that we can merit Your favor and stand righteous before You by working out deeds of the law. Even in the law itself, there was a mandatory Day of Atonement. This implied that those participants needed atonement. Therefore, there is none righteous before You. Thank God for Jesus Christ who IS our atonement. In Him, there is complete and perfection reconciliation. Thank God for Jesus Christ. Amen.