Calvary Road Baptist Church


Philippians 3.4-6

Do you remember the situation that Paul was seeking to address with his letter to the Philippian Christians? There were people that he anticipated traveling through the city of Philippi, like they had in so many other cities in his experience, who would attend church with all sweetness and smiles. “Oh, what a wonderful congregation you have here,” they would say. “And your pastor is such a wonderful Bible teacher and gospel preacher, as far as he goes,” they would add with a tone of utmost sincerity. Then, after a few services, they would really start in on the people. Usually it begins with questions, questions subtly designed to erode the pastor’s authority, to undermine his credibility, to question his scholarship and breadth of learning, and to challenge the depth of his Christian experience and blessing. As the church folks display openness to these subtle ways, the visitors would then begin to speak up a little more. “You mean you people don’t observe the Feast of Tabernacles? And you let the Day of Atonement go by without observance? And you eat pork? The next thing you’ll be telling me is that you don’t circumcise your baby boys.” All of this interaction is designed to create doubt, to sow quiet discord, to make the grass look greener on the other side of the theological fence, to foster the opinion that the Apostle Paul or the Philippian pastor had not declared unto them the whole counsel of God’s Word. Well, Paul had seen it before when these Judaizers, or people much like them, had passed through the region of Galatia, contaminating and disrupting the lives of those gullible new Christians. Therefore, it was not like he did not know their pattern of destruction from past experience. He had been there and done that.

It is the same pattern that is used these days by people of the Charismatic persuasion, and those new-evangelicals who would enter into a fundamental and separatist congregation with absolutely no thought of becoming a fundamentalist or a separatist. They have no interest in humility, to come and learn, to come and be corrected by God’s Word, or to embrace the lifestyle of our congregation. Rather, they come with the idea of the whole church over the long term adopting their ways and becoming like them.

At this point we ask, how did the Apostle Paul prepare his beloved Philippians for the anticipated arrival of those troublesome Judaizers? Consider our text for this evening, looking to Philippians 3.4-6, and then standing for the reading of God’s Word:

4      Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:

5      Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;

6      Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

At the end of Philippians 3.3, Paul wrote that genuinely saved people learn to have no confidence in the flesh. However, lost people do have confidence in the flesh. Those Judaizers off on the horizon heading toward the Philippians had confidence in the flesh. And so did Paul, before he was saved. How, then, would the Judaizers compare with the Apostle Paul with regard to confidence in the flesh?

Two observations will serve us quite well:


In verse 4, Paul boasted of the confidence he had in his flesh before he was saved, and how it would compare to anyone else’s reasons for thinking they might have such a standing before God.

Examine, first, his conclusion. Paul writes, “Though I might also have confidence in the flesh.” Understand, my friends, Paul knows that he was wrong for having confidence in the flesh prior to his conversion, but he was confident. He really did think that he was right in the sight of God as a result of his personal merit. The numbers of people who hold similar views is legion.

Examine, next, Paul’s comparison. He continues, “If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more.” It appears that Paul is chortling here, arrogantly bragging. However, he is not really chortling, he is not really climbing up on the high horse of pride and saying, “Anything you can do I have done better.” What he is doing is laying the groundwork for bringing the Philippians to this conclusion: “Whatever these Judaizers will claim as a basis for thinking they have standing before God, I had more of before I was saved.” The implication being, of course, that what Paul had before he was saved, which was more than these Judaizers presently claim to have, Paul found to be insufficient for the salvation of his soul, as well as the progress of his spiritual maturity after his conversion.


In verses 5 and 6 we see Paul’s boast on the basis of privilege and his boast on the basis of performance.

There were four privileges the Apostle Paul could boast about that had nothing to do with anything he had done. First, he had been “circumcised the eighth day.” It is entirely possible that the Judaizers were Gentile converts to Judaism, and then had made professions of faith in Christ. Or, they had become professing Christians who were not really saved, and then continued on in their spiritual exodus by additionally becoming proselyte Jews. Either way, it is likely they had been circumcised, but not on the eighth day as prescribed for those born Jews, but as adults. Paul, on the other hand, had been born into a Jewish home and was circumcised on the eighth day. If you are keeping score, one point to Paul. Second, he was “of the stock of Israel.” In other words, Paul was not only circumcised on the eighth day, he really was of Jewish blood. You see, there were other peoples of that day and in ancient history who circumcised their male children. The Ishmaelites circumcised male children on their thirteenth birthday. And even the ancient Egyptians practiced circumcision. However, no one had the rite of circumcision as the sign of a covenant relationship with God except Israel, because of their descent from father Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. Second point to Paul. Third, he was “of the tribe of Benjamin.” Not only was Paul definitely a Jew, he could additionally trace his tribal lineage, which was becoming increasingly difficult to do by that time. Remember, Benjamin was the tribe from which Israel’s first king had come, King Saul. Benjamin was also, along with Judah, a tribe which had resisted the declension of the people into idolatry and had remained loyal to the Davidic dynasty of kings after Israel’s civil war. Thus, Paul is letting his readers know that he is a blue blood Jew. Third point to Paul. Fourth, he was “an Hebrew of the Hebrews.” This is recognized by most Bible scholars as a reference to Paul’s upbringing in a Hebrew-speaking home.[1] In other words, not only was Paul properly circumcised, not only was Paul really an Israelite, not only was Paul able to trace his genealogy through the tribe of Benjamin, but he was actually raised in a home that maintained the culture and language of his ancient people, not like those Hellenistic Jews who had given up Hebrew for the Greek language. Could anyone alive on the planet during Paul’s day top that list of privileges? Some few could match Paul, but no one could top him. And the likelihood of the Judaizers even coming close was remote. Advantage Paul, four to zip.

Having all the advantages of privilege, Paul then proceeded to show the advantages of his own personal performance. First, “as touching the law, a Pharisee.” There were three significant groups in Jewish society during Paul’s day who had an impact on the majority of the population. Sadducees were the religious liberals and modernists, who had the firmest grip on the priesthood. Herodians were the political collaborators and compromisers with the Romans. However, the Pharisees were the strictest of these groups, much admired by the populace for their adherence to the nutritional and holy day observances of the Law despite their relatively small numbers. Paul had been such a Pharisee. Point five for Paul. Second, he writes, “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church.”[2] What a mark of honor this was to Saul of Tarsus. Certainly not now as a Christian, but before he was saved, Paul’s idea of doing good works was to throw Christians in jail, to haul Christians before the synagogue elders, even to have believers executed for their refusal to renounce Christ. Point six for Paul, zero for his opponents. Finally, “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” Please be very careful to understand what Paul is saying at this point. He is not saying, here, that he was righteous in the sight of God by keeping the Law of Moses. That would be salvation by works, which we know is not scriptural. Paul was saying in so many words that, insofar as anyone could tell by observation, Paul was blameless regarding his adherence to the Law of Moses. This does not mean he was without sin. And it didn’t mean he didn’t have sinful thoughts. It meant that as far as anyone could tell he was obedient to the Law of Moses.[3] Final score, seven to zero.

Please do not leave this place thinking the Apostle Paul was proud of his heritage. Pride is a wicked thing and there is no place for pride of any kind in the Christian’s life. Neither should you leave this place thinking that Paul was of the opinion that his personal attainments had in any way commended him to God. Oh, there was a time in his life when he had been proud of his heritage, when he had been very much pleased with himself for his personal attainments and for his zealousness for the God of Israel. However, at the time of his writing he realized that he had been completely wrong. He discovered his was a zeal without knowledge until he was confronted by the risen Savior on the Damascus Road.

So, who do you think the Philippians will be inclined to listen to now? Will they listen to the Judaizers, who try to aspire to greater things through confidence in the flesh and things done in the flesh? Or will they now more readily listen to Paul, whose personal privileges and personal attainments were unmatched and unmatchable? I think they will now be more likely to listen to Paul, and somewhat less likely to be impressed by any so-called credentials presented to them by the Judaizers. Therefore, let us also make sure that we listen to the Apostle Paul. Not to those who would persuade us to observe days and weeks and months and years, for such are obviously Judaizers. Not even the Pentecostals, not the Charismatic crowd, not so-called Spirit-filled Catholics, and certainly not the new-evangelicals with their anything goes lifestyle. They are a more subtle form of Judaizers.

Let us be always mindful to listen to Paul, apostle of Jesus Christ, who had done everything a man could do to have confidence in the flesh, and still found the Lord Jesus Christ to be the only One Who could save sinners. On what basis is Paul’s claim? There are several reasons: First, the Law was never given to save, therefore it is without any power to save. Next, those dead in trespasses and sins can do nothing to improve their situation, yet the Law requires performance if it requires anything. Finally, why would the Lord Jesus Christ come as He did and do what He did if there was any other way to save sinners? Thus, though Saul of Tarsus was confident in the flesh, he discovered his confidence to be misplaced. The Apostle Paul was a man who learned to have no confidence in the flesh, though he had more reasons for confidence than any living man. Therefore, if he had no confidence in the flesh, there is no way you or I, or anyone else, should have confidence in the flesh.

Where do you think Paul is headed with this? Correct. Our confidence should be in our Savior, to not only save us, but also to keep us until He delivers us to glory.

[1] Moises Silva, Philippians, The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), page 177.

[2] Acts 9.1-2

[3] Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter To The Philippians - NICNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), pages 309-301.

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