When my folks left us three kids alone in Omaha to visit my grand parents in California at Christmas time in 1956, they gave us each presents early. I got The Explorers Stamp collection; the album along with several hundred stamps. I gave my 10 year old grandson the same stamp collection at Christmas a few years ago and for a while he was interested. But, like me when I was 10 years old, it didn’t last too long. But I’ve revived my interest and have a fairly serious world wide stamp collection now. I’ve enjoyed it immensely and look forward to it being more significant in my retirement years that lie ahead.
Most people don’t collect stamps for educational purposes but if you pay any attention at all you will learn some things. I never learned about a country named “Helvetia,” did you? Yet, I have a large collection of stamps that are identified as such. It’s Switzerland! Art Farstadt says, “It’s the Latin name for the abode of the Helvetii, ancient tribes who lived there. Because some Swiss people speak German, some French, and some Italian (not to mention their own local dialect, Romansh), the inscriptions on the stamps are often in the (supposedly) ‘dead’ language, Latin!”
Now even us good protestants use Latin at Christmas time. We sing “Gloria in excelsis Deo!” Please indulge me here. One Swiss stamp holds this Old Latin Vulagte inscription “IN TERRA PAX HOMINIBUS BONAE VOLUNTATIS.” Scott’s Stamp Catalog translates that phrase for us: “Peace on earth to men of good will.” Many English translations reflect that rendering of Luke 2:14. But the King James and the New King James translates that phrase “Peace on earth and good will toward men.” The King James translators accurately translate a much larger number of Greek manuscripts that read “good will to men,” the word men is generic of course and means humans, not just men!
The overall teaching of the Bible is that there are no men of “good will” by God’s standards. As Paul writes, “All have sinned and have fallen short” of God’s standards. If the Vulgate is right, the coming of Christ to earth is only for good people. If that’s true there will be a very small group of people to experience “peace on earth” this Christmas or any other Christmas. But I’m convinced that the amazing grace of God and the Good News of Jesus Christ is for all people not just a select group. It is best communicated in the traditional protestant reading, “Peace on earth, Good will to men.” Even if we sometimes feel a lack of “good will” toward God and towards others the Christmas Gospel of Good Will toward all men is offered freely to us all through faith in Jesus Christ.
When Paul exhorts us not to “put confidence in the flesh” he’s referring to human achievement. When we base our worth on our accomplishments we are building our lives on a faulty foundation. No one knew that any better than Paul did. He had built his whole self-image and self-worth on his ancestry and religious accomplishments. In Philippians 3:4-6 Paul describes them. He writes, “I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for 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; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”
Paul points out seven things he used to put his confidence in. The first four of them are things that associated him with God’s people. He was circumcised at the right time. This had become an area of pride among Jews who lived in Gentile territories. His second point however acknowledges that many Gentiles converted to Judaism and were circumcised also so he says he was not a proselyte to Judaism, but of the very physical lineage. Third, not only from Jewish blood but traceable to the tribe of Benjamin. Fourth not only all this but even though born outside of the Promised Land in Gentile culture he spoke the biblical language of Hebrew, thus he was a Hebrew of Hebrews. None of the Judaizers who were promoting a false gospel had such credentials. If there was anyone to listen to regarding Judaism and its relationship with Christ, it should have been Paul.
These four inherited traits were them followed by three personal accomplishments. Regarding the law itself no one studied it more or knew it better than the Pharisees! Paul was one of them. Hughes comments that, “Paul was a brilliant, intransigent Pharisee, a heavyweight who could hold his own with anyone.” Second, he was a persecutor of the church. He led campaigns to stamp out the new sect of Christianity in its early days. This history should lead his Jewish brothers to give weight to his testimony about Christ. Finally, Paul claimed to be “blameless” under the law. It wasn’t perfect, but it was an exemplary Jewish life which was above reproach. If anyone had the right to boast in Jewish heritage, knowledge, conviction, or performance it was Paul. But Paul is going to explain how no religious heritage or association can win God’s favor. He’s going to explain how nothing but the blood of Christ is sufficient to make us acceptable to God. Everything else is meaningless! What am I putting my confidence in? What’s in your wallet?
Paul listed 7 major personal traits or accomplishments which made him righteous in the eyes of the Jewish community. It all had to do with his lineage under the law and his strict observance of some 613 does and don’ts as established by Jewish tradition. That kind of righteousness became to Paul as valuable as used toilet paper. It was disgusting and was good only to be discarded. Isaiah made a similar evaluation about 700 years earlier when he referred to man’s righteousness as “filthy rags.” When you understand the Biblical illusion in the phrase in the Hebrew culture you see that he’s saying nearly the same thing. Only a couple translations handle this Hebrew word with its real meaning. Look at the New English Translation (NET) and you’ll see “all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight.” If you read the newer Lexham English Bible (LEB) you’ll see “all our deeds of justice like a menstrual cloth.” In our sensitive English translations you’ll see both of these verses euphemized in order not to give too much information (TMI). We don’t want to have those images yet both Isaiah and Paul understood that human righteousness in God’s eyes add up to nothing more than something we don’t even want to think about. They add up to nothing more than something we want to keep out of sight and out of mind. They are nothing more than something that must be disposed of.
Paul goes in in Philippians 3:9 to explain that the only righteousness that matters to God is the perfect righteousness of Christ and nothing man can do will ever compare to it or ever come close to it. Yet it’s this righteousness that everyone must have in order to enter into the perfect presence of God in a perfect place like heaven. So Paul says that the only way to live up to God’s standard is to be “…found in him (Christ), not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
As Richison says, “There are two kinds of righteousness. First, there is a spurious righteousness, a counterfeit righteousness, a man-made righteousness, a synthetic righteousness, a righteousness of man’s endeavor. In God’s eyes self-righteousness is a spurious righteousness. This is human righteousness. The other righteousness is a righteousness whereby nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling. It is a righteousness that is a gift from God through Christ.” You must see that it is one or the other, not both. No mixture of human righteousness can infiltrate into God’s acceptance of man. It is only through Christ’s righteousness. Anthony Ash says, “This verse contrasts faith in Christ and human merit. If one attempts to receive righteousness by the latter means then it cannot be gained by the former, which means, in Christian terms, it cannot be gained at all.” This is why Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man can come to the Father except through me.”
In Philippians 3:10-11, Paul goes on to explain why he discarded any personal merit in order to be found in Christ and to be credited only with Christ’s merit. Even though he had more religious credits than other men he saw his own righteousness as nothing but something to be thrown away in comparison to the great wealth to be found in Christ’s righteousness. He writes, “…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
He does not doubt the assurance of his salvation. When Paul says “If, by any means” he doesn’t mean there are still conditions attached to the reality of his resurrection. As Richison observes, “The Bible was originally written in Greek. There are four ways of saying ‘if’ in the Greek. One of these ‘ifs’ is to assume the statement as true. This is brought out by spelling, not interpretation. The ‘if’ in this phrase is something Paul is assuming true.” Paul does not doubt something here at all, he’s asserting a fact. We should probably translate the “if” in this passage as “since.” I believe Paul has confidence in his eternal state. But he is once again asserting that the only source of that confidence is through faith in Christ alone as laid out in the previous verses. He’s saying that putting my faith in Christ alone and His righteousness is the only sure way. If I’m trusting in my own good works, there is no hope. But through faith in Christ I do have hope. That’s why the New Century Version translates verse 11 to says, “Then I have hope that I myself will be raised from the dead.” It is a way of saying if I’m trusting in my righteousness, I’m lost forever. But because I have Christ’s righteousness I can look forward to the resurrection with confidence.
But following the path of my self-righteousness, as George Rusty puts it, “…dead ends for three reasons. First, the goal is unclear. How will we know when we finally arrive? When are we finally good enough? Secondly, the goal is unattainable. No amount of human effort or goodness can ever bridge the gulf that sin makes between God and me. Earning my way to Him is impossible. And third, the goal is unfulfilling. How can we love someone who makes us earn their favor? Imagine if your wife gave you a list of chores every morning, and threatened that if you didn’t accomplish them all perfectly, she’d leave. Even if you try to please her, your marriage is about an obligation, not a loving relationship. But love is not something we earn. It is something that’s given, with no strings attached.” True joy comes from the Gospel. Good works is not Good News. Rusty concludes, “When we live by love, we have abundant life. Living by love is all about accepting, not accomplishing. We accept God’s love and experience joy and freedom. A love relationship with Jesus is an adventure!”
Paul begins Chapter 3 with the exhortation to “rejoice in the Lord.” We can’t always rejoice in our circumstances and at times it would be ludicrous to suggest that we do. But we can always rejoice “in the Lord.” Christ has set us above our circumstances with his promise of the resurrection from the dead and an eternal life where the pain and suffering of this life will be resolved once and for all. Therefore we can indeed always rejoice in the Lord regardless of our circumstances. Paul addresses this more specifically latter in the book when he talks about how he’s learned to be content in all life’s circumstances because he has come to “know Christ.” He has made it clear that this is his goal. Philippians 3:10 is Paul’s purpose statement for life; “that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection.”
I believe when Paul says that he “presses on” in Philippians 3:12, he’s talking about pressing on to grow in his knowledge of Christ. Why does he want to know Christ more? To know Christ is to know God’s love for us. In Philippians 3:8, Paul made it clear that this was all that mattered to him. It was so important that he cast every other concern aside. He wrote, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Now back to verse 12, Paul makes it clear that there is much he doesn’t know. He says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Notice the final cause statement. Since Christ made Paul His own, Paul couldn’t get enough of His savior.
Once we step out of the darkness of self-righteousness into Christ’s righteousness when He makes us His own, and feel the glory of Christ’s pardoning love for us we will sing with the old Hymn writer, E.E. Hewitt, “More about Jesus would I know. More of his grace to others show; more of his saving fullness see, more of his love who died for me. More, more about Jesus! More, more about Jesus! More of his saving fullness see! More of his love who died for me.” One of the greatest joys of being a Christian is the privilege of mining the glorious depths of Christ throughout our lives in anticipation of finally meeting Him in the next life.