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Paul said that he counted old ”things” loss for Christ, and rubbish or dung – Phil. 3:7-8

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What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ – for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as RUBBISH / Phil. 3:7-8, KJV

In order to understand which ”things” he was talking about, we must of course read the context. The subject of this chapter concerns the issue of Jewish circumcision which is an example of a ceremonial law within the Law of Moses. The Bible tells us that the Law of Moses started with the time of Moses and it lasted until the time of Jesus (Gal. 3:19). Before and after this period man on earth was certainly not supposed to be lawless, and even today we are expected to live according to the Spirit instead of the flesh. Paul tells us in Romans 6 and 8 that if we live according to the flesh we will die and if we live according to the Spirit we will live. That is a condition for salvation – that we must make sure to abide in Christ.

In Phil. 3 Paul is giving serious instructions to the Philippians. He also explains that those who are the ”circumcision” (being circumcised in heart) are those who worship God in the Spirit. (I’ve chosen NKJV here in order to use a more simple language.):

Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, (NKJV)

Paul further explains that he himself has a background as a Jew under the law, and he thoroughly believed in the idea of circumcision in order to be obedient to the Law of Moses. He is talking about the circumcision which is in the flesh, rather than in the heart. When it comes to the law of Moses, Paul considered himself blameless – as in doing everything to keep all the multiple regulations down to the smallest detail and MORE.

4 though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

However, Jesus explained that the problem with the pharisees was that they were hypocrites and that they did NOT have a clean INSIDE despite their zeal to be obedient to their scriptures. In fact, they lived in lawlessness because they had unclean hearts! We are not under the law if we are led by the Spirit:

Matt. 5:20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (KJV)

Matt. 23:3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.4 For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.—13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.—  —25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.26 Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Gal. 5:18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Paul compares the status he had as a pharisee under the law of Moses, and which often included works ”to be seen by men”, with the new life in Christ which is not about being seen by men at all but about having a pure heart and by loving our neighbor as yourself. (We are not able to have a pure heart if we still sin. ) Paul gave up his own esteemed life (in the eyes of men) in order to be a servant of Christ, and that means that he also gave up earthly power and instead became an often despised christian. He thought his new life as a christian was well worth it, and he compared his old life – as a highly regarded pharisee – as nothing but dung. ”Loss of all things” could also include other worldly things, which amount to nothing in comparison with the pearl he found in Jesus:

7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ

Naturally it was not the Law of Moses that was considered rubbish because God wouldn’t make any bad laws for us during any time. Being obedient to God is never considered rubbish! As a pharisee, Paul didn’t realize that the Law of Moses would pass away, to be replaced with an era where the Holy Spirit is our ruler and Jesus Christ the King. Paul discovered that the new life in Christ was not about obeying the ceremonial Jewish laws any more (as before) but about having faith in Jesus! The righteousness which is from God includes the possibility to be cleansed from our sins in the blood of Jesus who died for our sins, and that happens upon our repentance and our FAITH in Jesus Christ. Repentance means that we confess our sins and make a decision to be servants of Jesus, leading to our new birth. Paul is clear that we are not able to serve two masters and still be saved. The Law of Moses is in our past, but this doesn’t mean that we have no laws to follow. It’s still a sin to murder, steal, commit adultery and lie. It’s still a sin to deny Jesus, to refuse to forgive a brother and to take the mark of the beast. We still risk the wrath of God if we combine obedience with disobedience and refuse to repent. :

 9 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; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,

The subject concerns the resurrection from the death, and that is what Paul has in mind when he says that he is not already ”perfected”. Not even Jesus Christ was ”perfected” until after his glorification. We are able to live morally perfect here on earth, but the truth is of course that we have often chosen to be disobedient to God. Paul presses forward in holiness to reach the prize.

11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected (”perfect”, KJV); but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul refers to ”us, as many as are perfect”, and he encourages the Philippians to walk by the same rule and being of the same mind.

15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature (”perfect”, KJV), have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. 16 Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.17 Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. 18 For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.

Paul also said:

Phil 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain

and Paul made it very clear to the Galatians that it was nothing but wrong to suggest that circumcision (or other ceremonial laws) is a requirement for salvation. Paul was certainly not angry at the Galatians because they continued to teach the importance of avoiding murder, adultery, theft and lies, but about reverting back to the Law of Moses with the ceremonial laws. Being obedient to God by treating our neighbors as we would like to be treated ourselves, is not a sin and nothing to be mad about. If the Galatians were under the impression that circumcision still applied, then also the rest of the 613 still applied. If that is the case, Jesus Christ died in vain. We are saved by faith and not by the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses was to apply until the seed would come which is Jesus, but this doesn’t mean that we have no sets of laws to follow today. We are expected to live according to the Spirit, and if we believe in Jesus Christ, we love him and obey him.

Gal. 3:1  O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?4 Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain.—7 Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.— 19 Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Was Paul not yet morally perfect according to Phil. 3:12?

goalPhil. 3:12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already PERFECT: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. 

The context for this verse is the RESURRECTION of our bodies, and that’s important to keep in mind. If we don’t understand that it’s about the resurrection, there is a risk we might misunderstand Paul and believe that he is talking about a moral perfection and that he has failed to live morally upright here on earth. Paul doesn’t talk about moral perfection but about a bodily perfection, because as long as we remain in our earthly bodies we must accept that we are not physically perfect but actually rather weak and fragile. Our goal is to one day enter the kingdom of God, and get new glorified bodies. Jesus asked us to be perfect (which you can read more about here), and naturally Paul wouldn’t argue against his Master.

Phil. 3:2 For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. 

Those who are the circumcision (of the heart) are those who worship God in spirit, and that is in contrast to those who obey their flesh. Only those who worship God in spirit will one day inherit the kingdom of God, so this is a condition for salvation.

Phil. 3:6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, BLAMELESS (”found blameless”, NASB). 7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.

The problem with the pharisees was that they were not clean on the inside but only on the outside, and Paul counted himself as a pharisee who was eager to obey God and his laws (as he understood them).  Even if Paul was a learned man with a good reputation, he feels that  such worldly glory isn’t worth anything in comparison to what he has found in Jesus Christ. We are told to not love the world or anything in it, but we are supposed to live our lives for Christ and his kingdom. Naturally Paul doesn’t suggest that it’s now less important to be faithful to God compared with before.

Phil. 3:8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

Paul’s aim is to win Christ and be found in him, and that means that he has to move forward and leave the   Jewish ceremonial laws behind him and put his faith in Jesus Christ. The eternal life that Jesus offers is by faith   (evidenced by obedience from the heart) and one is not saved only because he is born a jew and circumcised. Paul says again, in Phil. 3:2, that those are circumcised who worship God in spirit, and who rejoice in him. If we have sinned (and we have), we are not able to be cleansed and righteous in ourselves but we rely on righteous blood shed for our sake. We can be righteous if we confess our sins and repent, because then we become cleansed from our sins in the precious blood of Jesus. Paul makes a difference between works of the law (the entire Torah with its 613 laws) and obedience to God.

Phil. 3:10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Above is the direct context to v. 12. It’s about the resurrection of the dead, which is the goal for Paul, and when he writes to the Philippians he hasn’t reached this goal yet. Paul presses forward towards the prize, but he still calls himself PERFECT, and shows that he isn’t the only one being perfect.

Phil. 3:15 Let us therefore, AS MANY AS BE PERFECT, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.16 Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.

Paul isn’t physically perfect, but he is morally and spiritually perfect.  He asks us to walk by the same rule, based on  perfection.

Phil. 3:17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.(NASB)18 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

Paul – who calls himself holy, righteous and blameless  – asks others to follow his example. If he would be mixing good deeds with bad deeds (sin), he wouldn’t be a very good example for us, but he would be a big hypocrite and someone to stay away from.  Paul weeps about those who are not walking with him on the narrow path to God, and he calls them enemies of Christ. Their end is destruction! That’s because they have their mind on earthly things instead of focusing on God.

Phil. 3:20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

Paul continues to talk about the resurrection in heaven, and the new glorified bodies. He doesn’t say that he isn’t able to fight his flesh successfully unless he first gets a new glorified body. We don’t have to wait until we die before we can be faithful to God, but we can live holy lives here and now. Not even Jesus was ”perfected” until the third day in his resurrection, so it’s about the physical body.

Luke. 13:32 And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.

Paul about himself:

1 Thess 2:10 Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:—12 That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.

Acts 23:1 And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.

1 Cor. 4:4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. (NIV)

Rom. 6:5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.–12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.13 Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.—16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. 

1 Cor. 9:24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.