Counting all things as liabilities for the sake of Christ

Counting all things as liabilities for the sake of Christ

Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! [Because] to write this again is no trouble to me, moreover it is a safeguard for you. [Here’s what I’m writing to you again:] Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! Because we are the [true] circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, and boast in Christ Jesus and do not rely on human credentials – even though mine too are significant. [That is] [even] if someone thinks he has good reasons to put [his] confidence in human credentials, [Then] I have more: [As to rite] I was circumcised on the eighth day, [As to lineage] from the people of Israel, and the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, [With regard to morality] I lived according to the law as a Pharisee, [thinking that it is right] in my zeal for God I persecuted the church, [in human terms] according to the righteousness stipulated in the law I was blameless. [But still] I have come to regard this assets as liabilities for the sake of [having] Christ, [because] more than that, I now regard all things as liabilities because of the far greater value of knowing Jesus my Lord, through whom [therefore] I suffered the loss of all things – indeed, I regard them as dung! – that I may gain Christ, and [therefore] be found in him, not by having my own righteousness derived from the law, but by having the righteousness through Christ’s faithfulness – a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. [In order] to know him, [that is] to experience the power of his resurrection [as a result of] sharing in his sufferings, [even] to the point of being like him in his death, and [therefore] somehow, by any means possible, attain to the resurrection from the dead. – Philippians 3:1-11

Rejoice in the Lord for the repeated warnings against all confidence in human efforts.

As the letter’s closing exhortation draw near(4:2-9), Paul warned the Philippians from those who preach another gospel, and he preface it with the command to rejoice. Not just for the sake of empty rejoicing but that of rejoicing in the Lord. The prepositional phrase “in the Lord” functions as the sphere in which our joy exists regardless of our circumstances.

But why preface the warning with rejoicing?

One, because they might despair in the thought of that they have caused Paul some troubles in having him warned them again. Second, repeated warnings and commands can be a bit of a nag, so he reminded them that it’s for their own good, namely it’s to safeguard them. Thirdly, whenever you’re reminded of the gospel, you’ll behold Christ and that is enough reason to rejoice.

To write again is no trouble to me

When Paul said that he’s writing again, it implies that he already talked to them about this matter in the past. Repeating what he taught them was of no trouble, because their eternal joy was his personal joy, and a constant reminder about the gospel and its counterfeits is a means of holding fast to the word of life which would result to a kind of blamelessness that counts in the coming of Christ(Philippians 2:15-16).

Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh(verse 2)

Take note that Paul doesn’t shy away from repeating himself. In verse 2 he uses Βλέπετε the greek verb of beware three times to emphasize the danger of entertaining these false teachers and their false gospel. The strong words he used to describe them are reminiscent of Paul’s language in portions of 2 Corinthians 11:13–15 and especially Galatians 1:8-9, 5:12, 6:12-13. In both of those letters the objects of Paul’s polemics were not unconverted Jews but rather false teachers professing as believers; the same appears to be true here in Philippians. Now be very careful to use derogatory words or insults against these false teachers for the sake of insults. Paul’s usage of the word “dogs” doesn’t necessarily carry the notion of worthlessness and vulgarity in English. For the Jews, the term had a distinctly religious sense: it referred to the Gentiles. Since they were outside the covenant community, they were considered ritually unclean. We can see this from Jesus when he made an analogy between the Syro-Phoenician woman and dogs in Mark 7:27, the woman did not took it as a vulgar insult but as a religious statement. Therefore, Paul here is making an important and striking point: the great reversal brought in by Christ means that it is the Judaizers who must be regarded as Gentiles.

He further expounded the same theme with the last two descriptions. The phrase τοὺς κακοὺς ἐργάτας, rightly translated as the evil workers, does not merely mean “people who do wrong or evil things” (cf. Matt. 7:23; Luke 13:27). In this context, the phrase is meant to refute their outward works of the law because in reality, inside they are evil. By contrast, genuine good works are done only by true believers (2 Cor. 9:8; Eph. 2:10; Col. 1:10). In this sense, the Judaizers were considered as spiritual Gentiles. Lastly by using the phrase τὴν κατατομήν, translated as the mutilation, to describe them, Paul argues in effect that they don’t deserve to be called ἡ περιτομή, “the circumcision”. All Jewish rituals and even Christian practices, divorced from their true significance, are no different from pagan rituals and practices.

As you may have noticed, Paul employs a wordplay here in the Greek text. In verse 2, to describe the false teachers, a rare, and strong word is used (κατατομή, katatome) , “mutilation”, while in verse 3 the normal word for circumcision is used (περιτομή, peritome) for the true believers. Both have τομή (the feminine form of the adjective τομός [tomos ], meaning “cutting, sharp”) as their root. The direction of the action of the former is down meaning to cut off (from κατά, kata), hence emasculation or mutilation is implied, while the direction of the action of the latter is around (from περί, peri). The former looks more like that of a pagan sacrificial rites.

because we are the circumcision(verse 3)

After the threefold warnings, he then gave the reason for the commands. Beware of such and such because we are the circumcision. It means all true believers are the true Israel. Not that we replace Israel, but that there are Jews on the outside only and there are Jews inwardly(cf. Romans 2:17-29, 9:6-7). Worshipping by the Spirit of God implies that they don’t rely on their own strength but rather on the inward work of the Spirit in fulfilling Christian duties. In other words they are circumcised in the heart, by the Spirit and not by the letter(Romans 2:28-29). Not only do they rely on the Spirit for their service, but also put their confidence in Christ for their acceptance as blameless in the sight of God, and not by anything that is in them.

Paul’s Credentials are Liabilities(verse 4-7)

By saying that his own credentials too are significant, Paul raised the stakes higher that all self reliance are of no eternal significance or value. He explains that even if someone thinks he has good reasons to put his confidence in human credentials, then Paul had more reasons to boast than anyone. When it comes to rites and lineage, he was circumcised on the eighth day, from the people of Israel, and the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews.

It is important to see the distinction between rites and descent. Because a person can be considered part of the covenant community by means of circumcision even if you’re not a Jew by blood. This may imply that those who promote circumcision in the Philippians were not necessarily Jews, but just proselytes. Therefore, Paul, in saying that he descended from Israel, and tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, was more qualified to boast. He was a Jew by blood and by rite. Not only that, with regard to moral standards, he lived according to the law as a Pharisee. He was not a newbie. He breath, drink and eat the law. Thinking that it is right, as to zeal for God, he persecuted the church. In human terms he was blameless. He’s the poster boy of Pharisaic law keeping.

but still I have come to regard this assets as liabilities(verse 7)

Assets and liabilities are words used frequently in the fields of accounting, business and investments. Assets are not just revenues or earnings in the present, these are things that would provide future benefits. On the other hand, liabilities are not just present expenses, these are things that you’re obligated to pay in the future because of debt. Now when Paul said that he considered his assets as liabilities, it means not only as loss in the present but ultimately it is to his detriment in the future. Not only useless but also a disadvantage.

for the sake of having Christ

Paul did this for the sake of having Christ. For him, either you’ll rely on Christ’s credentials alone or not at all. If you can’t forsake all boastings in human efforts for your salvation, you can’t have Christ. But you will notice that he’s telling us something more foundational than the denial of all self reliance, namely the denial of all things.

You can only count all human credentials as liabilities if you’re able to count all things that are competing against Christ’s supremacy as worthless.

Paul said in verse 8 “more than that”, then I supplied the conjunction “because”, since what he’s really doing here was to show that it is much harder to deny all things, that compete with Christ, than to deny reliance on all human efforts. In other words, deny all, not just self reliance, then you will have Christ, because knowing him is of far greater value than anything. We know that we’re on track with Paul’s flow of thought because the purpose in counting everything as dung is to gain Christ(verse 8), and only then we’re to be found in him not having our own righteousness from law keeping but through Christ’s faithfulness(verse 9).

Christ’s Faithfulness

Now, it’s hard to ascertain which translation is right. Some scholars take πίστεως Χριστοῦ as objective genitive. Meaning, Christ is the object of our faith or faith in Christ. However increasing number of scholars argue for the subjective genitive. Which means Christ is the actor or subject of faith. It can be translated as Christ’s faith or faithfulness. I tend to lean towards the subjective use for the following reasons:

1) The emphasized contrast in this context is not between those who believe in Christ from those who believe in their own credentials. But rather on the worth of the object of our reliance and faith. Self reliance can’t deliver because we are unfaithful, but Christ can because he is faithful.

2) According to Dan Wallace: “the faith/faithfulness of Christ is not a denial of faith in Christ as a Pauline concept (for the idea is expressed in many of the same contexts, only with the verb πιστεύω rather than the noun), but implies that the object of faith is a worthy object, for he himself is faithful.” Though Paul elsewhere teaches justification by faith, this presupposes that the object of our faith is reliable and worthy of such faith.”

3) When πίστις takes a personal genitive it is almost never an objective genitive (cf. Matt 9:2, 22, 29; Mark 2:5; 5:34; 10:52; Luke 5:20; 7:50; 8:25, 48; 17:19; 18:42; 22:32; Rom 1:8, 12, 1 Cor 2:5; 2 Cor 10:15; Phil 2:17; 1 Thess 1:8; 2 Thess 1:3; Titus 1:1; 1 Pet 1:9; 2 Pet 1:5)

in order to know him

The purpose of gaining Christ is for us to know him. That is to share in his sufferings even to the point of dying like him, then as a result experience the power of his resurrection. We can’t withstand sufferings if we are still in love with our own performances and all the things that distract us from beholding the worth of Christ. When Paul said that by any means possible he will attain the resurrection from the dead, he meant that if martyrdom was required of him, he’s willing to go because Christ is his best asset, not his own strength, pedigree, and all other things.

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