Philippians Day Fourteen
October 14, 2020, 4:00 AM

Skubala!
Philippians 3:3-9

“We are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God
and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—
though 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.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
Indeed, I count everything as loss
because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish,
in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…”

Paul testified (with my running commentary), “For we [Philippians, Gentiles, Paul, you, me, and everyone else who belongs to Jesus] are the circumcision [washed in the waters of baptism – the New Covenant sign in Christ cf. Col. 2:11-12], who worship by the Spirit of God [i.e. the Jerusalem Temple relocated within the human heart] and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh [Jewish ritual “badges, such as circumcision, etc. etc. etc.]— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also [and boy, does he ever!]. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more. [You'll see!]” (3:3-4)

“Confidence in the flesh” was for Paul, the unhealthy and unnecessary fixation on the externals of serving God. In Judaism, the practice of the Faith was a matter of belonging. Not a bad thing, in and of itself. In Romans 3:1-2, Paul said, “What advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.” Ethnic Israel was the recipient of the Law. They were a kingdom of priests, mediating the knowledge of God to the world. They were a holy people, and God gave them, through Moses, rituals to incarnate that holiness: Dietary laws; clean and unclean distinctions; detailed sacrifices accompanying Tabernacle and Temple; a holy capital city; the priesthood; and reams upon reams of explanatory rules and provisions to clarify (but mostly encumbering) what was supposed to be life-giving Law.

However, Paul insists in Romans 2:28-29 that “no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God[!]” The outward signs which engender such confidence in the flesh, were never meant to be ends in themselves. They were, well, signs. Pointers to God. Magnifiers of holiness. Marks of distinction. At long last, symbolic visuals of what God would fulfill in the Messiah.

Even so, Paul decides to play the Judaizers’ game (3:5-6). He was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel.” One commenter amplifies helpfully here: “Not all circumcisions are created equal. Paul wasn’t circumcised merely in his thirteenth year like the Ishmaelites. Nor was he like a convert circumcised at a mature age. He enjoys a first-rate status. Circumcised on the eighth day, in strict conformity with the law, he has belonged to the covenant people from his birth.” (George Hunsinger, Philippians, Brazos, 2020, p.94-96).

“Of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews.” Peter O’Brien, in his commentary says “the tribe of Benjamin stood high in Jewish estimation— it had within its borders the city of Jerusalem and with it the temple – and so it was regarded a special privilege to belong to it.” (Hunsinger, p.94, fn.14). Further, “Despite its shadow side, it has supplied kings, garnered military honors, and remained loyal to the house of David through times of crisis and trial. Paul is more than just an ethnic Israelite.” (ibid.)

“As to the law, a Pharisee.” Paul joined the strictest order in Judaism. In Galatians 1:14, Paul humble brags, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.” This was serious business for the apostle.

“As to zeal, a persecutor of the church.” “And yet Paul’s religious credentials surpass even his being a Pharisee. He has not only separated himself from all that is unclean, but in his zeal, he has attempted to eradicate uncleanness wherever he found it, particularly with regard to that most recent outrage, the church. As a Pharisee he would surely have looked on the idea of a crucified Messiah as an unspeakable offense.” (Hunsinger, p.96).

“As to righteousness under the law, blameless.” This is no claim to perfection here! “He means, rather, that he has been scrupulous in observing all of the law’s external prescriptions.” “He means, ‘I omitted no observance however trivial.’” (ibid.)

Despite that meritorious, stellar, unblemished record in the flesh, the truth is, “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ[!] Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord[!] For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ[!] (3:7-8). In the masterpiece above, Michelangelo's portrayal of the Damascus Road -- sort of God's response to the pride of the flesh!

Rubbish! All that confidence in the flesh. Nothing but rubbish. The Greek word translated “rubbish” is skubala. That is about as close to profanity as you can get in the New Testament. “Crap” might be another way to express it! Trash. Refuse. Worthless. No value. This is how this word can play. All the externals count for nothing. Only being in Christ. Only having a circumcised heart for God. Only being formed by the Spirit. The flesh profits nothing. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Gal. 5:6). Again! “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” (Gal. 6:15).

Just think of all the skubala we think valuable as modern Christians! The outward displays of religiosity. The way we use the right words, but remain cold in the heart. The ways we think the things we “do” for God will secure our place in heaven. The herd delusions of “doing church.” Skubala!

Actually, there’s nothing wrong with “doing church.” I do it all the time. The qualifier is, we “do church” because we are in love with Jesus. All that we do— tithing, serving, praying, singing, giving selflessly, loving the unlovable, forgiving, reconciling, celebrating, etc., we do because of who we’ve become in Christ. Because of the citizenship that was granted to us at the cost of the Cross.

The key is, the externals, in order to not be counted skubala, should always be a reflection of what’s in the heart!


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