Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).
1. Describe Paul’s religious credentials as he enumerates them in Philippians 3:5 (printed below)
I was circumcised on the eighth day, I come from the nation of Israel, I am of the tribe of Benjamin, I am a pure Hebrew, with regard to the law, I was a Pharisee. (Philippians 3:5)
Paul was “circumcised on the eighth day;” he had received the sacrament of circumcision that marked him as a member of the covenant community in complete accordance with the law of God (Leviticus 12:1-3). He was “from the nation of Israel;” he was a member of the house of Israel not only by circumcision, as were also the Gentile converts, but also by birth. He was “of the tribe of Benjamin;” by specifying the tribe from which he came, Paul is verifying the fact that he, indeed, is of the nation of Israel. He was “a pure Hebrew” (literally, “a Hebrew of Hebrews;”) both his parents, as well as his ancestors, were full-blooded Israelites, free of Gentile blood and wholeheartedly committed to religious purity untainted by any Greek pagan influence. “With regard to the law,” he was “a Pharisee;” he was a member of the strictest, most orthodox sect in all Judaism.
2. How does Paul describe his personal religious endeavors? See Philippians 3:6 (printed below)
As far as zeal is concerned, I persecuted the church. With regard to the righteousness that a man can attain by the law, I had become blameless. (Philippians 3:6)
“As far as zeal is concerned,” Paul “persecuted the church.” Paul vehemently strove against those whom he perceived to be the enemies of God and of Israel; he adamantly opposed all doctrinal and practical deviation from what he perceived to be the faith of his forefathers. “With regard to the righteousness that a man can attain by the law,” Paul “had become blameless.” Over the course of a lifetime of sincere religious devotion, Paul had brought his conduct into strict conformity with the law of God; he had become the most religious and moral person that was humanly possible.
3. After having listed this extensive inventory, consisting of outstanding religious credentials and achievements, what does Paul go on to say in verses 7-9 (printed below?)
However, whatever things were gain to me, these things I now regard as loss on account of Christ. (8) But much more than that, I regard all things as loss on account of the all-surpassing value of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, because of whom I have suffered the loss of all things. Indeed, I regard all such things as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ, (9) and be found in him—not having my own righteousness that is derived from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that is from God received by faith (Philippians 3:7-9)
After having listed this extensive inventory of personal righteousness and religious merit, the apostle Paul goes on to write: “However, whatever things were gain to me, these things I now regard as loss on account of Christ.” Paul willingly forfeited his whole stock of accumulated personal righteousness in order that he might gain the divine and perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. What caused Paul to have such a tremendous reversal of perspective? Note Acts 22:6-8,10-14 (printed below)
About noon as I approached Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. (7) I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me? (8) Who are you, Lord? I asked. I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting, he replied. …(10) What shall I do, Lord? I asked. Get up, the Lord said, and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do. (11) My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me. (12) A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the Law and highly respected by the Jews living there. (13) He stood beside me and said, Brother Saul, receive your sight! And at that very moment I was able to see him. (14) Then he said, The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. (Acts 22:6-8,10-14)
Paul came to count all that he formerly considered to be gain as now being loss “on account of the all-surpassing value of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” Here is a reference to the perfect knowledge of righteousness possessed by and exhibited by the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul had a personal encounter with Christ Jesus, the Holy One of God, beholding Him in the full splendor of His divine righteousness (Acts 22:6-8,10-14). Note: Whereas Christ revealed Himself to Paul on the road to Damascus, today He reveals Himself to men through the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
5. What parallel do you see between our Lord’s parable recorded in Matthew 13:45-46 (printed below) and the apostle Paul’s testimony given in Philippians 3:5-9?
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. (46) When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46)
In Matthew 13:45-46 our Lord tells a parable about a man who is a buyer of fine pearls. When the man comes across the most exquisite pearl in all the world he does not hesitate to sell his whole stock of pearls and with that money purchase this one outstanding pearl. There is a striking parallel between that parable and the life and testimony of the apostle Paul. In both cases we have a man whose present possessions cannot compare with the treasure he discovers. In a real sense, his present gains are a loss to him, for so long as he holds on to them he is prevented from acquiring the truly priceless treasure. Therefore, correctly assessing the situation, he is compelled to liquidate his present assets so that he may gain the all-surpassing treasure. Thus the apostle Paul writes: “whatever things were gain to me, these things I now regard as loss on account of Christ.”