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.
If anyone wants to boast about their earthly credentials, it's impossible to measure up against Paul. In Jewish society, Paul was the absolute top dog. He was circumcised during birth and descended from the tribe of Benjamin, which shows his perfect background. He was a teacher of the law, equivalent to today's version of a lawyer, which shows his amazing accomplishments.
He was a Roman citizen, which was something that was very rare back in the Roman times. You either had to be born from parents that had Roman citizenship, or you had to serve in the military for many years, or you had to use money and connections to get it since the Emperor himself has to grant exceptions if you deviate from the traditional paths. Paul was born from Roman parents.
Paul, back when he was Saul, also spent a lot of effort leading the persecution of Christians, who were seen by the Jews as blasphemers. He actually did a great job of it, earning him the recognition of his fellow Jews while being feared by Christians.
The point is–if we are trying to use our earthly credentials to elevate ourselves, it's ultimately meaningless to do so. Firstly, it's very rare for us to be able to exceed Paul in terms of earthly credentials. Secondly, it's meaningless before Christ since someone of Paul's stature chose to trade it all in for Christ.
Which leads to the second point.
Giving Up Everything For Christ
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, 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–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.
Paul literally gives up everything else that he has obtained in life up. He counts everything as loss. He abandons the prestige of being a teacher of the law within his Jewish community.
This is what he trades his life for: the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. Jesus has had such a profound impact on Paul that Paul does not consider anything else in the world to have any value in comparison.
Why is everything else worthless? Because of righteousness. Specifically a righteousness not of my own that comes from the law but which comes through faith in Christ. Ultimately, we seek to be justified in everything we do by the judges in our lives. Our judges can range from our family members (parents/children), our friends (peers), our co-workers (career), and society at large. Even if we seek to be non-religious good people, we are really seeking the approval of judges of morality, which would be people.
But the ultimate judge is God himself, and we sinners cannot justify ourselves before God through our own power before the law. The only reason we have to worship God at all is because of God's mercy. God allows us to be justified through his mercy. If it were just righteousness apart from mercy, we would all be doomed to damnation, If it were just mercy apart from righteousness, God wouldn't be so great because God's standards would no longer be perfect.
But the combination of righteousness and mercy is what makes it worthwhile to trade in everything we have in our lives for Christ.
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