Philippiansby David Sanford
One of my mentors has repeatedly warned me over 35 years: ″Beware the man who always thinks he is right.″ Being convinced you are always right is a dangerous form of pretentious-spirituality. No man or woman is always right; only God is always right.
That's why Paul doesn't simply urge us to ″put no confidence in the flesh″ (Philippians 3:3); he also describes how he had persecuted early Christians as a result of his own pretentious-spirituality.
Before his radical conversion, Paul thought he was always right. Under the name Saul (his Jewish name), he cultivated and flaunted his impeccable pedigree.
At a moment's notice, Paul lists his pedigree's seven perfections, which he once considered vital to who he was. First, he was ″circumcised on the eighth day″ (v. 5) as prescribed in the Law. Second, he is ″of the people of Israel″ (v. 5), meaning he is not tainted by Gentile blood. Third, he is ″of the tribe of Benjamin″ (v. 5), the tribe most loyal to the monarchy of old. Fourth, he is ″a Hebrew of Hebrews″ (v. 5) in language, thought, and life. Fifth, he was ″in regard to the law, a Pharisee″ (v. 5), meaning he was orthodox in every way. Sixth and seventh, he emphasises the details of his ″perfect″ life: ″as for zeal, persecuting the church″ (v. 6), and ″as for righteousness based on the law, faultless″ (v. 6) among his peers.
The first three ″perfections″ were inherited. Saul himself had done nothing to deserve or earn them. The fourth was partially inherited, partially learnt (see Acts 22:3), and partially polished to a pretentiously-spiritual degree by Saul himself. In the end, Saul rejected the moderation of his teacher, Gamaliel (5:34), and became convinced that his orthodoxy and legalistic righteousness surpassed that of his Pharisaic peers. He alone knew what had to be done and had the courage to do it. The stoning of Stephen was the final catalyst, as Saul became a bloodthirsty exterminator of Christian men and women (8:3; 9:1-2; 26:10).
How did Saul become so pretentiously spiritual and bloodthirsty? He imagined he was an exceedingly righteous man, ready to do whatever it took to protect his religion and way of life.
In Saul's mind, the day for trying to convert Christians back to Judaism was long gone. Instead, he thought it was time for slaughter. How good that Jesus Christ personally intervened in Saul's life. All thanks to Christ, the former chief persecutor became the chief preacher of the good news throughout the ancient Roman Empire. What hope his conversion offers even today.
Make a list of people who persecute Christians today.
Boldly ask God to radically convert today's persecutors into tomorrow's evangelists, missionaries, and church planters.