Philippians 3:4-6 (ESV)
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.
Sometimes we can have amazing success – but in all the wrong places.
(This is part 5 of our multipart study on Success in the Bible)
Many of you will know the story of Saul of Tarsus – the same Saul we know as Paul the Apostle to the gentiles. Saul had significant ‘worldly’ success in his chosen field, that of being a Jewish Pharisee.
For a start, he was born of the tribe of Benjamin – the only tribe other than Judah that stayed faithful to King David when Israel was splintered. Sometimes being born into the right place or in the right family can make all the difference – Saul was. Not only was he a Pharisee, the most ‘strict’ sect of the Jewish religion, he was from a family of Pharisees (Acts 23:6). He was educated not in Tarsus where he was born, not in some outskirts of Judea, but in Jerusalem, under the renowned teacher Gamaliel – one of the most influential Rabbis of his time (he also appears in Acts 5).
So Saul had the birth, the upbringing, the lineage and the education to be a success. Added to that, he was zealous for his ‘religion’, to the point that he was one of the key persecutors of the early Christian Church.
Yes, Saul of Tarsus was a successful Pharisee. Even had he not been converted, I have no doubt he would still be remembered for his zeal and success in persecution of the church.
But, Saul of Tarsus met Jesus. After all this success as a Pharisee, he finally realised that his success was not in the right places, but in the wrong. Let’s take a look at what Paul the Apostle continued to write after his testimony above.
Philippians 3:8-14 (ESV)
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.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul realized his success was in the wrong places, and counted all of that success ‘as loss’. He then made it is goal to have true success, by aligning his life to what God wanted.
And you know what? After that, I am sure he was thought a failure by his old buddies back among the Pharisees. But we know he wasn’t – he reached thousands in his life for Jesus personally, thousands more directly with his letters, and finally millions upon millions with the record of that in the Bible. Depending on how you count it, Paul wrote 13 or 14 of the 27 books in the New Testament – an amazing testimony of success in two places – firstly in the wrong place, then finally in the right place.