Paul’s experience of true identity: Resurrection vs. Rubbish
“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: 5 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; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 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 9 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— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3: 4-11)
Paul was dragged into a cultural debate of that day. Is Paul a true Jew? Does he regard circumcision the sign of covenant of the People of God, as important, significant and as top priority? Paul defends and provides his worldview.
Though he could be proud of the things, which are considered as privilege and honour among the Jews, he did not consider them as important, rather considered them as ‘rubbish’. His perspective was completely contradictory to the popular worldview and culture.
- Religious pride:
Paul drew his identity, sense of belonging and security from his religious life. Circumcision was the sign of Covenant relationship of Jewish people with Jehovah. Paul was a religious person as he was born and brought up by religious and godly parents. Paul was convinced that Judaism was the only true religion and Jehovah was the true living God. This religious pride was in the mind of Paul always until he had an encounter with Lord Jesus Christ in the Damascus road. It is not the religion and signs of religion are important, but personal relationship with Son of God.
- Political pride
Paul’s next matter of pride was his tribal identity. Which is similar to caste identity. The tribe of Benjamin gave the first king for the nation of Israel. Ehud was one of the Judges of Israel. Esther and Mordecai were from the tribe of Benjamin. Though, the tribe of Benjamin was small or insignificant their contribution to the nation is highly regarded. The tribe of Benjamin was always proud of their contribution to the Nation of Israel.
- Ethnic and Linguistic pride: Hebrew of Hebrews
Paul was aware of his ethnic identity and linguistic sense of belonging. Israelites considered themselves as superior race and all others as Gentiles who were portrayed as sub-human beings. The Old Testament, the Scripture of Judaism was written in Hebrew language. Hence, Hebrew was considered as sacred language. Paul was always conscious about his ethnic identity and linguistic heritage. However, when he comes to Lord Jesus Christ he could declare: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[g] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
- Moral pride: a Pharisee
Pharisees were the strict followers of all religious requirements of Jewish religion according to Mosaic Law and other traditional practices. They were regarded well by the common people. They were meticulous in following the Law. Generally, they were pious, religious and held morally high ground, Paul was proud of his morality and had holier-than-thou attitude.
- Passionate pride and zeal:
Paul was alert and agile to find any heretic or deviant person or a group of people who moved away from the fundamental Jewish faith. The disciples of Lord Jesus Christ were considered heretics and dangerous cult group. The established Jewish religion wanted to destroy this new emerging faith. Paul was zealous for Jewish faith and received approval for his intolerant, violent persecution of Christians from the Jewish religious leaders. He used violence as a handy tool to torture and kill Christians. His zeal was expressed in his ruthless, violent behavior which was seen as true religious fervor.
- Spiritual pride: blameless.
Paul understanding of spirituality was to fulfill all the ritualistic, ceremonial observation of the Law of Moses. According to his conscience, he was ‘blameless’ and hence righteous person. He was spiritually better and greater than other people who followed Judaism.
All these six aspects of his pride, identity, sense of belonging and boosted ego were rejected by Paul terming them as ‘rubbish’. The very essence from which he drew meaning and purpose of life suddenly became useless rubbish to be thrown away. Rubbish could be translated as dirt or dung or refuse. In modern terminology it could be termed as ‘crap’ or ‘shit’.
All privileges, inheritance, talents, gifts, education and accomplishments are nothing when compared with the experience of knowing Lord Jesus Christ and resurrection to be with the Lord forever. Paul knew that all his glamorous popularity in the world will perish one day.
Paul asserts all these glorious things in world’s perspective just stinks. It has no attraction whatsoever. People who admire these qualities in themselves are envious about others who have more such fantasies. In other words, who depend and boast of these are like white washed tombs (Matthew 23:27) that looks beautiful from outside but stinks inside. In other words, stinking rubbish could be added to other rubbish and not with clean and hygienic materials.
Rubbish or garbage dumps become breeding places for mosquitoes, rats, centipede, scorpions and other bacteria and insects. These cause physical health hazards that could be fatal. When a person boasts of these human values, then s/he becomes a chronically sick person and continuously spreads contagious spiritual diseases. Even the smell of rubbish could cause allergic reactions to some people.
Whoever confronts rubbish would turn nose away and try to run away from that. It is not a pleasing atmosphere for anyone to be at peace. It is almost impossible to sit, relax or eat near such heaps of rubbish. God is not pleased with such persons who blow their own trumpets of human status and accomplishments.
Isaiah also had similar view like that of Paul. He writes that the so called righteous deeds of humans are like the menstrual cloth or polluted garments or filthy rags. (Isaiah 64: 6) The goodness and righteousness cannot be measured by human standards or scales. Our lives are weighed or measured according to God’s divine standards and measurements.
Sweet smelling fragrance
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1) The calling of Christians is to be aroma of Lord Jesus Christ. This is possible only when we present our bodies as a living sacrifice instead of being overwhelmed by self-pride or other carnal boastings. “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (II Corinthians 2:15) When we are pursuing what the world pursues, then we are stinking rubbish and not sweet smelling sacrifice.
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12, 13) The eternal, core, fundamental and foundational identity of a disciple of Lord Jesus Christ is being a child of God. All other identities will perish by the passage of time others in death. The identity by position will perish when the position is lost like that of Presidents who become ex-presidents. The identity by education will perish when old age and memory loss catches up with humans. The identity of caste or race or language is also lost when a person is dead. If a person dies in an aero plane accident where his body is burnt along with many people of different nationalities and race, how good are human defined identities? The only eternal identity is given by God through His Son Lord Jesus Christ that we are children of the Living Eternal God.