The apostle here proposes himself for an example of trusting in Christ only, and not in his privileges as an Israelite.
I. He shows what he had to boast of as a Jew and a Pharisee. Let none think that the apostle despised these things (as men commonly do) because he had them not himself to glory in. No, if he would have gloried and trusted in the flesh, he had as much cause to do so as any man: If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof to trust in the flesh, I more, Phil. 3:4. He had as much to boast of as any Jew of them all. 1. His birth-right privileges. He was not a proselyte, but a native Israelite: of the stock of Israel. And he was of the tribe of Benjamin, in which tribe the temple stood, and which adhered to Judah when all the other tribes revolted. Benjamin was the father’s darling, and this was a favourite tribe. A Hebrew of the Hebrews, an Israelite on both sides, by father and mother, and from one generation to another; none of his ancestors had matched with Gentiles. 2. He could boast of his relations to the church and the covenant, for he was circumcised the eighth day; he had the token of God’s covenant in his flesh, and was circumcised the very day which God had appointed. 3. For learning, he was a Pharisee, brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, an eminent doctor of the law: and was a scholar learned in all the learning of the Jews, taught according to the perfect manner of the laws of the fathers, Acts 22:3. He was a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6), and after the most strict sect of his religion lived a Pharisee, Acts 26:5. 4. He had a blameless conversation: Toughing the righteousness which is of the law, blameless: as far as the Pharisees’ exposition of the law went, and as to the mere letter of the law and outward observance of it, he could acquit himself from the breach of it and could not be accused by any. 5. He had been an active man for his religion. As he made a strict profession of it, under the title and character of a Pharisee, so he persecuted those whom he looked upon as enemies to it. Concerning zeal, persecuting the church. 6. He showed that he was in good earnest, though he had a zeal without knowledge to direct and govern the exercise of it: I was zealous towards God, as you all are this day, and I persecuted this way unto the death, Acts 22:3, 4. All this was enough to have made a proud Jew confident, and was stock sufficient to set up with for his justification. But,
II. The apostle tells us here how little account he made of these, in comparison of his interest in Christ and his expectations from him: But what things were gain to me those have I counted loss for Christ (Phil. 3:7); that is, those things which he had counted gain while he was a Pharisee, and which he had before reckoned up, these he counted loss for Christ. “I should have reckoned myself an unspeakable loser of, to adhere to them, I had lost my interest in Jesus Christ.” He counted them loss; not only insufficient to enrich him, but what would certainly impoverish and ruin him, if he trusted to them, in opposition to Christ. Observe, The apostle did not persuade them to do any thing but what he had himself did, to quit any thing but what he had himself quitted, nor venture on any bottom but what he himself had ventured his immortal soul upon.—Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, Phil. 3:8. Here the apostle explains himself. 1. He tells us what it was that he was ambitious of and reached after: it was the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord, a believing experimental acquaintance with Christ as Lord; not a merely notional and speculative, but a practical and efficacious knowledge of him. So knowledge is sometimes put for faith: By his knowledge, or the knowledge of him, shall my righteous servant justify many, Isa. 53:11. And it is the excellency of knowledge. There is an abundant and transcendent excellency in the doctrine of Christ, or the Christian religion above all the knowledge of nature, and improvements of human wisdom; for it is suited to the case of fallen sinners, and furnishes them with all they need and all they can desire and hope for, with all saving wisdom and saving grace. 2. He shows how he had quitted his privileges as a Jew and a Pharisee: Yea doubtless; his expression rises with a holy triumph and elevation, alla men oun ge kai. There are five particles in the original: But indeed even also do I count all things but loss. He had spoken before of those things, his Jewish privileges: here he speaks of all things, all worldly enjoyments and mere outward privileges whatsoever, things of a like kind or any other kind which could stand in competition with Christ for the throne in his heart, or pretend to merit and desert. There he had said that he did count them but loss; but it might be asked, “Did he continue still in the same mind, did he not repent his renouncing them?” No, now he speaks in the present tense: Yea doubtless, I do count them but loss. But it may be said, “It is easy to say so; but what would he do when he came to the trial?” Why he tells us that he had himself practised according to this estimate of the case: For whom I have suffered the loss of all things. He had quitted all his honours and advantages, as a Jew and a Pharisee, and submitted to all the disgrace and suffering which attended the profession and preaching of the gospel. When he embarked in the bottom of the Christian religion, he ventured all in it, and suffered the loss of all for the privileges of a Christian. Nay, he not only counted them loss, but dung, skybala—offals thrown to dogs; they are not only less valuable than Christ, but in the highest degree contemptible, when they come in competition with him. Note, The New Testament never speaks of saving grace in any terms of diminution, but on the contrary represents it as the fruits of the divine Spirit and the image of God in the soul of man; as a divine nature, and the seed of God: and faith is called precious faith; and meekness is in the sight of God of great price, 1 Pet. 3:4; 2 Pet. 1:1