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as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. (Philippians 3:6)
Continuing on in the “gains” that Paul had chosen for himself, we come to
- Sixthly, he saw himself “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church.” Paul was a zealot of the Jewish movement. He was adamant against the Christian movement in his day. He may have been the ringleader in the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1-9) and was determined to round up and destroy any who were of this “way.” Most of the Pharisees were able to relax when they had chased most of the early church out of Jerusalem, but not Paul. In fact, he was on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians when he had his life-transforming encounter with the Savior. The persecutor would become the persecuted after his call by Jesus.
- Finally, Paul tells us that “as to the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless.” Paul does not claim that he was sinless. In fact, he tells us Romans 7:7 – “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” Paul here is speaking of being blameless before the Law because he would bring the proper sacrifice. He was sincere; he was meticulous in keeping the commandments and Old Testament laws. He would bring the proper sacrifice to cover his sin when he sinned. So, at any time a person would find him blameless.
Paul now had finished his personal resume of reasons that he was – by religious standards – commended before God because of his background and what he had chosen to do. He showed that if it came to works, he had it all. He was not in need of anything. But in the following verses, Paul shows that he learned that what he thought were credits were to be turned upside down and rejected when he met the Savior Jesus Christ. The confidence that he had, and many others hold to, would not hold up to the righteousness found by faith in Christ alone.
More in-depth Insights
As to zeal, a persecutor of the church. Saul, before he started using his Roman name, Paul showed great zeal for the religion that he was born into. He knew it had been the true way to God for 1,600 years, which moved him to persecute anyone or any group that he considered to be dangerous, full of errors, especially apostates from his true religion, Judaism. We are supposed to be zealous in our worship of the only true God. (cf. 2 Kings 10:16; Ps. 69:9; 119:139; Isa. 59:17; Rom. 10:2) He was there when Stephen was stoned to death, Paul locked up and persecuted Christians as though they were criminals. He saw Christ and Christians as apostates that had abandoned the true religion, the nation of Israel. Does it not say in Deuteronomy, cursed is anyone hung upon a tree, and was not Christ hung on a cross for blasphemy? Did not Daniel the prophet say that the coming Messiah would set up a kingdom that would crush all other kingdoms and never be brought to ruin? Yet, Jesus did no such thing. Saul had gone so far in his zeal for the religion of his forefathers, to the point of pursuing defectors with murder in his eyes.
A Pharisee named Saul, who had already given his approval as others stoned the first Christian martyr, Stephen, led this large of an unruly crowd of radical Jews. (Acts 7:57–8:1) Saul was not satisfied with the terror being inflicted on the Jewish Christians within Jerusalem. Saul was zealous to no end, seething with rage, seeking to persecute this sect, known as “the Way.” The phrase “‘breathing out threats and murder’ is an idiomatic expression for ‘making threats to murder’ (see L&N 33.293).” Luke helps his readers of the book of Acts to understand the ferocity of Saul, as he sought to go after “men or women.” – Ac 8:3; 9:2; 22:4.
Saul, “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord … asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” Suddenly, light flashes from the heavens, blinding Saul; he falls to the ground. He hears a voice from heaven say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” To which Saul responds, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” (9:4-6) In one moment, the one who was persecuting the Christians would then spend the rest of his Christian missionary life being persecuted.
As to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. Saul had done all that was required and likely excessively so being a Pharisee to obtain salvation as he would have viewed things by the mere observance of the Law. The Jewish people at that time and especially the sect of the Pharisees, of which Saul/Paul was one, thought that salvation came through observing the Mosaic Law. And Saul had done all that was required before he became a Christian. There was not one duty or observation he did not fulfill. Saul/Paul had led a morally clean, and meticulously strict upright life, and no one could say that he was not blameless or to accuse him of violating the Law of God. We can accept that Saul, before his conversion, was a young man of proper manner, attitude, and behavior, living an upright life of absolute integrity. Moreover, he did not indulge any human weaknesses or personal passions, into which Solomon had said in Proverbs many young men often run toward. Now, as a Christian, he understood the Word of God and human imperfection much better, seeing himself as “the chief of sinners,” even feeling that he was “unworthy to be called an apostle.”
Blameless: (Heb. תָּם tam; תָּמִים tamim; Gr. ἄμωμος amōmos; ἀμώμητος amōmētos; ἀπρόσκοπος aproskopos) means, “perfect, blameless, sincerity, entire, whole, complete, and full.” Of course, Noah, Jacob, and Job were not literally perfect. When used of imperfect humans, the terms are relative, not absolute. However, if we are fully committed to following a life course based on God’s will and purposes, fully living by his laws, repent when we fall short, he will credit our righteousness. – Gen. 6:6; 25:27; Job 9:20-22l Ps. 119:1; Pro. 11:20; Phil 2:15; 1 Thess. 5:23.
 The early Christians were a part of the sect called “The Way” in reference to Jesus statement in John 14:6 that He was “the Way.”
 Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Ac 9:1.