I’m very aware of being in a privileged minority – like most of the people who run most of the country and tend to do best out of most of the way that the country is run, I’m an educated white middle-class, middle-aged man. It’s not my fault – but it’s not my achievement either.
Paul considers himself born as part of the most privileged group on earth – a male, Hebrew-speaking Pharisee with a proud record of learning and diligent discipleship. He doesn’t state this to apologise (including for persecuting the church, which he actually cites as evidence of the zeal of his faith) or to claim credit for himself: though he does imply that those who are leading the Philippians astray are claiming credibility by comparing their achievements to his.
Paul lists his privileges and achievements only for one reason; to say that they don’t count for anything compared to the overwhelming value of knowing Jesus. Whether we are privileged or oppressed, high-achievers or struggling, neither matters compared to this one thing – that Jesus knows and loves us, and invites us to know and love him. That is what Paul is now striving towards, and God’s invitation is to each of us to join in that one pursuit, of the knowledge of Christ.
Perhaps it’s in the light of this one pursuit that Paul calls us beautifully in ch.4 to work for peace, to rejoice in all things and to focus on all that is positive and uplifting in life. If you haven’t read the two chapters I’ve read today, please spend at least a bit of time slowly reading and rereading this one verse. (Phil 4:8)
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.