Matt Emmons, world class target shooter, had already won gold in the 50m prone event at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Now, going into the final shot of the final round for the overall gold in the 50m 3 rifle positions – kneeling, prone, and standing – he had built an almost insurmountable lead. He did not even need a bullseye to win; if he were merely on target, achieving a score of 8.0 or better, he would take home the gold.
Trying to remain calm, he followed his usual procedure of lowering his rifle from 12 o’clock down to the firing position. He squeezed the trigger. The shot was good – an 8.1, good enough to win the gold medal!
There was just one problem: standing in lane 2, he fired at the target in lane 3. His score for firing at the wrong target? Zero points, and an 8th place finish instead of a gold.
It does not matter how accurate you are if you are aiming at the wrong target.
Paul’s Past Values
In Philippians 3:2ff, Paul warns the church to look out for a group of people he calls, dogs, evildoers, those who mutilate the flesh. Most likely, based on what we know about Paul’s life and the context here, they are Judaizers, Jewish Christians who wanted to force Gentiles to observe the Law of Moses.
The terms he uses are harsh and pointed: dogs were not lovable companions in Jewish society but disgusting scavengers, and they sometimes applied the term as an insult to Gentiles; evildoers, whatever else it may imply, means at minimum they do evil works, not good; the mutilation of the flesh is a reference to circumcision, the key sign of the covenant for Jews, compared now to the pagan cuttings prohibited by the Law of Moses.
In other words, Paul takes what these Judaizers valued most – their status as Jews and their works of the Law– and turns them on their head. These are sure signs they are not God’s people. Instead, Paul writes, we are the circumcision – that is, all Christians, Jew and Gentile alike. The true people of God are those who are sealed inwardly, not outwardly (see Romans 2:28-29).
The irony is that Paul once valued the same things his opponents did. In fact, he could beat them at their own game, as he lays out in v. 5-6. He was circumcised the 8th day, according to the law, meaning his parents were faithful Jews. He was an Israelite by birth, not a proselyte. He was from the tribe of Benjamin, an illustrious lineage that he shared with Israel’s first king. He spoke the ancient language when so many in his time knew only Greek.
In addition to those things he had by birth, he had his own achievements. He was a Pharisee, the strict keepers of the law. He was a persecutor of the church, proving his zeal against the enemies of God. He kept the statues of the law so that he was blameless – not sinless, but making correction where needed.
If anyone could boast about their attainments in this world, it was Paul.
Paul’s Present Values
Yet, Paul ultimately realized that all of these things were worthless. They counted nothing compared to knowing Christ. Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ (v. 7).
Paul hit the bullseye only to find that he had been aiming at the wrong objective all along.
Most of us are not likely to boast in our Jewish ancestry. But, like Paul, there are any number of trivial things in which we might take pride. There are those of birth, like being an American, born into a family of means, raised in a Christian home. There are those of personal accomplishment, such as a prestigious career, our individual talents or abilities, or even, like the Judaizers, works of righteousness. But the only target that really matters is Jesus Christ.
Where are you aiming?