as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (ESV)
This verse gives us great insight into the nature of the Apostle Paul. He is trying to expose the hypocrisy of the Judaizers who had caused confusion in the church at Philippi. They were insisting on a righteousness that comes from following the Old Testament Law. Paul, who preached a righteousness by grace through faith, shows that he was even more of a proponent of following the Law, but he was lost.
To the Jews zeal was a most admirable spiritual quality. To be zealous for the Lord's Law would mean to love what the Lord loves and to hate what the Lord hates. The Apostle Paul, before his encounter with Christ, thought that Christians were a heretical sect that despised God's Law. Paul's zeal caused him to persecute the church. He was zealous, but wrong.
The Judaizers had a self-righteous arrogance when it came to their observance of the Law, yet Paul says regarding himself, "as to righteousness under the law, blameless." When it came to being a good Pharisee, a good Jew, or even a good person Paul says you could find no better than himself. He made sure that when people looked at him they saw a man perfectly obeying the Law.
Paul was trapped in legalistic righteousness. This is why he is able to address the church at Philippi. He knows what a trap legalism is. The fact is, no matter how well Paul could keep the Law there was only one who kept it perfectly; Jesus himself. Paul knew that legalism would destroy the young church at Philippi and it will also destroy the church of today if we let it.
In what ways do you find yourself looking to your own efforts to be considered righteous? How has legalism affected you? How has legalism infiltrated your local church body?