by Herman R. Rocke

EXHORTATION TO IMITATE is one of the subjects dealt with twice in Paul's epistle to the Philippians, as the center column of its skeleton index shows (Keyword Concordance, page 341). Christ's humiliation (Phil.2:1-5) is balanced by the forfeits of Paul and his walk (Phil.3:17-4:9). Since the apostle unflinchingly contended the ideal contest in his pursuit toward attaining to the resurrection power, so as to walk in newness of life, he was authorized to bid us to "Become imitators together of me!" (Phil. 3:8,10-12,17).

This challenging imperative is surpassed only by an even more forceful one in the corresponding section of chapter two, it reads, "Let this disposition be in you!" We all know that this passage deals with the disposition which is in Christ Jesus (Phil.2:5). But it is doubtful whether we are fully aware of the fact that nothing is left to our discretion here. We are not asked for our consent so that Christ's disposition may be found in us; the little word let indicates, rather, a very strong imperative in the sense of the phrase, "[Toward] this be ye disposed in ye!" D.V., we may discuss this command at a later date. For the time being, suffice it to say that the full force of the verb (to be disposed) is best understood when we consider the use of its noun disposition. It occurs only in Romans eight (verses 6,7,27), and should be distinguished from mind (Rom.7:23,25).

"For the disposition of the flesh is death, yet the disposition of the spirit is life and peace, because the disposition of the flesh is enmity to God...Now He Who is searching the hearts is aware what is the disposition of the spirit." From this quotation we see that God's Word differentiates between the two dispositions on the one hand, and the believer's mind on the other. Ever since Saul was grasped by Christ Jesus, he had made it a point to forfeit his physical prerogatives. His attitude serves to prove the renewing of his mind (Rom.12:2). There is, however, no such thing as the renewal of the disposition. The one is of the flesh, and, therefore, "not subject to the law of God," the other, being of the spirit, is a divine power which enables the believer to please God and to walk worthily of the Lord.

The disposition of the flesh was the same in Saul of Tarsus as it was in Paul the apostle. While still an unbeliever, Saul had no choice in the matter but to displease God. His disposition at that time left him no alternative but to seek what is fleshly and, therefore, can lead only to death, as the life of the fanatic Pharisee Saul shows. When Christ Jesus called him on the Damascus Road, Saul found that he had now an additional disposition, that of the spirit, and from that time on, he chose to walk in accord with the spirit. He had learned by experience that the will of the flesh, due to its dying condition, inclines a man to sin, and that this inclination is especially apparent in the religious field. Only when the spirit which is operating in the sons of stubbornness is displaced by God's spirit does a new power operate in the believer's mind. He is no longer stubborn, but is persuaded by God's love to will and to work and to pray for the sake of His delight (Eph.2:3; Phil.2:13).


Young Saul certainly was a son of stubbornness. He was influenced by his ancestors, his environment, his education, and his associates. Since man's will is modified by circumstance, it may be worthwhile to study the formative years of this man whom Christ chose to become His choice instrument, to bear His name before both the nations and kings, besides the sons of Israel (Acts 9:15).

It has been said that Saul was born during a pause in the history of the Roman empire which comprised the major part of the then known world: western and southern Europe, Asia Minor and adjacent areas in Asia, as well as North Africa. The pirates of the Mediterranean Sea were dispersed, the countries around it enjoyed peaceful years, as did the province of Cilicia at the southeastern end of Asia Minor, under its Roman governor who was immediately responsible to his emperor, Augustus. This was about half a century before the later Roman emperor Nero abandoned his advisers and embarked on a reign of terror which precipitated his own destruction. Hence we have good reason to assume that at the time of Saul's birth, Tarsus in Cilicia was at peace and the Jews were not molested.

This town was, indeed, "no insignificant city," as Paul told the Roman captain who had rescued him from the hands of the fanatic mob in Jerusalem (Acts 21:39; 22:3). Tarsus was widely known as an important maritime and commercial town. It was not a Roman "colony" like Philippi in Macedonia (Acts 16:12), but rather a free city, that is, one without a Roman garrison. Once the natives had been "barbarians," but centuries ago, they had adopted the language and the culture of the Greeks, and Tarsus bad become a university city. In this center of intellectual activities, and meeting place for merchants from many nations, Saul's father enjoyed the rights of a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28).


In Philippians three, Paul enumerates five of his physical prerogatives; "in circumcision the eighth day, of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, in relation to law, a Pharisee." But he forfeited not only all of this, but also his social position in Tarsus, as the son of a Roman citizen, a rare privilege which the masses of the people in the conquered provinces had never enjoyed. Saul's father may have bought his citizenship "for a vast sum," assuming that he was a wealthy man like the Roman captain in Acts 22:28.

On Saul's other prerogatives, A.E.K. commented as follows in volume 29, page 297, of "Unsearchable Riches":

"Not all who were circumcised the eighth day belonged to the race of Israel. Esau and his descendants are not reckoned in this more highly favored class. Ieue repeated his promises to the patriarch Jacob, not to Esau. The nation of God's choice is confined to the descendants of Israel. There was a covenant made with the Circumcision. But there was still another made with Israel when they came out of Egypt. To them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the legislation, the divine service, and the promises (Rom.9:4).

"Benjamin was the best beloved of Jacob's sons after Joseph was taken from him. The tribe took a prominent part in the affairs of Israel, and had the honor of having the temple and Jerusalem within its borders. Israel's first king, Saul, came from Benjamin. It was the only tribe which remained true to the house of David, when the ten tribes broke away. It was an additional honor to belong to such a tribe.

"In Paul's day the nation was divided into two parties, very much as in these days: one could speak of orthodox Jews and liberal Jews. All the Jews had learned to speak Greek, yet some of them had gone much further, and had forsaken the traditional customs to become Hellenists, with Greek culture and customs. This was especially the case among the dispersion."

Paul, however, was an exception to the trend, and in Philippians 3:5 he wanted to state that he had become "most orthodox." He expressed this fact by means of a Hebrew idiom in order to indicate the superlative: Hebrew of Hebrews, just as the holiest division of the tabernacle was called the holy of holies.


Scripture does not report any details as to Saul's childhood, apart from his own words that he was a "son of Pharisees." This is probably more than just a Hebrew idiom descriptive of character such as "sons of the kingdom." The context in Acts 23:6 seems to indicate that Paul wanted to stress his ties to an influential Pharisee family. Otherwise his nephew might not have been in a position to learn the secret plans of the Jewish leaders (Concordant Commentary, Acts 23:16).

The reference to the apostle's "mother" in Romans 16:13 is almost certainly figurative, a term of special fondness or endearment. Her husband may have been Simon of Cyrene. In the same chapter of this epistle, Paul sends greetings to his relatives in Rome. It is of interest that none of them are known under their Jewish names; Herodion, Jason, and Sosipater are Greek; Andronicus, Junias, and Lucius are Roman, the same as Rufus on whom we find the following note in the Concordant Commentary:

"Rufus (Rom.16:13) is probably the same one whose father Simon was compelled to bear the cross (Mark 15:21). If so, he must have been of some prominence among early believers, for Mark is content to identify his father by referring to him and his brother Alexander. It is touching to see the apostle especially single out Rufus' mother, the wife of him who had the honor of bearing our Saviour's cross."

Saul's early childhood may have been similar to that of Timothy in that his mother may have taught him the gist of the Old Testament stories which formed the background for the great festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, when all Jewish males were required to appear before God. While Saul's father was alive, the boy had before him the example of a Pharisee, in his strict and scrupulous observance of the letter of the law. When a Jewish boy reached the age of five, and there was a school room connected with the local synagogue, he would learn from a Jewish teacher how to read and to write, and thus round out his religious knowledge acquired at home. There is no reason to believe that Saul's boyhood was much different. The roots of the apostle's love for his own nation certainly go back to those early years in Tarsus. Thus the spiritual world became as real to him as the physical world around him. The resurrection of the dead, even though it was an abstruse idea to the Sadducees, became to Saul a cherished expectation.

Growing up in a city of the gentiles probably acquainted him with the Septuagint and/or other translations of the "Old Testament" at an early age, and may have widened his horizon, giving him a more sympathetic understanding of the gentile yearning for an "Unknown God," of Whom the Greek Epimenides had written, "In Him we are living and moving and are," and the Cilicean Aratos had said, "For of [His] race also are we" (Acts 17:23,28).

Even though a few of the Grecian poets and philosophers were "ignorantly devout" to an Unknown God, this trend was barely recognizable among the more commonplace legends of the pagan religions. There were, however, similar myths in the Jewish folklore of the last three centuries B.C., which are partly reflected by the contents of the fourteen books of the Apocrypha, then added to the Old Testament Septuagint.

Even if our Lord Jesus never quoted from them, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, He referred to similar crude stories which were in vogue at that time and are partly documented by the author of the "Book of Enoch" and the famous Jewish historian, Josephus. (They report of light and dark departments in the house of the dead, of the great chasm between them, of the spring of water in the department of the righteous, and of "Abraham's bosom").

But Saul's early command of the Greek language, then spoken all around the Mediterranean Sea, and his early acquaintance with Greek culture on the one side, and distorted Jewish folklore on the other, never led to any skepticism about the authenticity of the Sacred Scriptures. Ieue, Who in the past had spoken to Jewish men, women and children, designating them as instruments of His choice, was a reality to young Saul. What had happened to young Samuel, adult Isaiah, and aged Moses, might happen as well to him; for this he was prepared.

At this juncture we wish to emphasize once more that young Saul's educational background was essentially Hebrew (Phil.3:5). Although Paul does use the Greek term paidagogos (C.V. escort; 1 Cor.4:15; Gal.3:24,25), we should not infer that, as a boy, he had been under the charge of a Greek pedagogue slave. Rich Roman families and others of similar standing owned highly educated slaves of Greek nationality who acted as private tutors to their sons. In some cases, the pedagogue slave was just what the literal meaning of this word indicates: a leader of a boy, in that he escorted his owner's son to a Greek school, as might have been the case in a town like Tarsus which was well known for its Grecian way of life.

Young Saul, however, as Philippians 3:5 clearly indicates, was not brought up in the way of the Hellenists. ("Hellenist" was the special name given to those Jews who took up with Greek customs and left the traditions of Judaism: both Hebrews and Hellenists spoke Greek, but the Hebrews refused the culture which came with it--Concordant Keyword Concordance, page 143).

A Pharisee who had a promising and gifted son, such as young Saul undoubtedly was, would see to it that the teenager, after approximately eight years of local elementary schooling, would go to Jerusalem for a more exact and systematic training. The fact that Saul was sent there while still in his early teens can be gathered from some of the introductory words in the apostle's defense before King Agrippa (Acts 26:4): "My life...from youth Jerusalem..." When we read in Acts 22:3 that Saul was "reared in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, trained according to the strictness of the hereditary law," we know that Saul received a university-like education from the most famous Jewish scholar of those days who was "honored by the entire people" (Acts 5:34). These formative years in the Jerusalem rabbinical college made Saul the staunchest supporter of "the strictest sect" of the Jewish ritual (Acts 26:5); for he "progressed in Judaism above many contemporaries" in his college; being "inherently exceedingly more zealous for the traditions" (Gal.1:14).


In our honest efforts to become imitators of Paul and of the Lord, we ought to constantly focus our attention on the two imperatives:

(1) "Let this disposition [of Christ Jesus] be in you"!
(2) "Become imitators together of me"!

We, too, were once among the sons (and daughters) of stubbornness, and walked in accord with the eon of this world. At that time, our mind was not yet renewed and rejuvenated (Rom. 12:2; Eph.4:23), but showed some of the symptoms characteristic of the absence of the Divine spirit, such as fleshly, decadent, depraved, and defiled (Col.2:18; 1 Tim.6:5; 2 Tim.3:8; Titus 1:15). These attributes may well be found in believers, too, as the contexts of these passages indicate.

While still sons of stubbornness, we had only one disposition; that of the flesh. We had no alternative but to displease God, seeking what was fleshly and led to death. The moment when rejuvenation started in the spirit of our mind, we found ourselves in possession of an additional disposition, that of the spirit, which enabled us to walk in newness of life (Rom.6:4,8,11). From that moment on, we were no longer obliged to obey Sin; we were freed from its lordship, though not from its presence (Rom.6:14,18). We were rescued out of the jurisdiction of Darkness and transported into the kingdom of the Son of God's love (Col.1:13).

From that time on, we had a choice in the matter, as we had never had before: God's spirit was displacing the old spirit of stubbornness in us, and ever since then, His love has been persuading us to will and to work and to pray for ]His delight. Whenever we failed in this, it was because we had "confidence in the flesh," and had not imitated Paul in "deeming all to be a forfeit because of the superiority of the knowledge of Christ Jesus" our Lord.

In this article we have dealt with the things "which were gain to" Saul and of which Paul writes, "...because of Whom I forfeited all, and am deeming it to be refuse, that I should be gaining Christ, and may be found in Him" (Phil.3:4-9). Even if we have less to forfeit than Paul had, we may gain just as much as he did. Hence let us pray that Christ, and Christ alone, may dwell in our hearts through faith, for the laud of the glory of God!

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