Philippians 3

Philippians 3:1-2

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.  2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.

As Paul begins the third chapter of this letter, he turns his attention toward a group of false teachers.  He uses strong terms, “dogs” and “evildoers” to describe them (Philippians 3:2).  Although he does not describe their doctrine in this letter, he does in the book of Galatians.  Called “the circumcision party” (Galatians 2:12), their basic teaching was that even though one follows Christ, he must also keep parts of the Law of Moses, to be specific the law of circumcision.  Much of Paul’s letter to the Galatians presents a detailed argument about this subject and the student is encouraged to study the lessons that are available for Galatians chapters 2, 3, 4, and 5 that are available on this website to obtain a through understanding of Paul’s teachings on this subject.  To understand Paul’s feelings about it, one only has to read Galatians 5:12 which says, “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!”

Philippians 3:3-6

For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless.

While Paul does not spend much time describing a teaching that the Philippians were thoroughly familiar with, he does assure them that “the real circumcision” group does not spend its time putting confidence in the flesh (that is, circumcision of the human body) but rather in their “worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:3-4).  His contention is that if anyone would have a right to glory in the flesh, it would be him.  He enumerates his credentials in Philippians 3:5-6:

ü Circumcised the eighth day

ü Of the people of Israel

ü Of the tribe of Benjamin

ü A “Hebrew of Hebrews”

ü A Pharisee

ü A persecutor of the church

ü Blameless as relates to the law

Philippians 3:7-8

But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. 8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,

With the above being the case, one would have to say that if a person could make it to heaven based on human bragging rights, Paul ought to be able to make it.  However, he is quick to say that he didn’t believe that.  Concerning his list of bragging rights he said, “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7).  For emphasis, he repeats and expands the statement by saying, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8a).  For Paul, the worth of all his credentials paled by comparison of knowing Jesus Christ!

Philippians 3:8-11

Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, 9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: 10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; 11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

In verses 3:8b-11, Paul draws a comparison which states that he was willing to suffer “the loss of all things and count them as rubbish” (Philippians 3:8) in order that he could “gain Christ and be found in him” (Philippians 3:8-9).  He offers a second comparison: a righteousness of his own that comes through law vs. that which comes through faith in Christ and depends on faith (Philippians 3:9).  In both comparisons, self comes up woefully short compared to what Christ has to offer.  What is important is to “know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10).  The reason for this is that Paul wants to “by any means possible … attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:11).  This verse is Paul’s goal statement.  Doing whatever it takes to attain to the resurrection from the dead becomes the criteria by which all effort is judged.  For a Christian, the resurrection of Christ proved ultimately that Jesus had conquered death and his/her greatest accomplishment is attaining that same resurrection for self (see I Corinthians 15:1-4, 17-20, 42-44, and 50-58; Romans 1:4 and Romans 6:5).

Philippians 3:12-16

Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. 16 Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.

For Paul, one thing was of utmost importance: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).  He accomplished this by “forgetting what lies behind [i.e. the former life based on the confidence in the flesh talked about in Philippians 3:4-6] and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13b) [i.e. the righteousness from God that depends on faith; cf. Philippians 3:9].  Paul assures them that he had not “already obtained this or am already perfect” (Philippians 3:12) and that “I do not consider that I have made it my own” (Philippians 3:13a).  Paul understood that perfection is not obtained in this life, but rather at Christ’s coming (see I Corinthians 15:50-57, II Corinthians 5:10, Hebrews 9:27, and Revelation 20:11-21:4).  His encouragement is, “let those who are mature think this way” (Philippians 3:15) and “Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (Philippians 3:16).

Philippians 3:17-21

Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. 18 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) 20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: 21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

Based upon his goal statement (Philippians 3:11), Paul enters into a series of exhortations.  He begins by encouraging them to “join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17).  He will end this section by saying, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).  This is in contrast to those living a lifestyle of being “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18).  They are ones have “minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19) while Paul reminds them that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).  Those who are a part of that citizenship “await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).  The promise is that he “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21a; see also I Corinthians 15:23-26 and I John 3:2).  This will happen “by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:21b; see also Matthew 28:18).  Those who are Christians are not as concerned with what happens on earth as they are with being prepared for heaven.  That is where their citizenship is.  That is why Paul’s goal is so important to him.  While on earth Christians await the savior, Jesus Christ, because they know that he will transform their earthly bodies into ones that are glorious even as his body was glorious and everlasting once he was raised from the dead.

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