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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Philippians 3



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Verse 8


‘That I may win Christ.’

Philippians 3:8

With St. Paul Christ was the one object which eclipsed everything he had before counted gain. Can you, as St. Paul did, take the things you value most, and with true sincerity of heart put them side by side with Christ and count them all loss?

I. What place has Christ in your heart?—In the past, the present, and the future with St. Paul, it was all Christ.

II. What is Christ to you now?—Can you say, ‘I still count, as I did at first’? Is Christ to-day as precious to you as when you first started on your Christian course?

III. What have you suffered for Christ?—For your Christian testimony, your cleaving to and living for Christ?


‘Saviour, Whose life, Whose death was all for me,

And Thine obedience mine,

Oh suffer me to yield myself to Thee

And make me wholly Thine.

Grant me to lie within Thy arms of love,

From self entirely free,

To anchor to the glorious Hope above,

To trust my all to Thee.

I’d be the helpless clay—the Potter Thou—

Oh mould me to Thy will,

In joyous yielding let my spirit bow,

And bid my soul be still.

I tremble not, though tossed on life’s rough sea,

Nor heed the breakers’ roar;

For every billow, guided, Lord, by Thee,

But nears me to the shore,

The further shore! Oh joy, I’ve anchored there!

Steadfast, and sure, and strong!

And Thou wilt guide and guard and safely bear

And bring me home ere long.

Lord,’tis enough, I am no more mine own,

Saviour, for ever Thine, and Thine alone.’

Verse 9


‘And be found in Him.’

Philippians 3:9

The words ‘found in Him’ are one of the seven wishes of St. Paul. To the early Christians the words ‘in Christ’ meant so much—indeed they meant everything.

I. It should be the very golden core of our religion, the summit of our hopes, all our salvation, and all our desire. In St. Paul’s Epistles the phrase ‘in Christ’ occurs thirty-three times, and that is not counting the equivalents ‘in Him’ and ‘in the Lord.’

II. The Christian’s righteousness.—Luther tells us that for a long time when reading the Epistle to the Romans he could not understand the expression ‘the righteousness of God.’ He at first took it to mean God’s justice. This filled him with terror, for he knew himself to be a great sinner. After a time the true light dawned. He saw that ‘the righteousness of God’ means God’s gift of righteousness, the justifying righteousness which is ‘unto all and upon all them that believe’ (Romans 3:22).

III. Those who wish to be found in Christ have a deep sense of their own sin and guilt. Like Samuel Rutherford, they say, ‘I have been a wretched, sinful man, but I stand at the best pass that ever a man did—Christ is mine, and I am His.’ Like Mr. Wet-eyes, in the Holy War, they say, ‘I see dirt in mine own tears, and filthiness in my prayers.’

—Rev. F. Harper.

Verse 10


‘That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection.’

Philippians 3:10

St. Paul tells us what he meant by the knowledge of Christ. It is personal knowledge, the knowledge of a person, the acquaintance of one person with another. Let this be our aspiration, namely, to know Him, not only to know about Him.

I. We live in an age of doubt.—We must expect to hear every belief rudely challenged, roughly criticised, and too often hastily rejected. Hollow beliefs are giving way; men are forsaking ‘the old paths’ in which their fathers walked in safety through this world. Our own preservation must be sought in something more than an intellectual grasp of creeds and doctrines. We must know what it is to have fellowship with the living Christ, and to hold close communion with Him.

II. ‘The power of His resurrection.’—The words speak to us of a mighty current of forces which the resurrection of our Lord set in motion, forces which had not hitherto been exerted in the world. Thence has come the power which ‘has turned the world upside down’; a power which has been overcoming the world ever since in the hearts and lives of Christ’s people; a power which had its rise, as a river has its springs, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

III. St. Paul knew this to be the mightiest of all moral and spiritual forces which could be brought to bear upon human life. He knew it as a fact of experience. It had been at work in his own heart; it had revolutionised his life and transformed it.

Rev. F. K. Aglionby.


‘When Saul of Tarsus knew Christ in His risen might and majesty, the saying became true of him which had been uttered concerning the great King of Israel whose name he bore, to whose tribe he belonged, whom he has been thought by a great writer to resemble in his natural temperament, “he became another man.” From a persecutor and a blasphemer, he became thenceforward the devoted slave of Him Whose followers he had hitherto pursued with relentless fury and bitterness. We have ears to hear when a man tells us of a transformation in his own history at once so marvellous and so momentous.’



All facts in God’s universe have some kind of power, but the one central fact in the history of the world is the resurrection of Christ. Well might the Apostle speak of ‘the power of His resurrection.’ I desire to speak of this ‘power’ under four different aspects.

I. Evidential power.—The resurrection is the one fundamental fact which satisfies the Christian of the absolute truth of the religion of Christ. It was the experimental knowledge of this fact which caused a small band of teachers, for the most part unlettered peasants, ‘to be equal to nothing less than the moral and intellectual conquest of the world.’ The resurrection of Christ guarantees the absolute truth of Christ’s teaching and mission.

II. Moral and spiritual power.—The salvation which is by Christ Jesus offers to man not only pardon, but renewal and restoration; a new heart, a new life, a new supreme attraction drawing men ever by its sweet but resistless constraints into close and holy fellowship with the life of God. ‘I live, yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me.’ The same power that raised Christ from the dead quickens and sanctifies the people of God.

III. The power to which the resurrection led.—The incarnation of Christ was the birth of a Priest after the order of Aaron, a Priest Who was to bleed and die. His resurrection was the birth of a Priest after the order of Melchisedec, Who was for ever to live and reign. The resurrection of Christ was the visible enthronement of the righteous and eternal King. ‘All power is given unto Me in heaven and on earth.’ The music of His coronation anthem seemed to stream down along the path by which He passed up to the throne. ‘Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; the sceptre of Thy kingdom is a right sceptre.’ No sooner was Christ seated at the right hand of God than He at once assumed kingly power.

IV. This power asserts the dignity and enforces the claims of the human body.—The relationship of Christ as Head to His people—the body—demands that when He already lives His members should not continue in death. Yea, His Spirit is already in the believing heart, the pledge that He Who raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken their mortal bodies. Christ’s incarnation was the budding of a branch in the tree of humanity; His resurrection was the quickening of the root. Admit the Deity of Christ, and His death and resurrection are no longer of the individual but of the race.

—Rev. Canon J. W. Bardsley.


‘In an age of scepticism we thank God for the evidential power of the resurrection of Christ! At the time of the French Revolution, in 1789, atheistic France sought to banish Christianity by the secular arm; but, as man must have a religion, a committee was formed to invent one. They found this most difficult. One of these so-called inventors of a new faith called upon Talleyrand and stated their position. Talleyrand smiled and said, sceptic as he was, “It is most easy to found a religion.” The man said, “How?” “Get yourself crucified, and only rise again the third day from the dead, and you will without doubt found a religion,” was the reply.’



The assurance which the ‘power’ seals within the soul makes the resurrection of the body the most certain of all the certitudes of the future.

I. The power that flows from Christ’s resurrection is a power of reassurance in its widest application. It quickens the soul by the inward assurance of justification and acceptance; it quickens by the inward assurance of union with Him Who, in His glorified body, is now sitting at the right hand of God; but its fullest potency is perhaps to be felt in the assurance to the faithful that the life of the future is to be an embodied life.

II. The spiritual body is silently being formed in the depths of our present inner existence. The thoughts, words, and deeds of the present are all mysteriously contributing to its future manifestation and development. That clothing upon, as the Apostle speaks of the completion of the future body, is now being prepared for; it will be beheld and realised when, as the same Apostle speaks, we shall ‘all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ.’

III. What we need in these days, especially in relation to the doctrine of the last things, is a firmer hold on the fundamental revelations of Holy Scripture. One of these revelations is the power of the Lord’s resurrection.

—Bishop Ellicott.


‘While, on the one hand, we bless and adore our Heavenly Father for having given to us this sure and certain hope of the full, complete, and perfected existence after death of our true and veritable self—yea, and has made it realisable by the blessed circumstances, the great object lesson (if we might with reverence so speak) of the Lord’s resurrection—let us never fail, on the other hand, to recognise the profound seriousness of the revelation of all that is involved in this continuity of an embodied existence.’



The power of His resurrection! What is that? Who can fathom the depth of those mysterious words?

I. Power over temptation and sin.—The power of His resurrection means a steady rise over temptation and sin. In some parts of England on Easter Day they have a strange but beautiful superstition that the bright sun dances for very joy, and surely we may excuse that superstition when we remember that on Easter Day we begin to know something of the power of His resurrection.

II. Power over conscience.—The resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has a wonderful power over conscience. If Christ had died, and only died, we should have been grateful for the unparalleled sacrifice; but it would end there. If Christ died upon the Cross merely to exemplify human goodness, He has no power to heal our consciences, to give us rest and peace. The resurrection of Jesus Christ teaches us that the sacrifice which was made by the Lord on Calvary has been accepted by God; and so, when we stand before His open grave we see that this conscience of ours can be healed.

III. Life for evermore.—Look once again into the empty tomb of our Saviour Jesus Christ. He has risen from the dead. We have strange ideas of death! We think of it in quite a wrong way; but the resurrection shows us that death is a phase of life, and not an abrupt close of life. Death is merely a passage, and we pass into the other world to live for ever and ever. In that other life there will be ample leisure.

—Rev. C. W. Gib.


‘“Power” is a word exceedingly familiar to the mind of St. Paul. It occurs more than sixty times in his writings. It suited exactly with his strong and energetic mind. For he was not like many who are content with the letter, or with the surface, or even with the facts of a subject. He investigated depth: he penetrated into “power.” How forcible and emphatic are all the thoughts in this one single passage. See what a reality Christ was to St. Paul. “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.”’

Verse 13


‘Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before.’

Philippians 3:13

What had the Apostle in mind when he spoke of forgetting the things which are behind? If you read the chapter you will be at no loss to understand his meaning. He is describing his own circumstances as one who had wonderfully changed his place. To a man so loyal and affectionate as his writings prove St. Paul to have been, the breach with old comrades must have been extremely painful. The newly formed Christian Churches were for the most part composed of simple and ignorant folk with whom the Apostle, a gentleman and a scholar, would have little natural sympathy. He must have found himself dreadfully alone in his new fellowship. He told his followers that he resolutely refused to let his mind dwell on the past, that he bent his mind rather on the grand object of discipleship.

Let us apply the example of the great Apostle to our own case.

I. In regard to religious thought.—We are bound as Christians to believe that all our lives are subject to a process of education. The Holy Spirit is pre-eminently a teacher, and every true Christian has within himself the illuminating Presence of the Spirit of God. Mere stationariness cannot be proper in any Christian. We are to advance in a knowledge of truth, to pass from the elements of religion, to lay hold of the hopes set before us. Of all obstacles to human progress there is hardly any more formidable than conservatism. Forgetting the things which are behind is the true principle of education. Every addition to our knowledge alters the proportions in which we must see truth. Elasticity of mind is really the secret of receptivity.

II. In regard to religious behaviour.—‘Forgetting the things which are behind’ is the best rule for every one who has had to come to the Christian discipleship by way of violent conversion. All converts from other religions find a spiritual danger in reminiscence, so strong and so subtle is the authority wielded over the mind by whatever has been about us in the early years of life, and carries the freight of tender and moving memories. Not less is it the case of those with whom Christianity has involved a great change of habit. The case of the converted drunkard comes to mind. It is especially the case that forgetfulness of the past is important, whenever the old, discarded sin was one that entered very intimately and constantly into the life.

—Rev. Canon Henson.


‘Real success in any art or business is built up out of many small successes, and not a few great failures. How often must the young painter despair and hope again, and find to-day’s triumph wiped out by to-morrow’s discouragement, before his hand answers to his eye, and he can fix upon canvas the face or the scene that provokes his imitation. How many a clay figure must the young sculptor model before he succeeds in shaping something even half as beautiful as the idea that haunts his imagination. How many times an inventor fails before he succeeds in making his machine do the work he wants it to do. So it is in the work of life. There must be failure before there can be real success, and the failures must be left behind and forgotten.’



The worst foe of a Christian is Giant Despair.

I. Despair is certain failure.—Cease, then, to look back, fix your eyes instead on the goal before you, and in God’s mercy you will win your race. It may be that none of us here are hampered with fleshly sin. Circumstances—a good home, good friends, wise counsellors—may have combined to save us from that; but they may not have saved us from the deadly sin of selfishness. What would St. Paul say in such a case? Would he not give the same counsel? ‘O soul,’ he would say, ‘that God made, if through the deafness of long habit any voice from heaven can still penetrate, hear the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus. Reflect on what Christianity means. Remember God’s promise, a kingdom of heaven on earth, humanity redeemed from the curse. Recognise the goal of life and make for it. Forget old habits; forget yourself; begin at once to help somebody somehow; lest you come to share that saddest of all lamentations, the cry of the spirits of the selfish, “We have wrought no salvation in the earth.”’

II. The true watchword.—‘Forget what is behind; press forward to what lies before’; let that be our watchword. And let no young man think that the Christian life is a difficult, complicated business. It is a narrow road indeed in which our feet are set, but it is a plain one: ‘wayfaring men, yea, fools, need not err therein.’ It is not great skill or great knowledge that is required in us, only great sincerity; it is but doing one thing all day and every day, stretching forward and upward, trying by God’s help to be good; trying to be better; trying to resist our temptations: to begin and finish all our work as under God’s eye, to help our brother; to leave the world better than we found it.

Rev. Canon Beeching.


‘We admire far more than any action of momentary daring the patience with which Sir Isaac Newton, when his dog had destroyed important papers, set himself to work the calculations afresh; the patience with which Carlyle set himself to the still harder task of rewriting his history of the French Revolution, when the first part had been burnt through the carelessness of the friend to whom he had lent it. These men had the courage to put aside idle regrets and stretch forward to what lay in front.’



How often the past diminishes hope! Its remembrance paralyses our efforts. ‘What is the good of trying to be better?’ ‘You had better enjoy yourself while you can, and leave holiness and heaven to those to whom they are less unsuitable.’ Turn your back upon it. The power of the Precious Blood still avails for you. ‘Now work while it is day; the night cometh when no man can work.’

I. The great need in our life is definiteness.—We are vague, and many a life gets frittered away in a miserable sort of compromise between the service of God and the love of the world. Are we standing still? A man measures, year after year, the increase of his income. A man takes account of his mental growth. Why should we not be equally keen about our spiritual growth? Are we losing ground? What were our habits a year ago about prayer, about Bible reading, about Holy Communion: what are they now?

II. Satisfaction for the distressed.—What would the feeling of any great and wise man who was standing and looking on at life be, as he looked upon men missing the helps and chances they need, missing them by ever so little? He sees how hearts come and go in this world, always touching on and always missing the great truths of a personal immortality. He sees single souls go through life distressed, burdened, perplexed, while close beside them was the comforting faith they wanted—the river of the water of life which they were crying out for. You are not alone here though you think you are. Your Father is here though you cannot see Him. His unseen Presence haunts you and disquiets you. The only peace for you is to know and own His Presence, to rise up and go to Him, to make your whole thought and life revolve and centre round the fact that he is here to quiet your disturbance, to give you rest, and calm, and peace.

III. From strength to strength.—As St. Paul says, the remedy is ‘to reach forth to those things that are before.’ We are to look forward to the future, the things that are before; the ground has yet to be won, the thoughts have yet to be conquered, the steeper paths yet to be climbed. Above all, are we to look forward to the true end of life, the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. But only in Christ Jesus. The foundation must be laid there, in the life-blood of the cross of Jesus, in the power of His Resurrection.

—Rev. Canon F. E. Gardiner.


‘When St. Paul bids us in the text to forget the things which are behind, he cannot mean that the Past is not to live in us, he must mean that we are not to live in the Past. Our course is “onward, onward into Light”—we must not turn our face to look back into the darkness. Let the dead Past bury its dead. God is not the God of the dead but the God of the living.’

Verse 19


‘Who mind earthly things.’

Philippians 3:19

Every circumference is generated from a centre; every life must have its pivot.

I. God is the one true centre of our life.—It has been said, ‘God’s centre is everywhere; His circumference nowhere.’ If you and I refuse to take God as the central thought, the innermost idea of our life, we are convicted of thrusting Him from His rightful position. Our life becomes an inharmonious disadjusted thing; its activities become distracted, fragmentary. The principle of moral unity is lost.

II. The faculties of soul were intended to serve some higher end than to ensure to us the maintenance of our physical being for a longer or shorter term of years. Unless it be so, we are outdistanced in the race by some amongst them. Many of them are our superiors in physical powers; many outlive us; and in the case of all, instinct affords so swift and sure a guidance in the conservation of their being as may well put our boasted reasoning powers to the blush.

III. Choose the higher.—Be what your Redeemer, Who has redeemed life for you from its hopeless secularity, would have you be. The ‘earthly things,’ for which exclusively you have perhaps lived, will not suffer at your hands by the admission to your thoughts and aims of the heavenly. Rather they will gain. For the result of yielding ourselves to the service of God is not to eliminate the earthly, but to absorb it in the heavenly; not to broaden and strengthen the barriers between the secular and the sacred, but to break them down.

IV. Earthly things for earthly souls.—It is a sad, sad scene, the passing of a world-bound spirit, that leaves its paltry all behind it, and goes to where nothing of its treasure has ever been laid up, clinging to its idols to the last: the past, one long regret; the future, a dull, portionless blank.

—Bishop A. Pearson.


‘The words—“who mind earthly things”—close a brief description of certain “enemies of the Cross of Christ” whom St. Paul had in mind when he was writing to the Philippian converts; and at first sight they appear to present us with a somewhat feeble climax. For the former part of the description is couched in some of the strongest language to be met with in Holy Scripture: “Whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame.” Gluttony, drunkenness, and flagitious vice hardly culminate appropriately, it might seem, in mere engrossment in earthly things. But in the words of the text the Apostle touches the soil out of which those evil plants spring which he has previously noticed.’

Verse 20


‘For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.’

Philippians 3:20

What is heaven? That is a question to which the Church can give a partial, though as yet necessarily an incomplete, answer.

I. We turn, then, to the words of Jesus Christ.—And here it is important to remark that, when He spoke of heaven, He was careful to use such language as is figurative or analogical. But while it is true that our Lord’s words respecting heaven must be regarded as adumbrations of an inexpressible and inconceivable reality, it is not impossible to draw certain inferences from His teaching and from His life.

(a) Thus He taught, beyond doubt, the existence of heaven. He did not prove it; He took it for granted.

(b) Jesus Christ then taught the reality of heaven; and in His teaching He spoke of it with complete knowledge, with complete certainty. He professed and claimed to know all about heaven.

(c) Whether it was His will or not to reveal the character of heaven, He declared explicitly that it was within His power to reveal it.

(d) There is, however, a manifest intention not to exaggerate the awfulness of the invisible world. It may be said of Jesus Christ that, while He laid a powerful emphasis on the reality and significance of that world, He intended it to be a hope, a solace, a motive to holiness, and not to exercise a paralysing influence upon human action.

II. Among the lessons of Christ’s teaching upon heaven there are two which seem to stand out in relief. He taught—

(a) That the enjoyment of the heavenly life depended upon character and conduct in this life; and also

(b) That the access to the heavenly life lay in the method and revelation of His hid gospel. It is not in man to merit heaven.

III. Heaven is not a place or a period, but a state.—Is it possible to understand that existence? The soul of man is the seat of personality or identity; and it is the soul which is immortal and enters heaven. But, if we know what it is that is immortal, we may hope to know what it is that the immortal being is capable of being or doing. The intellectual, moral, and spiritual faculties of man continue eternally.

IV. It is asked by many an anxious, yearning heart if they who have known and loved on earth will regain such mutual knowledge in eternity. Can it be doubted that this knowledge will be theirs? We shall know them, and they us. We shall live with them in full and free communion; we shall participate in their joy, their gratitude, their adoration; the saddest of all earthly fears, the fear of separation, will be wanting. There will be no more parting for ever.

—Bishop Welldon.


‘No merely negative conception of heaven can be just. To regard it simply as a state of immunity from sin and sorrow and suffering is to mistake its character altogether. That in heaven “the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest” is true enough; but heaven is none the less a state of constant activity. The reward of fidelity in few things is the opportunity of showing fidelity in many things. The intellectual, moral, and spiritual faculties will operate in heaven as on earth, only more vividly and intensely, without the drawbacks incidental to human life—e.g. infirmity, error, defeat, or weariness. There will be an end of doubt, of difficulty, of denial. Then shall the secret of God be known, His power and love fully recognised.’

Verse 20-21


‘For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; 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.’

Philippians 3:20-21

There are many important truths which concern us all contained in these words of St. Paul. Just notice what we have in these words. This Apostle tells us we are to look for Him from heaven. That was what St. Paul said to the Philippians—if he were here he would say the same to you, he would say we are to look for Jesus Christ from heaven.

I. What is the purpose of our looking for Him?—When we look for a person we expect him to come to us, and so, if the Philippians were looking for the Lord Jesus Christ, they would have a certain purpose in view. The purpose is stated here. It is to change our vile or worthless bodies, our poor corruptible bodies, of which St. Paul spoke in 1 Corinthians 15. It is to change these bodies of ours, or transform them so as to alter their character altogether, not to take away their identity, but to make a real change—a change that will make them like unto the glorious body of our Lord. His glorious body is His resurrected body.

II. The power of His appearing.—Then we are told of the power which is one of the most important points in this passage, ‘the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.’ Now take this passage in connection with what we read in 1 Corinthians 15., where we are told that the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death, so that when we talk of death, or when we pass a cemetery or place where the dead are laid, we should be very solemn indeed. By the last enemy is also meant the worst enemy, and you will all agree that death is an awful enemy indeed.

III. And the purpose of all this is that God may be all in all. God the Father is to predominate; and so we can see that the manhood or womanhood that we possess in this world will all be subjected to God the Father. And can we wish it to be subjected to any one else?

—Rev. J. J. H. S. Pennington.


‘About the nature of the spiritual body it were useless for us to speculate. It is enough to be sure that it will be perfectly adapted for the occupations and engagements which will be found in the presence of God in heaven. And it is enough for us to know that it will be fashioned like to the glorious body of the Redeemer Himself. What more can we want?’



The comparison instituted is both appropriate and beautiful. ‘Our conversation, our citizenship, or our ideal life as citizens, is in heaven.’ There is our home, our native land.

I. The true-hearted, the saintly, the noble-minded throughout the ages, have sought it whilst they lived on earth. They have, as it were, breathed its atmosphere whilst they dwelt here below.

II. The children of God set their affection upon things above; that ‘where their treasure is, there are their hearts also.’

III. They look for the appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ. Heaven would be nothing to them without Him ‘Who loved them and gave Himself for them.’ Well may they look for Him Who will admit them to the heavenly Jerusalem. ‘Their eyes shall see the King in His beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off.’

—Rev. F. K. Aglionby.


‘It is the maintaining of this attitude of expectation which keeps us in the state of preparedness for the greatness of the glory that is coming. When Christ comes, He will find us ready—may He find us all ready! and why should it not be so?—not merely ready for judgment; but, rather, ready in character, in tone, and temper, and spirit, for association with Himself.’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Philippians 3:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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