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Bible Commentaries

Mark Dunagan Commentary on the Bible

Philippians 3

 

 

Other Authors
Introduction

I. Warning against Judaizing teachers:

II. Paul"s own example as an argument against the Judaizers:

III. An exhortation to follow his example:

IV. Warning against enemies of the cross:

V. By contrast: The outlook of the Christian:

Paul"s praise of his friends () is followed by a swift rebuke of his foes. Chapter 3:2-3 seems to be best understood as referring to Judaizing teachers, who tried to bind various aspects of the Law of Moses upon Christians. The Church at Philippi might not have been immediately threatened by such teachers, as were the churches of Galatia (Galatians 1:6-9; Galatians 4:10-11; Galatians 5:1-4), but virtually every congregation in the ancient world had found itself eventually confronted with these false teachers (Acts 15:1; Acts 15:5; Acts 15:24; 2 Corinthians 11:22-23; Colossians 2:16-23). Paul then uses his own example to vividly illustrate the vanity of trying to find acceptance with God on the basis of those things connected with the Jewish religion. This is a wonderful chapter. On the one hand it demonstrates that man cannot earn or merit salvation (3:9), and that salvation is not found in the Jewish religion (3:7-8). On the other hand, it plainly shows that Christianity contains it"s own requirements and conditions for salvation. The Christian must try, strive, and exert effort, and that grace is never an excuse to engage in sin (3:12-19).


Verse 1

Philippians 3:1 “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not irksome, but for you it is safe”

“Finally”: Compare with . “Literally, ‘as for the rest’” (Robertson p. 451). “The word may mean "henceforth" or merely "further"” (Erdman p. 107). The same word is used when Paul makes a transition or begins a new topic in his letters (1 Thessalonians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:1). “Rejoice in the Lord”: See 1:18; 2:17-18; and 4:4,10). “Present tense, keep on rejoicing in the Lord. It is probably designed to instill confidence in the brethren in spite of the warnings which are to follow” (Jackson pp. 61-62). Bad news will always confront the Christian. False teaching will always be prevalent (2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1), temptation will constantly surround us (Ephesians 6:10 ff), and the local congregation will always be faced with the fact that a certain percentage of those converted, won"t remain faithful (Luke 8:11-15). Yet in the midst of all this bad news, the Christian always has something to rejoice in, their own relationship with the Lord. The joy of the Christian is not rooted in external circumstances. Thus, we have a joy that nobody outside of ourselves can really touch (John 16:22). “To write the same things to you”: Indicating that the warning to be given, had been given before. “To me indeed is not irksome”: “To repeat the same warnings is not wearisome to me” (Con). “It doesn"t bore me to repeat”; “I never get tired of telling you this” (Tay). “Like any good teacher, Paul was never afraid of repetition. It may well be that one of our faults is our desire for novelty. The great saving truths of Christianity do not change; and we cannot hear them too often. No teacher must find it a trouble to go over and over again the great truths of the Christian faith” (Barclay p. 52). The Bible stresses repetition in preaching (2 Peter 1:12-15; Titus 3:1; 2 Timothy 4:2-4; 2 Timothy 2:14; 1 Timothy 4:6). I am impressed that Paul did not find doctrine to be boring. “But for you it is safe”: “It is a safeguard for you” (NASV). “It is a safe precaution” (Wey). “It is good for you to hear it again and again” (Tay). “Safe”: “Is to be taken in an active sense, tending to make you safe” (Lenski p. 827).

The Philippians would be "protected" from false teachers and their erroneous doctrines, in the exact same manner that we are today. That is, such protection is found in adhering to the writings of the apostles. Believing that the apostles actually wrote the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13), and loving the truth contained in the Word of God above all other ideas (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12), will guard one against believing error. Carefully note: The Philippians had to interpret Paul"s letter, just as we do today. Paul did not have a problem with people interpreting what he said. He knew that his writings were of such clarity that honest hearts who love truth would not reach the wrong conclusions (Ephesians 3:3-5). Peter agrees (2 Peter 3:15-16). This verse clearly advocates that spiritual safety is found in obeying the letters of the apostles. Obviously then, the epistles are very important and vital for our eventual salvation. It would be spiritual suicide to say that we are not expected to obey what is found in the letters that the apostles wrote to the early churches.


Verse 2

Philippians 3:2 “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the concision”

“Beware”: To look at and thus to take heed. Notice the emphasis, “Beware..beware..beware. Three times for urgency” (Robertson p. 451). “Paul"s pen almost shouts” (Jackson p. 62). "Dogs, evil workers and concision refers to one common type of false teacher or enemy and not three different forms of opposition. The threat is real. Christians cannot be gullible. There is some debate concerning exactly who Paul is condemning in these verses. Basically two views exist: (a) Jewish teachers. (b) Judaizing teachers in the church, that is Jews who had become Christians and who were trying to bind various aspects of the Law of Moses upon Christians (Acts 15:1-5). It seems to me that Paul has Judaizing teachers in mind because this was the same threat faced by other congregations. Zealous advocates of the Jewish faith did persecute the church, but such was really only an external danger. In contrast, the Judaizers were within the church already (Galatians 2:4). Christians already knew that unconverted zealous Jews were lost, by contrast the Judaizers had become Christians and were members of the Church. “Dogs”: Compare with Matthew 7:6 and Revelation 22:15. The Jews often referred to Gentiles as such. Possibly the Judaizers had used this term when referring to those who did not support their doctrine. Paul now “hurls this term of contempt back on the heads of its authors” (Hawthorne p. 125).

The word "dog" was a term of reproach in the Middle East, because the "dogs" they often encountered were wild and roamed in packs. “The dogs were the pariah dogs, roaming the streets, sometimes in packs, hunting amidst the garbage dumps and snapping and snarling at all whom they met...feeding on the refuse and filth of the streets, quarrelling among themselves, and attacking the passer-by” (Barclay pp. 53-54). “Paul insists that these false teachers are the real ‘dogs’. They have followed Paul, growling, barking, snapping at his heels” (Erdman p. 109). False teaching is serious business. “Yes, Paul called errorists rather harsh names. He followed Jesus in this respect (Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:29). These are not wrong, passionate names but terribly true ones. They are a little unpopular today” (Lenski p. 828).

“Evil workers”: Compare with 2 Corinthians 11:13 “deceitful workers”, “mischievous workers” (Rhm), “the evil workmen”(Con). More is necessary than being "religiously busy". These false teachers were not lazy. They were workers. Teaching error with effort does not impress God (Romans 10:1-3; Matthew 23:15). “When one commences a pursuit of his own ‘works’, rather than those of God, he has become an evil worker” (Jackson p. 62). Compare with 2 John 1:9-11 and Galatians 1:6-9. In addition, such men probably taught “some” truth, but teaching some truth does not make up for teaching “some” error (Matthew 7:21-23). “Concision”: “The noun here is a play upon the word circumcision. It means mutilation” (Vincent p. 444). “There is a pun in the Greek which is not transferable to English. ‘Peritemnein’ means to circumcise. ‘Kataemnein’ means to mutilate. "You Jews think that you are circumcised; in point of fact, you are only mutilated’” (Barclay p. 55).

The Judaizers prided themselves on being "circumcised" (Acts 15:1; Acts 15:5; Galatians 2:3-5; Galatians 5:1-4). Paul brings them back down to earth. This phrase infers that the Judaizers are not part of the true circumcision (Philippians 3:3; Romans 2:28-29). This section also suggests that requiring circumcision as a means of securing salvation (Acts 15:1; Acts 15:5), is not only vain, it is worse than useless. It is actually practicing mutilation. “Some have charged that Paul was too harsh and that his language was not becoming of an apostle of Christ. Such criticisms are born out of sheer ignorance. (1) If there is a criticism to be offered, then level it at the Lord Himself, for He, not Paul, is the ultimate author of the apostle"s writings (1 Corinthians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 14:37)” (Jackson p. 63). Compare the language of the prophets (Jeremiah 5:8); John the Baptist (Matthew 3:7), and the Lord Himself (Matthew 23:1-39). While we must preach the truth with the right motives and attitude (Ephesians 4:15; 2 Timothy 2:25), it is also just as important to preach it just as strongly and plainly as Jesus and the apostles preached it. To be and remain the true Church, our pulpit needs to always be open to the kind of preaching practiced by Jesus and His disciples. We need to be careful of being too caustic, that is, just plain cruel, but we also need to be careful of becoming "too polite". I have found that the critics of strong preaching, do not seem to have the same criticisms when false doctrine is strongly presented.


Verse 3

Philippians 3:3 “for we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh”

“For”: In contrast to the false circumcision. “We are”: Faithful Christians, in the context includes those Christians who realize that the Law of Moses, as a system to find acceptance with God, has been removed (Colossians 2:14-16; Hebrews 8:6-13; Hebrews 9:1-4; Hebrews 10:9-10). This also includes Gentiles who are believers. “The circumcision”: The true circumcision. Which refers to people who have circumcised hearts that are open, tender, and receptive to the Word of God (Romans 2:28-29). “True circumcision is something inward and consists in the discarding of the impurity and the insensitiveness of the heart” (Muller p. 107). Compare with Jeremiah 4:4; Ezekiel 44:7; Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6; Colossians 2:11.

“Language could not be clearer. The notion that God even today recognizes two favored groups--on the one hand the church and on the other the Jews--is thoroughly unscriptural” (Hendriksen p. 152). There is only "one body" (Ephesians 4:4), which consists of Christians from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds (2:13,15-20; John 10:16; 1 Peter 2:9). The church is the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16). “Three characteristics of the truly circumcised are successively stated” (Muller p. 107).

“Who worship by the Spirit”: “In the Spirit of God” (NASV). Compare with John 4:24. “Worship”: The Holy Spirit revealed the changes that God had instituted in worship when the first covenant was removed and the second established (Hebrews 10:9-10; John 16:13; John 4:23-24). Those with receptive hearts accepted such changes. In contrast, those with stubborn hearts refused to move when God moved. They wanted to hold to an obsolete system. They loved the forms and rituals that God had once delivered, more than the God who had revealed them This also suggests that a "circumcised heart" is only interested in giving the worship that God desires. When one is really sensitive to the truth, they want to offer worship that pleases God and not themselves. Unfortunately, the modern religious world that makes great claims to be "spiritual", is not interested in the simple forms of worship commanded of Christians (Acts 2:42; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:23 ff; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; Ephesians 5:19).

“Glory in Christ Jesus”: 1 Corinthians 1:31; 2 Corinthians 10:17; Jeremiah 9:23-24. “And do not boast of personal goodness or works or deserts. Christ receives all the honor and His Name alone is magnified” (Muller p. 108). “Have no confidence in the flesh”: “Who do not rely upon external privileges” (TCNT). “Not relying on physical advantages” (Gspd). Tender hearts realize that their salvation is unmerited and undeserved. Trust in one"s supposed ability to keep the law perfectly is vain (Romans 3:23). All the external privileges that even the most faithful Israelite could claim could not save anyone. We are always dependant upon God for mercy and forgiveness (1 John 1:8-10). No matter how hard we try, we will still need the blood of Christ to gain eternal life (Luke 17:10). Christians take pride in what God has done for them and not in something that they do to merit or earn salvation. We boast in the cross, we exult in the sacrifice of Jesus and we give God all the credit for our salvation. The Jews and the Judaizers were relying upon such externals as circumcision to help them gain access to eternal life. In contrast, the Christian humbly submits to God, and eagerly complies with whatever conditions God has laid down for salvation (John 3:16; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21), while at the same time realizing that obedience to such conditions in no way means that they have deserved or earned such deliverance.

Verses 4-6 mention the particular "fleshly" advantages that many were trusting in to save them. John the Baptist and Jesus had encountered the same type of attitude (Matthew 3:7-9; Luke 18:9-11).


Verse 4

Philippians 3:4 “though I myself might have confidence even in the flesh: if any other man thinketh to have confidence in the flesh, I yet more”

“Though I myself might have”: “Though I, if any man, have cause to rely even upon them” (TCNT). “He emphasizes ‘I myself’ (even more than the Judaizers), he means that if this were actually the case, then he himself, even more than the Judaizers would be entitled to such a ground of trust” (Hendriksen p. 155). “Confidence even in the flesh”: “If an orthodox pedigree and upbringing, followed by high personal attainment in the religious and moral realm, ensured a good standing in the presence of God (as was implied by the people against whom Paul"s warning is directed), Paul need fear no competition” (Bruce p. 107). The same type of argument is made by Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:21 ff.

“I yet more”: “I have more” (Con). “Far more can I!” “Yet if anyone ever had reason to hope that he could save himself, it would be I” (Tay). “Paul fully realizes the value of all that he enjoyed as a Jew, and he possessed these privileges in a marked degree. So, if anyone should be justified in depending upon such Jewish prerogatives, he is the man” (Erdman pp. 112-113). “But to make clear to all that, when he proceeds to disparage personal assets which can make one proud and self-reliant, he does not because he is a ‘have-not’, a frustrated person lashing out in envy due to his own lack of resources or achievements, but because he is one who, although having everything, learned he had nothing, not having Christ” (Hawthorne p. 130). Paul can speak so harshly against the Judaizers, because he realizes the great temptation that they present. At one time in his life, he had bought into the same deceptive and erroneous doctrine (Galatians 1:13-14). Such a doctrine had almost cost him his soul! He realized the insidious nature of such a teaching, and how easy it is to believe that certain external advantages can guarantee your salvation. Christians have the right to speak pointedly against error and sin, because such things almost cost us eternal life. I have the right to have intense feelings against those things that have brought me very close to eternal damnation. I have the right to fight against, with all my might, those things that were out to deprive me of eternal happiness. Paul reminds his listeners that he was more "Jewish" than his opponents who placed their trust and hope of salvation in the external forms of Judaism. The very fact that Paul became a Christian in the first place, that the best adherent of Judaism could not find the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation of his soul in the religion he practiced better than everyone else, is proof positive that salvation cannot be found in observing the Law of Moses, part or all of it.

Hawthorne makes the following observations concerning the following section of Scripture: “Nowhere else in his letters does Paul make so clear, and with such feeling, how vitally important the person of Christ is to him, and how tremendous was the impact of the resurrected Christ upon his life and outlook as he does here in these verses” (p. 130).


Verse 5

Philippians 3:5 “circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee”

“The eighth day”: This was in strict accordance with the Law (Genesis 17:12; Leviticus 12:3). “But the same thing could probably not be said for every Judaizer. In all likelihood some of these were proselytes from the Gentile world” (Hendriksen p. 156). “He stresses the fact that he had been born into the Jewish faith and had known its privileges and observed its ceremonies since his birth” (Barclay p. 57). “Of the stock of Israel”: “Nation of Israel” (NASV). Of the original stock, not a proselyte. A direct descendant of the patriarch Jacob, who was renamed Israel by God. “Of the tribe of Benjamin”: This is also stated in Acts 13:21 and Romans 11:1. Benjamin was the youngest son of the wife that Jacob loved the most (Genesis 30:23-24; Genesis 35:16-18). From Benjamin came Israel"s first lawful king (1 Samuel 9:1-2). The tribe of Benjamin remained loyal to the house of David at the time of the break-up of the nation (1 Kings 12:21). After the captivity, Benjamin and Judah formed the core of the nation that returned to Palestine and Jerusalem (Ezra 4:1). “Paul was not a leftover from any of the ten tribes” (Lenski p. 833). “It would be the equivalent in England of saying that he came over with the Normans or in America that he traced his descent to the Pilgrim fathers” (Barclay p. 58).

“A Hebrew of Hebrews”: “A full-blooded Jew” (Phi). “A Hebrew was a Jew who was not only of pure racial descent but who had deliberately, and often laboriously, retained the Hebrew tongue one who still spoke Hebrew” (Barclay p. 59). “No ancestor on either side being of other blood” (Lenski p. 833). “Unlike many Jews of the dispersion (such as those who lived outside of Palestine), Paul"s family had apparently avoided as far as possible assimilation to the culture of their Tarsian environment” (Bruce p. 108). Compare with Acts 21:40. “He maintains his Jewish language and customs and manner of life; he is (was) no Hellenist or Graecised Jew, that being a Jew who had adopted the language, dress and customs of the Greeks” (Muller p. 110). “As touching the Law, a Pharisee”: Acts 23:6; Acts 26:5; Galaltians 1:14. “Of this law the Pharisees were the most ardent expositors and defenders. Pharisees were not all and always hypocrites” (Erdman p. 114). “There were not very many Pharisees, never more than six thousand, but they were the spiritual athletes of Judaism. He had devoted his whole life to its most rigorous observance. No man knew better from personal experience what Jewish religion was at its highest and most demanding” (Barclay p. 60). “Not content merely to obey the Law of Moses, the Pharisees bound themselves also to observe every one of the myriad of commandments contained in the oral Law, the interpretive traditions of the Scribes (Mark 7:3-4)” (Hawthorne pp. 133-134).


Verse 6

Philippians 3:6 “as touching zeal, persecuting the church; as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless”

“As touching zeal”: “Concerning zeal” (KJV). “His zeal for the law and the protection of the Jewish religion drove him even to the persecution and extermination of the church. His blind hatred against Christ and the church showed how completely he was devoured by his zeal for the Jewish cause” (Muller pp. 110-111). “Persecuting the church”: Acts 8:1-40; Acts 9:1-9; Acts 26:9-11; Galatians 1:14. “It is Paul"s claim that he knew Judaism at its most intense and even fanatical heat” (Barclay p. 60). “Here, too, his ‘advantage’ over the Judaizers was great. They merely proselyted, He had been a persecutor even ‘unto the death’” (Hendriksen p. 160). Paul had been far more committed to the Law than these teachers presently were. “Touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless”: Found blameless in the sight of men, for no one could keep the law perfectly (Romans 7:9-10). “This zealous Jew had been the envy of his peers. No one could point to his past life and suggest, ‘Saul, you were never very faithful to the law’. Just the reverse had been true. There must be some reason for the radical change!” (Jackson p. 66) (Acts 23:1; Mark 10:20). Remember, Paul was committed, he was sincere, he was moral, he was zealous---but he was lost! It does matter what a person believes!


Verse 7

Philippians 3:7 “Howbeit what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ”

“Howbeit what things were gain to me”: “All the things which I once held to be gains” (TCNT). “Gain”: “Lit., gains. The various items of privilege are regarded separately” (Vincent p. 446). “Paul had natural pride in his Jewish attainments” (Robertson p. 453). This tells us that Paul was not a dissatisfied Jew, who was simply looking for a change. He was completely satisfied with his Jewish life and extremely proud of the above attainments, right up until the time that he encountered Jesus. “These”: These very same attainments that he had once considered so valuable and essential. “Counted”: “Perfect tense, to reach a state that remained with him even now; hence, no regrets” (Jackson p. 66). He still counts them as a loss. “Loss”: Notice the singular use of the word "loss". Paul now counts the above "gains" as one big loss.

Paul did see the advantage of being raised a Jew (Romans 3:1; Romans 9:4-5), yet if such advantages keep one from becoming a Christian, they are a big loss. “If one"s observance of religious ritual, one"s status due to birth, one"s outstanding accomplishments due to innate intelligence or sustained effort, and so on, should ever make that person proud or self-reliant, unaware of his need of God...Paul had to abandon his past advantages precisely because they were the very things that kept him from coming to God. They kept him from surrendering to Christ” (Hawthorne p. 136). “In Paul"s thinking, the decision he had made was not the decision to go from good to better, nor was it the surrender of a valued possession. It was an abandoning of a loss he perceived with horror that the things he had hitherto viewed as benefiting him had in reality been working to destroy him because they were blinding him to his need for the real righteousness which God required” (Hawthorne pp. 135-136). “For Christ”: In order to really accept the fact that one needs Jesus Christ, one must realize that everything one has been previously trusting in, is not only vain, it will equally keep one from heaven.

Erdman makes the following point: “The conversion of Saul of Tarsus and his sudden transformation forms, indeed, one of the strongest arguments in support of belief in the supreme miracle, namely, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Unless on the way to Damascus, Saul met this living Lord, it is impossible to give a rational explanation of so sudden a change in all his views of life and its values” (p. 112). It is a point well-taken and not to be casually dismissed. How did such a content and self-sufficient Pharisee make such a radical change? Remember, this change didn"t take years, but only days and weeks (Acts 9:9-20).


Verse 8

Philippians 3:8 “Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Christ”

“Yea verily”: “More than that” (NASV). “These two English words represent a series of Greek particles which indicate the most fervent emotion” (Erdman p. 117). “I count all things to be loss”: “I even reckon all things as pure loss” (Wey). “Position, wealth, reputation” (Jackson p. 66). “All that he had formerly prized and valued, all that the world had to offer, he counted ‘to be loss’, a real liability, an actual disadvantage, if they stood between himself and Christ” (Erdman p. 117). “All things”: Whatever might compete with Christ for His allegiance. As previously noted, such external things as wealth, intelligence, education, noble-birth, and so on can become liabilities at the very moment that one trusts in them, instead of trusting in Christ. “For”: “In view of” (NASV). Here is the reason that such things had to be counted as a loss. “The excellency”: “The exceeding value” (TCNT). “Priceless privilege” (Wey). “The supreme advantage” (Gspd). “The ultimate value”. “At one time Paul surpassed all the young men of his age in Pharisaic zeal and false Jewish merit (Galatians 1:14); now he has found a far different ‘surpassingness’” (Lenski p. 836). “Of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord”: “Personal acquaintance of Jesus Christ” (Jackson p. 66). The knowledge that Jesus is in fact the Christ and the Lord, and the very fact that Jesus appeared to this successful Pharisee, was proof that all his great previous accomplishments had failed to atone for his sins (Acts 22:16). Paul is saying that what Jesus opened up his eyes to, is worth far more than anything he had previously attained.

“For whom I suffered the loss of all things”: “Even of esteem and friendship and enjoyment and rest and relations” (Muller p. 113). The above expression contains so much that is left unsaid by Paul. In becoming a Christian, he was accepting the fact that Jesus was the Lord and that salvation was not found in Judaism. Paul had probably lost friends, family members, wealth, prestige, a comfortable lifestyle and all the "perks" of being the pride and joy of the Jewish nation (2 Corinthians 11:22-33; 2 Corinthians 6:4-10). “And do count them but refuse”: “Think it rubbish” (Gspd). “It seems to have meant by usage either (1) ‘dung’, ‘muck’ both as excrement and as food gone bad, (2) ‘scraps’, that is, ‘what is left after a meal’, and (3) ‘refuse’” (Hawthorne p. 139). “That I may gain Christ”: “Paul has given up all other forms of ‘gain’ in order that he might get the true ‘gain’ which is Christ. Or in other words, were Paul to place the whole world with its wealth and power and advantages, its prestige and accolades and rewards in one scale-pan of the balance, and Christ in the other, Christ alone would overwhelming outweigh everything else in terms of real worth. Hence, from the standpoint of simple logic Paul cannot afford to gain the whole world if it means losing Christ (Mark 8:36; Matthew 16:26; Luke 9:25)” (Hawthorne p. 139).

The gaining here involves the present and future gaining of Christ, that is, “that road, from self to Christ, is a long one” (Hawthorne p. 140).


Verse 9

Philippians 3:9 “and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith”

“And be found in Him”: Paul was already "in Christ" (Galatians 3:26-27). The word "found" suggests that Paul might be looking to the final day, seeing that it is vain to be "in Christ" now, if one does not remain faithful and is found outside of Christ at death or when Jesus comes again (2 Timothy 2:11-13). “Not having a righteousness of mine own”: “Not having a supposed right standing which depends on my doing what the law commands” (Wms). “No longer counting on being saved by being good enough” (Tay). “Righteousness”: “A right relation to God” (Erdman p. 118). “Even that which is of the law”: Paul had spent the first part of his life depending upon the flawless observance of the Law of Moses to make him right with God. He now realized that such was a vain task, for nobody ever keeps the law perfectly (Romans 3:23; Romans 7:8-11). “But that which is through faith in Christ”: A right standing before God cannot be accomplished by works of human merit (Titus 3:5), being a good moral person (Acts 10:1-2; Acts 11:13-14), or by flawlessly observing the Law of Moses. The only way to find favor with God is to humbly submit, in obedient faith to the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 3:23-26). The path to salvation and acceptance is the path of forgiveness (Romans 4:1-8).

The faith or basis of faith in this verse includes more than mere mental assent, because the New Testament links acceptance with God (righteousness), to repentance (Acts 2:38); confession (Romans 10:9-10) and baptism (Mark 16:16). Thus all those things are included in the category of the type of faith that finds favor with God. Hawthorne makes the following comment: “Faith, therefore is not intellectual assent but the act of personal trust in and self-surrender to Christ. It is the movement of one"s whole soul in confidence out toward Christ. It is the ‘yes’ of the whole personality to the fact of Christ” (p. 141).

“Which is from God”: A right standing with God cannot be earned, merited, or deserved.


Verse 10

Philippians 3:10 “that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, becoming conformed unto His death”

“That I may know Him”: “For my determined purpose is that I may know Him” (Amp). Obviously, this means more than just knowing about Him, rather it is a knowledge that is intimate and personal. “In the Old Testament to know Jehovah means to revere Him, to be consecrated to Him (Proverbs 1:7; Isaiah 11:2; Habakkuk 2:14)” (Hendriksen p. 167). “He wishes to become entirely ‘wrapped up’ in Christ, so that Jesus will be ‘all the world’ to him” (p. 167). Compare with John 17:3; 1 John 2:4; 1 John 4:8; 1 John 5:20. Paul longed for as much of Christ as he could get. He never reached the point of "satisfaction" in his knowledge of Christ, and then, wanted more of Christ after this life (1:21-23).

“And the power of His resurrection”: This involves something more than Paul"s own resurrection from the dead at the last day. “He wishes to know Him alive and creatively at work to save him from himself, to transform him from bad to good, to propel him forward toward a life of service to others, to resurrect him from death in sin to life in God (Romans 6:4-11)” (Hawthorne pp. 143-144). The resurrection of Jesus Christ proclaims: I can be forgiven and a new life is a reality (Colossians 2:12-13). One can die to self (Galatians 2:20). One can put off the old man (Romans 6:6). One can cease being a slave to sin (Romans 6:6). One can serve God effectively (Romans 6:13; Romans 6:16). One can be released from the preoccupation with this earthly life (Colossians 3:1-2). “And the fellowship of His sufferings”: “All that it means to share His sufferings” (TCNT). See Colossians 1:24. “Nor does he show any spirit of self-pity in speaking thus: it was an honor to share in the sufferings of Christ” (Bruce p. 116). Compare with Acts 5:41. “This does not mean sharing the atoning and redemptive suffering of Christ on the cross, but it means a personal dying to sin, the crucifying of the flesh, and suffering for the sake of Christ and His cause” (Muller p. 116). “To use the words of the Master, to ‘take up his cross daily’ (Luke 9:23)” (Erdman p. 119). “Becoming”: Present tense. “Conformed”: “Sharing the likeness of His death” (Con). Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:5-6). Paul is saying that Jesus unselfishly died for our sins (2:5-8), and so he was willing to long and strive for a conformity with that kind of death, by being willing to die to sin and to unselfishly give up oneself for His cause (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

Hawthorne puts it this way, “Paul..strives to make the effects of that death an ever-present reality within himself by his own constant choice to consider himself in fact dead to sin and alive to God (cf. Romans 6:11), to conform his practice in the world to his position in Christ, to renounce his own selfish desires and say ‘yes’ to Christ who calls him to take up his cross daily” (p. 145).


Verse 11

Philippians 3:11 “if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection from the dead”

“If by any means”: “Not an expression of doubt, but of humility” (Robertson p. 454). Compare with Romans 1:10; Romans 11:14. “Unto the resurrection from the dead”: “Literally out of the dead ones” (Jackson p. 70). Paul may be referring to the goal of being resurrected with all the believers, and yet, everyone will be resurrected (John 5:28-29), both good and evil men and women. In addition, Paul can in some sense be with Christ, even before the resurrection of his body (1:21-23). Hence, it seems to me that the resurrection from the dead in this passage refers to the resurrection from the old life of sin. “It may suggest that in consequence of sharing Christ"s sufferings and conforming to His death (cf. Romans 6:11), that Paul could live ‘as a victorious, risen man’” (Jackson p. 70).


Verse 12

Philippians 3:12 “Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on, if so be that I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus”

“Not that I have already obtained”: “I do not say that, I do not mean that. The statement is made by the apostle to prevent a possible misunderstanding as if he had already attained perfection” (Muller p. 120). “Obtained”: To take or get hold of. Obtained those things mentioned in , to their fullest degree. “Or am already made perfect”: “To attain the aim, to carry through to the end, to make perfect or whole” (Muller p. 121). “The formalist is commonly self-satisfied and complacent. His religion consists in performing certain external rites or else in subscribing to some written creed. To Paul the Christian life was something quite different. It consisted in a personal knowledge of Christ, submission to His will, trust in Him, and in a continuous effort to attain to His moral perfection” (Erdman pp. 120-121). “Paul has been a Christian for years; yet at no point during those years, not even in the recent past, could he say, ‘I am done!’” (Lenski p. 846).

“Paul pointedly denies that he has reached a spiritual impasse of non-development. Certainly he knew nothing of so-called sudden absolute perfection by any single experience” (Robertson p. 454). The good news is that the verse implies that "perfection" will come, not in this life, but the life to come. We will finally be released from all selfishness and sin, and will finally be able to serve God, completely unhindered by self-pity, pride, or lust (Revelation 22:3-4). Most definitely, Paul felt that one never retires from being a Christian and from fervently pursuing Christ and His will. Paul was probably in his late fifties or early sixties when he wrote this letter. He had been a Christian for almost 30 years. He was an inspired man with a tremendous depth of experience, and yet he was not about to slack off.

“But”: Notice what Paul did not say. In view of the fact that spiritual perfection still was not in his grasp as yet, still Paul did not get discouraged, rather, it only further motivated him to keep up the effort. “I press on”: “The continuous present would be better, I am pressing” (Vincent p. 449). “He keeps up the chase” (Robertson p. 455). Paul was a man in pursuit of God. Like Jacob of old, he would not let go of God until he received the blessing (Genesis 32:24-32). He was a man determined to not miss heaven, a man who was not content to just have "some" or "a little" of Jesus Christ. He was a man who wouldn"t rest until he was resting with God Himself! “If so be that I may lay hold”: “If also I may get to capture, since also I got captured by Christ Jesus” (Lenski p. 847). “To overtake, to get hold of, seize, to grasp” (Muller p. 122). “Paul"s goal now is to fulfill the ideal that Christ had for him” (Jackson p. 71). See Acts 20:24. Paul was "apprehended" (KJV), by Christ Jesus on the road to Damascus. Christ laid hold of him for personal salvation and to be his messenger to the Gentiles. Paul said to himself, "I must strive to make this desire of God, a reality." When we refuse to grow spiritually or remain faithful, we are frustrating God"s desire for our own lives (2 Peter 3:9). The failure to work out my own salvation (2:12), thus becomes a decision to defiantly stand in opposition to the will of God for my life.


Verse 13

Philippians 3:13 Brethren, I count not myself yet to have laid hold: but one thing {I do}, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before.

“I count not myself yet to have laid hold”: “Brothers, I do not consider that I have captured it yet” (Gspd). “Count”: “Even after a further careful weighing of the evidence a verb meaning ‘to calculate precisely’. What then is to be done? There is only one thing--one must press on” (Hawthorne pp. 152-153). “I do not imagine that I have gained perfection yet or fully attained the purpose for which I was summoned” (Bruce p. 121). “But one thing I do”: “I do concentrate on this” (Phi). The Christian must have singleness of purpose (2 Corinthians 5:9). “Forgetting the things which are behind”: “There are some persons who allow their moral and spiritual progress to be hindered by the burdens of memory. They fix their minds so definitely upon past experiences that they have no strength and no courage for present effort” (Erdman p. 123).

“In the Christian life there is no room for a person who desires to rest upon his laurels” (Barclay p. 66). Thus past success and failure cannot be allowed to slow the Christian down in the present. The Christian is not allowed to take a spiritual nap and neither is he excused from the need for present growth and activity. “Forget those wrongs done whose memory could paralyze one with guilt and despair. Forget, too, those attainments so far achieved as a Christian, the recollection of which might cause one to put life into neutral and to say, ‘I have arrived’. He wishes also to express the importance of continuous concentration on the things that are in front” (Hawthorne p. 153). Unfortunately, many Christians today are spiritually paralyzed by something that happened in the past, such as family problems, personal problems, or church problems. Paul refused to live in the past and he absolutely refused to allow the past to influence the present in a negative sense. Paul could never forget that he had once persecuted the church, but Paul always used the bad things in the past for positive motivation (1 Corinthians 15:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:13-15).

“Stretching forward”: “Straining every nerve for that which lies in front” (TCNT). “The verb used here is very descriptive, and calls to mind the attitude of a runner on the course, who with body bent forward, hand stretched to the fore, and eye fixed on the goal, strains forward with the utmost exertion in pursuit of his purpose” (Muller p. 124). “Live full out now...unceasingly reach out toward” (Hawthorne p. 153). “Is used of a racer going hard for the tape. It describes the man who is going flat out for the finish” (Barclay p. 66). “To the things which are before”: This refers to the things mentioned in .


Verse 14

Philippians 3:14 “I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”

“Toward the goal”: “Bear down upon” (Vincent p. 450). “I strain to reach the end of the race” (Tay). “Goal”: “The goal-marker. It is that post at the end of the race upon which the runner fixes his attention” (Hawthorne p. 154). “Unto the prize”: Which is now mentioned (2 Timothy 4:8). “Of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”: “The prize of God"s heavenward call” (Wey). “God"s heavenly calling” (Con). Every Christian has been called by the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14). It is a heavenly or upward calling, that is, it originates in Heaven and calls us to Heaven (Hebrews 3:1). The reward or prize offered by this calling is eternal life (Titus 1:2; Romans 6:23). “In Christ Jesus”: One cannot receive eternal life without Jesus Christ (John 14:9). Thus from the context we learn that eternal life involves an intimate and full knowledge of Jesus Christ (3:10), the complete release from "self" (3:10-11), or perfection (3:12), unhindered and perfect service rendered to God, complete and total satisfaction, and happiness and fulfillment (Revelation 21:4). Hendriksen notes, “With all his heart the apostle desired to be completely raised above sin” (p. 174).


Verse 15

Philippians 3:15 “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye are otherwise minded, this also shall God reveal unto you”

“Let us therefore”: This level of spirituality and maturity is required of all Christians. “As many as are perfect”: “Full-grown” (Rhm). “Faith is mature” (TCNT). Compare with Hebrews 5:14. “Be thus minded”: Embrace the attitude expressed in 3:12-14. “Let this be our resolve” (Rhm). “Think thus” (TCNT). “Lit., think this or have this mind” (Vincent p. 451). Present tense, “let us keep on thinking this”. “Whoever is ‘perfect’ or ‘mature’ must not be characterized by indolent self-satisfaction, but by definite and purposeful endeavour” (Muller p. 126). “One evidence of spiritual immaturity is the claim of spiritual perfection. Those who know Christ best are most conscious of the many stages yet to be run before they attain the goal” (Erdman p. 125).

“And if in anything ye are otherwise minded, this also shall God reveal unto you”: “And if in anything you have a different attitude” (NASV). Clearly Paul is not saying, “If you don"t agree with me on this point, that’s okay” (2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:14). Neither is Paul saying that God will reveal truth to them, apart from the writings or preaching of inspired men (Ephesians 3:3-5; 1 Corinthians 2:9-13). Neither is Paul saying, “If you disagree with what I have just written, don"t worry about it, because God will miraculously change our minds anyway”. If by the phrase "otherwise minded", Paul means "if you don"t see it in this way", that is, if you disagree. It seems that Paul is saying, not that God will change their minds, but that God will clearly reveal that such an attitude is unacceptable. God will reveal that they have the wrong attitude, either now or at the last day. Paul may also be saying that the babe in Christ who hadn"t yet grasped the above concepts, would get the concepts eventually as they studied the Word of God.


Verse 16

Philippians 3:16 “only, whereunto we have attained, by that same rule let us walk”

“Only”: The essential point to be grasped. Some suggest that this verse indicates that whatever "differences" are to be read into verse 15, are only minor ones. “Whereunto we have attained”: In having become mature, in adopting the attitude expressed in the previous verses. “As far as we have come toward our cherished goal” (Jackson p. 72). “We must continue to live up to that degree of success that we have already reached” (Wms). “By that same rule let us walk”: “Lit., walk in line with” (Muller p. 127). “The idea of a regulative standard is implied” (Vincent p. 451). “To be drawn up in a line, to hold to, to agree with” (Hawthorne p. 157).

God expects all Christians to "get in line". We are expected to have the same mental outlook toward our spiritual growth. The "rule" in this context is the attitude mentioned in . The lives of every member must be governed by the attitude of striving for spiritual perfection. God is against "slackers" among His people (Revelation 3:15-16). “Together these words constitute Paul"s appeal to the Philippians to fall in step with him and together with him begin to live up to whatever level of knowledge they have already acquired” (Hawthorne p. 157). Yet more than that, God expects every Christian to strive for the highest possible level of spiritual growth--this diligent attitude is expected of all, from the babe in Christ to the most mature (2 Peter 1:5-11).


Verse 17

Philippians 3:17 “Brethren, be ye imitators together of me, and mark them that so walk even as ye have us for an ensample”

“Be ye imitators together of me”: See 1 Corinthians 11:1. He urges them to imitate his attitude, which has already been expressed (3:7-14) and detailed. “Should not brothers show that they belong to the same spiritual family, and are, therefore, really brothers?” (Hendriksen p. 179). Paul is not being arrogant, rather God inspired him to write this. In addition, the ultimate example to imitate has already been given, that being Christ (2:5ff), and Paul has already admitted his own lack of perfection and need for further spiritual growth. “And mark them”: “Be on the look out for” (Jackson p. 73). “That so walk even as ye have us for an ensample”: “Mark those who walk according to my example” (Con). “And notice those who live by the example you get from me” (Mof). Other good examples of the attitude just expressed are closer to home. “Us”: This term would include Timothy and Epaphroditus. “Thus, upon Paul and his companions and upon the many in Philippi who are living similar lives, the readers are urged earnestly to fix their attention as upon men who are safe guides for Christian conduct” (Erdman p. 127). The church will always need "good examples" of applied Christianity. .


Verse 18

Philippians 3:18 “For many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ”

“For many walk”: Compare with Matthew 7:13-14; Matthew 21:1-46; Matthew 22:1-46; Matthew 23:1-39). Apparently, the many would include professed members of the church. “Of whom I told you often”: Paul often warned Christians against false brethren and false teachers (Acts 20:29; Romans 16:17-18; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; Galatians 1:6-9). “And now tell you even weeping”: This seems to indicate that the people mentioned in these verses moved in "Christian circles", professed to be members of the church and preachers of the gospel. Paul loved the body of Christ and took it personally when people dishonored, abused, divided, and disrupted this sacred relationship (2 Corinthians 11:29). In fact, Paul may have personally known many of these apostates.

“Enemies of the cross of Christ”: “Enmity against the cross may mean any anti-Christian action” (Muller p. 130). “Hostile, hating and opposing the cross of Christ” (Jackson p. 73). From it appears that such enemies included professed Christians who viewed grace as a license to sin (Romans 6:1; Jude 1:4). Or, like today, professed Christians who continue to engage in habitual sins. The cross of Christ represents self-denial, unselfishness, sacrifice, and the rejection of all sinful practices. The Christian who continues to live a self-centered life is an enemy of the cross of Christ (Hebrews 10:26 ff; Hebrews 6:4-6). A selfish person has nothing in common with Jesus Christ (2:5-8).


Verse 19

Philippians 3:19 “whose end is perdition, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things”

“Whose end is perdition”: God does not mess around with such people. God has no tolerance for the child of God, who can look at the sacrifice of Christ and yet continue to live for self and continue to engage in habitual sin. “End”: Their final lot. Yes, people will end up in hell, forever (Matthew 25:41). Note: They do not begin in hell and then work off their sins, their final destiny or "end" is hell. “Perdition”: The idea of the word perdition (destruction) is not loss of being (annihilation), but rather, loss of well-being, or eternal ruin. Most certainly, hell is a place of conscious suffering (Mark 9:43-48; Luke 16:24). “Whose god is the belly”: “A figure for serving self” (Jackson p. 73). “For their appetites are their God” (TCNT). “Sensuality in food, drink, sex then as now mastered some men” (Robertson pp. 456-457). “They conceive of no higher good than the satisfaction of their bodily appetites” (Hawthorne p. 165). Whose ultimate concern is for themselves and their physical needs and desires.

“And whose glory is in their shame”: “They are proud of what they should be ashamed of” (Tay). Compare with Romans 6:21. “They pride themselves upon those indulgences which are really their disgrace. Their boasted liberty is bondage to lust” (Erdman p. 128). “Shame”: Nothing much has changed. Today we hear even religious people professing their "liberation" from what they claim are terrible, backward and oppressive requirements found in the Bible (Titus 3:3; 2 Peter 2:18-19). “Who mind earthly things”: “They are absorbed in earthy matters” (Gspd). “This world is the limit of their horizon” (Phi). “They are concerned with values which pass away, having neither divine origin or eternal quality” (Hawthorne p. 167). Compare with Colossians 3:2; Colossians 3:5; Colossians 3:8; Matthew 6:32. People whose heart is tethered to the things of this world (Matthew 6:21; Matthew 6:24; Mark 4:19). Jackson observes, “The apostle Paul did not entertain that phoney, ecumenical philosophy that is characteristic of so many religionists of this day. To some, practically anything at all that sails under the banner ‘Christianity’ is to be benevolently endorsed” (p. 72).


Verse 20

Philippians 3:20 “For our citizenship is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ”

“For our citizenship is in heaven”: In contrast to those mentioned in . The same type of contrast between "us" and "them" is found in 3:2-3. Their fate is eternal damnation our "end" is heaven. “Commonwealth gives a good and consistent sense. The state of which we are citizens is in heaven” (Vincent p. 452). “Is in heaven”: Yet such groups as the Jehovah Witnesses claim that the vast majority of Christians will never see Heaven. “Neither the Roman colonist nor the Christian depended for the meaning, character and purpose of his life on the ethos of his alien environment, nor did he allow that environment to determine the quality of his behavior” (Hawthorne p. 171). See Romans 12:1-2 and 1 John 2:15-17. “This metaphor the Philippians would fully appreciate. As inhabitants of a Roman colony they enjoyed Roman citizenship. They might never have seen the Imperial City, but they were under its protection and lived according to its laws and enjoyed the privileges of its residents. So Christians form a ‘colony of heaven’. To it they owe their allegiance and their conduct is regulated by its laws” (Erdman pp. 128-129). As citizens of a Roman colony were expected to promote the interests of their mother city and maintain its dignity, so citizens of heaven in an earthly environment should represent the interests of their true homeland and lead lives worthy of their citizenship” (Bruce p. 133). See the following verses (Romans 8:17; Colossians 3:1-3; Hebrews 12:22-24; 1 Peter 1:4; Hebrews 11:10; Hebrews 11:16).

“Whence also we wait”: To expect fully. “It indicates earnest, patient waiting and expectation” (Vincent p. 452). Compare with Romans 8:19; Romans 8:23; Romans 8:25; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 John 3:1-3). “It denotes the withdrawal of attention from inferior objects” (Jackson p. 73). “A saviour”: Our hope is rooted in a "person" and not in some vague concept. “Not this or that heathen deity nor the Roman emperor but the Lord Jesus Christ is the real Savior whom believers are eagerly expecting” (Hendriksen p. 184). “Some scholars have argued that Paul expressed his conviction that Christ would return in the first century, and that in this opinion, of course, he was wrong. This is a mistaken notion. Paul could speak of himself as among those alive at the coming of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:15), or as among those to be resurrected from the dead (1 Corinthians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 4:14); the point is, Christ could come at any time, but the definite time, according to the apostle himself, was uncertain (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2)” (Jackson p. 71).


Verse 21

Philippians 3:21 “who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of His glory, according to the working whereby He is able even to subject all things unto Himself”

“Fashion anew”: To transform. “Change the form of” (Jackson p. 73). See 1 Corinthians 15:35-54.

“The body of our humiliation”: “The body connected with our present moral existence...subjected to infirmities and suffering and decay. The change which the body will undergo will not only be an external one, but will affect the whole form and mode of existence” (Muller p. 134). The KJV rendering "vile body" gives the wrong impression. The body is not something "vile", for everything that God created was good (Genesis 1:31), and Christians are told to glorify God in their body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). “By many Greek pagans the body was viewed as a prison from which at death the soul will be delivered” (Hendriksen p. 184). At this point Christians must realize that here is one more area in which Christianity inherently finds itself at odds with Eastern religions. The whole aim and goal of most Eastern religions is to be liberated from the body, that the body is either an illusion or a "negative" thing. Christianity teaches that in heaven the Christian will have their body, a resurrected spiritual body.

“That it may be conformed to the body of His glory”: “And give it a form like that of His own resplendent body” (NEB). “And change them into glorious bodies like His own” (Tay). “The bodies that the people of Christ will wear in the age to come will belong to the same heavenly order as His own resurrected (glorified) body” (Bruce p. 134). Compare with 1 Corinthians 15:42-44; 1 Corinthians 15:50-58; 1 John 3:2. “According to the working whereby is He able even to subject all things unto Himself”: “The exercise of the power which He possesses...This is a reference to Christ"s ultimate victory over all things. By the same power that He subjects all things (1 Corinthians 15:58), He will also change us” (Jackson p. 74). “If anyone doubts the power of Christ to do this transformation, Paul replies that He has power ‘even to subject all things unto Himself’” (Robertson p. 457). “Such glorious promises should make us less intent upon ‘earthly things’, and more eager to set our affections on things above” (Erdman p. 130). The same power that will resurrect all the bodies that have ever walked this earth (John 5:28-29) will be simply one demonstration of the power of Jesus Christ. Included among all the things which will happen at the end of time, are the complete removal of the entire physical universe (2 Peter 3:10), the consigning of every unsaved person to hell, the complete vanquishing of all evil powers, the resurrection is simply one example of the power of Christ

(1 Corinthians 15:25; Psalms 8:6; Psalms 110:1).

 


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Bibliography Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Philippians 3:4". "Mark Dunagan Commentaries on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/dun/philippians-3.html. 1999-2014.

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