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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Philippians 3

 

 

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Introduction

CHAP. III.

He warneth them to beware of the false teachers of the circumcision, shewing that himself, if any, hath greater cause than they to trust in the righteousness of the law: which notwithstanding he counteth as dung and loss, to gain Christ; he exhorteth them to be thus minded, to imitate him, and to decline the ways of carnal Christians.

Anno Domini 62.

ST. Paul wrote the most of his epistles to confute the erroneous doctrines and practices of the Judaizing teachers, who, in the first age, greatly disturbed the churches, more especially by their affirming, that unless the Gentiles were circumcised after the manner of Moses, they could not be saved. But, as these teachers artfully suited their arguments to the circumstances and prejudices of the persons whom they addressed, the controversy has a new aspect in almost every Epistle. And the Apostle's reasonings, in confutation of their doctrine, comprehend a great variety of particulars, for explaining and establishing the doctrines of the gospel, highly worthy of the attention of Christians in every age.

Among the Philippians, as among the Corinthians, the Judaizers supported their erroneous doctrines chiefly by magnifying their own character and authority as teachers, and by appealing to their circumcision, as a proof of their right descent from Abraham, and by calling themselves the circumcision, to intimate that they were the keepers of the former revelations, and the only objects of the divine favour. Moreover, they boasted of their knowledge of the ancient revelations, and of the care with which they observed the divine law. And, on all these accounts, they hoped the Philippians would pay more regard to their opinions in matters of religion, than to St. Paul's, whom they affected to despise, because he was born among the Gentiles; by which they said his descent from Abraham was at least rendered uncertain. Withal, supposing him to have been educated at Tarsus, theyaffirmed that his knowledge of the ancient revelations was superficial and erroneous: and that, having apostatized from the institutions of Moses, it was little wonder that he now represented these institutions as of no avail in the sight of God.

His confutation of the pretensions of these wicked men, and of the calumnies by which they endeavoured to lessen his authority, the Apostle introduced, with telling the Philippians, that to write the same things to them, concerning the false teachers and their pretensions, which he had written to other churches, and which he had ordered Epaphroditus to represent to them, was by no means troublesome to him, seeing it was safe for them, Philippians 3:1.—Wherefore as he had written to others, so he now wrote to them, to beware of the Judaizers, whom he called dogs, a name which the Jews, in contempt, gave to the Gentiles; and evil workmen, or labourers, on account of their corrupting the gospel. And because the unbelieving Jews boasted in the appellation of the circumcision, as importing that they alone, of all mankind, were acceptable to God, the Apostle desired the Philippians to beware of them, calling them the excision, to shew that they were soon to be destroyed. This severity in speaking against the unbelieving Jews and Judaizing teachers, the Apostle used, by the direction of the Spirit of God, to make the Philippians shun their company and conversation, and to put them on their guard not to allow them any footing in their church, Philippians 3:2.—Next, he assured the Philippians, that the disciples of Christ are the circumcision; they are persons acceptable to God, through the Blood of the Covenant,possessingtheinwardqualitiessignifiedbycircumcision,andworshipGod in spirit, and glory in their relation to Christ as his disciples, and not in their fleshly descent from Abraham, nor in any right pertaining to the flesh. At the same time, to shew the falsehood of the calumnies which these deceivers spread abroad concerning the Apostle's extraction, he told the Philippians, that if any particular teacher among them could have confidence of acceptance with God, on account of his descent and privileges as a Jew, he himself had more cause for such confidence than that teacher: by which they might know, that if he spake in a slighting manner of these things, it was not from envy, as being destitute of them, Philippians 3:4.—For he was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth: he was a branch from the stock of Israel: he belonged to the honourable tribe of Benjamin, which did not join in the defection under Jeroboam. Though born in Tarsus, he was a Hebrew, descended from Hebrew parents; and was educated a Pharisee, a sect which was acknowledged to have the most perfect knowledge of the law, Philippians 3:5.—These particulars the Apostle mentioned also in his Epistle to the Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 11:22.—And to make the Philippians still more sensible of his title, if any one could have it, to have confidence in the flesh, he told them, that, from his earlier years, he wasso exceedingly zealous of the law, and of the traditions of the fathers, that he persecuted the Christians as enemies to both. And, with respect to his own external obedience to the law, he assured them, that it was altogether blameless, Philippians 3:6.—Wherefore, whatever honour the false teachers could claim on account of their knowledge of the law, and of the care with which they obeyed its precepts, that honour was more justly due to him. Nevertheless, all these things, which, indeed, formerly he considered as the greatest advantages, he now looked on as things to be cast away, because they were of no use in the justification of sinners, Philippians 3:7.—Nay, he regarded all human attainments as things to be cast away, when set in competition with the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, his Lord; and had actually thrown them all away, that he might obtain justification through him, ver.8.—not by his own righteousness, which never could merit justification; but through the righteousness which is of God, by faith, Philippians 3:9.—which imparts to the soul an experimental knowledge of Christ, a resurrection to newness of life, and an ability to suffer with Christ for the truth, Philippians 3:10.—Which righteousness, holiness, and power, accompanied with persevering fidelity, will be rewarded with a glorious resurrection from the dead, Philippians 3:11.—which blessing of a resurrection from the dead the Apostle had not yet received; but which he represents himself as striving to secure. And, by comparing his exertions for that purpose with the exertions of those who contended in the games, he gives us a lively picture of the labour and difficulty of the Christian course, Philippians 3:12-14.—Then he exhorted the Philippians to follow his example, in striving to obtain justification and eternal life by faith, Philippians 3:15-17.—and pronouncedall who sought to be justified by the sacrifices and purifications of the law of Moses, enemies to the death of Christ, Philippians 3:18.—and assured them, that their end would be perdition; for their only view in teaching such a method of justification was to gratify their own lusts, Philippians 3:19.—Whereas the teachers of truth, and their disciples, had no temptation to pervert the gospel; because they lived in a pure and heavenly manner, and looked for the coming of Christ from heaven, Philippians 3:20.—to refashion their present body, (which was humbled, or made mortal by sin,) into the likeness of his own glorious body, at the resurrection, Philippians 3:21.

The Apostle's method of confuting the Judaizers in this Epistle, is worthy of notice. He does not, as in his Epistles to the Romans, to the Galatians, and to the Hebrews, bring arguments from the writings of Moses and the prophets; but, to the assertions of the Judaizers, he opposes his own affirmations, as an inspired apostle; expresses a just abhorrence of the teachers who corrupted the gospel; and vindicates his own character and qualifications as an apostle. This method hefollowed, because he knew it was sufficient for establishing the Philippians, who, from the beginning, knew him to be a true apostle of Christ, loved him as their spiritual father, and were sure he would not deceive them.—In those Epistles, in which he confuted the errors of the Judaizers, by arguments from the writings of Moses and the prophets, St. Paul made the churches to which they were sent, and all who should afterwards believe, sensible, not only that he was an apostle, but a learned Jewish doctor, who was well acquainted with the ancient scriptures, and who understood their true meaning.


Verse 1

Philippians 3:1. Finally,—Rejoice Some have apprehended here a contrast with ch. Philippians 2:25; Philippians 2:28 where the Apostle tells them he had sent Epaphroditus, that they might rejoice at his coming: as if he had said, "And now I add, that while you are rejoicing in him, I would have you rejoice in the Lord, discerning the interposition of Christ, in his being preserved and restored to you." In this connection, it might have made the conclusion of the second chapter: it however seems more naturally to introduce what follows, thus: "As for what remains, my brethren, let me exhort you, whatever may become of me, or of yourselves, so far as any worldly interest or prospect is concerned, that ye rejoice in the protection and care of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the promises and hopes given us by him. I have already insisted upon them with pleasure, (ch. Philippians 1:5-6; Philippians 1:10-11; Philippians 1:20, &c. ch. Philippians 2:5; Philippians 2:11.) and to write the same things to you, on such a topic, is not grievous to me, while it is both safe and necessary for you." Some think that the words, writing the same things, intimate that St. Paul had written a former Epistle to them, which is now lost; others suppose that they refer to what he had said to them formerly; and that he only gives some hints at these larger conversations in the following verses.


Verse 2

Philippians 3:2. Beware of dogs, This may very possibly be an allusion to Isaiah 56:10-12. Comp. Philippians 3:19. Titus 1:11-12. Romans 16:18. Galatians 6:12-13. The Jews used to call the Gentiles dogs, and perhaps St. Paul, directed by the Spirit of God, may use this language, when speaking of their proud bigots, by way of just retaliation. Comp. Revelation 22:15. We read of a custom at Rome, to chain their dogs at the doors of their houses, and to put an inscription over them; "Beware of this dog," to which some think these words refer: but it is more natural to interpret St. Paul's expression from the comparisons used in the Old Testament, rather than from any proverbial speeches among the heathens. Evil-workers does not so much mean those who lived wickedly, as those who worked fraudulently and deceitfully. By the concision is meant either the excision (see the introduction to the chapter), or "those who rend and divide the church;" see Romans 16:17-18. They gloried in being the περιτομην, the circumcision; which name and character St. Paul will not allow them; but claims it for Christians, in the next word, and calls them the κατατομην, or concision; expressing his contempt of their pretences, and censure of their practices. See 2 Corinthians 11:13.


Verse 3

Philippians 3:3. We are the circumcision, That is, "We have that which was signified by circumcision;" for that is not circumcision which is outward in the flesh, but circumcision is that of the heart; in the spirit, and not in the letter. Romans 2:28-29. See also Colossians 2:11. Instead of, we rejoice in Christ Jesus, the Greek should be rendered, we glory, or boast in Christ Jesus, whom St. Paul considered as the spirit of the law, in contradistinction to the letter of it. So shall the sum of what he says is this: "We are the true circumcision, who worship God in and by Jesus Christ, and have our whole dependance upon him; and to this it was the design of the law to lead men." See Galatians 3:24. Romans 10:4.


Verse 4

Philippians 3:4. If any other man thinketh, &c.— It can scarcely be supposed, that there were absolutely none who could pretend to the same grounds of confidence in the flesh, which St. Paul here mentions. His expression, therefore, is to be limited to such as he had in view. If there was but one person in Philippi, who was endeavouring to seduce them, no doubt he here speaks of him; but if there were more, he may be thought to aim at the principal man among them, for he seems here to speak only of a single person. His meaning therefore is, "If the person who attempts to draw you into Judaism, thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I am able to go beyond him in all his pretences." It is usual with the Apostle to speak in such a covert delicate way of this kind of men. See 1 Corinthians 3:10. 2 Corinthians 7:11; 2 Corinthians 11:4; 2 Corinthians 12:16-21.


Verse 5

Philippians 3:5. Circumcised the eighth day, Under circumcision when eight days old. Piscator and Homberg. It evidently appears, that the Jews did not only lay a great stress on the rite of circumcision, but on the time of performingit; that is, exactly on the eighth day. This consideration, and the particulars enumerated by St. Paul, must be understood as plain evidences, that the Apostle had more reason to trust in the flesh, than the person upon whom he reflects; and therefore it seems highly probable, that this person was only a proselyte, and not a Jew by birth. We may collect the same from the phrase, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; by which he seems to mean, that he was not a Hellenist Jew, as probably the person who endeavoured to seduce them was. Comp. Acts 6:1, where the Hellenists are contra-distinguished from the Hebrews. See also Romans 11:1. 2 Corinthians 11:22. Acts 23:6.


Verse 6

Philippians 3:6. Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; All that the Apostle can mean here is, that if a zeal for the law were, as the Jews thought it, a ground of confidence, he could lay claim to it with abundant propriety; since his zeal had been so great for it, as to lead him to persecute the Christians, because he thought they dishonoured it. The righteousness which is in the law, both here and in Philippians 3:9 refers to the conformity which he lived in to the ritual or ceremonial part of the Mosaic la


Verse 7

Philippians 3:7. Those I counted loss for Christ. That is, "I threw them away, as mariners do their goods, on which they before set a value, lest they should endanger their lives:" in which sensethe word ζημια is used, Acts 27:21. We may observe, that St. Paul in this and the following verses carries on an agreeable allegory; in which all the metaphors are taken from traders or merchants. The first metaphors that he uses are profit and loss. The next lies in the words cast away; and the last in the word arrive or attain.


Verse 8

Philippians 3:8. I count all things but loss I have thrown away all things:—"Have willingly parted with all my advantages and expectations from the law; that I might gain or secure Christ." It is not by any means improbable, that a sentence of excommunication might have been pronounced against St. Paul, or at least that his goods might have been confiscated; as we know other believing Hebrews, though probably no one of them so obnoxious to their brethren as himself, were actually treated. (See Hebrews 10:33-34.) And if this were the case, it gives great force to the words, For whom I have suffered, &c.


Verse 9

Philippians 3:9. And be found in him, "Though not only reputation and power, ease and plenty, but even life itself, should be sacrificed to this view, I am happy enough if I may but be found in him, vitally united to him by a true faith and love, and so taken into his favour and under his protection."


Verse 10

Philippians 3:10. And the power of his resurrection, The resurrection of Christ is one of the strongest confirmations of our holy religion; and therefore yields the greatest encouragement to the hopes and expectations of genuine Christians. Hence God is said to have begotten them again to a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 1 Peter 1:3. Some may perhaps imagine that St. Paul had not here a due regard to order in placing his words, because he speaks of Christ's resurrection first, and then of his sufferings; but his reason for this probably was, because a lively hope, effected by the consideration of Christ's resurrection, was absolutely necessary to make men willing to be conformed to him in his suffer


Verse 11

Philippians 3:11. If by any means I might attain, &c.— "That any way, as it shall please him, I may arrive safe at my desired haven, the resurrection of the just." Dr. Heylin renders it, In order to attain to the resurrection of the dead; that is, says he, the resurrection of the just; for the resurrection of sinners is the second death.


Verse 12

Philippians 3:12. Not as though I had already, &c.— "This I say not as if I had already attained to all that I wish to be, or were already perfected: for I am truly sensible how far I am from that consummate perfection of character, as well as of state, which the gospel teaches me to aspire after: but I pursue it, if by any means I may but reach that height of excellence for which also I am apprehended by Christ Jesus, whose condescending hand graciously laid hold on me in my mad career, inso extraordinary a manner as you have often heard, and has introduced me into that blessed race in which I am now engaged." The Apostle here begins a new allegory; nor is it unusual with the most correct writers to pass from one allegory to another: but our version confounds these two allegories by translating both the word καταντησω, Philippians 3:11 and the word ελαβον, in the present verse, by the same word attained: St. Paul here compares himself to a racer, and borrows many terms from the Olympic games, as in several other places of his Epistles. The words rendered apprehend and apprehended are used in the same agonistical sense, 1 Corinthians 9:24. His design is to shew, that he considered not himself as havingalready gained the victory, or obtained the prize which is the reward of it,—which the Jewish converts seem to have fancied of themselves; but that he was running and striving, and usingall proper methods to qualifyhimself throughDivine grace for it. Candidates in the Grecian games, especially when they first presented themselves, were often introduced by some person of established reputation, who at the same time that he spoke as honourably as might be of his friend, urged him to acquit himself with the utmost vigour and resolution;—and it is probable that the latter clause of this verse may allude to that circumstance. See the note on Philippians 3:15.


Verse 13-14

Philippians 3:13-14. Brethren, I count not myself, &c.— No, my brethren, I do not imagine that I am yet arrived at the goal; but this one thing I do: regardless of what is behind, and intent only to reach what is before, I press forward to the mark, for the prize to which God has called me from above by Christ Jesus. Heylin. Mr. Peirce thinks the most exact grammatical construction of the words is this, "I press after that one thing for which I have been apprehended by Jesus Christ, that I may apprehend or attain it; neglecting the things behind, and stretching forward to those before. After this one thing (I say) I press, according to the aim I have fixed to myself, that I may obtain the prize of the high calling," &c. But the construction may be clear enough, by supplying (as in our translation) the words I do, or I can say. The Apostle continues his allusion to the Olympic games, and especially the foot races, which made the most celebrated part of them; where the prize was placed in a very conspicuous situation, so that the competitors might be animated by having it still in their view. Some interpreters think that the Apostle compares our Lord in this verse to those who stood on an elevated place at the end of the course, calling the racers by their names, and encouraging them, by holding out the crown, to exert themselves with vigour. But it seems more consistent to interpret the high calling, as alluding to the proclamation by which men were called before the opening of the course to contend for such and such a prize; which answers to the general declaration of the heavenly prize made in the gospel.


Verse 15

Philippians 3:15. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, &c.— "Such is the situation of my own mind, and the ardour of desire with which I am pressing after farther attainments in the Divine life. Let as many of us therefore as are perfect in any degree, and initiated, if I may so express it, into the holy mysteries of our religion, into the deep things of God, who have known him that is from the beginning (1 John 2:13-14.), attend to this as our great business and aim; and if any of you are otherwise affected, if any be unhappily fallen into a remiss and indolent frame, God shall reveal even this unto you, if you sincerely and earnestly ask him. I hope that he will, andI pray that he may give you such views of the crown of glory, the prize of our high calling, as may animate your most vigorous pursuit of it." In Philippians 3:12 the Apostle speaks of himself as not already perfected; which is said in opposition to the Jews, and the converts from among them, who flattered themselves, that barely by being under the law they were made perfect. Hence he speaks in such a manner to the Galatians, ch. Philippians 3:3 when they were seduced by the Judaizers; Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? In which place by the flesh he particularly adverts to the ceremonial law. This notion of the Jews naturally led them into security, and such carelessness of life, as the Apostle judged to be most dangerous. In opposition to them he sets forth his own great solicitude and diligence in the use of all proper means, considering himself as not having yet obtained the prize. This clears the seeming inconsistency between the 12th and the present verse. The perfection spoken of in the 12th verse relates to the reward;—with respect to which our Saviour himself says, the third day I shall be perfected, Luke 13:32. And thus the spirits of just men are not made perfect till the other world, Hebrews 12:23.—We may justly observe, that when an expression of this kind is used to intimate that the greatest adepts in Christianity should be labouring after higher improvements, it must strongly imply the obligations on those in a lower class, to press forward. See Hebrews 5:13-14. 1 Corinthians 2:6.


Verse 17

Philippians 3:17. Be followers together of me, Here the reason very plainly appears, why he said so much of himself in the foregoing verses; and we may observe, that as he was apprehensive of the danger his Philippians were in from these Judaizers, he labours effectually to discredit them; and shews from the difference there was between his conversation and theirs, how much reason they had to follow and be directed by him rather than them. Comp. 1 Corinthians 4:16-17. However, to take off the seeming ostentation of his discourse, he joins others with himself, as examples to them.


Verse 18

Philippians 3:18. They are the enemies of the cross That is, "enemies to the doctrine of salvation by a dependance upon Christ crucified:" for while they directed men to seek salvation by observing the ceremonial law, they took them off from depending solely on Christ crucified, and so made the death of Christ insignificant and useless. See Galatians 2:21; Galatians 5:3-4. Some however rather understand this as referring to their immoral temper, afterwards described; the end and design of the cross being to attract our hearts from earth to heaven, they were enemies to it, as being unwilling to comply with that end and design. It is to be feared, that many converts from the Gentiles as well as from the Jews, answered this character; and if they did, it was entirely to the Apostle's purpose to reprove them.


Verse 19

Philippians 3:19. Whose end is destruction, See 2 Corinthians 11:15. It has been thought that the Apostle has an eye here to what he had observed of these men before, ch. Philippians 1:28 and so he may be understood as if he had said, "These men reckon upon your destruction, but they will certainly meet with their own." The next clause implies, that however they pretended to act for the service and honour of God, they were seeking solely their own profit, and prostituting all things for the promoting of a temporary interest. Thus they made a god of themselves, or of their own belly. See Romans 16:18. 1 Timothy 6:5. Titus 1:11. St. Paul's aim and behaviour were directly opposite; who did all things for the edification of the churches, without seeking his own temporal advantage, as he often declares in his epistles, and that with a tacit reflection upon these men for their behaviour. By shame and earthly things the Apostle refers to their glorying in the indulgence of those earthly and sensual passions and pursuits which are a shame to the rational mind.


Verse 20

Philippians 3:20. For our conversation is in heaven; They who have occasion to make use of this text, commonly attempt to mend our translation, asserting that the word πολιτευμα should not be rendered conversation, but citizenship. Thus Beza, the common French translation, and that printed at Mons, have rendered it. Diodati agrees with ours, but puts citizenship in the margin. The Vulgate, Syriac, Low Dutch, and Castalio render it as we do; and after all that the critics have said upon this matter, our own rendering seems preferable to the other. It must be confessed that the word, being derived from πολις, a city, is often used to signify such actions as relate to the administration and government of it; but nothing is more common, than for words in time to be used in a laxer and more general sense than their etymology will account for. This is clearly the case in the verb πολιτευεσθαι, which in like manner related at first to a civil administration, but was afterwards used to signify any manner of living and conversing: so it is used by St. Paul, ch. Philippians 1:27 and so Acts 23:1 and in this sense it is also applied by the classics. Now the rendering in our translation appears best for these reasons, 1. As it stands here in opposition to the foregoing character, and especially the last part of it,—who mind earthly things. It is most agreeable therefore to understand him to describe his own character, as one who minded heavenly things, or whose conversation was about them. 2. This is confirmed by the parallel place, Colossians 3:1-2. For our conversation is in heaven, will be the same as, we seek or mind the things above. 3. This suits best with his design, as he is recommending himself to them as an example of walking, or of conversation, Philippians 3:17. Be ye followers together of me, and mark, or observe with attention, those who walk so, as you have us for an example; and in this 20th verse he gives a reason why they should follow his example,—because it was through grace a very good one; for our conversation, that is our walking, is in heaven; and that this 20th verse is clearly connected with the 17th, appears by the conjunction γαρ, or for, at the beginning of it; the 18th and 19th verses being to be read in a parenthesis. 4. This conversation in heaven comprehends briefly all that he had said of himself, Philippians 3:10-14, and as in those verses he makes not the least allusion to a citizenship, but his whole discourse is concerning the manner of his life and conversation: it is but reasonable to understand him as speaking of that alone in this verse.


Verse 21

Philippians 3:21. Who shall change our vile body, &c.— Instead of our vile body, the Greek would be better translated our mean, humble, lowly body: το σωμα της ταπεινωσεως ημων : literally the body of our humiliation. Flesh and blood, in their present state, not being fit to inherit the kingdom of God, there is a necessity that the bodies of those who shall inherit it should undergo a great change: such a change will be made in the bodies of the dead saints at the resurrection, when they shall be raised incorruptible; but as to the saints who shall be alive at that time, since they undergo not such a change by the resurrection, there must be somewhat equivalent to it; that is, by the mighty power of our Saviour they shall undergo such a change, as shall in an instant qualify them to inherit the kingdom of God. See 1 Corinthians 15:50-54. The bodies of believers at present, and till that change shall be made, bear the image of the first Adam, and are in a low and mean condition; but they shall then bear the image of Christ, the last or second Adam, who is the Lord from heaven; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49. This is expressed here by our bodies being conformed to his glorious body. The reason of his speaking in this case of Christ's subduing all things to himself, is to be drawn from 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 according to which, death is to be considered as the last enemy to be conquered; and so when this is subdued, all is subdued, and Christ will bestow upon his saints a complete victory over it, freeing them for ever from being subject and liable to it. See the note on the first verse of the next chapter. Instead of working, some read energy.

Inferences.—Christians have need to be often warned of seducers! Faithful ministers should never be weary of cautioning them, or of putting them on the most diligent watch against those who carp and cavil against the purity of the gospel, and are themselves workers of iniquity, as well as enemies to holiness, at the same time that they are doctrinally as well as practically grievous enemies to the merit, virtue, and honour of a crucified Jesus. They trust in something of their own for justification before God, and yet are sensual and carnal, and even glory in their enormities, and so cut themselves off from all the blessings of the covenant of grace, and entail everlasting destruction upon themselves. But O how happy is it to be circumcised in heart, to be spiritual and evangelical worshippers of God, to rejoice and glory in the Lord Jesus Christ, and to place no confidence in external privileges and zeal for them, no, nor in our own moral or religious righteousness as the ground of acceptance. None of these are to be set in competition with Christ, as opposed to the saving knowledge of him, and being found in union with him. And yet how carefully should we guard against neglecting sanctification or holiness, which is as necessary to our enjoying God as justification! And how desirous ought we to be of having such a knowledge of Christ, as will be a means of deriving virtue from his death and resurrection, to make us conformable to him in both, by dying unto sin and living unto God! Though some believers are more advanced in light and experience than others, yet they all ought to be of the same mind with respect to these important points; and, as far as they have attained, should walk together in brotherly love, and according to the rule of God's word: and if there be any thing of less consequence, in which their sentiments differ, they should bear with one another, and leave it to God to convince those who are mistaken as to such things, after all proper methods have been unsuccessfully tried, in the spirit of meekness, to set them right. How ambitious should we be of carefully observing and copying after those, who, like the Apostle, set us the most laudable example; whose hearts, affections, and conversation are in heaven, where Jesus our Saviour lives in all his glory; and whence believers look, with longing desire and hope, for his return to take them up thither. And O what an amazingly happy change will he then make upon these frail, contemptible, and mortal bodies! He will then form them into the likeness of his own most glorious body, by an act of Divine Omnipotence which surmounts all difficulties, and by which he himself is, and will prove to be able to vanquish death and all his enemies, and the enemies of all his faithful saints!

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Into almost every church had the Judaizing teachers crept, and caused much trouble to the great Apostle. The Philippians had been attacked by them, and needed a caution against their seductions.

1. He exhorts them to rejoice in the Lord. Finally, my brethren, after what I have said for your comfort, rejoice in the Lord as your Redeemer and Saviour, who has already so richly blessed you, and is willing to bestow upon you all the inestimable privileges of his gospel.

2. He warns them against the false teachers. To write the same things to you, which I have often spoken, and Epaphroditus has now in charge to deliver, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe to be reminded of your danger, and kept on your guard. Beware of dogs, those cringing zealots, who fawn to ingratiate themselves with you, but design to introduce divisions among you, to bite and devour you—greedy, impudent, and worthless. Beware of evil workers, whose practices declare the badness of their principles. Beware, again I say, of the concision, no name being contemptible enough for them, who, urging this abolished rite, would rend the peace of the church, would introduce confusion, and cut off the Gentiles from the privileges of the gospel.

3. He describes true Christianity. For we are the circumcision, really in covenant with God, and entitled by faith in Christ to all the spiritual blessings and privileges; which worship God in the spirit; not with the outward pomp of ceremonial rites, but with the heart, according to the gospel institutions; and rejoice or glory in Christ Jesus, as our only hope towards God, placing our whole dependance upon him, and happy in the great atonement which he has made for us; and have no confidence in the flesh, expect not acceptance with God, on account of any privileges of descent from Abraham. Note; (1.) All true Christians live in the constant worship of God, private and public; and that not formally, but in spirit and in truth. (2.) We must despair of ourselves, and renounce all dependance upon our own doings and duties, before we can exercise faith in Jesus, and know the joys of his salvation.

2nd, None had more outward privileges than St. Paul; but none more heartily renounced them, and fled to a better hope. His own example he proposes therefore for their imitation.

1. If any man might have confidence in outward privileges, he had as many, or more, than any of the Judaizing teachers; a native Israelite; a descendant from Benjamin, the son of the beloved Rachel, the tribe that clave to the house of David and the temple, when the rest revolted; on father and mother's side a Hebrew of pure extraction; circumcised according to the law; brought up after the strictest sect a Pharisee, in the observance both of the rites of the law, and the traditions of the elders; a zealot for Judaism, even so far as to be a bitter persecutor of Christianity; and in his outward conduct and conversation blameless and unexceptionable.

2. All this he renounced for Christ. But what things I then thought were gain to me, and raised me in excellence above other men; those I counted loss for Christ, renouncing them utterly, assured if I trusted upon them for acceptance, I must be undone, and therefore resting on Christ, on his infinite merit alone. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss. I remain in the same sentiments, disclaiming all dependance upon my present as well as past doings and duties; for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; nothing else is to be compared with this: since I have known him as my Saviour, I want nothing more, except more of his Divine nature; for whom I have suffered the lost of all things which this world holds dear; and do count them but dung, contemptible offals, fit to be cast only on a dunghill; that I may win Christ, and become partaker of the great salvation which he has purchased for his faithful saints; and be found in him, as my city of refuge, my divine substitute and surety, my availing plea at the bar of God; not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, conscious how little it would bear the scrutiny; but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith;—faith, which enables us to cast ourselves without reserve on the atonement and infinite merit of Christ, as the sole ground of our acceptance with God—faith, which draws down righteousness out of the fulness of Christ, yea grace for grace. Note; Whatever we depend upon for justification, except Christ alone, will assuredly prove to be our eternal loss.

3. The Apostle desired to know Christ, not only as the only ground of, and his only plea for, acceptance with God, but as the Author of all spiritual life and eternal blessedness—That I may know him and experience the power of his resurrection, as the glorious Head of vital influence to all his faithful people; and the fellowship of his sufferings, daily experiencing the crucifixion of the old man, and willingly taking up my cross, however painful; being made conformable unto his death; dying unto sin, as Christ died for it; or ready to lay down my life for the gospel, whenever I may be called thereto: if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead; raised to immortal life and glory in body as well as soul, and reaching the happy port of eternal rest, whither I steer my course. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect, or perfected, as I desire it to be; but I follow after, eager to be at the goal, If that I may apprehend that, for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus; holding fast by that blessed Jesus, who first laid hold on me in my way to Damascus, and trusting on his power and grace to bring me to the eternal life which he has promised to bestow on all his faithful saints. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended, or to be arrived at that grand summit of perfection; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, resting in no present attainments, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, after higher measures of grace, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus; with heaven in my eye, I vigorously pursue my course, bending forwards eagerly as I run, and stretching out my arms to seize the crown of righteousness, which Jesus bestows, and is to be won only through the grace and strength which he supplies. Note; (1.) To know the power of Christ's resurrection, is to experience his quickening efficacy upon our souls, and to be raised from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, as his dead body was raised from the grave to the life of glory. (2.) They who think they have grace enough, evidently shew that they have none at all. (3.) Christ must apprehend us first before we can apprehend him; but he is willing to do this for every truly penitent soul. (4.) Heaven is the prize in view; happy the soul which reaches that goal.

3rdly, The Apostle exhorts them to be united in love, and to be like-minded with him. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, as enjoy perfect love, (see 1 John 4:17-18.)—are so far advanced in the Christian state, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, and differ from me in sentiment, God shall reveal even this unto you, who earnestly seek to know the truth, and clear up to your satisfaction, whatever may be yet dark or doubtful. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule of God's word; let us mind the same thing, wherein we have all agreed. Note; lesser differences of opinion should make no disunion of heart; we must wait together on God, that he may instruct us in all his holy will.

4thly, With warnings and exhortations he closes this chapter.

1. He warns them against the false teachers, whose character he describes. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, concerned deeply for them, and jealous for you, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ, both in their principles and their practice; their lives being as contrary to the spirit of purity, as their dependence on circumcision and Mosaic rites is derogatory to the grace of the gospel; unwilling to profess, or suffer for, a crucified Jesus: whose end is destruction, their errors and immoralities bringing upon them eternal ruin: whose god is their belly; serving and indulging their sensual appetites, as their chief happiness: and whose glory is in their shame; boasting themselves in their evil ways, and proud of their privileges, which only serve to cover them with confusion, while they behave so unsuitably thereunto; who mind earthly things, have their groveling minds ever fixed on the interests, pleasures, and honours of this miserable world. Note; (1.) They who make their belly their god, glory in their sins, and live after the fashion of the world, will infallibly find the end of their ways to be the destruction of both body and soul. (2.) It is a bitter grief to the faithful, when they behold any that bear the Christian name a dishonour to their holy profession.

2. He exhorts them to copy the good examples which he and others shewed them. Brethren, be followers together of me, as I am of Christ; and mark them which walk so, as ye have us for an ensample, and adorn the gospel that they profess. For our conversation is in heaven; our commerce and concerns all lie there; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, to come at the last day, and bring us home to his blessed Self; who shall change our vile body, that now bears the most humbling marks of weakness and infirmity, and will shortly be loathsome in the dust; 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; when death, the last of his enemies, shall be swallowed up in victory; and all his faithful saints shall rise and shine, and reign with their exalted Head in glory everlasting.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Philippians 3:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/philippians-3.html. 1801-1803.

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