We have two cats, but my favorite of all time is the one I call “Sweets.” Sweet Pea (as one of our family named “her”—we were mistaken about his gender at the time of his naming) was found outside a dumpster, left to be found or to die in the heat of the summer. Sweets is the most affectionate and loveable cat we have ever had (and we’ve had many cats in our marriage, not to mention dogs). At night, Sweets jumps up on the bed and then curls up around my left arm. During our home Bible study, Sweets saunters into the room, and then lays on his back, with his feet in the air, looking about for any one who might rub his tummy.
As I said, Sweets is the most gentle and affectionate cat I’ve ever seen…except for one time each year. Every year we take our cats to the veterinarian for their shots. Sweets is always placed in a little portable cage and transported to the vet’s for this event. Sweets’ personality instantly changes the moment we walk in the door of the veterinary clinic. He becomes the most hostile and ferocious-looking cat I’ve ever seen. And almost without exception, the vet will see him in that state and say, “I think that perhaps you should take him from the cage and hold him down.” I don’t blame him. Sweets is, for that brief moment, an entirely different cat.
When we come to our text in Philippians 3, we see a similar change in the Apostle Paul’s disposition. In the opening verses of chapter one, we find a warm and affectionate, fatherly Paul, who greatly loves and is deeply attached to the saints at Philippi:
7 For it is right for me to think this about all of you, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel all of you became partners together with me in the grace of God. 8 For God is my witness that I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:7-8).
Philippians 3:1 is likewise warm and affectionate, but this mood suddenly changes in verse 2. Three times in verse 2 Paul warns, “Beware!” The tone with which he speaks of those who would lead the Philippians astray is militant and clearly hostile, akin to the mood of Paul as he writes to the Galatians. As our text develops, we will see why Paul feels so strongly about the subject he has raised.
The issues Paul is dealing with in our text were those that confronted the apostles in the Book of Acts. In one form or another, these same issues have reappeared throughout the history of the church. They also confront the contemporary church today. Let us listen very carefully to learn how Paul handles these matters, so that we might follow his instructions and his example.
Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! To write this again is not a bother for me, and it is a safeguard for you.
The word “finally” has caused some to roll their eyes and say, “Paul is just like preachers today; he tells us he is just about finished when he has a whole lot left to say.” While “finally” does often introduce the final words of an author, there are other times in the Bible when it simply means something like “furthermore,” or “from here on.”61 The term here in our text does indicate a change in subject, a very crucial one.
Some have also questioned Philippians 3:1 because they feel it is somehow out of place. I assure you that it is those who make such challenges who have forgotten their place. In the verses preceding Philippians 3:1, Paul has just been speaking about Christian unity and the necessity of humility. Christ is the ultimate manifestation of humility, as we have seen in 2:5-11. Timothy, Epaphroditus, and Paul are men who exemplify humility (2:19-30). Humility gives preference to the needs of others and manifests itself in servanthood. Humility also enables Christians to rejoice in their circumstances. I was reminded of these Proverbs:
11 The wealth of a rich person is his strong city; and it is like a high wall in his imagination.… 23 A poor person makes supplications, but a rich man answers harshly (Proverbs 18:11, 23).
It is tempting for the rich to think that their wealth is God’s reward for their labors and their piety, and that the poor are poor because they deserve it. The temptation for the rich is to demand service rather than to ask for it. A person with great means may have become accustomed to being given preference—to the point that it is expected of others. In short, those who are rich are more likely to be arrogant. When you stop to think about it, this is precisely the opposite mindset of humility. Instead of expecting to be given preference, we are to give preference to others. Instead of being arrogant, we are to be humble. Instead of expecting others to serve us, we are to serve others.
In Psalm 73, Asaph is angry with God because the wicked seem to be prospering, while the righteous (including Asaph, of course) seem to be suffering. Asaph believes that he deserves God’s blessings and that the wicked deserve to suffer. (By the way, something similar can be found in the Book of Job. Job, so to speak, stands before God with his hands on his hips, demanding that God explain his suffering, righteous as he is.) Both Asaph and Job needed to be reminded that suffering may be a gracious gift from God, teaching them things they would not otherwise learn (compare Philippians 1:29). Both needed to recall that this life is short, and that the full enjoyment of God’s blessings will come in eternity (thus, “to die is gain,” Philippians 1:21). Furthermore, both men needed to be humbled and to be reminded that they were not in any position to question God’s dealings with them. All of this is to say that the attitude, “I deserve better than this,” is inappropriate for the Christian and inconsistent with humility.
Philippians 3:1 is a transition verse, moving us from Paul’s appeal for humility to his admonition regarding arrogance and pride (3:2ff.). He moves from an exhortation to conduct ourselves in a manner that is consistent with the gospel (2:12-18) to a warning about a very dangerous heresy, which denies the gospel (3:2ff.). Verse 1 is not misplaced at all; it is a transition verse, setting the stage for what Paul has to say in 3:2ff.
The main thrust of verse 1 is Paul’s instruction to rejoice. Let me make several observations from this verse. First, notice with me that Paul is commanding us to rejoice. The form of this verb is imperative. We are not given an option as to whether or not we should rejoice; our only option is whether or not we will obey this command to rejoice. Dr. A. T. Robertson renders it, “go on rejoicing.” We are to establish a pattern, a lifestyle, of rejoicing.
I want to illustrate this from my experience in our church. We have a lovely woman in our church who recently lost her sight in one eye. She could have used this as her excuse to murmur and complain and to gain a great deal of sympathy because of her loss. But she did not. She chose to rejoice, and I’ll give you an example of what I mean. A week or so ago, I saw her in the church as she was walking for exercise. She stopped, and we chatted for a moment. When the matter of her lost eyesight came up, Betty Bob said something like this: “Well, this eye business has been a real blessing. When it comes time to clean my glasses, I now have only half as much work. (No sense cleaning the dirty one!) And when it comes time for me to buy new glasses, I only buy one lens. It’s like getting my glasses half-price!” Now that, my friend, is rejoicing.
Second, the command to go on rejoicing is given to Christians—and can only be accomplished by Christians. Paul instructs us to “rejoice in the Lord.” There is a great deal of talk these days about PMA (positive mental attitude) and positive thinking. The optimism of an unbeliever is ill-founded. Only the Christian can truly rejoice in the Lord. Paul can rejoice in his circumstances because he is rejoicing in the Lord. He rejoices on account of the salvation and growth of the Philippian saints. Even though he is in prison and some believers are seeking to cause him pain, Paul can rejoice because the gospel is being proclaimed, lost souls are being saved, saints are being encouraged, and the worst thing that could happen to Paul (his death) is really the best thing that could happen (he would be with the Lord). It is our union with Christ that enables us to rejoice in the Lord.
Third, Paul is repeating himself when he commands Christians to keep on rejoicing. This is not the first time Paul has given this command to rejoice to the Philippian saints. Paul admits that he is repeating himself, and he makes no apologies for doing so. The reason repetition is justified is that rejoicing is fundamental to the believer’s Christian life. Paul says that repeating himself in giving this command again is not a burden to him, and it is meant to be a blessing to the Philippians.
Fourth, rejoicing is a safeguard for those who practice it. I am convinced that the Bible teaches us a very important principle: the path of disobedience begins with discontent. I think we see this truth dramatically illustrated in the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. Think about the “mission impossible” task that Satan had here. How could he possibly succeed in bringing about the disobedience of Adam and Eve? The Garden of Eden was perfect. Why would anyone who lived in a perfect world choose to disobey God, especially when He had warned that the penalty for disobedience was death? In my opinion, the key to the fall is discontent. Satan very skillfully deceived Eve62 so that she became discontent: The Garden was not perfect because there was a forbidden fruit in the midst of it. She and her husband were not perfect because they were not equal with God. God was not perfect because He withheld something from them, which they perceived to be good (Gen. 3:6). It appeared to them that the only way to enjoy perfection was to disobey God and to partake of the forbidden fruit. Satan managed to convince Eve that things were not as good as they could be, not as good as she deserved them to be. Once she became discontent, she and Adam (who was with her—3:6) were already on the path of disobedience.
Contentment is crucial to perseverance. This is why Proverbs 5 instructs husbands to be content in their marriage. Marriage is not merely to be endured with a teeth-gritting determination, but enjoyed as a privilege and a delight. In their physical relationship, the husband is to find his full satisfaction in his wife’s body; the result is that he should seek satisfaction nowhere else. He is to be exhilarated by her love (5:19); he is to “rejoice in the wife of his youth” (5:18).
When we think through the Old Testament, we see discontent at the center of Israel’s disobedience to the God who created them as a people. In spite of all of God’s marvelous provisions for His people, they murmured and complained. He gave them manna, and they wanted meat (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-13). The problem was that Israel became arrogant and selfish. They thought little of serving God, but much about God serving them. For a free meal, they would participate in a pagan worship ceremony, just so that they could eat meat offered to an idol (see 1 Corinthians 8; 10:14-22). They were more interested in themselves than their neighbors, or even God (1 Corinthians 10:31-33). There is no humility or servanthood here but rather arrogance and self-indulgence.
It all started with Satan himself. From what we read in Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:12-15, we can piece together the sequence of events which led to Satan’s downfall. Satan was a created being who had “the seal of perfection” (Ezekiel 28:12). He was given great power and authority, but he was not equal with God. Satan was not content with all that God had given him, and so he rebelled in an attempt to attain equality with God (Isaiah 14:13-14). His discontent led to disobedience, and that disobedience will bring about his destruction.
When I read Asaph’s complaints in the early verses of Psalm 73, I see a man who is very discontented. He is complaining to God that the wicked are prospering, while the righteous (one of whom is surely Asaph) are suffering. Asaph feels entitled to God’s earthly blessings, and he is angry because he is not getting them. It is not until Asaph goes into the sanctuary of God to worship that his crooked thinking is straightened out (Psalm 73:17). There he sees the latter end of the wicked, and he is reminded of the brevity of this life and of the pleasures of the wicked. He realizes how quickly their eternal punishment comes upon them. His spiritual eyes are opened to see that his suffering is not nearly as bad as he first assumed. God did not abandon him in his time of suffering. Indeed, by means of his suffering the psalmist had come to experience a deeper level of spiritual intimacy with God. Asaph now is assured that God is with him in his trials, just as he will be with God forever when this life ends. The psalmist who began his psalm with a protest ends it in praise. Now Asaph can keep on rejoicing in his God.
Psalm 95, which we have discussed previously, takes up the same theme, only in a different way. That psalm begins with a call to worship and praise (95:1-7b). Then, at the end of verse 7 the psalm suddenly changes its focus to a strong word of warning:
Today, if only you would obey him! 8 He says, “Do not be stubborn like they were at Meribah, like they were that day at Massah in the wilderness, 9 where your ancestors challenged my authority, and tried my patience, even though they had seen my work. 10 For forty years I was continually disgusted with that generation, and I said, ‘These people desire to go astray, they do not obey my commands.’ 11 So I made a vow in my anger, ‘They will never enter into the resting place I had set aside for them’” (Psalm 95:7c-11).
The inference seems clear that when one ceases to worship God, he has already begun to harden his heart and to walk the dangerous path of disobedience. Rejoicing in the Lord is, among other things, a very good preventative measure. Or, in the words of Paul in our text in Philippians 3:1, rejoicing in the Lord is a safeguard. No wonder Paul does not find it burdensome to repeat his instruction to keep on rejoicing.
Two more comments on this matter of discontent seem worth mentioning here. The first is that when someone is discontent, they are ultimately discontent with God, because He is sovereign, and our circumstances come from His hand. No wonder we read these words in the Book of Exodus:
1 When they journeyed from Elim, the entire company of Israelites came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their exodus from the land of Egypt. 2 And the entire company of Israelites murmured against Moses and Aaron in the desert. 3 And the Israelites said to them, “O that we had died by the hand of Yahweh in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, and when we ate bread to the full; but you have brought us out into this desert to kill this whole assembly with hunger. 4 Then Yahweh said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people will go out and gather a certain amount day by day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law or not. 5 And on the sixth day they will prepare that which they bring in, and it will be twice as much as they gather day by day.” 6 And Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that Yahweh has brought you out of the land of Egypt. 7 And in the morning you will see the glory of Yahweh, because he heard your murmurings against Yahweh. And what are we, that you should murmur against us?” 8 And Moses said, “You will know this when Yahweh gives you in the evening meat to eat, and bread in the morning to satisfy you, because Yahweh heard your murmurings which you are murmuring against him. And what are we? Your murmurings are not against us, but against Yahweh” (Exodus 16:1-8, emphasis mine).
The murmurings that the Israelites directed against Moses and Aaron, their leaders, are exposed as murmurings against God. If we are not rejoicing in the Lord, then we are grumbling against the Lord.
The second comment I would make is that our murmurings are contagious. When we grumble, we tempt others to join with us. When we gather together each Sunday to worship God, we may be guilty of spreading discontent among the brethren, and this I believe is a most serious offense. Is this related to the “root of bitterness” about which the writer to the Hebrews warns his readers?
14 Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness, for without it no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God, that no one be like a bitter root springing up and causing trouble, and through him many become defiled (Hebrews 12:14-15).
Grumbling is a dangerous evil that is forbidden (Philippians 2:14-15), while rejoicing is a healthy and beneficial practice, and one that is commanded.
2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! 3 For we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, exult in Christ Jesus, and do not rely on human credentials.63
The once gentle, fatherly Paul now displays a fierce side, one that is well deserved. Paul is warning the Philippian saints concerning the Judaisers. They have persistently opposed him, dogging his steps from city to city. They have incited riots to disrupt his ministry, and they are the real reason he is sitting in his prison cell as he writes. It is my opinion that Paul’s words are a warning, and that the Judaisers have not yet converged upon Philippi. You will recall that in those Gentile cities where there was a sizeable Jewish community the Judaisers were quick to oppose Paul (see Acts 17:4-13). Philippi seems to have had only a few Jews when Paul arrived there, so that no synagogue is mentioned, and Paul can only find a few Jewish women gathered by the river (Acts 16:13). Paul seems to know that sooner or later the teaching of the Judaisers will find its way to Philippi, and so he sounds this early word of warning so that the church will know to beware.
Paul’s description of the Judaisers is deliberately caustic. Paul’s words must have caused the Judaisers to cringe, as if the apostle had been scraping his fingernails across the blackboard of the Judaisers. Paul gives a three-fold description of the Judaisers that would infuriate them. First, Paul refers to the Judaisers as “dogs.” This was a very derogatory term,64 routinely used by the Jews in referring to the Gentiles.65 Paul turns the tables on the Jewish Judaisers by calling them “dogs.” The Judaisers are next called “evil workers.” Can you imagine what it would feel like to be called an “evil worker” when you prided yourself for doing “good works”? It would be something like calling a surgeon a butcher, or an opera singer a hog caller.
The third label which Paul gives the Judaisers is “those who mutilate the flesh.” This is a most fascinating play on words in the original text. The word translated “circumcision” in verse 3 contains the Greek root meaning “to cut.” The term rendered “mutilate” contains the same root. The difference between “to circumcise” and “to mutilate” is to be found in the prefix, attached to the root word, “to cut.” The term circumcision contains the root word, preceded by a prefix that means “around.” Thus, circumcision is to “cut around.” The word “mutilate” has the root word “to cut” with a prefix that means, in effect, “to hack into all kinds of pieces.”
The best way I can think of to illustrate the contrast between the terms “circumcise” and “mutilate” is to describe the way one can buy chicken here in the United States and how one would buy a chicken in India. If I were to go to the grocery store nearby, I could purchase boneless chicken breasts. The meat cutter would skillfully use a very sharp knife and almost surgically remove the bones from the meat of a chicken breast. If I went to a market in India to buy chicken, I would come away with a mutilated chicken. They don’t cut a chicken into recognizable pieces—breast, thigh, neck, drumsticks, and wings. They take a meat cleaver and hack away at the whole chicken until it is reduced to small pieces of meat, with all kinds of bone pieces remaining. And so when you eat chicken in India, you are constantly spitting out little bone fragments. The boneless chicken breasts would represent circumcision. The mangled chicken with all the bones remaining would approximate mutilation. Thus, when the Judaisers would read Paul’s description of them as “mutilators,” the mere thought would horrify them.
Paul is not finished with the Judaisers yet. In verse 2, Paul described the unbelieving Jews in Gentile-like terms. Now, in verse 3, Paul describes true believers in Jewish terms. He boldly claims, “we are the circumcision.” In other words, those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Messiah, who have trusted in His death, burial, and resurrection for the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of eternal life, are the true circumcision, the true Jews. This theme is quite common with Paul (see Romans 4:10-12; Galatians 3:27-29; 6:15-16).
All Christians, Jew or Gentile, are not only the “true Israel of God,” according to Paul, they are also “those who worship by the Spirit of God.” The Judaisers thought that they had a corner on the market when it came to worship. They scoffed at any worship other than their own. What makes Christians true worshippers is that the Holy Spirit of God indwells them (see verse 3). Our Lord’s words to the woman at the well in John 4 come to mind here:
19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But a time is coming—and now is here—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (the one called Christ). Whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he” (John 4:19-26).
Next, Paul speaks of Christians as those who do not place their confidence in the flesh. I take this to mean that Christians do not rely on their ancestry (as the Jews tended to do; see Matthew 3:9), or upon their good works, such as law-keeping. They understand that they are saved by the grace of God, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, received by faith. Virtually everything in which the Judaisers found confidence was fleshly, and not spiritual. Thus, it is not outward, physical, circumcision that saves, but inward, spiritual, circumcision:
In Him you also were circumcised—not, however, with a circumcision performed by human hands, but by the removal of the fleshy body, that is, through the circumcision done by Christ (Colossians 2:11).
3 For we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, exult in Christ Jesus, and do not rely on human credentials66 4 —though mine too are significant. If someone thinks he has good reasons to put confidence in human credentials, I have more: 5 I was circumcised on the eighth day, from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. I lived according to the law as a Pharisee. 6 In my zeal for God I persecuted the church. According to the righteousness stipulated in the law I was blameless. 7 But these assets I have come to regard as liabilities because of Christ. 8 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I might gain Christ, 9 and be found in him, not because of having my own righteousness derived from the law, but because of having the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is based on Christ’s faithfulness.67 10 My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Paul’s words in verses 2-4 convey a lesson that he himself learned in a most dramatic and emphatic way. We see his testimony of his conversion experience repeated three times in the Book of Acts (see chapters 9, 22, 26). We also read of the strong reaction of the unbelieving Jews to Paul’s conversion and his subsequent preaching of the gospel. They continually opposed him and even sought to kill him (Acts 23:12ff.). Paul speaks passionately because he now knows how worthless “the flesh” is when it comes to salvation. Here, Paul does not share his testimony with us once again, but rather he summarizes what his conversion experience taught him.
Do the Judaisers think they have grounds for boasting? When measured by the standards the Judaisers themselves had adopted, Paul comes out ahead of them (verse 4). He was “circumcised on the eighth day” (verse 5). His was not proselyte circumcision; he was circumcised at the first possible opportunity. In Texas, there is a bumper sticker that reads “Native Texan.” I have seen another bumper sticker which reads, “I got here [to Texas] as quick as I could.” It is one thing to be a “Texan;” the best thing is to be a “native Texan.” Paul’s words tell us that he was no mere Hebrew; he was a “native Hebrew”—he was born that way, and then circumcised soon after his birth, just as the law prescribed. He was a descendant of the tribe of Benjamin, from whom King Saul had descended. Today we say, “He’s a man’s man.” Paul claims, “I was a Jew’s Jew”—a Hebrew of the Hebrews. Trusting in the flesh, the Judaisers took pride in their efforts at law-keeping. Paul insists that he was a member of the strictest sect of the Jews when it came to law-keeping; he was a Pharisee. Would the Judaisers take pride in their religious zeal? Did they seek to persecute Christians? “Been there, done that,” Paul claims, “and better than you.” So far as striving in the strength of the flesh was measured and esteemed by Judaism, Paul was “at the top of his class.” Paul was “blameless” in his observance of the law, as Judaism judged it.
It is very important to note the fact that the things Paul formerly considered “assets” he now regards as “liabilities” because of Christ (verse 7). Paul was converted when he ceased to trust in his Jewishness and came to trust in Jesus alone as the Christ, the promised Savior. Paul’s conversion convinced him that every “fleshly” thing in which he had put his confidence for salvation was worthless. His conversion literally turned his values upside-down. This he explains in verses 7 and 8. All of the fleshly things in which he formerly placed his confidence he had looked upon as his “assets.” He now sees that they were really liabilities,68 so far as salvation is concerned. The things Paul now calls liabilities are not liabilities in and of themselves. In Romans 9:4-5, Paul speaks of the privileges of the Jews. These Jewish privileges are an asset, as long as they are not viewed as an “inside track” to salvation. Being Jewish does not save anyone. If one is trusting in his Jewishness for salvation instead of Jesus, then this “asset” of being Jewish has become a “liability” so far as salvation is concerned.
The same principle applies outside of Judaism. Being wealthy is a privilege, an asset. I don’t know of many who would prefer poverty to wealth. But if I trust in “the uncertainty of riches” (1 Timothy 6:17) or if my riches are more important to me than God (as with the rich young ruler—see Luke 19:18-30), then my wealth has become a liability, so far as salvation is concerned. The same thing can be said of position and power, or intelligence, or education. Whatever we trust in other than Christ, whatever becomes a substitute for faith in Christ, is a liability.
This inversion of values goes beyond one’s entrance to salvation through faith in Christ. Paul applies the inversion of “assets” and “liabilities” to the whole of life. Now that Paul has come to faith in Christ, he sees that coming to know Christ intimately and having fellowship with Him day by day is more precious to him than anything else. Knowing Christ is the ultimate good, the ultimate “asset.” Compared to knowing Him, everything else is a “liability.” In Christ, Paul has found “the pearl of great price”:
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, hidden in a field, that a person found and hid. Then because of joy he went and sold all that he had and bought that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. 46 When he found a pearl of great value, he went out and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46).
Paul is not yet satisfied with his description of how precious knowing Christ is to him. He goes on to say that he has come to the point where he is willing to joyfully suffer the loss of all things for Christ. For the Jew, suffering was the worst possible fate, and the consequence for sin on the part of someone (see John 9:1-2). He who once zealously inflicted suffering on those who knew Christ now joyfully accepts the same suffering. He does not begrudgingly give up “all things;” he joyfully casts these things aside, seeing them as “dung”69 or “garbage.” I don’t weep when the trash men pick up my bags of garbage; I rejoice because these are things that I did not want. That is the way Paul views anything that competes with the ultimate pleasure of knowing Christ.
Paul has spoken about those things that he once looked upon as assets but has now come to look upon as liabilities compared with Christ. What is it, then, that Paul now considers his “assets”? At the end of verse 8 through verse 11, Paul begins to look ahead to his ultimate goal, which he describes as “gaining Christ.” How does Paul “gain Christ”? He does so experientially, day by day. He experiences the resurrection power of Christ in his daily walk (verse 10). This is explained more fully in the Book of Romans. Paul knew full well that his salvation called for a new lifestyle. In Christ, he had died to sin and had been raised to newness of life through the resurrection of Christ (Romans 6). While he was obligated to give up his old way of life and live for Christ, he was not able to do so in the power of the flesh70 (Romans 7). The works of the flesh that could not save him cannot sanctify him either. His problem was that his body was incapable of resisting sin and of accomplishing righteousness acceptable to God (Romans 7:24). The good news of Romans 8 is that, in Christ, Christians are no longer under condemnation for their sin, and that God’s Spirit now indwells them. The same Spirit that raised the dead body of our Lord to life is the Spirit who indwells us, giving our dead bodies resurrection life (Romans 8:1-11). Our “body of death,” which was incapable of resisting sin or performing righteousness is now indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit raises our dead bodies to newness of life, just as He raised the body of our Lord to life. As Paul lived his life in reliance on Christ, and the power of His Spirit, he experienced “the power of His resurrection.”
Paul experienced Christ in yet another way. He experienced Christ through sharing in His sufferings (Philippians 3:10). What an amazing truth this is. The Jew tended to assume that suffering was the result of sin and was divine punishment (John 9:1-2). This is precisely what Job’s friends persisted in telling him as they sought an explanation for his suffering. But Paul now sees suffering in a very different way. Our Lord voluntarily suffered in obedience to the Father, for the salvation of the saints (Philippians 2:5-11). As Paul suffers for Christ, he in some way also suffers with Christ. There is a kind of sharing or bonding in this, so that Paul comes to know Christ more intimately. Thus, Paul purposes to know Christ more intimately through suffering for Christ.
Our Lord not only suffered, He died, in obedience to the Father. This is the end to which His suffering led. Paul purposes not only to be like Christ in His suffering, but also in his dying. If death is to be the price that he must pay for following Christ, so be it. We know that to die is to gain (1:21), so death holds no fear for Paul. Here is his final and ultimate opportunity to identify with his Savior.
Some may be troubled by the language of verse 11: “And so somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” This sounds a bit too “iffy” doesn’t it? Is Paul uncertain of his eternal future? He surely did not sound uncertain when talking about the possibility of his death in chapter 1. As I looked up the use of this expression (“and so somehow”), I found that the “iffiness” of the expression is not so much related to the end or the outcome as it is to the means. Paul does not doubt that he will be raised from the dead; he is simply not certain as to the actual mechanics of this event. After all, while we who are Christians are certain that we will spend eternity with Him, we are not clear on every detail concerning how we get to this point. It has been suggested that Paul’s “iffiness” may also be related to the timing and means of his death. In chapter 1, Paul dealt with the possibility of execution at the hand of Caesar and indicated that he felt reasonably sure that God would have him live on, to continue serving the saints. But he was not positive about this. Thus, we would expect Paul to be less than dogmatic about the timing of his death, which would be followed by his resurrection. However and whenever, his death might come, and by whatever process his body would be raised and transformed, Paul looked forward to the day of our Lord, when he would dwell in His presence forever.
What a marvelous text this is. It reminds us of the revolutionary change salvation brings about in our life. It takes us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light; it transforms us from being dead in our transgressions and sins to being alive in Christ. And, in our text, it absolutely revolutionizes our value system. In fact, salvation reverses our values. The danger is that over time, the world seeks to “squeeze us into its own mold” (Romans 12:2).71 Paul’s words should cause us to reflect on our own values, to see whether our’s match his. If not, our values are wrong and inconsistent with the gospel. Our values significantly shape our sense of joy. I have to tell you that I rejoice much more when I find a $100 bill than when I find a penny.
As strongly as Paul instructs us to keep on rejoicing, I do not see as much joy among the saints as I think there should be. (To be honest, I don’t see as much joy in me as there ought to be.) But the gospel of Jesus Christ enables me—and you—to rejoice in virtually every situation (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Even when life seems to be falling apart, we can rejoice in knowing that God is sovereign, and that He completes what He has commenced (Philippians 1:6). In spite of the fact that we should be able to constantly rejoice, many Christians seem to sort of mumble and grumble their way through life, “coping” with life rather than being “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37) in life.
It is wrong to fail to rejoice. It is sin not to rejoice. But even beyond this, it is downright dangerous. People who rejoice in the Lord are those who are content, and those who are content are not as vulnerable to cults and false religions. Those who are discontent are open to change, and if that change involves forsaking any biblical truths or practices, then change is wrong. How joyful are you at this very moment? It is medicine for the soul:
A cheerful heart brings good healing, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones (Proverbs 17:22; cf. also 14:14, 30; 15:13, 15).
Finally, I wonder if anyone who is reading this message finds himself or herself identifying with Paul before he came to faith. Have you somehow assumed that your religion, if fervently practiced, would save you? Have you been an overachiever, religiously speaking, but deep in your heart you do not know for certain that your sins are forgiven and that you have eternal life? I urge you to do as Paul did—to cease trusting in your efforts to save you, and to trust in Christ and His work instead. We cannot earn God’s favor. Salvation is a gift that is undeserved, and thus is graciously given to all who believe in Jesus Christ. We need to acknowledge that our works will only condemn us before God, and they will never save us. It is Christ’s person and work that will save us from our sins. He came down from heaven, took on humanity, lived a perfect life, and then died on the cross of Calvary, bearing the sinner’s guilt and punishment. It is by ceasing to trust in our own efforts and commencing to trust in Christ that we are saved. I urge you to do as Paul did, to forsake your efforts to earn God’s approval, and to trust in His work on your behalf.
61 For example, in 1 Corinthians 7:29, the NET Bible renders this same Greek term “so then.” In Philippians 4:8, Paul will use this expression again, and here it does mean “finally.” Dr. A. T. Robertson comments: “But Paul uses the idiom elsewhere also as in 1 Co 7:29; 1Th 4:1 before the close of the letter is in sight. It is wholly needless to understand Paul as about to finish and then suddenly changing his mind like some preachers who announce the end a half dozen times.” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, electronic version, at Philippians 3:1.
62 1 Timothy 2:14.
63 In verses 3 and 4, the NET Bible renders “the flesh” “human credentials.” The translators do indicate in a marginal note that the original text literally reads “flesh.” I don’t personally think that this more paraphrased rendering of the Greek term is either required or helpful. For Paul, the term “the flesh” is very significant. The translation “human credentials” keeps us from seeing this as Paul’s return to a very prominent theme in his writings. The Judaisers place their confidence in themselves, in their fleshly works, rather than in the work of Christ, by faith. “Human credentials” conjures up thoughts in my mind of titles and academic degrees and the like, not one’s works, inspired and empowered by the flesh.
65 “Dogs were regarded by the Jews as ‘the most despised, insolent and miserable’ of creatures and as unclean (Mt. Xv. 26; Rev. xxii. 15). It was a derogatory title used by orthodox Jews for the Gentile nations who were treated as Israel’s enemies and therefore God’s (Enoch lxxxix. 42).” R. P. Martin, The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, Tyndale Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969 [photolithoprinted]), pp. 136-137.
67 The translators of the NET Bible have rendered verses 9 in a way that may catch the eye of those familiar with other translations. Typically we read “through faith in Christ.” Here, the NET Bible reads, “Christ’s faithfulness.” The King James Version rendered it quite literally, “the faith of Christ.” There is this very interesting translator’s note, followed up with a study note in the NET Bible:
Though traditionally translated “faith in Christ,” an increasing number of New Testament scholars are arguing that pivsti" Cristou' (pisti" Cristou) and similar phrases in Paul (Rom 3:22, 26; Gal 2:16, 20; 3:22; Phil 3:9) involves a subjective genitive and means “Christ’s faith” or “Christ’s faithfulness” (cf., e.g., G. Howard, “The ‘Faith of Christ’,” ExpTim 85 (1974): 212-15; R. B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ; Morna D. Hooker, “Pivsti" Cristou',” NTS 35 (1989): 321-42). Noteworthy among the arguments for the subjective genitive view is that when pivsti" takes a personal genitive it is almost never an objective genitive (cf. Matt 9:2, 22, 29; Mark 2:5; 5:34; 10:52; Luke 5:20; 7:50; 8:25, 48; 17:19; 18:42; 22:32; Rom 1:8; 12; 3:3; 4:5, 12, 16; 1 Cor 2:5; 15:14, 17; 2 Cor 10:15; Phil 2:17; Col 1:4; 2:5; 1 Thess 1:8; 3:2, 5, 10; 2 Thess 1:3; Titus 1:1; Phlm 6; 1 Pet 1:9, 21; 2 Pet 1:5).
sn (3:9) D. B. Wallace, who notes that the grammar is not decisive, nevertheless suggests that “the faith/faithfulness of Christ is not a denial of faith in Christ as a Pauline concept (for the idea is expressed in many of the same contexts, only with the verb pisteuvw rather than the noun), but implies that the object of faith is a worthy object, for he himself is faithful” (Exegetical Syntax, 116). Though Paul elsewhere teaches justification by faith, this presupposes that the object of our faith is reliable and worthy of such faith.”
68 Having criticized the NET Bible’s translation of verses 3 and 4, I must say that I really appreciate the translators of the NET Bible setting aside the terms “gain” and “loss” and replacing these with “assets” and “liabilities.” This really captures the sense of what Paul is saying, in a way that I can easily identify with.
69 There is an excellent note in the NET Bible on this word “dung:” “The word here translated “dung” was often used in Greek as a vulgar term for fecal matter. As such it would most likely have had a certain shock value for the readers. This may well be Paul’s meaning here, especially since the context is about what the flesh produces.”