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The Exhortation to Imitate Good Examples (Philippians 3:17-21)

I. Translation as It Appears in the NET Bible

3:17 Be imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and watch carefully those who are living this way, just as you have us as an example. 3:18 For many live (about whom I often told you, and now say even with tears) as enemies of the cross of Christ. 3:19 Their end will be destruction. Their god is the belly. They exult in their shame. They think about earthly things. 3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven—and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 3:21 who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself.

II. Outline:
The Exhortation and Rationale to Imitate Good Examples
(3:17-21)

    A. The Command (3:17)

      1. The Example of Paul (3:17a)

      2. The Example of Others (3:17b)

    B. The Rationale (3:18-21)

      1. The Characterization and Conduct of Enemies (3:18-19)

        a. Their Characterization: Enemies of the Cross of Christ (3:18)

        b. Their Conduct (3:19)

          i. Their End Is Destruction (3:19a)

          ii. Their God Is the Belly (3:19b)

          iii. They Exult in Their Shame (3:19c)

          iv. They Think Earthly Things (3:19d)

      2. The Citizenship and Future of the Christian (3:20-21)

        a. The Citizenship of the Christian (3:20a)

        b. The Future of the Christian (3:20b-21)

          i. We Are Waiting for a Savior (3:20b)

          ii. We Will Be Transformed (3:21)

III. Context

The relationship of 3:17-21 to its immediate context is difficult to discern. As Hawthorne says, we are not really prepared for a discussion of citizenship and a savior from heaven and the earnest expectation that that might create.192 The problem is further compounded by the fact it is well nigh impossible to be certain about who the opponents are in 3:18-19. Nonetheless, the overall sense is clear and the subject of imitating the godly example of Paul surely relates directly to 3:4-14 and 3:15-16.

IV. The Exhortation to Imitate Good Examples
(3:17-21)

A. The Command (3:17)

      1. The Example of Paul (3:17a)

As we have seen throughout this epistle, Paul consistently gives living examples to illustrate and reinforce the particular truths he has been teaching. He uses his own life as an example of the doctrine of humility and other-centeredness, (1:12-16), as well as the career of Jesus (2:5-11), and the lives of his fellow workers, i.e., Timothy (2:19-24) and Epaphroditus (2:25-30).193 These examples serve to clothe with “flesh and blood” the truths he has been emphasizing throughout, especially humility, truth, unity, and standing firm. So when we come to 3:17 we are not surprised, after the apostle has just given intimate details of his own perspective on the Christian life in 3:4-14, that he then turns around in 3:17 and enjoins the church to imitate him.

With the use of the vocative brothers and sisters (adelphoi) Paul affectionately addresses the church (i.e., his friends) urging them to be imitators of me (summimetai mou ginesthe). There are at least three important questions that must be answered in the interpretation of this passage. First, what does the term summimetai mean? Second, what is the significance of the prefix sun (“with”) on the Greek noun summimetai. Third, what exactly is it about his life that the apostle wants imitated?

The term summimetai occurs only here in the NT and nowhere else in all of Greek literature as far as we know. The related noun mimetai occurs six times in Paul. In 1 Cor 4:16 Paul wants the church in Corinth to imitate him in terms of his understanding of the cross, self-sacrificing ministry, humility, and his stress on unity.194 In 1 Cor 11:1 Paul urges the church to follow his self-sacrificial example as he follows the like example of Christ. Paul would rather give up his rights and privileges than impede the gospel or another’s growth in the gospel by the exercise of his freedom. This, of course, flew in the face of Corinthian notions of “authority,” “power,” and “spirituality.” The apostle also enjoins the Ephesian church (and others receiving the letter) to imitate God in terms of his unconditional, self-sacrificing love for others. Further, he says that the Thessalonians had become imitators of the Lord (and other churches) in that they welcomed the word in the midst of severe persecution (1 Thess 1:6; 2:14). In Hebrews 6:12 the writer admonishes the readers to imitate those (e.g., Abraham) who through faith and patience inherit what was promised. Thus, as Fee states, the term is found in contexts focusing on suffering for the sake of Christ and the gospel (1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; Eph 5:1; Heb 6:12?), and contexts focusing on behavior consistent with the gospel (1 Thess 1:6; 2:14).195 Thus the term means “to copy,” “imitate” or “emulate,” but it does not mean “to duplicate” in the full sense of that term. It is not that Paul wants them to become clones, but instead to live out certain principles in like manner. The term involves, as Michaelis notes, the idea of obedience (as in the case of Phil 3:17).196

The second question concerning the meaning or force of the prefixed preposition sun is much discussed. It has been suggested that it is basically tautologous, that is, the meaning of the noun summimetai is the same as the noun without the prefix, i.e., mimetai.197 But this seems somewhat unlikely since the term is so rare and therefore likely used with some intention. Others argue that the prefix refers to Paul and that he is urging them to join with him in following the example of Christ. Though possible, this places quite a strain on the of me phrase and seems a rather obtuse way of saying something which he otherwise could have said much more clearly—and did on another occasion (cf. 1 Cor 11:1). Still, other scholars understand the of me to be the object of the imitation and the sun prefix to indicate the manner in which the church at Philippi is to imitate Paul: they are to imitate him in a unified way.198 That Paul is the one to be imitated here is clear from the rest of the sentence: “and watch carefully those who are living this way, just as you have us as an example.”199

The third question attempts to uncover what exactly Paul was referring to when he told the church to imitate him in a unified way. It could be that Paul wants the church to imitate his general conduct and way of life to which he refers in 4:9 (cf. also 1 Cor 4:16; 11:1). Paul always took pains while staying with and ministering to churches to conduct himself in such a way so as to provide a model for the believers there (e.g., 2 Thess 3:9). While this is undoubtedly true, it tends to place more emphasis on the context of Paul’s other letters than the context here in Philippians, namely 3:4-14. The most likely answer to this question is that he is referring to his approach to the Law and life in Christ, outlined in detail in 3:4-14. He wants them to have the same outlook as he does, explicitly his renouncing of certain things (3:7-9), his passion for Christ (3;10-11), and then his understanding of the stage of salvation-history in which the Philippians now live (the “balance” he brings in 3:12-14). He wants the Philippians to imitate his approach to knowing Christ “in the now time” and take special note of others who also believe and live likewise.

There are several reasons why Paul’s call for others to imitate him is not egotistical or arrogant: (1) he was not really calling them to follow him ultimately, but to follow Christ (Phil 2:6-11; 1 Cor 11:1). Thus the intent was always Christocentric, never for his own gain; (2) the call to imitate was a call to self-sacrifice, humility, and suffering in the face of persecution for the cross; (3) Paul points the Philippians beyond himself to others who also live correctly in accordance with the gospel (Phil 3:17b); and (4) imitation does not mean to duplicate en toto, that is, to be a slave to another person. It means to emulate the principles operative in another’s life, as they are expressed through one’s own understanding. Therefore, in short, what Paul is urging here is not mindless following, but informed imitation of the Christlikeness found in the apostle.

      2. The Example of Others (3:17b)

Thus Paul wants his brothers and sisters to imitate him and also watch carefully those who are living this way (skopeite tous houto peripatountas)…. The verb watch carefully (skopeite) means “to look (out) for,” “notice,” “keep one’s eye on.”200 It is an intense verb that occurs six times in the NT (Luke 11:35; Rom 16:17; 2 Cor 4:18; Gal 6;1; Phil 2:4; 3:17). In Romans 16:17—a verse commonly understood in connection with Phil 3:17, though the sense of the term in Rom 16:17 is negative—Paul alerts the church to “watch out” for those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching they had received. The church was to turn away from these people. In 2 Cor 4:18 the apostle talks about his own pursuit or “focus” on things eternal and not on things temporal. In Galatians 6:1 he encourages members of the church to help someone caught in a sin, but to do so with one eye on themselves (skopon, i.e., “guarding themselves”), lest they too are tempted to sin.

The verb is used twice in Philippians. In 2:4 Paul urges the church to seek (skopountes) the interests not of themselves only, but also those of others. The use of skopeite in 3:17 may be related to this usage, and thus the examples that Paul has in mind are those who live self-sacrificially. But 2:4 seems a bit removed from 3:17 to be the primary connection. It is probably to be taken in contrast with the use of “beware” (blepete) in 3:2.201 The Philippians were to be on guard (negative) against the legalizers and other erroneous views (3:18-19), and were to take special notice (positive) of those who lived according to the pattern found in Paul and others. The people that Paul has in mind, by the use of those, is probably anyone in the Philippian church or known to them who lived according to the pattern Paul and others had established.

Paul adds that he wants the Philippians to watch carefully other examples that “walk” in the same way as he and his associates do. The pronoun us, in the phrase just as you have us as an example (kathos echete tupon hemas), is to be understood as referring to Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus and others, not just to Paul, as Hawthorne argues.202 The term example (tupos) is used in the NT to refer to the nail “imprints” in Jesus’ hands (Jn 20:25), the “idols” Israel worshipped (Acts 7:43), the example or pattern of Christian teaching (Rom 6:17), a letter sent to Felix is referred to as a tupos (Acts 23:25) and then OT events or persons are referred to as types in light of the clarifying role they bring to salvation in the present age (Rom 5:14; 1 Cor 10:6, 11). The term is also used in 1 Thess 1:7 to refer to the Thessalonians being a “model” for other believers (see also similar uses in 2 Thess 2:9; 1 Tim 4:12; Titus 2:7; 1 Pet 5:3).203 The term, as used here in Philippians, refers to the ethical and doctrinal commitments that the church could see in the lives of Paul and his associates.

B. The Rationale (3:18-21)

There are always a number of people waiting to lead God’s people astray. So it is in the case of the Philippians; there are those who are enemies of the cross of Christ—as Paul refers to them—who are seeking to overturn apostolic teaching and example in the church. They are doing so by means of their own ungodly lives and appetites. In 3:18-19, after Paul has urged the church to follow his example, he turns to expose these opponents for what they really are. He mentions their final end, namely, destruction, and their moral conduct: their god is their belly, they exult in their shame, and they think about earthly things (only). Before we discuss “their end” and “their conduct” we will turn first to a brief discussion of their characterization as “enemies of the cross of Christ.”

      1. The Characterization, End, and Conduct of Enemies (3:18-19)
    a. Their Characterization: “Enemies of the Cross of Christ” (3:18)

In 3:18 Paul begins: For (gar) many live (about whom I often told you, and now say even with tears) as enemies of the cross of Christ (polloi peripatousintous echthrous tou staurou tou Christou). The term For (gar) indicates that what follows in 3:18-19 is the reason the Philippians are to follow the example of Paul and others who live according to the gospel (v. 18); they should “walk” properly because many walk in other ways—ways diametrically opposed to the gospel. But it is not as though Paul had never warned the church about these kinds of people. In fact, the opposite is true. He had told them often (about whom I often told you), perhaps in person while he was with them or in other written correspondence. And further, it isn’t that he doesn’t care about them, but rather that he has been grieved by their sin and disobedience to the gospel (cf. Rom 9:1-5). In fact, even as he writes this letter he is brought to tears over their ultimate end and the lifestyle they are presently living. Paul was a passionate person who loved others deeply and maintained a deep and conscious commitment to the truth.

But who are the many (polloi) and in what sense are they to be considered as “enemies of the cross of Christ?” The construction many live suggests that the people referred to here are not part of the Philippian congregation, but were on the outside. The fact that he has told them about these people often further reinforces this idea.204 Several suggestions regarding the precise identity of these people have been offered: (1) Judaizers, perhaps those indicted in 3:2; (2) professing Christians; (3) Gnostic Christians, whose commitment to a radical body/soul dualism allowed them to participate in fleshly desires without any apparent contradiction in terms of the gospel; (4) pagans who opposed the gospel because of its ethical demands; (5) Jewish itinerants who eagerly sought to win converts; (6) libertinists of some kind who paraded their over-realized eschatology in the licentious lifestyle they lived. Obviously, there are strengths and weaknesses to each of these solutions. But, while it is always correct to attempt to identify the historical referents for the statements of Scripture, in some cases we simply do not have enough information to be certain. This is one of those cases. The overall sense of the passage, however, is clear enough as the following comments show.205

Thus, while we cannot be certain who these people were and the particular affinities they maintained, Paul does say that they lived as enemies of the cross of Christ (polloi peripatousintous echthrous tou staurou tou Christou). Whoever these people were, they had a major problem with the cross of Christ. They were enemies and thus opposed the idea itself—or at least the centrality of the idea—of the cross (perhaps in their view it demonstrated weakness). They, therefore, developed a form of Christianity where the cross was not essential, at least as Paul understood it by revelation. That is not to say that they were personal enemies of the apostle Paul, though this may have been the case. Nonetheless, Paul does not seem to cast them in this light (unless of course, one takes them as the same people as those of 3:2). The rest of the verse describes the ultimate “end” of these enemies of the cross of Christ as well as their “conduct.” It is particularly their conduct which tells us why Paul referred to them as enemies of the cross.

    b. Their End: Destruction (3:19a)

Paul says that Their end will be destruction (hon to telos apoleia). The term end (telos) is used in the NT some 40 times to refer to the “end” (Heb 7:3), “the rest/remainder” (1 Cor 15:24?), “tax, customs duties” (Rom 13:7; Matt 17:25), and “goal” or “consummation” (Rom 6:21; 2 Cor 11:15; 1 Tim 1:5; James 5:11; 1 Peter 4:17).206 It is in this last sense that Paul uses the term here. The final goal of their sinfulness will be destruction and according to their current path, it seems likely that this will be their unfortunate end. While those in Christ will experience salvation (1:28), those who oppose the message will suffer eternal destruction, i.e., eternal loss and punishment.

The term apoleia does not mean annihilation in this context, but eternal judgment. Jesus speaks to this same issue in Matt 25:46: “And these will go away into eternal punishment (kolasin aionion), but the righteous to eternal life” (zoen aionion). Paul, in another place, also regards the final judgment of those who do not know Christ to be eternal damnation:

1:8 With flaming fire he will mete out punishment on those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 1:9 They will undergo the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (2 Thess 1:8-9).207

Hawthorne comments on apoleia saying:

…the precise meaning of apoleia is difficult to pin down. Hence, as is often the case it is best explained in terms of its opposites: soteria (“salvation,” Phil 1:28); peripoiesis psuches (“the preserving of one’s soul,” Heb 10:39); zoe aionios (“eternal life” John 3:16). For Paul, then, to reject the crucified Christ as the sole means of salvation is in effect to reject salvation. It is to lose one’s soul and thus to forfeit life. Elsewhere he says of such people, to telos ekeinon thanatos (“their end is death,” Rom 6:21), a condition in which the destiny of life outside of Christ is turned to its opposite, i.e., corruption (Gal 6:8) or destruction (Rom 9:22 in the active sense of the word), ‘the absolute antithesis of the life intended by God and saved by Christ.’208

Thus the future of those who rebel against the cross is not a happy one. This is one incentive for the church to reach out to her neighbors in love and friendship with the gospel of Christ (cf. Phil 2:16). And, it is also another incentive not to be about the business of altering the gospel to fit the prevailing mood of the culture. It is true that we must “speak the language” of the people group/culture (1 Cor 9:19-27), but this has to do with packaging the message, not changing it materially. And while there is a relationship between the package and the substance, the package can change, but with great care lest we end up with “another gospel” (Gal 1:6). Finally, it must be remembered that Paul is not saying that these people cannot be saved if they turn from their enmity toward the cross and accept it as God’s way of salvation. They most certainly can. This is not to say, however, that some ever did.

    c. Their Conduct (3:19b-d)

Paul now turns from their final end, a sad prospect indeed, to their present existence and rebellion. He mentions three kinds of behavior, all grounded in the one reality of their being enemies of the cross of Christ.

      i. Their God Is the Belly (3:19b)

Paul says that Their god is the belly (hon ho theos he koilia). There are those who regard this passage as a reference to the Judaizers of 3:2 who maintained an overly zealous attitude toward ritual purity and adherence to certain Jewish food laws. The problem with this is that the term belly seems to connote some degree of licentiousness and an inordinate attentiveness to one’s sensual needs. If this is true, then the ascetic practices of the Judaizers would hardly come under such a rebuke. It may be, as many have suggested, that Paul’s use of koilia (“belly”) is roughly equivalent to his use of sarx (“flesh”) in other contexts.209 Thus these people were driven by fleshly impulses. Therefore, as O’Brien comments, “those who are enemies of Christ’s cross have failed to accept the death of the old life, the koilia, and have disqualified themselves from the new, because ‘they are serving their own fleshly impulses.’210

      ii. They Exult in Their Shame (3:19c)

Paul also says that They exult in their shame (he doxa en te aischune auton). It is common among interpreters, who regard the polloi (“many”) in 3:18 to refer to the Judaizers of 3:2, to understand the word shame as a disgraceful reference to their circumcision. Therefore, that which they glory in—and that which they boast about—Paul says is actually a shameful thing in light of the cross. But more likely is the interpretation that shame refers to immoral acts and immorality in general—a kind of immorality and licentiousness that strikes at the heart of the cross (and its concomitant doctrine of “death to sin”) and the pure, spiritual ethics which flow from it.

      iii. They Think Earthly Things (3:19d)

Finally, Paul states that these enemies of the cross think about earthly things (hoi ta epigeia phronountes). The term think (phronountes) means “to have a settled disposition towards something,” and by extension “to have one’s focus on,” or “to set one’s agenda according to.” These people orient their lives according to earthly realities where “earthly” is synonymous with “fleshly.” The inevitable outcome of this way of life is death (Rom 8:5-8) and eternal separation from God. There is no room for faith and trust as they have found all they need in themselves. But their future, according to Paul, is not as hopeful as they might have been led to think. This phrase, they think about earthly things, with its orientation to the cause and ground of a sinful life, is rightly regarded as a summary of the other preceding descriptive phrases.

      2. The Citizenship and Future of the Christian (3:20-21)

In stark contrast to the ultimate end of the opponents, the Philippians and by extension, all Christians, have a much brighter future. We are eagerly awaiting a savior from heaven who will transform our bodies and bring everything under his control. At that time faith will have been proven to be the only human response pleasing to God, while works (i.e., “legalism”) and licentious living will be unveiled for the evil that they really are—no matter what any mortal thinks.

    a. The Citizenship of the Christian (3:20a)

But our citizenship is in heaven (hemon gar to politeuma en ouranois huparchei). The term hemon (“our”), because it is placed first in the clause, is emphatic and represents a vivid contrast between the opponents and Christians, i.e., their situation and ultimate end and our citizenship (vv. 18-20). This is why we have translated gar—which is a logical conjunction and generally expresses an inference drawn from previous material—with but (a contrastive conjunction) . More needs to be said, however. This gar is the second one in as many sentences (see mechanical layout above) and does seem to reach not only into vv. 18-19, but also back to the imperatives of v. 17. That is, it appears to give another reason for the Philippians to live according to the good example of Paul and others (from v. 17)—but a reason that is closely linked, by way of contrast, with the destructive example of the opponents in v. 18. So then, the first reason the Philippians ought to live a certain way (i.e., according to Paul and others in v. 17) is that there are many who are enemies of the cross of Christ. The second reason the Philippians are to live a certain way is that their citizenship is in heaven. To put it all together would look like this: Be imitators and watch carefully…for there are many who live as enemies…and (for) our citizenship is in heaven…. Both for clauses introduce a reason why one should imitate Paul and watch carefully others who live according to his pattern.211

What does Paul mean by the term citizenship (politeuma)? It is difficult to be extremely precise since the term is not used in the NT on any other occasion. Various translations have been offered, including: (1) commonwealth; (2) colony; (3) citizenship; (4) state, etc. Whatever way one takes it, the overall sense is clear enough against the backdrop of the Roman citizenship that the colony of Philippi enjoyed. Several things can be noted. First, Paul says this “citizenship” or “belonging-ness to a people group” exists in heaven. It is not an earthly citizenship to which Christians belong. This does not imply in any way, however, that the early Christians did not have responsibilities to the earthly state, province, and government under which they lived (Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-17). What it does mean is that our ultimate home is in heaven and that we are strangers and aliens here (1 Pet 2:11). Second, since it is a citizenship in heaven, the ethical and spiritual standards of heaven, not those of the alien world in which the Christian is found, are the standards. This is the primary force of the term citizenship here (dynamic and active, not just static).212 The Christian is to imitate godly examples (v. 17) and not to live like enemies of the cross of Christ (vv. 18-19) because the standards of their genuine and eternal citizenship in heaven apply now! Third, the term citizenship connotes images of a mass of people, all living under one rule, and is thus an image for the kingdom and its present manifestation. Therefore, the kingdom is present now, but will be consummated, as Paul has already told us in 3:2-14 in the future. Fourth, the citizenship of which the Christian is a part has a ruler, a governor if you will. He is Jesus, whom Paul refers to as “a savior,” and “the Lord.”

    b. The Future of the Christian (3:20b-21)

      i. We Are Waiting for a Savior (3:20b)

The apostle says that the Philippians are members of a citizenship which exists in heaven and that they also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ (ex hou kai sotera apekdechometha kurion Iesoun Christon). The verb awaiting (apekdechometha) is used eight times in the NT, six of which are by the apostle Paul. It is not found in the LXX, Paul’s Greek Bible. Therefore, it is Paul’s distinctive term to express the Christian hope of the eschaton—the consummation of the kingdom and our complete salvation. In Rom 8:19 Paul says that in spite of the fallen condition of the cosmos at the present time the anxious longing of creation waits eagerly for the revelation of the sons of God. At the present time, the sons of God are apprehended by faith only. There is coming a day, however, says the apostle, when it will be clear to all creation who was rightly related to God. Further along, in Rom 8:23, he says that as Christians we groan within ourselves as we wait eagerly for our completed adoption, that is, the redemption of our bodies. In 8:25 he says that while we hope for what we do not see, we wait eagerly for it with endurance. In 1 Cor 1:7 Paul speaks to the Corinthian Christians who had collapsed most of the future (if not all of the future) into the present, that their present gifting is sufficient as they eagerly await (and they should be) the [complete] revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Galatians 5:5 Paul emphasizes that it is by faith through the Spirit that we are eagerly awaiting the hope of righteousness (cf. Heb 9:28).

The object of the Christian’s “waiting” is a savior (soter) from heaven. The term soter occurs only 24 times in the NT, 16 of which according to one commentator, refer to Christ.213 The Philippians would have understood the term in connection with Caesar who was also regarded as a savior, though not from sin per se, but from any attack and war.214 The Savior in the Philippians’ heavenly commonwealth was Jesus, not Caesar. The lack of the article in Greek and the corresponding translation, a savior does not in any way indicate in Paul’s thinking that there were many legitimate “saviors” from which one could choose, and that the Christians decided to choose Jesus. The following clause which talks about Jesus bringing all things under his control hardly fits such an idea, let alone the fact that it is impossible to reasonably ascribe such an idea to the apostle Paul. Rather, the lack of the article stresses the qualitative aspect of “saving” inherent in the noun soter. What Paul is emphasizing is Jesus’ saving activity, not the fact that Jesus is the savior. This latter point was assumed, taken for granted if you will. This “saving activity” will be explained in 3:21.

In 3:20, however, Paul also refers to Jesus as the Lord (kurios). The title kurios is the title commonly used in the LXX to translate YHWH. The fact that Paul had already referred to Jesus as the exalted Lord in Phil 2:11 suggests that he is once again referring to Jesus as deity in 3:20. This is made clear in v. 21 where the eschatological role of complete and universal dominion is ascribed to him.

      ii. We Will Be Transformed (3:21)

When the savior comes from heaven he will transform these humble bodies of ours (hos metaschematisei to soma tes tapeinoseos hemon). When Christ returns he will literally transform (metaschematisei) our fallen, sinful, weak bodies. They will be transformed into the likeness of his glorious body (summorphon to somati tes doxes autou). As Kent comments:

Christ at his return will “transform” (metaschematisei, “change the outward form of”) believers’ mortal bodies, so that they will conform to the character of his resurrection body. The present body is described literally as “the body of lowliness” (to soma tes tapeinoseos), a description calling attention to its weakness and susceptibility to persecution, disease, sinful appetites, and death. At Christ’s coming, however, the earthly, transient appearance will be changed, whether by resurrection of those dead or by rapture of the living, and believers will be transformed and will receive glorified bodies that will more adequately display their essential character (summorphon) as children of God and sharers of divine life in Christ. This will be accomplished by the same effective operation (energeian) that will ultimately bring all things in the universe under the authority of Christ.215

Christ will do all this transforming by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself (kata ten energeian tou dunasthai auton kai hupotaxai auto ta panta). The power of Christ is limitless and in the end all things will be subject to him (Eph 1:10; 3:9; Col 1:20).

V. Principles for Application

    1. It is not enough to simply study the Bible. We must also put it into practice (James 1:21-25). Here Paul tells us one way to do that, namely, by imitating him and other godly examples. Two suggestions for application flow from this: (1) follow the example of Paul as we have defined it in the study and also look for someone at your church that you think is walking with God and ask them for help and insight on how to live the Christian life. This does not mean that you should become a slave to their every word, but that God is in the business of clothing truth with flesh and blood and that there may be someone there whom God wants to use in your life in this way (i.e., in a mentoring role); (2) if you are further along in the Christian life and see someone who needs a model, help them by coming alongside and mentoring them. This, of course, implies that you are walking with the Lord, love him, and want to serve him.

    2. The so-called many of verses 18-19 provide an example, albeit a negative one, of the kind of earthly, “here-and-now-only” thinking that has no place in the Christian. Ask God to help you understand where these sinful strategies are at work in your life and to root them out through confession, cleansing, and mortification (1 John 1:9; Rom 8:13). Ask other trusted godly friends for insight as well.

    3. Do we really look to heaven each and every day (moment) for our leading in how to live as aliens and strangers in a place that is no longer our home in any real and permanent sense? Remember, our citizenship is in heaven and we enjoy an intimate connection with the Lord of that commonwealth. Therefore, we need to live in accordance with the design of that commonwealth under the Lordship of Christ. Let us remember daily that this is not our home, but it is nonetheless our Father’s world.

    4. At the consummation of all things, Christ will transform our lowly (i.e., humble) bodies into a new and glorious body. Thankfulness and eager expectation are two qualities we can ask God to cultivate in us as a result of this truth.


192 Cf. Hawthorne, Philippians, 168-69.

193 Cf. Lihgtfoot, Philippians, 152-53.

194 Cf. Ben Witherington, Conflict & Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 144-46.

195 Fee, Philippians, 364.

196 W. Michaelis, TDNT, s.v. mimeomai, 4:667-68.

197 Michaelis, TDNT, 667, n 13.

198 For further discussion of the various views see O’Brien, Philippians, 445-46.

199 See S. E. Fowl, “Imitation of Paul/Christ,” in Dictionary of the Paul and His Letters, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993), 429.

200 BAGD, s.v. skopew.

201 Cf. Silva, Philippians, 208.

202 Hawthorne, Philippians, 160-61. See O’Brien, Philippians, 449-50 who regards the referent for the us as including Paul and his associates such as Timothy and Epaphroditus.

203 Cf. O’Brien, Philippians, 449.

204 Fee, Philippians, 369.

205 For further discussion of this question, see Silva, Philippians, 208-11; O’Brien, Philippians, 452-54.

206 Cf. BAGD, s.v. telos.

207 Cf. the comments of Hendriksen, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, 181-82; Fee, Philippians, 371, n 35; Kent, “Philippians,” 147

208 Hawthorne, Philippians, 165.

209 Cf. Silva, Philippians, 210.

210 O’Brien, Philippians, 456.

211 Cf. Fee, Philippians, 377-78.

212 See O’Brien, Philippians, 460. He regards “commonwealth” as the best translation.

213 O’Brien, Philippians, 462. The use of kurios far exceeds the use of swthr (approximately 717 to 24). It is difficult to say whether its infrequent use is due to the use of the same term in the mystery religions or whether the term kurios simply overtook other designations of Jesus in the early church, etc. See also Hawthorne, Philippians, 171-72.

214 See Fee, Philippians, 381.

215 Kent, “Philippians,” 148.

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