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Philippians 3

3:1-3

So the crucial thing I want to remind you about is that you must put your joy and boasting in the Lord, and not in anything of the flesh – not circumcision, not anything. Get your identity from the Gospel.

3:1 From now on,136 my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. Writing the same things to you is not troublesome137 for me, and it is more certain138 for you.

All of chapter 3 is an explanation by Paul of what it means to rejoice in the Lord. He wants us to understand how to learn to make our salvation in Christ, our relationship with Christ, and the service that flows from that salvation, our joy. Just as rejoice in the Lord looks forward and summarizes chapter 3, the statement in 4:1, “in this way stand firm in the Lord,” looks backwards and summarizes chapter 3.

Paul has already shown the congregation how he rejoices that the Gospel is being preached (1:18), and how he rejoices in his ministry (2:17), and called them to rejoice with him in 2:18. Even so, with his warm pastoral heart he does not hesitate to write this out again, so that they, and we, see Christ and the Gospel as our best boast and our best joy, in fact our only safe boast and our only safe joy, apart from, of course, ministry that flows out of that boasting and rejoicing in the Lord.

Just as Paul has exhorted them with a command to humility, a negative example, and three positive examples,139 here too he gives the command to rejoice in the Lord, and he will give the negative example of having confidence in the flesh in 3:2-7, and the positive example of enjoying the righteousness of Christ in 3:9.

3:2 Consider140 the dogs, consider the evil workers, consider the Emasculation.141

As Paul begins to teach on what it means to “rejoice in the Lord,” he first points out a preeminent example of those that do not rejoice in the Lord at all. They rejoice in their own achievement, especially their own supposed ability to obey the Law of Moses. In writing about them, Paul suddenly uses very strong terms. Dogs is of course very negative to both Jewish and Gentile ears.142 The sense of evil workers is plain and literal. Further, to refer to the Party of the Circumcision with the figurative wordplay Emasculation shows us something of how adamantly Paul opposed their teachings.

Paul preached a Gospel of grace, teaching that sinners through no activity of their own may be given the actual life and righteousness of Christ Himself. This gift is possible, and is in no way opposed to the justice of God, because of the work of Christ upon the cross. Because Christ took upon Himself the punishment that we deserved, God can freely share with us Christ's righteousness. The only condition that is imposed upon this gift is that we believe in Him. It is not a work; it is a question of a decision to be made. It simply does not concern one's strength, wisdom, discipline, or other resources. This believing is in radical contrast with human work or action, as Paul emphasized in Romans 4:4-5, which says, “Now to the one who works his wages are not counted as a favor, but as an obligation. But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” The problem with the teachings of the Circumcision was that they added circumcision and other Old Testament commands to the only condition described above. Any addition to grace alone distorts the Gospel and feeds human pride, pushing us away from the thankfulness to God, reliance upon Him, and true humility which together bring real spiritual growth and effective ministry.

In Acts 11:2 and 15:1 we read that some Jewish believers in Christ held to the idea that Gentiles that came to believe should also follow the Law of Moses. In fact, in Acts 15 the leadership of the church in Jerusalem took a formal stand against that view, and in Galatians the seriousness of that view’s effect upon some of the local congregations is also painfully evident, since that entire letter is Paul's response to some churches that let themselves be led astray by the teaching of the Party of the Circumcision. However, there is simply not enough information in Philippians to confirm more than the fact that Paul considered them a threat to the congregation. Whether they were active in Philippi or merely likely to go there is not clear from the text.143

The Party of the Circumcision, the Judaizers, were entirely different from those Gospel preachers in 1:14-17 who preached for wrong reasons. Those in 1:14-17 were preaching the true Gospel in an inappropriate way, while the Circumcision was preaching a false and destructive imitation of the Gospel.

The Judaizers’ boast was in their achievements in the flesh, their supposed compliance with the Law of Moses. Since we may not be tempted to boast in compliance to the Law of Moses, perhaps we would do well to inventory our hearts (which are invisible) and our homes (which are visible) and look for those boasts that are outside of Christ and His Gospel.

3:3 For we, we144 are the Circumcision, we are the ones serving145 in the Spirit of God and boasting in Christ Jesus, putting no confidence in the flesh.

Paul exudes the joy of the Lord as he emphatically asserts that he and all who have sided with him in the pure Gospel against the Judaizers are the only ones with the valid claim to be known as the Party of the Circumcision. He explains this idea in more detail in Colossians 2:11, writing, “In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision accomplished without hands, by the disarming of the sinful body – the flesh, the circumcision that Christ accomplishes.” See also Romans 2:28-29. This idea of an inward circumcision is also in the Old Testament, particularly in Leviticus 26:41 and Ezekiel 44:7.146

Paul strongly asserts that unlike the Party of the Circumcision, they were the ones boasting147 in Christ Jesus, rather than in some human accomplishment. What a profound difference in life, to exult in our Savior, rather than in this and that “success,” here and there where we have met some arbitrary religious standards of conduct, all the time trying to cover over the unseen sins of our hearts. That insidious kind of hypocrisy appears to have also been our Lord's target in passages like Luke 10:25-37 (the Good Samaritan story, told to a scribe that wanted “to justify himself”) and Luke 18:18-25 (the conversation with the rich young ruler that loved his wealth). He served His hearers by helping them understand that they were far from successful in their attempts at obeying the Law, because of their hatred of Samaritans or their love of wealth.

3:4-9

Let me tell you my own story. I was full of self-confidence, but now I confidently regard all that as rubbish, and Christ as my righteousness, my salvation.

3:4 Although I could have reasons for confidence148 also in the flesh. If someone else supposes he can put confidence in the flesh, I more so.

As was stated earlier, all of chapter 3 is an explanation by Paul of what it means to rejoice in the Lord. Here Paul is continuing his explanation of what it means to find our joy in the Lord by dealing with whether or not we can have joy, boasting, or confidence in anything other than the Lord. He knows from experience all about what it means to have confidence in the flesh. By birth and by religious attainment he has already outdone them all, as he will explain in some detail in the verses that follow.

3:5 Circumcised on the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews – regarding149 the Law, a Pharisee;

Since the ultimate example of those that boast in the flesh and therefore not in the Lord was the Party of the Circumcision, and since their ultimate boast was their physical circumcision, Paul reminds them that he too was circumcised according to the Law, on the eighth day, in accord with Leviticus 12:3.

It may be that Paul mentions that he is a member of the tribe of Benjamin because that tribe had a special status in the nation of Israel. Benjamin himself was the beloved second and youngest son of Rachel. It was only Judah and Benjamin that stayed with the house of David when the tribes of the North seceded (1 Kings 12:21), and Benjamin was untainted by the sin of Judah against Tamar (Genesis 38). Also, Benjamin and Judah seem to have been the core of the restored nation under Zerubbabel (Ezra 4:1). However, that tribe also had its shameful episodes. King Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin, and it was Benjamites that sinned so dreadfully against the Levite's concubine in Judges 19. So perhaps the tribe of Benjamin did not have special prestige among the Jews, and Paul was just being specific about his family heritage.150

The expression a Hebrew of Hebrews seems to indicate that he was an exemplary Jew. The proofs he has already given concern his parentage, and he continues with proofs concerning his own decisions and performance.

He was a member of the Pharisees. They were more numerous than the Sadducees and more strict in their application of the Law of Moses. They were also more geographically dispersed in synagogues, while the Sadducees’ power was based in the Temple in Jerusalem.151

3:6 regarding zeal, a persecutor of the church; regarding the righteousness that comes by the Law, blameless.

When Paul relates the story of his conversion (Acts 22 and 26, as well as in Galatians 1), he always includes the fact that he was a persecutor of the church. At the time he must have considered his efforts against the church to be like Phinehas in Numbers 25, so that he felt he was serving the Lord God of Israel.

Paul did not claim that the righteousness that comes by the Law was worth anything before God. In fact in passages like Galatians 2:16 he explicitly rejects that idea. Here he simply says that whatever sort of righteousness there was in it, he had it all.

3:7 Whatever was gain to me, I have come to count152 as loss because of Christ.

Paul is giving his personal testimony concerning what he has come to understand about where our confidence should be. He used to put confidence in his lineage and his works, but then he came to realize that all those sorts of things are of no benefit at all, in fact they are loss. Confidence in that sort of thing actually works against us, moving us farther from the confidence in Christ Jesus which both brings eternal life and develops our ability to rejoice in Him.

3:8 Furthermore, I consider153 all things154 to be loss on account of the far better knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, on account of whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and I consider them to be refuse,155 with the result that156 I have gained157 Christ,

Paul is not saying we must utterly renounce everything, consider everything in our lives to be trash, so that we can be saved. If that were the case, we must for instance look at the dinner that has been prepared for us, and say, “Ah, this dinner is rubbish, it has no value. I only value my Savior, and I think everything else in the world is trash.” Those that would read this text this way imply that without this ascetic attitude, we are doomed to hell.

Paul does not consider being Jewish or obeying the Law to be evil, but he clearly understands that these things are utterly worthless to trust in for our salvation or our standing with God.158 As means of salvation, as things to put your confidence in, these things are all as useful as refuse.

We need look no further than the very next verse to be reminded that Paul is not advocating becoming a hermit as a requirement for salvation. All these things need to be renounced as means of salvation, but to carry this verse on to mean that the only way to be saved is to utterly remove ourselves from every bit of wealth or status in our lives is to make a new work that must be performed in order to earn salvation!

Both the expressions “gaining Christ” and “being found in Him” seem to refer to initial salvation and the life long process of gaining maturity in Christ.159 Indeed, the word “gain”160 can refer to gaining a profit from an initial capital. It is used that way four times in the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. If that is so, then Paul is saying that as he continues to reject everything that the Judaizers put their confidence in, he gains an ever closer relationship with Christ. The aspect of salvation is more fully developed in verse 9, while the aspect of growing in an ever closer relationship is developed in verse 10.

By writing on account of whom I have suffered the loss of all things, Paul reminds us in a general way, without going into specifics, of the personal losses he himself has experienced because of his relationship with Christ. He is not, however, claiming that he deserves to be saved because of all the sacrifice he has made!

Although the irreligious, with their own various forms of pride, would benefit wonderfully from hearing and believing this passage, it is particularly meant not for them but for the religious. It is not here for those that are religious in any religion, it is meant here for hard working, serious, committed Christians. The danger is that a subtle but terrible shift can take place in our hearts, so that the hard work which earlier in our Christian experience we did out of thankfulness to our Savior, we now do without the thankfulness. Worse yet, we find ourselves feeling we deserve some status and respect from those around us because of all our hard work!

3:9 and am found161 in Him, not having my own righteousness which is from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God, by faith.

Paul already has this righteousness, and has already been found in Him. Here he emphasizes the Gospel, that righteousness given to believers is from God, not from any effort at obedience to the Law.

3:10-14

Christ is my salvation, but He is also my goal, because I press on to win the prize He has for His obedient servants.

3:10 I want162 to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the participation163 in His sufferings, becoming conformed to His death,

In verse 8 the idea of gaining more of Christ was presented. Here this idea is more fully developed. Knowing Christ can refer to simply being redeemed and in the family of God, as in Jeremiah 24:7; 31:34; Ezekiel 38:16; Galatians 4:9; and 1 John 4:7. However it can also go beyond that to refer to a deep, rich, and joyful personal nearness with Him, as in Daniel 11:32; Jeremiah 9:24; John 17:3; 1 John 2:14; and 5:20.

In these few well chosen words, Paul expresses a great deal about what it is to rejoice in the Lord. He longs as well to more deeply experience the power of His resurrection. He prayed for this to happen in the lives of the Ephesian congregation in Ephesians 1:18-20.

While the first and second elements of this verse seem attractive enough to us, we might cringe from the third and fourth.164 However, since Christ was Paul's joy and his boast, and because Paul was following the pattern of Christ's humility that he showed us in 2:5-11, he decided not to cringe from the third and fourth elements. He wanted all he could get of Christ, and if that included participation in His sufferings, that was certainly no reason at all to turn away. Paul wanted to be like Jesus, and to imitate His utter obedience and humility. How could that not include suffering?

In Philippians 1:29 Paul reminded his partners in Gospel ministry that their sufferings, like his, are a grace gift of God. He also wrote in 2:5-13 that just as in humble obedience Christ suffered and was exalted, so they should be humble and obedient and accomplish their own deliverance because it is God who is at work in them.165 Furthermore, he who dared to write of completing “what is lacking in the affliction of Christ” in Colossians 1:24 dares here to write of participating in His sufferings. Christ's sufferings produced the Evangel, the Gospel, but “what is lacking” was the Evangelization that would spread the Evangel to the ends of the earth. That is not to say that the Gospel is imperfect, but there is a part yet to be played for the Lord's servants. In other words, we are offered a participation in His sufferings. Of course our participation in His sufferings does not contribute to the Evangel, but to the Evangelization of the nations.

As if the idea that participation in His sufferings was not radical enough, Paul clarifies further that in that participation he longs to be conformed to His death. Paul would have the same utter obedience that Christ had by which He went to His death.

Hudson Taylor once said, “Do we know much of fellowship with Him in this? There are not two Christs – an easy-going Christ for easy-going Christians, and a suffering, toiling Christ for exceptional believers. There is only one Christ. Are we willing to abide in Him and so to bear fruit?”166 Rather than suggesting that Christians should toil and suffer so that they can earn their salvation, he was candidly pointing out that people are following someone or something other than Christ if their intent is to avoid pain and trouble.

Could it be that some branches of Christendom tend to take this passage too seriously, as it were, and seem to forget that all of the work of obtaining our eternal salvation was accomplished perfectly by Christ Himself once and for all upon the cross, while other branches of Christendom do not live out this passage at all, feeling fine about a lifestyle that unquestioningly pursues comfort and avoids suffering, out of a concern that somehow wanting to participate in His sufferings will dilute the Gospel?

This letter was written to encourage the church in the partnership in the Gospel that they have enjoyed together for so long, but Paul understands very deeply that that partnership together in Gospel ministry must not be founded merely upon their affection for him, or their allegiance to him. It must be founded upon their relationship to Christ: He is the One that saved them at the Cross, and He is the one that modeled for them how to live real life as He died in obedience and humility on that Cross. In order for them to have a truly rich partnership in Gospel ministry, they need to imitate Paul as he imitates Christ, in partnership in Christ's sufferings.

3:11 if somehow167 I might attain168 to the out-resurrection169 of the dead.170

In Romans 6:5 Paul wrote, “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, we will also be united in the likeness of His resurrection.” He taught that all believers will be resurrected. If by out-resurrection Paul was referring to that resurrection, which according to his own teachings was certain for every redeemed person, then he is in effect admitting two very strange things. First, that he has no assurance of his own participation in this event, and second, that participation in that resurrection was to be earned by participating in the sufferings of Christ and by becoming conformed to His death. The second of those two things is not only very strange, it is “another gospel,” a gospel in which salvation must be earned by incredible self-sacrifice. These two difficulties suggest that out-resurrection has a different meaning.

The “better resurrection” of Hebrews 11:35 points to the solution to this problem. In the context of the great faithfulness of the heroes of the faith in the Old Testament, Hebrews 11:35 says, “women received back their dead raised to life. But others were tortured, not receiving release, so that a better resurrection they might obtain.” Clearly, believers worked for that “better resurrection” through suffering. Paul wanted “to know the participation in His sufferings, becoming conformed to His death,” all in order to attain to the out-resurrection of the dead. He was striving with all his effort to attain to the same thing the heroes in Hebrews 13:5 sought to attain, a better resurrection. The resurrection of those who “were tortured and refused to be released” will be better, because it will involve rich heavenly rewards.

We know that it was because the Lord Jesus “humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross,” that "God exalted Him, and gave Him a name that is above every name.” The Lord Jesus received more than a resurrection body, He attained His exaltation because of His humble obedience. In the same manner, Paul would participate or partner in His sufferings, and so attain to the out-resurrection of the dead. In other words, Paul's attaining to the out-resurrection of the dead is parallel to the exaltation of the Lord Jesus. Both are contingent upon suffering. Both are contingent upon humility. Both are contingent upon obedience.

3:12 Not that I have already obtained this171 or already been perfected, but I pursue172 it if also I might seize it, the very thing for which also I was seized by Christ Jesus.

Paul does not, in this verse, mention what it is that is obtained, pursued, or seized, but it must be the status that he mentions in the previous verse, attaining to the “out-resurrection.” This same status is the goal also in the next verse and in the verse after that, where it is finally described with the word “prize.” With all the effort that Paul tells us is required to obtain this status, one wonders how it could ever be interpreted as the free gift of eternal salvation, given how explicit Paul is that eternal salvation is not won by our own efforts, but wholly by the work of Christ.

As the “if somehow” of the previous verse made clear, Paul simply does not have assurance that he will attain to the status he aspires to. Here he emphasizes that he has not yet attained it, but it is the object of his diligent efforts. This could hardly be about his eternal salvation. Because Paul knew something of the depths of his own sin,173 because he knew how near dreadful sin lurked in his heart, he could have no assurance that he would persevere in good works all his days and thus win the prize and attain to the out-resurrection of the dead. At the same time, because he knew of the perfect work of Christ on the cross, he had perfect assurance of his salvation. In 2 Timothy 2:11-13 we see that he was assured of his eternal security.

Christ Jesus has seized Paul to make him into a faithful disciple whom He will reward with crowns, a throne, and authority over nations in His coming Kingdom. In fact, He has seized all believers for that goal. In his old age Paul wrote 2 Timothy 4:7, saying, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” At that point in his life, near death, he finally had assurance that he had obtained the status spoken of here in this verse. In 2 Timothy 4:8 he told Timothy more concerning that status when he wrote, “Finally there is stored away for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” That is indeed the very thing for which also he was seized by Christ Jesus.

3:13 Brothers, I do not consider myself to have seized it. I have just one thing on my mind,174 forgetting what is past, and straining towards what is ahead.

Again Paul stresses that he has not attained to the status he is writing about, but here he goes on to describe the single-minded zeal with which he pursues that status. Although we know that he has not literally forgotten the past (he has just written about his past), he will not be distracted with that sort of thing. After a race, a runner may think through how he ran, where he ran well and where he ran poorly, but during the race he focuses on the course in front of him. Likewise Paul, in thinking about his past, does not distinguish between his former misguided efforts to justify himself through the Law (as in verses 5-6), or his more recent success in being devoted to Christ (as in verse 10). He will not dwell on any of that, lest he be distracted from the “race” that lies before him.

3:14 Focused on the goal, I pursue175 the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Look at how strenuous the tone is of this work of Paul's. He uses terms like “seize,” “strain,” and pursue. They are terms that indicate hard work, utterly inappropriate for any discussion about receiving the free gift of eternal life. That is not the topic here! Here Paul is describing the diligent work and suffering required, not to obtain citizenship to the Kingdom of God, but to gain a better resurrection, to reign with Christ in His Kingdom, to be given authority over ten cities, to be given crowns and a throne. Those are the things he is striving for with such single-minded diligence.

Paul works hard for this prize, which he refers to as a “crown” in 1 Corinthians 9:25; 2 Timothy 2:5; and 4:8, as a “reward”176 in 1 Corinthians 3:14 and 9:17, and as “the reward of an inheritance” in Colossians 3:24. In this context Paul has no assurance that he will succeed in this. He tells us of the possibility of being disqualified in 1 Corinthians 9:27. In 2 Timothy 2:5 he reminds Timothy that he needs to compete according to the rules to win the crown. In 2 Timothy 4:7-8 we read that since Paul finished the race, he will receive a crown, and further, that such a crown will be given to all who have loved His appearing. These are not conditions that are set down for our salvation, they are rather conditions set down for receiving a reward for hard work.

3:15-21

Follow me in this! Unhappily, the enemies of the cross are many. They will be destroyed, but we have a heavenly citizenship and a Savior from heaven.

3:15 Therefore, as many of us177 as are mature,178 let us take this attitude,179 and if you take some other view,180 this too God will reveal to you.

Paul wants his partners in Gospel ministry to know how to live their lives rejoicing in the Lord. Having put before them the negative example of the Judaizers and the positive example of taking pride in the cross rather than his own human status and attainment, and having reminded them of the rich rewards by which the Lord would motivate us, with winsome language he now calls upon them to adopt this heart attitude and approach to life. Paul might have sternly commanded them, “Think this way, all of you!” Instead, he draws them in, in effect saying “I know you all. You are not babes in Christ, you are mature in the faith. Let's think this way.” It is winsome language.

Then he puts more force into his language, by suggesting that if we do not take this heart attitude and approach to life as our own, our God is a gracious God, and He will show us what this means. He might do that by a supernatural revelation, but the next verse hints that He may do that simply through the course of events of our lives. If we choose to encourage ourselves on in the Christian life by priding ourselves on our status, our religious attainments, and our performance, the Lord has ways of showing us the spiritual shipwreck we are heading towards. Even the strongest of us will find that the fountain of human status and performance eventually runs dry. Whether we are weak or strong, rejoicing in the cross is the spring that will sustain us through all our years.

3:16 However, to what we have already attained,181 live up to182 that rule, and be of one mind.183

If we allow ourselves to indulge in some hypocrisy and disharmony, we can extend the time that pride of status and performance can sustain us. To prevent that delay in our insight that this heart attitude is not really working, Paul discourages hypocrisy and disharmony. He does that by urging us (if indeed we have decided to “take some other view”) to be sure to try to live up to that standard to which we have already attained and to be of one mind. If we have not taken the attitude that Christ is our righteousness and our boast, and if we diligently try to live up to a performance standard, Paul knows we will not succeed. By disallowing hypocrisy and disharmony Paul would hasten the realization of the spiritual dryness into which we have wandered. In verses 15 and 16 Paul certainly hopes that we will learn the easy way, but he offers a slower and more painful alternative as well. The easy way is to learn from the Word that Christ is our righteousness, our joy, and our boast; the painful way is to try to perform at some standard, to live up to a rule, and then to fail, and realize what we should have known from the beginning, that Christ is our righteousness, our joy, and our boast.

3:17 Join others in following my example,184 brothers, and pay attention to those that walk185 in that way, just as you have our example.186

Paul returns to a positive note by boldly calling the congregation to imitate him and others that conduct their lives with the heart attitude he has been describing. This is not just a general call to be holy or to be a missionary, it is a specific call to imitate Paul in the heart attitudes he has been describing, so that they will find their joy in the Lord, not in their own accomplishments or efforts at sustaining a Christian lifestyle. If someone were to follow his example and pay attention to those that walk in that way, in terms of outstanding holiness and awesome ministry effectiveness, but, at the same time, miss the point of rejoicing in the Lord and in the Gospel, they would not be doing what Paul is saying here at all, and in fact they would be heading towards that spiritual dryness that Paul is steering the congregation away from.

Paul was not ignorant of his sin. In 1 Timothy 1:15-16 he twice refers to himself as the worst of sinners. However, he knew of and exulted in God's grace. He knew that he was primarily and essentially a “holy one.” No false humility prevents him from calling congregations to imitate him and to follow his example. He makes similar calls in 1 Corinthians 4:16 and 11:1, and there is a related commendation in 1 Thessalonian 1:6.

3:18 For as I have often been telling you, and now even weeping I say, many walk187 as enemies of the cross of Christ.

The reason Paul has to urge them so strongly to follow the mindset he has been telling them about, the heart attitude of taking our delight in our salvation in Christ and our relationship with Christ, is because there are so many people around that would draw them into another heart attitude, a heart attitude which will eventually result in spiritual dryness or even apostasy.

The identity of these people living as enemies of the cross of Christ has been debated. Some say they were the Judaizers, who taught that a person must obey the Law of Moses in order to please God. Others say they were Antinomians, who taught that all laws, rules, and regulations must be cast off. The harsh verdict on them in the next verse, and the contrast with the situation of believers (“but our citizenship is in heaven”) in the verse after that, make it seem that they were not Christians. Also, it does not seem that these many were part of the Philippian congregation, to whom he wrote with great warmth and affirmation.

Nevertheless there is great danger here for us. Not only do we need to be ready to reject the seduction by which people like this would draw our joy away from Christ, we also need to watch our own hearts, and help each other beware of that tendency in our own hearts. As we Christians slip away from the attitudes that Paul has been trying to develop in this entire chapter, and fall into the attitudes that he has repeatedly warned us against in this chapter, do we not then resemble too much those enemies of the cross of Christ? We are not His enemies but His beloved children – and that lasts forever – but if we lose our first love, if we slip away from that joy in the Gospel, and if we then begin to pride ourselves instead on our spiritual attainments or quality of life, without losing the salvation He has guaranteed we may act much too much like enemies of the cross of Christ. The cross calls us to humility, but we have become proud. The cross calls us to find our identity in our salvation, but we find our identity in our accomplishments. The cross offers us joy in being loved by our Savior, but we scramble and scrape around to grasp at a bit of joy in our accomplishments, a bit in the praise and respect others give us, and now and then even a bit in the dark entertainments the world offers its citizens. Is not this all too prevalent heart attitude the reason Paul was often telling them, and even weeping to write of again as he composed these lines?

The specific identity of the many that would threaten the Philippian congregation of the middle of the first century ad is an interesting historical issue, but if we want to apply the Word of God we must consider carefully who in our lives are enemies of the cross of Christ that threaten to draw us away from the mindset of finding our worth in Christ, delighting in the Gospel, and rejoicing in the Lord. Anyone that would draw us away from such goals, which they might refer to as our “quaint religious ideas,” towards the mindset and activities they are using to try to fill the empty ache of their hearts are on the one hand enemies of the cross of Christ, and on the other hand people in need of the Lord. The earnestness of Paul's warning here should remind us that we live with the real danger of being tricked into believing that something other than Christ can bring us the deep settled joy Paul is writing about.

3:19 Their end is ruin,188 their god is their belly, and their glory is in their shame. They set their minds189 on earthly things.

While it is possible that he is simply saying that the end result of their attitudes is rot and ruin rather than eternal hell, the end Paul writes of here seems to refer to their ultimate status in hell. Given the contrast with “our citizenship” in the next verse, it does seem like Paul is saying these people are not citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven at all.

While our Savior was glorified because He was willing to endure humiliation for us, these people's end is ruin, because they delight in what is shameful.

As Paul looked for value in life, as he looked for what would bring true joy, he realized that his religious status and attainments were all as good as rubbish, and he decided to find his joy in the Lord. These people did not make the same decision.

Whether these people are sensual antinomians or scrupulously religious, they have nothing of the joy of the Lord, because they are focusing on earthly things. From a human perspective, we might be tempted to think that Paul is a bit out of balance if he has often been telling them, and as he wrote this letter was even weeping, warning them about people that set their minds on earthly things. However, this is crucial to our spiritual development. Like Paul we can consider all things rubbish and refuse, rejoicing in the Lord, or we can be led along by the enemies of the cross to their substitute joys.

3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven,190 out of which we are awaiting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,

In contrast with those who set their minds on earthly things, our citizenship is in heaven. They are headed to ruin, but we are awaiting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. By pointing out how fundamentally different our situation is, Paul reminds us again how utterly inappropriate it would be for us to act like them, or look for joy in the same places where they look for joy.

3:21 who will transform191 our humble bodies to conformity 192 with His glorious body by the working of His ability even to subject all things to Himself.

Our Savior will not simply save us from our sin, He will transform our humble physical bodies making them like His glorious body. When He does, our bodies will be appropriate for our citizenship! This is the wonder of the resurrection, and it is promised to all believers.193


136 This expression, το λοιπον/to loipon, has the meaning “the rest” or even, “the other.” The usual translation of this expression here in 3:1 is “finally” as in “the rest of what I have to say in this letter is," but since this is not really Paul's final comment in this letter it makes better sense to let this expression have its fairly common meaning of “for the rest of your time," “henceforth," or from now on (BDAG ad loc). as it does in Heb. 10:13. In 2 Tim. 4:8 λοιπον/loipon means “henceforth” or from now on.

137 This word, οκνηρος/oknēros, can mean “hesitant,” “lazy,” or “causing hesitance” (BDAG ad loc.).

138 This word, ασφαλης/asphalēs, means “stable,” "secure," “certain,” "firm" or “safe” (BDAG ad loc). In this verse Paul may simply have meant that he wanted to be certain they understood what he was writing.

139 See the discussion under 2:3.

140 This verb, βλεπω/blepō, which is used three times in this verse, literally means “see” or “look.” When it is not used literally, it often has the meaning “watch out,” but in that case it will always have no object or be followed by “lest” (μη/), “from” (απο/apo), “yourself” (εαυτου/eautou), “how” (πως/pōs), or “what” (τις/tis). However, this verb's usage in 1 Cor. 1:26; 10:18 and this passage does not fit any of those structures. In these three passages this verb just means consider, or “observe and learn a lesson from.”

141 There is a wordplay between this word, κατατομη/katatomē (off-cutting” or “down-cutting”), and the word περιτομη/peritomē (“around cutting” or “circumcision”), which occurs in the next sentence. Paul seems to have coined this term himself, since it is “found nowhere else in primitive Christian literature” (O'Brien, ad loc). The KJV translators tried to preserve the wordplay by using the terms “concision” and “circumcision.” In Gal. 5:12 Paul shows similar zeal against the same kind of people, writing “I even wish those subverting you would cut themselves off!” There he uses the verb αποκοπτω/apokoptō, which literally means “to cut off,” as when Peter cut off Malchus's ear in Jn. 18:10.

142 Among other ancient Greek authors, Homer and Aristotle used this word (κυων/kuōn) in very negative ways (BDAG, ad loc). In Mt. 15:26 when the Lord Jesus implied that the Canaanite woman was a dog, He used the diminutive form of this word (κυναριον/kunarion), which would refer to dogs that were pets, rather than farm dogs, yard dogs, or wild dogs.

143 “No Confidence In The Flesh: The Meaning and Function of Philippians 3:2-21.” David A. deSilva, Trinity Journal 15:1 (Spring 1994) p. 2.

144 The use of the optional pronoun we (ἡμεῖς/hēmeis), as well as its initial position in the sentence, make this we very emphatic.

145 This verb, λατρευω/latreuō, means “serve in religious duty” or “worship.” The related noun is discussed in endnote 129.

146 EBC ad loc.

147 This and related words are discussed under 1:26 and 2:2.

148 This word, πεποιθησις/pepoithēsis, seems to have the meaning of reasons for confidence or “grounds for confidence” here rather than just confidence.

149 In this and the next verse the word regarding is used three times to reflect how the preposition κατα/kata, often translated “according to,” is used three times.

150 EBC, ad loc.

151 When the Roman army destroyed the Temple, the Sadducees' power base was destroyed, and their influence waned sharply. However, the Pharisees survived that national trauma. Their descendants went on to write the Talmud. In fact, today Orthodox Judaism views the Pharisees quiet highly, and they trace their roots through them.

152 The use of the Perfect Tense here indicates a settled and ongoing stance on the issue.

153 The Present Tense here and with the same verb later in this verse indicates Paul's continual attitude, but he gained Christ and was “found in Him” as soon as he took up this attitude.

154 By using the expression all things (παντα/panta), Paul broadens the rejection of grounds for self-confidence beyond his own rather Jewish elements to a rejection of all reasons for self-confidence. See Jer. 9:23-34 for closely related OT command.

155 According to the BDAG lexicon this word, σκυβαλον/skubalon, can refer to any “useless or undesirable material that is subject to disposal.” As such, it was used of such things as kitchen scraps, garbage, manure, and even human waste products. Some commentators have gone so far as to say that the word actually means human excrement, but they are mistaken. Like the word “waste,” the word σκυβαλον/skubalon can be used of kitchen scraps and human waste or any “useless or undesirable material that is subject to disposal.” “Waste” or refuse are better translations for this term.

156 This word, ἱνα/hina, usually expresses purpose and is translated “so that.” It can however mean with the result that, as is clearly the case in John 9:2 when disciples asked the Lord, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, with the result that he was born blind?” Luke 1:43; John 16:32; Rom. 11:11; Gal. 5:17; 1 Th. 5:4; and 1 John 1:9 also clearly use ἱνα/hina to indicate result rather than purpose. Here it also indicates result. Paul is not saying that he is always considering everything rubbish with the continual intent that he might sooner or later be saved, he is saying simply “I always consider such things to have as much value in saving me as garbage would have, and in giving up on such rubbish and choosing Christ, the result has been that I have gained Christ....” The only problem with this translation is that it is a less common use of ἱνα/hina. However, the list above shows that this use of ἱνα/hina is not so rare as to be improbable here.

157 This is an Aorist Subjunctive verb. The NIV has to use the expression “that I may gain” because it takes it as a purpose clause, and that is how English purpose clauses are translated. If it is a result clause, then the English must be that I have gained.

158 Calvin (Commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians, ad loc.) responds to that ascetic sort of thinking by writing, “Paul, therefore, divested himself – not of works, but of that mistaken confidence in works, with which he had been puffed up.”

159 Hendriksen, ad loc.

160 κερδαινω/kerdainō

161 In Acts 8:40 and Gal. 2:17 this same expression, “to be found” (εὑρισκω/heuriskō in the Passive Voice) means simply “to be.”

162 The words I want are supplied for a smoother translation, but are absent in the Greek.

163 Again we see the word κοινωνια/koinōnia. It could even be translated “partnership” here.

164 Rather than cringing from this text, most commentators try to “spiritualize” it, saying that these ideas are not meant literally, but refer to “certain spiritual experiences, such as mental suffering, dying to self, and living the resurrected life” (The Believers' Bible Commentary, ad loc).

165 See the discussion of 2:12 above.

166 Behind the Ranges, p. 170, quoted in The Believers' Bible Commentary, ad loc.

167 This Greek expression, ει πως/ei pōs, is also found in Acts 27:12; Rom. 1:10; and 11:14. It expresses some doubt whether the hoped for event will really come to pass. Paul did not have assurance of this, but he had definite assurance of his participation in the resurrection from the dead and his eternal salvation, as is so clear from passages like Phil. 3:21 in this very letter, as well as Rom. 8:38-39; Gal. 2:16; Col. 1:12; 2 Tim. 1:12; and Titus 3:5.

168 This verb, κατανταω/katantaō, can literally mean “arrive at a geographic destination” or figuratively “arrive at a goal,” and so here might also be translated attain or “reach.”

169 This term, εξαναστασις/exanastasis, is not found elsewhere in the NT, but it is made up of the prefix εξ/ex (out) followed by the noun αναστασις/anastasis (resurrection).

170 Most of the oldest manuscripts of Philippians read “out-resurrection from the dead” while the majority of Greek manuscripts read “out resurrection of the dead,” but the sense in either case is the same.

171 The words this and it are not in the Greek, but are supplied in the English.

172 This verb, διωκω/diōkō, can mean “run towards,” “persecute,” “drive away,” or pursue. It is also used in verse 14.

173 See for instance Rom. 7, 1 Cor. 15:9, which reads “For I am the least of the apostles…,” Eph. 3:8 “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people…,” and 1 Tim. 1:15 “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst….”

174 This Greek phrase, ἑν δε/hen de, is brief and forceful. It has the literal meaning “but one,” and is here translated with the expression I have just one thing on my mind.

175 See the comments on this verb, διωκω/diōkō, in endnote 172.

176 This noun, μισθός/misthos, is frequently translated “wages.”

177 The words of us are added in English.

178 This word, τελειος/teleios, can refer to something that meets the highest (or lowest) standard, or “perfect.” It can refer to a mature adult as opposed to a child. That meaning can be used metaphorically, as here and in 1 Cor. 14:20. It can also refer to the “initiated” in a cult.

179 See the explanation of this verb, φρονεω/phroneō, in endnote 84.

180 The same verb, φρονεω/phroneō, is used here as well.

181 This verb, φθανω/phthanō, means “to precede someone to a place,” “to arrive at a place,” or figuratively to attain.

182 This verb, στοιχεω/stoicheō, literally means “to be drawn up to a line,” like soldiers in formation, but in the NT it means “to hold to or conform to a standard.”

183 Only one of the oldest manuscripts follows the majority of Greek manuscripts, which contain the words rule, and be of one mind. Those who reject the reading of the vast majority of manuscripts would probably accept these words as a helpful and very ancient explanation of Paul's intent.

184 Literally, “My with-imitators (συμμιμητης/summimētēs) become….”

185 Περιπατεω/peripateō literally means to walk, but often it is used figuratively to mean “to live,” “to conduct your life,” or “to behave.” In this verse the people “walking” are worthy of being imitated, but in the next verse they “walk as enemies.”

186 The English word “type” is derived from this Greek word, τυπος/tupos. It first referred to a mark or impression made by a blow or by pressure (as in “the τυπος/tupos of the nails” that Thomas insists on seeing and touching, in Jn. 20:25). It came to refer to a pattern as in Acts 7:44; Rom. 5:14; and Heb. 8:5 (“the τυπος/tupos shown to you on the mountain”), and more specifically, a positive role model as here and in 1 Thes. 1:7; 2 Thes. 3:9; 1 Tim. 4:12; Titus 2:7; and 1 Pet. 5:3. It refers to a negative role model in 1 Cor. 10:6. In Acts 7:43 it refers to an image or idol. It can also refer to the content of a letter or the content of teachings, as in Acts 23:25 and Rom. 6:17.

187 See endnote 185 about this verb, περιπατεω/peripateō.

188 See endnote 70 about this term, απωλεια/apōleia, under the discussion on Phil. 1:28.

189 See the explanation of this verb, φρονεω/phroneō, in endnote 84.

190 While the congregation's citizenship is in heaven, since Philippi was a Roman colony, its citizens possessed Roman citizenship. That would make the image Paul is using here particularly challenging for them, because it would have been tempting and safer to agree with the state that Caesar was Lord and Savior. In N.T. Wright's article entitled, “Paul's Gospel and Caesar's Empire” he says that this verse is saying, “Jesus is Lord, and Caesar isn't. Caesar's empire, of which Philippi is a colonial outpost, is the parody; Jesus' empire, of which the Philippian church is a colonial outpost, is the reality.” In Acts 16:21 Philippi's pride of Roman citizenship is visible (EBC, ad loc.).

191 The root of this verb, μετασχηματιζω/metaschēmatizō, is the noun σχημα/schēma, which is discussed in endnote 91 on 2:8. It refers to outward appearance, which is appropriate in this passage about our bodies.

192 The root of this noun, συμμορφος/summorphos, is μορφη/morphē, which is discussed in endnotes 86 and 87 on 2:6. It refers to “form,” which likewise is appropriate in this passage.

193 Better status in the resurrection, rather than participation in the resurrection, is discussed under 3:11 above.