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True Righteousness (Part I)— A Study in Contrasts: The Judaizers and Paul (Philippians 3:1-8)

I. Translation as It Appears in the NET Bible

Philippians 3:1-11 will be treated in two separate studies. In the first study we will deal with 3:1-8 and in the second, 3:9-11. We have, however, included the translation and outline for the entire 3:1-11 in both studies to provide a quick reference for understanding the immediate context of each passage. The translation is as follows:

3:1 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. 3:2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! 3:3 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 3:4 —though mine too are significant. If someone thinks he has good reasons to put confidence in human credentials, I have more: 3:5 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. 3:6 In my zeal for God I persecuted the church. According to the righteousness stipulated in the law I was blameless. 3:7 But whatever was gain to me, I consider these things as loss because of Christ. 3:8 More than that, I now regard all things as loss 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, 3:9 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. 3:10 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, 3:11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

II. Outline

    A. Introduction (3:1)

    B. Warning against False Righteousness: The Judaizers (3:2-3)

      1. The Warning Proper (3:2)

      2. The Rationale (3:3)

    C. The Example of True Righteousness: The Life of Paul (3:4-11)

      1. Paul’s Previous Life in Judaism (3:4-6)

      2. Paul’s Present and Future Life in Christ (3:7-11)

        a. Counting Loss and Gaining Christ (3:7-8)

        b. Paul’s Justification (3:9)

        c. Paul’s Sanctification (3:10)

        d. Paul’s Glorification (3:11)

III. Context

After a brief introduction (1:1-2) and a section devoted to Paul’s thanksgiving and prayer for the church (1:3-11), the apostle begins a rather lengthy section emphasizing humility and unity in the face of opposition from without and division from within (1:12-2:18). He even gives two examples of humble service to the Lord, namely, Timothy and Epaphroditus (2:19-30). Then, in 3:1-4:1, he embarks on a distinct yet related topic. Because certain Judaizers161 had been in contact with the church, the apostle focuses on true righteousness in contrast to false, law-based righteousness. In 3:1-16 he uses his own life as a model of what true righteousness is and how it is achieved. In 3:17-4:1 he applies this message to the Philippian church. In this lesson we will look at 3:1-8 where Paul really exposes the arrogant presumption of both the Judaizers and himself in his pre-Christian stance. In the end, he repudiates his previous attitude toward his background, knowing that such renouncing was necessary in order to know Christ and be found in him not having his own righteousness based on the Law (i.e., based ultimately on human merit and achievement), but one which comes through faith.

IV. True Righteousness (Part I)—The Judaizers and Paul
(3:1-8)

A. Introduction (3:1)

Paul begins this new section of his letter with the words, Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! The term finally (to loipon) can indicate the end of a letter, as for example in 2 Cor 13:11. This has been cited by several commentators as further evidence that the letter to the Philippians is a composite document and that 3:1-4:1 was not part of the original letter. But loipon in 1 Thess 4:1 and to loipon in 2 Thess 3:1 indicate that the expression can simply signal a transition in the content. In any case, if the transition in Phil 3:1 is as abrupt as some argue, and that the only possible explanation is to assume some form of interpolation, then it is hard to see why any redactor would have left it in such an awkward state.162

The new subject Paul wants to transition to concerns the Judaizers and their contention for a law-based righteousness. But first he tells the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord (chairete en kurio). One of the surest ways to deal with legalism and a “works-oriented” Christianity, to prove its utter worthlessness, is to continue rejoicing in the Lord. The Philippians are not to take pride, or “rejoice” as it were, in their own accomplishments regarding Christianity, but they were to rejoice in the Lord. Paul has already told them to rejoice in 2:18 and will command them again in 4:4 (two times in 4:4!). The joy of the Lord is their strength!

Paul says that to write this again is not a bother for [him], and it is a safeguard for the Philippians. The term bother (okneron) is also found in Matt 25:26 and Rom 12:11. It means to be “tired” or “lazy.” Paul is saying that warning the Philippians is not a tiresome chore for him, but something that he gladly does because, as he says, it is a safeguard (asphales) for them. The term asphales means “certain,” or “firm.”163 In 1 Clement 33:3 (2nd century AD) Clement refers to the creation as set upon the firm foundation of God’s will. In Ignatius’s letter to the Smyrnaeans (8:2; 2nd century) he uses the term in reference to doing everything in a trustworthy way, that is, in accord with the desires of the bishop and correct teaching. Thus the warning that Paul is about to give the Philippians is a “safeguard” in that it will show them what is right and prevent them from unknowingly slipping into any form of legalistic heresy.

The question arises, however, as to what Paul is referring to with the term this (ta auta; lit. “the same things”); it is not a bother for him to write this, but what does he mean by this? He has just commanded them to rejoice for the second time. Is he referring to that? Is he referring to some prior oral or written communication with the Philippians? Or, is he referring to what follows in the letter regarding the warning about the Judaizers? How specific can we be? The second option may well be true but we have no evidence to confirm that Paul had actually written anything previously intended specifically for the Philippians. Certainly, the third option plays a role in what Paul is talking about. But it may well be, although it is denied by several commentators, that the repeated command to rejoicing is that to which the apostle refers. As I said above, it is the joy of the Lord that protects a person from legalism (as well as the works of the flesh such as murmuring, divisive behavior, etc.). While it is an essential part of the package, even correct doctrine is not enough. It must be married to authentic experience. Thus Paul goes on in 3:4-14 to talk about the authentic experience of trusting in Christ Jesus.

B. Warning Against False Righteousness: The Judaizers (3:2-3)

      1. The Warning Proper (3:2)

Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! Paul starts off a rather “charged warning section” with three quick commands all beginning with the term beware! In the Greek text beware (blepete) means not so much to “look carefully at,” but to “stay clear of.” Paul wants the Philippians to note the error of these Jewish false teachers and to avoid it for all their worth! He carefully assigns three epithets to these teachers, each one beginning with the letter k in Greek—a fact which creates assonance in the section and gives it an emotional charge. He deliberately refers to the Judaizers as dogs, evil workers, and those who mutilate the flesh.

The choice of the term dogs (kunas) is ironic since this was a term characteristically used by Jews in reference to Gentiles since the latter were ritually unclean (1Enoch 89:42; see Matt 15:26; Rev 22:15). Thus Paul says that by their attempts to adhere to the law, they have so broken the import of the law that they have become ritually unclean, just like the Gentiles. And now they want to defile the church with their teaching as well!164 The dogs to which Paul refers here are not house pets, but large, ugly pariahs. They were scavengers that roamed the streets searching through the garbage165—an apt metaphor for the Judaizers.

But, in the calculated opinion of the apostle, the Judaizers were also evil workers (kakous ergatas). The term workers calls to mind the Judaizers’ insistence on their ability and faithfulness to perform the works of the Law and that their righteousness was consciously based on this fact (Rom 3:20). But, in the nature of the case, then, they have become evil workers because in reality they do not keep the Law. Further, they fail to realize that the presumption that one can keep the law to gain merit with God is itself inimical to the gospel; it is diametrically opposed (in the strongest way) to both fallen, human nature and the free grace of God. Thus they have become evil. In short, they stand opposed to the very purposes of God in the world, i.e., the saving of undeserving sinners through the preaching of the gospel about Jesus Christ. The Judaizers stand in contrast to people like Timothy and Epaphroditus (2:19-30), genuine workers for the Lord.

Paul ends his triad of castigations with a rich pun in reference to the Judaizers; they are those who mutilate the flesh. In Greek there is a play on words: the Judaizers are not the peritome (“circumcision”) as they thought they were, but indeed they are the katatome (“mutilation”). As Martin comments:

Those mutilators of the flesh refers to the practice of circumcision; but Paul will not give it its proper name peritome. Instead, by a pun, he mockingly calls it a mere cutting, katatome, i.e. mutilation of the body on par with pagan practices forbidden in Leviticus 21:5….The derision is applied to the Judaizers in Galatians 5:12, where apokoptein, “to cut off” is a reference to their concern with the physical act of circumcision, and ironically also means “to castrate.”166

Thus the apostle berates the Judaizers for their slavish adherence to the outward rite, all the while neglecting and denying the repeated warnings of the OT that the rite must also be accompanied with a circumcision of the heart done by the Spirit (Lev 26:41; Deut 10:16; 30:6; Jer 4:4; Ezek 44:7). Paul says the same thing in Romans 2:28-29.

      2. The Reason (3:3)

Paul begins his next sentence in v. 3 with the term For (gar). It introduces the reason for the warning in v. 2. The Philippian Christians are to beware of the Judaizers and not be sucked in by their supposed authority; the church is the true people of God. In 3:3 Paul emphatically states four things about the church—four things which stand in stark contrast to the Judaizers on the one hand, and certify that the church is the true people of God, on the other.

In reference to himself and the Philippian church, Paul says we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, exult in Christ Jesus, and do not rely on human credentials. The use of the pronoun we (hemeis) in the Greek text is emphatic and indicates that Paul believes the following four things are true about the church and definitely untrue about the Judaizers.

First, Paul says that the church is the circumcision. In Col 2:11-15 the apostle refers to circumcision in ways akin to regeneration and new birth. Thus the Christian is the real circumcision because he/she is permanently made part of the redeemed covenant community by the circumcision done not with human hands, but by Christ himself. We have the true sign of being allied with the covenant community, namely, the Holy Spirit.

Second, the church is the real circumcision because its members worship by the Spirit of God not according to some external rite or ritual. We have the reality itself, not some rite that was intended to point to the reality until it arrived. The Judaizers were living in the past, not in the present manifestation of the grace of God through Christ and the Spirit. In 2 Cor 1:21-22 and Eph 1:13-14 Paul emphatically states that the Holy Spirit was given to us as a down payment guaranteeing our inheritance in the future.

Third, as Christians we exult [boast/brag] in Christ Jesus and definitely not in any works of the flesh or supposed obedience to the Law of Moses—or any other rules per se. We do not rely on our own abilities to please God. We know that Christ has paid our debt and that by the life-giving Spirit in us we can please God. Thus we are proud of the atoning work of Christ even though it testifies to our own bankruptcy. In the end, we are in the family of God because of Christ and his work (1 Cor 1:30-31), not because of any work or effort on our part.

Fourth, we do not rely on human credentials. In Greek this expression is literally “put no confidence in the flesh.” The term flesh ([sarx], i.e., human credentials) has a fairly broad semantic range in the New Testament.167 It can refer physically to the body, to the totality of human nature (John 1:14), and to our fallen human nature (Rom 7:5; 8:9). In Phil 3:3 the term refers to the best the religious man can produce apart from Christ. The point is that the very best that he can achieve still leaves him condemned before God. On the contrary, the Christian does not trust in his natural abilities to please God. Instead, he places all his confidence in Christ. By his continuing persistence in relying on his obedience to the Law, the Judaizer repudiates the gospel and winds up under the judgment of God (cf. Rom 5:10).

C. The Example of True Righteousness: The Life of Paul (3:4-11)

But, says Paul, if the Judaizers want to play the game of “credentials,” he can play it too—even better than they can. His “bragging” here is not altogether different from that which he felt compelled to do for the Corinthians (2 Cor 11:16; 21:11).168 He says that if someone thinks he has good reasons to put confidence in human credentials, he has more. The apostle then goes on to list his credentials in 3:4-6. But, in the end, such merit is really demerit and often hinders, if not precludes, a person from coming to know Christ. This is Paul’s point in 3:7-11. Let’s look at the apostle’s credentials first and then see how he viewed his “qualifications.”

      1. Paul’s Previous Life in Judaism (3:4-6)

Paul lists seven facts about his life that more than amply qualify him for a place in the covenant people of God, at least according to the Judaizers’ standards. The first four he came by naturally, the latter three he earned by hard work. First, he was circumcised on the eighth day. Paul proudly proclaims that unlike proselytes to Judaism (which some of his detractors may have been) or the descendants of Ishmael, he was circumcised on the eighth day in strict accordance to the letter of the Law (Lev 12:3). The implication is that he grew up and was educated (until he left for Jerusalem) in an obedient Israelite family.

Second, he was from the people of Israel meaning that he had a natural right—if anyone did—to all the blessings and privileges promised to every Israelite. Hawthorne, following Martin and others, suggests that the name Israel was of “such continuing significance that apparently Hellenistic Jews used it prominently in their propaganda efforts.”169 Paul was not a convert to Israelite religion, but was born a Jew and was thus—in the thinking of his opponents—an automatic member of the covenant community.

Third, Paul was of the tribe of Benjamin. These words came off his pen with a note of pride as Benjamin held primacy of place among the tribes of Israel. Several facts contribute to the idea that the tribe of Benjamin was highly honored: (1) Benjamin was the only son born in the promised land; (2) Israel’s first king, Paul’s namesake, Saul, came from the tribe of Benjamin; (3) Jerusalem was within the borders allocated to Benjamin; (4) the tribe of Benjamin remained loyal to the house of David after the break up of the kingdom in 931 BCE (1 Kgs 12:21); and (5) the tribe of Benjamin held the post of honor in the Israelite army.170

Fourth, Paul was also a Hebrew of Hebrews meaning that he was pure Jew. His father was a genuine Jew, and his father before him, etc. If there ever were a Jew who rightly inherited the promises of his forefathers it was the apostle Paul. Thus the statement a Hebrew of Hebrews summarizes what he meant by making reference to his circumcision on the eighth day, his lineage in Israel, and the fact that he was a Benjamite; the point is, Paul was most certainly, by even the strictest of standards, a Jew!

The next three aspects of Paul’s life relate to what he had accomplished, not what he had inherited from his past per se. The first thing is the well-known fact that he lived according to the law as a Pharisee. Paul was the son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6) and studied under the well known rabbi, Gamaliel (Acts 5:34; 22:3). The Pharisees were one of several Jewish sects which developed in the intertestamental period sometime around the middle of the second century BCE. It has been argued that their name means “separated ones,” due largely to the fact that they had resisted the inroads of Hellenism in their synagogues and religion. At the time of Paul they were regarded as the strictest of the sects (cf. the Sadducees) and devoted themselves to the oral tradition developed around the Law in an attempt to prevent any violation of its standards. While the term Pharisee is often used in a derogatory fashion today, the Pharisees had more in common with Jesus theologically than any of the other contemporary religious sects and Paul is here using it as a badge of honor. Nonetheless, their focus on externals to the complete neglect of love and mercy earned them a scathing rebuke from Jesus himself (Matt 23). It is this external focus that Paul is here referring to when he says that according to the Law he was a Pharisee. He was proud of his commitment to the Law of God as evidenced in its outward demonstrations that all could see.

Second, Paul signaled his great zeal for God (note what he says about zeal without knowledge in Rom 10:2) by persecuting (diokon) the church, having people thrown into prison, and having given approval for their executions (Acts 8:1). His zeal in persecuting the church had become well known. Ananias was afraid to go and see Paul because he knew of Paul’s reputation (Acts 9:13). Many of the people throughout Damascus had heard of Paul’s brutality and were astonished when they learned that he had come to faith (Acts 9:21). In Galatians 1:13 Paul’s own testimony is that he intensely persecuted the church. It is also interesting to note in Gal 1:13 that the term church (ekklesia) refers to the entire church of God, not just a local congregation. Paul persecuted the body of Christ (Acts 9:4-5).171

The third and final comment Paul makes about his former life is that he was, at least according to the righteousness (dikaiosunen) stipulated in the law, blameless (amemptos). What Paul means here is that by the standard of external Law-keeping he was without fault. He had invested enormous energy in keeping the details of the Law and was, in the eyes of his Jewish colleagues, without fault. It was not until he had his Damascus road experience that he came to realize the bankruptcy of such blind religious dedication. Never in his wildest dreams did he regard his efforts or works as dung—not until, that is, he met Christ. Then he understood the truth of it all! How many of us can say the same thing!

      2. Paul’s Present Life in Christ (3:7-8)

Paul now turns in 3:7-8 to give his appraisal of both the seven items he outlined in 3:5-6 as well as every other facet of his life which he might have previously thought to be gain, spiritually speaking. The contrast between his pre-conversion thinking and his post-conversion thinking is well highlighted by the strong adversative but (alla). He says in 3:7 that whatever was gain to me, I consider these things as loss because of Christ. The term whatever (hatina) takes in Paul background and achievements in 3:5-6 but also includes anything he might ever have viewed as gain to his spiritual account.

It needs to be pointed out that Paul does not condemn the things in his past on the basis of the things in themselves. There is nothing wrong with being born a Jew. Indeed it was a blessing to be circumcised on the eighth day and reared in a devout Jewish home. It was a tremendous privilege to belong by birth to the nation of promise and descend from one of the most famous tribes within it. The fact of his zeal, although misdirected, is admirable in itself and so is the upright life he strove to live. He was moral, religious, and deeply committed to his people and their heritage. In many respects he was a model citizen. The problem is not with the things in themselves per se, but rather with Paul’s approach to them and what he hoped they’d accomplish before God. He performed them with the arrogant (yet under the guise of humility) conviction that because of them God found him pleasing. In such a posture he was virtually an enemy of God and the gospel. They were gain to me (moi kerde), the apostle says, in that he thought they would achieve standing and merit with God. This was his fundamental (mis)understanding of the OT Law and his complete lack of appreciation for the Christian gospel.

But once he came to know Christ (i.e., because of Christ) personally, on the Damascus road, and the 25 years or more that had elapsed between then and the writing of Philippians, the apostle had come to a radically different point of view. This is not to say that Paul underwent a gradual change of heart over the years. On the contrary, it was instantaneous and permanent on that day when he was converted to Christ; it had only deepened over the years. The new point of view initiated at his conversion included the repudiation of the idea that his background somehow gave him special standing with God. That mentality was completely rejected. Any approach to life in the future with that kind of mentality was to be completed rejected. Such a point of view was disastrous to the cross of Christ and thus regarded by the apostle as pure and complete loss (zemian). Paul’s “considered judgment” (hegemai) was that his perception of those things had indeed turned them into one huge loss for him. They were a stumbling block to the reception of the grace of God in his life. We note that Paul did not spurn or repudiate his background as such, since much of his Pharisaical exegetical training shows up in his letters, he exploited his background as Jew in his missionary efforts, and he continued to be a man of great zeal. Again, it was his perception of his background and its place before God that had changed.

More than that, Paul says, I [now] regard all things (panta) as loss….What was definitely implied in the previous verse (3:7) is now made clear; he regards everything as loss. Paul maintains this radical perception, not just of his own past, but presently of all things. And this is the attitude we must have as Christians as well. Whatever good we may have done or whatever prowess we possess, it must all be brought under the Lordship of Christ. It is all from his grace and not to be considered as having any salvific merit before God. Nothing could be more inimical to the cross than to attempt to trust wholly in Jesus and yet secretly cling to some other thing for comfort, help, and ultimate salvation.

But notice that Paul says he regards all things as loss compared to the far greater value (dia to huperechon) of knowing (tes gnoseos) Christ Jesus my Lord (tou kuriou mou), for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I might gain Christ…. Hawthorne rejects the idea that there is a comparison involved with the construction dia plus the accusative to huperechon and that it simply indicates cause and should be translated as such; i.e., because of the far greater value of the knowledge of Christ Jesus.172 This may be true to a certain extent but it is difficult to get around the comparison implied in the articular participle to huperechon (“surpassing greatness”). The point is that for Paul knowing Christ was of more value than anything else in his heritage and more precious to him than anything else in his present experience. It was more valuable because it is saving, personal, and transforming. It is the personal knowing of Christ that is so exciting to Paul and ought to be to the Philippians and to us today as well. None of this can be said of following a religion with all its do’s and don’ts.

The grammar of 3:8 is somewhat tricky and we ought to take a moment and discuss it. The term knowing (tes gnoseos) in the Greek text is actually a noun in the genitive case. It modifies the participle far greater value (to huperechon) in an appositional manner. That is, it tells what the far greater value is; it is knowledge of Christ. But knowing is a verbal noun, that is, it has verbal qualities and therefore we translated it as a verb, i.e., knowing. The following genitive noun Christ Jesus is objective and relates the object of that knowing. It is knowing Christ Jesus personally that is worth more than anything else to Paul. And he knows Christ as my Lord. The term my once again suggests the intimacy that Paul shared with his risen Lord and the One who had captivated his allegiance. This is why we stress the personal relationship aspect of the knowing to which Paul refers.

But what is the background to the term gnosis? Paul may be exploiting the term commonly used by initiates within the Greco-Roman mystery religions to describe the secret “insight” or “knowledge” they received from the god(s) during their religious ceremonies. In Paul’s use here, then, it has a somewhat polemical value in terms of proclaiming that the true knowledge of the so-called gods is knowledge of Christ Jesus, the One and Only true God (cf.2:6). But this may not be Paul’s primary intent in the choice of the word since the false teachers he is opposing in 3:2-3 were primarily Jewish and not pagan. Therefore, it may better to see the background of the term coming out of the OT and referring to the true knowledge of God as expressed in personal relationship, love, and obedience. Paul, in contrast to the Judaizers, truly knew and loved God. They, on the other hand, only loved their tradition. His was a deeply experiential “knowing”; theirs was merely intellectual and even that was distorted. Regarding the term gnosis Martin says:

The verse uses a noun “knowledge,” gnosis, which Paul received as God’s gift in the illumination of his conversion experience; the noun corresponds to the Hebrew d^a^t from the verb y^d^a, to know. For example, it is used of God’s knowledge of his people in election and grace (in Am. 3:2, of the nation; in Ex. 33:12, 17 and Je. 1:5; of an individual; cf. 2 Tim 2:9) and their knowledge of him in love and obedience (see Je. 31:34; Ho. 6:3; 8:2). The Pauline expression “to know Christ” is intimate (my Lord), and glows with the warmth of a direct relationship; it may therefore be taken as equivalent to “fellowship with Christ” to which Paul was introduced on the day of his conversion (cf. 2 Cor 4:6).173

There is a discernible progression in Paul’s narration. He moves from considering (1) whatever was gain to him as loss, to (2) regarding all things as loss, to (3) actually suffering the loss of all things and (4) in the end he regards them all (present tense) as dung!

So then, Paul says that not only does he regard all things as loss (zemia), but that he has suffered the loss (ezemiothen) of all things. The aorist past tense (passive) of suffered the loss may well look back to the time of his conversion, but more likely it refers to some point after becoming a Christian when the Jewish authorities regarded his accomplishments and standing as null and void. He no longer had any officially recognized position in his religion. This was of course due to his commitment to and preaching of Jesus as the messiah. But in the end Paul considers his heritage, achievements, and accomplishments as nothing but dung (skubala). That is, they were of no value and even a detriment to knowing and trusting in Christ. The meaning of the term dung is difficult to express with certainty. Many take it back to the idea of “that which is thrown to the dogs.” Thus skubala may be a veiled reference to the Judaizers as dogs (cf. kunas in 3:2).174 In any case it was used to refer to (1) excrement; (2) refuse; and (3) even a half-eaten corpse. In the final analysis, then, it was a revolting term and provided a sober crescendo to how Paul came to understand his previous thinking about his Judaism; his previous attitude toward his background and accomplishments was damning.175

Now the reason Paul regarded his past and present accomplishments, etc. as loss and dung was in order that he might gain Christ. It was more valuable for Paul to lose his life and then gain it, than to try—as so many people do today—to gain his life in this world, only to lose it in the next (cf. Matt 16:26). What he means by gain Christ is according to what he has just been saying and will say in 3:9-11. “Gaining Christ,” then, refers to partaking in His free offer of righteousness, entering into a deep and satisfying relationship with Him, and thus securing an eternal home with Him. In all ways, Paul had gained Christ.

V. Principles for Application

    1. We must take seriously Paul’s command to rejoice in the Lord (3:1). After confessing all known sin, we ought to rejoice in God’s grace and mercy. Paul is commanding us here to exhibit a certain emotion of joy in the Lord. Sometimes we are so hampered by feelings of inadequacy and attitudes of selfishness that we can’t look long enough at the Lord to rejoice in who He is. If there is any emotion that will keep you from bitterness and backbiting, it is the experience of rejoicing in Christ. May your life be swallowed up by your joy for the Lord—perhaps it will be contagious!

    2. Be careful and watch out for those who teach that salvation and sanctification are by works alone—any human works. Nothing will rob you of your relationship with Christ quicker than reducing Christianity to a mere ethic. Now, to be sure, scripture commands us to live a certain way in order to please God, but it is because we are in vital union and communion with Christ by our living faith (John 15:1-11). If you are not close to him, you are undoubtedly a very religious person who feels/demands that others need to do more and that more must be done to please God. If you are close to him, and know him deeply, you are grieved over the sin of Christians and that more is not done to honor Christ. There is quite a difference! Be careful of trusting in anything other than Christ. You are saved and grow as a Christian as you trust in him. You are not saved because you grew up in a Christian home, went to church faithfully, or can recite the apostle’s creed. Never confuse meaningful relationship with Christ with mere religion about Christ.

    3. We are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9). But faith that genuinely taps into the grace of God will always express itself in works that have their source in Christ as well as their nature and goal in Christ and His law (cf. Gal 6:1-2). The best way to express saving faith and experience the transformation of the Spirit of Grace is by obeying Christ’s commands. Let us not forget that what Paul is reacting to in Philippi is not the principle of obedience to God, but rather a mindset and belief that thinks that the way to secure one’s salvation and standing with God is by relying on one’s own abilities to do law-works sufficient to please God. This belief system, though common in most religions, is at odds with God’s estimation of our sinful flesh—in which no good thing lives—and completely contrary to the saving purposes of Christ’s death on the cross.


161 These were often from the more legalistic segment of the church which taught that Gentiles needed to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses in order to be saved (cf. Acts 15:1ff). If this doctrine were permitted to develop it would destroy unity in the church between Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:11-22). The Gentiles, by virtue of the fact that they had no Jewish heritage to appeal to, would have de facto been viewed as second class citizens. This was something which Paul—insofar as it depended on him—would not countenance. It is possible that the particular Judaizers in view in Phil 3:2 may not have been saved, but actually Jewish teachers floating on the fringes of Christian communities.

162 Cf. Silva, Philippians, 165-68.

163 Cf. BAGD, s.v., asphales.

164 Cf. Hawthorne, Philippians, 125.

165 Hendriksen, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, 150.

166 Martin, Philippians, 141.

167 See George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, rev. ed., ed. Donald A. Hagner (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 509-17.

168 Cf. Martin, Philippians, 145.

169 Hawthorne, Philippians, 132.

170 See Hawthorne, Philippians, 132-33; Kent, “Philippians,” 139-40; Silva, Philippians, 174-75. But cf. Hendriksen, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, 156-58, who offers some balancing comments regarding the mention of Benjamin here.

171 Cf. Martin, Philippians, 147.

172 Hawthorne, Philippians, 137. But see Silva, Philippians, 182.

173 Martin, Philippians, 149.

174 Cf. Silva, Philippians,

175 Hawthorne, Philippians, 139;

Related Topics: Regeneration, Justification, Law