True Righteousness (Part II)— A Study in Contrasts: The Judaizers and Paul (Philippians 3:9-11)
I. Translation as It Appears in the NET Bible
Philippians 3:1-11 has been treated in two separate studies due to the length of the passage. In the first study we dealt with 3:1-8 and in the second we will be looking at 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.
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)
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 Judaizers176 had been in contact with the church, the apostle focuses on true righteousness in contrast to the false law-oriented 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 church. In this lesson we will look at 3:9-11 where Paul reveals his deepest desire to know Christ and enjoy the power of the resurrection in his current experience. In fact he begins with justification in v. 9, then moves to sanctification in v. 10 and concludes with glorification in v. 11. His desires stand in marked contrast to the selfish, carnal lives of the Judaizers whose confidence in themselves reeked with smug arrogance and incited the judgment of God.
IV. True Righteousness (Part II)—
A Study in Contrasts: The Judaizers and Paul (3:9-11)
1. Paul’s Present Life in Christ (3:7-11 beginning with v. 9)
a. Paul’s Justification (3:9)
Paul ends 3:8 with the subordinate clause that I may gain Christ. The word and (kai) beginning 3:9 is epexegetic meaning that what follows is a further explanation of what it means to “gain Christ.” Both the verbs gain and be found are in the aorist tense and indicate that Paul is thinking here of a definitive future time when he will stand before God’s tribunal trusting solely in the merits of Christ’s righteousness applied to him through faith. He wants to be found in him (Jeuresqw en autw), that is, in the sphere of the blessings and righteousness of Christ. God forbid that he, or we, should be “found” in any other way.
Thus, Paul says, “I want this…not because of having my own righteousness (emhn dikaiosunhn) derived from the law (ek nomou), but (alla) because of having the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness (thn dia pistews cristou)—a righteousness (thn dikaiosunhn) from God (ek qeou) that is based on Christ’s faithfulness (epi th pistei). Paul in no way wants to appear before the Judge of all mankind with only his “own” righteousness to offer (cf. Isa 33:22). This would be a disaster. The term righteousness here refers to God’s legal declaration (i.e., forensic) of righteousness imputed to the believer at the time of his/her salvation. It is based solely on the person and atoning death of Christ (Rom 3:21-31; 2 Cor 5:21) and establishes a new relationship with a holy God (Rom 5:1ff). It is not acquired by attempting meritorious works of the Law, but rather thn dia pistews cristou. This phrase in Greek can be read in one two different ways: (1) “the faithfulness of Christ.” This is how we have translated it, or (2) “through faith in Christ” (so most modern translations). There are good grammatical arguments on both sides of the issue. My preference is for the latter of the two. The contrast in the passage is not between Paul and Christ per se, but between two different “ways” to be justified. Thus the contrast is between faith and works as competing ideas. Paul says that he has abandoned works as a way to secure favor with God and has turned instead to faith in Christ as the only means by which one may be justified before God.
Thus the focus in v. 9 is primarily on justification/vindication and the future judgment of God. The direction Paul begins to move in v. 10 concerns sanctification and his present experience until the day when he stands before God.
b. Paul’s Sanctification (3:10)
Knowing that through faith in Christ Paul has entered into a personal relationship with the living Lord, the apostle has made it his aim to know him (tou gnwnai auton), to experience the power (thn dunamin) of his resurrection (ths anastasews), to share in his sufferings (thn koinwnian twn paqhmatwn autou), and to be like him (summorfizomenos) in his death (tw qanatw)….
The phrase to know him (tou gnwnai auton) picks up the thought of verses 8 and 9: Paul regards (present tense) all things as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of the knowledge of Christ Jesus [his] Lord for whose sake he has lost all things and considers (present tense) them dung. He does so that he might gain Christ…and that he might know him. One cannot cling to one’s pedigree, achievements, or status, on the one hand, and know Jesus intimately, on the other. The term to know is used by the apostle to refer to knowing facts, or giving mental assent to certain facts (Rom 1:21; 1Cor 1:21). But in this context the “knowing” to which he refers is much more intimate and personal. This is true because the object of the knowing is a person, namely, Christ. Also, the language of his resurrection, his sufferings, and transformation, is all personal to Paul. This is not some abstract way of knowing nor the factual academia of the law (the kind of “knowing” the Judaizers engaged in), but living in union with Jesus himself (John 15:1-11). Paul may have lost all things, but he has gained the “one thing” that really matters. “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”177
The next phrase, namely, to experience the power (thn dunamin) of his resurrection (ths anastasews) is a further description of what it means to know Christ personally. Paul wants to know Christ so intimately that he experiences firsthand the life-giving, transforming power of the resurrected Lord. He wants to overcome sin, not by carnal adherence to the Law, but by the indwelling Christ who gives him resurrection power. What Paul really wants is LIFE and God is the only one who can give that (Rom 6:1-11; 8:11). Obviously this power is mediated through the indwelling Holy Spirit in Pauline theology. For similar thoughts on the efficacy of the new covenant and the role of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s present deliverance from sin see also 2 Cor 3:7-18.
But to know Christ intimately is not just to share in his resurrection life, but also to share in his sufferings (thn koinwnian twn paqhmatwn autou). These are not two completely unrelated ideas. Sharing in Christ’s sufferings is the lot of every Christian as they live in a fallen world. This struggle includes every force from within and without that would hinder our intimacy with Christ and the progress of the gospel. Paul is not referring here to our participation in Christ’s sufferings on the cross as if somehow our sufferings could contribute to Christ’s atoning work. Such an idea is foreign to the apostle who pronounced the whole world unworthy sinners and taught that salvation, including the faith to believe, was by grace (Rom 3:10-20; Eph 2:8-9). What he means is that we share in Christ’s sufferings since he too lived and walked in a fallen world. The relationship between experiencing resurrection power and suffering is that the former becomes most evident in the context of the latter. His power through us is seen most strikingly in the midst of our struggles (2 Cor 4:7-12).
The final phrase in verse 9, namely, and to be like him (summorfizomenos) in his death (tw qanatw) is literally, “being conformed to his death.” It clarifies the ultimate inward nature of our struggle as people saved in the present, yet awaiting the full realization of our salvation in the future. Specifically, the basis upon which we can be conformed to his death is the fact that we all as Christians died with Christ on the cross. When he died on the cross we died with him and so were set free from sin. His death was applied to us when we first trusted in Christ (Rom 6:1-11; Gal 2:20). We died with him on the cross so that he might live in us. His death was a death to sin and, therefore, to be conformed to his death means to die to sin in this life so that resurrection to eternal life is our lot in the next. Romans 8:17 puts it this way:
If children, then heirs; heirs of God and fellow-heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him in order that we may be glorified with him (my translation).
c. Paul’s Glorification (3:11)
Though we have titled this section, “Paul’s Present Life in Christ,” that does not mean that there is nothing of the future in these verses. Indeed, in v. 11 Paul seems to be thinking of the eschaton and future judgment. Paul says and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Paul is not intimating here that he is not sure how he will be resurrected, whether it will be after martyrdom or natural death, after the rapture, etc. These suggestions, the former of the two having more merit, are quite unlikely. Nor is the passage strictly a reference to his humility, though after the reflection on his piety in 3:8-10, one might think this to be the case. And, even if it is a statement through which Paul is attempting to communicate his profound humility, it is still difficult to account for the note of uncertainty.
It is true that elsewhere the apostle Paul is certain of his future with the Lord (Rom 8:30-31; 2 Tim 1:12). But the issue in Phil 3:2-11 is trusting in one’s own nature, background, or prowess to please God. The issue concerns putting confidence in the flesh. Therefore, knowing the sinful flesh as he does, the apostle still has a measure of healthy self-doubt about his own complete trust in Christ. He says that he really wants to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, but he knows that in his flesh he is not able to maintain such pursuits. Thus he needs to continue to trust in Christ and that is the “somehow” of attaining to the resurrection from the dead—continued trust in the context of being a sinner.178
The note of uncertainty in the passage also prepares the reader for 3:12-14. Lest someone should think—and it appears that there was a teaching/doctrine of perfectionism floating around in Philippi—that Paul had spiritually “arrived,” he lets them know in v. 11, and then explicitly in vv. 12-14, that this is certainly not the case. He does not walk around as the Judaizers who trust in legal obedience, or other Christians who assume that since you’ve trusted in Christ you’ve been perfected. Rather, Paul walks around knowing that there is much more “ground” to be taken in his personal relationship with the Lord and that he hasn’t arrived yet. He lives within the eschatological tension of the “now/not-yet.” He knows that he is included in the true circumcision, worships by the Spirit of God, and glories in Christ Jesus, but he also knows that he is still a sinner. Thus he holds these two realities in tension: they find their ideal expression in the pursuit of Christ, to know him, the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings.
V. Principles for Application
1. We must not spurn good solid reminders from godly teachers about our need to grow in Christ and not rest on our laurels. This truth is especially difficult for those who have been Christians a long time, but who have evidenced little trust in Christ. Let us listen well to what Paul is saying in 3:1-11 and give careful thought to our ways (Haggai 1:7; 2:15).
2. Do we really regard all things as loss compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord? Remember that the verb “regard” means to make a conscious, sober judgment about “all things” in our life in terms of whether our attitude toward these things is a hindrance or help in our relationship with Christ. Remember too that if the “thing” is not intrinsically immoral, then it is not the thing-in-itself which is the problem. It is our “thoughts and feelings” toward the “thing” that cause the problem.
3. Ask God, out of his amazing grace and mercy, to give you a passion to know him more intimately. You cannot do this on your own. But, by yielding your life to him and humbly asking that he create a new heart within you, he will do it. He is the one who can make resurrection power available to you and the one who will be there during the times when you are acutely aware of sharing in Christ’s sufferings. He is the one who guarantees your resurrection from the dead.
176 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 allowed to develop it would have destroyed 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. This was something which Paul—insofar as it depended on him—would not allow to happen. The particular Judaizers in view in Phil 3:2 may not have been saved, but actually Jewish teachers on the floating on the fringes of Christian communities.
177 I believe this statement was originally made by Jim Elliot, one of the five Ecuadorian martyrs. I have yet to track down the precise source.
178 Cf. Silva, Philippians, 191-93.