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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
Philippians 3

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-21


Dangers and Hopes of the Present Situation

V. Interjected Warnings (Philippians 3:1-21)

§ 11. Philippians 3:1-6. Finally (lit. 'For the rest'), my brethren, brings the close of the letter in sight (see Intro.); the Apostle has only a few supplementary counsels to give—prefaced by the Rejoice in the Lord, which is the prevalent note of the Epistle (Philippians 1:4, Philippians 1:18, Philippians 1:26; Philippians 2:2, Philippians 2:17-18)—and to make acknowledgment of the contribution sent through Epaphroditus. But the admonition of Philippians 3:2 strikes a chord of feeling in his breast which vibrates too strongly to be soon arrested. From Philippians 3:4 onwards, Philippians 3 is a diversion in the Epistle, but such as answers its underlying purpose, since it opens St. Paul's heart to his readers and makes them more than ever 'partakers of' his 'grace' (Philippians 1:7).

The observation of Philippians 3:1; relates to Philippians 3:2-3; St. Paul is writing the same things about the seductions of Judaism that he has said or written before: this was a chronic danger to his Churches. Though Philippi contained few Jewish settlers, its situation (see Intro.) exposed this Church to the visits of Jewish emissaries. The dogs, the evil workers, the concision (mutilation) form one class of adversaries, who receive the last epithet by way of scornful play upon the boasted name of 'the circumcision.' The Abrahamic covenant-seal has become null and void for rejecters of Christ, and no better than any other 'cutting' of the body; so the Apostle transfers its name to the Church, upon which the OT. inheritance devolves: see Romans 2:25-29; Romans 4:12; Romans 11:17; Galatians 3:7; Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:11-19; Ephesians 3:6; Colossians 2:11-13 also Matthew 21:43. These same men are dogs, raging against and ready to devour the Apostle of the Gentiles (cp. Psalms 22:16, Psalms 22:20). ill-workers, because of their mischievous and unscrupulous activity: cp. 2 Corinthians 11:13. As in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, unbelieving Jews are here intended, radically opposed to the gospel; not, as in Galatians and 2 Corinthians, Christian Jews who pervert it. Jewish hostility was violent beyond measure in Macedonia: see Acts 17.

3. By contrast with anti-Christian Jews, we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God (whose worship is inspired by the Holy Spirit), and glory in Christ Jesus (not in Moses, the Temple, etc.), and have no confidence in flesh (in any external privilege or performance). Here the Apostle strikes into the current of his own experience, which carries him away for the rest of the chapter

4. Though I (one of the emphasised 'we' of Philippians 3:3) might have confidence indeed in the flesh—who had a better right to presume upon outward prerogative? Amongst the seven points of superiority enumerated in Philippians 3:5-6, four came to Saul by birth, three by acquisition. The eighth day was the proper date for the infant's circumcision (Genesis 17:12); Israel, the covenant-name of Jehovah's people; Benjamin, the tribe eminent as supplying the first king of Israel, and subsequently remaining faithful to the throne of David; a Hebrew sprung from Hebrews, one whose family preserved the home-language: see Acts 21:40. The fact that he had been a persecutor of the Church, combined with his Pharisaic professions and legal blamelessness, raised Saul's reputation to the highest pitch: cp. 2 Corinthians 11:22; Galatians 1:13-14; Acts 22:3-5.

§ 12. Philippians 3:7-11. The treasured gains of Saul of Tarsus, Paul the Apostle has counted loss because of the Christ, content to lose them if he might gain Christ (cp. Galatians 6:14); there is no treasure that he would not hold cheap in this exchange—I count all things to be loss for the surpassing worth of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord (Philippians 3:8). And this is no untried vaunt: For whose sake I have suffered the loss of all things—home, ease, honour, everything that men count dear (cp. Acts 20:24)—and count them refuse! So contemptible had the world's wealth become to him through knowing Christ; he wins infinite riches in exchange for dross!

The last clause of Philippians 3:8 is completed by Philippians 3:9, which unfolds St. Paul's distinctive conception of the believer's relation to his Saviour: that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, that which comes of law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God, resting upon faith. These words sum up the doctrine of salvation taught in Romans and Galatians: the Apostle has not 'gained Christ' as an outward possession, but so as to be planted in Him and recognised as one with Him; so that even his 'righteousness'—the moral worth that gives value to his existence—is not claimed for his own, as though it had been won by law-keeping, for it accrues to him through faith in Christ, and thus has its fountain in God; it is built not, like the Pharisee's righteousness, upon human efforts and strivings, but upon faith in God and Christ.

Philippians 3:10-11 are parallel to Philippians 3:9, setting forth objectively, as that defined subjectively, the Apostle's 'gain' in Christ. As Philippians 3:9 expanded the for whom of Philippians 3:8, so Philippians 3:10-11 take up and enlarge upon the foregoing phrase, the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; the entire sentence (Philippians 3:8-11) is symmetrical:

I count all things to be loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, For whom I suffered the loss of all things, etc., That I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, etc., So that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, etc.

10, 11. Three points are specified in St. Paul's 'knowledge of Christ': (a) The power of His resurrection, which came on Saul in the Damascus revelation. The resurrection of Jesus Christ which manifested Him as the Son of God, at the same time revealed in Him 'the power of God' working 'unto salvation': see Romans 1:4, Romans 1:16; Romans 4:24-25; Ephesians 1:19, Ephesians 1:20. The whole faith of the gospel turned upon Christ's resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, 1 Corinthians 15:12-25; Romans 10:9); the new life of the believer springs from His opened grave (Romans 6:4-11; 1 Corinthians 15:20-21, 1 Corinthians 15:45-49). (b) In contrast with the power of the Lord's resurrection-life stands the fellowship of His sufferings (2 Corinthians 13:4), to which St. Paul was admitted from the outset: see Acts 9:16. The present situation sets his ministry in this light: see Colossians 1:24; Ephesians 3:13; 2 Corinthians 4:10; 2 Timothy 2:11-12, and cp. Matthew 16:24; Matthew 20:22, Matthew 20:23. This fellowship goes to the length of being conformed to His death (a continued process); for the disciple is following his cross-bearing Master (Matthew 10:38, etc.), and his daily course is as a march to Calvary: cp. 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 4:10; Galatians 2:19-20; Galatians 6:14. (c) St. Paul's knowledge of Christ will culminate in his attaining unto (arriving at) the full (or final) resurrection from the dead; hitherto he 'knows in part,' then he will 'know as' he 'is known' (1 Corinthians 13:9-11). If by any means bespeaks humility rather than misgiving; St. Paul cannot look with steady eye on the dazzling prospect: cp. Galatians 3:20; 1 John 3:2. For 'resurrection' a unique intensive Gk. compound is here used, signifying completeness, finality—a resurrection that leaves mortality for ever behind: cp. 2 Corinthians 5:4.

§ 13. Philippians 3:12-16. The goal of the Apostle's career lies beyond this world; hence he proceeds: Not that I have already obtained the 'gain' secured to me in Christ (cp. Philippians 1:21), or am already made perfect; but I am pressing on, if so be that I may apprehend (lay fast hold of) that for which I was apprehended (laid fast hold of) by Christ Jesus. In this disclaimer, emphatically resumed in Philippians 3:13, St. Paul contrasts himself with Christians holding mistaken notions of perfection similar, probably, to those attributed to 'Hymenæus and Philetus' in 2 Timothy 2:16-18, who taught that 'the resurrection is already past' (scil. in the regeneration of the soul) and denied 'the redemption of the body' with all that this implies: see Romans 8:18-23 cp. 1 Corinthians 15:12. Challenging these perfectionists, who imagined that Christ in their present state had reached the goal of His work of redemption, St. Paul protests: Brethren, for my part I do not reckon myself as yet to have apprehended; but one thing—! (Philippians 3:13) Here he breaks off; 'one thing I do' (AV) supplies the aposiopesis: forgetting the things behind and straining out unto the things before, I press on towards the mark, to reach the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14): cp. Hebrews 3:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:12. 'The prize' is the heavenly life of the redeemed (Philippians 3:11, Philippians 3:20-21),—'our perfect consummation and bliss both in body and soul'; 'God calls' men to this in Christ Jesus, since Christ conveys the call and supplies in His person its mark (Philippians 3:21 cp. Romans 8:29). The Apostle depicts himself as a racer straining every nerve to reach the goal and wasting not an instant in looking backward.

The Gk. adjective perfect (i.e. 'fullgrown,' 'mature': see 1 Corinthians 14:20; Ephesians 4:13) appearing in Philippians 3:12 and Philippians 3:15, was used of initiates into the religious 'mysteries' of the time, at the final stage of qualification; the party in view claimed, under this designation, to have acquired an esoteric 'knowledge' of Christianity going deeper than simple 'faith': see Colossians 2:4, Colossians 2:8; 1 Timothy 6:20, 1 Timothy 6:21. This Gnosticising tendency, so strongly evidenced by the Colossian heresy, was widespread and manifold in form; it greatly exercised the Apostle's mind at this time.

15. Let us, so many as be perfect (the true 'initiates,' in contrast with those alluded to in Philippians 3:12), be thus minded—as much as to say, 'Those really deep in Christian knowledge will think in this way' (Philippians 3:10-14). The perfect recognise the distance of the goal; they are the last to count themselves perfect: cp. the treatment of Gk, conceit of wisdom in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16; 1 Corinthians 8:1-2; 1 Corinthians 14:37, 1 Corinthians 14:38.

15b, 16. Some members of this Church are otherwise minded—unable to follow what St. Paul has just said; knowing their loyalty, he can wait confidently for their enlightenment—God will reveal this also unto you (cp. 1 Corinthians 2:10-15)—provided that they faithfully practise the truth already grasped: whereunto we have attained, by that same rule let us walk (RV): cp. Galatians 6:16; John 7:17. Omit 'let us mind,' etc. (AV).

§ 14. Philippians 3:17-21. Against the third class of opponents (see Intro.)—in some instances identical with the second, for spiritual conceit and moral depravity may be found together (see 1 Timothy 6:3-5)—St. Paul adduces his example and that of others of like behaviour, as against the two former he cited his religious experience.

18, 19. Their character is notorious: the Apostle has spoken of them often, and weeps over them as he writes now. These are peculiarly the enemies of the cross of Christ—not Jews who 'stumble at' the cross (Galatians 6:12; 1 Corinthians 1:23), but professed Christians whose walk tends to its subversion; men whose end is perdition—like that of 'the adversaries' of Philippians 1:28; (see 2 Corinthians 11:15; 2 Peter 2:1-3)—for their god is the belly (they honour sensual appetite like a god: see Romans 13:13-14; Romans 16:18; 2 Timothy 3:4), and their glory is in their shame (they pride themselves on sensuality: see Ephesians 4:19; Romans 1:32; 2 Peter 2:13-14); who mind earthly things! (cp. Romans 8:5-7)—the delineation ends in amazement. These men are Antinomians, accepting Paul's gospel only to 'continue in sin that grace may abound,' and 'using liberty for an occasion to the flesh' (see Romans 6:1, Romans 6:12; Galatians 5:13; Judges 1:4). They were the reproach and grief of the Apostle's ministry. One hardly supposes that the writer has such enemies amongst the Philippians (see Philippians 1:3-8); but libertine Christians were numerous, and might travel that way.

20, 21. Against the earthly is set the heavenly mind and walk, described by a word appealing to the Philippian civic consciousness (see Intro., and cp. Philippians 1:27): our citizenship (AV 'conversation') is in heaven! (cp. Revelation 21:2). As the distant Philippian 'colonus' belonged to Rome, so the Christian sojourning on earth is a citizen of heaven; his home lies 'where Christ is' (Colossians 3:1-3; Ephesians 2:19; 2 Corinthians 5:1-9; Hebrews 11:13-16; Matthew 6:21; John 14:2-3). From this region, ours already by affinity, we await a Saviour (see 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 15:23).. who will refashion the body of our humiliation ('vile body,' AV, is a mistranslation), that it may be conformable to the body of his glory. The Gk. adjective rendered 'conformable' appeared in Romans 8:29;—'conformed to the image of God's Son': conformity of bodily state completes conformity of character. Upon this metamorphosis, see 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 and 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17. The Apostle keenly felt the 'humiliation' of man's mortal state: see 2 Corinthians 4:7 to 2 Corinthians 5:5. The idea of 'the body of glory' was given him by the form of heavenly splendour in which he had seen the Lord Jesus on the Damascus road: cp. 2 Corinthians 4:4-6, also Revelation 1:13-17.

This transformation of the saints will be the supreme act of that mighty working in which Jesus displays His power, as Lord of God's kingdom, to subjugate all things unto Himself: cp. Philippians 2:10-11 and Matthew 28:18. The human body is, from first to last, the object of His miracles. Read 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 this connexion.

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Philippians 3:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/philippians-3.html. 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, August 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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