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Friday, June 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Philippians 3

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Warning Against Judaizers

Following Paul’s Example and Teaching (3:1-21)

Watch Out for the Evil Workers (3:1-3)

There is a radical shift in emotion in the letter at this juncture. Paul moves from warm, sentimental feelings of love and appreciation for Epaphroditus to an almost fierce hostility toward those who would destroy the faith of the Philippians. This sudden change has disturbed many commentators and critics, leading them to assume that verses 2-21 are an interpolation by a later redactor. The reasoning is that the first word, "finally" or "in conclusion" (GNB, KJV, JB, NIV, RSV), is natural for the farewell section of the letter, as in 2 Corinthians 13:11. There also seems to be a smooth transition from Philippians 3:1 to Philippians 4:4, causing some to believe that 3:2-4:3 was inserted later. The word "finally," however, is often used simply to make a transition from one topic to another (1 Thessalonians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:1), rather than introducing the conclusion.

It is not unusual, however, for Paul to make such drastic transitions in thought and emotion as he writes. He has done so earlier in the letter in Philippians 1:16-17 and does so again in Philippians 3:18-19. Galatians 3:1 serves as another example of such mood swings in Paul’s letters. Paul’s emotions run high as he refers to their enemies as "dogs," "workers of evil," and "mutilators" (Philippians 3:2). These enemies are most likely Jewish Christians (Judaizers) from some area other than Macedonia, who have insisted on keeping the law (especially circumcision) as a means to justification alongside their faith in Christ. In truth, they have relied on their own performance in obedience to the law rather than on Christ’s perfect obedience that resulted in the atoning sacrifice for all men. They have trusted in themselves rather than in the Spirit.

Silva writes:

On the other hand, we may leave open the possibility that Paul had indeed intended to bring the letter to an end at this point and that for some reason decided against it. Does not the second part of 3:1 suggest that the apostle had been weighing in his mind the advantages and disadvantages of repeating material ("to write the same things") that he had previously communicated to the Philippians? It is perhaps not too farfetched to speculate that Paul stopped writing or dictating after the words chairete en kyrio; by the time he returned to the document he had decided he must include a doctrinal discussion, just to be safe (167).

Verse 1

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.

Finally, my brethren: The word "Finally," as previously noticed, does not always indicate a conclusion to a letter. In fact, many translators do not translate the Greek term as "finally" at all: "and now" (Gdsp, Knox); "furthermore" (Houlden), or "well then" (Mft). The same Greek word (loipon) is translated "then" (Acts 27:20), "besides" (1 Corinthians 1:16), "now" (1 Corinthians 4:2), and "henceforth" (2 Timothy 4:8).

rejoice in the Lord: Paul tells them to rejoice throughout the letter (1:18; 2:17-18, 28; 3:1; 4:4, 10), but this is the first time he tells them to rejoice "in the Lord." Christ is the object of and the basis for rejoicing. It is "in Christ" that the Christian finds true joy. Paul has already spoken of his joy in spite of his adversaries who have tried to cause him harm (1:17-18). He has rejoiced in the thought that if executed, his life would be sacrificed as a drink offering poured out along with the sacrifice of the Philippians. There are many adverse circumstances, trials, and difficulties in which Paul, the Philippians, or any Christian might find himself involved. These might include temptations, persecutions, discouragement, opposition, suffering, bereavement, or many other things. The response of Christians should be to rejoice in the Lord, for God is mightily at work in their lives.

To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe: "The same things" possibly refer to the previous exhortations Paul has written in the letter for them to rejoice. It is more likely, however, that "the same things" refer to subject matter he has previously written about in other letters, and he now addresses in this section. The evidence of this conclusion is found in Philippians 3:18 : "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ." The reason for these repeated warnings was "for you it is safe." Paul has consistently warned them concerning false teachers; and these repeated warnings are not bothersome to Paul, for they are necessary for the safety and protection of the Philippians.

Verse 2

Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.

The strong language Paul uses here is similar to that found in Galatians (1:8-9; 5:12; 6:12-13) and 2 Corinthians (11:13-15). In each of those letters Paul is confronting the influence of false teachers from within the church, formerly Jews who had persisted in trying to persuade Gentile Christians to adopt Jewish practices, especially circumcision. In Greek, the imperative "watch out for" is repeated three times in this verse in rapid succession, making it apparent to the readers that Paul’s warning is earnest and serious. "Every effort should be made clearly to articulate this concern in translation, preserving the form in which it comes as much as it is possible to do so" (Hawthorne 124).

Each of the three descriptions in this verse is describing the same people.

To appreciate the force of verse 2, we need to realize that Paul’s language is not accurately described with such terms as "insulting" or "abusive." Paul has carefully chosen his terms to achieve intense irony, not merely to use derogatory speech (Silva 169).

Beware of dogs: "Beware of" means "to be on your guard against" or "watch out for" (Loh and Nida 90). The term "dog" had a somewhat different connotation among ancient Jews than it does for Americans today. To call someone a "dog" today would be derogatory, even for someone who is deemed vulgar or worthless. To the Jew in Paul’s day, it was a distinct word with religious connotations, referring to Gentiles who were outside covenant relation with God and who were unclean (Matthew 7:6; Matthew 15:26-27). "When Jesus drew a comparison between the Syro-Phoenician woman and dogs (Mark 7:27), the woman recognized the analogy not as a vulgar insult but as a religious statement" (Silva 169). Dogs and Gentiles were practically synonyms according to the Jews. Yet here the apostle turns the tables on these Jews by calling them "dogs" who are unclean and devoid of a relationship with God. They are the spiritual Gentiles.

beware of evil workers: Paul then calls the Judaizers "evil workers." It is doubtful this phrase means they were doing sinful things, except perhaps it may refer to the evil of infiltrating the church and teaching false doctrine that would lead disciples astray. The phrase probably is used to refute the Judaizers’ claims that they were doing the works of the law (Galatians 3:10; Galatians 5:3; Galatians 6:13). A similar expression is found in 2 Corinthians 11:13, "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ." Their reliance upon keeping the law was harmful both to themselves as well as to those who listened to them, ultimately leading to self-reliance and obscuring their need for God. Many in the church today have forgotten their dependence on God and have treated the New Testament scriptures as these Judaizers did the law. They rely on their strict compliance with the Word for their justification, rather than obeying the Word because through Christ they have been justified.

beware of the concision: Next, the apostle essentially says these Judaizers do not deserve to be called the "circumcision," but rather "the mutilation" (katatome). They insisted that Gentile Christians be circumcised as an outward sign of the covenant between God and His people as taught in the law of Moses (Genesis 17:10-14; Genesis 17:23-27; Exodus 4:25; Exodus 12:44; Exodus 12:48; Leviticus 12:3). He takes their greatest source of pride and likens it to the pagan cuttings of the body that were forbidden by the law of Moses (Leviticus 19:28; Leviticus 21:5; Deuteronomy 14:1; Isaiah 15:2). The Jews in general had lost sight of the fact that circumcision was a symbol to give evidence of the circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4; Ezekiel 44:7), showing their devotion to God and His commandments. It had lost its symbolic nature, and they had made it an external rite indispensable for establishing a correct standing before God. Many have done the same thing with baptism today, relegating it to a rite that once and for all assures them of eternal salvation, without regard to whether or not they have repented of their sins or are true followers of Christ.

Verse 3

For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.

For we are the circumcision: These Judaizers have no right to the name "the circumcision," for it is the church of Christ that is the true Israel (Galatians 6:16). Paul says, in essence, "They are not the true circumcision; we are." The external rite of circumcision was done away with in Christ (Galatians 5:6; Galatians 6:15). In Christ, it is the circumcision of the heart that matters (Romans 2:25-29). Christians who partake of the Divine nature and walk according to the Spirit are the true people of God, not national Israel.

which worship God in the spirit: In the previous verse, Paul describes the false teachers in three ways and with great irony. Now he gives a threefold description of the true people of God. The first two are positive statements while the third is negative. The first statement says, "which worship God in the spirit." This phrase is similar to that found in John 4:23-24, which speaks of the true worshipers of God who worship in spirit and in truth. This phrase is translated and understood in a variety of ways. The New English Bible says "whose worship is spiritual." Moffatt, the Revised Standard Version, and Bruce translate it: "who worship God in spirit." Each of these translations indicates the phrase means the worship of the true Christian is offered in the domain of the spirit not in the realm of external ceremonies. The focus here is on the inner human spirit’s being engaged in worship as opposed to external rites.

Others say the reference here is not to the human spirit but to the Holy Spirit.

There is a serious problem in taking "spirit" as a reference to the human spirit. In the Greek New Testament the term "spirit" without a qualifier usually means the Holy Spirit, so it is more likely that "spirit" here is not the human spirit but the Holy Spirit. This interpretation is supported by the fact that "spirit" appears side by side with "God." For this reason, a number of translations prefer a third reading which is supported by some important early manuscripts. It reads "who worship by the Spirit of God." The Holy Spirit is the dynamic source of Christian life, and he alone can inspire us to worship God...By means of his Spirit represents an instrumental dative, indicating that the worship is under the impulse and direction of the Holy Spirit (Loh and Nida 92).

The New International Version, New American Standard Bible, New King James, Jerusalem Bible, Philips, Goodspeed, and Barclay translate this word as referring to the Holy Spirit.

The word "worship" (latreuontes) literally means "to render religious service" (Thayer 372). This word refers to Christians’ offering service to God, an act that is inherent in the meaning of the word.

Those who are in Christ are part of the new order ushered in by his coming (2 Corinthians 5:17), the new age of salvation. They have the Spirit of God (Romans 8:8-9); and his presence, following his outpouring by the exalted Lord Jesus (Acts 2:33-36); is a sign of this new age. This same Spirit is the initiator who enables Christians to serve and please God, in a service of a comprehensive kind that includes not simply prayer or worship in a formal sense but the whole of life (O’Brien 361).

and rejoice in Christ Jesus: The second phrase is "and rejoice in Christ Jesus." The word "rejoice" (kauchaomai) is found thirty-five times in Paul’s writings and is best translated as "boast" or "glory" (Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker 425-426). Christians have a rightful, triumphant, exultant, boastful attitude, not in themselves or their works but in Christ. The Christian looks away from himself so that his glorying is in God. Basically, the Jew was self-confident before God, having convinced himself that through his strict adherence to the law, he would bring honor to himself. The Christian however, in apposition to such self-glorification, glories in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14).

and have no confidence in the flesh: The third and final phrase describing the Christian (the true circumcision) as opposed to the Judaizer is "and have no confidence in the flesh." The word flesh is used by Paul ninety-one times out of the 147 times it appears in the New Testament, and it has a wide range of meanings. Here in this verse, the New English Bible probably comes nearest to capturing the meaning by translating the word as "anything external." "The implication is that here is another allusion to circumcision" (Lohmeyer 125-126). The phrase could be a reference to Jewish descent, achievements, or compliance with the law (that is, circumcision); or it may have a broader meaning, expressing anything in which humans might place their trust in other than the things of God. Paul most commonly uses the word "flesh" to refer to man’s fallen nature in his unregenerate state.

Paul’s Past Life: Privileges and Achievements (3:4-6)

After saying that Christians boast in Christ and do not put their confidence in the flesh, Paul goes on to explain what trusting in the flesh means by giving personal testimony. Those who had been listening to the Judaizers were led to believe that God sanctifies the Christian through obedience to the law. Paul explains what he gained by the flesh under the law and then shows how vastly inferior that is to what he has found in Christ. Paul is not inferior to any of the Judaizers when it comes to pedigree and performance in the Mosaic system. He knows precisely where the Judaizers are coming from and could claim all of the advantages the Philippians’ opponents are claiming. Paul, therefore, is able to reduce their arguments to nothing. He describes his former achievements and his heritage as being worthless compared to what he now has in Christ; therefore, it is futile for the Philippians, or anyone else, to turn to that outdated religious system. It avails them nothing in Christ.

Verse 4

Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:

Paul here draws from the arguments of the Judaizers: If one might justifiably have confidence before God because of his own heritage or achievements, Paul has reason to have confidence. The phrase "confidence in the flesh" refers to one’s arrogance in boasting of his achievements as a basis for a saving relationship with God. The King James Version and other translations weaken Paul’s statement by supplying "might also," for he actually possesses the grounds for such confidence. "If orthodox pedigree and upbringing, followed by high personal attainment in the religious moral realm, ensured a good standing in the presence of God...,Paul need fear no competition" (Bruce 82). Paul is without peer in such matters.

Verses 5-6

Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

In these verses, Paul gives seven qualifications he could hold forth to prove his point in the preceding verse. The seven clauses naturally fall into two groups: the first four are inherited privileges acquired by birth while the last three are his own personal achievements.

Circumcised the eighth day: The first phrase is literally, "as to the circumcision, on the eighth day." In other words, Paul was circumcised according to the law (Genesis 17:9-14; Leviticus 12:3). He was circumcised on the proper day, unlike Ishmael, a proselyte, or some pagan ritual. Circumcision was a sign of those in covenant relationship with God.

of the stock of Israel: Next, Paul states he is of the nation of Israel, that is, an Israelite by birth. "He possesses all the rights and privileges of God’s chosen people because he belongs to them by birth, not by conversion" (Hawthorne 132). Israel is the covenant name of the people of God (Romans 9:4; Romans 11:1; 2 Corinthians 11:22).

of the tribe of Benjamin: Paul then says he is "of the tribe of Benjamin." Benjamin was the second and last son born to Jacob from his beloved wife Rachel. He was the only son born in the promised land (Genesis 35:16-18). The tribe of Benjamin gave Israel her first king: Saul, whose name the apostle bore. The temple of God and Jerusalem were found within the borders of the territory given to Benjamin (Judges 1:21). After the kingdom divided in the days of Rehoboam and Jeroboam, the tribe of Benjamin remained faithful to the house of David (1 Kings 12:21). After the exile, Benjamin and Judah formed the core of the new community of Israel (Ezra 4:1). Paul is of perhaps the most highly esteemed tribe of all, and he seems to have the qualities of loyalty, strength, courage, and purity that so often characterized that tribe.

an Hebrew of the Hebrews: The final phrase boasting of his heritage is literally "a Hebrew of Hebrews." He was a Hebrew son of Hebrew parents. His parents were not proselytes to Judaism, neither were they adherents to Hellenism. Though born out of the dispersion in Tarsus of Cilicia, he was raised in Jerusalem at the feet of the esteemed Gamaliel, "according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers" (Acts 26:4-5; Galatians 1:14). Paul speaks Hebrew as well as Aramaic (Acts 21:37-40; Acts 22:2). He could not correctly, therefore, be labeled a Hellenist. He is pure Hebrew.

as touching the law, a Pharisee: The next three phrases have to do with Paul’s personal achievements as a Hebrew. These are advantages he possesses by virtue of his own diligence and choice. The first phrase is literally "according to law, a Pharisee." It means, in reference to the law of Moses, Paul is a Pharisee. His father was a Pharisee (Acts 23:6). He was educated by Gamaliel, who was the leading Pharisee of his day (Acts 22:3; Acts 5:34). In his defense before Agrippa, he claims "that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee" (Acts 26:5).

The word "Pharisee" is found ninety-nine times in the New Testament. This is the only occurrence of the word outside the gospels and Acts. The word means "to separate" (Thayer 649). They separated themselves from everything that might be considered impure or unclean. Their origin goes back to the second century B.C. stemming from those who fought to defend their ancestral religion in the day of Antiochus Epiphanes (Josephus, Ant. 3. 171-172). By strict adherence to the law of Moses, the oral laws, and the interpreted traditions, they considered themselves as the true people of God, prepared for the coming Messiah. For Paul, the title "Pharisee" is not a title of reproach. Instead, it is a title of respect and honor. It is a claim to "the highest degree of faithfulness and sincerity in the fulfillment of duty of God as prescribed by the divine Torah" (Beare, as quoted by Hawthorne, 134).

Concerning zeal, persecuting the church: Paul was so zealous in the preservation of those things that were dear to him that he persecuted the Lord’s church. The word "zeal" (zalos) is used in scripture in both a good and a bad sense. Negatively, it is a work of the flesh, translated as "jealousy" (Galatians 5:20 --NASB; NIV) or "envy" (2 Corinthians 11:2 --KJV). In a positive way, it is translated "zeal" (John 2:17; Romans 10:2; 2 Corinthians 7:7; 2 Corinthians 7:11; 2 Corinthians 9:2). Galatians 1:13-14 shows the degree of his enthusiasm in persecuting the church:

For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

His motive in doing so was no doubt to keep the community of God pure. To Paul, at that time, he was doing a good thing. This zeal is found here in the context of righteousness, and the two concepts are connected in Psalms 106:30-31 in the actions of Phinehas (also Numbers 25:6-13).

The word "persecute" means "to cause something to run" or "chase" or "be pursued" (O’Brien 376). Paul uses this term in two other places referring to his previous attacks on the church (Galatians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 15:9). There is much irony in the fact that Paul uses the term "ekklasia" (church), for this term was used in the Old Testament (Septuagint) to refer to the people of God. Paul was a new Phinehas, as it were, who, while intending to maintain the purity of the true community of God, was actually destroying the very thing he sought to preserve. Certainly one can see how terrible a thing such misguided zeal is, and yet how many today are guilty of the same sin when they ignorantly destroy people’s faith by persecuting those who do not hold to the traditions they have initiated over time?

touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless: Finally, in the last of these seven phrases, Paul writes, "in relation to the righteousness that is in the law, having become blameless." Paul has discussed his attitude toward the law and his zeal for upholding what he believed to be God’s will. Now he speaks of the concept of righteousness. In his past, of which he is speaking, he stood righteous before God, for he kept the law flawlessly, so far as he was aware. Paul learned, however, that true righteousness is not to be earned by one’s performance in law keeping, but rather through faith in Jesus Christ.

The word "righteousness," depending on the context, can mean "’that which is right,’ ’religious duties,’ ’the requirements of God,’ ’that which is right,’ ’righteousness,’ ’uprightness,’ ’justice,’ ’right relationship with God’" (Loh and Nida 97). The righteousness of which Paul speaks in this context is "with respect to the law."

In his observance of the Old Testament law, as interpreted along Pharisaic lines, he had become blameless. Clearly this is no pessimistic self-portrait or recollection of one tortured by an unattainable ideal, a conclusion that has often been drawn from Romans 7 (O’Brien 379).

How did Paul consider himself "blameless"? This term does not mean Paul was without sin, rather that his standing was perceived by others to be complete. As the Pharisees saw things, he had become blameless in his observance of the law.

The point is that anyone interested could have "checked the record" and found that Paul had never been charged with transgressing the law. Consequently, no one could argue that his conversion to Christianity was attributable to prior failure in his Jewish life-style (Silva 175).

In reference to Zachariah and Elizabeth, the Bible says, "Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly" (Luke 1:6).

This phrase anticipates a deeper issue with which Paul deals in verse 9: Is this righteousness of the law the righteousness that God requires?

A Radical Change: Paul’s Present Values (3:7-11)

Paul has made it clear in the preceding verses that he had not been a failure in Judaism. He now proceeds to reveal the dramatic effect that his conversion to Jesus Christ had on his former way of thinking. He came to view his previous spiritual successes as spiritual bankruptcy. The apostle provides here a succinct description of his doctrine of justification (verse 9), his experience of sanctification (verse 10), and his hope of glorification (verse 11). These verses are profoundly theological yet intensely personal. The sequence of privilege-death-exaltation echoes the hymn of Philippians 2:5-11. He even uses the same verbs: hegeomai ("counted" 2:6; 3:7-8); morphe ("form" 2:7); symmorphizo ("being made conformable" 3:10); and heurisko ("found" 2:7; 3:9), as well as the noun kyrios (2:11; 3:8). The hymn that sets forth the example of Christ blends crucial theological concepts (incarnation, sacrifice, humility, etc.) with pointed practical matters (following Christ’s example of humility). Likewise, the passage in this present context combines theological content with practical issues, thus providing a clearer picture regarding the function of this section (3:7-11) in the letter. The enemies of the cross (3:18) pose a practical threat to a weakened Christian community that is already in danger of becoming schismatic. Paul responds by having them understand the content and character of their faith in Christ to keep them from being intimidated by their opponents.

Paul employs accounting terminology as he underscores his startling reevaluation of former values. In verse 8, he asserts that he continues to count all his past privileges, or anything else in which he might have put his confidence, as loss "for the sake of the incomparable value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (O’Brien’s translation 381). In fact, he goes further and asserts that he regards his former "advantages" as repulsive.

Paul’s ultimate goal is to gain Christ and be united completely with Him on the last day. He contrasts two kinds of righteousness: one that is gained by one’s own performance in obeying the law and the other that is appropriated by one’s faith in the person and faithfulness of Jesus Christ. He amplifies his goal of gaining Christ by seeking to know the power of His resurrection and by participating in Christ’s suffering (tribulations through which every Christian must pass). As he suffers, he enters into a deeper, personal relationship with the Lord as he is continually being conformed to Christ’s death (verse 10). Finally, he looks forward to attaining the resurrection from the dead (verse 11).

Verse 7

But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.

But what things were gain to me: Suddenly all those "good" things Paul enjoyed, all those advantages he possessed from his parents and from his own efforts that made him proud and self-reliant are considered now not as assets but as liabilities (Hawthorne 135). Paul uses accounting terms as one who carefully enumerated everything on a balance sheet and made his choice based on the results.

those I counted loss for Christ: "The tense of the verb ’reckon’ is significant. It is the perfect tense (’have counted’), denoting an action in past time which continues to be effective in the present" (Loh and Nida 97-98). Paul does not regret his decision. He still considers the things of his past to be harmful. The verb means to "think" or "consider." Paul has had a drastic change take place in his thinking. This is a deep seated conviction, not some spurious change of mind.

The noun for "loss" means "damage, disadvantage, loss, or forfeit" and occurs four times in the New Testament (Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker 338). The word is used here in the singular form and, thus, refers to one great loss. All those things are added together to make one loss, which is not simply indifferent or unimportant, but hurtful. These things were harmful because they blinded him to the truth as to how one can stand before God as righteous.

The reason Paul came to this decision was "for Christ’s sake."

He does not mean that he made this reassessment "for Christ" (KJV) or "for Christ’s sake" (GNB, NIV, RSV), as though somehow Christ would in any way benefit by his decision. Rather, he means that his own outlook on life was radically altered because of the fact of Christ (Hawthorne 136).

Jesus Christ was now the center of Paul’s life.

Verse 8

Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,

Verses 8-11 are a complicated long sentence in Greek. This sentence needs to be restructured into shorter sentences in order to preserve clarity of thought. Paul uses a series of particles ("yes rather even") as a forceful introduction for an important statement. The combined force of these particles indicates that his statement in verse 7 is inadequate, and he feels constrained to reinforce it (Loh and Nida 98).

It begins with an extraordinary accumulation of particles, which are impossible to translate but which in Greek, nevertheless, powerfully emphasize the shift in tense from the perfect tense, ("I have counted" all my advantages as loss) to the present tense, (and what is more "I continue to count" them as loss), and from the particular to the universal ("all things") (Hawthorne 136).

Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss: Paul here enlarges on the theme of loss and gains because of Christ. Not only the things Paul has previously mentioned, but any and everything that might compete with his allegiance to Christ are considered as loss by him. These perhaps could include his Roman citizenship, personal wealth, possessions, or anything else in which he might be tempted to trust rather than in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: The reason Paul counted all things as loss, as in verse 7, is "for Christ." The term "excellency" means "the surpassing greatness" (NIV) or "the supreme advantage" (JB). Paul identifies this as the "knowledge" of Christ. Christ is the object of the "knowledge" spoken of. To know Christ is the greatest, most valuable possession or attainment any man could have. Everything else pales in comparison. To know Christ Jesus "my Lord" does not refer simply to the awareness that Jesus is Lord, but it is a personal, intimate acquaintance of Christ as "my" Lord that Paul refers to as unequaled in value. This is the only time that Paul used this intimate expression in his writings.

The apostle is in no way suggesting that his relationship with Christ Jesus is an exclusive one. Rather, the wonder of this knowledge of Christ Jesus as his Lord is so great and the relationship is so intensely personal that he focuses upon it in his testimony (O’Brien 389).

for whom I have suffered the loss of all things: A tremendous cost was involved in Paul’s accepting Jesus Christ as his Lord: "the loss of all things." The verb here literally means "I suffered the loss of all things," (ASV) or "I have been deprived of all that I have" (O’Brien 389). The tense of the verb indicates what Paul has already counted as loss, he counts it so over and over again.

and do count them but dung: Paul considers the things of the past as nothing but refuse.

The Greek word rendered garbage can mean either "excrement" (KJV "dung") or "that which is thrown to the dogs," that is "rubbish" (JB, NAB), "refuse" (RSV), or "garbage" (NEB). In any case, the idea is that of utter worthlessness and disgust (Loh and Nida 100).

The word "dung" is defined as, "dung, muck, both as excrement and food gone bad, scraps left after a meal, and refuse" (TDNT, 7 445). Paul uses the term here to climax his threefold use of "I consider" or "reckon" to show the force and totality of his renunciation of those things.

that I may win Christ: Paul now begins to enlarge on his motive of the supreme greatness of knowing Christ in the following ways: that he might "gain Christ"; that he might be "found in Christ"; and that he might "know Christ and the power of his resurrection." The phrase "gain Christ" is unusual, but within the context of Paul’s use of accounting terms (gains and loss) and the idea of balancing accounts, it is quite natural. He has given up all other gains or advantages in order that he might get the one true "gain," which is Christ. This thought reminds one of the words of the Lord in Matthew 16:26, "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" This same truth is taught in the parables of the hidden treasure and of the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:44-46). O’Brien:

...suggests that the apostle is looking forward to the day of Christ...His ambition is to gain Christ perfectly, a goal that will be fully realized only at the end...With this ambition in full view, so he gains Christ day by day in an ever-deepening relationship (391).

Verse 9

And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

And be found in him: Paul explains what he means in the previous verse by "gaining Christ." In one sense, because he is a Christian, Paul is already "in" Christ. This phrase indicates, however, that Paul is looking forward to the day of Christ. On that great and final day when every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of the Father, Paul wants to be found completely united with Christ. When Paul stands before God in judgment, he does not want to be dependent on himself and his own merits, but upon Christ. He recognizes his own good works and accomplishments are as filthy rags before the Holy One of heaven, and they in no way procure his salvation before God. The fact of being "in Christ," having "put on Christ," and his life being "hidden in Christ" are expressions of his faith in Christ and his relationship to Him; therefore, they will enable him to stand righteous and justified before God in judgment. "And be found" means "turn out to be" (O’Brien 393).

not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law: It is not his "own righteousness, which is of the law" that justifies him before God, but being found in Christ that does so. Paul brings together the relationship between being "in Christ" and being "righteous." There is a great contrast between the righteousness that comes from the law and that which comes from God. "Paul conceives of the two as mutually exclusive" (Silva 186). The reason the two are mutually exclusive is: in Paul’s writings "righteousness" and "life" are practically synonymous (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11); on the other hand, the law cannot give life (Galatians 3:21); therefore, the "righteousness" that comes from the law is worthless. Paul refers to the "righteousness which is of the law" as "mine." Paul’s righteousness, which is of the flesh (vs. 3-4), therefore, is contrasted with God’s righteousness. He has stopped his attempts to placate God with this kind of righteousness and has turned away from his own efforts of becoming righteous through the law to the righteousness that God gives through faith in Christ.

but that which is through the faith of Christ: "That which is through the faith of Christ" is an interesting phrase worth consideration. Scholars are at odds over whether the correct translation is "faith of Christ" or "faith in Christ." The phrase "faith of Christ" is understood to be subjective genitive, referring to the faithfulness of Christ Himself, that is, the faith that Christ possessed. The phrase "faith in Christ" is taken as objective genitive and means the faith that the believer has in Christ. The Greek text itself is inconclusive as to which meaning is intended. An attempt will be made to discuss the merits of each position.

The "faith of Christ," as mentioned, refers to the faith Christ Himself possessed. Every other time Paul uses the word "faith" (pistis) with the genitive "is certainly to be understood as a subjective genitive" (Silva 187) (Silva, however, does not take this position). Examples of this construction are in Romans 3:3, "the faithfulness of God," and in Romans 4:12, "the faith of Abraham." O’Brien states:

In the Pauline corpus pistis followed by the genitive of a person (using either a noun or a personal pronoun) occurs twenty-four times, apart from those instances where pistis Cristou or its equivalent turns up. Twenty of these refer to the faith of Christians (either individually or collectively), one to the pistis of God (Romans 3:3), two to the faith (fullness) of Abraham (Romans 4:12; Romans 4:16), and one to the person whose faith is reckoned for righteousness (Romans 4:5). According to G.A. Howard, in every case reference is made to the faith of an individual, never to faith in an individual. (398) (O’Brien refers to G.A. Howard’s work "Faith", 459-460).

To support this view, it may be noted that Jesus’ obedience plays a very important role in Paul’s writings (Romans 5:18-19), especially in Philippians (2:8).

If this line of interpretation is correct, then the apostle is asserting that the righteousness he possesses is based on Christ’s faithful obedience to the Father (O’Brien 399-400).

Paul, then, has ceased to depend on his own works for justification, but on those of Christ.

The majority of commentators and scholars understand that Paul is referring to "faith in Christ." The view that the objective genitive is used is the traditional one. Silva favors the objective genitive "faith in Christ" as opposed to the subjective genitive "faith of Christ" and writes concerning the phrase, "faith of Christ":

...this interpretation, however, faces the insuperable linguistic objection that Paul never speaks unambiguously of Jesus as faithful (Jesous pistos estin) or believing (episteusen Jesous), while he certainly speaks of individuals believing in Christ. Ambiguous grammatical forms should be interpreted in the light of unambiguous ones, and the very repetition of Galatians 2:16 ("faith in Christ" twice; "we believe in Christ Jesus" once) supports the traditional understanding (Silva 187).

Hawthorne writes:

...one must take the genitive Cristou as an objective genitive (cf. Mark 11:22; Acts 3:16; Galatians 2:20 for similar constructions). Paul does not have in mind here a righteousness that is based on the faithfulness, loyalty or fidelity of Christ to the Father. Rather, he has in mind a righteousness that has its origin in God and that is humbly appropriated by a person through faith in Christ (141-142)

the righteousness which is of God by faith: Regardless of one’s position, it is clear the last phrase in the verse, "the righteousness which is of God by faith," refers to the individual’s response to Christ. It is true Christ is the only true representation of meritorious right living before God. He was flawless in His obedience to God. He is the only truly righteous man who ever lived. The Christian is given the gift of righteousness (Romans 3:24) and is made the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). This righteousness comes about through the individual’s response of faith in God’s redemptive action. Romans 3:20-24 is perhaps the best commentary on this issue, and it clearly shows it is through faith in Christ that man is considered righteous before God. Remember Paul is discussing a man’s standing before God. He considers the Judaizers’ claims (including his own past) as impotent and worthless insofar as true righteousness is concerned. How then does one attain righteousness, or how is one considered righteous by God? Is it a matter of his own deeds? Is it because he truly is righteous? Absolutely not! It only comes by faith in Christ.

Only thus is God’s standard met. This is God’s gracious way of treating those as righteous who have no righteousness of their own. We may call it "forensic" if we wish, but that description in no way nullifies the fact. It is also ethical, for only thus is it possible for us to become righteous ourselves. God’s love and forgiveness start us on a new plane and guide us in the new path (Robertson 192.)

Verse 10

That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

That I may know him: Paul takes up the word "knowledge" from verse 8 and expresses his desire to grow into a deeper and more meaningful experience with Christ. "To know Christ" is Paul’s ultimate goal. This knowledge is the highest attainment of the Christian experience. He expands on what it means to "know Christ." While the previous verse deals with Paul’s justification, verse 10 explains his present sanctification. The sanctification of the believer involves his being conformed to the image of Christ in this life (Galatians 4:19; Romans 8:29). Experiencing the power of His resurrection, sharing in His sufferings, and becoming like Him in His death are the ways Paul will acquire this deeper knowledge and understanding of his Lord.

and the power of his resurrection: There are a couple of passages that seem to have some bearing on this one and should help explain what these thoughts mean. Romans 6:1-11 and 2 Corinthians 3:4 to 2 Corinthians 4:6 bring together the concepts of justification, sanctification, and glorification found in this passage. Paul discusses at length in Romans 6 how the Christian has "died to sin," been "baptized into His death," "buried with Him by baptism," and "raised in the likeness of His resurrection," in order to have a "new life." This identification or union with Christ is appropriated by the believer through baptism.

Baptism is not simply an event depicting what has already happened to a believer in conversion. Baptism is the act that translates the sinner from death in the world to life in Christ. One submits to baptism because of his faith in God’s power to resurrect the dead (Colossians 2:12). He believes God has raised Jesus from the dead and will raise him from the dead spiritually at baptism and physically at the resurrection day. Baptism has lifetime effects because of the individual’s change in relationship. Once baptized, he has life. In Christ, one has access to forgiveness from future sins by confession, repentance, and prayer (1 John 1:8-10; Acts 8:22). The Christian then is renewed daily through the blood of Jesus. The life transforming power of the resurrection is an ever present reality in the sanctification process of the believer. In the New International Version Paul states:

and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 1:19-20).

and the fellowship of his sufferings: Silva says:

The participation of believers in Christ’s death includes not only their definitive breach with sin (the main concern of Romans 6) but also those sufferings they undergo by virtue of their union with Christ. This latter idea seems to be the concern of Philippians 3:10...Their baptism represents a deeply traumatic experience; nothing less than the terrifying picture of Christ’s death does justice to the seriousness of that experience. To be sure, they have been infused with new life, but there is a sense in which they continue to bear the death of their Lord—in their spiritual disappointments and frustrations, in their struggles with the prince of darkness. The stinging reality of Christian suffering is our reminder that we have been united with Christ. More than that, it is the very means God uses to transform us into the image of His Son (191).

In Romans 8:18 and 2 Corinthians 1:5-7, Paul uses the same word ("sufferings") to describe the afflictions in which all Christians participate in as a result of their faith in Christ. All Christians suffer to enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22; 1 Thessalonians 3:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:7). Suffering with Christ is a prerequisite to being glorified with Him (Romans 8:17). Paul certainly suffered in many ways as a Christian (2 Corinthians 11:23-28; 2 Corinthians 1:4-11; 2 Corinthians 11:28). Such sufferings lead to hope and glory (Romans 5:3). These sufferings were temporary and cannot even be compared to the glory that will be given to those who suffer in Christ (Romans 8:18). By this experience, Paul is conformed to Christ’s death.

being made conformable unto his death: The word "conformable" is found nowhere else in the New Testament. It means "to grant or invest with the same form" (Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker 788). The related adjective is used in Philippians 3:21 and Romans 8:29. The root noun is rendered "nature" in Philippians 2:6-7. It refers to being conformed to His nature. Paul desires to be so completely united with Christ that he continually strives to put his old self to death. Again, related passages provide help. The perfect tense of the verb "united" in Romans 6:5 (which says, "If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection") means this past event has continuing effects. "Paul who was united with Christ in his death on the cross is continually being conformed to that death as he shares in Christ’s sufferings" (O’Brien 410). O’Brien quotes Kim:

The life of discipleship, which involves our participation in Christ’s sufferings and our being conformed to his death, is paradoxically the process in which we are being transformed into the image of Christ from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18) and in which the resurrection life of Jesus is being manifested in our mortal bodies (2 Corinthians 4:10 f; Philippians 3:10) (411).

Verse 11

If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

If by any means: The expression "If by any means" or "If in some way" seems to hint at doubt or uncertainty in Paul’s mind that he would take part in the resurrection. However, one is correct in understanding that these words express his humble expectation and hope (1 Corinthians 15:20; 2 Corinthians 5:1). Thus, some translate the phrase, "in the hope of" (Gpd), or "that is the way I can hope to" (JB), and "thus do I hope that" (NAB). The point Paul is making here is similar to that in Romans 8:17, which says, "we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him." The scriptures affirm clearly the assurance of salvation; yet:

Paul wants to impress upon us the difficulties, struggles, and hindrances that attend the believer’s life. The apostle would remind us that even he "must watch and pray continually to abide in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering...for only in that way the glorification with Christ...will be attained" (Silva 193, quoting J.J. Muller).

I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead: Paul has discussed in these verses the concepts of justification and sanctification, and now he speaks of the believer’s glorification. "The noun translated ’resurrection’ is an unusual double compound word used only here in the New Testament. It has the preposition ek (meaning ’from’ or ’out of’) added to the ordinary word for resurrection" (Loh and Nida 106). This construction is probably insignificant, but perhaps Paul is distinguishing the resurrection of the body from the spiritual resurrection that occurs at baptism. His intent is to bring to mind the resurrection, not of "all who are in the grave," but more specifically, the resurrection of the saved (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

The resurrection is the ultimate goal for all Christians. As the Christian has died with Christ, been buried with Him, been raised with Him, and now walks with Him, he will also be glorified together with Him. Paul’s yearning is for complete oneness with Christ. He has not attained this "perfection" as is evident from verses 12-16.

Paul has not yet reached it. He like other Christians lives in the overlap of the ages; he, too, stands between the "already" and the "not yet", and consummated salvation is not yet his. He passionately longs to reach the final destination and, in no way presuming upon the grace of God, presses on towards that goal (O’Brien 413).

The Apostle John says, "Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure" (1 John 3:3).

Pressing on Toward the Goal (3:12-16)

Paul does not want his readers to misunderstand what he has just said. He has not yet reached perfection, regardless of what the Judaizing opponents may have claimed for themselves. Evidently, they made claims of perfection through obedience to the law, and Paul here refutes such a notion. He makes it clear that he continues to pursue his goal just as a runner might continue to run in order to receive the prize at the end of the race. He provides his own life as an example to the Philippians to follow as opposed to the false teachers. He does so, not because he is arrogant or self-righteous, for he knows the struggles and difficulties that are inevitable to enter the kingdom. Then Paul urges his followers to continue the Christian race as they have been taught.

Verse 12

Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.

There seems to be a sense of frustration in the words of the apostle at this juncture. The things he longs for in verses 9-11 are to an extent hindered by the reality of his present existence. He later speaks of forgetting what was behind (verse 13), thus indicating failure to some degree. Quite simply, though, Paul longs for perfection; he is not perfect. No doubt every sincere Christian has felt the same frustration to some extent over the gap that exists between what he knows and desires and the reality of his daily walk with its disappointments and sin.

Not as though I had already attained: "Not as though" literally is "not that" and has been translated "I do not mean that" (Bruce), or "I do not claim that" (Today’s English Version, Barclay). It is common in the New Testament for a new sentence to begin this way (John 6:46; John 7:42; 2 Corinthians 1:24; 2 Corinthians 3:5; 2 Thessalonians 3:9). This phrase is the first of two negative statements in which Paul makes clear what he is not claiming for himself. The apostle is saying he has not already achieved his goal of being completely united together with Christ in every way. He has not attained to the perfect unity and depth of experiential knowledge and fellowship with Christ that he so desires.

either were already perfect: In using the word "perfect," Paul is probably using the same terminology (as in verse 15) the Judaizing opponents had used in their attempts to mislead the Philippians. The word teleioo (perfect) means "complete, to bring to an end, finish, accomplish; bring something to its goal or accomplishment" (TDNT 8, 79-84). The Judaizers:

...preached a doctrine of perfection based upon the Law and the continuation of Jewish practices. They believed that a complete fulfillment of the Law was possible--they had achieved it already and could boast about it!—and brought about the possession of the eschatological promises in full, that is, the Spirit and spiritual experiences of such heavenly gifts as resurrection and freedom from suffering and death (Koester 331).

To the contrary, Paul teaches the Philippians it is only at the resurrection that the race would be completed and the prize of perfection would be an actual possession. So long as he is in the body, he has not reached his goal.

but I follow after: The New American Standard Bible renders this phrase, "but I press on." Literally, the phrase is "but I pursue," or as Bruce paraphrases, "No! I still press on." The word dioko ("press on" or "follow after") is often used in the New Testament of the zealous pursuit of godly characteristics (Romans 12:13; Romans 14:9; Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 3:11). It is found in verse 6 in reference to Paul’s zeal in persecuting the church. In the first half of this verse, Paul speaks of what he does not claim; but here he in essence says he is in hot pursuit of his goal.

if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus: This first part of the phrase means literally "if indeed I may lay hold of" or "whether I may indeed seize." This thought reflects the same element of doubt Paul seems to express in verse 11. The word katalambano means to "lay hold of," "seize," or "to obtain" (Thayer 332). Paul is making a play on words and is saying in effect, "I hope to reach it inasmuch as I have already been reached by Christ." His having been reached by Christ brings to Paul’s mind his conversion along the Damascus road (Acts 9). Christ "laid hold" of him as it were, calling him to a new life. Because of what Christ has done for him, Paul hopes to lay hold of Him.

There is perhaps within this phrase the concept of both human agency and divine sovereignty. There is the hint of Paul’s own distrust, failure, and doubt ("if that I may apprehend") compared with the confidence he has in Christ’s work of grace in his life ("that for which also I am apprehended"). He is addressing the tension between the ideal standard or goal he is pursuing and the realism of existence in this life tainted by sin.

Verse 13

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: Paul repeats the fact that he has not yet reached his goal. Using the imagery of a runner in a race, he further discusses his pursuit of that goal. He addresses them as "brothers" so as to recapture their attention and emphasize his point within the background of their intimate relationship. The verb rendered "count" (logizomai) means "to take into account" (Thayer 379), that is, to take inventory or to estimate. It is translated by such words as conclude, count, despise, esteem, impute, lay, number, reason, reckon, suppose, and think. After considering everything, he again concludes he has not reached his goal.

This emphatic and personal assertion of the apostle, to the effect that he has not reached perfection, is not simply the observation of a godly and zealous servant of Christ who might be somewhat pessimistic about his own progress. Rather, it is grounded in the fact that he who has been united to Christ and who is now being continuously conformed to his death has not yet attained to the resurrection of the dead. Only then will he have fully laid hold of the one who apprehended him. Nor have others reached that resurrection (O’Brien 427).

but this one thing I do: This phrase literally means "but one thing." These words indicate a "singleness of purpose and concentration of effort" (Michael 160). His mind is focused on one thing only, and nothing will divert his attention from his course. What, then, is to be done in light of the fact he has not yet reached perfection? "Just one thing."

forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before: These words reveal the one thing on which Paul has focused. As a runner must concentrate on the finish line, forgetting the part of the course he has completed, so too, Paul must ignore the past and focus on what lies ahead. Paul expresses this idea in a highly rhetorical, emotion-filled, passionate way. "Even the form and structure of his sentence radiate the depth of his feelings" (Hawthorne 153).

Paul says, "on the one hand I forget what is behind me." This "forgetting" is possibly a reference to his past both before and after his conversion to Christ. The idea of forgetting the past means simply to be unconcerned about it. To dwell on either his sinfulness before he became a Christian, his successes while a Christian, or his failures as a Christian does nothing but hinder his efforts to continue the race for the prize. So many Christians allow their past to impede their efforts to run the race, sometimes to the point of retiring from it. For example, Paul could have allowed the fact that he once persecuted the church to paralyze him with guilt and despair.

On the other hand, Paul reaches forth, or stretches forward, to the things that lie ahead. Here is a graphic description of a runner’s intense desire and utmost effort to reach the goal. Barclay translates "reaching forth" as "to strain every nerve to reach," which clearly and powerfully expresses the need for ceaseless personal exertion and intensity for the Christian participant in the contest if he is to achieve the goal.

Verse 14

I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

I press toward: The verb "press toward" (dioko) is the same as that in verse 12 ("I follow after"). The fact he is pressing forward is yet another indicator he has yet to reach the goal. He continues to run, not aimlessly, but on toward the goal. His running is with purpose.

the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus: The word "mark" is found only here in the New Testament, but its cognate is found six times (twice in Philippians, at 2:4 and 3:17). The noun refers to the thing on which Paul fixes his gaze, whether it might be the finish line at the end of a race, or a target at which he might shoot. "It is the vision of the end of the race that ever directs and speeds his hastening feet" (Michael 162). Were there no "prize," there would be no point in running. The word was used in classical Greek for an award in games or contests. Paul uses this word "prize" in 1 Corinthians 9:24 : "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain." The phrase here is translated by Bruce as "so that I may win the prize" (as quoted by Loh and Nida 112).

The word "prize" is qualified by the phrase "of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus," literally meaning "of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Loh and Nida 112). The call comes from heaven; thus, it is an upward calling. This "call" has been understood in a variety of ways. Some regard the prize as the call to live a godly life (1 Thessalonians 2:12). Others believe it to coincide with the imagery of the director’s calling the athlete who has won to step forward and receive the prize (Hawthorne 154-155). It is probably a reference to all that is involved in the promises of God to those who are called by the gospel to eternal life (2 Thessalonians 2:14). Silva says:

The "prize" clearly, is the culmination of the whole work of salvation--with all its implications—to which God has called us. That is the great hope that sustained Paul, even in the midst of discouragement and frustration (202).

O’Brien says of this "call," "It is as if the divine call keeps ringing in the hearer’s ears, as God summons Paul and other Christians in a heavenward direction and to holiness of life" (432).

Verse 15

Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.

Not everyone in the church at Philippi has the same attitude as Paul. He has just expressed his desire for spiritual completeness, and he characterizes those who hold the same views as he as being spiritually mature. For those who do not see things as mature Christians, the necessity and truth of such ideals will be manifested to them by God Himself.

Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: How is it that Paul speaks of himself and perhaps others as being "perfect" when he has just stated he has not attained perfection? Teleios ("perfect") is found approximately twenty times in the Septuagint and denotes that which is whole, perfect, or intact. In Matthew 5:48, God is spoken of as being teleios, and followers of Christ are taught to reflect His character. Besides other occurrences with similar shades of meaning, the adjective refers to those who are mature or adult (1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 14:20; Ephesians 4:13; Colossians 1:28).

Some commentators believe the entire verse finds Paul using irony toward his opponents. He includes himself among the "perfect" and says those who disagree are in need of further revelation from above. Those who argue this position reason that if the verse is not irony, Paul is contradicting himself, having already stated he has not reached perfection. As has been noted, however, the perfection Paul has yet to reach is not simply a matter of spiritual maturity but a matter of eschatology. Neither Paul nor any other Christian will be complete until the resurrection of the body and its transformation to a glorified state. While on earth, awaiting this awesome event, Christians are involved in striving by the grace of God to be conformed to the image of Christ, preparing their spirits for the day when the body will be glorified. Hebrews 12:23 speaks of the "spirits of just men made perfect." The individual who desires such a state of completion and is working in harmony with God for it is spiritually mature and, therefore, "perfect." In effect, Paul is telling them that "if you want to become spiritually mature, you must cultivate the same desire that I have just expressed." Those who are mature will press on to win the prize.

and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded: The phrase is translated in the New English Bible, "And there were those in Philippi who were not thus minded." He has encouraged them in Philippians 2:2 to "have the same mind," and in Philippians 2:5 to have the "attitude of Christ." The conflict mentioned in Philippians 4:2 and those suggested in Philippians 2:2-5 indicate there are some who do not have the attitude of Christ and are not spiritually mature. Selfishness and a lack of humility exist in their hearts, rather than the singleness of spirit Paul possessed, which led him to sacrifice all to gain Christ. Many have not reached the same stage or level of spiritual awareness and development as the apostle, and their thinking concerning these matters is as yet unclear or undeveloped.

God shall reveal even this unto you: Literally the phrase is "this also God will reveal to you." The word "reveal" is to be taken in the sense of "disclose" or "bring to light" (BAGD 92). This word is always used in reference to God, not man. The Apostle Paul speaking to the Ephesians seems to give a good commentary on this verse:

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints (Ephesians 1:17-18).

The focus here is on members of the Philippian church who are not as mature in their thinking as they should be but are striving toward that end. Paul is saying basically what the Lord says: "If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from Myself" (John 7:17 NASB). God, by His grace, will reveal these truths to them so that they will become mature in their thinking. Paul does not discuss how this revelation will occur, but simply that it will. O’Brien says:

There can be no suggestion that Paul regarded his teaching as a matter of indifference in which he allowed the Philippians to come to their own mind. Nor should it be asserted that the apostle was rather smug, implying that if the readers did not think the way he did God would straighten them out! (440).

Verse 16

Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.

Paul is telling the Philippians that wherever they are in their spiritual walk (or race), they should continue to press on in the knowledge they have attained. "The final sentence in this section is the most difficult of all, and its difficulty has been the cause of numerous alterations of the Greek text" (Hawthorne 157).

Literally the words here are translated, "whereunto we have reached, by the same to walk." Reflecting what appears to be the effort of some ancient copyist to remedy this obscurity, some inferior Greek texts (those which underlie the Textus Receptus on which King James Version is based) include the word ’rule’ after ’the same’ and an appended clause ’think the same things.’ These interpolations seem to have been made on the basis of Philippians 2:2 and Galatians 6:16 (Loh and Nida 114).

Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained: The word "attained" has the sense of "to come up to," "to arrive," or "to reach" (Thayer 652). Paul is referring to the level or stage of their spiritual maturity. He is saying, "Wherever you are in this race."

let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing: The word "walk" is the primary verb in the sentence. It originally meant "to stand in line" (O’Brien 441). It came to be used metaphorically in the sense of "to be in line with" or "to follow in someone’s steps" (BAGD, 2 449). It is used five times in the New Testament. "The earliest and shortest reading of this clause in Philippians 3:16, is elliptical (literally ’let us march by the same’)" (O’Brien 441). By using this word, Paul is again showing them the importance of unity and mutual cooperation, regardless of the divergent levels of spirituality that existed in their midst. The word "same" seems to demand by context the concept of direction; therefore, the word "rule" is supplied. The whole idea is that the Philippian church is to move forward together in the Christian race. Regardless of their diversity, they should live in accordance with the knowledge of the truth they have been taught. They should live consistent with the doctrine.

True and False Models

A Heavenly Commonwealth and a Glorious Hope (3:17-21)

Paul has consistently followed a pattern of providing the Philippians an example of Christian living for them to emulate, once he has admonished them. This pattern is found throughout the letter. In Philippians 2:5-11, he sets forth the example of Jesus; in Philippians 2:17, he offers himself as an example; in Philippians 2:19-24, Timothy is presented as a godly example; and in Philippians 2:25-30, Epaphroditus is given as an example of Christian behavior. Paul has just called them to live up to the standard they have been taught, and once again he offers himself as one living an exemplary life worth following.

Such examples are necessary, for there are evidently those who had infiltrated the ranks of the Philippians who are not setting the proper example. Paul has repeatedly warned the Philippians about such men, and here he refers to them as "enemies of the cross of Christ." Paul is deeply concerned about the spiritual welfare of his beloved brethren; and with great resolve and grief, he again warns them of the dangerous enemies who attempt to undermine their faith in the truth. Therefore, he exhorts them to follow his example. He who is without peer in the Jewish system has not reached perfection himself and needs to continue living a godly life. In effect, he tells them, "Do not claim perfection and get on with living the Christian life."

He concludes this section with an outburst, expressing the hope for the coming Savior who will deliver the church from weakness and lowliness to glory. After examining carefully the words, phrases, and ideas of these verses, one is reminded of the previous hymn of chapter two, and many believe this passage to be another of the earliest hymns of the church.

Verse 17

Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.

Brethren, be followers together of me: Paul tells them literally, "Brothers, become fellow-imitators of me." Again he uses the term "brothers" in addressing them in order to express his affection and intimacy with them, as well as to appeal to them to consider what he is about to say. The term "’fellow-imitator’ is found nowhere else in all of Greek literature" (O’Brien 445). Twice before, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to imitate him, but there he used a different expression (1 Corinthians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 11:1). What then is the significance of the prefix "summimetes" in this word? The prefix by itself means "with" or "together." There are a number of possibilities: it could mean they are to be followers of Christ "with" Paul; it may mean they are to be followers with others who imitate Paul, such as Timothy and Epaphroditus; or it could mean they are to imitate Paul together or in one accord. The latter is probably the meaning here.

Paul is encouraging them to imitate him in his Christian walk. This exhortation would no doubt include the way he has conducted himself in their midst in the past, as well as the burning desire he has just expressed to know Christ in a more experiential and intimate way. He wants them to press on to win the prize just as he has been doing. Paul asks them to follow his example, not because he has achieved perfection but because he is struggling in the same race they are running.

and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample: The verb "mark" (skopeite) or "direct ones attention to" (Thayer 579) is the same one used in Philippians 2:4, where it is translated "look." The word "skopon" is used in Philippians 3:14 and is translated "goal." Once again, the idea Paul is conveying is that of concentration and singleness of purpose. The Jerusalem Bible says, "take as your models," agreeing with the pattern alluded to in the beginning of this section. The meaning here is that the Philippians are to watch carefully in order to be able to follow the actions of those who set the right example. The verb here is used in the positive sense of looking for those to follow, while in Romans 16:17 it refers to watching for those who cause divisions in order to avoid them.

The verse implies there are some in Philippi setting the proper example before them and they should be "marked" as worthy of following. The word "walk" is commonly used in the moral sense of walking before God. The plural pronoun "us" probably includes Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus as those walking before God in such a way as to provide the proper example for the Philippians to follow. The word "example" means "image" or "mark" and, in this case, "model" (Loh and Nida 115).

Verse 18

(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:

(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping: Those whose doctrine and life were in opposition to the teachings and example of Paul are labeled "the enemies of the cross of Christ." Paul has repeatedly warned the Philippians, as he mentioned in Philippians 3:2, concerning the opponents of the truth. These antagonists are numerous ("many") and dangerous. Therefore, Paul’s warnings are accompanied by tears, showing his deep anguish of mind and his intense grief over this potentially devastating situation. The word "weeping" expresses sorrow or pain at parting (Acts 21:13), at death (Mark 5:38; Luke 7:13; Luke 7:32; John 11:31; John 11:33), and in affliction (Romans 12:15; 1 Corinthians 7:30).

that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Both Paul and the Philippians are keenly aware of precisely who these "enemies of the cross" are, even though scholars differ as to their identity. These enemies must be understood in light of the context of chapter three. The difficulty lies in the fact that the description of them in verse 19 does not seem to correlate with the Judaizers referred to earlier in the chapter. Verse 19, at face value, seems to refer to licentiousness and immorality, which are not ordinarily characteristics of the Judaizers. Further discussion of the problem falls under the comments on verse 19.

These people are categorized as enemies of the cross because their manner of life is not consistent with the standard and demands the cross makes on one’s life. The Galatian Judaizers were accused of making the death of Christ ineffective, if their teaching about keeping the law were true (Galatians 2:21). It may be said, though, that "those who deliberately indulge in sin and repudiate the will of God deny all that the cross of Christ stands for" (Bruce 105). "Unlike Paul, they were not prepared to participate in Christ’s sufferings or be conformed to his death in their day-to-day experience (verse 10)" (O’Brien 454).

Verse 19

Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

In four phrases, Paul describes the destiny and character of those whom he has just referred to as "enemies of the cross of Christ." The characteristics that follow either refer to Judaizers or libertines. In keeping with the context and explanations that follow, the Judaizers are the most likely targets of Paul’s scathing description.

Whose end is destruction: The word "end" means "outcome" or "destiny" (Vincent 117). In essence, Paul says they are going to end up in hell.

whose God is their belly: This phrase in particular is one that causes disagreement and confusion as to the identity of these opponents. This expression is also found in Romans 16:18, which refers to those who cause division in the church. Instead of serving Christ, they serve "their own belly." In that passage there are two other phrases that help determine their sin. "Their glory is in their shame" seems to imply sexual immorality, and "who set their minds on earthly things" generally refers to their worldliness. The phrase here apparently refers to people who are immoral. This sudden concern over immorality seems unusual and strained in light of the context of the letter. Paul has not discussed immorality thus far in the letter, and there is no mention of it after this passage. How does one understand this phrase in reference to the Judaizers? Perhaps further investigation will help answer the question.

The word "belly" (koilia) means "the whole belly," "the lower belly," "the gullet," "the womb," or metaphorically, "the innermost part of a man, the soul, heart" (Thayer 351). Some (Hawthorne and Koester), in trying to tie this word to the Judaizers, believe this is a reference to their preoccupation with dietary laws. This term, used in the metaphorical sense, is closely related to the term "flesh" so often used by Paul. The thought is that this is not a specific kind of licentiousness or legalism the apostle is discussing, but a general frame of mind that is opposed to the Spirit. These enemies refuse to accept the new life in the Spirit and hold on to the old life, which in the case of the Judaizers is their adherence to the law, therein forfeiting the new life in Christ.

and whose glory is in their shame: A further reason for confusion as to the identity of the "enemies of the cross" is found in the word "shame" (aischynomai) in this phrase. "Shame" is commonly associated with excesses, especially sexual ones; and, therefore, many scholars again think this is a reference to libertines. However, the word is not necessarily associated with immorality. It is contrasted here with "glory." The sense is that the things in which these opponents glory will actually turn out to be their destruction, thus agreeing with the first phrase of this verse. It also makes sense in light of the first part of the chapter that refers to those things in which the Judaizers gloried. Circumcision, righteousness through law keeping, and their spiritual experiences and attainments are their grounds for glorying. These things, however, have been shown by Paul to be fallacies in order to attain a right relationship with God.

There is in this phrase an allusion to the words of Hosea:

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. As they were increased, so they sinned against me: therefore will I change their glory into shame (4:6-7).

The destruction mentioned because of a lack of knowledge is consistent with this context concerning Paul’s desire to "know Christ." Silva says:

This reference to disobedient Israel parallels the allusion to Deuteronomy in Philippians 2:14-15 and thus indirectly supports the view that here in Philippians 3:17-18 Paul has the Judaizers in mind (210).

Furthermore, the word "shame" often describes those whom God rejects at the last judgment (Isaiah 45:24-25). Paul has twice spoken of his desire to "know Christ" in contrast to their opponents’ supposed knowledge. He has told them of his continuing on toward the goal of perfection, as opposed to their claims of perfection.

They deny divine righteousness and awake to God’s sentence of destruction when it is too late. God’s glory will be manifested in the judgment, but they will be covered with shame (O’Brien 457).

who mind earthly things.): In keeping with the approach that these "enemies" are Judaizers and not libertines, this phrase focuses on their attitudes of selfishness and superiority. Paul corrects such views in Philippians 2:5; Philippians 3:15. The thought here on their minding "earthly things" prepares the reader for verses 20-21. This phrase also parallels the thought in Colossians 3:2, "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth." The context of Colossians 3:2 is in regard to human regulations rather than to the excesses and licentiousness of the libertines; therefore, the phrase here in Philippians 3:19 refers again to the Judaizers.

The word "earthly" corresponds with the concept of "flesh." As the flesh and the Spirit are in opposition to one another, so are the earthly and the heavenly. The Judaizers are concerned with values that are from man rather than God. In their attempts to pacify God, they have rejected Him. Their doctrines and lifestyles are not derived from God and, therefore, are fleeting, doomed to failure and destruction.

Insofar as the group in view represents a pattern of behavior to be shunned by the Philippians, we may argue that Paul is here characterizing an extreme manifestation of the selfishness that was already threatening the Philippian community and that was reflected in the church’s lack of unity (Silva 211).

As at the beginning of Philippians 2:5, the following two verses have many characteristics of a hymn. The thoughts here provide Paul’s conclusion to his warning concerning the Judaizers. Their minds are on earthly things; therefore, their citizenship is on earth. The true followers of Jesus Christ, however, find their citizenship in heaven. The Judaizers seek perfection in the present through law keeping while Christians look forward to the future when they will achieve perfection at the coming of the Lord. While the Judaizers seemingly find superiority and glory in the present, their end will be destruction. Christians, on the other hand, seem to struggle in this life, yet they will receive glory at the end.

Verse 20

For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:

For our conversation is in heaven: Paul makes a sharp contrast between "them" and "us" as he begins this sentence. "Our" citizenship is in heaven. The word "For" here might be better translated "however" or "in contrast." The noun "conversation" is better translated "citizenship" (NASB) (politeuma) and is found only in this place in the New Testament. It refers to the "political action or activity of individuals" and came to mean "the subject of political action and thus administrative authorities" (Lincoln 98). Paul uses the cognate verb in Philippians 1:27 (politeuesthe). As mentioned in comments there and in the introduction, this term is very meaningful to a resident of Philippi. The Philippians’ opponents have their citizenship on earth, but Christians belong to a heavenly commonwealth whose government is in heaven. As citizens of the heavenly kingdom, their lives are to reflect an adherence to the authority and power manifested in the Divine Word.

The verb "is" indicates the present tense. Christ is ruling now at God’s right hand, and a Christian’s present existence is governed by that fact. Christians are now citizens of heaven.

It seems clear that Paul uses this political imagery to describe the fact that true Christians are temporary resident aliens here on the earth, but they have their citizenship in the heavenly commonwealth (Ephesians 2:6; Ephesians 2:19; Hebrews 12:22) (Loh and Nida 118).

from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: This statement reminds the reader of the exaltation of Jesus in the Christological hymn of the previous chapter. Paul here expresses the hope of every Christian. He has referred to this hope in verses 10 and 11 in this chapter, and he uses the same word for "eagerly await" (apekdechomai) here and in Romans 8:19-25 where Paul speaks of the anticipated redemption of the body. This phrase is always used in connection with the future coming of the Lord (Romans 8:19; Romans 8:23; Romans 8:25; 1 Corinthians 1:7; Galatians 5:5). Similar to this verse is 1 Thessalonians 1:10 where the saints are awaiting Christ’s return.

Paul’s uncommon use of the word "Saviour" also speaks of his looking toward the future for his salvation. This word is never used of humans and of the twenty-four times found in the New Testament, sixteen refer to Jesus and the other eight to the Father. In contrast to the Judaistic concept of saving themselves, Jesus is said to be the Savior. The hope of Christians is based on the person of Jesus as Deliverer and Savior.

Verse 21

Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

The activity on which Paul focuses regarding the second coming of the Lord is the transformation of the Christian’s mortal body into the likeness of Christ’s glorified, immortal body. These words agree with the final thought of Paul in verses 10-11 where he looks forward to his participation in the resurrection.

Who shall change our vile body: The word "change" is the Greek term symmorphon, which means "will change the form" (Brc) or "will give a new form" (NAB). (See Philippians 2:5-11.) Paul, no doubt, has in mind his words of verse 10, "being made conformable unto his death." As Christ was humiliated and then exalted, the humiliation of Christians will be temporary and will result in their exaltation as well.

The body is said to be "vile" (KJV). Literally, the phrase is "the body of our humiliation" (Loh and Nida 120). This phrase does not mean the body is inherently evil but that it is "subject to change, weakness, death, and decay" (Loh and Nida 120). So long as mortal man exists in this sin-cursed environment, his body will be subject to the effects and consequences of sin.

that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body: The focus, in other words, is not some abstract hope, but the Person of Jesus Christ Himself, whom Paul is resolved to know (3:10). We await the Lord because it is He who will transform our bodies, it is His glorious body that becomes the pattern for ours, and it is His sovereign power that lends certainty to our hope (Silva 215).

This verse brings to mind the words of the Apostle John:

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure (1 John 3:2-3).

In 1 Corinthians 15:49, Paul writes, "And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly."

Christ’s resurrection is a guarantee of the Christian’s resurrection. The body, fitted and suited for earth, will one day be changed to one suited for heaven, thus immortal, spiritual, and glorious.

according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself: The transformation of the body will be accomplished because of the great power of Christ. In all instances, except for 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11 that refers to the power of Satan, this word "working" (energeian) is used to denote divine power. The New International Version renders this passage "by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control."

The point, quite clearly, is that Christ’s great eschatological power--that power abolishes all earthly authority, making all enemies, even death, a footstool (1 Corinthians 15:24-28; Hebrews 1:13; Hebrews 2:6-8)--assures the fulfillment of His promise. Nothing can thwart God’s saving purposes; what He has begun He will bring to completion (Philippians 1:6) (Silva 216).

"The resurrection of the body is not an isolated event but part of the last act in the drama of redemption (Romans 8:19-25)" (O’Brien 466). The Christian has experienced this power in baptism (Colossians 2:12; Romans 6:3-5); in his Christian walk; and in the future—the resurrection. How foolish for the Philippians or anyone else to believe such a preposterous doctrine as perfection is attained in this life on earth. It goes against everything that God has planned and will accomplish through His marvelous power, displayed in Jesus Christ. As Moses told Israel when the Red Sea was about to be parted, "Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today" (Exodus 14:13), so, too, may the Christian heed these words.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Philippians 3". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/philippians-3.html. 1993-2022.
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