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Bible Commentaries

Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Philippians 3


Philippians 3

THERE WAS REJOICING then both for Paul and for the Philippians as regards Epaphroditus; but as we enter upon chapter 3 we find where the truest and most permanent rejoicing lies for the Christian. God may, and indeed often does, give us to experience His mercy and make our hearts glad, yet on the other hand often He has to pass us through the valley of weeping. But even if circumstances are permitted to move against us, and sickness end fatally, the Lord Himself remains the same. Our rejoicing really lies in Him. “Rejoice in the Lord,” is the great word for us all. In thus writing the Apostle might be repeating himself, yet the happy theme was not irksome to him, and it was safe for them. No servant of God need be afraid of repeating himself, for we take in things but slowly. Repetition is a safe process in the things of God.

Our rejoicing however must be “in the Lord.” There are those who would divert us from Him, as is indicated in verse Php_3:2 . In saying “dogs” the Apostle probably alludes to men of quite evil life, akin to the unclean Gentiles. By “evil workers,” to those who while professedly Christian were introducing what was evil. By “the concision” he refers to the Judaizing faction, in contrast with whom are the true “circumcision” of which verse Php_3:3 speaks. The word translated “concision” means a mere lopping off, in contrast to the complete cutting off of death, which was figured in circumcision. The Judaizers believed in lopping off the uglier excrescences of the flesh but

would not have that bringing in of death, “by the circumcision of Christ” ( Col_2:11 .), which is the truth of Christianity. The object before the Judaizers was “that they may glory in your flesh” (Galations 6.13 ). Men cannot exactly boast in the grosser manifestations of the flesh, so they aim at lopping them off in order to encourage more amiable and aesthetic manifestations in which to make their boast. But it is boasting in the flesh nevertheless.

Verse Php_3:3 speaks by way of contrast of what believers are, if viewed according to God’s thoughts of them. We are the true spiritual circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, who boast in Christ Jesus, and do not trust in the flesh. We accept God’s sentence of condemnation upon the flesh, and find our all in Christ. Then it is that in the energy of an ungrieved Spirit we are filled with the worship of God.

But what a lot of time is usually spent in learning not to trust the flesh, and in passing a “vote of no confidence” in it. What experiences often have to be gone through! The kind of experiences we refer to are detailed for us m Romans 7.0 , and the lesson is one that cannot be learned theoretically, merely, it must be learned experimentally. There is no need that we should take a long time to learn the lesson, but as a matter of fact we usually do.

Paul’s own case, to which he now refers verses Php_3:4 to 7 shows that the lesson may be learned in a very profound way in a very short space of time. If ever a man was exemplary in a fleshly way, he was. Nowadays people are said to die, “fortified with all the rites of the church.” We may say of him that for some years he lived, fortified with all the rites and ordinances and advantages and righteousness of Judaism. If ever educated and religious flesh was to be trusted, it was to be trusted in Saul of Tarsus. He was filled with religion and filled with the pride which was generated by his belief that all was so much gain to him.

But in that tremendous revelation, which occurred on the road to Damascus, all was reversed. He discovered himself to be outrageously wrong. His fancied advantages he discovered to be disadvantages; his religious flesh, to be rebellious flesh. All that he had counted on, trusted in, prided himself upon, came down about him with a crash. Christ in His glory was revealed to him. All that had been esteemed gain by him, he now counted loss for Christ. His confidence in the flesh was gone for ever. As

soon as the three days of his blindness were over, his boasting in Christ Jesus began. In those three days his great lesson was learned.

And the lesson was learned solidly and for ever. Verse Php_3:7 speaks of the conclusion he reached on the Damascus road. “I counted” the verb is in the past. Verse Php_3:8 carries us on to the day when he wrote this epistle in a Roman prison. “Yea doubtless, and I count” the verb is in the present. The point reached at his conversion is confirmed and even deepened, thirty years or more later. Only now he can say what in the nature of things he could not have said at his conversion. For thirty years he had been growing in the knowledge of Christ, and the excellency of that knowledge commanded him. Compared with that all things were but loss, and the depth and ardour of his devotion are expressed in the glowing words “Christ Jesus MY LORD.’

Nor was this counting of all things but loss merely an attitude of his mind, for he adds, “for whom I have suffered the loss of all things.” It is one thing to count all things as loss, and quite another to actually suffer the loss of all. Both were the experience of the Apostle. He was not unduly disturbed when he lost everything, for he had already esteemed everything as loss. Moreover, in Christ he had infinite gain, in comparison with whom all else is but refuse.

It was not that he hoped to “win Christ” as the result of giving up all things, after the fashion of those who give up possessions and retire into monasteries or convents in the hope of thereby securing their soul’s salvation. It was rather that, having found such surpassing worth in Christ, such excellence in the knowledge of Him, he was prepared as to all things to suffer loss in order that he might have Christ for his gain. It was a remarkable form of profit and loss account, in which Paul emerged an infinite gainer.

All Paul’s gain then could be summed up in the one word CHRIST. But of course all this was based upon being “in Christ,” and standing before God in that righteousness which is by faith in Him. Apart from that them would be no having Christ as one’s gain, nor preparedness to suffer loss in this world.

How striking, in this 9th verse, is the contrast between “mine own righteousness” and “the righteousness which is of God.” The one, were it possible to attain to it, would be “of the law.” It would be something

purely human, and according to the standard exacted by the law. The other is the righteousness in which we stand as the fruit of the Gospel. It is “of God;” that is, divine, in contrast to human. It is “through the faith of Christ ;” that is, it is available for us on the basis of His intervention and work as presented to faith in the Gospel. And it is “by faith;” that is, it is received by us on the principle of faith and not on the principle of works of law.

Have we all taken this in? Are we rejoicing that we stand in a righteousness which is wholly divine in its origin? Do we realize that all the things of the flesh in which we might boast are so much loss and that all our gain is in Christ?

These are weighty questions that demand an answer from us each.

We may gain very considerable insight into the character of a man if we are made acquainted with his real desires and aspirations. The passage before us gives us just that insight into the character of the Apostle Paul. His desires seem to range themselves under three heads, all found in the great sentence which runs through four verses. There is no full stop from the end of verse Php_3:7 to the end of verse 11.

First, he desired to win Christ. Second, to be found in Christ, in a righteousness which is wholly divine. Third, to know Christ, and flowing out of that to know an identification with Christ, in resurrection, in sufferings, in death. We are conscious at once that this third aspiration has great depths in it. We might truly have Christ for our gain, and for our righteousness, and yet be very poor and shallow in our knowledge of Christ. “That I may know HIM,” seems to have been the very crown of Paul’s desires.

But then, did not Paul know Him? Certainly he did, as indeed every believer knows Him. He knew Him in fact in very much larger measure than most believers know Him. Yet there is such an infinitude in Christ, such depths to be known, that here we have the Apostle still panting to know more and more. Have we not caught at least a little of the Apostle’s spirit? Do we not long to know our Saviour better not merely to know about Him, but to know Himself in the intimacy of His love?

Our knowledge of Christ is by the Holy Spirit, and primarily through the Scriptures. Had we been on earth in the days of His flesh, we might have been acquainted with Him for a brief season “according to flesh.” But even

so we should have to say, “yet now we know [Him thus] no longer” ( 2Co_5:16 , N. Tr.). When His disciples spent those brief years in His company they had indeed a most wonderful experience, yet at that time they had not received the Holy Spirit and hence they understood but very little for the moment. It was only when they had lost His presence among them, but had gained the presence of the Holy Spirit, that they really knew the significance of all they had seen and heard. All that we know of Christ objectively is presented to us in the Scriptures, but we have the indwelling Spirit to make it all live in our hearts in a subjective way.

If the knowledge of the true living Christ, thus objectively presented to us, is brought subjectively into our hearts by the Spirit, it leads to a third thing; an acquaintance with Him in an experimental and practical way. To this Paul alludes in the latter part of verse 10. The order of the words is significant. The historical order in the case of our Lord was, sufferings, death, resurrection. Here resurrection comes first. Neither Paul nor any of us can contemplate sufferings or death save as we are fortified by the knowledge of the power of His resurrection. His resurrection is the pattern and pledge of ours. Indeed our resurrection altogether depends upon His.

As the Apostle realized in his spirit the power of Christ’s resurrection, he looked upon “the fellowship of His sufferings” as something actually to be desired. He even desired to be conformed to His death! Until the Lord comes we can only know the power of His resurrection in an inward and spiritual way, yet the fellowship of His sufferings and conformity to His death are of a very practical nature. Paul would taste of suffering in the cause of Christ and after the pattern of Christ suffering which should be of the same order as those sufferings which Christ Himself endured at the hands of men. He would even die as a witness to the truth, seeing Christ thus died. He actually desired these things.

Let us each take a few quiet moments to interrogate our own hearts. Do we desire these things? We fear that to ask the question is to answer it. A few of us might be able to say, “I believe that through the Lord’s grace I could face these things if called upon to do so. But desire them? Well, no. “ The fact that Paul did desire them is an eloquent witness to the wholly exceptional degree in which Christ personally had captured his heart, and the power of His resurrection had filled him with a holy enthusiasm. The fact is, he was like a well-trained athlete running in an obstacle race with a mighty enthusiasm for reaching the goal. The earlier verses have told us

how he had flung away seeming advantages as being hindrances to his course. These verses tell us that he would be detained by no obstacle, he would tear his way through the barbed wire of suffering and plunge into the watercourse of death, if in such fashion he might reach his goal.

Now this is just the force of verse 11. The Authorized version would almost make it appear that resurrection is an attainment for us, with a measure of doubt as to whether we ever get there. A better rendering is, “If any way I arrive at the resurrection from among the dead” (N. Tr.). He would get there any way, through no matter what obstacles, even through sufferings and martyrdom. And not merely is it resurrection, but resurrection out from among the dead; that is, the first resurrection, of which Christ is the firstfruits. It is while waiting for that resurrection that we are to know the power of His resurrection from among the dead, and so be walking here as those who are risen with Christ.

Verses Php_3:12 to 14 show us that the thought of a race was present to the Apostle’s mind in writing. The word, “attained” in verse Php_3:12 is really “obtained” or “received” as a prize. He wished no one to think that he had already received the prize, or that he was perfected. The position rather was that he was still pursuing it. Christ Jesus had laid hold of him, but he had not yet laid hold of it. Still he was ardently in pursuit of it, stretching out like an eager athlete towards the prize of God’s calling on high in Christ Jesus.

The word “high” simply means “above.” The same word is used in Col_3:1 , where we are bidden to “seek those things which are above.” The prize, of the calling to the things above, is surely that full and perfect knowledge of Christ Himself, which will be possible for us when our bodies are changed and fashioned like unto His body of glory at His coming.

Paul thirsted to know Him yet more deeply, as we have seen, while still he ran the race with the prize of a full knowledge of Him at the end. His desire was so intense that it made him a man of one thing. He was marked by concentration and intensity of purpose, suffering nothing to divert him from his aim. This feature, of course, goes far to explain the amazing power and fruitfulness that characterized his life and ministry. The weakness and lack of fruit that so often marks our lives and ministry may be very largely traced to exactly opposite features in ourselves lack of

purpose and concentration. Time and energy are frittered away on a hundred and one things of no particular value or moment, instead of the one thing commanding us. Is it not so? Then let us seek mercy from the Lord that in an increasing measure we may be able to say, “One thing I do.”

This really is very much what verse Php_3:15 says. Paul rejoiced in the knowledge that others beside himself could be spoken of as perfect or full-grown in Christ: they would be like-minded with him in this matter. Others again had hardly made the same spiritual progress, and consequently might view things somewhat differently. These are exhorted to walk in the same way according to their present attainment, with the assurance that God would lead them on until they saw things in just that way in which they had been revealed to the Apostle himself. We need to take these two verses very much to heart, for they exemplify the way in which the more spiritual and advanced believer should deal with those of lesser attainments than himself. Our natural tendency is to look down on these who may be less advanced than ourselves, to despise them or even to attack them because of their lack of conformity to that which we see to be right. This tendency is specially pronounced when the advance, upon which we rather pride ourselves, is more a matter of intelligence than of real spirituality.

Verses Php_3:15 and 16, then, reveal the spirit of a true pastor in Paul; and in verse Php_3:17 we find that he is able to refer them to his own life and character as an example. One is reminded of the words in which one of the poets has described the pastor. He

. . . allured to brighter worlds

And led the way.”

In verses Php_3:15 and 16 we see Paul alluring his weaker brethren to brighter worlds. In verse Php_3:17 we see him leading the way. Example is, as we know, an immense thing. Paul could say to the Philippians as he did to the Ephesians at the close of his ministry, “I have shewed you and have taught you” ( Act_20:20 ). With him there was practice as well as doctrine.

For this reason he could call upon his converts to be “followers” or “imitators” of himself. He was to be an “ensample,” that is a type or model for them, and this was the more necessary since even in those early days there were many walking in such fashion as to deny what is proper to

Christianity, though evidently they still claimed to be within the sphere of Christian profession. Here we have brought before us not immature believers, as in verse Php_3:15 , nor believers in a very perverse frame of mind, as in Php_1:15 , but adversaries whose end is destruction. These are exposed with great vigour of language.

We must not fail to notice the spirit that characterized the Apostle in denouncing them. There was nothing petty or vindictive about him, but rather a spirit of compassionate grief. He wept even as he wrote the denunciation. Moreover, his care for the Philippians was so zealous that he had often warned them before as to these men.

His exposure falls under five heads.

1. They are enemies of the cross of Christ. Not perhaps of His death, but of His cross of that cross which has before God put the sentence of death on man, his wisdom and his glory.

2. Their end is destruction. This alone would make Paul weep as he thought of them.

3. Their God is their belly; that is, their own lusts and desires governed them: desires often of a gross nature, though, we suppose, not always such. Always however, in some shape or form, self was their god.

4. They gloried in that which was their shame. They had no spiritual sensibilities at all. Everything in their minds was inverted. To them light was darkness and darkness light: glory was shame and shame was glory.

5. Their minds were set on earthly things. Earth was the sphere of their thoughts and their religion. They carried on the tradition of those of whom the Psalmist spoke, saying, “They have set their eyes bowing down to the earth” ( Psa_17:11 ).

And that tradition is still being carried on vigorously. The generation of earth-mincers still flourishes. It has indeed multiplied amazingly within Christendom. The unbelievers who fill so many pulpits that are supposed to be Christian, and control the destinies of so many denominations, have an incontestible claim to this un-apostolic succession. The cross of Christ as pouring contempt on man’s pride and abilities they will have none of. Man that is to say, self is their god. They glory in things, such as their descent from the brute creation, which if true would only be to their shame.

Earth fills their vision. Believers of the old-fashioned, New Testament type they ridicule as being “other worldly.” They are altogether for this world.

Now, “our conversation is in heaven.” It is really our commonwealth, our citizenship. Our vital associations are there, not here, as the enemies of the cross would teach. Heaven is our fatherland, and to heaven, as a matter of fact, we are going. But before we get there a great change as to our bodies is needed, and that change will reach us at the coming of the Lord. Our bodies of humiliation are going to be transformed into the likeness of His body of glory, and the working of His mighty power is needed for its accomplishment.

So our attitude is that of looking for the Saviour, who is coming forth from the heavens, to which we belong. He is coming as One who wields a power which will enable Him to ultimately suWue all things unto Himself. Is it not a touching thought that the very first exercise of that power of His is going to be in the direction of subduing the poor bodies of His saints, whether living or in the graves, into conformity to Himself? Then in His likeness we shall enter upon all that our heavenly citizenship involves.

So, we look for the Saviour. Let us keep the eyes of our hearts directed to the heavens, for the next move of decisive importance is coming from thence.

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Bibliographical Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Philippians 3". "Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.