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Bible Commentaries
Philippians 3

Hampton's Commentary on Selected BooksHampton's Commentary

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Verses 1-3

"Beware of Dogs"

The word "finally," according to Vine, was sometimes used by Paul to mark the close of one part of an epistle. It is a transitional word that actually means, "And for the rest". Paul wanted the brethren to rejoice in the Lord, but ONLY in the Lord. The "same things" he wrote about may be the rejoicing just mentioned, or, the message which follows about those who would require Gentiles to be circumcised. The latter seems most likely since he had just been to the Jerusalem conference before his first visit to Philippi ( Act_15:1-29 ). Paul did not mind repetition. In fact, repetition aids learning, as any good teacher knows, and it was needful for the safety of their souls ( Php_3:1 ).

It was common for Jews to deride Gentiles by calling them dogs. Max Hughes points out that during those days dogs were dirty animals that roamed the streets eating garbage. They were half-wild and dangerous ( Psa_22:16-20 ). These the apostle spoke of worked, but to an evil end ( Mat_23:15 ; 2Co_11:12-15 ; Gal_1:6-9 ). It appears Paul is referring to the Judaizers who were trying to make Gentile Christians obey the law of Moses ( Act_15:5 ; Gal_3:24-25 ). They asked Gentiles to circumcise to be more pleasing to God, but it did not please God so it was only a mutilation of the flesh, or concision ( Php_3:2 ; Lev_21:5 ).

The Jews used their fleshly circumcision to prove they were descendants of the faithful Abraham. However, Christians were the ones truly circumcised in accord with God's will. When one is baptized into Christ, he has the sins of the flesh cut away and begins to walk as a spiritual servant of God ( Col_2:10-13 ; Gal_6:11-16 ). God wants inward commitment more than outward ritual ( Rom_2:25-29 ). Now, God's true Israel is composed of those who worship him in spirit ( Joh_4:23-24 ; Mat_15:7-9 ). The Christian's glory is not in the flesh or outward works, but in Christ ( Gal_6:14 ). God never intended to accept mere outward ritual (See Lev_26:1-46 ; esp. 31, 40-42; Deu_10:15-22 ; Deu_30:5-6 ; Jer_4:4 ; Eze_44:6-8 ).

The one who trusts in the flesh tries to pull himself up by his own bootstraps, thus rejecting Christ's assistance ( Php_3:3 ).

Verses 4-6

Paul's Fleshly Accomplishments

Paul was not putting down Judaism because he had a low place in it. Here was a man who truly could have, if anyone could, placed confidence in fleshly accomplishments. Paul's list of credentials show he was a Jew in high standing. Lipscomb tells us the Ishmaelite was circumcised at the age of 13 and the proselyte in mature life when he accepted Judaism. The apostle to the Gentiles was born a Jew and circumcised on the eighth day, in accord with the law. He was born an Israelite, one of God's people.

Paul says he was of the tribe of Benjamin. Wiersbe reminds us that Benjamin and Joseph were Jacob's favorites. Saul, the king, came from Benjamin and that tribe remained loyal during the rebellion of Absolom. The apostle was also a Hebrew born of Hebrew parents. He was a Pharisee, which was a sect that set up strict rules to live by ( Act_23:6-9 ; Act_7:54-60 ; Act_8:1-3 ; Act_9:1-2 ). His reputation for trying to keep every detail of this legalistic, outer rightousness was blameless ( Php_3:4-6 ; Gal_1:13-14 ).

Verses 7-9

Paul Gave Up All For Christ

Because of the above list, Paul had once counted himself a spiritual millionaire. At the time he wrote this letter, he saw himself as bankrupt before he found Christ ( Mat_5:3 ; Mar_8:34-38 ; Eph_2:8-9 ; Tit_3:5 ). To become a Christian, Paul had set aside the pride of the self-made man ( Php_3:7 ).

Paul forfeited, or suffered the loss, of all he once held dear and counted it a good swap for the knowledge of Christ ( Mat_13:44-46 ). Jesus says we can either deny self or forfeit self, or be cast away ( Luk_9:23-25 ; the words "cast away" and suffered the loss" come from the same Greek word.) Shepherd says "knowledge" is much more than intellectual. It "includes faith, service, sacrifice, and is analogous to the phrase 'to be in Christ' -- the spiitual knowledge by which the indiviidual becomes one with Christ, so that his whole life is lived in Chrsit and he has no consciousness of being apart from Christ." This kind of knowledge would, of course, grow as one grew in service of the master. Paul said he counted all that was once important to him as refuse to win Christ ( Php_3:8 ).

To be found in Christ, one must be baptized into him ( Rom_6:3-4 ). Once Paul was in Christ, he ceased relying on personal accomplishments to save him. Instead, he was obedient, which is generally the meaning of faith in the New Testament ( Rom_1:5 ; Rom_16:26 ). As Coffman says, "The contrast is between trusting in the ceremonies of the Law of Moses for salvation as contrasted with believing and obeying the gospel of Christ."

The only faith which God will count for righteousness is that which comes by an obedient hearing of God's word ( Rom_10:17 ). The "faith of Christ" would refer to the Savior's faithfulness, or fidelity, in carrying out God's plan for saving man. Note that he had to obey God to be truly faithful in carrying out God's will ( Php_2:8 ; Joh_4:24 ; Joh_6:38 ; Mat_26:39 ). Our righteousness comes by Christ's faith in that we are cleansed by his blood ( Php_3:9 ; Eph_1:7 ).

Verses 10-11

The Ultimate Goa1: Knowing Christ

The apostle's ultimate goal was knowing Christ. "Know" in scripture usually suggest an intimate relation with someone (see Gen_4:1 ). The Christian's purpose is to know Christ, not merely facts about him. Christ's resurrection proved he was the Son of God ( Rom_1:4 ). It is the basis of the Christian's appeal to obey him ( Act_2:22-36 ; Act_13:30-39 ). The only way anyone can know the power of his resurrection is by being buried with him and raised to walk a new life ( Romans 6:31; 8:10-13 ). The Christian's salvation and hope depend on Christ's resurrection ( 1Co_15:17 ). His followers have fellowship, which is to share or have in common, Christ's suffering ( 1Pe_4:13 ; 2Co_1:5-7 ; 2Ti_2:12 ). Sharing with Christ in suffering for righteousness will help one to constantly be dead to sin, as Christ died for sin ( Php_3:10 ; Gal_2:20 .)

Paul recognized the danger of failing to remain faithful ( Heb_3:14 ; 1Co_9:27 ), so he used the word "if". He knew all would be raised ( 2Co_5:10 ; Joh_5:28-29 ). His goal of attaining the resurrection must refer to his longing for the resurrection of the righteous to go be with the Lord ( Php_3:11 ; 1Th_4:13-18 .)

Verse 12

Paul Did Not Count Himself As Successful

Despite all the good he had done, Paul could still say he needed to grow in the Lord's service. It will be remembered, from the last lesson, that Paul hoped to attain unto the resurrection from the dead and heaven. The Lord chose Paul to bear the good news of salvation to the Gentiles ( Act_9:15 ). Paul wanted to gain the salvation he had spoken to others about. Though he was an apostle and had labored hard for the Lord, he did not count himself as having reached the heavenly goal. Certainly we could say this verse suggests the possibility of apostasy ( Php_3:12 ).

The only time Paul was willing to say he had run the race completely and would receive the crown was when he was about to die. He told Timothy, "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day" ( 2Ti_4:6-8 ).

Verse 13

Forgetting the Past

Prior to the time he faced death, Paul always had a single-minded purpose. To achieve his purpose, Paul put the past out of his mind. Wiersbe says to forget in the Bible means "no longer to be influenced by or affected by." Christians need to forget past sins, accomplishments and wrongs suffered at the hands of others.

The first thing anyone needs to forget from their past is the sins they have committed. On Pentecost following Christ's resurrection from the dead, Peter told the assembled multitude God had verified Jesus' Sonship through the miracles he worked. Yet, they, with lawless hands, took him and killed him. Peter proclaimed, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." Realizing their sinfulness, they asked, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Peter said, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Those who have repented of their sins and been baptized in the name of Jesus can forget whatever sins they commited in the past because God has blotted out their sins ( Act_2:22-23 ; Act_2:36-38 ; Act_3:19 ).

Sometimes one will be held back by good things in his past. He may dwell on past achievements and fail to continue doing good. The church at Ephesus got off to a good start, but they could not rely on those good deeds they had done to keep them pleasing in the Lord's sight. The Lord had to warn them, by saying, "Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place--unless you repent" ( Rev_2:4-5 ).

Clearly, past accomplishments must be forgotten and good works continued. Many are held back from doing good because of some wrong they have suffered at someone else's hands. Their whole life is wrapped up in getting even. Joseph is one of the best examples of one who was able to forget wrongs others had committed against him. He told his brothers God had used their mistreatment of him to achieve a good end ( Gen_50:20 ). God can still take the good and the bad in our lives and make it work together for our good ( Php_3:13 ; Rom_8:28 ).

Verses 14-16

Pressing On To the Prize

Having forgotten all that was in the past, the apostle pressed, or stretched forward like a runner trying to break the tape, toward the prize of salvation in Christ ( Php_3:14 ; Eph_1:18 ; Heb_3:1 ). The writer of Hebrews used the image of a race to help his readers see the importance of setting aside those things which might hinder them on their way to heaven. "Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." To reach the goal, each follower of Christ should focus on the Lord who has already endured hardship and is now seated at God's right hand ( Heb_12:1-2 ; Heb_12:12-14 ).

While Paul still had room for growth (vs. 12), he was mature or full-grown. He asked all those who were also mature to keep their minds set on the goal. It is not time to sit down when the race is still ongoing. If they would continue in a single-minded pursuit of God's reward, Paul assured them that God would reveal to them any imperfection they still had. Meanwhile, he urged them to continue in that which they knew to be right ( Php_3:15-16 ).

Verses 17-19

Be Careful Who You Follow

Paul wanted the brethren at Philippi to follow him in his constant run toward the goal and mark. He also encouraged them to note those who followed a similar course ( Php_3:17 ; 1Co_11:1 ). The writer of Hebrews instructed his readers to "Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct" ( Heb_13:7 ).

The apostle also warned them against some who claimed to be Christians, yet were enemies of the cross. A warning about false teachers is a recurrent theme in Paul's preaching. He urged the elders from Ephesus to watch out for themselves and the flock they had been appointed to oversee. "For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves." He instructed them to keep a careful watch, while remembering the way he had warned them constantly with tears for three years. He told them their best defense was God's word. After all, it was able to give them strength and prepare them for a heavenly home ( Act_20:28-32 ; Rom_16:17 ; 2Th_3:6 ; 2Th_3:14 ).

One should not be mislead into thinking Paul hated the false teachers. He cried over the state they were in, but warned brethren not to follow them. Their god was service to selfish interest. They were proud of things of which they should have been ashamed. Their minds were set on earthly things ( Php_3:18-19 ; Col_3:1-12 ).

Verses 20-21

Citizens of Heaven

The Philippian brethren would have understood very well what the apostle meant when he said a Christian's citizenship is in heaven. Remember that many of the people at Philippi were Roman citizens. A baby born at Philippi should have had its name recorded in Rome. They would have enjoyed the rewards of Roman citizenship, though away from Rome.

Wiersbe states, "The spiritually minded believer is not attracted by the 'things' of this world. He makes his decisions on the basis of eternal values and not the passing fads of society." Lot chose the fertile plain of Jordan because of its productive value. He did not take time to consider the moral decay which finally cost him everything ( Gen_13:5-13 ; Gen_18:16-33 ; Gen_19:1-28 ). Abraham, on the other hand, let God be his guide because his mind was set on heaven ( Heb_11:8-10 ). In similar fashion, the Christian should long for heaven and live as if it was his goal ( 2Co_5:1-10 ). Paul concludes the verse by saying that Christians look forward to Christ's second coming. If more emphasis were placed upon the Lord's return, greater commitment and joy would be ours ( Php_3:20 ; Mat_25:1-13 ; 1Th_4:13-18 ).

The Lord will, at his coming, change this mortal body into an immortal one fitted for heaven ( Php_3:21 ; 1Co_15:42-53 ; 1Jn_3:2 ). Instead of "lowly body" as we find here, it would be better to put "the body of our humiliation," as the American Standard Version does. The body is not despised by God. However, it is in our physical body that sin has been committed and the terrible reward of death was faced ( Rom_7:23-24 ). Paul assures us that the same power Christ has to cause his enemies to submit to his will enables him to effect a great change in our bodies.

Bibliographical Information
Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on Philippians 3". "Hampton's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghc/philippians-3.html. 2014.
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