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Bible Commentaries
Philippians 3

Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentBeet on the NT

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Verses 1-16


CH. 3:1-16.

As to the rest, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.

To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not irksome, and for you is safe. Keep eyes on the dogs: keep eyes on the bad workers: keep eyes on the concision. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and exult in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in flesh; although I might have confidence even in flesh. If any other thinks to have confidence in flesh, I yet more: circumcised the eighth day, of the race of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew from Hebrews; touching the Law a Pharisee; touching zeal, persecuting the Church, touching righteousness, viz. that in the Law, become blameless. But things which were gain to me, these for the sake of Christ I have counted loss. Yes indeed, and I count all to be loss for the sake of the superiority of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have suffered loss of all things: and I count them refuse that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own, that which comes from law, but that which comes through faith of Christ, the righteousness from God on the condition of faith, in order to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the partnership of His sufferings, being day by day conformed to His death, if in any way I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained or am already made perfect: but I press on if I may also lay hold of that for which I have also been laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, not yet do I reckon myself to have laid hold: one thing, however, I reckon, forgetting the things behind and stretching forward to the things before I press on towards the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

So many then as are perfect, let us be of this mind. And if in anything ye are otherwise minded, also this will God reveal to you. Only whereto we have attained, let us walk by the same.

Philippians 3:1 a. An exhortation covering all that Paul has left unsaid: as to the rest. Same words in Philippians 4:8; Hebrews 10:13.

Rejoice in: as in Philippians 1:18; Philippians 4:10; Colossians 1:24. The Master, Christ, is the surrounding, pervading, life-giving element in which Paul bids his readers rejoice. This joy is an outflow of that with which Christ Himself is full: and it becomes ours by inward spiritual contact with Him as servants doing His work. in proportion to our loyalty to Him is our joy in the Lord.

Philippians 3:1 b. Abrupt introduction of a new topic. For the short foregoing exhortation to rejoice in the Lord could not conceivably be irksome to Paul, i.e. something to which he would go with reluctance, nor specially safe for his readers. We must therefore suppose that from some cause unknown to us, possibly interruption, a new topic was unexpectedly introduced into the Epistle when apparently approaching its close. And the three times repeated warning which at once follows in Philippians 3:2 and which might easily be distasteful to the writer suggests irresistibly that to it refers the word safe. If so, to this warning refer also the words to write the same things. This implies that on this subject Paul has already written to the Philippian Christians. But in this Epistle there is as yet no warning against any one. Even the reference to Paul’s opponents at Rome is not put in the form of a warning to the Christians at Philippi. He has said nothing of which these words can be called a repetition. Indeed this would be true even if they referred to the foregoing exhortation: for he has not before urged his readers even to rejoice in the Lord. The only approach to this is Philippians 2:18. Nor is it likely that the repetition refers to earlier oral teaching. For this would make the word write emphatic: whereas the Greek emphasis is on the same things. The absence of other explanation suggests that the repetition refers to some warning in an earlier letter to the Philippians now lost. Against this suggestion there is no objection. For it is hardly possible that all the letters which Paul wrote are preserved to us. There is clear mention in 1 Corinthians 5:9 (see note) of a lost letter to the Corinthians. Polycarp, in his Epistle to the Philippians, says that Paul when absent wrote letters to you. But this is not a conclusive proof: for the plural form letters is often used for a single written communication, e.g. 1 Maccabees x. 3, 7; xii. 5, 19; and this may have been Polycarp’s meaning. That Paul refers here to an earlier and lost letter, is the easiest explanation of his words. In such letter he may have warned the Christians at Philippi against Jewish enemies. And certainly his own experience in many places justified the warning: see Acts 13:45; Acts 14:2; Acts 14:5; Acts 14:19; Acts 17:5; Acts 17:13. To this danger he refers in 1 Thessalonians 2:15; Romans 15:31. And he remembers it while writing this Epistle. To mention it again, is not, he tells us, a duty from which he recoils: and to do so may guard his readers from real danger.

Philippians 3:2. Keep-eyes-on: pay attention to. Same word in Colossians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 1:26; 1 Corinthians 10:18, etc. It denotes the simple act of looking, ocular or mental.

Dogs: a term of contempt, frequent with Gentiles and Jews. To the latter, dogs, feeding as they do in Eastern cities on all sorts of refuse, were an incarnation of degraded ceremonial impurity. So Matthew 15:26; Revelation 22:15; cp. Matthew 7:6 : also Isaiah 56:10-11. This common term expressing Jewish contempt for Gentiles, Paul here applies to Jews, (see below,) indicating that the men referred to were outside and beneath the Covenant of God.

Workmen: same word in 2 Corinthians 11:13; ‘guileful workmen,2 Timothy 2:15; Matthew 9:37-38; Matthew 10:10; Matthew 20:1-2; Luke 13:27 etc. They were active and laborious: but their aims and methods were bad.

The concision: a contemptuous modification of the word rendered circumcision. Its cognate verb describes in 1 Kings 18:28 the self-mutilations of the prophets of Baal: similarly Leviticus 21:5. It thus places the circumcision of these Jews beside the mutilations of the heathen. A close parallel in Galatians 5:12. The article before each substantive indicates a definite class of men. The essential harmony, amid total difference, of the terms used suggests that they present only different aspects of the same men. And this is confirmed by the order of the words, which passes from the general to the specific. This warning receives great emphasis from the repetition of the verb, beware. Three times, under three different aspects, Paul warns his readers of the same danger. The compactness of these words suggests that possibly they are an exact repetition of words already written by Paul. Certainly they embody a warning already given. The word concision proves that Philippians 3:2 refers to Jews. Upon these Paul flings back the term of contempt so freely cast by them at Gentiles as men outside the Covenant of God and as compared with themselves no better than unclean animals. He admits their laborious effort, but calls it bad. And the bodily rite in which they trust, he places on a level with heathen mutilation. That they were not members of the Church at Philippi, we infer with certainty from the universal commendation in Philippians 1:3-5. Yet the earnestness of the warning assures us that the danger was real and near. Paul’s parody of the word circumcision suggests that he refers roughly and generally to the Jewish race as a whole, or rather to the mass of it which rejected Christ. But his warning would include any Jews like those at Corinth (see my Corinthians p. 477) who under guise of a false profession had crept into the Church (cp. Galatians 2:4) in order to overturn it. Indeed the strong words in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 against men of this class is an important coincidence with this verse. But, inasmuch as in Philippians 3:5-6 we have no reference to professed Christians like that in 2 Corinthians 11:23, probably Paul refers here chiefly to non-Christian Jews.

The anti-Christian Jews, Paul justly calls the concision: for every outward form of religion destitute of inward devotion is practically the same as heathen ritual. While boasting of the ancient and divine rite, they were really trampling under foot the purpose for which it was given. The rite so desecrated could not be called circumcision, but required a meaner name.

Philippians 3:3. A contrast, justifying the term concision.

We: emphatic. To Paul and his readers belongs the title circumcision. Consequently, the only term left for the men here referred to is that just given them.

The circumcision: the circumcised persons, as in Ephesians 2:11; Romans 3:30; Romans 4:9; Romans 15:8; Galatians 2:9.

Who worship etc.; describes the real circumcision.

Worship: same word in Romans 1:9; Romans 1:25; 2 Timothy 1:3 etc. It is used only of service rendered to God; frequently of the service of the temple, as in Hebrews 13:10. Consequently it is needless to mention here the object of worship. Notice that circumcision involves worship: for Israel was set apart to be a worshipping people.

By the Spirit of God: who prompts and guides this worship. [Cp. Romans 8:13-14.]

And exult in Christ Jesus: cp. Romans 5:11. See under Romans 2:17. Like all the circumcised, Paul and his readers are accustomed to boast: but the encompassing element of their boasting is the living personality of Christ.

And have no confidence etc.: third point in the description of the true circumcision. Confidence is implied in exult: for all exultation rests on some foundation, and therefore involves trust in some object personal or impersonal. These men based their hopes on something in their own bodies. For to them circumcision, not being accompanied by a spiritual change, was a mere outward rite. Paul describes the Christian life as a service of God, prompted and guided by the Spirit of God; as a joyous confidence resting in Christ as its element; and negatively as not resting on anything belonging merely to outward bodily life.

Since many of Paul’s readers were Gentiles, and yet all are evidently included in this description, the circumcision here referred to must be spiritual only; as in Romans 2:29; Colossians 2:11. The ancient rite was a mark of the covenant with God. But all who have the characteristics here given are included in the New Covenant, and are therefore, but in greater degree, in the position formerly occupied by the circumcision. And, if so, nothing but the contemptuous term used by Paul remains to those who trust for the favour of God to the outward rite.

Philippians 3:4-6. A boast which Paul has, but refuses to use. By showing us a confidence he might cherish, Paul adds force to no confidence in the flesh. As himself the chief object of Jewish hostility to Christianity, Paul passes easily from the general statement in Philippians 3:3, we are etc., to the details in Philippians 3:4-6 which refer to himself only. The emphatic word I recalls Paul’s unique position as compared both with enemies and friends.

Although etc.: literally although myself having confidence even in flesh: contrasted statement subordinate to the foregoing. Paul has a confidence: for his condition is one in which he might trust. And the confidence in which he might indulge reaches down even to the flesh.

If any one etc.: an independent statement of the foregoing.

Thinks or thinks-well; denotes approval of a course of action or thought, as in Matthew 3:9; Luke 1:3 : if to any one it seems good to trust in the flesh.

I more: I have more to trust in than he. Similar language in 2 Corinthians 11:21. Paul thinks fit to play for a moment the part of his opponents that he may show how much better he can play it than they. Then follow in detail the grounds on which he might rest a confidence in the flesh.

Philippians 3:5-6. Circumcised the eighth day: and therefore not a proselyte. Notice the accurate observance of the letter of the Law.

From the race of Israel: and therefore not a son of a proselyte, or an Edomite.

Tribe of Benjamin: nearer specification of his relation to the sacred race. Paul knows his own tribe. Moreover Benjamin not only gave to Israel its first king, whose name Paul bore, but was faithful to the House of David when the ten tribes revolted.

Hebrew: 2 Corinthians 11:22. In Acts 6:1 it denotes a Hebrew-speaking Jew in contrast to the Hellenists who spoke Greek, thus marking a distinction within the Jewish nation. And elsewhere in the N.T. it has reference to language. Probably so here. Although born at Tarsus, Paul clung to the ancient language and customs of his nation. He did so by parental training: for his parents also were Hebrews. A close coincidence with Acts 23:6, where Paul calls himself a son of Pharisees. For, more than other Jews, Pharisees clung to everything which distinguished Israel from the rest of mankind.

After noting, in ascending scale, four points of honour in his pedigree, as Jews boasted, Paul now gives three points bearing upon his personal character and conduct. The similar phrases touching law, touching zeal, touching righteousness, mark the transition.

Pharisee: important coincidence with Acts 23:6; Acts 26:5.

Touching law: looked at from the point of view of the general principle embodied in the law given at Sinai, and in the Books of Moses. This principle, viz. that the favour of God is to be obtained by obedience to authoritative prescriptions of conduct, found in the Pharisees its strictest exponents and adherents. And Paul was a Pharisee. If, again, we take zeal as our standard of measurement, we find proof of his earnest advocacy of Judaism in that he was persecuting the Church. Important coincidence with Galatians 1:13-14 : cp. 1 Timothy 1:13.

Righteousness: the condition of a man who enjoys the judge’s approval: see under Romans 1:17. In order to distinguish his meaning here from Righteousness through Faith, Paul adds the specifying words, that in law. He is speaking of such righteousness as may be found in obedience to prescriptions of conduct. From this point of view, Paul had become blameless, i.e. he had reached a position in which no fault could be found with him. He had done all that could be done to obtain the favour of God by obedience to law.

Of the seven points of boasting, the first four pertain evidently to bodily descent and thus abundantly justify Paul’s declaration that he has a confidence even in the flesh. These points are supplemented by three others not bearing so directly on the same. But the continued series suggests a continued train of thought. And doubtless Paul felt that the obedience to law by which he sought formerly the favour of God was only outward and bodily, and that even the zeal which prompted his persecution of the Church had its ultimate source in motives pertaining to the present bodily life. Notice that each point in the series was one which Paul’s opponents would admit to be a valid ground of boasting.

An interesting coincidence with Philippians 3:4-6 is found in 2 Corinthians 11:21-27. But there Paul is speaking to Jews who were also (2 Corinthians 11:23) professed ministers of Christ. Here, without any reference to Christianity, he speaks simply of Jews. This suggests that the men against whom Paul here warns his readers were, at least for the more part, not Christians even in name.

Philippians 3:7. Paul’s solemn renunciation of his own Jewish boasting, in emphatic contrast to the foregoing, and followed in Philippians 3:8 by a still wider renunciation. It is an exposition of no confidence in flesh in Philippians 3:3, after the contrast in Philippians 3:4 and its exposition. in detail in Philippians 3:5-6.

Things-which: literally what sort of things, noting a whole class, to which belong the above details.

Gains to me: each item being, from Paul’s then point of view, an enrichment to him.

I-have-counted: a calculation made and completed in the past, and the abiding estimate now remaining.

For the sake of Christ, or because of Christ: expounded in Philippians 3:8.

Loss: either the gains themselves written off as lost; or the things formerly looked upon as making him richer now looked upon as making him poorer, i.e. as doing him harm. The former exposition is all that the words demand, and all that is implied in the word suffered-loss in Philippians 3:8. We therefore cannot give to the word loss the second and fuller sense. The whole class of various things which Paul once looked upon as gains, he has now written of as one loss.

Philippians 3:8. Yes, indeed: an abrupt breaking off, making the reassertion more forceful.

I count: the reckoning represented in Philippians 3:7 as already made, now represented as going on day by day.

All-things: wider than what sort of things in Philippians 3:7.

My Lord: in harmony with my God in Philippians 1:3 and Romans 1:8. Paul has come to know Christ Jesus as his own Master; and has found this knowledge to surpass all other good. Indeed it has revealed to him the worthlessness of all merely earthly gains. And, influenced by this superior knowledge, he now reckons to be loss all things he once prized.

For whose sake etc.: an emphatic and categorical statement of the loss involved in Paul’s reckoning. The things mentioned above were once wealth to him: they are now worthless. Consequently, where before he was rich, he is now poor. Moreover, the things thus lost were those he most prized. Therefore, in losing them he suffered the loss of all things. This loss was occasioned by the person and work of Christ, for whose sake it was cheerfully endured. Notice the emphatic repetitions: I have counted, I count, I count; loss, loss, suffered-loss; for Christ’s sake, for the sake of the superiority of the knowledge of Christ, for whose sake. [More definite than παντα is τα παντα, including all forms of material good.] In proportion as we know Christ-does earthly wealth cease to be an enrichment to us. We look upon it only as an instrument of serving Christ. Therefore, like Paul we may say that because of Christ we have lost all things. Of this complete, inward, subjective loss, all objective loss for Christ’s sake is a partial and easy realisation in outward form, easy in proportion to our knowledge of Christ.

And I count them refuse: added as an explanatory parallel to I have suffered, keeping before us Paul’s subjective estimate of the change which has taken place in him.

Refuse: anything thrown away, either excrement rejected by the body, or the leavings of a feast incapable of giving further nourishment or pleasure. Such does Paul reckon the Jewish prerogatives in which once he boasted. And this reckoning has been to him practically the loss of all things.

Philippians 3:9-11. Purpose of the reckoning described in Philippians 3:7-8, i.e. the greater gain for which Paul cheerfully submitted to the loss of all things. It is therefore practically an exposition of for the sake of Christ, and for the sake of the superiority of the knowledge of Christ.

Gain Christ: make Him my own and thus obtain infinite enrichment. For all that Christ has and is belongs to His servants: and having Him they have all they need. The word gain is a marked contrast to the things which to Paul were once gain but which he now counts to be loss.

Be found in Him: second item in Paul’s purpose. He desires so to gain Christ that He will be to him the home and bulwark of his soul and the pervading element of his spiritual life. The word found suggests a recognition by others of Paul’s inward union with Christ. In the searching scrutiny which will make known whatever is now hidden, Paul will be found safe in Christ.

Righteousness: as in Romans 1:17; see note.

A righteousness of my own: very close coincidence with Romans 10:3. As Paul never forgot, an unchanging law of the Kingdom of God makes spiritual blessing conditional on agreement with a divinely erected standard. Consequently, to be in Christ, implies righteousness. The only question is the kind of righteousness and the source from which it is derived. The righteousness through which Paul hopes to gain Christ is not a righteousness of his own, i.e. an agreement with a divine standard resulting from his own effort and which therefore he can claim as my own. Such would be the righteousness which the Jews were ever, though vainly, seeking to derive from the Law by careful observance of its prescriptions.

From law: as in Galatians 3:21; a close parallel. [The absence of the Greek article suggests the abstract principle Do this and live, a principle which received historical and literary embodiment in the Law of Moses.] Cp. Philippians 3:6; Galatians 3:11; Galatians 3:18; Galatians 3:23; Galatians 4:4-5; Galatians 4:21; Galatians 5:4; Galatians 5:18; Galatians 5:23; Galatians 6:13. It is practically the same as from works of law in Galatians 2:16 three times.

Through faith of Christ: belief of the words of Christ, as in Romans 3:22; Galatians 2:16.

From God: source of this righteousness. By proclaiming that He receives into His favour all who believe the Gospel, God gives righteousness to all who believe. And this righteousness received from God is in absolute contrast to all righteousness of their own, i.e. derived from their own obedience, for which the Jews were ever striving. Same contrast in Romans 10:3.

On-the-condition-of faith: literally on faith: same words in Acts 3:16. They represent faith as the condition on which, whereas just above it is the channel through which, righteousness comes forth from God.

The unexpected occurrence here of the word righteousness in this peculiar sense, the emphatic repetition of the word faith, and the coincidence in phraseology and thought with Romans 3:22; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:21, are very clear indications of Pauline authorship.

Philippians 3:10. The slight change of phrase, in order to know Him, indicates that this is not a third item of Paul’s aim in addition to those in Philippians 3:9, but is rather a further purpose to be attained by gaining Christ and being found in Him.

To know Him: as though Paul’s present knowledge were so defective as to be unworthy of the name. This fuller knowledge of Christ is yearned for also in Ephesians 1:17; Ephesians 3:19; Ephesians 4:13. It is obtained only by (Philippians 3:9) gaining Him for our own and by abiding in Him. These words expound for the sake of the excellence of the knowledge of Christ in Philippians 3:8; as that I may gain Christ in Philippians 3:8 expounds for the sake of Christ in Philippians 3:7.

And the power etc.; expounds what is involved in to know Christ.

The power of His resurrection: the power of God which raised Christ from the dead, For His resurrection is emphatically a manifestation of divine power: and in this manifested power lay its practical worth: cp. 2 Corinthians 13:4; Romans 1:4. From Philippians 3:11 we learn that the ultimate goal of Paul’s desire is to attain to the resurrection from the dead. To experience that resurrection is to know the power which raised Christ. For the one resurrection is a result of the other. Had not Christ risen, there had been no faith in Him, no Gospel, no Christianity, and therefore no resurrection to eternal life. Moreover, our present spiritual life is a victory over sin gained for us and in us by the power of God which raised Christ. It will be consummated in a bodily resurrection like His. That power in its full manifestation, Paul desires to know. A very close and important parallel is found in Ephesians 1:19-20. The intimate connection between the resurrection of Christ, the believer’s present victory over sin and moral elevation, and His final victory over the grave, a connection ever present to Paul’s thought, at once suggests the above exposition, and makes needless any other.

Fellowship of His sufferings: partnership with Christ in His sufferings: cp. 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Corinthians 10:16. They who for Christ’s sake, and in order to save men, endure hardship, are sharing His sufferings for the world’s salvation. For their sufferings, like His, are caused by man’s sin, are endured in loyalty to God and love to mankind, and are working out God’s purpose of mercy. Close coincidence in Colossians 1:24; 2 Corinthians 1:5. This companionship of suffering, Paul desires to know. And wisely. For we know Christ only so far as we share His loyalty to God and love to men. And if we share these, the circumstances of life will often lead us to endure hardship in order to save those whom Christ has taught us to love. Of such partnership with Christ, the annals of the Church are full. Happy they on whom rests most heavily this yoke of Christ.

The resurrection is placed before the sufferings of Christ because Paul’s thought went out first to the glory which should follow. He then remembered that to this goal there is only one path and in view of the goal desires to tread that path.

Being-conformed etc.: way in which this knowledge of the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings is to be obtained, a path Paul is already treading. Every step towards a martyr’s grave was making him more like Christ who died on the cross. This clause gives definiteness to the foregoing one, and shows that Paul has in view both the death of Christ and the deadly peril which overshadows him while he writes.

Philippians 3:11. The ultimate goal of Paul’s desire.

The resurrection or resurrection-out-of: a strong term, used in the N.T. only here.

From the dead: more definite than resurrection of the dead, and found only in Luke 20:35; Acts 4:2; 1 Peter 1:3. It suggests removal from among the dead, and is used only of Christ and His servants. Although the lost (John 5:29) will rise, resurrection will not separate them from the dead. Paul desired to attain to the uprising forth from the midst of the dead, the resurrection of life. This will be the Christian’s final triumph over his last foe: 1 Corinthians 15:26. And it implies victory over all enemies who now bar his path. For whatever tends to overturn his faith tends to rob him of his glorious consummation. A close parallel in Luke 20:35. This phrase peculiar to the blessed dead, by no means asserts or implies that they will rise before the unsaved. And Christ asserts that the two resurrections; of life and of judgment, will take place in the same hour.

If in any way: as in Romans 1:10; Romans 11:14; Acts 27:12; noting a purpose which Paul desires to achieve in any way, and therefore at any cost. It suggests difficulty, and earnest desire prepared to encounter any difficulty.

REVIEW OF Philippians 3:7-11. Paul has declared that, in contrast to the Jews, he has no confidence in the flesh; and has shown the significance of this assertion by specifying several matters pertaining to bodily life in which conceivably he might have confidence.

He now tells us that he has renounced, and continues to renounce, all these matters of boasting; and describes the greater gain which has allured him to this renunciation. Things once prized as gains, he has written off as loss; and this because of Christ and because of the greater gain of knowing Him. This renunciation has been to him the loss of all things; so valuable to him once were the gains he has renounced. They are to him now only the refuse which we haste to cast away. Paul desires to make Christ his own, thus gaining real enrichment; and to have Him for his home and refuge. To this end he needs the approval of the great Judge, which he can obtain not by anything in himself but only by the divinely-given righteousness promised to those who believe. He desires to win Christ and to be found in Him, in order thus to know Him, and especially to know by experience the mighty power which raised Christ from the dead. The only way to this experience of the power which wrought in Christ is by partnership in the sufferings which reached their culmination in the cross. And these Paul is eager to share. His ultimate aim is to attain the glory of those who in the Great Day will rise from and cast off the dust of death and thus enter into immortal life.

In these verses Paul contemplates the great change which had turned the entire current of his life. It was no new and loftier view of morality or even a more enthusiastic love for his fellows; but a new aim in life, and this aim a new relation to Christ and a deeper knowledge of Him, the ultimate aim being a share in the resurrection of the just.

Philippians 3:12-14. The chief feature of the spiritual life described in Philippians 3:7-11 is the aim, manifold and yet one, therein so emphatically and repeatedly set forth. In Philippians 3:12-14 this aim is placed in still clearer light, thus receiving even greater prominence as an all-controlling element of Paul’s inner life.

Philippians 3:12. Not that: as in 2 Corinthians 1:24. It guards from misinterpretation the foregoing assertion, by saying that this lofty aim does not imply actual attainment.

Obtained: literally received or taken. The object received is not mentioned, attention being for the moment limited to the act of reception. But the word press-on suggests that Paul has already in view the prize mentioned in Philippians 3:14. This prize can be no other than the full blessedness of the Kingdom of Christ. And, for this, Paul must wait till the resurrection from the dead.

Notice the accurate use of the Greek tenses. The aorist, I-have-obtained, denotes the mere act of reception: the perfect, am-made-perfect denotes its abiding result. The denial not already attained covers Paul’s past life to the moment of writing. He has not yet received the prize he has in view. Lightfoot’s exposition, not as though by my conversion I did at once attain, puts into the Greek aorist a meaning quite foreign to it and belonging only to the English preterite: see The Expositor, 1st series, vol. xi. p. 375.]

Already… already: emphatic denial of present attainment. A close parallel in 1 Corinthians 4:8.

Made-perfect: same word from the lips of Paul in Acts 20:24; Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 9:9; Hebrews 11:40; Hebrews 12:23, etc. A cognate adjective, rendered perfect, in Philippians 3:15, and 1 Corinthians 2:6 where see note. These words denote a development which has reached its goal. Consequently, the exact sense in each case will vary according to the goal the writer has for the moment in view. They suggest here that the prize Paul seeks is to be obtained by personal maturity. Since it is given in the Great Day (cp. 2 Timothy 4:8) Paul probably means here that it is not yet so secure to him as to be no longer an object of earnest effort.

I-press-on: literally pursue, i.e. follow quickly with a view to take hold of. Same word in Romans 9:30-31; Romans 12:13-14.

Lay-hold: stronger form of the word rendered obtain. The words may be compared as take and take-hold.

Of that for which: or with equal grammatical correctness inasmuch as. The former rendering would assert that Christ has taken hold of Paul with a definite aim, and that Paul presses forward in order to achieve that aim, i.e. to lay hold of that for which Christ has laid hold of him. The second exposition would leave unmentioned, as in Philippians 3:12 a, the object Paul desires to grasp, stating only that Christ has laid hold of him and giving this as a reason for his own earnest effort. Between these renderings (R.V. text and R.V. margin) we cannot decide. And the practical difference is slight. Paul knows that Christ has laid His hand on him. This must be with a definite purpose, a purpose to be attained by Paul’s own effort. To accomplish this purpose is the object of his strenuous endeavour.

Philippians 3:13-14. An affectionate repetition and development of Philippians 3:12.

Reckon: a favourite word of Paul: close parallel in 2 Corinthians 11:5.

I… myself: each word emphatic, a vivid description of self-estimation. Cp. John 5:30-31.

Not-yet: connected grammatically with reckon. But in Paul’s thought reckon to have laid hold forms one idea. He has not yet reached the point at which he can soberly calculate that he has achieved the aim of life.

One thing, however, I do: the last two words being supplied from the sentence following which describes what Paul is doing.

Forgetting etc.: as a racer thinks not of the ground already passed, but only of that still before him.

The things behind: the earlier stages of his Christian course. For the Jewish delusions in Philippians 3:5-6 were no part of his marked-out path.

Stretching forward to etc.: like a racer with hands reaching out eagerly towards the goal: a graphic delineation.

The things behind… the things before: a conspicuous contrast which cannot be reproduced in English.

I-press-on; takes up the same word in Philippians 3:12.

The goal: the end of the course already in view and directing and quickening the racer’s rapid steps.

The prize: in N.T. only here and in 1 Corinthians 9:24 : same word in Ep. of Clement ch. v.; see my Corinthians p. 521. The context shows that Paul refers to the garland given to successful athletes at the Greek festivals. See my Corinthians p. 157. While forgetting the ground already trodden and pressing eagerly towards the goal, the racer was really pressing on towards the garland he hoped to win.

The… calling of God: as in Romans 11:29; see under Romans 8:28. It is the Gospel looked upon as a voice of God summoning men to Himself.

High calling: belonging to a realm infinitely above everything on earth: cp. Hebrews 3:1. The Gospel has its source in heaven, and calls men up to the place whence it comes. Of this divine and heavenly summons, given to all who hear the Gospel, the voice on the way to Damascus was a particular case. It bids us contend for a prize. Hence the prize of the high calling. Paul remembers that God has called him to contend for a glorious prize, and that to enable him to win it Christ has laid His hand upon him. He therefore presses forward with the goal in view, to grasp the prize.

In Christ Jesus; asserts either that the high calling was given in connection with Christ, or that Paul’s eager effort for the prize had Christ for its encompassing and pervading and animating element. The latter exposition, giving as it does to these concluding words a much richer significance, is probably correct. A similar ambiguity in 2 Corinthians 12:10.

Paul’s chief thought in Philippians 3:7-11 about his spiritual life was a purpose to win and to know Christ, that thus be may obtain a place in the resurrection of the just. In Philippians 3:12-14, this purpose is made more definite by a repeated and emphatic assertion that Paul has not yet attained the object he so earnestly desires; and is then developed into actual and intense effort. This effort is clothed in Paul’s favourite metaphor of the Athletic Festivals of Greece. He is a racer pressing forward along the course, forgetting the ground already trodden and eagerly straining every nerve to reach the goal and thus obtain the prize.

This metaphor presents an invaluable picture, and an essential condition, of healthy Christian life; viz. incessant and strenuous effort and sustained progress. The goal is the resurrection of the just. We can reach it only by pursuing now the path marked out for us by God. Consequently, every moral victory is a step towards the prize which will be given in that Day.

Philippians 3:15-16. Practical application of the foregoing. That Paul here implicitly claims perfection, after disclaiming it in Philippians 3:12, proves that the word was not to him a technical term for one definite stage of the Christian life. The context shows that the perfection denied in Philippians 3:12 was such as would make needless further effort and progress. That assumed here is doubtless the Christian maturity mentioned in 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 14:20; Hebrews 5:14, and there contrasted with spiritual infancy. It implies a firm grasp of the Gospel and a full surrender of our heart and life to its transforming power. Possibly Paul has here in view some who claimed to be perfect or full-grown. Instead of denying their claim, he shows the obligation it involves. They who call themselves men in Christ are bound to contend as athletes for the great prize. Similar thought and expression in 1 Corinthians 8:1.

Of this mind: viz. pressing on towards the prize. Since Paul, whom all would admit to be a mature Christian, disclaimed absolute perfection and was striving with all his might for something he had not yet attained, he bids his readers, so many as suppose themselves to be mature Christians, to make the same self-estimate and the same resolute effort.

In anything otherwise minded: some detail not in harmony with the mind of Paul. That it is only a mere detail, is implied in the absence of censure and in the hope immediately expressed. ‘If in any matter you do not share my self-estimate and earnest effort, even this error God will dissipate by heavenly light.’

Reveal: as in 1 Corinthians 2:10; Galatians 1:16; see under Romans 1:17. It denotes always the Hand of God lifting a veil and thus imparting to men by light from heaven actual knowledge, ordinary or extraordinary. Paul bids his readers imitate his own self-estimate and earnest effort, and expresses an assured hope that if they do so, and if in any detail they fall below the example just set before them, even this error will be removed by God.

Philippians 3:16. Concluding exhortation, in the form of a limitation to the foregoing. ‘Let us count as nothing our present attainments and press forward: only in so doing let us pursue the direction in which we have attained our present position.’ A similar thought underlies the argument in Galatians 3:3, where Paul exposes the folly of turning aside from the path in which his readers have obtained spiritual life. That argument and this exhortation assume, not that the readers are infallible, but that they have made indisputable progress. Of this, their own moral sense was to them an infallible witness. They know that they have come out of darkness into light. Paul expresses his own determination, and encourages his readers, to go forward; and warns that their progress be in the direction which their past experience has proved to be right. So will all real progress mental and spiritual be along the lines of whatever progress we have already made. But we must be sure that our progress is real. Of this, neither Paul nor his readers had any doubt.

Walk: same word in Romans 4:12; Galatians 5:25; Galatians 6:16; Acts 21:24; describing, as here, a spiritual path.

Such are Paul’s safe words to his readers. Around them are enemies, unworthy of the name of men, yet busy, and boasting in the Covenant of God. Their professed loyalty to that Covenant is unreal. Its true sons are Paul and his readers, Jews and Gentiles. For the worship of the true Israelites is prompted by the Spirit of God: and their boast is in Christ and not in anything pertaining to mere bodily life. Yet in whatever the Jews boast, Paul might boast still more. For, whatever they claim, he has. But to him all such trust, and indeed all reliance upon earthly good, have vanished at the magic name of Christ. Paul’s one aim now is to win Christ as his spiritual home and refuge, that thus he may know Him; and by knowing Him obtain a place in the resurrection of the just. Yet this lofty aim does not imply attainment. Paul has not reached the goal on which his eye is fixed. But day by day he is pressing forward. And his strenuous effort after spiritual progress he holds before his readers as a pattern for all who claim to be men in Christ. If in any detail, of thought or action, they cannot as yet embrace this all-controlling purpose, Paul confidently hopes that new light from heaven will enable them to do so. But whatever else they do, their effort and progress must be along the path which already has led them from sin to God.

Verses 17-21


CH. 3:17-4:1.

Be joint-imitators of me, brethren, and mark those who thus walk, according as ye have us for an example. For many walk of whom I often said to you, and now say even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is the belly, and their glory is in their shame, who mind the earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will refashion the body of our humiliation conformed to the body of His glare, according to the working whereby He is able even to subject to Himself all things. So then, my brethren, beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, in this way stand in the Lord, beloved ones.

Exhortation to imitate Paul, Philippians 3:17 : opposite conduct of some church-members, Philippians 3:18-19 : with which is contrasted the Christian’s hope, Philippians 3:20-21 : concluding exhortation to steadfastness, Philippians 3:1.

Philippians 3:17. Joint-imitators of me, become ye: join with others in imitating Paul. The chief word here differs only one syllable from that in 1 Corinthians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 11:1, where Paul speaks of himself as an example. [So always when a genitive follows the word imitators: cp. 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:14.] This is simpler than the exposition join with me in imitating Christ: for there is no reference in the context to the example of Christ; whereas in Philippians 3:17 b Paul speaks expressly of himself and others as patterns to the Philippians.

Mark: to look with a purpose, especially with a view to avoid, imitate, or obtain. Compare and contrast the same word in Romans 16:17. Same word as look-at in Philippians 2:4, and 2 Corinthians 4:18. The word walk takes up the similar, though not the same word in Philippians 3:16.

Who walk thus: viz. imitating Paul.

According as ye have etc.: a fact with which the above exhortations are in agreement. [This exposition gives to καθως its full force as introducing a harmony. Had it introduced merely an exposition of ουτως, ως would probably have been used, as in Ephesians 5:28; Ephesians 5:33.]

Us: in contrast to me, including Paul and those who walk as he does. Such persons are an enrichment to the Philippian Christians: ye have a pattern. Same word and sense in 1 Thessalonians 1:7; 2 Thessalonians 3:9, where as here many men are one pattern; and in 1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:7 : same word in slightly different sense in Romans 5:14; Romans 6:17; 1 Corinthians 10:6.

While exhorting his readers in Philippians 3:15-16 Paul placed himself among their number: let us be of this mind… we have attained. Conscious that he is himself doing what he exhorts, he now bids them to imitate him; and in so saying remembers that others are setting the same example. Upon these disciples who follow the steps of their teacher, Paul advises his readers to fix their attention, making use of the pattern they possess. He thus teaches the value of study of Christian character.

Notice that the example of Paul did not supersede the need and value of the example of others who imitate him. For a less example under our immediate observation is sometimes more effective than a greater one at a distance. And various good men present varieties of excellence suitable for imitation in various positions of life.

Philippians 3:18. Reason for the foregoing exhortation; viz. that many pursue an opposite path. These were apparently church-members. For the hostility and sensuality and worldliness of pagans was so familiar to Paul that it would hardly move him to tears. The neutral word walk (see under 1 Corinthians 3:3) simply places beside the walk of those who imitate Paul the outward life of these unworthy men. The path in which they walk is left to be inferred from what follows.

Many and often: notes of importance.

I have often said: probably when present at Philippi, where Paul must have been twice and possibly oftener, during his third missionary journey. It may also have included written warnings. The singular number, I said, suggests special warnings from Paul himself.

Even weeping; reveals the terrible position of the men referred to and the damage they were doing.

The enemies of the cross; implies that the death of Christ holds a unique place as a chief means of the advancement of His Kingdom. And this can be explained only by Paul’s teaching in Romans 3:24-26 that our salvation comes, by the grace of God, through the death of Christ making the justification of believers consistent with the justice of God. To resist the cross of Christ, is to resist the tremendous earnestness of God meeting a tremendous need of man, and the infinite love, there manifested. We wait to know more about the men guilty of sin so great.

Philippians 3:19. Further description of the enemies of the cross. Whose end: as in 2 Corinthians 11:15, where see note. Destruction: utter ruin: see note under Romans 2:24, and especially The Expositor, 4th series, vol. i. p. 24. That ruin is here said to be the end of these men, implies clearly that Paul believed in the possibility of final ruin. For if all men will at last be saved, destruction cannot be their end. In that case the end of all men would be eternal life. The plain words before us prove that such universal salvation was altogether alien to the thought of Paul. For the universal purpose of salvation, see under Philippians 2:11.

Whose… whose: stately repetition.

The belly: not their belly. The seat of appetite for food is looked upon in the abstract as one definite idea; and is thus in some sense personified; so 1 Corinthians 6:13. This gives great force to the terrible charge whose God is the belly. A similar, though slightly different thought in Romans 16:18. The appetite for food and the desire for pleasant food, with all the self-indulgence of which this appetite is a representative, are the supreme power which these men obey. The lower element of their nature controls the whole of it. The absence of the word whose before glory in their shame joins these words to the foregoing as together forming a second item in the description.

Glory: that which evokes admiration: see under Romans 1:21. That which evokes from their fellows admiration of them, and to which they look for admiration, is found in that which is their disgrace and ought to cover them with shame. To them, their degradation is their ornament.

The earthly things: good or ill, these looked upon as a complex yet definite idea: hence the plural, and the definite article.

Who mind: as in Philippians 3:15; Philippians 2:2; Philippians 2:5; Romans 8:5, etc.: a word frequent in this Epistle. The things of earth, i.e. material good and ill, are the objects of their mental activity. Exact contrast in Colossians 3:1; mind the things above.

About these enemies of the cross, Paul’s first thought is the ruin which awaits them. He then mentions the most conspicuous feature of their character, viz. that desires common to animals are the supreme object of their worship, the lower thus ruling the higher. Closely connected with this terrible inversion, we find that that which gains for them admiration with their fellows is really their disgrace. All this Paul traces to its ultimate source, viz. concentration of their thought on things pertaining to the material world. This preference of the lower for the higher is inevitably degrading. Hence comes the supremacy of bodily appetites, and the distorted vision which mistakes a disgrace for an ornament. The result is ruin. Since Christ died in order to raise us above the dominion of the perishing world in which our bodies live, they who surrender their mental powers to contemplation of earthly things and their nature to the control of its lowest elements, by so doing declare war against the cross of Christ.

This fearful description of men who must have been church-members is in sad agreement with 2 Corinthians 12:21. It is thus a note of genuineness. But we have no hint that these were members of the Church at Philippi. And this is contradicted by Philippians 1:4 and the general tone of the Epistle. Nor do we know whether or not they were at Rome, where Paul was writing.

Philippians 3:20. This verse supports the condemnation implied in the last words of Philippians 3:19 by pointing to the city in heaven whose rights of citizenship are despised by those who fix their thoughts on earthly things.

City or commonwealth: the city looked upon as the home of municipal life and rights. Same word in 2 Macc. xii. 7: ‘root up the whole city of the men of Joppa, so that the municipality of Joppa shall cease to be.’ Practically the sense would be the same if we gave to the word the meaning citizenship or rights-of-citizens, which it sometimes has. For where the city is there are the citizen rights.

Our city: viz. of Paul and those who imitate him; as in Philippians 3:17, us a pattern. Cp. Clement of Alex. Miscellanies bk. iv. 26: “For the Stoics say that heaven is properly a city, but the things on earth no longer cities; said to be such, but not so actually… the Elysian plains are the municipalities of just men.” Is, or better exists, in heaven, in complete contrast to the earthly things of Philippians 3:19. Our commonwealth is in heaven: same thought in 2 Corinthians 5:1; Galatians 4:26, where see notes. It is in heaven because there Christ is, in whom dwells the power which in the new earth and heaven will create the glorified home of His servants now on earth.

Whence: out of heaven, from within the veil which now hides from our view the unseen world.

We wait for: a strong word used in the same connection in Romans 8:19; Romans 8:23; Romans 8:25; 1 Corinthians 1:7; Galatians 5:5; Hebrews 9:28: cp. 1 Thessalonians 1:10.

Also we wait etc.: in addition to already having a city in heaven.

Saviour: Ephesians 5:23. Also 2 Timothy 1:10; Titus 1:4; Titus 2:13; Titus 3:6; Acts 13:23 in a sermon by Paul, referring to Christ; 1 Timothy 1:1; 1 Timothy 2:3; 1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 1:3; Titus 2:10; Titus 3:4, referring to God. Our home in which we have municipal rights exists in heaven: and we are eagerly waiting for One from heaven who will rescue us from the perils and hardships around.

Philippians 3:21. The deliverance which the expected Saviour will work, and the standard with which it will correspond.

Fashion-anew: give to it an altered shape and guise. Same word in 1 Corinthians 4:6; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15. This use of a word denoting only a change of shape suggests the continuity of the present and future bodies. Cp. Romans 8:12, raise your mortal bodies. And this continuity must be, in a way inconceivable to us, real. But it does not imply, any more than does the continuity of our bodies on earth, identity of material atoms. Niagara remains the same while every drop of water is ever changing. It is rather a continued relation to the human spirit of its material clothing. A description of the change is given in 1 Corinthians 15:35-53.

Our body, not bodies: as in Romans 6:12; see note under Romans 1:21. The body of, i.e. standing in relation to, our humiliation. On earth the servants of Christ are exposed to weakness, sickness, reproach, hardship, and peril. This their lowly estate, so inconsistent with their real rank, is determined by the constitution of their material clothing, which is therefore the body of their humiliation. But when Christ comes out of the unseen world He will refashion it. The body of Christ is the visible, material, human manifestation of His divine splendour: the body of His glory.

Conformed: sharing the form of: akin to the word form in Philippians 2:6. It is stronger than the word rendered fashion-anew, denoting such change of the mode of self-presentation as implies a share of the inward constitution of the body of Christ. When Christ appears, the changed bodies of His servants will become so like His body, which belongs to His essential splendour, as to share its mode of presenting itself to those who beheld it.

According to the working etc.: a measure with which will correspond the coming change. This phrase is a marked feature of this group of Epistles: Colossians 1:29; Ephesians 1:19; Ephesians 3:7; Ephesians 4:16; cp. Colossians 2:12; Philippians 2:13.

Working: literally inworking or activity, an inward putting forth of power. It is the Greek original of our word energy. Literally rendered, Paul’s words are according to the energy, or the inworking, of His being able, i.e. of His ability, to subject to Himself etc.

All things: all the various objects in the universe, persons and things, these looked upon as a definite object of thought.

To subject to Himself all things: 1 Corinthians 15:27-28. It suggests that not yet do all things bow to Christ. But Christ has the abiding power to bend to His will all the component parts of the universe. The conformation of our bodies to His body will correspond with the activity of this abiding power. And this power confirms greatly our faith that He will remove from our bodies those mortal elements hostile to us and insubordinate to Him. These words also suggest that the victory to be gained in our bodies is part of a greater victory which will embrace and rescue all things. Thus, as ever, Paul rises from the particular to the general, from the partial to the universal.

Christ’s ability to subject all things to Himself does not contradict the sad indication in Philippians 3:19 that some will be finally lost. For the putting forth of His power is determined by His infinite wisdom, which passes our thought.

Notice here a clear proof of the divinity of Christ. The resurrection will be His work, a work in harmony with His infinite power.

Philippians 4:1. So-then: as in Philippians 2:12. It introduces a desired practical result of § 9, and completes the exhortation begun in Philippians 3:19.

My brethren: recalling Philippians 3:17.

Longed for: natural result of being loved. Notice the warm affection of this double description, an affection prompted both by the unique excellence of the Philippians and by their love for Paul.

My joy: understood only by those who have children in the faith. Paul’s converts at Philippi were its living embodiment.

And crown: as in 1 Corinthians 9:25 : the garland given to successful athletes. Close parallel in a letter to another Macedonian Church: 1 Thessalonians 2:19. These converts of Paul were themselves to be his joyous reward. For they were a divinely-given result, and therefore a reward, of his labours. Moreover, since only in the light of the Great Day shall we see the full result of our labours on earth and be able to estimate the worth of a soul saved or lost, Paul speaks in 1 Thessalonians 2:19 of the crown as given at the coming of Christ.

In-this-way stand: as do Paul and those whom in Philippians 2:17 he held up as a pattern.

Stand: as in Romans 5:2, etc.; maintain your spiritual position in spite of burdens which would press you down and of enemies who would put you to flight.

In the Lord: 1 Thessalonians 3:8 : the personality of the Master whom they serve being the only firm standing ground of the Christian life.

Beloved: intensifying this loving appeal.

In § 8, after a warning against Jewish opponents, Paul pointed to his own religious life, and especially to his eagerness for progress, as a pattern for his readers. In § 9, he bids them observe and follow the men who imitate this pattern. This exhortation he justifies by pointing to sensual men who while bearing the name of Christ yet live for the present world. In contrast to these he describes the hope of a glorious resurrection cherished by himself and others, a hope prompted and measured by the omnipotence of Christ. In this hope and this example Paul bids his much-loved readers stand.

This appeal to the expectation of a bodily resurrection, in an exhortation to walk worthy of Christ, reveals the moral and spiritual power of the Christian’s hope of future glory. This hope takes hold of eternity, and thus saves us from drifting with the current around.

Bibliographical Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on Philippians 3". Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jbc/philippians-3.html. 1877-90.
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