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Bible Commentaries
Philippians 3

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-21

Philippians 3:2 . Beware of dogs, judaizing teachers and false apostles, which bite and devour the flock; dogs which bark in ignorance against the person of Christ, and the gospel of God our Saviour. Paul had in view the rebuke given by Isaiah to the false prophets of Israel: Isaiah 56:10-11. Dogs that encompassed about both David and David’s Lord, and thirsted for their blood. Psalms 22:17; Psalms 22:21.

Beware of evil workers, who corrupt the truth, and by every art seek to seduce and to destroy the church.

Beware of the concision, a word of contempt for the emissaries of the great synagogue, who boasted of circumcision as the exclusive seal of Abraham’s covenant, and hid the grand part of the promise, “In thy Seed (the Christ) shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” Genesis 12:3. These were a boasting race, “uncircumcised in heart and ear.” Acts 7:51.

Philippians 3:3 . We are the circumcision, of whom Moses says, “The Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul.” Deuteronomy 30:6. The dogs hate your liberty, being ignorant of the scriptures, that all believers are not only heirs, but children also of the promise, as in Jacob’s case, and are accounted for the seed. We boast not of what is lost by the knife of circumcision, but of what is gained by the loss of the stony heart, in the full effect of regeneration. This is now the glorious liberty of the children of God. We worship him no longer with bulls and goats, reposing in temples made with hands, but in spirit and in truth, in all the spiritual glory of the gospel, which illuminates the mind, and commands the heart. We are the new Israel, the peculiar people, the royal priesthood, to show forth the praises of him who hath called us out of darkness into marvellous light.

Philippians 3:7 . But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Cardinal Baronius is probably correct in what he says about Paul, in his Ecclesiastical Annals, vol. 1. p. 50, that he was thirty five years of age at the time of his conversion, and that he held some place of honour, either in the Roman service or in the Hebrew nation.

Philippians 3:8 . Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. In the former verse the apostle speaks in the past tense, of what was the state of his mind when he first became a follower of Christ, that he was ready to part with all things for his sake. Here he speaks in the present tense, showing what is still his state of mind concerning Christ, that after so many years of suffering and privation his heart is still knitted to him, and sees no reason whatever to abate the ardour of his attachment. He had “counted,” and still “counts,”

all things but loss for his sake, and found that he was not out of his reckoning. The safest test of true religion is not what we once were, but what we now are in the sight of God; that our love to Christ is not abated, but is on the encrease, and that we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope unto the end. Hebrews 3:6. The knowledge of Christ has in it an excellency surpassing that of all other knowledge; it is that in which angels delight, and is to sinners the only source of eternal life.

Philippians 3:9 . The righteousness which is of God by faith. The righteousness by which a sinner is justified, in opposition to the works of the law. The blessings of the new covenant, the righteousness poured down from the skies. Isaiah 45:8. The everlasting righteousness brought in by our Redeemer, to finish transgression, and make an end of sin. Daniel 9:25. To justify and sanctify all that believe in him. Romans 3:22-25; Romans 4:5. We through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. Galatians 5:5. On this head, sinners should cease their strife with heaven; righteousness to sinners must come either by the works of the law, or by the faith of Christ. If by works, grace is no more grace; if by grace, then the covenant of works exists no more as a covenant, to confer eternal life. Under the new covenant, salvation is by faith. Noah believed God, and he built the ark. Abraham believed the promises, and left his own country. So the gospel now says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou, and thy house shall be saved.”

Philippians 3:10 . The power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings; or as most versions read, “the communion of his passion.” Paul was solicitous to know these, so as to be made conformable to the Saviour’s death; and he illustrates the argument in various views, in Romans 6:0. This knowledge of Christ has a special regard to the entire sanctification of our nature, so as to prepare us for the glorious resurrection of the dead. This communion of his passion is, that we be dead with Christ in the mortification of sin, and live with him in newness of life, for our old man is crucified with Christ.

Grieved with thy grief, pained with thy pain,

Ne’er may I feel self-love again.

Philippians 3:11 . If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Our course here is progressive, it admits of no stay at any one point: we have not yet attained the prize, the full enjoyment of God in Christ. Critics remark, that Paul does not simply say, anastasin, resurrection, but exanastasin, as if he should say, a resurrection, a full, perfect, and glorious resurrection. His eye might possibly glance on the earlier resurrection promised to the martyrs.

Philippians 3:12 . I follow after, alluding to the races and Grecian games, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. He has apprehended me, to make me his child, his heir, to inherit all things. This is the christian vocation, and I would not therefore come short of the will and pleasure of my Redeemer. Oh that the preachers of righteousness might fully imbibe the ardours of the soul of Paul, and not let their auditories fall asleep, seeing they have hardly as yet entered on their course.

Philippians 3:13-14 . Forgetting those things which are behind. Judaism with all its boastings; persecutions with all their bitterness. I flee for my life, like Lot out of Sodom, and press with all my energies to win the prize. Yea, this one thing I do, to lay hold on the hope set before me, the enjoyment of God in Christ for ever.

Philippians 3:18-19 . Many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping. The dogs, the evil workers, the concision, the bitter enemies of the cross of Christ. You fast while they feast, for their god is their belly. They glory in seducing you, which is their shame, to turn the simple out of the way. But their glory shall be transient, for their end is destruction. The eagles are gathering round the carcase, their city and temple shall soon be in flames, and the day shall burn as an oven. Their sun shall darken, their moon wane, their end shall be destruction. But oh, are these words, these awful words, so many sentences against the profligate christians of the present age? We imitate those enemies of the Lord in sin; and how can we escape a share in their catastrophe. Preachers of the Court, repeat those things with streaming eyes, for the day of the Lord is near.


Joys follow the tears of the church, and light is sown for the upright in heart. The Philippians had been under a cloud of apprehensions, and in the deepest trouble on account of the imprisonment of St. Paul, and the sickness of their beloved pastor, Epaphroditus. Now, this blessed apostle tells them good news, and bids them rejoice in the Lord. Yes, and elsewhere he doubles the word, and again I say rejoice, for soon or late the christian’s sorrows, like a beclouded sun, always terminate in day.

The gospel requires a cheerful renunciation of every thing which obstructs the vital knowledge of Christ Jesus. Its treasures of wisdom and knowledge, its abundance of sanctifying grace, and its pledges of eternal glory so far surpass all that earth can boast, as to throw riches, preferment, and parentage into the shades of dung, compared with the lustre of our hope.

The righteousness obtained by faith is every way so superior to the pharisaical cobweb, that no scheme of human merit can stand before the lustre of justifying grace, as explained in Romans 3:4.

St. Paul, perfect in his justification, aspired at all the evangelical perfection of grace for which he was apprehended, and to which the saints are called in Christ. He would not be a dwarf in religion; he aimed at all the measure and stature of his Lord. Here however we may ask, What is meant by the power of our Saviour’s resurrection, and by the resurrection of the dead? The first of these St. Paul has explained in various places. Ephesians 2:5-6. Colossians 3:1. It is regeneration, raising the soul with the Saviour to sit in heavenly places. This resurrection St. Paul had attained, as well as his spiritual children; and in this view he pronounces both them and himself to be perfect: Philippians 3:13. What then is the resurrection of the dead, a meetness for which he was so solicitous to attain? It is replied, the first resurrection, promised to the martyrs. Revelation 20:6. Fired with all the glory of this hope, he grasped at the image of God, obtained through Jesus, and pressed forward in him with an eagerness equal to racers who vie for the prize. Pursuing this alone, he forgets the things that are behind: evil things did not impede him by malice, and good things did not hold him by attachment. Thus his mind was perfect, and meet for heaven; his body only groaned for redemption. Great attainments in grace are connected with great humility. This man ready to be offered up, this man, whose heart knew nothing but pure and perfect love, even towards his enemies, says modestly, Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended, either to be already perfect. And again, not as though I had already attained. Thus the religion of Jesus is all humility.

Christians in this high and holy state are the most concerned for those who bear that name, and are total strangers to its power. They lament, and with frequent tears, the myriads who spend their precious time in eating and drinking; in licentiousness of conduct, or in habits of covetousness which will give neither to the poor nor to the altar, what custom and circumstances would authorize to expect. What a strange forgetfulness of God, forgetfulness of themselves, and of immortality. How happy is the perfect saint, whose conversation is in heaven, and whose body shall soon be transformed into the likeness of the glorious body of Christ.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Philippians 3". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/philippians-3.html. 1835.
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