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Bible Commentaries
Philippians 3

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

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Verses 1-3

The Dangers of Judaistic Teaching.

A joyful admonition changed to a warning:

v. 1. Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.

v. 2. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.

v. 3. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.

The apostle had made the usual transition toward the close of his letter, in the recommendation of his fellow-workers He probably wanted to add the customary greetings. But there were some other matters that the Philippians needed to be reminded of. The Holy Ghost in the matter of inspiration accommodated Himself entirely to the human manner of writing letters. So Paul takes up a new thought: For the rest, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. So far as all the rest was concerned, whatever else he may have wished to say to them, that one point, which he made the motto of his letter, should always be before their eyes. That will bear constant repetition, in order to be impressed firmly upon the hearts and minds of all Christians, just as the apostle says: To write the same thing to you is to me not wearisome, to you, however, assuring. Such an admonition, repeated over and over again, is not superfluous, and it should become tedious neither to the teacher nor to the hearers, for the joy over the Christian state, over the fact that they are in the state of faith, is necessary. Christians must be conscious of the love of God in Christ, of all the gifts of His grace and mercy. As Paul did not get tired of proclaiming this message over and over again, so no other pastor will think that the constant repetition of this admonition is a tedious, tiresome work. It is always necessary for the safety of believers to make them more certain of their standing toward Christ and God.

For that reason Paul is constrained to add an emphatic warning: Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the concision. The apostle uses the very strongest terms of reproach to characterize the false teachers, to portray them in their real colors. There were certain bad, evil, dangerous workers in the very midst of the church, upon whom the Philippians must keep a watchful eye. And in what respect they are dangerous Paul shows by giving a summary of their false doctrine. He had probably thought that he would have an opportunity to attend to the matter of these false teachers in person when he came to Philippi. But the Spirit has now induced him to include the warning in this letter. If there is danger of false teaching in the Church, it is foolish to procrastinate, the warning must be given at once, especially if the evil workers, the false preachers, arise in the midst of the Church. These evil workers were guilty of a most dangerous doctrine. The apostle names and incidentally censures it by designating it as "concision," mutilation. He refers to the rite of circumcision, which their mechanical, unspiritual view reduced to a mere laceration of the body. These men with their Judaistic tendencies insisted upon all the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish law. The fact of circumcision particularly was one upon which they insisted with all their influence. Such Jewish teachers as had not yet learned the freedom of the Gospel, but insisted upon foisting Jewish ways and ceremonies upon the Christians, were found also in other congregations. But if men insist upon the outward works of the Law and parade a form of holiness and righteousness, then there is nothing but hypocrisy in their teaching. Their doctrine is evil and also their life, for which reason the apostle calls them dogs, contemptible people. They were working only for personal gain, personal honor. Of such people the Philippians should beware.

Paul places himself and the true Christians in strong contrast to these men: For we are the circumcision, that are serving God through the Spirit and glorying in Christ Jesus and placing no confidence in the flesh. He means to say: We Christians alone deserve the name of being truly circumcised, of being the true, spiritual Israel, in this instance we Christian teachers specifically that are serving God through the Spirit and glorying in Christ Jesus. As the rite of circumcision made the Israelites outward members of God's chosen people, as they by faith attained to the dignity of true children of God, so true ministers of Christ are the real circumcision, because they serve God and are members of the true people of God. This true service is not an external, but an internal service, spiritual, through the Spirit. That is the well-pleasing service of God, the ministry of the Word. And the glory of such men is Christ Jesus. That is the external sign of the true pastor, glorying in Christ. He places no confidence in the flesh, in his own ability, nor in any external things or works. His trust and strength is Christ alone.

Verses 4-6

Paul's right to boast:

v. 4. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:

v. 5. circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the Law, a Pharisee;

v. 6. concerning zeal, persecuting the Church; touching the righteousness which is in the Law, blameless.

Somewhat after the manner in which he had spoken 2 Corinthians 11:21-30, Paul here offers evidence why he might boast with reason, if he should choose to argue from the standpoint of the Judaizing teachers: Although I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have reliance on flesh, I more. The apostle would have reason to bring forward certain external advantages if he so chose, if there were any real benefit in so doing. He can meet the false teachers also in this field, on their own ground. If they were laboring under the perverted impression that everything depended upon these external things, then Paul has a much greater right to boast.

This he now proceeds to show: Eight days old as regards my circumcision: of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; according to the Law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the Church; concerning the righteousness in the Law, blameless. The apostle was not merely a Jewish proselyte, he had been born in Judaism and had been brought up under its rites from the outset. The Judaizing teachers whom Paul had in mind at this time may have been mere proselytes of the gate and unable to point back to such a record. Paul was by birth an Israelite, of the original stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin. His pedigree was unquestioned; whereas many Jews could no longer trace their descent exactly, Paul had proofs for his lineal descent from Benjamin. He was a true Hebrew according to the flesh, he could hold up his head with the best of them. And as for the Law, so far as the external zeal for the Law was concerned, he was a Pharisee, a member of the strictest sect among the Jews. There could be no doubt that Paul had been perfectly sincere, absolutely conscientious as a keeper of the Law, that he had a clean record before the Jews, though he had acted in moral blindness. Yea, more, in zeal he had been far above the average Jew; so zealous had he been before his conversion that he had been a persecutor of the Church, having attempted to eradicate the "new sect. " As for the righteousness, finally, which rests upon the Law, which gets its validity by the Law, he was blameless; he proved himself so earnest that no accusation on that score could be brought and sustained against him. So far as the external fulfillment of the Law was concerned, no one could have been more earnest or more successful. So he could easily challenge any one of the Judaizing opponents on any of the points upon which they usually harped, and overcome them.

Verses 7-11

The result of Paul's conversion:

v. 7. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.

v. 8. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ,

v. 9. and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith,

v. 10. that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death;

v. 11. if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

All these external advantages of which the apostle might have boasted with much greater right than his opponents, the entire class of things which, including anything and everything, as ground of reliance other than Christ, he now disregards: But what was to me gain, this I hold, for the sake of Christ, a detriment. Formerly he had held it a great gain to be high in the councils of the Pharisees, to have honor before men. But he had now learned the relation of true values, he had found that there was no true gain, no lasting worth in these external things. When he learned to know Christ, everything else was relegated to its proper place in his estimation; he knew now that all Pharisaical holiness resulted in detriment, in harm, to him. It was useless ballast, literally, what one throws overboard to save his life. It was worse than worthless when compared with things of real value, since it stood in the way when the gaining of lasting blessings was under consideration.

And so Paul emphasizes: Yea, altogether also I hold all things to be a detriment for the sake of the superabundance of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whose sake I have counted all as loss, and hold it to be excrement, in order that I may gain Christ. It is a sweeping, emphatic statement, gushing forth with triumphant fervor. Everything in the wide world, no matter what it may offer and result in, so far as the present life is concerned, Paul regards as worse than useless, as a hindrance, an obstruction in the way of salvation and sanctification. For he has now learned to know Christ. The superabundance, the excellence, the exceeding greatness of the knowledge of Jesus has filled his whole heart and mind. He has cheerfully cast everything else away from him for the sake of Christ. He regards as dung, as refuse, whatever is not associated with Christ. For Christ's sake he has counted all losses in things of this world as gain, that he might win Christ. This object he has now attained to; he has received the full, the thorough knowledge of Christ, he has gained Christ Himself, his Savior is his most precious possession,

No wonder that Paul's exultant voice rises in praise of this glorious possession: And be found in Him, not having my righteousness, which is out of the Law, but that through faith in Christ, the righteousness out of God upon faith. To attain to this blessed state, that was Paul's object when he turned to Christ through the power of God in conversion. His own righteousness no longer satisfied him, the righteousness of the Law could not measure up to the standard of God's holiness; he must have a better righteousness and glory. If any believer is found in Christ, if he has accepted Christ in true faith, then he also has Christ's righteousness. Christ and true righteousness are inseparably connected. He who gains Christ by faith has true, complete, perfect righteousness. This has been earned by the Redeemer through His work of atonement and is lying ready to be taken by faith, to be gained in and with Christ, who is received by faith. It is not a righteousness which is prepared and brought into existence by faith, nor one that is earned by faith, but one that is taken by faith. It is the righteousness out of God, on the basis of faith. It is not a righteousness which God simply gives or donates to man, not an absolute gift. No, it is a forensic righteousness, one which has been earned and therefore may be urged before the judgment-throne of God. God admits the believer's right to this righteousness, He declares the believer to be righteous. Because faith accepts the righteousness of Jesus, God looks upon faith as the means of justifying. God gives to the believer the righteousness of Christ and looks upon him as just, while the unbeliever goes forth empty, having despised God's gift of faith and righteousness.

Faith thus also becomes a means to an end: To know Him and the power of His resurrection and the communion of His sufferings, being brought into the like form with His death, if possibly I might attain to the resurrection of the dead. These are the results of faith, these are the gifts which are given to him that believes. He knows Christ, the Savior, is revealed before his wondering eyes. Day after day the beauty of the Redeemer is unrolled before him with greater clearness. He knows also the power of His resurrection, he experiences the divine power of Him who rose from the dead, who proved by His resurrection that salvation was truly and fully gained, and that God's wrath was fully appeased, that He was completely satisfied with the vicarious work of Christ. This power of Christ's resurrection is shown also in the influence it has upon the new man, in giving him strength to live in newness of life. The resurrection of Christ lives in the Christians, He is the Strength of their whole life. At the same time, however, the believers also understand the fellowship of His sufferings. They experience the power of His death, they become like Him in His sufferings and in His death. They undergo all manner of tribulation for Christ's sake. They crucify their flesh with its affections and lusts, whereby they also gain a very valuable asset. And this spiritual life, manifesting itself in so many ways, has its object, finds its fulfillment, its completion, in the life after the final resurrection. After the great Day of Judgment, when all the dead will appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, the true life of the believers will begin. Toward this life all the longing of the believers is directed. It is toward this goal that we strive. It serves as an argument to the Christian himself, urging him to regard all else as worthless. All Judaizing influences endanger this gain, this faith. Note: If all Christians could learn to repeat these words after the apostle in the fullness of their faith, all complaints of lukewarmness in individual and congregational life would soon become unnecessary.

Verses 12-16

Sanctification Following Justification, and the Consummation of the Christian Hope.

The Christian's eagerness in sanctification:

v. 12. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.

v. 13. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,

v. 14. I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

v. 15. Let us, therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded; and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.

v. 16. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.

Paul here makes himself a type of all Christians. He shows what gain there is in having Christ and in following Christ. He is in possession of the righteousness of Christ, he has experienced the power of Christ's death and resurrection in himself. But that does not argue that perfection has now been attained: Not that I have already laid hold of, or already am fully perfected. This is not said of faith, for faith accepts the whole Christ with all His blessings at once. The apostle, in speaking of receiving, of attaining, is speaking of sanctification. The goal for which he strives is the partaking of all the blessings of the resurrection of Christ. Christ is his, in all the fullness of His grace and mercy, and he is an heir of salvation, but its completion, its consummation is not yet in his possession. That perfection, when he shall put off all the weaknesses of the flesh, all its petty annoyances and foibles, will be attained in heaven, when the actual blessings of salvation will he enjoyed without any outside interference. The life of heaven in eternity is a status of perfection, of complete fulfillment. This is near before the apostle's eyes, but he has not yet entered upon it. He must still run, he must still battle. But he follows after that he may lay hold upon it. He must not lose sight of his goal, he must strive onward on that basis of the fact that he has been fully received of Christ Jesus. Christ has enrolled him, made him one of His own, placed him among those that are His own. The believer has Christ as his Possession, just as Christ holds him as His possession. Being in this wonderful fellowship with Christ, he wishes to get to the end of life. He is eager for the consummation of his hopes, he longs to become an active partaker of the heavenly glory. All the thinking, longing, yearning of the Christians is directed heavenward.

The apostle continues to urge his own example: Brethren, I for myself not yet do regard that I have attained, but one thing: Forgetting that behind me, stretching forth toward those before, I strive for the goal, the premium of the calling of God above in Christ Jesus. Paul's admonition at this point is an urgent call to his fellow-believers. So far as his own person is concerned, he repeats that he has not yet laid hold of the final glory; the last great goal is still before him. But that fact does not worry or distress him; for one thing is the case: he forgets all things that lie behind him, all the false movements and disappointments and disagreeable experiences with which he has been obliged to battle. Like a runner bending forward as he exerts himself to the utmost when nearing the end of the race, so he stretches forward toward those things that lie before. His one thought is to reach the end, the fulfillment, the victory, and that as quickly as possible. He does not forget what he has gained in Christian faith. Those are not things lightly forgotten, because they have not been lightly gained. But after all, this represents only earnest-money and a guarantee for the future. With a straining of every fiber of his body, therefore, he looks forward, because his goal is a prize and a premium, a precious and beautiful gift, far above all human understanding. It is a crown and reward of Christian valor which acts as a spur, urging him to use the last ounce of his strength. It is the prize of the heavenly calling of God in Christ Jesus. This call of God has reached the Christians in and through Jesus Christ. Through the call of God the believers were drawn to Christ, they have found and accepted Him as their Savior. That is conversion. And in conversion the believers are called out of this world to the home above. In this call the prize of the heavenly calling is already held out, the goal is set before us. Thus all the thoughts of the Christians are directed heavenward. No consideration of things on earth is permitted to draw their thoughts away from heaven.

This being the case, Paul's gentle urging has a power beyond the bare content of his words: As many as are perfect, let us think this; and if in anything ye think differently, also this will God uncover to you. The apostle here makes a distinction between Christians, the perfect being contrasted with the minors in knowledge. See 1 Corinthians 14:20. Those that have a clear and full Christian knowledge, gained by long experience of Christ, should think as the apostle does, and therefore persist in leaving behind the battles of the past and in striving for the new and good. The more a Christian grows in sanctification, the more he finds that there are great gaps in his Christian knowledge and in his sanctification, the more eagerly he works for his sanctification. Since the language used by Paul might discourage those that are weak in knowledge, he hastens to add that, in case one still thinks differently about the matter, God will reveal it to him also. If the knowledge of some of the brethren is not yet perfect, God will give them the right understanding. To those that are really concerned about their salvation, God gives a better knowledge day after day; that is a part of the progress in sanctification. And as for the rest, as far as they had gotten, they should walk accordingly. Every Christian should apply what he has learned in his life. If he but practices all that he has grasped with the understanding of faith, that is sufficient. To hold fast to the Gospel, to the Lord and His truth, to the Word of Grace, that is the essential business of Christians.

Verses 17-21

A warning call:

v. 17. Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.

v. 18. (for many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the Cross of Christ;

v. 19. whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

v. 20. For our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,

v. 21. who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.

The apostle here again places himself before his readers as an example: Become imitators of me, brethren, and watch diligently those walking thus as you have us as types. In this respect the apostle could set forward his own person and that of his coworkers as types and examples. Every pastor should he an example to his flock also in the matter of sanctification, that the members of his charge may look upon him as a pattern, that they may walk and live as they have him for their type and example. All true Christians will be glad to be imitators of the apostle, to follow his example and that of every true laborer in the Lord. And the more advanced Christians are, in turn, patterns for the weaker brethren to model after.

This is very necessary: For many walk regarding whom I have often told you, hut now also say it weeping, the enemies of the Cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god the belly, and the glory in the shame, that think upon things of the world. The good types and examples among the Christian brethren must he followed all the more carefully because there are also false leaders that may easily persuade the weaker brethren. Of these the apostle had often spoken in the old days of personal intercourse, he had given them a careful warning. But now he is obliged to repeat his warning with tears. From the reports that had come to him Paul had gained the information that there were false Christians, backsliders, among those that claimed leadership, such as had denied real Christianity. These men he now exposes as enemies of the Cross of Christ. In their entire life they deny the power and efficacy of the Cross, of the salvation of Christ and its message. Such false brethren must be shunned all the more carefully because their end is destruction. If anyone follows their leadership, he will be brought by them into everlasting damnation. All their show of sanctity is nothing but hypocrisy, as their victims will find out to their great sorrow. With all their Christian veneer, their sole object in life, the sum and substance of their thinking and planning, is eating and drinking, the gratification of their sensual appetites, of the desires of the body. They regard as glory, as something to be proud of, they seek happiness in, such things as are in reality their shame, with which they will only heap upon themselves the final contempt. Their so-called liberty is nothing but bondage to sensual lusts. They think only of carnal things, of matters pertaining to this world. Paul does not say that they are slaves of all vices. But he refers to such as boast of their moral living, of their civic righteousness, under its cloak, however, seeking only the gratification of matters pertaining to this world. These men were not members of the Philippian congregation, but were associated with the false teachers that were attempting to gain entrance into the congregation. The two classes of people supplement each other, the one seeking an outward, formal righteousness and teaching the people accordingly, the other making use of such outward forms for a cloak of carnal desires and gratifications. The characterization fits in many cases even today. The general disposition and moral tendency of the majority, even such as consider themselves Christians, is worldly. Outwardly a coat of Christian varnish, ceremonies and morality, and at the same time all the amusements and pastimes of the unchristian world. Such men and congregations are a steady menace to all sincere Christians. Every Christian is inclined to be as lenient as possible toward himself, and hence is easily led into paths of flowery ease, to the detriment of his soul's salvation.

The contrast afforded by the lives of true Christians is marked: For our citizenship is in heaven, whence we also expect the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our lowly condition to be in the same form as the body of His glory, according to the working of His being able to subject all things to Himself. Another lofty passage, which somehow transports the reader beyond the bounds of this earthly life to the blessed home beyond. They, the enemies, have all their interests here below, they desire only the gratification of their worldly ambitions. But the Christians' thoughts are directed heavenwards, because they are citizens above. Their home, their interests, are in heaven; that is their true fatherland, their home country; there their citizenship is assured to them. And the believers look longingly up to heaven, because they also wait for, they expect, the Savior from the heavenly state, from the home above. There the place is prepared for us, where we shall live forever, He is our Savior at all times, as our Advocate with the Father He is continuing the work of His office. But the last act of His salvation is before us, namely, when He will deliver us from all evil and translate us into His heavenly kingdom. Incidentally He will deliver us from our weak and sinful flesh which is a continual hindrance to all good works. When He comes, He will change the body of this our lowly, vile condition. He will change the aspect, the form of that body. That is the final goal of sanctification, so far as our physical body is concerned, that it be cleansed from its frailty, from its sinful condition, the result of the Fall. The body itself, subject to death, sinks into the grave and becomes a prey to corruption and worms. But that is not the end. Christ will, on the last day, change the form of the Christians into the likeness of His glorious body. ALL sinfulness, all weakness, all the consequences of sin will be purged out of our body. The glory of the exalted Christ will permeate this our flesh, and it will be made a spiritual body. The divine light and being will surcharge the entire body, making it a holy, glorious, beautiful body. That is the wonderful end to which we are looking forward. Christ will use His almighty power in bringing about this result. He, to whom even death and corruption are subject, will deliver us from all evils of this present world, and, clothed in the spiritual bodies of His glory, He will take us home.


The apostle warns against Judaizing teachers, states that he has more reason to boast than they, but that he has cheerfully cast aside everything else for the possession of Christ; he places himself as a type and example before his readers, urging them to strive forward in sanctification and thus reach the heavenly goal with its glories.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Philippians 3". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/philippians-3.html. 1921-23.
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