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Friday, June 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Philippians 3

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Verses 1-3


Philippians 3:1. Finally.—Lit. “as to the rest.” The apostle had intended to bring his letter to a close, but something of which We have no information leads him to warn his readers against Judaizers and their methods. He resumes his farewell at Philippians 4:8, yet lingers there. To write the same things.—Whatever they may have been, they concerned the security of his readers. His hand had so often written up in bold letters the Cave canem to warn his unsuspecting children, that we may be allowed to think that is what he means to do again.

Philippians 3:2. Beware of dogs.—Who would “turn again and rend you.” If the term is a retort on “Gentile dogs,” and looks like “railing for railing,” we may explain it by the directness of the metaphor. Dogs and Judaizers have this in common—that they tear flesh. The savage delight of having inflicted a wound is shown in Galatians 6:13. Beware of the concision.—A bitter play on the name by which the Jews thought themselves distinguished (Ephesians 2:11). St. Paul changes the prefix, and stigmatises them as “the mutilation party.” Lightfoot gives illustrations of this toying with words, e.g., in the complaint of an ambassador that he had been sent, not to Spain, but to Pain.

Philippians 3:3. For we are the circumcision.—How completely Paul had sloughed his Rabbinic literalism this verse clearly shows (Romans 2:28-29). Which worship God in the Spirit.—See our Lord’s words to the woman of Samaria, prophetic of the day when worship shall be set free from its trammels and cerements (John 4:23-24).


The False and the True in Religion.

I. The false in religion evident in the character of its advocates.—“Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision” (Philippians 3:2). “Dogs” was an epithet expressive of great contempt, and indicative of impurity and profanity. It was a term applied to the Judaizers, or, as Chrysostom calls them, “base and contemptible Jews, greedy of filthy lucre and fond of power, who, desiring to draw away numbers of believers, preached at the same time both Christianity and Judaism, corrupting the gospel.” They were “evil workers “causing much spiritual mischief. They were of “the concision”—mere cutters or slashers of the flesh. “The same men are described in each clause as impure and profane, as working spiritual mischief, and as taken up with a puerile faith in flesh-cutting. In the first clause you have their character, in the second their conduct, and in the third their destructive creed. Men who insisted on circumcision as essential to salvation made the rite ridiculous—Judaized ere they Christianised. To circumcise a Gentile was not only to subject him to a rite which God never intended for him, but it was to invest him with a false character. Circumcision to him was a forgery, and he carried a lie in his person. Not a Jew, and yet marked as one, having the token without the lineage, the seal of descent and not a drop of Abraham’s blood in his veins. To hinge salvation, especially in the case of a Gentile, on circumcision was such a spurious proselytism, such a total misappreciation of the Jewish covenant, such a miserable subversion of the liberty of the gospel, such a perverse and superstitious reliance on a manual rite, that its advocates might well be caricatured and branded as the concision” (Eadie). The false in religion stands exposed and condemned by the character and methods of its propagators.

II. The true in religion has definite characteristics.

1. In the spirituality of its worship. “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the Spirit” (Philippians 3:3). There is a great difference between the derisive use of the term “concision” and the use of the circumcision in this verse. There is a Christian circumcision, which is a “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh”; and this is not a manual but a spiritual act. All that the old circumcision typified the Christian enjoys. “The spiritual offspring of Abraham have nobler gifts by far than his natural seed—blessing not wrapped up in civil franchise, or dependent upon time, or restricted to territory.” The Christian has learnt that true religion consists, not in forms and ceremonies and temporal privileges, but in a right state of heart towards God, in a loftier worship, and a more intense spiritual life.

2. In making Christ the basis of confident exultation.—“Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord … rejoice in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:1; Philippians 3:3). Christ, and Christ only, is the Christian’s plea, and the joyous theme of his unending song: Christ, the divine, all-glorious Son of God. Theodosius, in the fourth century, at one time so far favoured the Arians as to let them open their places of worship and labour to undermine the divinity of Christ. Soon after this he made his son Arcadius, a youth of sixteen, an equal partner with him in his throne; and the noblemen and bishops were invited to come on an appointed day to congratulate him. Among the number was Amphilocus, a famous old bishop who had bitterly suffered in the Arian persecution. He made a very handsome address to the emperor, and was about to take his leave, when Theodosius exclaimed: “What, do you take no notice of my son? Do you not know that I have made him partner with me in the empire?” Upon this the good old bishop went up to young Arcadius, and, putting his hand upon his head, said, “The Lord bless thee, my son.” The emperor, roused into rage by this apparent neglect, exclaimed: “What, is this all the respect you pay to a prince that I have made of equal dignity with myself?” Upon this the bishop, with the grandeur of an angel and the zeal of an apostle, looking the emperor full in the face, indignantly said: “Sire, do you so highly resent my apparent neglect of your son because I do not give him equal honours with yourself! And what must the eternal God think of you who have given leave to have His co-equal and co-eternal Son degraded in His proper divinity in every part of your empire?”

3. In distrusting the supposed virtue of outward rites.—“And have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3). No confidence in the supposed good conferred by externals. Birth and lineage, family, tribe, and nationality on the one hand, and the moral character determined by them on the other, Paul reckons together as excellencies and gifts of the same kind, and holds them in slight esteem compared with what he has in Christ. The morality of men belongs to the province of the natural life; it depends on birth, family, position, culture, time, and circumstances, and gives reason, as does every favour, for humble thankfulness, but not for proud boasting. Such, as contrasted with the concision, is the circumcision; the children of believing Abraham and blessed with him; serving God by His Spirit in a higher and more elastic worship; glorying in Him who has won such privileges and blessings for them, and having no trust in any externals or formalities on which the Judaizer laid such stress as securing salvation or as bringing it within an available reach (Lange, Eadie).

III. Against the false in religion it is necessary to faithfully warn.—“Beware … beware … beware!” (Philippians 3:2). Like three peals of a trumpet giving a certain blast do the three clauses sound, and the repetition reveals the intense anxiety and earnestness of the alarmed apostle. It is the duty of the minister to warn his people of whatever endangers their spiritual life and eternal welfare. News came to a certain town, once and again, that the enemy was approaching; but he did not then approach. Hereupon in anger the inhabitants enacted a law that no man on pain of death should bring again such rumours as the news of an enemy. Not long after the enemy came indeed, and besieged, assaulted, and sacked the town, of the ruins of which nothing remained but this proverbial epitaph—“Here once stood a town that was destroyed by silence.”


1. Genuine religion is self-evident.

2. Falseness in the garb of religion works serious mischief.

3. True religion demands constant watchfulness.


Philippians 3:1. Safeguards against Error.—

1. To rejoice in Christ—to be constantly and with delight making recourse to Him—is a choice guard against any error contrary to the truths relating to Him.
2. Often repeating and inculcating truths that are most for edification ought neither to be burdensome to a minister nor yet wearied of by the people.
3. Temptations to error are covered over with such pious pretences and lovely baits that there is need of many guards and frequent warnings.—Fergusson.

Philippians 3:2. Emphatic Warnings against False Teachers—

I. Because of their snarling methods and insatiable greed.—“Beware of dogs.”

II. Because of their wicked and destructive policy.—“Beware of evil workers.”

III. Because their zeal is wholly misdirected and injurious.—“Beware of the concision.”

Philippians 3:3. Spiritual Circumcision—

I. Is an inward and conscious spiritual change.—“For we are the circumcision.”

II. While reverently using outward forms of worship is superior to them.—“Which worship God in the Spirit.”

III. Finds its joy in living union with Christ.—“And rejoice in Christ Jesus.”

IV. Repudiates all ordinances that divert from Christ.—“And have no confidence in the flesh.”

Verses 4-8


Philippians 3:4. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh.—They will never be able to say he “speaks evil of that which he knows not.” “If there is any profit in that direction,” he might say, “I will set my foot as far as who goes farthest.” An argumentum ad hominem.

Philippians 3:5. Circumcised the eighth day.—Beginning with this he works his way, through this and the following verses, to the climax of the straitest sect. The items of this verse have to do with the birth and education of the apostle.

Philippians 3:6. Concerning zeal.—“An expression of intense irony, condemning while he seems to exalt his former self” (Lightfoot). Righteousness which is in the law.—Legal righteousness. Exact attention to all its manifold commands and prohibitions.

Philippians 3:7. What things were gain.—The various points in which I had considered myself fortunate, giving me an advantage over others. Those I counted loss for Christ.—The tense of the verb “counted” denotes an action the result of which continues. It leaves no place for after-regrets, like those of the woman who stopped to look back on Sodom. St. Paul counts his Judaism, with its emoluments, well lost. “Having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:46).

Philippians 3:8. Yea, doubtless, and I count, etc.—A more explicit statement of the abiding satisfaction with the chosen lot. “I still do count.” All things.—Whatever they may be—not simply those named above. For the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus.—“The eminent quality of a possession attained is the ground for estimating other possessions according to their relation to that one” (Meyer). For whom I have suffered the loss of all things.—The words “gain” and “loss” are the same in these verses as in our Lord’s memorable saying, “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mark 8:36). And do count them but dung.—So R.V. text, “refuse,” margin. If we accept the meaning “that which is thrown to the dogs,” we have an apt interpretation, but we need to guard against attributing to the apostle subtleties of expression born in a lexicographer’s brain.


External Religionism incomparable with the True Knowledge of Christ.

I. The highest example of external religionism affords no ground for confident boasting (Philippians 3:4-6).—External religionism had its most complete embodiment in Paul. He was its most zealous devotee, its ablest champion. These verses describe the best eulogy that can be given of the observer of external rites. By birth, lineage, training, ability, consistency of character, and sincerity of aim, Paul was an ideal Jew, a model all his countrymen might aspire to copy. If there was ground for boasting, no one had a greater right than he. He needed no Christ, no Saviour; he was well able to look after himself. But one day the discovery came that all this glorying was vain; instead of gaining salvation he was farther from it than ever, and in danger of losing everything. Religious progress is often more apparent than real. When Captain Parry and his party were in search of the North Pole, after travelling several days with sledges over a vast field of ice, on taking a careful observation of the pole-star, the painful discovery was made that, while they were apparently advancing towards the pole, the ice-field on which they were travelling was drifting to the south, and bringing them nearer to the verge, not of the pole, but of destruction.

II. The supposed gains of external religionism are for Christ’s sake esteemed as loss.—“But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ” (Philippians 3:7). Not losses, compared with the plural of gains; but all the supposed gains are treated as one great loss, and this after the most careful scrutiny and calculation. “I counted loss.” The swelling sum of fancied virtues, painfully gathered and fondly and proudly contemplated, vanishes into nothing at one stroke of the discriminating pen. All that was prized as valuable, and as the all of personal possession, is regarded as dross, because of Christ. They did not help him to win Christ, but to lose Him; the more he gained in self-righteousness the more he lost of Christ. It was not only profitless, but productive of positive loss.

III. The surpassing excellency of the knowledge of Christ renders external religionism utterly worthless.—“I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; … and do count them but dung [refuse], that I may win Christ” (Philippians 3:8). The gains were: circumcision performed without any deviation from legal time or method; membership in the house of Israel, and connection with one of its most honoured tribes; descent from a long line of pure-blood ancestry; adherence to a sect whose prominent distinction was the observance of the old statutes; earnest and uncompromising hostility to a community accused of undermining the authority of the Mosaic code, and a merit based on blameless obedience to the law. These once gloried and confided in were counted as a loss, for the sake of a superior gain in the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. He was no loser by the loss he had willingly made, for the object of knowledge was the divine Saviour. Is it not super-eminent knowledge to know Him as the Christ; to know Him as Jesus, not because He wears our nature, but because we feel His human heart throbbing in unison with ours under trial and sorrow; to know Him as Lord, not simply because He wears a crown and wields a sceptre, but because we bow to His loving rule and gather the spoils of the victory which He has won and secured? The apostle made a just calculation, for neither ritualism, nor Israelitism, nor Pharisaism, nor zealotism, nor legalism could bring him those blessings with which the knowledge of Christ was connected; nay, until they were held as loss this gain of gains could not be acquired (Eadie). As with the two scales of a balance, writes Rieger, when one rises the other falls, and what I add to one diminishes the relative weight of the other; so as one adds to himself he takes away from the pre-eminence which the knowledge of Christ should have. What he concedes to Christ makes him willing to abase himself, to resign all confidence in His own works. Therefore the sharp expressions, “to count as loss, as dung,” become in experience not too severe; for to reject the grace of Christ, to regard the great plan of God in sending His Son as fruitless, were indeed far more terrible.


1. The highest kind and supreme end of all knowledge is the knowledge of Christ.

2. True religion is the spiritual knowledge of Christ.

3. Religion without Christ is an empty form.


Philippians 3:4-7. Formalism tested and found wanting

I. The best that formalism can do for man, in religious lineage, reputation, zeal, and strictest outward observances, has been experimentally exemplified (Philippians 3:5-6).

II. The most distinguished champion of formalism has confessed its utter inadequacy to satisfy the soul (Philippians 3:4).

III. The highest advantages of formalism are worthless compared with Christ (Philippians 3:7).

Philippians 3:8. The Excellent Knowledge of Christ—

I. Is extensive.—Apprehends Him in all those notions and respects wherein the gospel principally discovers Him.

II. Appropriating—Christ Jesus my Lord.

III. Effectual.—Has a powerful efficacy both upon heart and life, both upon judgment, affection, and practice.

IV. Fiducial.—It brings the soul to rest upon Christ and His righteousness alone for pardon, acceptance, salvation.

V. Useful.—He that has it studies to improve Christ, to make use of Him for those blessed and glorious purposes for which he knows Christ is given.

VI. Christ Himself is most excellent.

1. There is nothing in Him but what is excellent.
2. All excellencies in the creatures are eminently to be found in Christ.
3. All these excellencies are in Him in a more excellent manner; perfectly, without any shadow of imperfection; infinitely, without any bounds or limits; eternally and unchangeably, they ebb not, they wane not, they are always there in the full, they alter not, they decay not.
4. Not only all that are in the creatures, but innumerable more excellencies than are in all the creatures together, are in Christ alone.

VI. Those that have attained the excellent knowledge of Christ will not think much to lose all things to gain Christ.

1. All outward enjoyments and earthly possessions.
2. Personal righteousness as a means of justification.—David Clarkson.

The Excellency of the Knowledge of Christ.

I. To know Christ in the divinity of His person is excellent knowledge.

II. To know Christ in the glory of His redemption is excellent knowledge.

III. The comparative worthlessness of all else.

1. Wealth.

2. Worldly honour.

3. Human learning.

4. Mere morality.

The Excellency of the Knowledge of Christ.

I. Its pre-eminent excellence is to be found in its certainty.—Proved by—

1. Prophecy.

2. Miracles.

3. Experience.

II. In its majesty and grandeur.

III. In its suitableness and adaptation.

IV. In its comprehensiveness.

V. The knowledge of Christ is sanctifying.R. Watson.

Christ the Only Gain.


To count Him gain.


To covet and seek Him as gain.


To appropriate Him as gain.


To enjoy Him as gain.R. S. Candlish.

Verses 9-11


Philippians 3:9. Through the faith of Christ.—Better without the article as R.V. Faith is the medium by which righteousness comes. The righteousness which is of God.—Which originates from God as the fount of all righteousness. By faith.—R.V. margin, “upon”; that is, resting upon faith as its condition; above it was the medium.

Philippians 3:10. The power of His resurrection.—The wide-reaching and conquering force and efficacy which render death inert (2 Timothy 1:10) and draw “the sting of death” (1 Corinthians 15:0). And the fellowship of His sufferings.—The apostle has no desire to go by any other way to his glory than that by which his Lord went—per crucem ad lucem. Being made comformable unto His death.—R.V. “becoming conformed.” The original is one word where we have three, “being made conformable,” taking that lowly guise which will agree with the bearing of Him who “took the form of a servant.” “The agony of Gethsemane, not less than the agony of Calvary, will be reproduced, however faintly, in the faithful servant of Christ.” (Lightfoot).

Philippians 3:11. If by any means I might attain.—How little is there here of the spirit of those who profess themselves “as sure of heaven as though they were there.” Meyer thinks the expression excludes moral security, but not the certitudo salutis in itself. Unto the resurrection of the dead.—By a very slight change “from the dead” instead of “of the dead” the R.V. indicates rather too feebly the only use of the term in the New Testament. “From amongst” would have been more likely to arrest attention. Whilst Meyer says the compound word for resurrection in no way differs from the ordinary one, Lightfoot thinks the form of expression implies and the context requires the meaning “the final resurrection of the righteous to a new and glorified life.”


Features of the Believer’s Life in Christ.

I. The believer’s life has its home and stronghold in Christ.—“And be found in Him” (Philippians 3:9). Once lost, now found: found by Christ; found in Him by others. Once homeless, now safely sheltered. One day Charles Wesley was sitting by an open window looking over the bright and beautiful fields in summertime. Presently a little bird, flitting about in the sunshine, attracted his attention. Just then a hawk came swooping down towards the little bird. The frightened thing was darting here and there, trying to find some place of refuge. In the bright sunny air, in the leafy trees or green fields, there was no hiding-place from the fierce grasp of the hawk. But seeing the open window and a man sitting by it, the bird, in its extreme terror, flew towards it, and with a beating heart and quivering wing found refuge in Wesley’s bosom. He sheltered it from the threatening danger, and saved it from a cruel death. Wesley was at that time suffering from severe trials, and was feeling the need of a refuge as much as the trembling bird that nestled safely in his bosom. So he took up his pen and wrote the well-known hymn—

“Jesu, Lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly.”

To be found in Christ means more than mere shelter, more than external fellowship. It means a union as close and vital and abiding as between the members of the body and the head; a union effected by the Spirit, and being the very Spirit of Christ dwelling in us.

II. The believer’s life consists of righteousness, not self-acquired, but divinely inspired through faith.—“Not having mine own righteousness, but that which is through the faith of Christ” (Philippians 3:9). The apostle now touches upon a theme—justification by faith—which he has argued out with a clearness and fulness unequalled by any other New Testament writer. The righteousness which was his own was out of the law, or originated by the law, and was acquired by his own effort; but the righteousness which he finds in Christ is not his own, but God’s, and is acquired, not by his own merits or efforts, but by faith in Christ. “This righteousness, divine in its origin, awful in its medium, and fraught with such results, was the essential element of Paul’s religion, and the distinctive tenet of his theology.” When a friend happening to say to the Rev. John Brown, of Haddington, “I suppose you make not your labours for the good of the Church the ground of your comfort,” he, with uncommon earnestness, replied, “No, no, no! it is the finished righteousness of Christ which is the only foundation of my hope; I have no more dependence on my labours than on my sins. I rather reckon it a wonder of mercy that God took any of my labours of my hand. Righteousness belongeth unto Him, but unto me shame and confusion of face.”

III. The believer’s life is the creation of divine power.It is a life communicated by the exercise of the divine power that raised Christ from the dead. “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). The power exerted by Christ’s resurrection is exerted in raising the divine life in the believing soul, and raising it to still higher developments of power and enjoyment. The aspirations of the soul after Christ are aspirations to know more and more the power of His resurrection.

2. It is a life that will be consummated by the ultimate resurrection of the body.—“If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (Philippians 3:11). Towards this consummation the apostle yearns with intense desire. All his hopes, all his soul longed for, seem gathered up in this: perfect freedom for ever from sin and sorrow; knowledge of Christ up to the fullest measure of his capacity of knowledge; perfect experimental acquaintance with the power of His resurrection, through perfect fellowship of life with Him; the ineffable and everlasting blessedness of being with Him and like Him; to rise out of the ashes of the tomb and assume the glorious body of the resurrection. We can never forget a corridor in the Vatican Museum, exhibiting on the one side epitaphs and emblems of departed heathens and their gods, and on the other side mementoes of departed Christians. Face to face they stand, engaged, as it were, in conflict, the two armies clinging to their respective standards; hope against despair—death swallowed up in victory. Opposite to lions seizing on horses, emblems of destruction, are charming sculptures of the good Shepherd bearing home the lost lamb—a sign of salvation.

IV. The believer’s life is in sympathetic fellowship with the suffering Christ—“And to know the fellowship of His sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). The sufferings of Christ are not ended—they are prolonged in the sufferings of His people—and of these the apostle desired to know the fellowship. He longed so to suffer, for such fellowship gave him assimilation to his Lord, as he drank of His cup and was baptised with His baptism. It brought him into communion with Christ, purer, closer, and tenderer than simple service for Him could have achieved. It gave him such solace as Christ Himself enjoyed. To suffer together creates a dearer fellow-feeling than to labour together. Christ indeed cannot be known unless there be this fellowship in His sufferings (Eadie). An intimate friend of Handel’s called upon him just as he was in the middle of setting the words to music, “He was despised,” and found the great composer sobbing with tears, so greatly had this passage and the rest of his morning’s work affected the master.


1. The soul finds its highest life in Christ.

2. Life in Christ is secured by the co-operation of man’s faith with Divine power.

3. To live in Christ is to share the fruits of His mysterious passion.


Philippians 3:10. Knowledge of the Power of Christ’s Resurrection.

I. To know Christ includes a clearly defined conception and familiar acquaintance with the special characteristics and unrivalled excellencies of His person.

II. To know the power of His resurrection.

1. As it is a public and universal vindication of the proper dignity of His person.

2. As it seals the doom of human sin.

3. As it ensures the destruction of pain and death, and provides for the perpetuation of the believer in a state of immortal felicity.

The Power of Christ’s Resurrection—

I. As a miracle attesting His divine mission.

II. As an evidence of His divinity.—Resurrection does not always prove divinity, but in these circumstances (Romans 1:3-4).

III. As an indication of the acceptance of His sacrifice.

IV. As an incentive to the pursuit of holiness.—Risen with Christ; risen in Him, sharing His life.

V. As an instrument of social amelioration.—The gospel has civilised where it has not Christianised, has repressed and refined where it has not renewed or regenerated.

VI. As a pledge and preassurance of the glorious resurrection of His people.G. Brooks.

The Fellowship of Christ’s Sufferings.

I. We have fellowship with Christ in His sufferings in the pain caused by coming in contact with sin.

II. In having our motives misinterpreted and our conduct misjudged.

III. In the purifying influence of suffering.

Philippians 3:11. The Resurrection of the Dead as an Object to aim at.

I. The object which Paul contemplated.

1. The resurrection as the proof of final escape from all evil.

2. The resurrection as the occasion of public recognition by the Saviour-Judges 3:0. The resurrection as the pledge of eternal happiness in heaven.

II. His desire for that object.—It supplies

1. A high appreciation of its value.

2. A deep sense of its difficulty.

3. A persuasion that it may be attained in various degrees.

4. A submission to all the divine arrangements in reference to it.—G. Brooks.

The Resurrection of the Just.

I. What is that entire satisfaction and climax for which we are to long and labour?

II. What are the scriptural representations of its accompaniments and consequences?

1. The power of recognising all those whom they have known in holy fellowship on earth.

2. The resemblance of our nature to Christ.

3. High honour is destined for Christians.

III. What are the determinations by which it is to be won?

1. The relation which the present happy spiritualism of deceased saints bears to the resurrection.

2. The representation of the intermediate state. It is a relic and disadvantageous condition of death, though of death as far as possible mitigated. It shall be overthrown, not only as a state, but as a separate power, in the destruction of death.—R. W. Hamilton.

The Attainment of the Resurrection.

I. Paul’s aim.—“The resurrection of the dead.”

1. The risen Christ is the pledge of a risen life for man.

2. The rising of Christ is a power to elevate life.

3. Hence arises the gradual attainment of the resurrection.

II. Paul’s endeavour.—“If by any means.” The necessity for this agonising endeavour arises from—

1. The difficulty of accomplishing it.

2. The glory of its attainment.—E. L. Hull.

Verses 12-16


Philippians 3:12. Not as though I had already attained.—The word for “attained” may possibly refer to the turning-point in St. Paul’s history, and so the phrase would mean, “not as though by my conversion I did at once attain.” This interpretation, which is Bishop Lightfoot’s, is challenged by Dr. Beet. It seems preferable, on other than grammatical grounds, because the following phrase, if we refer the former to conversion, is an advance of thought. Either were already perfect.—Describing a present state which is the consequence of past processes. He has not reached the condition where nothing else can be added. He is most blessed who, as he mounts ever higher, sees perfection, like Abraham’s mount of sacrifice, “afar off.”

Philippians 3:13. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended.—Some think a reference to the opinion of others lies in the words; but St. Paul seems to be denying of himself what others asserted (in various ways) of themselves. But this one thing I do.—Lit. “but one thing” the words “I do” in A.V. and R.V. are a supplement. Meyer thinks it better to supply “think.” It does not seem necessary to supply anything. “One thing” the apostle never loses sight of; all the threads of life are gathered up into it. Forgetting the things that are behind.—The thought of how much of the course has been covered, and how it was done, sinks in the consideration of what has yet to be achieved. And reaching forth.—“Like one of those eager charioteers … of the Circus Maximus … leaning forward in his flying car, bending over the shaken rein and the goaded steed” (Farrar). St. Paul usually employs the figure of the foot-race; and “the not looking back, which showed a right temper in a runner, would be fatal to the charioteer” (Lightfoot).

Philippians 3:14. I press toward the mark.—“I hasten towards the gaol” where the adjudicators stand. For the prize of the high calling.—If the “hollow wraith of dying fame” could lead the athletes to put forth almost superhuman effort, how much more worthy was “the amaranthine crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4).

Philippians 3:15. As many as be perfect.—No longer novices, but having been initiated fully into the most secret mysteries of the faith—“that Christian maturity in which one is no longer a babe in Christ.” The reproachful irony which some detect hardly comports with the general tone of the letter.

Philippians 3:16. Let as walk by the same rule.—That which had been to them the means of such distinct progress had thus approved itself as the safe and prudent course to follow.


The Highest Type of Christian Experience.

I. The highest type of Christian experience is divinely outlined in Christ.—“That for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12). “The prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). The prize is not definitely described, but God through the gospel calls upon the soul to take hold of some great, dimly portrayed good, some rich spiritual blessing, some fulness and splendour of character to be secured by a fuller knowledge of Christ. If we say the prize is heaven or the kingdom of God, what is the heavenly kingdom but the fulness of Christ? Though not explained in detail, the prize is sufficiently outlined in Christ, by the master-hand of the divine Artist, as to make it an object of intense longing and strenuous effort to possess. The soul yearns to attain a moral and spiritual perfection found only in Christ, and which the unending development of the beauties of His character are constantly disclosing in ever-growing splendour, and which closer union with Him alone can seize and appropriate.

II. The effort to attain the highest type of Christian experience is stimulated by conscious defect.—“Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend” (Philippians 3:12). The more clearly the apostle saw his privilege in Christ, the more conscious was he of his shortcomings. There is no progress possible to the man who does not see and mourn over his defects. “The soul of all improvement is the improvement of the soul;” and it is only a keen sense of need that stimulates the soul to continuous and repeated efforts. The ideal is ever ahead of the actual, revealing its defects and exciting to fresh and more earnest endeavours.

III. The highest type of Christian experience is attained only by strenuous and continuous effort.—“But this one thing I do, … I press toward the mark” (Philippians 3:13-14). The racer, fixing his eye upon the goal, leans forward, and turning his back upon things behind, presses with all speed towards the prize he covets. If he turns aside, he misses the mark and loses the garland. The great prizes of life are gained only by persevering labour. However prodigious may be the gifts of genius they can only be developed and brought to perfection by toil and study. Think of Michael Angelo working for a week without taking off his clothes, of Handel hollowing every key of his harpsichord like a spoon by incessant practice, and of the sculptor polishing his statue with unwearied repetitions because he said “the image in my head is not yet in my hands.” The prize of the Christian race—the crown of eternal life and blessedness—is worthy of the most laborious and self-denying efforts. When at times the heart grows weary in the struggle, a glimpse of the diadem of beauty obtained by faith revives the flagging energies.

IV. Those who do not see the obligation of striving after the highest type of Christian experience shall be aided with divine light.—“If in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you” (Philippians 3:15). The difference of view was not some wilful and wicked conception, or some wretched prejudice adhered to with inveterate or malignant obstinacy. It was rather some truth not fully seen in all its bearings, some principle not so perceived as to be carried out in all its details and consequences, some department of duty which they might apprehend rather than appreciate, or some state of mind which they might admire in the apostle, but did not really covet for themselves. The apostle throws his own teaching into the shade, and ascribes the coming enlightenment to God (Eadie). The man who is honestly in pursuit of the highest good, though led away for a time by erroneous views, shall not lack the light he sincerely seeks. The light which will help him most must be light from God.

V. All progress towards the highest Christian experience must be on the lines of real progress already made.—“Whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing” (Philippians 3:16). Every victory over self and sin is a stepping-stone to further triumphs. The struggle of to-day will be the victory of to-morrow. Our most helpful lessons are gathered from our failures. Our present blessings were obtained through faith and labour; our next must be gained in the same way. God will give more light to the man who rightfully uses what he has. “When the morning bursts suddenly on one awakened out of sleep, it dazzles and pains him; but to him who, on his journey, has blessed the dawn and walked by its glimmer, the solar radiance brings with it a gradual and cheering influence.”


1. Christ is the sum and pattern of the highest good.

2. Progress in religious experience is a growing likeness to Christ.

3. The soul retains its highest enjoyment and power only in Christ.


Philippians 3:12. The Happy Day and its Sequel.

I. St. Paul did not forget the circumstances of his arrest by Jesus.

II. St. Paul’s remembrance of his arrest led to a practical inquiry as to its purpose.

III. The purpose of his arrest by Christ Jesus is before and not behind him, even in his old age.

IV. What is the mark to which he presses onward?

1. A perfect likeness to Christ.

2. A perfect service.

3. The reward in heaven.—W. Hawkins.

Philippians 3:13-14. Pressing toward the Mark.

I. The apostle’s sense of his own shortcomings.

1. It argued a high estimate of a Christian’s duty. Perfection is his aim, although not his attainment.

2. It argued a humble estimate of himself.—Though the most eminent Christian on earth, he was fully conscious of his own imperfection.

II. The apostle’s method of Christian progress.

1. The concentration of his energies. Many things he did, and he did them wholly. But he made them all subservient to his one idea, which thus unified them all. Decision of character.

2. Oblivion of the past.—A wonderful past was his, but he forgot it, except as it might supply a stimulus to his further advances—past times, past pleasures, past sins, past labours, past attainments. The past must have dwelt in his memory, but it did not satisfy him. “Onward” was his motto, and every day he began his race afresh.

3. Untiring activity.—He had the goal ever in his eye; he often measured the distance between him and the goal; he stretched every nerve to reach the goal.

(1) Do we resemble Paul in his aim?
(2) Do we resemble Paul in his efforts.—G. Brooks.

Aim High—


In pursuit of moral excellence.


Intellectual character.


Active usefulness.


1. God Himself has commanded it.

2. Society expects it of you.

3. The age in which you live demands it.—E. D. Griffin.

Philippians 3:15-16. The Temper to be cultivated by Christians of Different Denominations toward each other.

I. Those who adhere to this rule.

1. Seek and cultivate their society.

2. Use means to promote the mutual improvement of these persons and of ourselves.

3. Do all we can to render our mutual reciprocal union more perfect and our usefulness more extensive.

II. Those who differ from us in matters of great importance.

1. Give consideration to the way in which their religious characters have been formed.

2. Pay regard to the difficulties and misapprehensions which lie in the use of words.

3. Reflect what would probably have been the effects upon our minds had we been placed in their circumstances.

4. Act towards them with justice and kindness.

III. Those who differ from us in matters of smaller moment.

1. Show them sincere and honest respect and kindness.

2. Cultivate friendly intercourse with them as far as they are disposed to reciprocate such intercourse.

3. Show that we esteem the essential principle of the gospel more than controversial preciseness and ecclesiastical form.—J. P. Smith.

Verses 17-19


Philippians 3:17. Followers together of me.—He does not, as some ungracious pastors do, show the steep road to perfection whilst himself staying at the wicket-gate. Like the good Shepherd he leadeth his sheep.

Philippians 3:18. For many walk … the enemies of the cross of Christ.—Christians in name only, whose loose interpretations of the perfect law of liberty make it possible to live an animal life. The cross of Christ, symbol of His self-renunciation, should be the place of execution for all fleshly desires of His followers; and, instead of that, these men over whom an apostle laments have made it an opportunity of sensual gratification. They say, “We cannot help Him; He does not need our help; it is of little consequence how we live.”

Philippians 3:19. Whose end is destruction.—Beet argues from this that Universalism cannot be true. It must be admitted that St. Paul is speaking of sins of the body, and perhaps is thinking of the ruinous effects of fleshly indulgence. Whose god is their belly.—Against the dominion of appetite all the teachers of mankind are at one. All agree in repudiating the doctrine of the savage:

“I bow to ne’er a god except myself
And to my Belly, first of deities.”


“The self-indulgence which wounds the tender conscience and turns liberty into licence is here condemned” (Lightfoot). Whose glory is in their shame.—Their natures are so utterly perverted that they count that which is their degradation as matter for pride. Like the man whom our Lord describes, such men not only “fear not God, nor regard man,” but can lightly vaunt the fact. Who mind earthly things.—The peculiar form of expression is noteworthy. At these men, “of the earth, earthy,” the apostle stands looking in amazement. His expression reminds us of St. James: “Let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord; a doubleminded man, unstable in all his ways” (so the R.V.).


Good and Bad Examples.

I. A good example should be attentively studied.—“Mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample” (Philippians 3:17). We cannot imitate what we do not see and know. It will help us to be good if we carefully watch and meditate on the conduct of the truly good. The best example of uprightness and consistency is worthy of the most painstaking study. “Wherever they found the life of the apostle imitated and displayed the Philippians were to mark it and make it their pattern. Any excellence which they thus discovered they might by God’s grace attain to. It was not some distant spectacle they were to gaze at and admire, but an embodiment of earnest faith, walking on the same platform with them, and speaking, acting, praying, suffering, and weeping among them. What had been possible to others was surely not impossible to them” (Eadie). A Polish prince was accustomed to carry the picture of his father always in his bosom, and on particular occasions used to take it out and view it, saying, “Let me do nothing unbecoming so excellent a father.”

II. A good example should be faithfully imitated.—“Brethren, be followers together of me” (Philippians 3:17). Paul had studied profoundly the character of Christ, and was earnestly striving to follow Him. He therefore exhorts the Philippians to imitate him as he sought to imitate Christ; or rather, as Bengel puts it, he invites them to be “fellow-imitators of Christ.” To imitate Christ is not copying Him in every particular. We cannot follow Him as Saviour, Mediator, Redeemer. What is meant is, that we are to do our work in the Spirit of Christ, as He would do it. He who follows Christ never misses the right way, and is always led on to victory. When in the Mexican war the troops were wavering, a general rose in his stirrups and dashed into the enemies’ lines, shouting, “Men, follow me!” They, inspired by his courageous example, dashed on after him and gained the victory. What men want to rally them for God is an example to lead them.

III. A bad example is in antagonism to the highest truth.—“Many walk, of whom I have told you, … they are the enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18). Professed friends, dubious in their attachment and promises, are enemies of Christ, and of the great movement in human redemption represented by His cross. While professing to maintain the doctrines of the cross, by their wicked lives they are depreciating them.

1. A bad example is set by those who concentrate their chief thought on the material.—“Who mind earthly things” (Philippians 3:19). The world has many attractions, but it has also many dangers. To be wholly absorbed in its pursuits weans the soul from God and holiness and heaven. Gosse tells us, in his Romance of Natural History, of certain animals which inhabit the coral reefs. So long as they keep the passage to the surface clear they are safe; but, this neglected, the animal finds the coral has grown around it and enclosed it in a living tomb. And so it is with the life of the soul on earth. The world is around us everywhere; the danger is when we allow it to grow between our souls and God.

2. A bad example is set by those who are supremely controlled by their sensual appetites.—“Whose God is their belly” (Philippians 3:19). The desires of the flesh invite to self-indulgence—to gluttony, revelling, drunkenness; to gaudiness, extravagance, and immodesty of dress; to impurity of speech and conduct. A sensual man looks as if lust had drawn her foul fingers over his features and wiped out the man. The philosopher Antisthenes, who had a contempt for all sensual enjoyment, used to say, “I would rather be mad than sensual.”

3. A bad example is set by those who gloat in their degradation.—“Whose glory is in their shame” (Philippians 3:19). Man has reached the lowest depth of vice when he boasts in what is really his shame. The last rag of modesty is thrown aside. “These enemies of the cross were not hypocrites, but open and avowed sensualists, conscious of no inconsistency, but rather justifying their vices, and thus perverting the gospel formally for such detestable conduct.”

4. The end of a bad example is ruin.—“Whose end is destruction” (Philippians 3:19). Evil is the broad way that leadeth to destruction. Sin must be inevitably punished; it works its own fate—“sin when it is finished bringeth forth death.” Judge Buller, speaking to a young gentleman of sixteen, cautioned him against being led astray by the example or persuasion of others, and said, “If I had listened to the advice of some of those who called themselves my friends, when I was young, instead of being a judge of the King’s Bench, I should have died long ago a prisoner in the King’s prison.”

IV. Professed members of the Church who set a bad example are the occasion of constant solicitude and sorrow to the truly good.—“For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping” (Philippians 3:18). Even when denouncing the worst sins, the apostle does it, not with harshness and imperious superiority, but with the greatest tenderness and grief. The anxious minister may well weep over the folly and delusion of half-hearted adherents, over their false and distorted conceptions of the gospel, over the reproach brought against the truth by their inconsistent and licentious lives, and over their lamentable end. The conduct of sinners is more a matter of heart-breaking sorrow than of wrathful indignation.


1. Example is more potent than precept.

2. A bad example should be carefully shunned.

3. A good example should be diligently imitated.


Philippians 3:17. Imitation of the Good

I. Possible only where there is a sympathetic resemblance to and admiration of the character sought to be copied.—“Brethren.”

II. Is easier when joined with those who have similar aims.—“Be followers together of me.”

III. Is aided by careful observation and study.—“Mark them.”

IV. Every good man is an example for others to imitate.—“So as ye have us for an ensample.”

Philippians 3:18-19. Enemies of the Cross—

I. Deny the efficacy and purpose of Christ’s sufferings.

II. Are incompetent to appreciate the spiritual significance of the cross.—“Who mind earthly things.”

III. Are the victims of sensuality.—“Whose god is their belly.”

IV. Are degraded beyond all bounds of modesty.—“Whose glory is in their shame.”

V. Will be inevitably punished.—“Whose end is destruction.”

VI. Are the cause of much grief to those who must constantly expose them.—“Of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping.”

Verses 20-21


Philippians 3:20. For our conversation is in heaven.—“Our” is emphatic, contrasting with the “earthly things” just named. “Conversation” is that to which we most readily turn, as the needle trembles to the pole. Our hearts are with our treasure, and that is far away from earthly things. “They that say such things declare plainly that they seek a city;” it is the soul’s “Heimweh,” the yearning for the homeland. We must not understand the words to mean “Our mode of speech is like that in heaven,” nor “Our habit of life is heavenly.” The word for “conversation” means “the commonwealth,” “the general assembly and Church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (Hebrews 12:23). From whence also we look for the Saviour.—From that heaven, “whither the Forerunner is for us entered,” “He shall come in like manner.” Meanwhile we stand in readiness to receive Him. The word for “look for” (R.V. “wait for”) graphically depicts the attitude of waiting.

Philippians 3:21. Who shall change our vile body.—R.V. much better, “Who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation.” We are not to consider the body as the cause of sin, as something outside the redemption wrought by Christ, “the Saviour of the body.” The fashioning anew will not lose any essential part of the body. As the colours in a kaleidoscope change form at each movement, but are yet always the same, so in the change of the body there will be “transition but no absolute solution of continuity.” The body of our humiliation is the frail tenement in which the exile spirit sojourns (2 Corinthians 5:1-8); it is the soon-wearied companion of an eager spirit (Matthew 26:41); it “returns to the dust as it was” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). That it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body.—R.V. “that it may be conformed to the body of His glory,” as contrasted with the body of His humiliation (Philippians 2:8), the body in which He tabernacled amongst us (John 1:14). The power whereby He is able to subdue all things.—He has power, not only to raise and glorify the body, but to subdue and renovate all things.


Christian Citizenship—

I. Has its centre of life and privileges in heaven.—“For our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). To show the contrast between the earthly things which absorb the thought of the worldly, and the things of heaven, the apostle proceeds to indicate that the life of the believer, even on earth, is associated with the privileges and blessings of the heavenly commonwealth, of which he is a member. In this world the Christian is but a stranger—living in temporary exile. His city, his home, is in heaven. Longing to enter into possession of all the privileges of the heavenly franchise, earthly things have no attraction for him, and he seeks to act in harmony with his high destiny

II. Is assured of the deliverance of its members from the perils and hardships of earth.—“From whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). The apostle characterises Jesus as Saviour, or as expected in the character of Saviour, and thus suggests an awful contrast, in point of destiny, between himself and those like-minded with him, and the party reprobated by him in the two preceding verses. Their end is destruction, but ours is salvation; to the one He descends as Judge, but to us as Saviour. If there be such visible difference in present character, there is a more awful contrast in ultimate destiny—the two poles of humanity—everlasting punishment; eternal life (Eadie). The great Deliverer will emancipate us from the thraldom, suffering, and sorrow of the present world, and complete in its fulness the salvation which is now in process.

III. Has the confident hope of future dignity and blessedness.

1. The body of humiliation shall be transformed into the likeness of Christ’s glorified body. “Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). The body of our humiliation connects us with the soil, out of which it was formed, and by the products of which it is supported, on which it walks, and into which it falls at death. It keeps us in constant physical connection with earth, whatever be the progress of the spirit towards its high destiny—its commonwealth in heaven. It limits intellectual power and development, impedes spiritual growth and enjoyment, and is soon fatigued with the soul’s activity. In it are the seeds of disease and pain, from functional disorder and organic malady. It is an animal nature which, in spite of a careful and vigilant government, is prone to rebellious outbreaks. But this body is reserved to a high destiny: it shall be like Christ’s heavenly body. The brightness of heaven does not oppress Him, neither shall it dazzle us. Our humanity dies indeed, and is decomposed; but when He appears, it shall be raised and beautified. These bodies shall cease to be animal without ceasing to be human bodies, and they shall become spiritual bodies—etherealised vehicles for the pure spirit that shall be lodged within them (Eadie, passim).

2. This transformation shall be effected by the divine power that controls the universe.—“According to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself” (Philippians 3:21). While omniscience is the actual possession or exercise of all knowledge, omnipotence is universal ability, which may or may not yet have put forth all its energies, for what is possible to it may not have been effected by it. But Christ shall put forth His power, as we know from other sources, and death itself shall be swallowed up in victory—that which has swallowed up all humanity shall be surrounded by a wider vortex and be itself engulfed. This body of our humiliation has some surviving element, or some indissoluble link, which warrants the notion and shall secure the consciousness of identity, in whatever that identity may consist (Eadie). If man’s art and device can produce so pure and white a fabric as paper from filthy rags, what shall hinder God by His mighty power to raise the vile body from the grave and refine and fashion it like unto the glorious body of Christ? “Not a resurrection,” says Neander, “as a restoration merely of the same earthly body in the same earthly form; but a glorious transformation, proceeding from the divine, the all-subduing power of Christ; so that believers, free from all the defects of the earthly existence, released from all its barriers, may reflect the full image of the heavenly Christ in their whole glorified personality, in the soul pervaded by the divine life and its now perfectly assimilated glorified organ.”


1. The Christian citizen is but a sojourner on earth.

2. His conduct on earth is regulated by a heavenly life.

3. He looks for his highest honours and enjoyments in the future.


Philippians 3:20. Christian Citizenship.

I. The heavenly citizenship of Christians.

1. The city to which they belong—heaven.

2. When are true Christians made citizens of this heavenly state? When they are pardoned.

3. What are the privileges connected with this state of relation to the heavenly city?

(1) Freedom.

(2) Admits to honourable employment and office.

(3) Fellowship and communion with the whole body of Israel.

4. A right to the common property—the inheritance of the saints in light.

II. The conduct manifested by true Christians, and corresponding with their privilege.

1. Holiness.

2. Boast of the institutions of the heavenly city.

3. Are bold and courageous.

4. It will be seen in our spirit.

5. Our affections are in heaven.—R. Watson.

Philippians 3:21. The Resurrection of the Human Body.

I. We must be reminded of our sinful condition.

1. Our body is called a body of humiliation, because it, as well as the spirit, is the seat of sin.

2. If we consider the immense labour necessary to provide for its wants.

3. If we consider it as a clog to our devotion.

4. It must be still further humbled by death.

II. The transformation of this humbled body.

1. There can be no deformity.

2. The excessive care necessary for the support of the body shall exist no more.

3. It shall be an assistant and no longer a hindrance to the operations of the deathless spirit.

III. The means by which the transformation will be effected.—The power of God answers all objections, removes all difficulties.


1. It becomes us to aspire to as much of the glory of the future state as can be attained.

2. This subject affords encouragement to us on the loss of our friends.

3. Ought to fortify our minds against the fear of death.—Ibid.

The Glorious Destiny of the Human Body.—If we are in Christ, He will gather up what is left, He will transfigure it with the splendour of a new life, He will change our body of humiliation that it may be fashioned like unto the body of His glory. Sown in the very extreme of physical weakness, it will be raised in a strictly superhuman power; sown a natural body controlled on every side by physical law, it will be a true body still, but a body that belongs to the sphere of spirit. Most difficult indeed it is even to the imagination to understand how this poor body, our companion for so many years—part of our very selves—is to be first wrenched from us at death and then restored to us if we will, transfigured by the majestic glory of the Son of God. Little can we understand this inaccessibility to disease, the radiant beauty, the superiority to material obstacles in moving through space, the spirituality, in short, which awaits without destroying it.

“Heavy and dull this frame of limbs and heart.
Whether slow creeping on cold earth, or borne
On lofty steed
Or loftier prow, we dart
O’er wave or field,
Yet breezes laugh to scorn
Our puny speed,
And birds, and clouds in heaven,
And fish like living shafts that pierce the main,
And stars that shoot through freezing air at even.
Who would not follow, might he break his chain?
And thou shalt break it soon.
The grovelling worm
Shall find his wings, and soar as fast and free
As his transfigured Lord, with lightning form
And snowy vest. Such grace He won for thee
When from the grave He sprang at dawn of morn,
And led, through boundless air, thy conquering road,
Leaving a glorious track where saints newborn
Might fearless follow to their blest abode.”

—H. P. Liddon.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Philippians 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/philippians-3.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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