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Bible Commentaries
Philippians 3

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4068. A.D. 64.


(1,) The apostle cautions the Philippians against Judaizing teachers, whom he describes, and contrasts with faithful ministers and Christians, Philippians 3:1-3 .

(2,) He recites his own former Jewish privileges, and renounces them all for Christ, Philippians 3:4-8 .

(3,) Declares his earnest desire to be found in him by the righteousness of faith, and to go on toward perfection, Philippians 3:9-14 .

(4,) Recommends his own example of holiness and heavenly-mindedness to the imitation of believers, in opposition to the behaviour of carnal professors, Philippians 3:15-21 .

Verse 1

Philippians 3:1. Finally Or rather, as το λοιπον should be here rendered, As for what remains; or, what I have further in view in writing this epistle. For the expression cannot here signify finally, as our translators have rendered the word, since the apostle is only entering on the main subject of his letter. Properly, it is a form of transition, and is translated besides, 1 Corinthians 1:16. It is as if he had said, Whatever may become of me, or of yourselves, so far as any worldly interest or prospect is concerned, rejoice in the Lord Christ In the knowledge you have of him, and of the truths and promises of his gospel; in the faith you have in him; the union you have with him by that faith; the relations in which you stand to him as his friends, his brethren, his spouse; in the conformity you have to him in heart and life, and in the expectations you have from him of felicity and glory eternal. These are sufficient causes for rejoicing, whatever circumstances you may be in, and whatever your trials and troubles may be in this present short and uncertain life. Reader, hast thou these reasons for rejoicing?

Then thou mayest well bear without impatience or discontent the light afflictions which are but for a moment, 2 Corinthians 4:17.

To write the same things Which you have heard from me before, or which I have written to other churches, and which I have desired Epaphroditus to tell you; to me indeed is not grievous Nothing was accounted grievous or troublesome by him which was for the edification of the church; but for you it is safe It will tend to preserve you from the errors and sins in which you might otherwise be insnared. The condemnation of the errors of the Judaizers, which the apostle was about to write in this chapter, he had already written in his epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians. But as they were matters of great importance, he did not grudge to write them in this letter; because, if they were only communicated to them verbally, by Epaphroditus, or others, all the Philippians might not have had an opportunity of hearing them, or they might have misunderstood them. Whereas, having them in writing, they could examine them at their leisure, and have recourse to them as often as they had occasion. St. Paul, we may observe further, wrote most of his epistles, partly at least, with a view to confute the erroneous doctrines and practices of the Judaizing teachers, who in the first age greatly disturbed the churches chiefly by their affirming, that unless the Gentiles were circumcised, after the manner of Moses, they could not be saved But as these teachers artfully suited their arguments to the circumstances and prejudices of the persons whom they addressed, the controversy hath a new aspect in almost every epistle. And what the apostle advances in confutation of their doctrine, and for explaining and establishing the genuine doctrines of the gospel, comprehends a variety of particulars highly worthy of the attention of Christians in every age.

Verse 2

Philippians 3:2. Beware of dogs Unclean, unholy, rapacious men, who, though they fawn and flatter, would devour you as dogs. He probably gave them this appellation also, because they barked against the doctrines of the gospel, and against its faithful teachers, and were ready to bite and tear all who opposed their errors. Our Lord used the word dogs in the same sense, when he commanded his apostles not to give that which is holy to dogs. Perhaps, by calling them dogs, the apostle might intend to signify likewise, that, in the sight of God, they were now become as abominable, for crucifying Christ, and persecuting his apostles, as the idolatrous heathen were in the eyes of the Jews; who, to express their detestation of them, gave them the name of dogs; a title which the apostle therefore here returns upon themselves. Revelation 22:15, the wicked are called dogs: without are dogs. Beware of evil workers Of those Judaizing teachers, who, while they cry up the law, and pretend to be strenuous advocates for good works, are, in fact, evil workers; sowing the seeds of discord, strife, contention, and division, among the simple, humble, and formerly united members of Christ, and acting in direct opposition, not only to the gospel, the true nature of which they do not understand, but even to the most important precepts and grand design of the law itself, for the honour of which they appear to be so zealous. Macknight renders the expression, evil labourers, in opposition to the appellation of fellow-labourers, with which the apostle honoured those who faithfully assisted him in preaching the gospel. The same false teachers he calls false apostles, and deceitful workers, or labourers, 2 Corinthians 11:13; because, instead of building, they undermined the Church of Christ, by removing its foundation; beware of the concision Circumcision being now no longer a rite of entering into covenant with God, the apostle will not call those who used it the circumcision; but coins a term on purpose, taken from a Greek word used by the LXX., Leviticus 21:5, for such a cutting of the flesh as God had forbidden. Dr. Macknight renders the word the excision: an appellation, says he, “finely contrived to express the pernicious influence of their doctrine; and perhaps also to signify the destruction which was coming on them as a nation.” He adds, “the account given of these wicked men, Romans 16:18; Galatians 6:12; Titus 1:11, shows that they deserved all the harsh names given them in this place.”

Verse 3

Philippians 3:3. For we are the circumcision The true spiritual seed of Abraham; who have the things signified by that sign, and perform that which circumcision was designed to engage men to. We are the only people now in covenant with God, who worship God in the Spirit Not barely in the letter, or by a mere external service, in attending outward ordinances, but with the spiritual worship of reverence and fear, humility and self-abasement, adoration and praise, confidence and hope, gratitude and love, subjection and obedience; of true repentance, living faith, and genuine holiness; feeling within ourselves, and manifesting to others, those dispositions and actions which are suited to the divine perfections, and to the relations in which he is pleased to stand to us; and all this through the influence of his Spirit, which can only implant these dispositions within us, and enable us to conduct ourselves accordingly. See this spiritual worship further explained in the note on John 4:23-24; and rejoice Or, glory, rather, as καυχωμενοι signifies; in Christ Je sus As the procuring cause of all our blessings, and the source of all our consolations; and have no confidence in the flesh In any outward advantage or prerogative, or in any performance of our own, past, present, or to come, for acceptance with God, or justification before him.

Verses 4-5

Philippians 3:4-5. Though I Above many others; might have confidence in the flesh That is, I have such pretences for that confidence as many, even Jews, have not. He says I, in the singular number, because the Philippian believers, being of Gentile race, could not speak in that manner. If any other man Gentile or Jew, private Christian or public teacher; thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh That he has cause for so doing; I more I have more reason to think so than he. See 2 Corinthians 11:18-22. Circumcised the eighth day Not at ripe age, as a proselyte, but born among God’s peculiar people, and dedicated to him from my infancy, being solemnly admitted into the visible church, according to his ordinance, in the most regular and pure way. It is certain the Jews did not only lay a great deal of stress on the ceremony of circumcision, but on the time of performing it; affirming, that circumcision before the eighth day was no circumcision; and after that time of less value. Hence they thought it necessary to circumcise a child on the sabbath day, when that day was the eighth from its birth, (though all manner of work was forbidden on that day,) rather than defer performing the rite to a day beyond that time, John 7:22; and made it a rule that the rest of the sabbath must give place to circumcision. And this opinion, as it agrees with the text, Genesis 17:12, so it seems to have obtained long before our Lord’s time; for the Septuagint and the Samaritan version read Gen 17:14 thus: “The uncircumcised male, who is not circumcised the eighth day, shall be cut off: he hath broken my covenant.” Of the stock of Israel Not the son of a proselyte, nor of the race of the Ishmaelites or Edomites; of the tribe of Benjamin In which Jerusalem and the temple stood, and who kept close to God and his worship when the ten tribes revolted, and fell off to idolatry; a tribe descended from the wife of the patriarch Jacob; and on that account, as Theodoret has observed, more honourable than the four tribes descended from Bilhah and Zilpah, the handmaids; a Hebrew of the Hebrews Descended, by both father and mother, from Abraham’s race, without any mixture of foreign blood. “The Jews who lived among the Greeks, and who spake their language, were called Hellenists, Acts 6:1; Acts 9:29; Acts 11:20. Many of these were descended from parents, one of whom only was a Jew. Of this sort was Timothy, Acts 16:1. But those who were born in Judea, of parents rightly descended from Abraham, and who, receiving their education in Judea, spake the language of their forefathers, and were thoroughly instructed in the laws and learning of the Jews, were reckoned more honourable than the Hellenists; and to mark the excellence of their lineage, education, and language, they were called Hebrews; a name the most ancient, and therefore the most honourable, of all names borne by Abraham’s descendants. A Hebrew, therefore, possessing the character and qualifications above described, was a more honourable appellation than an Israelite, as that name marked no more but one’s being a member of the commonwealth of Israel; which a Jew might be, though born and bred in a foreign country.” Macknight. As touching the law, a Pharisee One of that sect who most accurately observe it, and maintain many of those great truths of religion which the Sadducees and some others reject.

Verse 6

Philippians 3:6. Concerning zeal For the law and the Jewish religion, and for all those ritual observances which they so eagerly enforce, I myself was once so earnest, that I persecuted, and that even to imprisonment and death, those who did not observe them. Touching the righteousness which is in the law Which is described and enjoined by the letter of it; that is, with respect to external observances; blameless Quite unexceptionable in my conduct; so that those who knew me most intimately, could not have accused me of any wilful transgression, or of neglecting any of those expiatory rites and sacrifices, which were appointed to be used in case of involuntary errors. “The greatest part of the Jews firmly believed that the righteousness required in the law consisted chiefly in observing its ritual precepts. And therefore, if a person was circumcised, offered the appointed sacrifices, observed the sabbaths, and other festivals enjoined by Moses, made the necessary purifications, in cases of pollution, paid tithes of all he possessed, and abstained from crimes injurious to society; or if he committed any such, was punished for them according to the law, he was, as the apostle expresseth it, with respect to the righteousness which is by law, unblameable. Further, as the ritual services enjoined in the law were not founded in the nature of things, but in the command of God; and as, according to the law, atonement was made for some transgressions by these services, they were, on account of their being done from a regard to the divine will, considered as acts of piety more acceptable to God than even the performance of moral duties. In the third place, as these ritual services were both numerous and burdensome, and recurred so frequently, that they gave almost constant employment to the pious Israelites, the diligent and exact performance of them was thought equivalent to a perfect righteousness, and so meritorious, that it entitled the performer to justification and eternal life. All these erroneous opinions Paul entertained while he continued a Pharisee. But he relinquished them when he became a Christian, as he informs us, immediately.” Macknight.

Verse 7

Philippians 3:7 . But what things Of this nature; were once reputed gain to me Which I valued myself upon, and confided in for acceptance with God, supposing them to constitute a righteousness sufficient to justify me in his sight; those, ever since I was made acquainted with the truth as it is in Jesus, and embraced the gospel, I have accounted loss Things of no value; things which ought to be readily foregone for Christ, in order that, placing all my dependance on him for justification, I might through him be accepted of God, and be saved. The word ζημια , here used by the apostle, and rendered loss, properly signifies loss incurred in trade: and especially that kind of loss which is sustained at sea in a storm, when goods are thrown overboard for the sake of saving the ship and the people on board: in which sense the word is used Acts 27:10; Acts 27:21. To understand the term thus, gives great force and beauty to the passage. It is as if the apostle said, In making the voyage of life, for the purpose of gaining salvation, I proposed to purchase it with my circumcision, and my care in observing the ritual and moral precepts of the law; and I put a great value on these things, on account of the gain or advantage I was to make by them. But when I became a Christian, I willingly threw them all overboard, as of no value in purchasing salvation. And this I did for the sake of gaining salvation through faith in Christ as my only Saviour.

Verses 8-11

Philippians 3:8-11. Yea doubtless Not only when I was first converted, but I still account both these and all things else, how valuable soever, to be but loss. Having said, in the preceding verse, that he counted his privileges as a Jew, and his righteousness by the law, to be loss, or things to be thrown away, he here adds, that he viewed in the same light all the things which men value themselves upon, and on which they build their hope of salvation: such as their natural and acquired talents, their knowledge, their moral virtue, and even their good works; yea, and all the riches, honours, and pleasures of the world; all the things in which people seek their happiness. For the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord In comparison of, and in order that I may attain, the experimental and practical knowledge of Christ, as my Lord, as my teaching Prophet, my atoning and mediating Priest, my delivering and ruling King, reigning in my heart by his grace, and governing my life by his laws. For the apostle evidently had a respect here to all the offices and characters of Christ, and intended what he says to be understood of sanctification and practical obedience, as much as of illumination and justification. And he accounted all the things he speaks of as worthless, not only because they were ineffectual to procure for him acceptance with God, but because in themselves they are of little value in comparison with the true knowledge of Christ, and of the way of salvation through him; blessings which the apostle so regarded, that he despised all other knowledge, and every human attainment, as things comparatively unworthy of his care, while pursuing his way to eternal life. For whom I have actually suffered the loss of all things Which the world esteems, admires, loves, and delights in. It seems probable, from this, that he had been excommunicated by the Jews in Jerusalem, and spoiled of his goods: a treatment which some others, who were not so obnoxious to the Jews as he was, met with after they became Christians, Hebrews 10:33-34. And I count them but dung So far am I from repenting, that I exposed myself to the loss of them. The discourse rises. Loss is sustained with patience; but dung is cast away with abhorrence. The Greek word, so rendered, signifies any vile refuse of things, the dross of metals, the dregs of liquors, the excrements of animals, the most worthless scraps of meat, the basest offals, fit only for dogs: in such a light did the apostle view every thing that would engage his dependance for justification, or stand in competition with Christ for his affection. That I may win Christ May have him for my Saviour and Lord; may have an interest in all the offices that he sustains, and in all he hath done and suffered for the salvation of men, and may be made partaker of the benefits which he hath procured for me. And be found in him

Vitally united to him by faith and love; not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law That merely outward righteousness prescribed by the law, and performed in my own strength; but that which is through the faith of Christ That justifying, sanctifying, and practical righteousness which is attained through believing in Christ, and in the truths and promises of his gospel. See on Romans 4:6-8; Ephesians 4:22-24; 1 John 3:7. The righteousness which is, εκ Θεου , of, or from God Which is the gift of his grace and mercy, and not procured by my merit; and is from his Spirit, not effected by my own strength, through the instrumentality of faith alone; a faith, however, productive of love, and of all holiness and righteousness. The phrase in the original here, την εκ Θεου δικαιοσυνην , the righteousness of, or from God, is used, says Macknight, “I think only in this passage. It is opposed to mine own righteousness, which is from the law, a phrase found in other passages, particularly Galatians 3:21. Wherefore, since the righteousness from the law is that which is obtained according to the tenor of the law, the righteousness from God by faith, is that which comes from God’s accounting the believer’s faith to him for righteousness, and from his working that faith in his heart by the influences of his Spirit.” That I may know him In his person and offices, in his humiliation and exaltation, his grace and glory, as my wisdom and righteousness, my sanctification and redemption; or, as my complete Saviour; and the power Δυναμιν , the efficacy; of his resurrection Demonstrating the certain truth and infinite importance of every part of his doctrine, the acceptableness of the atonement made by him for sin, (see on Romans 4:25,) opening an intercourse between earth and heaven, and obtaining for me the Holy Spirit, to raise me from the death of sin unto all the life of righteousness, (John 16:7,) assuring me of a future and eternal judgment, (Acts 17:31,) begetting me again to a lively hope of a heavenly inheritance, (1 Peter 1:3,) and raising my affections from things on earth to things above, Colossians 3:1-2: and the fellowship of his sufferings Sympathizing with him in his sufferings, and partaking of the benefits purchased for me thereby; as also being willing to take up my cross and suffer with him, as far as I am called to it, knowing that if I suffer with him, I shall also be glorified with him. See the margin. Being made conformable to his death Being dead to the world and sin, or being made willing to confirm the gospel by enduring the tortures of crucifixion as he did, should it be his will I should do so. If by any means Having attained an entire conformity to my great Master, and done and suffered the whole will of God; I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead Unto that consummate holiness and blessedness, which he will bestow upon all his people when the dead in Christ shall rise first, and be distinguished with honour and glory proportionable to the zeal and diligence which they have manifested in his service.

Verse 12

Philippians 3:12. Not as though I had already attained Ουχ οτι ηδη ελαβον , literally, not that I have already received, namely, the blessings which I am in pursuit of, even that complete knowledge of Christ, of the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his sufferings, and conformity to his death just mentioned; either were already perfect Τετελειωμαι , perfected, completed: or had finished my course of duty and sufferings. It appears from Philippians 3:15, that there is a difference between one that is τελειος , perfect, and one that is perfected; the one is fitted for the race, the other has finished the race, and is ready to receive the prize. But I follow after Διωκω , I pursue, what is still before me. The apostle changes his allusion from a voyage to a race, which he continues through the two next verses. That I may apprehend that perfect holiness, that entire conformity to the will of God, for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus Appearing to me in the way to Damascus, (Acts 26:14,) whose condescending hand graciously laid hold on me when I was proceeding in my mad career of persecuting him and his followers, and in the extraordinary manner of which you have often heard, brought me to engage in running that very different race which I am now pursuing.

Verses 13-14

Philippians 3:13-14. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended To have already attained those high degrees of holiness, internal and external, of usefulness and conformity to my blessed Master, which I have in view. But this one thing I do I make this my chief business. Or rather, (which the phraseology of the original seems to require,) this one thing I can say, though I cannot say that I have attained what I am aiming at; forgetting those things which are behind Even that part of the race of Christian experience, duty, and suffering, which is already run; and reaching forth, &c. Greek, τοις δε εμπροσθεν επεκτεινομενος , stretching forward toward those things which are before Toward still higher attainments in grace, and the further labours and sufferings which remain to be accomplished, pursuing these with the whole vigour of my soul; I press toward the mark Which God hath placed before me, even a full conformity to the image of his Son in my heart and life, Romans 8:29; for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus The felicity, honour, and glory, which I am called of God in Christ to contend for: a noble prize indeed! The reader will easily observe, that there is all along in this passage a beautiful allusion to the foot-races in the Grecian games; and in this last clause, to that particular circumstance respecting the prize, that it was placed in a very conspicuous situation, in order that the competitors might be animated by having it still in their view. Add to this, that the judges sat on a high seat, and from thence, by a herald, summoned the contenders into the stadium, or place where they were to contend. In allusion to which elevated situation of the judges, Macknight thinks the apostle here terms God’s calling him by Christ to run the Christian race, ανω κλησις , a high calling, or a calling from above. The phrase, however, seems rather to mean a calling or invitation to very high things, even to dignity and happiness, great beyond all that we can now conceive. For to every faithful servant shall it be granted, partly at death, and more especially at the day of final judgment, to enter into the joy of his Lord, Matthew 25:23; to sit down with him on his throne, as he overcame and is set down with his Father on his throne; and to inherit all things, even all that God has and is, Revelation 3:21; Revelation 21:7. “From the description which the apostle gives in this passage of his stretching all the members of his body while running the Christian race, and from his telling us that he followed on with unremitting strength and agility, till he arrived at the prize which was placed at the end of the course, we may learn what earnestness, diligence, and constancy, in the exercises of faith and holiness, are necessary to our faith’s being counted to us for righteousness at the last day.”

Verses 15-16

Philippians 3:15-16. Let us, as many as are perfect As many as are genuine believers in Christ, thorough Christians, justified and regenerated, new creatures in Christ, and so fit for the Christian race of duty and suffering; be thus minded Minded as I have said that I am, namely, inclined and determined to press forward with zeal and diligence to still higher attainments in holiness, usefulness, and patient sufferings, till as Christ was, they are made in this world. Let us apply wholly to this one thing; and if in any thing In any of the particulars before mentioned; ye Any of you being yet weak in faith, wavering in hope, and imperfect in love, see Hebrews 6:11-12; 1 John 4:17-18; be otherwise minded Contented with, and resting in, past attainments, and sunk into a remiss and indolent frame of mind, destitute of zeal and Christian fervency; God If you be sincere, and truly desire it of him; shall reveal even this unto you Shall show you your error and your sin, and excite you to fresh zeal and diligence in your Christian calling. Nevertheless Let us remember this is on the supposition that, whereunto we have already attained Or, so far forth as we have already made any progress toward perfection, we walk by the same rule By which we have hitherto walked, and take care not to lose the ground we have already gained, which, by giving way to unbelief, diffidence, and distrust of God’s love, power, and faithfulness engaged for us, or by sinking into lukewarmness and sloth, we should easily do. Macknight takes the passage in rather another sense, namely, as signifying “that such of the Philippians as sincerely feared the Lord, if they happened, from ignorance or prejudice, to think differently from the apostle concerning any important article of faith, would have their error discovered to them, not by a particular revelation, but by the ordinary influences of the Spirit, agreeably to Psalms 25:12, What man is he who feareth the Lord, him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose.”

Verses 17-19

Philippians 3:17-19 . Brethren, be followers together Συμμιμηται , joint imitators, of me Obedient to my directions, and following the pattern which God enables me to set before you; and mark Observe and imitate them; who walk so as ye have us Myself and the other apostles of Christ, for an ensample. For many Even teachers, as they profess themselves to be, walk in a very different manner; of whom I have told you often in time past, and now tell you even weeping While I write, for indeed well may I weep on so lamentable an occasion; that they are enemies of the cross of Christ Unwilling to suffer any thing for him and his cause, and counteracting the very end and design of his death. Observe, reader, such are all cowardly, all shamefaced, all delicate Christians. Whose end is destruction This is placed in the front, that what follows may be read with the greater horror; whose God is their belly Whose supreme happiness lies in gratifying their sensual appetites. The apostle gives the same character of the Judaizing teachers, (Romans 16:18; Titus 1:11,) and, therefore, it is probable that he is speaking here chiefly of them and of their disciples. Whose glory is in their shame In those things which they ought to be ashamed of: and whoever glories in the commission of any sin, or in the omission of any duty which he owes to God, his neighbour, or himself; or in the gratification of those inclinations and dispositions that are contrary to the love of God and his neighbour; or in that manner of employing his money, his knowledge, his authority over others, or his time, which is contrary to the will of God, and manifests that he is not a faithful steward of God’s manifold gifts, glories in his shame: who mind Relish, desire, seek, pursue; earthly things Things visible and temporal, in preference to those which are invisible and eternal; for to be carnally minded is death, Romans 8:6.

Verses 20-21

Philippians 3:20-21. For our conversation is in heaven We that are true Christians are of a very different spirit, and act in a quite different manner. The original expression, πολιτευμα , rendered conversation, is a word of a very extensive meaning, implying our citizenship, our thoughts, our affections, are already in heaven; or we think, speak, and act, converse with our fellow-creatures, and conduct ourselves in all our intercourse with them, as citizens of the New Jerusalem, and as being only strangers and pilgrims upon earth. We therefore endeavour to promote the interests of that glorious society to which we belong, to learn its manners, secure a title to its privileges, and behave in a way suitable to, and worthy of our relation to it; from whence also we look for the Saviour To come and carry us thither according to his promise, (John 14:3,) namely, our spirits, at the dissolution of this earthly tabernacle; yea, and afterward to transform our vile body, το σωμα της ταπεινωσεως , the body of our humiliation; which, in consequence of the fall of our first parents, sinks us so low, is subject to, and encompassed with, so many infirmities, is such a clog to our souls, and so greatly hinders our progress in the work of faith and labour of love: this body we expect he will transform into the most perfect state and the most beauteous form, when it will be purer than the unspotted firmament, brighter than the lustre of the stars, and, which exceeds all parallel, which comprehends all perfection, like unto his glorious body Of which an image was given in his transfiguration, yea like that wonderfully glorious body which he wears in his heavenly kingdom, and on his triumphant throne. So that here, as Romans 8:23, the redemption of the body from corruption, by a glorious resurrection, is represented as the especial privilege of the righteous. According to that mighty working That energy of power; whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself To show himself to the whole intelligent creation of God completely victorious over all his enemies, even over death and the grave, the last of them.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Philippians 3". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/philippians-3.html. 1857.
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