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Wednesday, July 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Philippians 3

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Preparation to conclude interrupted by a digression on false teaching, Philippians 3:1-16. What examples are to be followed, and what to be avoided, Philippians 3:17-21.

Verse 1

Philippians 3:1. Finally, literally ‘as for the rest,’ a phrase which St. Paul not unfrequently employs when he is on the point of summing up in some final precepts the teaching of the previous part of an Epistle. This be appears to have intended here, but his thoughts are turned aside, and it is not until Philippians 4:4 that the exhortation of this verse is resumed.

my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. The word ‘rejoice,’ which may also be rendered ‘farewell,’ is likewise an indication that a conclusion of his letter was in the apostle’s mind. No doubt the precept, ‘rejoice in the Lord,’ is intimately connected with that previous request (Philippians 2:2), ‘fulfil ye my joy.’ There could be neither fulness of joy for the apostle nor for them while party spirit or pride held sway among them. They must first imitate the Lord’s humiliation, and then they could rejoice in Him.

To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not irk-some. There has been much difference of opinion as to what the apostle refers in these words. Some have supposed them to relate to a previous letter which be had sent to Philippi, of which the tenor was much similar to this which Epaphroditus was to carry. And they have found some support from the use of a plural word concerning St. Paul’s writing to Philippi by Polycarp in his Epistle to that church. But the expression there used is not enough alone for us to accept the opinion that the apostle wrote more than this letter to the Philippians. Others have referred the words to the previous sentence, ‘rejoice in the Lord;’ but though the Epistle is very full of joy in its tone, we can hardly think that St. Paul would have felt it needful to notice such words as he has just used in such a manner as to say the writing of them was not irksome to him, and was safe for the Philippians to have repeated to them. It seems therefore best to take them as the introduction of what is to follow. He is about to speak against the Judaizing teachers and the mischief which they wrought. Now it is conceivable, though we have no mention of it in the Acts, that at Philippi, as afterwards at Thessalonica, the apostle and his companions had given the people warning against these teachers of error, whose doctrines had already caused so much trouble at Antioch. If this be accepted, then the allusion of the verse before us may be to such previous oral warnings, the need for which may have been suggested to the apostle’s mind by a prevalence of Jewish teaching among some who professed Christ in Rome (see chap. Philippians 1:15-16). Or it may be that in ‘the same things’ a reference is made to what the apostle had written to other churches. He has found need elsewhere to write strongly against Judaizers; and to repeat such admonitions to the Philippians, even if there be no special immediate need for them, so far as he knows, is no burden to him, and to them it may chance to be a timely warning, and if not that, yet will be recalled, whenever such errors make themselves heard at Philippi.

but for you it is safe. In either of the last-named views the sense of the word ‘safe’ is naturally retained. Either, ‘I have told you before, but yet it is safe, and a way of making sure that my oral teaching is not forgotten, if I write it:’ or, ‘It may be that there is no present need for what I am going to say, but it is a safe course to warn you against errors which may arise among you.’

Verses 1-16

Preparation to conclude, interrupted by a digression on false teaching, 3-16.

St. Paul has now touched on all the topics on which he is about to write to the Philippians as their special concern, and prepares for a reiteration such as is found in his other Epistles. But moved, it may be, by the prevalence of Judaizing teachers in Rome, or by news of the doings of such men in some of the other churches for which he was interested, he introduces, even to the Philippians, a solemn warning against them. He spares them in nothing: they are dogs who mutilate the flesh for mutilation’s sake; while the apostle, and those who worship in the Spirit, are the true circumcision. He himself has all the outward grounds of glorying which the most confident of these false teachers can rely on, but all this he has learnt to value as nothing for the knowledge of Christ. For His sake St. Paul counts all else as refuse, and seeks only to found in Him, having attained unto that righteousness which is not to be reached through law, but through faith in Christ, that dying with Christ and for Christ in this world he may attain unto the resurrection from the dead.

But this righteousness of faith is not attained unto without labour, nor held fast without a struggle. The apostle, though strong in faith, feels that his course is still not ended; he must forget all that is behind, and press on to what is before him, as a runner hastening with all his speed toward the prize. For this reason, he urges like thoughts and like actions on the Philippians, assuring them that if they have not yet reached the same view and estimate which he sets before them, yet if they will but walk and live according to that light which they have attained, more light will be bestowed on them from God.

Verse 2

Philippians 3:2. Beware of the dogs. The word signifies ‘Look out,’ and would rather seem to imply that these teachers were not yet at Philippi, but might come, and so the apostle bids them ‘watch.’ To the Eastern mind, nothing could express greater contempt than the name ‘dog,’ and there can be little doubt that this feeling was in the apostle’s mind towards such false teachers. But there may also be an allusion to the contentions to which such lessons would give rise. For we see (Galatians 5:15) that in another church in which Judaizing opinions prevailed very greatly, the apostle is constrained to warn the members against ‘biting and devouring one another,’ lest they should be consumed one of another.

beware of the evil workers. Evil workers, because they themselves who are circumcised do not keep the law, and their pains are bestowed only on pulling down the work of the Christian teachers, and giving nothing in its stead but mere ceremonial observance, weak and beggarly elements without any spiritual benefit.

beware of the concision. The thrice repeated ‘beware’ in reference to the same persons marks the apostle’s earnestness, and his sense of the peril to those who were again enslaved, after having been made free in Christ. He uses also a word for ‘concision’ which is found nowhere else in the New Testament. He calls their practice mere ‘cutting,’ a mutilation of the body for mutilation’s sake, that, as he says elsewhere, ‘they may glory in your flesh,’ that they may be proud that men consent to be outwardly marked for Jews. But in this word there may also be an allusion to the severance or cutting asunder in the church which such teachers were sure to cause. They were not only mutilators of the body, but also of the body of Christ, the Church.

Verse 3

Philippians 3:3. For we are the circumcision. Since he is a Jew who is one inwardly, walking after that faith of Abraham which he had while he was yet uncircumcised, and which makes him the father of the uncircumcised, who have a faith like his. When the outward sign had no accompaniment of faith, the sign alone availed nothing. On the way in which baptism took the place of circumcision, cf. Colossians 2:11-12.

who worship by the Spirit of God. This is the reading of the oldest authorities. The word rendered ‘worship’ is applied primarily and most frequently to external acts and ceremonial observances. St. Paul chooses it advisedly, and says, not that there will be no outward observances on the part of Christians, but that their external worship will also be done from an internal prompting of the Spirit of God. They will worship in the Spirit, because God’s Spirit will animate all they do.

and glory in Christ Jesus. Here again he is using a word which speaks of the boastings of these Judaizers. ‘They desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh’ (Galatians 6:13) is the same word, and in that passage he continues in the like spirit as here: ‘but God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’

and have no confidence in the flesh. The feeling which John the Baptist rebuked in the Jews, that they were sure of God’s mercy because they had ‘Abraham to their father,’ had eaten all the heart out of the Jewish nation, and had made them attentive, only to the letter of the law, forgetting its spirit.

Verse 4

Philippians 3:4. Though I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If those things on which the Judaizers lay such stress were of any account, I could glory as largely as any. He mentions this that he may bring out into stronger contrast the small value (or rather no-value) which he sets on outward position and observances. He had stood in a prominent place among those who could call themselves Abraham’s seed. Few could number so many distinctive marks of Jewish purity and observance. How thoroughly, then, must he have seen the unimportance of all this, who could cast all away and count it worthless for Christ!

if any other man thinketh to have confidence in the flesh, I yet more. That is, I have a right to think so still more than he. He does not mean that he does so think, though in words he says so. He is only meeting for a moment the Judaizers on their own ground.

Verse 5

Philippians 3:5. circumcised the eighth day, thus observing the outward ordinance at the very earliest moment that the law prescribes it. The parents of such a child must have been zealous for the law, and careful that their son should be made fully a partaker of the Abrahamic covenant,

of the stock of Israel. He mentions this that it may be clear that not only he but his parents were Jews. He was not of a father or mother who had come into the privileges of the chosen race as proselytes.

of the tribe of Benjamin. One of the two tribes which remained faithful to David’s house, and therefore worthy of high estimation among the nation who looked back to David with so much pride.

a Hebrew of the Hebrews. By this he would mark the purity of his descent. All his race were Hebrews. He was born in Tarsus, away from the Holy Land, but there was no intermixture of other blood in his veins. We can judge that this was likely to be so when we find the son sent to study in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel. Only those persons who were very proud of and careful for the strict Jewish character of all belonging to them, would have sought to have their son placed under such a teacher away from their own home. We can see also how learned the apostle was in all that concerned his own people,

as touching the law, a Pharisee. He explains this (Acts 22:3) as ‘taught according to the strictness of the law of the fathers,’ and again (Acts 26:5) tells us that his was the ‘most straitest sect of the Jewish religion.’ And thus far he has spoken only of those distinctions as a Jew, which depended on others. His birth, family, and education were not in his own hands, but yet he could point to them as each one marking him for a privileged member of the chosen people. He now goes on to tell that his former zeal for Judaism did not disgrace such parentage and training.

Verse 6

Philippians 3:6. as touching zeal, persecuting the church. The preposition rendered ‘as touching’ in the previous verse occurs here three times over in close connection, and this should be indicated by the translation. ‘Beyond measure,’ he says, ‘I persecuted the church of God’ (Galatians 1:13), and the voice from heaven in the road to Damascus confirmed this: ‘I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.’ He counts this among the things of which he might have gloried had he put himself on the level of these Jewish teachers. How he really did esteem this zeal we know from his statement that he was not worthy to be called an apostle, because he had persecuted the church of Christ.

as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless. Such righteousness as consisted in obedience to the legal ordinances he could claim, for he had observed them all. It is clearly to externals that he is referring, for his words imply that it was to men he had approved himself; none of his fellows surpassed him or even equalled him in strictness of legal observance. ‘I advanced in the Jews’ religion beyond many of my own age among my countrymen, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers’ (Galatians 1:14). In the participle rendered ‘found’ (but omitted in Authorised Version), which is literally ‘having become,’ there is another sounding of the same note: Saul’s careful observance of the legal ordinances had brought him to be, in the eyes of his fellows, one in whom no fault could be found. This righteousness, which he names ‘a righteousness of his own,’ he had now learnt to value at its true worth, and to seek that which is of God by faith.

Verse 7

Philippians 3:7. Howbeit what things were gain to me. In the days of his persecuting zeal, he like the Judaizers had counted all these distinctive marks of the pure and exclusive Jew as so many advantages. And in the original this is expressed somewhat more fully, for the word is really ‘gains,’ as though he had felt the total sum in his early days to be very great, and had been consequently proud of them.

these have I counted loss for Christ. In these, like the rest of his nation, he had been putting his trust. Now he has learnt that in Christ alone is salvation, and that so long as Jewish observances are cherished side by side with a half-acceptance of Him, these legal merits, however complete, bar the way effectually to a full and saving faith. They had been gains in his eyes, but now he sees that to cling to them is ruin, and therefore he resigns them as one entire loss. This he has done for the sake of Christ, whom he has found to be far more precious than all beside. The tense, which is scarcely expressed in the Authorised Version, tells of that sacrifice which followed close upon the vision at his conversion. The words from heaven, and the three days’ spiritual enlightenment while his bodily eye was quenched, gave time for the full comprehension of the worthlessness of all that he had prized before.

Verse 8

Philippians 3:8. Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss. Now he refers to the abiding state of his mind. He made the great sacrifice at first, and as it were cast overboard all which had seemed valuable in his Jewish life, and since that he is prepared to sacrifice himself and all besides for the service on which he has entered. And as he found no merit or value in his privileges and eminence as a Jew, so he lays no stress on what he may do or suffer as a Christian. It is ‘not I, but the grace of God that was with me.’ All this extinction of the natural pride of man was not without many a struggle, we may be sure, and made up part of what he includes afterwards under a communion in the sufferings of Christ.

for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. The first preposition may be taken in the same sense as ‘for Christ’ in the previous verse, that is, ‘for the sake of the excellency’ or it may perhaps better be understood as ‘by reason of.’ The apostle has learnt much of Jesus since the day when he first heard His voice, and the surpassing worth of what he knows makes all else poor in comparison therewith. This excellent Knowledge is life eternal. For to know God and Christ (and no man cometh unto the Father but by him) constitutes eternal life. How then can anything in this world be mentioned in comparison with it! But St. Paul does not rest satisfied without the personal application. He knows Jesus as ‘his own Lord,’ and this it is which makes the knowledge most precious. At first he had only said, ‘Who art thou, Lord?’ (Acts 9:5), but the fuller knowledge of Jesus has taught him to say now, ‘my Lord.’

for whom I have suffered the loss of all things. The verb is cognate with the noun rendered ‘loss’ above, and intimates that the surrender was self-made; the Greek would perhaps be more nearly represented by ‘the whole’ instead of ‘all things.’ It is for Christ the personal Saviour that all this has been done, not merely for the knowledge of Him. The Jesus whom St. Paul, last of all the apostolic band, had seen is the being worthy of all this, for He had been dead and is alive again, thus manifesting the power of His resurrection.

and do count them but dung. This rendering of the noun is a common one, but Dr. Lightfoot has shown that the sense of ‘refuse,’ signifying those remnants of a meal which were thrown to the dogs, is probably what was meant here. If this be adopted, then the Bishop’s further remark is apposite, that whereas the Jews regarded all but themselves as the dogs, hardly worthy of the crumbs, now the strict Jew (St. Paul) looks upon all that he had so highly valued before in the light of refuse, and so makes those who cling to such observances to be the dogs, rather than the Gentiles whom they had so much contemned.

that I may gain Christ. This is the true gain, and the identical word as in the original should be preserved to show how the one thought pervades the apostle’s mind. He has cast off what he formerly deemed ‘gain,’ but for all that he has another and richer ‘gain.’ He has lost something, but has gained for more.

Verse 9

Philippians 3:9. and be found in him. Whenever God shall make the inquiry, in allusion, most likely, to the day of Judgment. But there may also be reference made to that passing away of old things on which he is now dwelling. Thus the thought would include that of 2 Corinthians 5:17: ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.’ In this way the finding would refer to the union with Christ, both in time and in eternity. And this union is so real, that the apostle calls those who enjoy it a very portion of Christ. They are in him, they are more than stones in the temple of which He forms the head-corner; in Christ, according to His own prayer (John 17:23), believers are made one, both in God and in themselves. Thus both St. Paul’s statements are true, ‘We being many are one body in Christ;’ and again, ‘Ye are the body of Christ.’

not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law. The righteousness here spoken of is described as proceeding out of the law, that is, from the perfect observance thereof. As no man since the fall has kept the law, whatever advance any might make towards perfection therein, even if they were unblameable in the eyes of men, they could never thereby attain unto salvation. Yet the Jews, as St. Paul testifies (Romans 10:1-6), had gone about to establish such a righteousness for themselves. They (and the apostle had been one of them) had a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.

but that which is through faith in Christ, Here is a different kind of righteousness. It is not derived from what man can do, as in observance of the law, but comes to men through their belief in the incarnation and sacrifice of Christ.

the righteousness which is of God by faith. Here the righteousness is defined as the gift of God; could it have been secured in the law, it would have been man’s own earning and desert; but since that may not be, it is given to the faithful of God’s grace. The expression ‘by faith’ is not quite simple. The preposition might also be rendered ‘upon.’ And this more literal rendering perhaps brings out most nearly the sense which seems to be ‘on the condition of faith.’ But since He who bestows the faith is also God (cf. 2 Peter 1:4-5), both the faith and the righteousness have their efficient cause in God, and the latter is given in succession to the former, according as men use the boon first bestowed. Therefore the full force of the words is ‘when faith is rightly used,’ which also may be the sense of ‘by faith.’

Verse 10

Philippians 3:10. That I may know him. The verb ‘know,’ when used in the Old and New Testament of God and Christ, has a very full sense, and implies a full comprehension of the Divine nature and will, and also of the duties and obligations which men should yield to the Deity. All this the apostle would here comprehend in the word, for he immediately proceeds to explain that both the divine and the human in Christ is to be known by His followers: of the former they are to feel the help, of the latter they are to follow the example.

and the power of his resurrection. This is the divinity of Jesus demonstrated to mankind. But not only is the power of Christ known to Christians from His own rising, but from the sense and assurance which that gives them of their own resurrection. Thus this power of Christ fills them with hope, for this world is not the end of their being, and gives them courage in afflictions, for they shall reap in due time if they faint not.

and the fellowship of his sufferings. In a later letter (2 Timothy 2:12) the apostle says, ‘If we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.’ To the Philippians he puts most prominently forward the necessity of a share in the sufferings of Christ He himself has found the truth of the Master’s saying: ‘He that will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.’ For Christians the order is as in the life of Christ: the power of the resurrection is not known apart from or before the fellowship of the sufferings. For us, however, the comfort and support of our knowledge comes unto us in the midst of our sufferings, and gives us strength to bear them.

becoming conformed unto his death. It will not perhaps be a death in character like Christ’s which the apostle will have to bear, but of that he is not sure. But he knows that he will ever be in danger of such a death, and he is prepared to lay down his life in that manner, if God so ordain. In this way he is brought by his present trials and threatened end into such resemblance as the servant may bear unto his Master.

Verse 11

Philippians 3:11. if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection from the dead. This is not the language of despondency, but of humility. St. Paul hopes, because he relieves in Christ; but not seldom does his low estimate of himself lead him to speak in language like this, ‘lest I myself should be a castaway.’ By the ‘resurrection from the dead,’ he means that resurrection in which the righteous will have share. At the last day all will rise, and in that rising he is sure to have his part; but he desires to feel a confidence beyond this, and to attain to be among those who shall be Christ’s at His coming.

Verse 12

Philippians 3:12. Not that I have already obtained. He has been speaking of righteousness which is God’s free gift to the faithful, as distinct from that righteousness which the Jew sought by the works of the law. But lest his readers should run into the error of supposing that the righteousness of which he speaks demands no zeal or effort from its recipients, because it is of God’s free grace, he proceeds to explain to them his own position and feelings. He has received the gift of faith with which to make a start in the Christian race, but that is only means to an end, which end will not be gained in this life.

or am already made perfect. Such a state is not attained while we live here, he would say. Every day brings its new opportunities either to be improved or to be neglected. If rightly used, they bring men nearer to perfection; but the work is ever doing, never done; for the stature of the fulness of Christ is the Christian’s aim, and of this his greatest and best efforts must ever fall short.

but I press on. The figure is from the race-course, on which there must be no stoppage till the goal is reached. For Christians all the earthly life is the running time: they must press on all their days; and this the apostle does.

if so be that I may apprehend. That is, gain the prize in the end, which cannot be without the constant hastening and toil.

that for which also I was apprehended by Christ Jesus. In the previous clause he has spoken of his chance of apprehending or winning the reward, but before his lips have spoken the word ‘reward’ his heart corrects the thought that it would be any winning of his own, and he closes his sentence in such a way as to show that he knew how true it was that Christ had sought him; before he sought Christ, the Lord had marked him as a ‘vessel of choice,’ or there would have been no thought in his heart about the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus. Christ, at his conversion, made Saul His own prize, and for this reason only it is that the apostle hopes that in the end he may win the prize in the race to which Christ’s grace has sent him forth.

Verse 13

Philippians 3:13. Brethren, I count not myself yet to have apprehended. So anxious is the apostle to avoid any seeming of confidence, that he repeats in substance the statement of the previous verse. The need for labour in the spiritual race is not ended for him, nor must it be for others. And in the word ‘count’ he expresses this very strongly. It is not the word which has been so rendered in Philippians 3:8. Here the word signifies the making of an accurate reckoning. This St. Paul had done calmly in his own case, and knows the result. The prize is not yet reached.

but one thing I do. That I may ever be getting nearer to that result for which Christ laid hold on me, and plucked me back from my old life. And that ne speaks of one thing only, shows how he felt the singleness of eye with which the great work of salvation was to be pursued.

forgetting the things which are behind. Those advantages on which as a Jew he had set such store, and which, if he had continued to value them, or even to think of them, would have proved a stumbling-block to spiritual progress. And there were behind the apostle also those years of labour for the cause of Christ on which some men would have been tempted to dwell with thankfulness and hope; but these too he will forget. He will even forget, as he runs his race, those days of his overmuch zeal for the Jews’ religion, in which he persecuted the church of Christ. For of these acts he has sincerely repented.

and stretching forward to the things which are before. The figurative language of the race-course is still maintained, and in this verb we have pictured the outstretched neck and the body leaning forward which are needful for the diligent runner. By the ‘things which are before’ we must not merely understand St. Paul to mean ‘the prize,’ as the final result of the contest. He means rather, in addition to that, yet preceding it, all those parts of the race which are yet to be run, the struggles through which he may have to pass, and how he may finish the remainder of his course most to God’s glory and the church’s profit.

Verse 14

Philippians 3:14. I press on towards the goal. This is a consequence of the forgetting of all that is behind. Nothing is suffered to draw off the gaze from that end which is to be reached, and which, like the winning-post in a race, is kept steadily in view. Of course, as the heavenward race is a spiritual kind, it is the eye of the soul that is fixed on the goal.

unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. The prize is in the original a word which means the garland bestowed by the judges at the end of the race. That this idea of a crown was continually in the minds of the New Testament writers, we may see from the language used by St. Paul elsewhere (1 Corinthians 9:25; a Tim. Philippians 4:8), and also by St. James (James 1:12) and St. John (Revelation 2:10). It would be a most telling figure with the Gentiles, to whom the sight of such victor’s crown was familiar. ‘The high calling of God’ is that summons or invitation which had been given by God to the apostle, to be a sharer in the kingdom of heaven and its blessings. It is named ‘high’ because the invitation comes from above, and it is a call to heaven. For this reason it is termed ‘a heavenly calling’ (Hebrews 3:1). The real prize of this calling is the blessedness of dwelling with God, and this is the hope of the Christian calling. The closing words of the verse, ‘in Christ Jesus,’ seem most aptly to join on with ‘I press on’ at the beginning. The runner in the heavenly race could make no progress in his own strength, but in Christ Jesus what was weak in him becomes strong, and instead of despair he is full of hope. Thus, although he has said ‘this I do,’ and ‘ I press on,’ he comes back in these final words to the first thought, the putting down of all trust in self, and shows that he never forgets ‘not I, but the grace of God which was with me.’

Verse 15

Philippians 3:15. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect. The apostle uses the word ‘perfect,’ as our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,’ carries its own explanation on its face. The Christian is to set before himself the highest ideal, and to be ever striving after it. To those who are so striving, wherever they may be in the scale of spiritual advancement, St. Paul gives the name of ‘perfect,’ just as he uses ‘saints’ of those who aim at saintly life with all their powers, though they may at times fall short thereof.

be thus minded. Think as I have been setting before you my own thoughts first, that the righteousness of the law is to be counted loss for the knowledge of Christ; and next, that having been called to faith in Him, not to forget that faith is to be made manifest in the life, and that the prize is not won, because you know it to be before you at the end of the race-course. It is only bestowed on those who run to the end.

and if in anything ye are otherwise minded. To be thus minded is to have the right mind; so by otherwise minded we must understand ‘being in error.’ As has been already said, though the Philippians might all be classed under the head of ‘perfect,’ there were yet many gradations among them, and all of them would not have attained to the clear insight of St. Paul in spiritual things. These are the ‘otherwise minded;’ but to them the apostle says, if they will but run in the race so far as it is set before them, if they will but be determined to advance further towards ideal perfection, then the Spirit will be given to enlighten their minds still more, and to make them aware of what, as yet, they know not.

even this shall God reveal unto you. The apostle here reminds them that the light which they already enjoy is the gift of God, As therefore He has given this, so will He also supply more to those who live according to what they now have. It is not of anything but the practical duties of the Christian life that the apostle here seems to be speaking, but his teaching is true to an extent farther than he pushes it. ‘If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine,’ is of the widest application, and shows us also that it suits St. Paul’s hearers, those who desire to be more perfect, for it is in its literalness, ‘If any man wisheth to do His will,’ etc. And the light will come as a revelation. It will not necessarily be from human teaching. It may be from within that the beam shall first be seen. But in whichever way it is imparted, it is through the Holy God, and those who receive it may fitly be called ‘taught of God.’

Verse 16

Philippians 3:16. Only, whereunto we have already attained, by that same rule let us walk. The final words of this verse, in the Authorised Version, ‘Let us mind the same thing’ are not supported by the oldest MSS., add nothing to the sense, and appear to be a gloss which from the margin has made its way into the text. The verse itself is an enforcement of what he has been saying before. Those who would attain the prize must run, those who would have more light and knowledge must make a right use of that which they have obtained.

Verse 17

Philippians 3:17. Brethren, be ye imitators together of me. ‘Fellow-imitators’ would be the literal rendering of the noun in this clause, and it intimates that the apostle desires every one of the Philippians to join in this imitation; and not only so, but to vie with one another in their zeal in doing so, and yet to do what is only possible in the Christian race, each to seek to help his neighbour forward, as well as to make progress himself.

and mark them which so walk, even as ye have us for an ensample. Just as to the Romans (Romans 16:17) he counsels that they should mark them that cause divisions for avoidance, so the apostle and those like him are to be looked at for imitation. It is possible to take the clause as equivalent to ‘which so walk as I walk, according as ye have,’ etc., or ‘which walk in such wise as ye have us for an example;’ but the former seems to suit the Greek best. So that the connection of the verse would be: Imitate roe, and mark those who walk as I do, according as you have us (both them and me) for a copy.

Verses 17-21

What Examples are to be followed, and what to be avoided, 17-21.

Having set before the Philippians the necessity for walking in the light which each has, St. Paul now points them to his own life, and the lives of those who are like him, for an example. They will see other lives, against which he has before warned them, which are led by men who are foes of the Christian faith. Such shall be destroyed, for they make their appetites their God, glory in what is shameful, and heed nothing of the heavenly calling. The true Christian thinks of heaven as his city, and looks for Christ to come again from thence, as a Saviour who shall change the body of man’s humiliation, that it may be like that body of His glory in which He ascended into heaven. This will He do, for all power is given unto Him, and He can make all things subject unto Himself.

Verse 18

Philippians 3:18. For many walk of whom I have told you often. These are the men who offend in an opposite way to the Judaizers. We hear much of them in the Epistles, how in their boastfulness of superior knowledge they held themselves at liberty to indulge their fleshly appetites. Their wicked character is shown in its fuller development in such Epistles as 2 Peter and Jude, but the ‘knowledge falsely so called’ was doing its pernicious work long before, and the indulgence of all the fleshly appetites was a characteristic of the Gnostics from first to last. Whether the frequent warnings to which St. Paul here alludes were needed even when he first visited Philippi, or whether they had been given subsequently, we cannot decide, though the word ‘often’ gives some colour to the tradition already alluded to that St. Paul had previously sent an Epistle to Philippi.

and now tell you even weeping. Tears that are shed for the evil which these men will work, and also for the fate which is in store for such offenders. The apostle hates the sin, as we may see from the strong words which he soon writes, but yet he is moved to weeping for the sinners.

that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ. Such men are the greatest adversaries to the Christian cause. They are nominally Christians, but refuse to bear the cross or to have any fellowship in Christ’s sufferings, and thus they prove worse foes than bitter opponents would be. They lead astray the weak by the tempting promises of liberty, which appeal so powerfully to the carnal part of man; and they also give occasion to others, who hate Christ’s cause, to blaspheme the whole Christian Church because of these false brethren. Thus their injury operates in two ways, within and without the Church.

Verse 19

Philippians 3:19. whose end is destruction. And as St. Peter says (ii 3), this destruction does not slumber, it will soon come. The heresies of destruction, which they bring in, will in the end bring swift destruction upon themselves.

whose god is the belly. The apostle has spoken of such men already to the Romans. ‘They serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly.’

and whose glory is in their shame that is, in what ought to be their shame; but instead of this, they make a parade of what they do, ‘foaming out their own shame.’

who mind earthly things. For such men the upward heavenly calling of God has no attraction. They are given up to what is base, the satisfaction of the momentary desires of the senses, and therein they live entirely, grovelling like the beasts.

Verse 20

Philippians 3:20. for our citizenship is in heaven. So those whose hearts are on the earth are to be marked and avoided. We can have no communion with such men. We must pass amongst them, while we live here, as though they were alien unto us, and we merely pilgrims and strangers in their midst. They are at home here. They have their reward. In ‘citizenship’ the idea is not that of the Authorised Version, ‘conversation,’ which is generally the rendering of a different Greek word, signifying ‘manner of life.’ The apostle means that it is in heaven only that the true Christian can claim (or ought to claim) his rights as a citizen; till he has reached that land, his wanderings are not over. And this is made emphatic in the Greek, where our citizenship stands first in the sentence. The verb rendered ‘is’ is a strong verb, and indicates that the home is there already, though we have not yet reached it Christ has gone before and has prepared mansions ( i.e. resting-places) for His people, in which they shall abide continually, being pilgrims no longer.

from whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. The verb is always used in the New Testament of that longing for salvation which is expected at the coming of Christ. But this is a longing which, as faith assures those who feel it, will be gratified at last.

Verse 21

Philippians 3:21. who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation. When He appears as our Saviour, He shall change our body in all those points specified by the apostle (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). Its corruption shall become incorruption; its dishonour, glory; its weakness, power, and from natural it shall become spiritual. It is not said that the body shall be done away, but only what is fleeting and liable to decay and sin shall be transformed to the undying and pure and real. The body is called ‘the body of our humiliation,’ because while in it we have so much to humiliate us, so much to mourn over, from which we cannot get free, till we be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven. The rendering of the Authorised Version, ‘our vile body,’ is often understood as disparaging the body, whereas that which makes the body of man a body of humiliation is the sin which has entered into the world and brought death in its train. The body of man was at first, like the rest of God’s creation, made very good, and by the change, the new fashioning, of the Saviour, we look for God’s image to be restored in it.

that it may be conformed to the body of his glory. The fleeting fashion of the body shall be done away, its essential form shall remain, and be like unto Christ in His glory.

according to the working. Sometimes rendered ‘effectual working,’ and applied chiefly to the manifestation of the resistless powers of nature and of God, and especially to the mighty power of God shown in the resurrection of Jesus. Hence the definition of it which follows immediately.

whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself. Not man’s body only, but all rule, all authority and power. The time and manner in which this shall be completed is set forth by the apostle, 1 Corinthians 15:24-28.

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Philippians 3". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/scn/philippians-3.html. 1879-90.
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