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Bible Commentaries
Philippians 3

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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Philippians 3:0


The True RighteousnessAll for ChristA WarningThe True RighteousnessThe True Way of Christian Salvation
Philippians 3:1-11Philippians 3:1-11Philippians 3:1bPhilippians 3:1-11Philippians 3:1-16
Philippians 3:2-4a
Philippians 3:4-6
Philippians 3:7-11
Pressing Toward the MarkPressing Toward the GoalConfession and ExhortationRunning Toward the Goal
Philippians 3:12-16Philippians 3:12-16Philippians 3:12-16Philippians 3:12-14
Philippians 3:15-16
Our Citizenship in Heaven
Philippians 3:17-1Philippians 3:17-1Philippians 3:17-1Philippians 3:17-21Philippians 3:17-1

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Who is Paul referring to in Philippians 3:2?

2. Why does Paul give his Jewish credentials?

3. Practically, how does Philippians 3:10 relate to believers?

4. Are these false teachers saved?

Verse 1

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Philippians 2:19-1 19But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. 20For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. 21For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. 22But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. 23Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; 24and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly. 25But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; 26because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. 28Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. 29Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; 30because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me. 3:1Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.

Philippians 2:19 "But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send" Paul knew his life and plans were not his own, but were controlled by the will of God (cf. Philippians 2:24; 1 Corinthians 4:19; James 4:13-17).

"so that I also may be encouraged" This is a present active subjunctive. This term is used in the sense of a "farewell" and "good luck" and has been found on many ancient tombs. This is the only usage in the NT and seems to be used in the sense of "cheered" (NRSV).

Philippians 2:20

NASB"kindred spirit" NKJV"like-minded" NRSV"like him" TEV"who shares my feelings" NJB"cares as sincerely for your well-being"

This is literally "like- souled" (isopsuchos) This implies that Timothy had the same love for the Philippian church as Paul did. A similar compound "like-minded" (sumpsuchos) is used in Philippians 2:2.

NASB, NRSV"who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare" NKJV"who will sincerely care for your state" TEV"who really cares about you" NJB"cares as sincerely for your well-being"

Originally this term meant "legitimately born," but it came to be used metaphorically for "genuine." The term "concerned" appears in Philippians 4:6 and means "anxious" and had a negative connotation. In this verse it has a positive connotation.

Philippians 2:21 It is uncertain to whom Paul was referring, but he obviously meant his associates in the ministry. This is probably related to the jealous preachers in the Roman church (cf. Philippians 1:14-17). Others see it as being related to the false teachers of chap. 3. However, this seems unusual because Paul would not refer to them as "preachers of Christ" (cf. Philippians 1:15). A good example of the kind of mixed priorities Paul is referring to can be seen in Demas (cf. 2 Timothy 4:10). Self-interest was, and is, a recurrent problem (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:24; 1 Corinthians 13:5; Philippians 2:4).

Philippians 2:22 "his proven worth" This term is used of testing coins or precious metals to prove their genuineness. Timothy had been with Paul at Philippi as recorded in Acts 16:0 and 20. He was well acquainted with this church and he loved them dearly.


"like a child serving his father" This was Paul's way of referring to a good, loyal, and faithful helper (cf. Titus 1:4). However, in Timothy's case, it also meant convert (cf. 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2).

Philippians 2:23 "as soon as I see how things go with me" Paul did expect some word concerning his legal case soon, but he was still uncertain whether he would be put to death or be able to return and visit with them. The order of Paul's prison letters seems to be: (1) Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon early in the trial process and (2) Philippians toward the conclusion of the case.

Philippians 2:24 "I trust" This is a perfect active indicative used in the sense of "to be assured or confident" (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:3; Hebrews 13:18). Paul's confidence was in the Lord (Philippians 2:24), in the Spirit (Philippians 1:19b), and in their prayers (Philippians 1:19a). Paul had much more confidence in his release from prison in this book than in Colossians or Ephesians.

Philippians 2:25 "I thought" These are epistolary aorists. Paul was writing as if he had already done it.

"necessity" This is a very strong Greek word (cf. Acts 1:24; Acts 13:46; 2 Corinthians 9:5; Hebrews 8:3). It is placed first in the sentence for emphasis.

"Epaphroditus" His name is related to the goddess, Aphrodite. He is not the same as Epaphras who was mentioned in Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:12; Philemon 1:23, although Epaphras is an abbreviation of Epaphroditus.

"my brother and fellow-worker and fellow soldier" Paul saw this man as a close associate. Apparently he had been sent by the Philippians to bring a monetary gift to Paul in prison and to stay on and help him. While there, he became deathly ill (Philippians 2:27). Paul was returning him to his home church and expressing his thanksgiving to them for sending him. Paul did not want the church to be angry with him because he had returned early.

"your messenger and minister to my needs" "Messenger" is the term "apostle" which means "a sent one." Here, it is used in its non-technical sense (cf. Philippians 4:18; 2 Corinthians 8:23). Remember context determines word meaning, not the lexicon/dictionary.

Philippians 2:26 "for he was longing for you all" This is a strong term used of Paul's longing to see this church as in Philippians 1:8 and Philippians 4:1. Epaphroditus was homesick as well as physically ill.

NASB, NKJV, NRSV"distressed" TEV"is very upset" NJB"was worrying"

This term can mean "homesick" from one usage found in the Koine Greek papyri found in Egypt. Here it describes his mental anguish over the report of his physical illness reaching the Philippian church. This same term is used of Jesus' agony in Gethsemane (cf. Matthew 26:37; Mark 14:33).

Philippians 2:27 "he was sick to the point of death" Apparently Paul was unable to heal him (cf. Philippians 2:30). It is difficult to determine when and how the Apostles used the gift of healing and why they were unable to do so on some occasions (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:0; 2 Timothy 4:20). Healing is not automatic. Do those modern preachers who claim that God desires all to be healed really believe that Paul the Apostle did not have enough faith on this occasion? Faith is not the key to divine healing, but God's will and plan for the ones healed.

Paul wanted the Philippians to know that Epaphroditus was truly and seriously ill. Possibly some in the church at Philippi would be upset when he returned home early (cf. Philippians 2:28-30).

Philippians 2:30 "risking his life" This is an aorist middle participle which literally means "gambled." It must refer to his sickness. Paul uses the Greek term "soul" (psychç) to refer to Epaphroditus' life. The Bible does not follow the Greek concept that humans have "an immortal soul" but the Hebrew concept that humans are a "living soul" (cf. Genesis 2:7). The physical body is the outward boundary of our earthly existence. Humans are related to this planet like the animals, but they are also related to God. Human beings, however, are a unity, not a dichotomy or trichotomy (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12). This unity is discussed in the NT in contrasting ways:

1. old man-new man

2. external-internal

3. present age-age to come

4. flesh-spirit

5. resurrection life-resurrection day

Be careful of a proof-texted theology that picks one or two verses out of their literary context and asserts that they are the "key" to interpret the rest of the bible. If the interpretive key to the Scriptures is the trichotomous humanity (body, soul, spirit) then where is the clear teaching passage from Jesus or Paul? Anyone can pick an isolated verse and claim it as the key. This would imply that God's truth is not clearly written for the common man, but only for an elite group with secret knowledge of this "key" verse or perspective (Gnosticism). This approach to interpretation is a plague in modern Christianity.

NASB"to complete what was deficient in your service to me" NKJV"to supply what was lacking in your service to me" NRSV"to make up for those services that you could not give me" TEV"in order to give me the help that you yourselves could not give" NJB"to do the duty to me which you could not do yourselves"

In English this sounds somewhat negative, however, it was a Greek idiom showing lack of opportunity but with a positive desire (cf. Philippians 4:10; Romans 1:10).

Philippians 3:1 "finally" This is literally "for the rest" (loipon). Paul often used this term to make the transition to a new subject, usually at the close of the letter (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:11; Ephesians 6:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:8; 2 Thessalonians 3:1).

There is a new trend in NT interpretation called "chiasim" which seeks to discern a type of inverted outline (ex. A, B, C, B, A). This pattern of parallelism is known from the OT and many assert that it was also common in Greek thought. Often Paul's finale seems to introduce the middle truth of this structured parallelism.

"rejoice in the Lord" This is a recurrent theme. Rejoice in suffering, rejoice in salvation, rejoice in Him!

"To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you" Major truths need to be repeated for emphasis, impact, and retention. Paul must have said these things to them orally while in Philippi and could possibly have written to them in a previous letter.

Verses 2-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Philippians 3:2-6 2Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; 3for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, 4although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.

Philippians 3:2 "Beware of the dogs" This is a present active imperative of "look out for" (blepô), repeated three times for emphasis. The rabbis called the Gentiles "dogs." Paul changed the phrase to refer to the false teachers. The term "dogs" in the OT referred to (1) male prostitutes (cf. Deuteronomy 23:18) or (2) evil people (cf. Psalms 22:16, Psalms 22:20). Culturally the idiom refers to vicious street mongrels. These false teachers were like ravenous dogs and vicious unbelievers (cf. Matthew 7:6; Galatians 5:15; Revelation 22:15).

NASB"false-circumcision" NKJV"the mutilation" NRSV"those who mutilate the flesh" TEV"who insist on cutting the body" NJB"self-mutilation"

This is a reference to the Judaizers' insistence on circumcision (cf. Acts 15:1, Acts 15:5; Galatians 5:2-3, Galatians 5:12). They basically taught that one had to be Jewish before he could be Christian. Becoming a proselyte Jew involved being circumcised, baptizing yourself, and offering a sacrifice in the temple. Circumcision became a metaphor for taking on "the yoke" of the Mosaic Law.

Philippians 3:3

NASB, NKJV, NRSV"the true circumcision" TEV"the true circumcision" NJB"the true people of the circumcision"

This spiritual/faith circumcision is described in Romans 2:28-29 and Galatians 3:29. The church in some ways is spiritual Israel (cf. Galatians 6:16). In the OT, circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant (cf. Genesis 17:11, Genesis 17:14, Genesis 17:23-25). It involved a proper attitude, not just a physical ritual (cf. Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16; and Jeremiah 4:4). True spiritual circumcision is described by three present active participles:

1. the ones worshiping in or by the Spirit of God

2. the ones glorying in Christ

3. the ones not putting confidence in the flesh

NASB"glory in Christ Jesus" NKJV"rejoice in Christ Jesus" NRSV"and boast in Christ Jesus" TEV"rejoice in our life in union with Christ Jesus" NJB"and make Christ Jesus our boast"

Paul often uses this word (cf. Romans 2:23; Romans 3:27; Romans 4:2; Romans 5:2, Romans 5:3, Romans 5:11; Romans 11:18; Romans 15:17; 1 Corinthians 1:31; 1 Corinthians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 4:7; 1 Corinthians 5:6; 1 Corinthians 7:14; 8:24; 1 Corinthians 9:2, 1 Corinthians 9:4, 1 Corinthians 9:11, 1 Corinthians 9:15, 1 Corinthians 9:16; 1 Corinthians 10:8, 1 Corinthians 10:13, 1 Corinthians 10:15, 1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 11:10, 1 Corinthians 11:12; 2 Corinthians 1:14; 2 Corinthians 5:12; 2 Corinthians 7:4; 2 Corinthians 10:17; 2 Corinthians 11:17, 2 Corinthians 11:18, 2 Corinthians 11:30; 2 Corinthians 12:1, 2 Corinthians 12:5, 2 Corinthians 12:6, 2 Corinthians 12:9, 2 Corinthians 12:11; Galatians 6:4, Galatians 6:13, Galatians 6:14; Ephesians 2:9; Philippians 1:26; Philippians 2:16; Philippians 3:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:4). It is translated according to the context as "rejoice," "boast," "confident pride," or "exalt."

NASB"put no confidence in the flesh" NKJV, NRSV"have no confidence in the flesh" TEV"we do not put any trust in external ceremonies" NJB"not relying on physical qualifications"

This term implies a confident boasting in something or someone. This phrase is in contrast to the previous phrase. Paul's relationship with Christ and his understanding of the gospel gave him confidence.

This may refer to the Jewish pride of lineage from Abraham (cf. Philippians 3:4-5; Matthew 3:9; John 8:33, John 8:37, John 8:39). It surely refers to Jewish rituals like circumcision (cf. Acts 15:0 and Galatians).

Philippians 3:4 "if" This is a first class conditional sentence which was assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes.

"I far more" Paul reluctantly compares his Jewish credentials with those of the Judaizers. They had no racial or religious superiority over him (cf. Philippians 3:5-6; 2 Corinthians 11:22). Paul defended himself because by attacking him, they were attempting to discredit the gospel.

Philippians 3:5 "circumcised the eighth day" The Jews circumcised on the 8th day after birth (cf. Genesis 17:9-14; Leviticus 12:3). Flavius Josephus tells us that the Arabs circumcised at the age of 13, following Genesis 17:23-27.

"of the nation of Israel" For a list of the privileges of the Jewish people, see Romans 9:4-5, Romans 11:1.

"tribe of Benjamin" This was the tribe of Israel's first king, Saul. It was also part of the southern kingdom, Judah, after the tribes divided in 922 B.C.

"a Hebrew of Hebrews" This idiom refers to either (1) pure racial stock or (2) his speaking the Hebrew (Aramaic) language.

Philippians 3:6 "as to the Law, a Pharisee" This was the conservative popular sect within Judaism which developed during the Maccabean period (cf. John 3:1). They desired to keep the Mosaic Law in every detail (cf. Acts 26:4-5). They had detailed regulations for every area of life which had developed over time in the discussion between the two schools of rabbis (Shammai and Hillel). Their oral traditions were later codified into the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds. Nicodemas and Joseph of Arimathea were positive examples of their sincerity and dedication.


"as to zeal" Enthusiasm is not automatically from God (cf. Romans 10:2).

"a persecutor of the church" Saul apparently imprisoned and possibly even killed believers (cf. Acts 8:3; Acts 9:1, Acts 9:13, Acts 9:21; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13-14, Galatians 1:23; 1 Timothy 1:13). This is an obvious reference to the Church universal (cf. Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 3:10, Ephesians 3:21; Ephesians 5:23-32). See Special Topic: Church (Ekklesia) at Colossians 1:18.

"concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" Paul was speaking of his pre-Christian understanding of the Mosaic Law (cf. Mark 10:20) and its interpretation (Talmud). If these false teachers wanted to rejoice in their Jewishness, Paul could also (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:16-23). See Special Topic at Ephesians 4:24.

The term "blameless" was originally used in the OT of sacrificial animals (cf. Philippians 2:15). It does not mean "sinless" (cf. Genesis 6:9, Genesis 6:17; Job 1:1), but one who had fulfilled that which he understood of God's will. See Special Topic: Blameless at Colossians 1:22.

Verses 7-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Philippians 3:7-11 7But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:7 "I have counted as loss" This is a perfect middle (deponent) indicative. Paul came to see how useless ritual and rules were as a means of obtaining and maintaining true righteousness (cf. Colossians 2:16-23). This was a major theological shift of emphasis from Paul's previous religious training and lifestyle which occurred at his Damascus road conversion (cf. Acts 9:1-22; Acts 23:3-16, 26: Acts 23:9-18).

Philippians 3:8-11 These verses are one sentence in Greek.

Philippians 3:8 "I count" This is a present middle (deponent) indicative. This term is used three times in Philippians 3:7, Philippians 3:8. This is a business term for "forfeit." All Paul previously trusted in for righteousness (his race and religious performance) he now was counting as "loss."

NASB, NRSV"in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" NKJV"for the excellent knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord" TEV"for the sake of what is much more valuable, the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord" NJB"because of the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord"

The key to Christianity is a personal relationship with Jesus. In Hebrew "know" implies intimate personal relationship, not facts about something or someone (cf. Genesis 4:1; Jeremiah 1:5).

The gospel is (1) a person to welcome; (2) a content to believe; and (3) a life to be lived! For "the surpassing value" (huperechô) see Special Topic: Paul's Use of Huper Compounds at Ephesians 1:19. This same word is used in Philippians 2:3; Philippians 3:8; and Philippians 4:7.

"I have suffered the loss of all things" This is an aorist passive indicative. This could refer to his family, his inheritance, his religious merit and/or his rabbinical training. Everything he had previously considered valuable suddenly lost all its value! Everything changed on the Damascus road (cf. Acts 9:0; Acts 22:3-16; Acts 26:9-18).

NASB, NKJV"count them but rubbish" NRSV"regard them as rubbish" TEV"I consider it all as mere garbage" NJB"and look on them all as filth"

This is literally the term for "dung" or possibly a popular abbreviation of the phrase "thrown to the dogs" (cf. Philippians 3:2). Metaphorically it meant "of no value."

"that I may gain Christ" This is an aorist active subjunctive. Paul uses this commercial term metaphorically, "to gain" or "to win" Christ or the gospel as in Philippians 1:21; Philippians 3:7, Philippians 3:8; and 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 [five times]. In Titus 1:11 he uses it in a literal sense.

Philippians 3:9 "and may be found in Him" This is an aorist passive subjunctive. It expresses Paul's deepest prayer. "In Him" or "in Christ" was Paul's favorite grammatical construction for believers (for a good example notice Ephesians 1:3, Ephesians 1:4, Ephesians 1:6, Ephesians 1:7, Ephesians 1:9, Ephesians 1:10 [three times], 12, 13 [twice]).

"not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law" This is the key issue (cf. Romans 3:9-18, Romans 3:21-31). How is a mankind right with God? Performance or grace? This was once and for all answered for Paul on the Damascus road (cf. Acts 9:0; Acts 22:3-16; Acts 26:9-18). See Special Topic at Ephesians 4:24.

"but that which is through faith in Christ" Faith is how individuals receive the gift of the grace of God in Christ (cf. Romans 3:24; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith and repentance are two necessary aspects of mankind's response to the new covenant (cf. Mark 1:15; Acts 3:16, Acts 3:19; Acts 20:21).

"The righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith" Righteousness is a gift from God (cf. dôrea, Romans 5:15; 2 Corinthians 9:15; Ephesians 3:7; dôrçma, Romans 5:16; dôron, Ephesians 2:8; charisma, Romans 6:23). He always takes the initiative (cf. John 6:44, John 6:65). God desires that all humans be saved (cf. Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 18:32; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9); He has provided a way for all humans to be saved! They must respond and continue to respond to God's offer by

1. repentance

2. faith

3. obedience

4. service

5. perseverance

See Special Topic at Ephesians 4:24.

Philippians 3:10 "the power of His resurrection" This must refer to believers' new life in Christ. This series of phrases in Philippians 3:10 may reflect Paul's sufferings for the gospel (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, 2 Corinthians 4:16; 2 Corinthians 6:4-10; 2 Corinthians 11:23-28) which included his current imprisonment.

Others see all these phrases in Philippians 3:10 as aspects of believers' mystical union with Christ or their Christlike maturity. As Jesus was perfected by the things He suffered (cf. Hebrews 5:8) so believers are matured by suffering (cf. Romans 5:1-5).

"the fellowship of His sufferings" Suffering is a common theme of the Christian experience of the first several centuries as it is in many societies in the world today (cf. Romans 8:17; 1 Thessalonians 3:3; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 3:14; 1 Peter 4:12-19). As believers share Jesus' victory, they also share His ministry (cf. Matthew 10:24; Luke 6:40; John 13:14-16; John 15:20; John 17:18; John 20:21; 2 Timothy 3:12). See Special Topic: Koinônia at Philippians 2:1.

"being conformed to His death" This is a present passive participle. Believers must be dead to sin and self and alive to God (cf. Matthew 16:24-26; Romans 6:1-11; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:3). True life is preceded by death to the old life!

Philippians 3:11 This is a third class conditional sentence which meant probable future action. Verse Philippians 3:11 must be interpreted in light of verse Philippians 3:10. This phrase does not express doubt about salvation, but humility!

"I may attain" Here again is the dialectical or paradoxical model of Paul's theology. Paul knew he was a Christian and that as Christ was raised by the Spirit so he would also be raised (cf. Romans 8:9-11). However, Paul saw salvation not only as a past completed event (cf. Acts 15:11; Romans 8:24; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5), but also an ongoing process (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 15:2; 2 Corinthians 2:15) and ultimately in a future consummation (cf. Romans 5:9, Romans 5:10; Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 3:15; Philippians 1:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:8-9; Hebrews 1:14; Hebrews 9:28). Christianity is resting in the character and gift of God in Christ and an aggressive, constant, vigorous life of grateful service to God (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9 and 10). George E. Ladd's A Theology of the New Testament, pp. 521-522, has a good discussion on this subject.

"resurrection" This is an unusual compound term. It is found only here in the NT. It is literally "out of the dead into resurrection life." Paul has been discussing the intimate personal relationship between himself and the resurrected Christ. He longed for the end-time day when he, too, would experience physical resurrection as he already had experienced spiritual resurrection (cf Romans 6:4-11; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 John 3:2). This is part of the "already but not yet" tension of the Kingdom of God, the overlapping of the two Jewish ages.

Verses 12-16

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Philippians 3:12-16 12Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.

Philippians 3:12 "Not that I have already obtained it" Paul lived in the tension of the present but not yet consummated Kingdom of God. He knew Christ, he knew who he was in Christ, he knew he was accepted by Christ but he struggled with Christlike living (cf. Romans 7:0). Paul had arrived but had not fully arrived; he was complete but not fully complete.

Some ancient Greek manuscripts, P46, D*, and G, add "or have been righteous." This addition is also found in the Greek texts used by Irenaeus and Ambrosiaster. However, the shorter text is supported by MSS P61, א , A, B, Dc, K, and P as well as the ancient translations, the Vulgate, the Syrian, and the Coptic.

NASB, TEV"or have already become perfect" NKJV"or am already perfected" NRSV"or have already reached the goal" NJB"nor yet reached my goal"

This is a perfect passive indicative with the implication that something happened in the past which has become a settled state and this was accomplished by God. The term itself meant

1. fully developed

2. fully equipped

3. complete

4. mature

5. adequate

It did not have the English connotation of perfection or sinlessness.

"I press on" This is a present active indicative. This was originally a hunting term meaning "to pursue an animal." It came to be used metaphorically of a foot race. Paul did not pursue salvation (cf. Romans 9:30) but a maturity, a Christlikeness (cf. Romans 6:4-9).

NASB"in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus" NKJV"that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me" NRSV"to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own" TEV"to win the prize for which Christ Jesus has already won me to himself" NJB"in the attempt to take hold of the prize for which Christ Jesus took hold of me"

This section starts with a third class conditional sentence (using ei instead of ean) which means probable future action (cf. Philippians 3:11). It can refer to (1) salvation (Philippians 3:9); (2) Christlikeness (Philippians 3:10); or (3) resurrection (Philippians 3:11).

This is a strong Greek word. Paul was "snatched" by Christ on the road to Damascus (cf. Acts 9:1-22; Acts 22:3-16; Acts 26:9-18). The One whose followers he persecuted now confronted him as the resurrected Lord. Theology and personal experience merged! Paul now sought to be like those and Him whom he once attacked.

Philippians 3:13 "I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet" This is a Perfect active infinitive. This term is used three times in Philippians 3:12-13. Paul strove to be mature in Christ but he knew that he fell short of Christlike maturity (cf. Romans 7:0). Yet the great truth of the gospel is that in Christ he (and all believers) were already complete (justified and sanctified, cf. Romans 8:29-30).

The terms "regard," "impute," or "reckon" (cf. Romans 4:3; Romans 6:11; 1 Corinthians 13:5) all refer to a mental affirmation whereby fallen mankind understands the gospel and chooses to live in light of its new truth and new worldview in Christ!

There is a manuscript variation in this sentence with the word "yet" versus "not." The ancient texts are split between these two options. The best explanation is that scribes changed Paul's "not" to "not yet" because they perhaps thought he was being too modest. Like most manuscript variations this affects interpretation very little.

"forgetting what lies behind" This is a present middle (deponent) participle. Paul started over spiritually. He had left his Jewish past. However, because it is present tense this phrase may include his Apostolic work or present imprisonment. His spiritual standing before God was not based on human performance, past or present!

"reaching forward to what lies ahead" This is another present middle (deponent) participle. This is the first in a series of athletic terms. It meant "a runner stretching for the goal." It is an intensified compound with two prepositions, epi and ek. Paul vigorously lived a life of gratitude. After being saved his intensity level remained high but the motive was radically changed from self-effort to gospel service.

Philippians 3:14 This is a series of athletic metaphors. They show us the strenuous effort needed for the Christian life (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24, 1 Corinthians 9:27; Hebrews 12:1).

"upward call of God" See Special Topic: Called at Ephesians 4:1.

Philippians 3:15 "as many as are perfect" This is the same term "perfect" as Philippians 3:12 but Paul is using it in two different senses. Christians can be mature without being sinless (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 14:20; Ephesians 4:13; Hebrews 5:14; Hebrews 6:1).

"let us. . .have this attitude" Paul often refers to the mental processes. Paul uses several of the Greek words for reasoning or thinking. This is a present active subjunctive of "phroneô" (cf. Philippians 1:7; Philippians 3:15, Philippians 3:19); "ginosko" (cf. Philippians 1:12); "psuchç" (cf. Philippians 1:27); "noçma" (cf. Philippians 4:7); "logizomai" (cf. Philippians 4:9); "manthano" (cf. Philippians 4:9, Philippians 4:11). Believers are to worship God with their minds (cf. Deuteronomy 6:23, quoted in Matthew 22:36-38; Mark 12:29-34; Luke 10:27-28). True Christianity cannot be anti-intellectual. However, we must not trust in our fallen human reasoning, but in God's self disclosure (Scripture).

"if" This is a first class conditional sentence, which is assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. There were those in the fellowship who did have a "different attitude."

"God will reveal that also to you" There is disagreement among believers about many aspects of the faith. Paul felt confident that the new covenant which involved an indwelling Spirit, a new heart, and a new mind would eventually inform and reform all believers (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26-27; John 6:45; Ephesians 1:17; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 John 2:27).

In context this phrase reveals Paul's view about the authority of his message. He felt he was led by the Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 7:10-12; 1 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Corinthians 14:37-38; 2 Corinthians 10:8; 2 Corinthians 12:1; Galatians 1:12, Galatians 1:16; Galatians 2:2; 2 Thessalonians 3:14). This was another way to reflect his sense of apostolic authority.

This could be interpreted in two ways: (1) God will reveal His truth to errant believers or (2) God will reveal to believers those who are errant in their doctrine or practice. In context #2 seems best.

Philippians 3:16

NASB"however, let us keep living by the same standard to which we have attained" NKJV"Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind" NRSV"Only let us hold fast to what we have attained" TEV"However that may be, let us go forward according to the same rules we have followed until now" NJB" Meanwhile, let us go forward from the point we have each attained"

This verse is Paul's admonition to continue to live as Christians (cf. Ephesians 4:1, Ephesians 4:17; Ephesians 5:2, Ephesians 5:15). Believers are justified and sanctified by God's gift through faith in Christ, but they must continue to strive toward Christlike maturity (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18).

There is a series of additions to the verse in the ancient Greek manuscripts. The shortest text (NASB and NRSV) is found in the Greek manuscripts P16, P46, א*, A, B. The UBS4 gives this shorter text an "A" rating (certain). The Textus Receptus adds "let us be of the same mind" (NKJV) which is found in MSS אc, K, and P. There are several other additions which seems to show the scribal tendency to modify and add to this verse.

Verses 17-21

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Philippians 3:17-1 17Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 18For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. 20For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. 4:1Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.

Philippians 3:17 "Join in following my example" This verse has two present imperatives. Paul is encouraging them to follow him as he followed Christ (cf. Philippians 4:9; 1 Corinthians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:7, 2 Thessalonians 3:9). This phrase is logically linked to Philippians 3:15-16. Notice how Paul's example is expanded to include his missionary team and possibly Epaphroditus ("my"-"us").

"Example" See Special Topic following.


Philippians 3:18 "for many walk of whom I often told you" There were, and are, false teachers in the church. In this book they could be either Judaizers (cf. Philippians 3:2-16), as in the book of Galatians and Acts 15:0, or Gnostics (cf. 1 John 2:18, 1 John 2:22; 1 John 4:1-6). The only way to protect oneself from error is to know, embrace, and live the truth! False teachers are sharp, logical, articulate, and attractive people. Trust the Son; follow the Book; yield to the Spirit!

"even weeping" This is a term for intense grief (cf. Matthew 2:18; Matthew 26:75; Mark 5:38-39; John 11:31; James 4:9; James 5:1). Paul took no joy in others who were in moral or theological error.

"enemies of the cross of Christ" There is uncertainty about the identity of these "enemies of the cross." The phrases used by Paul are so intense they seem to refer to the unbelieving false teachers of Philippians 3:2-16. The sins listed in Philippians 3:19 do not fit legalistic Jews, but Greek antinomian false teachers or possibly Christian converts who have reverted to former pagan lifestyles (cf. Colossians 2:16-23; 2 Peter 2:20-22). The context favors the last option. But, if so, the contrast of Philippians 3:20 implies that Paul thought they were not truly saved (cf. Matthew 7:13; 1 John 2:19; 2 Peter 2:1-22; Revelation 2:4-5; 10-11; 16-17; 25-26; 3:2,5,11,21).

Be careful that your systematic (denominational, experiential, cultural) theology does not interpret this text. Literary context and the original author's intent must be the major criteria. The NT is not a systematic presentation of truth but an eastern, paradoxical genre. The NT regularly presents truths in seemingly contradictory pairs (paradox). The Christian life is a tension- filled life of assurance and hope as well as responsibility and warning! Salvation is not a product but a new life!

Philippians 3:19

NASB, NKJV, NRSV"whose end is destruction" TEV"they are going to end up in hell" NJB"they are destined to be lost"

These were sincere, informed, religious people. Paul uses this term apôleia to describe God's ultimate judgment (cf. Philippians 1:28; Romans 9:22; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Timothy 6:9). However, in the Gospels it must be admitted that it was used in the sense of "wasted" (cf. Matthew 26:8; Mark 14:4). Therefore, it is impossible to know to whom Paul is referring (believers or nonbelievers).

NASB"whose god is their appetite" NKJV, NRSV"whose god is their belly" TEV"because their god is their bodily desires" NJB"their god is their stomach"

This shows their tendency toward (1) antinomian practices or (2) gluttony and materialism. This sounds more like Greek false teachers (cf. Romans 16:17-18) than Jewish legalists (cf. Philippians 3:2-6). TEV may have captured the metaphorical meaning,"because their god is their bodily desires."

"whose glory is in their shame" This could refer to

1. the Judaizers' emphasis on circumcision or Jewish pride

2. the Gnostics' emphasis on knowledge

3. the Libertines' immoral lifestyle

These false teachers were proud of the very things for which they should have been ashamed! The false teachers of the NT are often characterized by financial and/or sexual exploitation.

"who set their minds on earthly things" This shows the origin of much of humanity's religiosity (cf. Isaiah 29:13; Colossians 2:16-23; Colossians 3:1-2).

Philippians 3:20

NASB, NKJV"For our citizenship is in heaven" NRSV"But our citizenship is in heaven" TEV"We, however, are citizens of heaven" NJB"But our homeland is in heaven"

This verse is a contrast to Philippians 3:18-19. The pronoun "our" is emphatic. "Heaven" is plural (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:2; Ephesians 4:10; Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 7:26) following the Hebrew usage (shamayim). Possibly Paul was using the Roman colonial status of this city as an illustration (cf. Philippians 1:27).

"we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" Paul often uses this term "eagerly wait" in relation to the Second Coming (cf. Romans 8:19, Romans 8:23, Romans 8:25; 1 Corinthians 1:7; Galatians 5:5; Hebrews 9:28). Believers' desire for the Second Coming is one evidence of their relationship with Christ and an impetus for Christlike living (cf. Romans 8:19, Romans 8:23; 1 Corinthians 1:7).

Paul's emphasis on the Lord's return is recurrent, but his understanding of the time element is ambiguous. There are several passages in which Paul includes himself in the group who would be alive at the Second Coming (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 2 Corinthians 5:0; Philippians 3:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:15, 1 Thessalonians 4:17). However, there are other passages where he asserts a future return beyond his own lifetime (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 4:14 and especially 2 Thessalonians). It is possible that the "we" of the first group of texts is literary, or that Paul's views on this subject developed. It is difficult to suppose that an inspired author "developed" his theology. A better approach is to assert a dialectical model. Paul, like all NT writers, asserted the certainty and "soon-ness" of the Second Coming. Believers are to live in light of the any-moment return of the Lord! However, Jesus (Matthew 24:0) and Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:0) spoke of historical events that must occur before the Second Coming. Both are somehow true! The return of Jesus is a motivating hope of every generation of believers but the reality of only one generation!

This is one of two times Paul calls Jesus "Savior" (cf. Ephesians 5:23) before the Pastoral Letters (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus), in which he uses the title ten times. This term came to be a title for the Roman Emperor. In Titus there is a parallel in the use of this term between God the Father and Jesus the Son (cf. Philippians 3:3 vs. 1:4; 2:10 vs. Philippians 2:13; Philippians 3:4 vs. 3:6). The early Christians were willing to face death rather than relinquish this title to the Emperor. Both "Savior" and "Lord" were Imperial Roman titles used by Christians exclusively for Jesus.

Philippians 3:21 "who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory" Paul put a positive emphasis on believers' bodily existence (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:1-10), both here and in heaven. This is referred to theologically as glorification (cf. Romans 8:30; 1 John 3:2), when salvation will be consummated and fully realized. Our body of dust (cf. Psalms 103:14) will be exchanged and remade (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) into a spiritual body like Jesus' (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:45; 1 John 3:2).

"He has even to subject all things to Himself" The resurrected Christ is Lord of all (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24-28; Colossians 1:20).

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Philippians 3". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/philippians-3.html. 2021.
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