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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Philippians 3

 

 

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Verses 1-21

It is far from irksome to the apostle to turn again to speak of "rejoicing in the Lord." Simple and elementary as is his exhortation, he is not wearied in repeating "the same things ... .. For you it is safe" he assures them. Blessed it is that most fundamentally vital things are the most simple and clear, - yet bearing the most profound results. The springs of our souls' delight must be "in the Lord" Himself: this is the one secret of all soul-prosperity. Nothing must be allowed to usurp His place of sole pre-eminence.

This chapter therefore appropriately sets Christ before the soul, not as does Ch.1, - the motivating power of life in the believer, nor as Ch.2, - the example of the believer, - but as the one Object to attract the eye and heart. Nor is He seen in humiliation on earth, as in Ch.2, but exalted in Glory, - the Goal and eventual Prize of His saints. The mind of the believer, therefore, is to be one of seeking the greatest possible attainment - not attainment of any kind on earth, but that of conformity to Christ in Heaven, - the attitude of one not satisfied with any gain or accomplishment in this world, but with every aspiration centred upon "the mark for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus."

In verse 2 the apostle uses strong, solemn terms in warning the saints against those who would, with subtle ingenuity, rob them of their only real protection in a hostile world, - their joy in the Lord. "Beware of dogs" (those unclean in nature), "beware of evil workers" (those evil in their works), "beware of the concision" (those vain in their so-called self-denial).

The verse evidently connects with verses 18 and 19, where we see assumed a specious religious character, but in reality enmity against the cross of Christ. Such are as "dogs," bound merely by their earthly appetites. Working also to influence others in seeking earthly things, their work is branded as "evil" because it turns men's eyes away from Christ in Glory. And finally, their boasted self-denial and meticulous religious scruple is shown as no real denial of self at all. For the apostle will not allow that such are the circumcision, but the "concision," which means merely "a cutting in the flesh, - the flesh still very much in evidence and proud of its self-abnegation! How solemn an indictment against Russellism and other earthly-minded religions of men, which do not set Christ in Glory as the Goal and Prize before the souls of men.

For the true "circumcision" are those "who worship God by the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." Circumcision is no mere "cutting" in the flesh, but a "cutting off" of the flesh. The flesh is allowed no place whatever: it is God who is worshipped, and not by means of carnal ordinances, fleshly sacrifices, penances, and the like, but "by the Spirit ... .. The true worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth." In this, self is forgotten, and the soul simply "rejoices in Christ Jesus." For He is worthy of utmost confidence and adoration: the flesh, in its most favourable and pleasing forms, or in its most austere forms, is utterly treacherous and worthy of contempt.

Moreover, as verses 4 to 7 demonstrate, Paul speaks as one fully acquainted with the higher forms of religious advantage, refinement and dignity with which the flesh may adorn itself. If any man could rightly have confidence in the flesh, Paul was the man. If another could boast, he could boast more. But rather than boast, he would utterly repudiate any confidence in all such things. How clear and striking an example, which honesty cannot but face.

There are seven points that he now enumerates. Let us be clear that it is not that he now hates these things, but he thoroughly rejects all confidence in them: they are counted as "dross", that is useless, not as hateful or contemptible.

First, he was "circumcised the eighth day." This was exact religious ritual. Secondly, "of the stock of Israel" -the one race of God's choice. Third, "of the tribe of Benjamin," the only tribe that remained faithful to Judah when the ten tribes defected. Fourth, "an Hebrew of the Hebrews." This name denotes the pilgrim character of the Jews, and in practical reality Paul was of the utmost separated Hebrew character, glorying in his separation from Gentiles. Fifth, "as touching the law a Pharisee," that is, of the most strictly orthodox sect. Sixth, "Concerning zeal, persecuting the church," that is, unsurpassed in religious zeal. And seventh, "touching the, righteousness which is in the law, blameless," his conduct outwardly blameless. To find greater external religious distinction would be impossible.

"But" he adds, with unhesitating conviction of faith, "what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ." Be it remarked here that he speaks not of the repulsive, undesirable evils of the flesh, but of the naturally desired and admired things, - things that were valuable to him before his conversion. But one true glimpse of Christ, and their value becomes nothing: all is loss; for true gain is seen to be only in Him. Is this not a marked contrast to his Old Testament namesake, King Saul? When the latter was commanded by God to "smite Amalek and utterly destroy all that they have," God's Word was backed up by His enabling power, "and Saul smote the Amalekites - and he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive ... .. But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but everything that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly" (1 Samuel 15:3-9). Amalek simply a type of the lusts of the flesh, and Saul was not prepared to destroy the finer, more respectable things of fleshly advantage. This sealed God's rejection of him as king (v.23). It is a question simply of whether Christ and His Word means more to us than the finest dignities, virtues and advantages to be attained on earth.

"But surely I count all things to be loss on account of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord" (New Trans.). Thus the apostle sweeps the entire old creation into the discard, with no regrets, no looking back. In the knowledge of Christ there is supreme excellency, infinitely above everything that the most exalted experience on earth could afford. Nothing henceforth can turn his eye from Him whom He calls "Christ Jesus my Lord." For Him he had "suffered the loss of all things:" note the expression "all things" for the second time in the verse. It was not merely that he gave up certain advantages out of appreciation for what Christ had done for him; but that the blessed Person of Christ as now glorified at God's right hand, had so captivated his heart that he would deliberately and fully count everything as "refuse", that he "might win Christ!'

This is manifestly not the subject of having Christ as the vital principle of life in his soul, as in Ch.1, nor having Christ as his Example, as in Ch.2, where the humiliation of the Lord is so dwelt upon; but rather having Christ as the Object and Prize before him, - the ultimate end to which he aspires with longing heart. This aspiration is of course never to be realised on earth, but only in the Glory where the Object of such hope is seated at God's right hand. His eyes look on to the end of his course: nothing less than arriving where Christ is can ever satisfy his heart.

But after speaking of this desire to "win Christ," he adds, "and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." Only in that day will this be 'found' fully and perfectly to be true of the apostle, as of every child of God, - that is, it will be seen in its perfection as never before.

Yet, on the other hand, however little these precious truths are made publicly manifest and apprehended today, they were no less true of Paul at that time than they will be in Glory; and they are perfectly true of every believer today, though not yet publicly seen. That is, every saint of God is already "in Him, not having his own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith!' But though this is truth most vital and real to the soul, do our hearts not long for the day when it will be seen in all its full and blessed significance? This is what moves the apostle's heart in writing as he does: he desires that everything might be seen fully to redound to the glory of God. It is quite the reverse of aspiring after his own exaltation, but it is nevertheless seeking the truest, purest blessing possible, - for it is seeking Christ, where He is.

"That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection from the dead." Just as in the previous verse, so also in this, it was true already in one sense: Paul did know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made con-formable unto His death: this was a present, deep reality to his soul, wrought by the Spirit of God. But this viewpoint must not be confounded with that which he takes in penning this chapter. His desire here is to "know Him" by being in His very presence in Glory, to know literally "the power of His resurrection," that is, through having to pass through sufferings from men, as the Lord Jesus did, and actually experiencing death, as did his Lord, he might also actually experience the power of God in resurrection; thus knowing in literal experience, - not simply in spiritual power - that which his Lord and Master has known. "If by any means," he adds, "I might attain unto the resurrection from the dead." Let us mark here that he thus will consider nothing short of the coming of the Lord - the rapture of the saints - as any proper attainment. This is further confirmed by verses 20 and 21; but verses 12 to 16 show us the very real effects in the apostle's whole conduct and character that were produced by the fact that this present life on earth will never gain pure satisfaction for the soul.

"Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus." Whatever might be accomplished for the Lord on earth, this was not his objective: if those things were proper results, they were the results of a proper objective, which was far beyond anything in the way of present blessing. Paul took not the slightest pride in any of these "attainments", as men would call them: indeed he had not yet attained what he desired: he was not yet "perfect," but still following after, He arrested him on his downward course and saved his soul. Christ Jesus had apprehended him for eternal glory: how could he settle down content with some earthly attainment?

It may be remarked here that this is but one of three ways in which the apostle views the subject of perfection. Here the question is that of perfection in attainment, and no one can in this way be perfect until with Christ in Glory. However, in this same chapter, verse 15, Paul writes, "Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded." Here it is evident that he considers some believers to be perfect, and others not so. But the context shows this to be perfection in our present attitude of mind. That is, those who forget the things that are behind, and press toward the mark for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus, are "perfect" or "full grown" - that is mature in their attitude. But not all believers are perfect in this way. The third viewpoint is found in Hebrews 10:14 : "For by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified." Verse 10 shows that the "sanctified" refers to all who are redeemed by the blood of Christ - every true believer. This however has to do with perfection in our acceptance before God, an eternal perfection because dependent fully upon the one offering of Christ. Thus it will be noted that from the first point of view no believer is perfect; from the second, some believers are perfect; from the third, every believer is perfect.

"Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus." Any present attainment was still only connected with the old creation which was passing away. Paul left this behind, and as an earnest racer set his mind on the goal and the Prize before him, "the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus!' Let us note his words, "this one thing I do:" his undivided attention was given to this one object. This is truly the "single eye," the "single heart," and it is this that brings true results according to God.

"Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing." Thus the apostle makes full allowance for the individual exercise of faith. If one has been so drawn and enlightened by the Spirit of God as to see all fulness in Christ in Glory, and therefore emptiness in present things, let him apply this blessed truth in practice. If some are otherwise minded, however, the apostle does not at all encourage them to remain so, nor does he demand that they conform to his thoughts; but he turns their eyes to God, Who will reveal the truth to those who desire it. Yet, to whatever level faith may have risen, let us act fully upon the truth that has been made known to our souls. My personal responsibility is to be measured by the Word of God, not by what I may see in others, though in deed the godly example of others may be a means of awakening in my soul some more true realisation of my own responsibility. Yet it is always well to take care that only faith leads me to follow another's example.

Plainly, the apostle seeks to awaken this real exercise of personal faith as he exhorts, "Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an example." The context must be considered in reference to such a statement. Paul certainly sought no mere followers for himself; but in the attitude of mind expressed in this chapter. he is a decided example of believers. In this we may well be diligent to follow Paul, that is, to have our hearts and minds so set upon Christ in Glory, that nothing will detract us from "this one thing." This is quite the opposite of being mere followers of Paul, but is following him in his devotedness of faith.

It was necessary for the saints to consider this carefully, for they must "mark them which walk," that is, they must distinguish as to what was truly godliness on the part of those who professed Christianity. Let them be measured by the apostle's example. It may be observed that Paul also in 1 Corinthians twice exhorts the saints to be followers of him. In the first case (Ch. 4:16) he presents his example of willingness to take the lowest place, suffering reproach and shame with cheerfulness for the Lord's sake. In the second case (Ch. 11:1) he is an example in the spirit of lowly self-sacrifice that gladly gave up his personal rights if it might tend toward the blessing of another soul. These three exemplary characteristics have a close connection with one another, and form a lovely combination.

It is all too likely that we shall be deceived by the specious arguments and smooth words of those "who walk," if we ourselves allow any lower objective than being with Christ in Glory to influence us. How well then to consider seriously and meditatively the character of the apostles, that thus we may be held fast in the path of God for us.

"For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things." How urgent a warning this, written with tears, yet how utterly forgotten and despised in our day! Even then it was no extraordinary thing that there were those professing Christianity who were yet enemies of the cross of Christ: "many" were of this character. But today, how greatly multiplied! And how sad beyond expression that saints of God will allow themselves to be grossly misled by men whose end is destruction. 2 Peter 2:1-22 shows us in clear terms the present-day development of this dreadful evil: "And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of" (v.2).

This does not necessarily infer at all a low, debased type of moral conduct such as is easily discernible as evil in the world's eyes. Doubtless it may lead to this in the end; but the character of such men as we find here is that of seeking earthly attainment, advantage, prominence, loudly urging the betterment of world conditions etc., and by this very attitude opposing the cross of Christ, which violently cuts off all that is of earth. Thus they dare to use Christianity for a purpose diametrically opposed to that for which it was given! The true and great purpose of the work of Christ is simply and pointedly expressed in Galatians 1:4 : "Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from (or 'out of') this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father." Utterly in contrast to any object of improving the world, He came to save sinners out of the world, a world destined to the dreadful judgment of God. How great, a crime then is that manipulation of the Scriptures by which deceivers would blind men to the solemn truth of the imminent judgment of the world, as well as to the blessedness of knowing Christ in the Glory.

If it seems strong language to say that their god is their belly, it is still perfectly accurate: their sole object is really the satisfying of their personal, present desires: the true God is not in their thoughts. And they proudly boast in the very things which are actually to their shame! How grossly perverted are the thoughts of religious pretension! Their description ends with the simple statement which not even they would think of denying, "who mind earthly things." Indeed, some are so blinded as to consider it sinful if we do not mind earthly things. Witness the indignant cry of democracy to the effect that we flagrantly fail in our duty if we refrain from voting and entering into political matters. Can the true children of God be deceived by this kind of hollow vanity? Alas, that such cases are greatly multiplied today. Is our heart really for the Lord, or is it for earthly comfort, prosperity, and advantage? Shall we who know Christ be so misled as to resemble these mere empty professors of Christianity, "who mind earthly things?" The ungodly world itself is not so blind but what it can discern the difference between the selfish, earthly-minded motives of such profession and those motives of godly faith that seek not mere earthly advantage, but the "things that are not seen."

"For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ!' The Greek word for conversation is that from which we derive our word "Politics," and is commonly rendered "citizenship." How manifestly then are all the true interests of the believer bound up in his Heavenly inheritance, not on earth at all. Here we are "strangers and pilgrims" passing through a foreign country; or as "ambassadors for Christ," representing Him to the world through which we pass. Engaging in their politics then would be not only inconsistent, but assuming a role such as would be considered unlawful by the nations of the world. What right has a representative of one country to engage in the political affairs of another?

Such busy occupation with earthly things is certainly no testimony to the fact that "we look for the Saviour." If this blessed hope is a very real thing to our souls, how could we ever think of entangling ourselves with things that in their effect would tend to hold us on earth?

For, be it remembered, as long as we are on earth, we are still in a "body of humiliation," subjected to numerous things which are intended to humble us and make us feel how transitory and unsatisfactory is everything here. This is the negative side of things. But more important still, why do our hearts not yearn with deepest longing to he in Glory, simply because our Lord is there?

Verse 21 then brings us to the perfection to be attained at the Lord's coming, "Who shall transform our body of humiliation into conformity to

His body of glory, according to the working of the power which He has, even to subdue all things to Himself." The very fact of our having now a body of humiliation enfeebles and mars any attainment on earth, - in which only stupidity could take satisfaction. But physically as well as morally we shall be like our Lord. Present limitations of the body, and present humiliation, will give place to unimagined capacity and glory. But enough for us to know that our bodies will be altered and fashioned like His own body of glory. Of this we know that the same body prepared for Him, the body which hung on Calvary and was buried, has been raised in glorified form, - "a body of flesh and bones," - and in this body our Lord has ascended back to Glory.

Do we have questions and difficulties as to the details of a bodily resurrection, - as to how all this is possible? Surely all is marvellously simplified as we contemplate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, which is the pattern of our own. Miraculous power far above our present comprehension of things must certainly be involved; but this fact is only food for the believer's deeper rejoicing in Him who "is able even to subdue all things unto Himself." Thus the very act whereby we shall be brought bodily into the presence of Him whom we adore, will be an additional occasion of our wondering adoration. Does this not move our souls even now, as it did the apostle's, with the desire that all our path should take its character from so great and blessed an end?

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Philippians 3:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/philippians-3.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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