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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Philippians 3

 

 

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Verse 1

The Philippians Are To Recognise That The Way Of Salvation Is Not To Be Found Through Striving To Keep The Law, But Through Oneness With Christ In His Death, Resurrection and Exaltation (Philippians 3:1 b-21).

In Philippians 2:5-23 the Philippians have been told to ‘work out their salvation’ (Philippians 2:12) by having the mind of Christ and partaking with Him of His self-emptying, His obedience unto death, and in His resurrection and exaltation (Philippians 2:5-11) while recognising that success will be the result of the fact that it is God Who is at work within them to will and do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). Now they are warned against any attempt to achieve that salvation by self effort, something illustrated by Paul from his own experience, and the passage concludes with the idea that he had chosen the way of suffering loss, and of partaking in Christ’s death and resurrection because there was no other way of sharing in His exaltation.

We may divide the passage into two parts, the first countering the ideas of the Judaisers (Philippians 3:2-9), and the second emphasising participation with Christ (Philippians 3:10-21).


Verse 2

‘Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the concision,’

The rapid change of subject without introduction was probably designed to wake up those who were hearing his words read out, as they were listening, and may possibly have begun to flag. It was a warning against the activities, either of the Jews, or of the Judaisers. The Jews may well have been seeking to win over the Philippian church on the grounds that Paul was a Jew, (although a little misguided), and that they were therefore bound to follow all Jewish customs, including circumcision. They probably saw the chance of making proselytes, as well as obtaining the ‘re-conversion’ of people like Lydia. The Judaisers were those who, while believing that Christ was the Messiah, still sought to bind people to the full requirements of the ritual Law, seeing them as necessary for salvation.

It is an open question whether these were Jews who did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah, or whether they were Jews who did, but still considered that all the requirements of Judaism, including physical circumcision, still had to be followed. Either way the Philippians are warned to beware of them. They are to be seen as unfit to mix with (dogs were seen as unclean by Jews), their deeds (which were the foundation of their claim righteousness) were in fact evil (not springing from true faith in God), and their circumcision was now no longer valid, but was simply a bodily mutilation. The Jewish position was to be seen as no longer valid.

We should especially note the contrast between ‘the mutilated’ in Philippians 3:2 and ‘the Circumcision’ in Philippians 3:3. The Jews are no longer the Circumcision, and thus brought within the covenant. They are rather those who have been ‘cut off’ from the true Israel (compare Romans 11:17-28). They are no longer Israel. They are the mutilated ones.

The description of them as ‘dogs’ was not as offensive then as it is today. In those days dogs tended to gather outside the walls of cities, scavenging on what they could, and were thus seen by the Jews as an apt picture of the Gentiles who were outsiders and not within the Jewish community, and ate what was unclean. It was thus descriptive rather than insulting although certainly indicating that they were despised. Its application to Jews or Judaisers here was basically an indication that they were not truly of Israel (see Romans 9:6).


Verses 2-9

A Warning To Beware Of The Judaisers, Who Taught That Salvation Was Through the Works Of The Law, Is Backed Up From Paul’s Experience In Which He had Discovered That All Such Efforts Were In Vain (Philippians 3:2-9).

The passage appears to commence abruptly because Paul moves into his subject without preparation. But we may see this as an intentional way of shocking them into taking notice. In it he warns them against the Jews/Judaisers in no uncertain terms. Having rejected their Messiah they have become dogs of Gentiles, doers of evil, and mutilators of the flesh, their ‘circumcision’ now having become a meaningless mutilation in view of the coming of Christ. For in Christ the true circumcision are the true church of Jesus Christ, and circumcision is that of the heart (Romans 2:29; compare Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4). It was the old Israel’s failure to be circumcised in heart that had resulted in their rejection. This recognition that the church are the true continuation of the Israel of old (they ‘are Israel’) is found constantly throughout the New Testament.

Jesus Himself likened His followers to ‘branches of the true Vine’ (John 15:1-6) and explained that in the face of His opponents’ intransigence, ‘the Kingly Rule of God will be taken away from you (the unbelieving Jews), and will be given to a nation producing its fruits’ (Matthew 21:43). In Matthew 16:18 He had confirmed the building of the new congregation of Israel on Peter’s statement of His Messiahship. Acts 1-12 clearly demonstrates the foundation of that true Israel and in Acts 4:25-27 the Gentile peoples of Psalms 2 have become the cast off people of Israel, confirming that the latter were no longer to be seen as Israel. That Gentile proselytes were then grafted in (Acts 10-11) is seen to be the work of God (compare Romans 11:17-28), which consequently led to the great debate as to whether they should be circumcised (had they not been seen as becoming a part of the true Israel that question would never have arisen). Paul’s argument against the need for circumcision was not that they were not becoming Israel (indeed he thought that they were), but that physical circumcision has been replaced by ‘the circumcision of Christ’ (Colossians 2:11), the shadow being replaced by the reality. The gathering at Jerusalem dispensed with the need for circumcision on the basis that Scripture had prophesied the introduction of the Gentiles into Israel without any mention of circumcision (Acts 15:16-21).

When writing to the Galatians Paul informs them that they are Abraham’s seed and therefore heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:29), for in Christ there is no distinction between Jew and Greek (Galatians 3:28), an idea further dealt with in Ephesians 2:11-22. All are now part of the true Israel (Ephesians 2:18-21). That is why in Galatians 6:16 he refers to them as ‘the Israel of God’ just as in Galatians 4:21-31 they are the new Jerusalem. All the Old Testament promises about Israel and Jerusalem will now therefore find their fulfilment in the church of Jesus Christ, for they are the true Israel. As he says here in Philippians, it is now the church who are ‘the Circumcision’ (in contrast to the Mutilators - Philippians 3:2-3). Compare also Romans 11:17-28; Romans 9:6; 1 Peter 1:1; 1 Peter 2:9; James 1:1.

Paul then demonstrates the uselessness and invalidity of any hope of seeking to obtain acceptance with God by works of the Law and adherence to the now false Israel, by describing his own attempts at doing so which had proved a devastating failure. It was only when he had counted those as loss having found Christ, that he discovered what he was looking for, full salvation.

Analysis.

a Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the concision, for we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:2-3).

b Though I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If any other man thinks to have confidence in the flesh, I yet more (Philippians 3:4).

c Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, as touching the law, a Pharisee; as touching zeal, persecuting the church; as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless. Howbeit what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ (Philippians 3:5-7).

b Yes truly, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8).

a And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith (Philippians 3:9)

Note that in ‘a’ it is not the Jews/Judaisers whose righteousness is unacceptable who are the true circumcision, but those who truly worship God in the Spirit and glory in Christ Jesus, and do not trust in fleshly righteousness, while in the parallel Paul has found his acceptance, not by false righteousness and works of the Law, but through faith in Christ, which has provided him with true righteousness. In ‘b’ he had been such that he could have had the greatest possible confidence in his fleshly make up and activities, and in the parallel he counted them all as loss that he might gain Christ. Centrally in ‘c’ he counts as loss all that he had once prided himself in as hopefully achieving his salvation.


Verse 3

‘For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.’

The position of such people is now seen as in contrast with those who make up the true Israel (‘the Circumcision’), who are detectable not by the mutilation of their flesh, but by a recognition of the fact that that they worship by the Spirit of God (rather than by dead ritual), glory in the true Messiah Jesus, and have no confidence in fleshly achievement. Such people are truly circumcised in heart. Notice Paul’s emphasis on the fact that all is of God. It is He by His Spirit Who enables their worship. Their glorying is in Him, in the person of the Messiah Jesus. They do not believe that they can become acceptable to God by fleshly achievement. It is such people who constitute the true Israel. They are people who have had the truth revealed to them by their Father in Heaven (Matthew 16:17; Matthew 11:25). They worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). They acknowledge Christ Jesus as ‘LORD’ and exult in the fact (Philippians 2:11; Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Ephesians 4:5). They are circumcised in heart (Romans 2:29; compare Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4). They come to God with a broken and contrite heart and thus have their spirits and hearts revived (Isaiah 57:15; 1 John 1:7-10). They have no confidence in the satisfactory nature of their own righteousness, which they recognise as coming short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). They are totally dependent on the grace of God.

The emphatic ‘we’ refers to the church made up of all believers, whether former Jew or former Gentile, as encapsulated in Paul and the Philippians (who were mainly former Gentiles) to whom he is writing. Their ‘boasting’ in Christ Jesus is probably to be seen as in contrast with those who boast in the works of the Law. And their lack of confidence in ‘the flesh’ has in mind both the irrelevance of physical circumcision, and of man’s efforts to make himself acceptable to God by what he does.


Verse 4

‘Though I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If any other man thinks to have confidence in the flesh, I yet more,’

Paul then points out that if it came to ‘works of self-righteousness’, then when he was a Jew he had had far more to rely on as making him acceptable to God than their present visitors, for he had been a Jew from his earliest days, and circumcised as such, had been of pure descent and training, and as a Pharisee had been as zealous after works of righteousness as it was possible to be. And the implication is that yet it had been insufficient. By this he is cutting the ground from underneath anyone who might suggest that they had some kind of superiority that others should follow. He had had that superiority, but it had failed him, and having come face to face with the risen Christ he had counted all his self-effort as worthless in contrast with knowing Christ, which he had discovered to be all that he needed.


Verse 5

‘Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews,’

Paul now lists the things that had marked him off as ‘perfect’ in the eyes of the Jews. He had been properly circumcised at the right time, he could trace his descent backwards to prove that he was a genuine true-born Israelite (which, in spite of their best efforts, comparatively few Jews could do), he was a recognised member of the tribe of Benjamin, one of the tribes which had preserved its wholeness and identity and had remained faithful to Jerusalem all the way through, and he was brought up strictly as a Hebrew and Aramaic speaking Jew, being born of Hebrew parents. He had all the right credentials.


Verse 5-6

Furthermore as a Pharisee he had meticulously sought to follow the Law (as interpreted by them), while his zealousness as a Jew had been proved by the way in which he had persecuted those Jews who were considered to have gone astray, the new-born church. And as regards the righteousness of the Law he had been able to tick off every box demonstrating that he had fulfilled all that was required of him by the Rabbis. No finger (apart from God’s) could have been pointed at him, because he had been found blameless (by men; compare the rich young ruler’s view of himself in Matthew 19:20, and yet he too was still dissatisfied and aware of something missing). We may see this blamelessness in the eyes of men as in contrast with his requirement of the Philippians in Philippians 2:15. They were to seek to be blameless in the eyes of God.

His persecuting of the new-born church would have been seen by his fellow-Pharisees as especially revealing his righteousness. Here was a man who was zealous for the Lord of Hosts. When Phinehas had slain the offending Israelite in Numbers 25:6-13 it had been ‘accounted to him for righteousness to all generations for evermore’ (Psalm 106 30-31). In Jewish eyes it had established him among ‘the righteous ones’. The same was true of Mattathias, the father of the Maccabees, for he too had slain an apostate Jew in the act of offering a false sacrifice, and his action had been described as being ‘Zealous for the Law’ (1 Maccabees 2:24-28). Thus Paul, in persecuting the church, had seen himself as aligning himself with the zeal of his fathers.


Verse 7

‘Howbeit what things were gains to me, these have I counted loss for Christ.’

The things that he has described were the things that he had treasured and relied on. They had been his life. They had meant everything to him, and he had hoped that eventually they might result in him finding eternal life. He saw them as his great assets, his ‘gains’, assiduously built up bit by bit. But then he had faced up to Jesus Christ and had recognised their folly. From then on he had seen all his gains as simply one great loss. In the face of Jesus Christ all else fell away as dross. He had recognised that all that his actions could do before God was leave him bankrupt, and that his only hope of eternal life was through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23). And so he had turned from all that he had treasured in the past, to Christ. He had counted his past activities to be what they were, fictitious and worthless assets. As a result of responding to Christ he had looked on them as a ‘loss’.

This language of ‘gain’ and ‘loss’ was typically Rabbinic and so would be recognised by his opponents. It was also typical of the teaching of Jesus Christ. ‘He who will save his life will lose it. He who will lose his life for My sake and the Gospel’s (by yielding all to Christ) will gain it’ (Mark 8:35; Matthew 16:25; Luke 9:24; John 12:24-25). ‘For what will it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his life?’ (Mark 8:36; Matthew 16:26; Luke 9:25). Paul had taken Jesus at His word. He had forfeited his whole religious world for Christ’s sake, and had thereby found eternal life.

The verb for ‘counted’ is in the perfect tense indicating something done in the past the effect of which continued to the present time. He had renounced his past once and for all.


Verse 8

‘Yes truly, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Christ,’

Yes, truly, he had counted, and now did count, all his past achievements and struggles as loss, all that he had held dear as dross, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his LORD. And for His sake he had experienced the loss of all things, counting them as rubbish fit only for the garbage bin, in order that he might gain Christ, because he had recognised that in Christ alone all that was good could be found. Once he had Christ he needed nothing more.

‘The excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my LORD.’ The ‘knowledge’ spoken of here is not academic knowledge (oida) but personal knowledge by experience (gnosis). He had not just learned about Christ, he had come to know Him personally in his own experience and to build on that knowledge by further experience (compare Jeremiah 31:34; Hosea 6:6) And it was something so wonderful that he could only speak of ‘excellency’. God had said, ‘let light shine out of darkness’ and He had seen the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). And it was the knowledge of Him as perfect sacrifice, personal Saviour and sovereign Lord. It was true saving knowledge.


Verse 9

‘And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ (or ‘the faithfulness of Christ’), the righteousness which is from God by faith,’

For in Christ he has been provided with a righteousness that surpassed any righteousness that he himself had built up, a righteousness that was total and complete, the very righteousness of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Romans 3:24-28). It was a ‘gift of righteousness’ based on Christ’s obedience (Romans 5:17; Romans 5:19). He had now been robed with the robe of righteousness and covered with the garments of salvation (Isaiah 61:10). He no longer therefore sought to call on or point to his own righteousness, a righteousness precariously built up by striving to obey the Law, but trusted wholly in the righteousness that had resulted solely from believing in Jesus Christ, the righteousness provided by God through faith. And as a consequence the only thing that he desires is to be found ‘in Him’. Christ is all that he needs.

‘Through the faithfulness of Christ.’ Strictly speaking in Pauline literature pistis (faith, faithfulness) followed by a genitive always indicates the person whose pistis it is (compare e.g. Romans 3:3; Romans 4:16). That being so we would have to translate here ‘through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ’, indicating that it is because He was obedient (Philippians 2:8) that we can be covered with His righteousness (Romans 5:19). It was His faithfulness that made Him all sufficient as a satisfactory sacrifice (compare Hebrews 10:5-10). Thus we have here the idea that it was because of His faithfulness that we can have the righteousness which is from God by faith.


Verse 10

‘To know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the sharing in common of his sufferings, becoming conformed to his death,’

In these words Paul’s whole desire is summed up, to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the sharing in common of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death. In other words he wants to have the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5) more and more in such a way as to be a continual partaker with Him of what He Himself experienced, recognising that by setting his mind in this way he will continually experience the effective power of God (Philippians 2:6-11), in the same way as having the mind of the Spirit goes along with having the work of the Spirit within. This is ‘knowing Christ’ in the ultimate way, by entering in to all that He has provided and made possible. It is walking in intimate fellowship with Him. It is growing in the knowledge of the love of Christ which passes all knowledge (Ephesians 3:19). And it is recognising and desiring more and more of the power that was revealed in His resurrection so that it might be effective through him (Galatians 2:20). This is the power that has made him alive when he was dead in trespasses and sins and a child of disobedience (Ephesians 2:1-4). It is the power that has given him newness of life (Romans 6:4). It is the power that seeks constantly to maintain possession of his life so that he might live fully for Christ and enjoy all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-18). It is the power of the resurrection. And he wants more and more of it as he comes to know Christ in a deeper and deeper way.

But it is power that comes with a cost, for it involves sharing with Him in His sufferings and being conformed to His death. From now on he must see himself as crucified with Christ, so that he no longer lives but Christ lives through him (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:15-18; John 14:23). He must reckon himself as dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ his LORD (Romans 6:11). He must put off the old man and put on the new, which is created in the likeness of God, in righteousness and holiness of truth (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:10). He must be ready to ‘fill up that which is behind in the sufferings of Christ’ (Colossians 1:24), not a lack in sufficiency for salvation, but a requirement for the spread of the Gospel. For all who follow Christ truly, and would preach the Gospel, will in one way or another share His sufferings. It is through much tribulation that we must enter under the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 14:22; compare Hebrews 12:3-13).

‘The power of His resurrection.’ This phrase includes both the power of Christ by which He was able to raise Himself from the dead (John 10:18, compare John 2:19), the power of the Holy Spirit by which He was ‘declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead’ (Romans 1:4), and the ‘mighty power’ of ‘the God of our Lords Jesus Christ, the Father of glory’, ‘which He wrought on Christ when He raised Him from the dead’ (Ephesians 1:17-20; compare Acts 2:24; Acts 2:32; Acts 3:15; etc. Acts 13:33; Acts 13:37; 1 Corinthians 15:15). It represents the total power of the Triune God at work through the resurrection.

‘To know Him (tou gnownai).’ The article with the infinitive can indicate purpose ‘in order that I might know Him’ or consequence ‘so that I might know Him’. Others suggest that it often indicates only a loose connection with what has preceded. This last idea might be appropriate here as the previous sentence has been concentrating on the obtaining of imputed righteousness. Thus here we are entering into a new realm of ideas, the knowing of the Christ experience, which does not result from being accounted as righteous, but rather results in it. Any link back is rather then to Philippians 3:8 where he speaks of ‘the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my LORD’, but here there is an advancement of thought as he visualises entering genuinely and fully into Christ’s own experience (as detailed in Philippians 2:5-11). We may see the aorist as signifying that this knowledge is on the one hand once for all, for once having known Him He cannot be unknown, and yet is a knowledge that will expand and grow as he knows Him more and more. More and more he will experience the power of His resurrection and the sharing in common with His sufferings, being made more and more conformable to His death as the old man within slowly expires.


Verses 10-21

His Knowing Of Christ Involves Participation With Him In The Power Of His Resurrection, And Equal Participation With Him in His Sufferings, By Himself Recognising That He Has Died With Christ. And His Aim Is To Participate In The Resurrection From The Dead (Philippians 3:10-21).

In The New Testament the power of Christ’s resurrection is seen as an effective transforming power. It is through that power that in Christ God will, from start to finish, bring about the whole salvation of the whole body (‘the church’) of true believers (Ephesians 1:18 to Ephesians 2:10). It was by the power of the Spirit of holiness that Christ was raised from the dead (Romans 1:4), and it is that same Spirit Who gives us renewed life and makes us ‘new creatures’ (Romans 6:4; Romans 6:8-11; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:24; 1 Peter 1:3-4), united with Him in the likeness of His resurrection (Romans 6:5). It is through His life that we receive eternal life (Romans 6:23; 1 John 5:12-13).

And it only as a result of knowing Him and the power of His resurrection, that we can truly enter into His sufferings and death and as a result ‘attain to the resurrection from the dead’. Having experienced resurrection life (John 5:24) it is through suffering and death to ourselves that we must enter into the full experience of resurrection life, which will culminate in the final resurrection. Some see this ‘resurrection from the dead’ in Philippians 3:11 as indicating the new life that is ours once we have died with Christ and risen with Him (Romans 6:3-4; Ephesians 2:1-10). It is then seen as the ‘first resurrection’ of John 4:24. Others see it as the final resurrection as described in John 4:28-29, and described here in Philippians 3:21. Whichever be the case both are true. Here indeed we are having the mind which is in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5)

Analysis.

a To know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed to his death (Philippians 3:10).

b If by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:11).

c Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect, but I press on, if indeed I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12).

d Brothers, I count not myself yet to have laid hold, but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).

e Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything you are otherwise minded, this also will God reveal to you (Philippians 3:15).

d Only, whereunto we have attained, by that same rule let us walk. Brothers, be you imitators together of me, and mark them that so walk even as you have us for an example (Philippians 3:16-17).

c For many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is perdition, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things (Philippians 3:18-19).

b For our citizenship is in heaven, whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20).

a Who will fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things to himself (Philippians 3:21).

Note that in ‘a’ his aim is to know the power of His resurrection and the sharing in common with him of His sufferings, and in the parallel the body of our humiliation will be fashioned to be like unto the body of His glory by His sovereign power. In ‘b’ his aim is to attain to the resurrection from the dead, and in the parallel our citizenship is in Heaven from where we await our Lord Jesus Christ. In ‘c’ he is aware that he is not perfect, but presses on towards the goal, while in the parallel others fall short and their destiny is perdition. In ‘d’ he describes his intention to press on towards the goal of the prize of the high calling of God, and in the parallel he calls on others to follow his example. Centrally in ‘e’ he calls for all to be ‘thus minded’.


Verse 11

‘If by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.’

‘If by any means’ indicates that Paul was ready for anything as long as it resulted in his attaining the resurrection from among the dead. He did not mind what was demanded of him as long as he achieved his goal. (He had had the same desire as a Pharisee, but had then been going about it the wrong way).

Some people are baffled by the word ‘attain’ used here because their minds think in terms of trying to achieve it by merit of some kind. But the verb does not necessarily carry this meaning. In everyday terms it meant ‘to come to’, and that is basically what Paul means here. He is not doubting whether he will in the end attain it, but is not sure of the way through which he will attain it, whether by living on or through martyrdom. He is, however, certain that he will achieve it (compare Philippians 1:6). What he is not sure of is how.

‘To the resurrection from the dead.’ If we translate literally this is ‘the out-resurrection out from among the dead’. He visualises the glory of being raised up from among the dead along with all God’s true people. That is not to deny the resurrection of all, both the righteous and the unrighteous (John 5:29; Revelation 20:12-13). It is rather to see the experience of the Christian as special. This special nature of the resurrection of God’s people is regularly brought out. When Christ comes and takes up living believers who will be transformed in the twinkling of an eye (1 Thessalonians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 15:52), it will only be after He has first resurrected believers who have died and whose bodies ‘sleep’ (1 Thessalonians 4:15-16). It is only then that the rest of the dead are raised to meet their judgment (Revelation 20:12-13 where they are called ‘the dead’). Of course we must beware of trying to fit Christ’s activity at His coming into our limited earthly ideas and time-scale. This is a moment when time and eternity meet with eternity taking over. It is pictured in many ways throughout Scripture, but the pictures must not be over-pressed. They are given in order to provide us with a vivid understanding of what He will do, but are not intended to be applied absolutely literally. By such folly men have argued for many comings and many resurrections. See for example Matthew 24:30-31; Matthew 24:36-41; Matthew 25:31-46; John 5:28-29; 1 Corinthians 15:20-58; 1 Thessalonians 4 13-18; 2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 6:12-17; Revelation 11:11-19; Revelation 14:14-20; Revelation 19:11-21; Revelation 20:11-15 all of which depict the final end.

Some see the aim here as being to attain to a spiritual resurrection in line with the dying-rising experience of a Christian so constantly spoken of in Paul e.g. Romans 6:1-11; Ephesians 2:1-6; etc. The thought then is that the out-resurrection has in mind the spiritual resurrection of believers from among those still dead in trespasses and sins as described in John 5:24; Ephesians 2:1-4. But while that experience is certainly taught in Scripture, Paul had already certainly experienced that, and while it was undoubtedly still possible for his knowledge of Christ to grow ever deeper, he already essentially possessed resurrection life. Thus the greater probability is that here he is speaking of the physical resurrection at Christ’s coming. He is moving on from the experience of spiritual resurrection in Philippians 3:10, to the future literal resurrection here, and has the expectancy of it constantly before his eyes. And this would appear to be confirmed in what follows.

If, as has been suggested, some of the false teachers against whom he warns the Philippians were saying that ‘the resurrection is past already’ (2 Timothy 2:18) because they saw it simply as a spiritual resurrection obtained through special ‘knowledge’ (gnosis), which was already theirs so that they needed no other, we can see very clearly why Paul was so emphatic on the fact that the resurrection was yet future, and was something that no one had yet attained to (apart from Jesus Christ Himself).


Verse 12

‘Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect, but I press on, if indeed I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus.’

These words would seem to confirm the view that the final resurrection is in mind, for Philippians 3:21 describes when it is that he and all God’s true people will become perfect, and that is at the second coming of Jesus Christ. Thus while he has certainly experienced a spiritual resurrection (John 5:24; Ephesians 2:1-4), he recognises that that does not mean that he has obtained the fullness of what God has for him. He is fully aware that he has not yet obtained the resurrection from the dead, and that he is not yet ‘perfect’. There is something better that yet awaits him (compare Ephesians 5:27). And he is therefore pressing on towards that goal, so that he may lay hold on that ‘for which also I was laid hold on by Jesus Christ’. One again we have both sides of the equation (compare Philippians 2:12-13). On the one hand he is putting every effort into laying hold of resurrection life by fully following Christ, and on the other he knows that it will be his because Christ Himself has laid hold on him for that very purpose.

‘Not that I have already obtained.’ The change of verb (from ‘attain’ to ‘obtain’), together with the lack of a direct object, may well indicate that we are to look wider for what he has ‘not obtained’ than simply to the resurrection mentioned in the previous verse. Thus we may see it as referring to ‘knowing Christ in all His fullness’, which has been his declared objective (Philippians 3:8-10). However, the very vagueness may indicate that both ‘knowing Christ in all His fullness’ and ‘the attaining of the resurrection’ are both to be included. Both are his final aim, and indeed are very much interconnected.

‘Or am already made perfect.’ It is generally agreed that Paul is here deliberately attacking the views of his opponents who considered that they had achieved a kind of spiritual perfection. They considered that their ‘experiences’ had signified their achievement of spiritual perfection. But Paul wants his readers to know that, whatever they have experienced, there is yet better ahead, as clearly expressed in Philippians 3:21. Salvation is of the total man, spirit, soul and body.

‘If indeed I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus.’ Paul’s doubt is not as to whether he will achieve his goal, but a humble recognition that to speak of laying hold of what in fact Christ has determined to bestow on him is a little presumptious. He wants it to be clear that really the work is Christ’s and not his. He is pressing on precisely because Christ has laid hold of him and will not let him go (John 10:27-28). For the glorious truth is that his salvation is not of his achieving, but through the election, calling and direct activity of Jesus Christ.


Verse 13-14

‘Brothers, I count not myself yet to have laid hold, but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.’

In contrast with the false teachers Paul does not see himself as having laid hold of the totality of salvation. But what he does see himself as having done, and as continuing to do, having put out of his mind what is in the past, ‘the things that are behind’, is to stretch forward to the things which are before. He is putting in every effort to achieve his goal. He is pressing on toward the goal, to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

The language is that of the athlete in the marathon. The hard and arduous miles that have been achieved with all their pain are now put out of his mind, for he does not look back but is concentrating his effort on what lies ahead. He sees the stadium ahead in the distance. And he is putting every effort into those last few miles. For his eye is on the prize that lies before him, and that prize is the one that the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (His effectual calling) has called him to, as described in Philippians 3:21, when total salvation will have been accomplished and he will know Christ in all His fullness (we will see Him as He is - 1 John 3:2) and is presented before God, holy, unblameable and unreproveable in His sight (Colossians 1:22). But it is a future prize and not one that he has already accomplished. For the race is not yet over.

‘Forgetting the things which are behind.’ The thought is not one of total forgetfulness of what is behind. Foolish is the runner who ignores or forgets the rivals who are just behind him (many a runner has failed to qualify because he slowed down as he approached the tape). But they are to spur him on towards the finish, not act as an obstacle to the successful completion of his race. He must not be taken up by what is behind in such a way that it hinders his total commitment to winning. He must not allow the past to be a burden. He must not allow past sufferings to hinder him. He must not allow past failures to weigh on his mind (once of course they have been forgiven). On the other hand foolish is the person who does not learn from the past (including the runner), for that very memory might well enable him to stretch forward towards the finish with even greater concentration. What are to be forgotten are any of the things that might hinder his forward impetus.

Some see ‘the high calling of God’, not as looking back to the ‘high call’ to attain to higher things, but as signifying the receiving of the prize by mounting the steps to where the judges will bestow his prize. In this interpretation it signifies the receiving of the eternal glory. Both are, of course true representations of the situation, although only one can be correct as an interpretation here. On the other hand the original call of God is certainly what finally leads to the call to receive the prize, so that either view has a lesson to teach us.


Verse 15

‘Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, be thus minded, and if in anything you are otherwise minded, this also will God reveal to you,’

In Philippians 3:12 Paul declared that he was not already ‘perfect’ (teteleiowmai - to be finished, fully complete). But now he appears to contradict himself. For here he links himself with those who are teleios (perfect, complete, mature). This apparent contradiction arises, however, because while the verb predominantly indicates perfection, it is not always so with the nouns and adjectives from the same root. Thus the verb is used in the New Testament predominantly to indicate what is finished, what is perfect, what is wholly complete. Indeed its only other use in Paul is in 2 Corinthians 12:9 where we read, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power (strength) is made perfect in weakness’, where the idea is that God’s power takes Paul’s weakness and results in a complete solution. However, the noun teleios is regularly used to indicate maturity rather than perfection, and in Paul spiritual maturity. Jesus tells us that we are to be ‘teleios because our Father in Heaven is teleios’ (Matthew 5:48). Jesus did not expect perfection from us, but a true representation of what the Father is, a spiritual maturity which would be recognised as we demonstrated His beneficial love. A person who does not offend in his words is teleios (James 3:2), that is, he reveals his full growth and maturity. In 1 Corinthians 2:6 those who are spiritually mature (teleios) recognise true spiritual wisdom. In 1 Corinthians 14:20 we are to be mature (teleios) in understanding as adults, as opposed to having the immaturity of children. Thus Paul regularly uses the adjective to indicate those who are mature, or fully grown. Here then Paul is using a play on words to indicate that while he is not yet the finished product, he is mature and fully grown in the faith. And he calls on all who are the same (which is potentially all of them) to be ‘thus minded’, that is, to have the mindset which causes them to press on towards the goal that Paul has described, recognising that they have not yet attained to it. Note how being ‘minded’ results in positive spiritual action as in Philippians 2:5. It refers to taking up a mindset which results in participation in what the mind has been set on.

Then he warns against having any other mindset. For if anyone has a different mindset it will require God to reveal the truth to him (as He did to the disciples and to Peter - Matthew 11:2; Matthew 16:17; compare Ephesians 1:17). The false teachers would have a different mindset, even though they claimed special spiritual illumination. Thus his remark is primarily to them. If they truly claim God’s inspiration let them recognise that that inspiration would inevitably cause them to see things as Paul saw them. For all who see things differently are indicating thereby that they are not fully mature in their understanding. They are not truly illuminated.

Some see here a sideswipe at the ideas of the false teachers. If they claim to be ‘perfect’ let them reveal it by recognising the truth of what Paul has said.


Verse 16

‘Only, whereunto we have attained, by that same standard let us walk.’

He then exhorts them all that, once they have attained to spiritual maturity, and see things as he does (as the Father has revealed them to him), they must ensure that they continue to walk in accordance with what they have learned. There is to be no slacking off in their spiritual efforts. Christians must be on guard at all times against a diminution in their spiritual state, which can be aided by constant Bible Study, prayer, worship and obedience to God’s known requirements.


Verse 17

‘Brothers, be you imitators together of me, and mark them that so walk even as you have us for an example.’

Having sought to establish a proper mindset, Paul points out that a further aid in godly living is the example of mature Christians of repute, whose example they are to follow. Here Paul calls on the Philippians as a whole to be imitators of him, and to note those who walk as he walked. It is such people who should be taken as their example. Note the important twofold step towards Christian living. First the mindset must be firmly and properly established, and then it must affect the practise.

It is possibly significant that he does not point to Christ as the example, which might militate against Philippians 2:5-11 being set up simply as an example. It would be strange, if his intention in Philippians 2:5-11 had been to give an example to follow, that he did not mention it here.

They would know something of Paul’s behaviour from the time when he had been with them, and that would have been expanded on by visiting teachers and Christians, and especially by Epaphroditus. Furthermore previously in this letter he has already indicated different aspects of his walk e.g. Philippians 3:4-14. By this we are assured that what was true of Paul in 8-14, is to be equally as true of us in our walk with Christ. We must be sharers together, along with Paul, of a similar experience. We should note therefore that Paul is not calling them to a slavish imitation of himself as though he was some great one whose way of life was to be copied, but to a following of him in his wholehearted commitment to participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, and in his total dedication to single-heartedness in the Christian race, as described above.


Verse 18

‘For many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ,’

In contrast with Paul and his fellow-workers are those whose walk is extremely unhelpful as an example, a fact which moves the Apostle to tears. They profess to follow Christ but are in their examples and lives ‘enemies of the cross of Christ’. They are against all that the cross of Christ stands for. They do not take the ‘way of the cross, by dying with Christ and walking as He walked. Rather they choose their own road, a road of self-enjoyment and self-propagation. They do not want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and the sharing in common with Him of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death. They want to express themselves and have people looking up to them while they benefit materially from it.

‘Enemies of the cross of Christ.’ We might ask, in what way were they enemies of the cross of Christ? In context the answer is given in Philippians 3:19, that it was by their behaviour and their aims. They rejected the call to participate in His sufferings and to reckon themselves as dead with Him to the world and all that it offers, and chose rather the pathway of self-indulgence and self-aggrandisement. Whatever their professed beliefs, they lived a crossless life.


Verse 19

‘Whose end is perdition, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.’

The people in mind, who were seemingly visiting preachers (for Paul indicates no exceptions when he praises the Philippian church as a whole - Philippians 1:3-11), have their belly as their god, glory in what is shameful, and have their minds totally set on earthly things. They were the total opposite of the One Who emptied Himself, chose the way of sufferings and the cross, and Whose whole career and life were focused on heavenly things, all to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11). And for such people their destiny is not to be raised and exalted with Christ, but is eternal destruction (apoleia - perdition). They are the opposite of all that Paul has been teaching throughout the letter.

Note the contrasts:

· ‘Their end is eternal destruction’ - this contrasts with those whose sole aim and stress is on reaching out to heavenly things which will result in eternal life and exaltation with Christ (Philippians 3:10-14, especially in the light of Philippians 2:9-11), and whose citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20). The Psalmist, when baffled at the way that the wicked prospered, while the righteous suffered, had his problem solved when he ‘considered their end’ (Psalms 73:17). It is the end of those who walk in the broad way, which is ‘destruction’ (Matthew 7:14). This is a reminder that being ‘religious’ is not sufficient. These people claimed to be Christians, and boasted about their knowledge and their ‘spirituality, and yet they were headed for destruction, because they had failed to truly respond to Christ crucified and risen.

· ‘Their god is their belly’ - the most obvious meaning of this is that they enjoyed overindulgence in food and drink, and all that went with it, aiming for a materially satisfactory lifestyle. This idea of seeking earthly wealth is one of Paul’s constant criticisms of false teachers (Romans 16:17-18; 2 Corinthians 11:20; 2 Timothy 3:4; 1 Corinthians 4:8). It may go along with the idea that they did not hesitate to go to idolatrous feasts, and encourage others to go, always a danger for poor Christians in those early days when free food and drink was available at idolatrous temples, especially on feast days. Paul had to warn against it constantly (e.g. 1 Corinthians 8; compare Revelation 2:14; Revelation 2:20). Others have seen it as indicating their refusal to eat ‘unclean’ things (compare Colossians 2:16; Hebrews 9:10; Romans 14:17). But Paul did not see that in itself as being a cause for condemnation (Romans 14:13-23), only the teaching that it was necessary to salvation.

· ‘And the glory is in their shame’ - Paul had earlier said, ‘God forbid that I should glory, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which I am crucified to the world, and the world is crucified to me’ (Galatians 6:14). And he had prayed that in nothing should he be ashamed (Philippians 1:20). But these teachers gloried in things that were shameful. Compare Ephesians 5:12; 2 Timothy 3:4; 2 Timothy 3:6; 1 Corinthians 5:6. In terms of Ephesians 5:12 the idea may be that they gloried in the things that most people out of shame would seek to keep secret. In other words they were shameless. This would tie in with the ideas described in Romans 6:1, ‘shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?’, (compare ‘let us do evil that good may come’ - Romans 3:7-8). The idea there was their claim that by their evil behaviour they brought out the compassion and goodness of God in that He accepted them anyhow, possibly because they ‘believed in Jesus’, a view that Paul condemned as totally un-Christian where it did not have a deep effect on their lives. His argument was that to be a true Christian you recognised that you had died with Christ to sin, and if you had done that, how then could you blatantly continue in it? It would be to ignore the significance of the cross. Those who see ‘their gods is their belly’ as referring to abstinence from unclean foods, see the reference here as having in mind their glorying in the flesh in that they had been circumcised (Galatians 6:13), something which to the Greeks was seen as shameful.

· ‘Who mind earthly things’ - they have their minds set on, and are involved in and participate in, earthly things (and not on being involved in and having the mind of Christ - Philippians 2:5). Their whole focus is on earth, in contrast to those whose minds are set on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:2). They are not ‘stretching towards the goal to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3:13-14). They are totally earthly minded (even though they may well have claimed supernatural experiences). Those who see unclean foods and circumcision as in mind, see this also as referring to earthly rituals rather than heavenly experience (see especially Hebrews 7-10). But in view of the context it must surely indicate the opposite of Paul’s own view of the need to reach out to what is heavenly, especially as Philippians 3:20 stresses that our citizenship in is Heaven. This would seem to favour our initial interpretations in each case.

It is possible that we are to see here an amplification and contrast with Philippians 3:2-3.

· ‘Beware of dogs.’ ‘Their end is destruction’.

· ‘Beware of evil-workers.’ Their god is their belly. ‘

· ‘Beware of the mutilators.’ ‘And the glory is in their shame.’

· ‘Who worship God in the Spirit (etc)’ ‘Who mind earthly things.’

If this is so it confirms that the same people are in mind.


Verse 20

‘For our citizenship is in heaven, from where also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ,’

Paul now contrasts with the descriptions just given the viewpoint and mindset of the Christian. Rather than ‘minding earthly things’, they recognise that their citizenship is in Heaven (in contrast with being in Rome). In other words, as it has been so aptly put, ‘they are a colony of Heaven’. As representatives of Heaven, following Heaven’s laws, subject to Heaven’s justice, supported by Heaven’s power and acting on Heaven’s behalf in the area where they are (compare what was said in the introduction about a Roman ‘colony’), they await the coming of their Heavenly King, their Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ. They are a ‘military camp of the saints and the beloved city’ (the heavenly Jerusalem - Galatians 4:22-31; Hebrews 12:22), surrounded by the enemy, but knowing that they have nought to fear, because their Lord and Saviour is coming to finalise their salvation and set all right (Revelation 20:9).

‘A Saviour.’ In the New Testament the title Saviour is used of God and of Jesus Christ on an equal basis. It signifies the Saviour of the Old Testament Who will deliver His people (e.g. Psalms 106:21; Isaiah 43:3; Isaiah 43:11; Isaiah 45:21; Isaiah 60:16; Jeremiah 14:8; Hosea 13:4), but was also used of Caesar in an earthly sense, thus indicating that while great Caesar reigned on earth, God and the Lord Jesus Christ reign in Heaven. It is particularly apt therefore in Philippians where citizenship in Heaven is seen as being superior to that in Rome. Prior to this the word Saviour had only been used once by Paul, in Ephesians 5:23, but it would be commoner in the Pastorals (1 Timothy three times of ‘God’; 2 Timothy once of ‘Jesus Christ’; Titus six times, three of ‘God’ and three of Jesus Christ). It occurs also in Luke 1:47; Luke 2:11; John 4:42; Acts 5:31; Acts 13:23; 1 John 4:1; Jude 1:25; 2 Peter - 5 times).

Alternately we may see politeuma (citizenship) as signifying ‘our commonwealth (colonial rule) is in Heaven’, with the emphasis being on the source of rule. The consequence is little different. Each church on earth is still seen as an outpost or military camp under Heaven’s rule. ‘From where (which) --.’ That is from the commonwealth of Heaven.


Verse 21

‘Who will fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things to himself.’

And in that day he will take our humble and earthly body, the body of our earthliness which limits us to earth and makes us ‘lower than the angels’ (Psalms 8:4-5), and leaves us prone to sin, and will conform it to His ‘glorious’ body, as a result of the mighty working by which He is able to subdue all things to Himself. The thought includes our whole selves, not just the outward shell, and this on top of the fact that our inner man has already experienced an amazing initial spiritual transformation (Romans 6:4; 2 Corinthians 5:17). For while, if we are His, we have to some extent already enjoyed the experience of His saving power (Romans 6:4-11; Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 1:13), then in that Day, to a far greater extent, we will share with Him in the fullness of His glory and exaltation, wholly transformed by His mighty power (Philippians 2:9-11), the power not only of His resurrection (Ephesians 1:19) but also of His sovereignty as Life-giver and LORD (Philippians 2:11; 1 Corinthians 15:24-25; 1 Corinthians 15:28; John 5:21; John 5:26). As so often each individual is in mind here, but as a part of the whole body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23 in context).

In Ephesians this transformation is pictured in terms of a wife being presented to her husband, ‘that He might present the church to Himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish’ (Ephesians 5:27). 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 puts it this way, ‘So it is with the resurrection of the dead, what is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.’ While those who are alive and remain will be changed ‘in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye’ (1 Corinthians 15:52), but in no way preceding those are ‘in Jesus’ whose bodies sleep in the grave (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).

There is a striking contrast here in Philippians between those who will receive a body of glory in respect of which they will have no need to be ashamed because their eyes are fixed on Heaven, and those whose glory was in their shameful actions and behaviour because their eyes are fixed on earth (Philippians 3:19). It was for the reception of this great blessing that Paul had his eyes fixed on the goal, the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (compare Colossians 3:1-4). And it should be there also that we should fix all our attention, looking not at the things that are seen but the things that are unseen (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). For in that day all that will matter will be what we have accomplished in and through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Philippians 3:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/philippians-3.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, August 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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