Philippians 3

Note: Angel Martinez, the great evangelist who is best known for having memorized the entire Bible, shares the following story in his book, Unused Perfume.

I have a minister friend who was one day standing in a hotel lobby. A man approached him and said, “Are you a minister?” My friend replied in the affirmative. The stranger inquired further, “What church?” My friend answered, “I’m a Baptist.” The man said, “Oh, you are a Baptist; you are a member of the narrow, narrow church that believes only your gang is going to heaven.” The preacher replied, “You are mistaken. I am more narrow than that. I don’t believe that some of my gang are going to make it.” So you are not saved because you belong to a church or submit to some creed, no matter how orthodox. The issue is a person, the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone can do for you what you cannot do for yourself.

In our text for today we will see that there were some people who wanted for the Philippians to believe that salvation required the observance of external rites in addition to faith in Christ. Paul, however, points out the futility of such self-righteousness and stresses the righteousness which is through faith in Christ alone. When it came to `salvation Paul was indeed “more narrow,” stressing that salvation is only through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul and the Judaizers

In Philippians 2:19-30, Paul wrote about Timothy and Epaphroditus, two men who lived their lives in selfless service of others and who gave evidence of having “the mind of Christ.” In chapter 3, Paul turns rather suddenly from words of glowing commendation of his friends to strong words of rebuke of his foes, namely, those who sought to destroy the unity of the Philippian church from without.

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard to you. (3:1)

Paul begins chapter 3 with the word “Finally.” This is not to be understood as introducing Paul’s conclusion to the letter (as in Philippians 4:8). The Greek word rendered “finally” (“loipon”) can signify, “as for the rest,” “henceforth,” “furthermore,” or “Now, then.” Paul uses the word to pass from one topic to another. As he introduces his new topic he reminds his Philippians that they are to “rejoice in the Lord” or “go on rejoicing in the Lord.” Paul uses here his familiar “in the Lord” phrase which indicates the true sphere of joy. Paul uses phrases like “in Him” or “in the Lord” or “in Christ” 164 times in his New Testament letters (Dyet).

There are several interpretations of the latter part of verse 1: “To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” Among the interpretations:

• “Some suggest that it refers to repetition of ‘rejoice’, (which) would be a safeguard against despondency under trial. (Vos)

• “Others hold that it is an allusion to warnings against dissensions within the fellowship.” (Vos)

• “It must mean that Paul had written other letters to the Philippians which have not survived.” (Barclay)

• It may be a reference “to similar warnings given when on his visits to Philippi. Paul evidently (had) cautioned them repeatedly against false teachers who might lead them away from the true gospel of Christ.” (Erdman)

Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; (3:2)

Paul proceeded to issue (or repeat) his warning in very pointed language in verse 2. Notice that Paul thunders away his warning three times in the imperative mood, “Beware . . . beware . . . beware.” Wuest points out that the Greek word translated “beware” has the idea of “constantly observing with a view to avoiding, constantly be looking at in the sense of bewaring.” Vos comments, “The implication is that these false judaizing teachers have not yet invaded but might appear on the horizon at any time.”

Paul tells his readers that they are to beware of “the dogs . . . the evil workers . . . the false circumcision.” Robertson points out that Paul is not describing three classes of opponents but only one — the Judaizers, whom Paul had termed “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13). Who were the Judaizers? Ogilvie comments:

The Judaizers believed that Jesus was the Savior of Israel only and taught that a person could come to Christ to be saved only through the doors of Judaism. They insisted that all the legal, ritual, and religious qualifications and demands of the Jews be fulfilled impeccably before a person could grow in Christ . . . They followed (Paul) wherever he went, contradicting his message of justification by faith and the righteousness of God through Christ. And they remained behind after he left a city to confuse the fellowship of grace in the newborn Christians.

Paul regarded the teachings of the Judaizers as dangerous, divisive and subversive. Erdman comments, “For them no words of condemnation could be too severe.” Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written primarily to combat the false teaching of the Judaizers. In his letter to the Philippians however, Paul uses three terms to describe them:

“the dogs”

Barclay comments, “In the Bible the dog always stands for that than which nothing can be lower . . . It is the same in Greek thought; the dog stands for everything that is shamelessly unclean.” This was a favorite description of the Gentiles by the Jews. In fact, there was a Rabbinic saying, “The nations of the world are like dogs.” Paul here takes this disparaging term and throws it back in the faces of those who enjoyed using it. It is as if Paul is saying, “In your proud self-righteousness, you call other men dogs; but it is you who are dogs, because you shamelessly pervert the gospel of Christ” (Barclay). Wiersbe likens the Judaizers to dogs who “snapped at Paul’s heels and followed him from place to place ‘barking’ their false doctrines. They were troublemakers and carriers of dangerous infection.”

“the evil workers”

Wuest comments, “The term implies, not merely evil doers, but those who actually wrought against the gospel of grace.” Robertson comments, “They are actively at work but in the wrong direction.” Barclay notes, “The effect of their teaching was to take men further away from God instead of to bring them nearer to Him.” Erdman comments that “they are injurious in their influence. They are active, but their activity and zeal make for faction and disorder and unbelief. The term indicates that these persons were in the professing church, and were endangering its very life.”

“the false circumcision”

The Greek word which Paul uses is a play upon the Greek word “circumcision” meaning “to mutilate.” (The word “peritemnain” means “to circumcise”; “katatemnein” means “to mutilate.”) Barclay writes, “You Jews think that you are circumcised; in point of fact, you are only mutilated.” Wiersbe comments, “The Judaizers taught that circumcision was essential to salvation (Acts 15:1; Galatians 6:12-18); but Paul states that circumcision of itself is only a mutilation! The true Christian has experienced a spiritual circumcision in Christ (Colossians 2:11), and does not need any fleshly operations. Circumcision, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, tithing, or any other religious practice cannot save a person from his sins. Only faith in Jesus can do that.” Wuest carries the thought of mutilation farther by saying that the Judaizers had also “mutilated” the message of the gospel.

for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, (3:3)

In verse 3 Paul wants for all who read his letter to “be aware” of the fact that “we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” Paul declares here that it is only those who trust Christ Jesus for salvation that are “the true circumcision.” Thus, in striking contrast to the Judaizers who are concerned with outward rites and marks, Paul writes that the true circumcision is an inner and spiritual circumcision of the heart. Notice that Paul describes those of “the true circumcision” as those who . . .

“worship in the Spirit of God”

Wuest writes that Paul uses the word “worship” to designate the religious service and obedience of the believers in the church. Vos comments that the phrase “by the Spirit of God” underscores the fact that believers serve under the direction of the Holy Spirit and by His enablement.

“glory in Christ Jesus”

Erdman writes, “This is in contrast to those who glory in legal observance, or in external ceremonies, as grounds of acceptance with God or as the source of righteousness.” The Judaizers could not glory or boast in Christ Jesus because they placed their faith in outward rites to secure their salvation.

“put no confidence in the flesh”

The word “confidence” means “coming to a settled persuasion concerning something” (Wuest) while the term “flesh” denotes “all that man is and achieves apart from God” (Erdman). The Judaizers had come to a settled confidence in the flesh. They depended on circumcision, Jewish descent, and legal observances (Vos). The Christian however, puts no confidence in the flesh but only in the mercy of God and in the love of Jesus Christ (Barclay).

Thus Paul tells the Philippians to beware of the Judaizers and their dangerous message and to be aware of the fact that they were in right relationship with God apart from any external rites. They were to beware to the end that the unity of the church might be preserved and the message of the gospel might remain pure and unperverted. They were to be aware to the end that they might grow in grace and properly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul and Judaism

Paul now enforces his warning against the Judaizers by referring to his own personal testimony. Paul was not speaking from an ivory tower. Paul could never be accused of not understanding the issue. Paul knew the futility of placing “confidence in the flesh.”

although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: (3:4)

Paul states in verse 4 that if confidence in the flesh and the rites of Judaism were the grounds of salvation, then he, and not the Judaizers, would be in a position “to lay first claim to the boasted advantage” (Erdman). Vos comments, “For the moment (Paul) puts himself on the same ground as his opponents, showing that by their standards, in his unconverted state he had greater ground for confidence in the flesh than they (“I have more,” v. 4).” Paul once had all that his opponents had and more, and he found it all to be futile and powerless to make a man right with God.

circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. (3:5-6)

In verses 5 and 6, Paul lists his personal credentials. These credentials formed the basis for the boasting in verse 4. Vos refers to these as “seven advantages which could give (Paul) a reason for glorying in the flesh.” Vos also points out that “the first four are hereditary and the last three by his personal choice or effort.”

“circumcised the eighth day”

Notice that Paul begins at the point on which the Judaizers were most vocal: circumcision. Paul here establishes the fact that he was a Jew by birth. “He was not circumcised in adult life at the time of conversion as proselytes were, nor at the age of (thirteen) as Ishmaelites were, but on the eighth day after birth as any true Hebrew child under the law ought to be” (Vos).

“of the nation of Israel”

Once again Paul affirms that he was not a proselyte but a true Jew. Barclay comments, “When the Jews wished to stress their special relationship to God in its most unique sense it was the word ‘Israelite’ that they used . . . By calling himself an Israelite, Paul stressed the absolute purity of his descent.”

“of the tribe of Benjamin”

Erdman comments that this was a proud claim. “Benjamin was a son of Jacob’s loved wife, Rachel, and the only one of the sons of Jacob who was born in the Promised Land.” Barclay points out, “When Paul stated that he was of the tribe of Benjamin, it was a claim that he was not simply an Israelite but that he belonged to the highest aristocracy of Israel. It would be equivalent in . . . America that he traced his descent to the Pilgrim fathers.”

“a Hebrew of Hebrews”

By this phrase Paul means that he was a Hebrew from Hebrew parents or of pure and unmixed Hebrew stock. Barclay comments, “A Hebrew was a Jew who was not only of pure racial descent but one who had deliberately, and often laboriously, retained the Hebrew tongue.” A Hebrew, although living outside Palestine in the dispersion, was one who maintained the Jewish language and customs and manner of life, who was in no way a Hellenist (Vos).

“as to the Law, a Pharisee”

The Pharisees were the most ardent expositors and defenders of the law. They were the strictest and most law-abiding sect of Judaism. Barclay comments, “Their very name means ‘The Separated Ones.’ They had separated themselves off from all common life and from all common tasks in order to make it the aim of their lives to keep every smallest detail of the Law.” Erdman writes, “What (Paul) here justly claims is his unquestioned doctrinal and religious orthodoxy.”

“as to zeal, a persecutor of the church”

This reveals something of Paul’s unquestionable loyalty and devotion to Judaism. Paul had such a zeal for the law and the defense of Judaism that “he mounted a personal campaign against the church (Vos). (See Acts 8:1 and 9:1-2). Paul later wrote Timothy and said that God had shown him mercy for his blind and zealous persecution of the church because he “acted ignorantly in unbelief” (See I Timothy 1:12-13). Barclay comments, “It is Paul’s claim that he knew Judaism at its most intense and even fanatical heat.”

“as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless”

Paul here says that when judged by men and the standards of external rules and observances, he regarded himself “blameless.” He claims that there was no demand of the Law (the Mosaic law as interpreted by the Pharisaic tradition) which he did not fulfill.

Barclay summarizes:

So Paul states his attainments. He was so loyal a Jew that he had never lost the Hebrew speech; he was not only a religious Jew, he was a member of their strictest and the most self-disciplined sect; he had had in his heart a burning zeal for what he had thought was the cause of God; and he had a record in Judaism in which no man could mark a fault.

Paul and Jesus

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. (3:7)

With the stroke of the little conjunction “But” in verse 7, Paul summarizes his thoughts about placing one’s confidence in the flesh and external rites and observances. Paul writes:

“whatever things”

This is a reference to the “things” which both the Jews and the Judaizers looked to put them in right relationship with God. Notice also the seven “things” which Paul mentions in verses 5 and 6.

“were gain to me”

The word “gain” is plural in the Greek. This is a reference to all of the things mentioned which were a source of enrichment and pride.

“those things I have counted”

The word “counted” means “to consider, deem, think, account.” This word is in the perfect tense in the Greek, indicating an action in the past that continues to have effect in the present. Wuest comments that after mature consideration, Paul had come to a settled conviction about the matter.

“as loss for the sake of Christ”

The word “loss” is singular indicating that Paul counted the various “gains” as one “loss.” Vos comments, “The comparative usefulness of his previously held system of work-righteousness appears in the word ‘loss,’ which in the papyri (Greek literature written on papyrus sheets in Egypt about the time of the New Testament) is used to refer to bones thrown out on the street to dogs.” Paul considered as loss all of the things that were keeping him from gaining righteousness in Christ.

More 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 in order that I may gain Christ, (3:8)

Paul expounds on the thought of verse 7 in verse 8 by writing, “More than that.” Paul now moves beyond the “whatever things” of verse 7 to the “all things” of verse 8. Erdman comments, “Not only his inherited privilege as a Jew and the personal attainments under Jewish law, but ‘all things,’ all that he had formerly prized and valued, all that the world had to offer, he counted ‘to be loss,’ a real liability, an actual disadvantage, if they stood between himself and Christ, and in comparison with the priceless privilege of knowing Christ as his Savior and Lord.”

The phrase “for whom I have suffered the loss of all things” refers to a specific time in the past, probably his conversion when he suffered the confiscation or loss of all things. Erdman writes that Paul’s acceptance of Christ had resulted in the actual loss of everything he formerly held dear. But losing all things in order to gain Christ is for Paul a profitable exchange. In fact, the “whatever things” or verse 7 and the “all things” of verse 8 Paul counted as “rubbish.” According to Rienecker/Rogers, the word “rubbish” can refer either “to human excrement . . . or . . . to the refuse or leavings of a feast, the food thrown away from the table.” That is what Paul thought of everything he has once treasured in comparison to gaining Christ. Robertson refers to the loss of all things in order to gain Christ “the greatest bargain of life.”

and 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. (3:9)

In verse 9, Paul elaborates on what is involved in gaining Christ. It means to “be found in Him.” Wuest comments that “Paul wants his life to demonstrate that he is in Christ. He wants to be found by observing men to be in Christ.” Vos comments, “To be in Christ is to be linked to Him in living relationship so His life pulsates throughout our beings, so His orientation to the experiences of life become ours, so His power and motivation spur us on.” And of course, one can only be righteous in God’s sight when he is “in Christ.”

Wiersbe comments that the goal of Paul’s life as a Pharisee was righteousness. Paul’s great desire was to find fellowship with God, to be at peace with God. This can only come through righteousness or a right relationship with God. Barclay beautifully paraphrases Paul’s thoughts on this matter:

He says, “All my life I have been trying to get into a right relationship with God. I tried to find it by strict adherence to the Jewish law; but I found the Law and all its ways worse than useless to achieve that end. I found it no better than ‘skubala.’” (That is, either that which is thrown to the dogs or excrement.) So, then, Paul is saying, “I found the Law and all its ways of no more use than the refuse thrown on the garbage heap to help me get into a right relationship with God. So I gave up trying to create a goodness of my own; I came to God in humble faith, as Jesus told me to do, and I found that fellowship I had sought so long.”

So he says, “Out of my experience I tell you that the Jewish way is wrong and futile. You will never get into a right relationship with God by your own efforts in keeping the Law. You can get into a right relationship with God only by taking Jesus Christ at His word, and by accepting what God Himself offers to you.”

Note: If you got to where you are going, where would you be? If you accomplished your goals, what would you have? If you attained your ambitions, what would you possess? Why is it important that we set and try to achieve goals? What is the danger in resting on past accomplishments? What would you say are some of the enemies of progress toward goals?

Paul Meyer, an authority on self-improvement through personal motivation gives the following five danger signals of things that can keep us from reaching our goals:

Doubt: Questioning our ability to do the job. Self-confidence is lost; worry and confusion take over.

Procrastination: Putting off important decisions; hesitating to take considered risks; hoping the problem will take care of itself.

Devotion to false symbols: Surrendering to egotism and status seeking; coveting the title of the job instead of concentrating on better ways and new ideas for actually doing the job; desiring to be a “well-thought-of” person instead of a thinking one.

Complacency: Surrendering to the inner urge that most everyone has to “take it easy”; being satisfied with “good enough” instead of “good,” and with “good” instead of “excellent.”

Loss of purpose: Failing to make mental provision or concrete plan for going anywhere else; reaching the first goal becomes the end of the career instead of the beginning.

In Philippians 3:10-16, we will learn about the Apostle Paul’s goals and the role they played in his journey toward spiritual maturity.

that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (3:10-11)

In verse 10 Paul repeats the thought of verse 8, and in so doing repeats the deep desire and passion of his life — “that I may know Him.” Paul continues to count all things but loss that he may gain Christ and may be found in Him and may know Him. Paul has new ambitions in life. No longer is he in pursuit of “whatever things” (verse 7) and “all things” (verse 8). As J. B. Phillips’ translation of Philippians 3:10 tells us, “How changed are my ambitions! Now I long to know Christ and the power shown by His resurrection: now I long to share His suffering, even to die as He died, so that I may perhaps attain, as He did, the resurrection from the dead.”

“that I may know Him”

This is Paul’s goal. To “know” Christ is not a reference to the comprehension of facts. The word “know” is the same word that Paul uses in verse 8 and means “to know personally through experience.” James Dyet comments, “Rather than acquiring a greater number of facts about Christ, Paul was anxious to know Christ intimately. This should be our goal, too, for simply knowing facts about Christ is no substitute for knowing him.”

“and the power of His resurrection”

God’s great power was manifested in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. That same power is given by God to the believer. Wuest comments, “(Paul) wants to know also in an experiential way the power of Christ’s resurrection. That is, he wants to experience the same power which raised Christ from the dead surging through his own being, overcoming sin in his life and producing the Christian graces.”

“and the fellowship of His sufferings”

The word “fellowship” here means “a joint participation.” Vos comments that Paul wanted to be involved in “partnership with Christ in His sufferings that others might be brought to faith in Christ.” Joseph Beet aptly notes, “They who for Christ’s sake, and in order to save men, endure hardship, are sharing His sufferings for the world’s salvation. For their sufferings, like His, are caused by man’s sin, are endured in loyalty to God and love to mankind, and are working out God’s purpose of mercy.” Ogilvie comments, “To share in Christ’s sufferings means that we become involved with people to care for them even at the cost of our own convenience or comfort.”

“being conformed to His death”

This expression is tied to Paul’s description of Christ in Philippians 2:6-11. Frank Stagg comments, “Paul can find life only by pouring it out to God for others, just as Christ poured out His life. It is the opposite of snatching at life and its privileges.”

“in order that I may attain to the resurrection of the dead”

Vos comments, “In verse 11 (Paul) looks longingly toward that complete conformity to Christ that will come at the time of the resurrection and presence with Christ. This is not the resurrection of the dead, but resurrection from among the dead. In other words, it is not a general resurrection of the dead but a resurrection of believers from among the whole group of the dead as is pictured in such passages as 1 Corinthians 15.”

Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; (3:12-13a)

Beginning with verse 12 Paul makes it clear that he has not reached a state of either moral or spiritual perfection. Verses 15 and 16 seem to indicate that there was some divergence of opinion on this point of perfectionism. Dyet comments that the Judaizers “made it their business to downgrade the spiritual attainment of others while lifting themselves up as faultless examples of righteous behavior.” But Paul, in contrast to the Judaizers, humbly and simply states his dissatisfaction with his spiritual attainments as well as his cognizance of his shortcomings.

“not that I have already obtained it”

While Paul was satisfied with Christ, he was not satisfied with his Christian life. Wiersbe comments, “A sanctified dissatisfaction is the first essential to progress in the Christian race.” Watchman Nee has said that all who aspire to spiritual maturity must maintain Paul’s attitude in Philippians 3:12. Another commentator has written, “There is no progress possible to the man who does not see and mourn over his defects. ‘The soul of improvement is the improvement of the soul;’ and it is only a keen sense of need that stimulates the soul to continuous and repeated efforts. The ideal is ever ahead of the actual, revealing its defects and exciting to fresh and more earnest endeavors.” Ogilvie cautions, “Satisfaction is a sure sign of an impasse of immobility. The evidence of the Spirit’s work in us is an urgent dissatisfaction with our present level of growth.”

“or have already become perfect”

Wuest comments that the Greek word used here does not mean “sinless, flawless,” but “spiritually mature.” He further comments, “Paul states that he has not come to the place in his Christian life where growth in spiritual maturity has been completed, beyond which there is no room for further development, and that as a result he is now in a state of spiritual maturity.”

“but I press on”

The idea here is, “But I continue to pursue.” The picture here is of an athlete running down the race course, straining every nerve and muscle to reach his goal. “But I press on” should been seen in contrast to those who feel they have arrived or feel they have already become perfect.

“in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus”

Christ had laid hold on Paul on the Damascus road. Wuest comments, “Paul wants to appropriate and make his own that for which Christ caught Paul and made him His own. Paul speaks of the latter in Galatians 1:16, where God’s purpose of calling Paul into salvation and the office of apostle was that He might reveal His Son in Paul. And that is exactly what Paul is talking about in the expression ‘being made conformable to His death.’ It was Christ-likeness that Paul was pursuing after. It was absolute Christ-likeness that he says he has not yet captured and pulled down so as to make his own.”

“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet”

Paul emphasizes his point once more in verse 13 in stronger terms. He emphatically states, “Whatever others may say, I am still a learner; I have not arrived.” The race is not over.

but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, (3:13b)

Erdman sees in verse 13 three requisites for a successful runner:

1. Singleness of purpose: “but one thing I do”

2. Freedom from encumbering weights: “forgetting what lies behind”

3. Ceaseless exertion: “reaching forward to what lies ahead”

Paul’s devotion to the pursuit of his goal is seen in the expression, “but one thing I do.” Robertson comments: “There is power in concentration. The one thing worthwhile for Paul is to win the ideal set up for him by Christ, to grasp that goal. He will not be diverted to anything else. He will not be a quitter . . . He has no time for lesser interests. He has ‘the expulsive power of a new affection’ that drives out all else.” Erdman comments on this phrase, “‘But one thing I do.’ This was undoubtedly true of Paul. No other life has been lived with such definiteness of aim; no other career has been run with such unity of purpose. Nothing could distract the apostle. Nothing could divert him from his course. He had set his eye upon the goal set before him by Christ. To attain it was his single purpose. Upon that goal he concentrated all his thought and his desire.”

In the latter part of verse 13 Paul writes of “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” Lloyd Ogilvie writes of an occasion when he asked an Olympic runner the secret of his success. The runner’s answer can help us to understand what Paul was communicating to his readers and to us in this verse. The Olympian answered Ogilvie saying, “The only way to win a race it so forget all previous victories which would give you false pride and all former failures which would give you false fears. Each race is a new beginning. Pressing on to the finish tape is all that’s important!”

“forgetting what lies behind”

The picture here is of an athlete laying aside anything that might impede his progress. Wiersbe comments on the word “forget” saying, “Please keep in mind that in Bible terminology, ‘to forget’ does not mean ‘to fail to remember’ … ‘To forget’ in the Bible means ‘no longer influenced by or affected by.’” Wuest comments on “what lies behind” by writing that this is a reference to the things Paul had depended upon to find favor with God (as seen in Philippians 3:5-6). Stagg, on the other hand, believes that this is not so much a reference to Paul’s former Pharisaic achievements as it is a reference to that part of the course already run. Erdman also sees this as a reference to the stages of the course which Paul has already run. For Paul, the achievements of the past are not enough and he is not content to rest on his laurels. Erdman comments that in this verse “Paul has in mind the fixed purpose of the athlete who keeps his eye intent upon the goal and refuses to look backward.”

“and reaching forward to what lies ahead”

Here we see something of Paul’s ceaseless exertion. Robertson comments on the word “reaching”: “It is the graphic word from the arena. The metaphor applies naturally to the tension of the runner in the foot race as he leans forward in his eagerness . . . In sporting language he is on ‘the home stretch.’” Erdman writes, “It is the graphic phrase of the foot race. It indicates the expenditure of every ounce of energy. It pictures the runner in a final agony of effort to win the race.”

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (3:14)

Paul here repeats and reemphasizes his earnest determination to reach his goal.

“I press on toward the goal”

The word for “press” is the same as in verse 12. It is in the present tense thus indicating continual action. “I keep on pressing toward the mark.” This is a word that carries with it the idea of intense endeavor. The word “goal” translates a word meaning “a mark on which to fix the eye.” Wuest comments that the word “toward” is from the preposition “down,” and has the idea of “bearing down upon” in the direction of the goal.  Rienecker/Rogers comment that the picture here is of “a runner who has just turned the curve or gone around the post and is now in the home stretch where he can see the goal.”

“for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”

Dyet comments, “Nothing would keep Paul from reaching complete spiritual maturity, which was God’s appointed goal for him. This is what he considered ‘the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.’” Vos comments, “The prize is not otherwise identified but is apparently the everlasting heavenly glory.” Erdman believes that the “prize” is “the immortal crown of perfect righteousness which will be his when he has attained unto ‘the resurrection from the dead’ at the coming of Christ.” The “upward call of God in Christ Jesus” refers to the call to salvation.

Let 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; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. (3:15-16)

In verses 15 and 16 we see something of the discipline of the athlete. He must have the right attitude and stay on the right path. He must exercise a discipline that follows the rules and stays at the task.

“Let us therefore, as many as are perfect”

Erdman comments, “Paul used the word ‘perfect’ in a different sense from that of the earlier phrase (verse 12). It here denotes those who are ‘mature.’ He wishes to describe those who, as Christians, are ‘full-grown’ men, as contrasted with ‘babes in Christ.’ It indicates a relative ‘perfection,’ as that of an adult compared with that of an infant.”

“have this attitude”

Vos comments that this “refers to agreement with Paul on the proposition set forth in the previous verses: Christian perfection is progressive and there is a need to press on toward ultimate perfection with all diligence.” Erdman notes, “Paul means that all persons who know the real nature and demands of the Christian life should share his attitude of mind and should imitate his effort.”

“and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you”

Apparently there were some at Philippi who had a different attitude and believed and taught that “perfection” was possible here and now. Vos comments, “Paul’s approach to such is that truly mature Christians will know better and that he is so sure of his position he believes ‘God shall reveal even this to you.’”

“however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained”

Vos comments, “Paul is here exposing the danger of turning aside from the path in which the Philippians obtained spiritual life and in which they have made considerable progress. Real progress will be made along the lines already made.” H. A. A. Kennedy translates this verse, “Only, so far as we have come, let us keep to the same path.” Robertson captures the thought by writing, “We have come thus far on the way to the goal which is still ahead. What are we to do? There is but one thing to do — just go right on in the same path by which we have come thus far.” The lesson here is simply this — exercise the discipline of an athlete and keep at it!

Note: Philippians 3 has been referred to as the spiritual biography of the Apostle Paul. (Wiersbe). In Philippians 3:1-11 we learn of Paul’s past, in verses 12-16 of his present, and in verses 17-21 of his future. In Philippians 3:1-11 Paul is pictured as an accountant (“I count . . .”) who discovered new values when he met Jesus Christ. In Philippians 3:12-16 Paul is pictured as an athlete (“I press . . .”) pressing with new vigor toward the finish line in the Christian race. In Philippians 3:17-21 Paul is pictured as an alien (“I look . . .”) whose citizenship is in heaven and who is looking for the coming of Jesus Christ.

Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. (3:17)

“join in following my example”

In Philippians 3:16, Paul exhorted the Philippians to stay on the path in which they had made steady spiritual progress. He carries this exhortation a step further in verse 17 by calling upon the Philippians to join together in following his example. This exhortation grows out of Paul’s warnings against the Judaizers (Philippians 3:1-11), the perfectionists (Philippians 3:12-16), and now the antinomians (Philippians 3:17-21).

Paul here sets himself up as an example worthy of imitation. His words, at first glance, seem to have a ring of alarming audacity and self-conceit. That is why we must not overlook the context in which this exhortation is framed. We find it in the midst of Paul’s confession that he is not perfect and continues to press on toward the goal.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” In other words, “And you should follow my example, just as I follow Christ’s” (LB). That is precisely the point in Philippians 3:17. Paul wanted for the Philippian brethren to follow his example only insofar as he followed the example of Christ. The earnest desire of Paul’s life was to become like Jesus and to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10). That is why he could confidently say, “Follow my example.” Howard Vos points out that Paul’s example also included “a renunciation of all man-made righteousness, a commitment to the position that perfection was not attainable in this life, and a determination to pursue with all his energies the higher plane of Christian living.”

“Follow my example!” Can we say that at home, at work, with our friends? If not, why not? Is there anything that is keeping us from living a life worthy of imitation? Are we following the example set by Christ closely and consistently enough to have others follow our example? Are we in a position where we must only say “Do as I say and not as I do”? Lloyd Ogilvie challenges us at this point by writing, “How about an experiment today? Let’s live through the day with an acute sensitivity to our actions and reactions, our feelings, and our handling of difficulties. Would we want others to live like that? Can we say to the people in our lives, ‘Keep on imitating me.’?”

Follow “our” example.

Paul goes on to write in verse 17, “and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” Notice the shift from “me” to “us.” Paul does not claim to be the only one who followed the example of Christ and so lived a life worthy of imitation. There were others whose lives were exemplary and worthy of imitation, especially Timothy and Epaphroditus, whom Paul highly commended in Philippians 2:19-30. As we noted in an earlier lesson, Timothy and Epaphroditus were men who lives were lived in the selfless service of others and who gave evidence of having the mind of Christ.

The word “observe” translates a word which means “to fix the attention upon with a desire for or interest in.” Rienecker/Rogers comment that “to mark and follow” is the meaning of the word. Wuest comments that Paul is exhorting the Philippians “to observe his life attentively and to become imitators of him, and to do the same also with reference to those other Christians in whose lives they find an example of Paul’s own manner of life.” Erdman comments that Paul is here urging his readers “to fix their attention as upon men who are safe guides for Christian conduct.” Robertson writes, “Keep your eye on the goal if you can see it. If not, keep your eye on one who knows the way to the goal and who is going there.”

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

Paul’s tone becomes even more solemn in verses 18 and 19 as he writes, “For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.” The “many” to whom Paul was referring here were obviously men of a character far different from Paul’s.

Their characteristics.

But just who were the “many” of whom Paul had often told them and now told them again even weeping? Some have suggested that they were the Judaizers, but as Dyet points out, “the language of verses 18 and 19 supports the view that Paul was referring to a different group of false teachers from those in verse 2 . . . the religionists described in verses 18 and 19 were antinomians and proud of it.”

Antinomians? Who or what is an antinomian? “Antinomians reject the idea that they should live by rules. They are opposed to moral laws and regulations. A synonym for antinomians is libertines” (James Dyet). The antinomians were on the opposite end of the scale from the “formalists” or Judaizers who stressed strict observance of the law. Ogilvie points out that these people, in essence, believed, “God’s grace is freely given, He loves and forgives us, so do what pleases and satisfies.” These were people who had confused liberty with license. Walvoord believes the “many” referred to by Paul were “incipient Gnostics, the opposite of legalizers, and tended to throw off moral restraints.” Thus Paul faced three errors in this chapter: the Judaizers, the perfectionists, and the libertines or antinomians.

Notice the reference to “weeping” in verse 18. Rienecker/Rogers comment that this word means “to weep audibly. The stress of St. Paul’s grief would lie in the fact that they degraded the true doctrine of liberty (Lightfoot).” Vos points out that Paul wept “not only because of the injury to the church by these professing Christians but also because of the peril to their own souls.” Paul’s tears reveal his sorrow over the damage done by the libertines to the church, to the truth, and to themselves.

Paul proceeds by identifying the characteristics of the antinomians:

“they are enemies of the cross of Christ”

Erdman comments, “These men, however, are enemies of the central principal of the Christian life. The cross is the very symbol of death to sin and self. (See Luke 9:23). By their sensual self-indulgence these men are bringing into disrepute the cross and all the sound realities the cross is known to represent.” The very philosophy and lifestyle of the antinomians stand in opposition to the cross of Christ.

What about us? When are we guilty of bringing into disrepute the cross of Christ? When do we show ourselves to be enemies of the cross of Christ?

“whose end is destruction”

Not only is the life of the antinomian in a state of moral ruin, they also will not be able to stand in the judgment. (See Psalm 1:4-6). Erdman points out that in Paul’s language “destruction” is the exact opposite of “salvation.” The reference here is to eternal punishment. In Psalm 73, the Psalmist considered the life of the wicked and was troubled by the fact that they did not seem to be troubled. He complained that even though he kept his heart pure and obeyed the Lord’s commands, he was daily stricken with troubles. In verses 16 and 17 he wrote, “When I pondered to understand this, It was troublesome in my sight Until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end.” It was not until the Psalmist came into the presence of God that he came to understand that the end of the wicked is destruction, that is, not being able to stand in the judgment.

“whose god is their appetite (or belly)”

Stagg comments that this is a reference to the “sensuality which the libertines sought to dignify as their liberty.” Erdman points out that this is a reference to the fact that the real objects of the libertine’s worship were the lower appetites of the body. Erdman writes, “They are devotees of the sensual nature.” Wuest comments that Paul may have been thinking of the comment by the Cyclops in Euripedes: “My flocks which I sacrifice to no one but myself, and not to the gods, and to this my belly, the greatest of the gods: for to eat and drink each day, and to give one’s self no trouble, this is the god of wise men.” Robertson notes, “The word for belly is used for all sorts of sensual indulgence and applies to drink and immorality also (wine and women).” Rienecker/Rogers point out that the word “stomach” “may be used as a general term to include all that belongs to the bodily, fleshly life of man and therefore inevitably perishes.”

“whose glory is in their shame”

Walvoord comments that “their shameless conduct is a matter of pride to them.” The libertines were proud of things they should have been ashamed of. Erdman notes, “Their boasted liberty is bondage to lust.” Someone has said that people used to blush when they were embarrassed but now are embarrassed when they blush.

In what ways has our society conditioned us to be proud of things of which we should be ashamed and to laugh at things which ought instead to being sorrow?

“who set their minds on earthly things”

Vos comments that this phrase reveals the ultimate source of the perversions Paul has listed. Erdman notes that “their thoughts, their feelings, their interests are fixed solely upon the things of this present life.” Walvoord states that the antinomians are “living for the things of this life only.” Robertson points out, “These are just the opposite of Paul in his passion for the upward calling (Philippians 3:14).”

Where does Paul exhort us to set our minds according to Colossians 3:1-2? What does Paul exhort us to do in Romans 13:12-14?

Their condemnation.

It is interesting to note that Paul’s attitude was not one of self-righteous condemnation but rather sorrow as he contemplated the ultimate judgment of the antinomians at the hand of God. (Walvoord). (See also Psalm 1:4-6 and 73:15-20). James Dyet offers the following comment on this point:

This portrayal of the enemies of the cross of Christ gives us serious reason to pity those who scoff at the message of salvation. While they proceed through life with no regard for the One who died for them, they may presume that their freedom from moral restraints brings them pleasure after pleasure, but in reality their years upon the earth are wasted and their eternity will be full of anguish and conscious regretting of what might have been. The antinomians, therefore, were evil men whom the Philippian Christians were well advised to avoid.

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who 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. (3:20-21)

In verse 20 Paul draws a contrast between the hopeless future of the lost and the glorious future of the believer. With the use of “Our”, Paul draws a contrast between those who look for Christ’s return and those who set their minds on earthly things. Paul writes, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who 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.”

His citizenship.

In Philippians 1:27 Paul wrote, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” The word for “conduct” in Philippians 1:27 comes from a word that is related to our word for politics. It is the word “politeuesthe” which means “to behave as citizens.” This is a word that the saints in the Roman colony of Philippi understood. Barclay captures the meaning of this word and the thought of Philippians 1:27 by writing:

You and I know full well the privileges of being a Roman citizen. You know full well how even in Philippi, so many miles from Rome, you must still live and act as a Roman does. Well then, remember that you have an even higher duty than that. Wherever you are you must live as befits a citizen of the kingdom of God.

In Philippians 3:20, Paul uses the same word that he used in 1:27. In 3:20 it is translated “citizenship” and has to do with one’s behavior as a citizen. The conduct of the believer must be in accordance with his citizenship. As citizens of the kingdom of God, believers are like residents in a foreign country. They are a colony of heaven on earth. Their names are enrolled in heaven’s register, their conduct is to be regulated by heaven’s laws, their hopes are to be centered in heaven’s glories, they are to speak heaven’s language, they are to be loyal to heaven’s cause, and they are to look for heaven’s Lord.

Paul continues, “from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” In John 14:2 we read that Christ is in heaven preparing a place for believers. In John 14:3 we read His promise that He will return to receive believers to Himself. Thus the believer ought to look expectantly for the return of Christ. This blessed hope should not grow dim lest the believer begin to despair and to fall into worldliness, setting his mind on earthly things. We ought to have an eager longing, an earnest expectation, and a fervent desire for the Lord’s return. It is at that time that He will bring to completion our salvation, delivering us finally from the presence of sin and conforming us into His precious image. What a marvelous hope. Wiersbe writes, “There is tremendous energy in the present power of a future hope.”

His conformity.

Paul reminds the Philippian saints that their salvation will be complete when Christ appears. While we have experienced deliverance from the penalty of sin (justification) and can daily experience deliverance from the power of sin (sanctification), we eagerly await the day when we shall finally experience deliverance from the presence of sin (glorification). On that glorious day Christ 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.” We read in I John 3:2, “Beloved, now we are the children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.”

While the exact nature of our glorified body is something we cannot fully know, we do know that it will be patterned after the glorified body of Jesus. And it is Christ Himself who will “fashion us anew” by the exertion of His great power. Erdman comments, “These words are not enough to satisfy our curiosity, but they may suffice to inspire comfort and stimulate hope . . . Such glorious promises should make us less intent on ‘earthly things,’ more eager to set our affections on things above, more mindful of our citizenship in heaven, ‘whence also we wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.’”

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