Philippians 3 NIV

3:1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord [indicates the true sphere of joy]! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again [views include: refers to rejoice; refers to encouragement to live in harmony; refers to previous letters to them; refers to warnings against false teachers], and it is a safeguard for you.

3:2 Watch out for [beware; note three references to the Judaizers whose activity was dangerous, divisive, and subversive (cf. 2 Cor. 11:13)…] those dogs [they followed Paul and barked their contradictory doctrines], those men who do evil [their teaching and activity led people away from God], those mutilators of the flesh [Judaizers believed that circumcision was essential to salvation (Acts 15:1; Galatians 6:12-18); cf. Col. 2:11 re: spiritual “circumcision done by Christ”; Judaizers had also “mutilated” the message of the gospel].

From the time of his dramatic conversion on the Damascus road, Paul committed himself to tell others about Him. In addition to the physical hardships he experienced as he took the gospel to new frontiers, Paul felt the pressure of concern for all the churches (see 2 Cor. 11:28). He often encountered strong opposition from those who sought either to add to Christ’s work on the cross or to subtract from His deity. These individuals wedged their dangerous doctrines into the hearts of new believers and caused divisions in the early church.

Paul warned the Philippian believers to watch out for evil workers or the Judaizers. This subversive group (2 Cor. 11:13) taught that Gentiles had to first become Jews before they could become Christians. They added to Christ’s work by insisting that circumcision was essential to salvation. Paul therefore referred to them as those who mutilate the flesh. Like dogs, the Judaizers followed Paul everywhere he went. They barked their contradictory doctrines and mutilated the message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ.

3:3 For it is we [those who trust Christ Jesus alone for salvation] who are the circumcision, we who worship [serve] by [under the leadership and power of] the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus [and not in any outward rites], and who put no confidence in [to depend on] the flesh [what we are and can achieve apart from Christ]

3:4 [Paul reinforced his warning against the Judaizers by referring to his own personal testimony] though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more [because of who he was and what he had achieved before coming to faith in Christ]:

Under the old covenant, circumcision was a physical sign that set the Jews apart from the Gentiles. This bodily sign was to be a mark of a spiritual relationship with God. However, after Jesus Christ, physical circumcision was no longer necessary. He made it possible for all who believe in Him as Savior to become part of God’s family. Those who have placed their faith in Christ have had their hearts circumcised by Him (Col. 2:11-12). Unlike the Judaizers who put confidence in their own external achievements, true believers boast or exult only in Christ Jesus and in what He has done to make salvation possible.

The Judaizers placed a great deal of confidence in their personal religious credentials and accomplishments. They mistakenly believed that their religious effort and activity would earn their salvation. However, if religious credentials were the basis for salvation, then Paul had better grounds for confidence in the flesh.

Paul listed several facts about his life that would have qualified him for a place in the covenant people of God according to the Judaizers’ standards. However, after his encounter with Christ, Paul realized that his religious resume had actually kept him from knowing God. Those who depend on their religious credentials will be disappointed.

3:5 [Paul listed seven personal credentials which formed the basis for his boasting in v. 4…] [1] circumcised [the Judaizers were most vocal about this] on the eighth day, [2] of the people of Israel [he was not a proselyte but a true Jew], [3] of the tribe of Benjamin [youngest son of Jacob and his beloved wife, Rachel; the only one of Jacob’s sons who was born in the Promised Land], [4] a Hebrew of Hebrews [a Hebrew from Hebrew parents (pure and unmixed Hebrew stock)]; [5] in regard to the law, a Pharisee [strictest and most law-abiding sect of Judaism; name means “the separated ones”];

3:6 [6] as for zeal, persecuting the church [cf. Acts 8:1; 9:1-2]; [7] as for legalistic righteousness, faultless [Paul kept the demands of the Law (the Mosaic law as interpreted by the Pharisaic tradition)].

Like the Judaizers, many religious people today need to experience a transformation of their way of thinking. Christianity is not about religion or religious activity, but about a relationship with God made possible by Christ’s work on the cross. How arrogant to imagine ourselves standing before God and expecting that our personal religious resume will either please or impress Him.

Isaiah noted that our own works and accomplishments, however good or righteous we imagine them to be, are as filthy rags before God (Isa. 64:6). If following the law, doing good works, and building an impressive resume is how people are made right with God, then Christ died for nothing (Gal. 2:21).

3:7 But whatever [reference to the things (cf. Phil. 3:5-6) which both the Jews and the Judaizers looked to put them in right relationship with God] was to my profit [reference to all of the things mentioned which were a source of enrichment and pride] I now consider [to count, deem, think, account] loss [all of the things that were keeping him from gaining righteousness in Christ] for the sake of Christ.

Paul saw things differently after his conversion. His encounter with Christ led him to rethink all of his Old Testament studies in light of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus. Only then did he understand that all of the things he once considered profitable were actually useless in helping him gain righteousness in Christ. The sum of all his religious activity could not earn him salvation. He learned that right standing with God comes at God’s initiative and by faith in Christ. He therefore abandoned trust in the flesh and external rites and observances and tossed his religious resume into the garbage.

3:8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things [refers to a specific time in the past, probably his conversion when he suffered the confiscation or loss of all things]. I consider them rubbish [can refer either “to human excrement . . . or . . . to the refuse or leavings of a feast, the food thrown away from the table” (Rienecker/Rogers)], that [Paul had a new ambition in life] I may gain Christ [a profitable exchange]

Paul recognized the surpassing value of knowing Christ. All of the things he had once considered valuable he now considered to be a loss by comparison to knowing Christ. For Paul, knowing Christ was indeed a profitable exchange for everything he had lost.

Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant who found a pearl of great value. Recognizing the surpassing value of that pearl, the merchant eagerly sold all that he had and bought the pearl (Matt. 13:45-46). Like this merchant, Paul counted everything he had lost as nothing in comparison to what he had gained.

I know many believers who live in places that are hostile to the gospel of Jesus Christ. What convicts and inspires me most is what they have exchanged for the privilege of knowing and following Christ. Many have exchanged personal security. Others have lost careers, property, and family. And yet, I have never heard a single one of these believers utter a complaint. Their lives are a testimony to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ and to the fact that what they have gained far exceeds anything they have lost.

We should make knowing Christ the central goal of our lives and be absolutely determined to accomplish that goal. Knowing Christ is not merely having factual information about Him, but a growing, personal experience with Him that shapes our entire outlook on life.

One way in which we can become better acquainted with Jesus is by spending time in the study of the Bible. While we should not equate knowing the Bible or knowing theology with loving Jesus, we must gain acquaintance with Him in the Bible. We must become so familiar with Christ and know Him so well that we are not duped by counterfeits or by thinking that minimizes who He is or adds to what He did to make provision for our redemption.

3:9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

Prior to his conversion, Paul had thought that his own righteousness and religious credentials were sufficient to gain him access to God. After his conversion, Paul’s thinking underwent major changes. His greatest desire was that he might be found in Christ, not depending on his own righteousness, but in the righteousness that results from placing one’s faith in Christ alone for salvation. Like Paul, we too should want to be found in Him every moment that we live, when we die, when He returns, and at the final judgment.

3:10 I want to know [same word that Paul used in verse 8; means “to know personally through experience.”] Christ [“to know Christ” was the was the deep desire and passion of Paul’s life] and the power of his resurrection [God’s great power was manifested in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead] and the fellowship [means “a joint participation”] of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

After his conversion, knowing Christ became Paul’s greatest ambition in life. While many are content to know about Christ or to be acquainted with facts about His life, Paul’s deepest desire was to know Christ intimately. He wanted to live each day in the power of the Holy Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead. Paul also was willing to suffer for Christ who suffered for him. Paul indeed suffered many hardships and trials for the sake of the gospel. And, he expressed a desire to become like Christ in His death, something that Paul did by daily dying to his sinful nature and personal ambitions.

3:11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

3:12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect [the Greek word used here does not mean “sinless, flawless,” but “spiritually mature”], but I press on [Watchman Nee said that all who aspire to spiritual maturity must maintain Paul’s attitude in Phil. 3:12; picture here is of athlete running a race, straining every nerve and muscle to reach his goal] to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Paul understood that knowing Christ and becoming like Christ is a lifelong process. His journey toward becoming all that he was meant to be began on the day Christ took hold of him on the road to Damascus. Like an athlete running a race, Paul pressed on, straining every muscle to move toward the finish line. Every step carried him closer to spiritual maturity—to Christlikeness. Every believer who aspires to spiritual maturity must maintain Paul’s attitude of pressing on toward the goal of knowing Christ better and better.

3:13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it [Paul was still a learner and understood that he had not arrived]. But one thing I do [Paul focused on a single purpose]: Forgetting what is behind [he did not allow past victories to fill him with pride nor past failures to fill him with fear] and straining [like an athlete expending every ounce of strength to win a race] toward what is ahead,

While Paul was satisfied with Christ, he was never satisfied with his Christian life. He recognized that complacency and satisfaction are the enemies of spiritual progress. Instead, Paul maintained the attitude of a learner or of one who had yet to arrive. He did not allow past successes to fill him with pride or past failures to fill him with fear lest these cause him to stumble. Instead, he had a single focus — to reach or to lean forward like an athlete on the home stretch of a race. He fixed his eyes on the goal of spiritual maturity — knowing Christ, and finishing the race set before him. He allowed nothing to distract or deter him from reaching that goal.

3:14 I press [continual action] on toward the goal [translates a word meaning “a mark on which to fix the eye”] to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Not everyone in the Philippian church shared Paul’s views about spiritual maturity. Some were filled with pride and looked down on others from their perch of perceived personal perfection. Paul therefore urged his friends in Philippi to pursue a mature way of thinking. Those who are truly mature generally are more aware of their imperfections and of their need to press on toward Christlikeness. For those who thought otherwise, Paul expressed the hope that God would reveal the truth to them.

Note: Here are a few things that you and I can do to know Christ better.
G = Make it your goal to know Christ intimately. Spend time alone with Him daily in prayer and in the study of His Word.
R = Take responsibility for your spiritual progress. Invite others to hold you accountable for your spiritual health.
O = Order your priorities to reflect your determination to press on toward spiritual maturity.
W = Watch out for modern-day Judaizers who add rules, regulations, rites and rituals or other external standards as qualifications for receiving salvation.
T = Guard your thoughts. Fill your mind with God’s Word and think about things that please God.
H = Aim high. Make it your goal to follow Christ daily and to know him more intimately.

3:15 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.

3:16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained [exhortation to stay on the path in which they had made steady spiritual progress].

3:17 Join with others in following my [Paul wanted for the Philippians to follow his example only insofar as he followed the example of Christ] example [cf. 1 Cor. 11:1], brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we [others whose lives were exemplary and worthy of imitation included Timothy and Epaphroditus, whom Paul highly commended in Phil. 2:19-30] gave you.

3:18 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears [“to weep audibly” (Lightfoot)], many [men of a character far different from Paul’s] [1] live as enemies of the cross of Christ.

3:19 [2] Their destiny is destruction [reference here is to eternal punishment; they will not be able to stand in the judgment. (cf. Ps. 1:4-6)], [3] their god is their stomach [“may be used as a general term to include all that belongs to the bodily, fleshly life of man and therefore inevitably perishes” (Rienecker/Rogers)], and [4] their glory is in their shame [they were proud of things they should have been ashamed of]. [5] Their mind is on earthly things [cf. Col. 3:1-2; Rom. 13:12-14].

3:20 But our citizenship [the same word used in Phil. 1:27; conduct of believer must be in accordance with citizenship] is in heaven. And we eagerly await [we ought to have an eager longing for the Lord’s return (it is at that time that He will bring to completion our salvation)] a Savior from there [cf. Jn. 14:2-3], the Lord Jesus Christ,

3:21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body [cf. 1 Jn. 3:2].

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