Philippians 3:1-11

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people 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 righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Observation

  • Paul calls the Philippians brothers.
  • Paul told the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord.
  • Paul was repeating himself. He had told them this before.
  • Repeating himself was no trouble to Paul.
  • Reading the same things was safe for the Philippians.
  • The Philippians were to watch out for:
    • the dogs
    • evildoers
    • those who mutilate the flesh
  • The Philippians and Paul were the circumcision.
  • Those who are the circumcision are those who:
    • worship by the Spirit of God
    • glory in Christ Jesus
    • put no confidence in the flesh
  • The Philippians and Paul worship by the Spirit of God.
  • The Philippians and Paul worship in the glory of Chris Jesus
  • Neither the Philippians nor Paul put confidence in the flesh
  • Paul had more reason to anyone else to have confidence in his accomplishments.
  • Here is a list of Paul’s accomplishments:
    • He was circumcised on the eight day.
    • He was an Israelite.
    • He was a member of the tribe of Benjamin.
    • He was a Hebrew of Hebrews.
    • He was a Pharisee.
    • He was extremely zealous.
    • He persecuted the church.
    • He strictly kept the law.
  • Paul was willing to lose everything he had accomplished for the sake of Christ.
  • Paul considered all his accomplishment garbage for the sake of knowing Christ.
  • Christ Jesus was Paul’s Lord.
  • For the sake of Christ Jesus Paul had lost everything.
  • Paul did not care that he had lost everything because he had gained Christ.
  • Paul was in Christ.
  • Paul did not have his own righteousness.
  • A righteousness that comes from the law would have been Paul’s own righteousness.
  • Paul had a righteousness that comes through faith in Christ.
  • Paul’s righteousness was from God
  • Righteousness that comes from God depends on faith.
  • Christ’s righteousness allowed Paul to know God.
  • Christ’s righteousness allowed Paul to know the power of Christ’s resurrection.
  • Christ’s righteousness allowed Paul to share in Chris’s suffering.
  • Christ’s righteousness allowed Paul to become like Christ in His death.
  • Paul was willing to do anything to attain resurrection from the dead.

Interpretation

Paul does not speak as strongly to the Philippians as he does in some of his other letters, such as the letter to the Galatians. The Philippians had not fallen prey to the false teachers. But Paul does warn them. The false teachers had made an attempt to persuade the Philippians but had not made any inroads. The Philippians had held fast to the good news they had received. As a result, it was not necessary for Paul to refute the false teacher’s errors. Paul simply admonishes and encourages the Philippians to be diligent in detecting impostors and guarding against them,

The false teachers claimed they had a superior authority because they were of the circumcision. But, Paul says they, the Philippians, are of the circumcision, circumcision of the spirit and not of the flesh. It is an inward and status of the heart not visible in the flesh. As such we are the true children of Abraham. “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” (Romans 7:6-8)

The false teachers were claiming that gentiles must be circumcised in order to be members of the family of God. The ceremonies must be observed. Paul states that the Philippians are already members of the body of Christ. They have a circumcision that is not made with human hands and being circumcised in the flesh will not bring them any benefit. There is nothing in the flesh that saves.

To paraphrase Paul, if you think you have any reason to boast or have confidence in the flesh, I have a greater reason and it is all garbage. Paul points out, by his works, on a human level, he would be above them all. Therefore, he cannot be suspected of being envious of someone else’s accomplishments because his accomplishments were far greater. Yet Christ makes his accomplishments meaningless.

Let’s look at Paul’s accomplishments. Not only was he circumcised, but he was circumcised on the eight day according to the law. This was recognized as superior than someone who had converted to Judaism and was circumcised later in life. Paul was of the tribe of Benjamin. Not only did Paul belong to the race of Israel he knew to which tribe he belonged. He could trace his own personal linage all the way back all the way back to Abraham.

Paul not only kept the law, he was a Pharisee. Pharisee means separated ones. The common understanding is the Pharisees separated themselves from everyone else. But we see them in the gospels interacting with people so it is apparent that they did not separate themselves physically. Rather they considered themselves as separated out by God. God had given them the gift of interpreting Scripture. Phrs (parahs) among the Hebrews conveys the idea of interpretation. They did not take the scripture literally. While some preferred to be literalist, they preferred to be regarded as Pharisees, in possession of the interpretations of scriptures. And they were held in the highest esteem. Paul was a Pharisees he was regarded highly for his understanding of the law.

Paul was not one of those who were all talk and no action. Paul was a zealot. In his zeal for the law he persecuted the church. It was a serious sin on his part to persecute the church. But Paul was demonstrating his zeal for the law, that on that ground he persecuted the Church.

Concerning righteousness under the law Paul says he was blameless. Of course he did not mean he was actually blameless. Paul writes in Romans “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12) He is using hyperbole to point out the he kept the law better than anyone. If anyone could obtain salvation by keeping the law it was Paul. Paul had a righteousness that would satisfy our opinion of righteousness.

But all that he had worked for, all the benefits he had gained through the keeping of the law, it was all garbage. They provided no value towards his salvation. Paul threw it all way in order to have Christ. And he would do it again. Christ brings his righteousness to us. Christ’s righteousness is so much greater than anything we can obtain. While men may cheer our goodness, as they did Paul, the Pharisee, our goodness is will never even come close to meeting the goodness and righteousness we are given by Christ. In fact, Paul says they are a loss. They were a hindrance in his coming to Christ. What could be of less value than that? Anything that keeps us from Christ is not only of no value, it is contemptible.

Paul is stating in strongest terms that there is nothing he did nor anything he worked for that had any value. It was completely and totally the work of Christ that brings value. But even so there are many who deny this and claim. They state that what we do has value, for example, the Roman Catholic Church and Armenians. Both will state our righteousness come by grace, but it is also partly our own doing. We must cooperate, in the case of Armenians; do meritorious works in the case of Rome. In either case we are partly responsible for our righteousness. Paul says everything he did was garbage. All our righteousness is trash and must be thrown out.

Paul says that we have no righteousness of our own. If there were any righteousness of works it could properly said to be our righteousness. But Paul leaves no room whatsoever for righteousness of works. “Righteousness from God that depends on faith” (v9) And even our faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8)

It is faith that allows us to know God. Knowledge of God is not a simple intellectual knowledge, though that is included. Knowledge of God includes an experience or existential knowledge. When Christ is correctly known we feel how powerful his death and resurrection are. And we feel how efficacious they are.

Though the power of his resurrection we participate with Christ in His death and resurrection. We participate in two ways. First, inwardly, in the crucifixion of the natural man which Paul discusses in Romans 6. Second, outwardly, in living a life that brings glory to Christ, so that our works do not save us. It is Christ’s work in us to bring glory to the Father.

“Having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ” (Romans 6:18-23)

Application

Even though the Philippians had not fallen prey to the false teacher Paul nonetheless feels it is important to tell them to be diligent.

Our righteousness is not dependent on our works. Rather their works are the result of their righteousness. And righteousness comes from Christ and Christ alone. Righteousness produces good works but good works does not produce righteousness.

Paul here and in his other epistles states that the law with its traditions and ceremonies does not bring salvation. This might cause some to ask whether this truth might extend to the sacraments such as Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. The principle that we are freed from the law must always be kept in view. Those items which were foreshadows of Christ were abolished with the coming of Christ. Circumcision gave way to baptism. It follows then that the pure and genuine worship of God is free from legal ceremonies and believers have the true circumcision without any figure. We participate in the sacraments not to achieve salvation, but as a result of our salvation.

Everything we have accomplished is trash. And we are to regard it as such. But what does not mean in a practical sense? Do we need to renounce wealth and honors, etc. so that we may become participates with Christ? Paul does not talk about these things specifically, but rather the quality of them. The kingdom of heaven is like a precious pearl, the purchase of which no one would hesitate to sell everything they have. (Matthew 13:46) But there is a difference between the substance of a thing and the quality of a thing. Paul is not saying he disowns his family and his heritage and making himself an orphan or alien. Rather he renounces his dependence upon his heritage. Paul divested himself, not of works, but of the mistaken confidence in works. Paul’s righteousness in Christ produced abundant works. But Paul’s works were the result of Christ’s works in Paul.

It is sinful for Christians to have anything apart from Christ. Anything that is a hindrance in the way of Christ is sinful. Without a doubt we lose nothing when we gain Christ.

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