Philippians 3 – Leaving Law and Pressing On to Jesus
A. The futility of a relationship with God based on the principle of law.
1. (1-2) Warning against the influence of legalistic Jews.
Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!
a. Finally: This didn’t mean that Paul was almost finished; Paul wrote here as many preachers speak. Yet we should expect some sort of transition in the letter with the word finally.
i. “Paul’s ‘finally’ here is not the ‘finally’ of the present day preacher. He has another ‘finally’ in 4:8. He does not mean by this that he is about to close the letter. The words translated by the word ‘finally’ are literally ‘as for the rest.’” (Wuest)
b. Rejoice in the Lord: This is a fitting theme for the whole letter. Paul shared with the Philippians the principle of being able to rejoice in the Lord – not in circumstances or in situations, but in the Lord who works all things together for good.
i. This abiding joy is fitting for the believer because it shows that we really do trust in a God whom we really believe is in control. When we believe this, it isn’t any surprise that we are then filled with joy.
ii. Rejoice in the Lord: “The entire phrase may be the Christian equivalent of the Old Testament exclamation, Hallelujah.” (Martin)
iii. “It is a duty for us to cultivate this joy. We must steadfastly arrest any tendency to murmur and complain; to find fault with God’s dealings; or to seek to elicit sympathy. We must as much resist the temptation to depression and melancholy as we would to any form of sin.” (Meyer)
c. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe: Paul assured the Philippians that he didn’t mind reminding them of the same things because it was for their safety.
i. Paul did not mind reminding them because he was passionately concerned about certain dangers, and he would speak out strongly against them. “This outburst is very remarkable, for its vehemence is so unlike the tone of the rest of the letter. That is calm, joyous, bright, but this is stormy and impassioned, full of flashing and scathing words.” (Maclaren)
d. Beware of dogs: This was a harsh reference to the troublemaking legalists who attempted to deceive the Philippians. “Dogs” is exactly the term of contempt Jews would use against Gentiles. Paul said a lot by using this word against these Jewish-influenced legalists.
i. Muller quoting Lightfoot: “The herds of dogs which prowl about Eastern cities, without a home and without an owner, feeding on the refuse and filth of the streets, quarreling among themselves, and attacking the passer-by, explain the applications of the image.”
ii. “We are bidden, therefore, to beware of men of a quarrelsome and contentious spirit, who under the guise of religion hide impure and unclean things; and who are not only defiled, but defiling in their influence.” (Meyer)
e. Beware of evil workers: This describes both what these legalists do (working evil), but was also a word against their emphasis on righteousness with God by works. Paul would admit that they have a concern for works, but they were evil workers.
i. Evil workers: “These people are the ‘Cranks’ of our Churches; they introduce fads and hobbies; they exaggerate the importance of trifles; they catch up every new theory and vagary, and follow it to the detriment of truth and love.” (Meyer)
f. Beware of the mutilation: Here is another harsh reference to the insistence of these Jewish legalists on requiring circumcision for Gentiles who wanted to become Christians. This was all done with the idea that someone must become a Jew first before they could become a Christian.
i. “They did not deny that Jesus was the Messiah, or that His Gospel was the power of God unto salvation, but they insisted that the Gentile converts could only come to the fullness of Gospel privilege through the Law of Moses.” (Meyer)
ii. However, Paul did not see their insistence on circumcision as something beautiful or noble; he regarded it as an ugly example of mutilation. Maclaren imagines Paul saying it like this: “I will not call them the circumcision, they have not been circumcised, they have only been gashed and mutilated, it has been a mere fleshly maiming.”
iii. Martin on the mutilation: “By a pun, he mockingly calls it a mere cutting, katatome, i.e. mutilation of the body on a par with pagan practices forbidden in Leviticus 21:5.”
2. (3-4) Paul defines the true circumcision.
For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so:
a. For we are the circumcision: These Jewish legalists considered themselves the ones truly circumcised and right with God. But Paul declared that he and his followers were the true circumcision.
b. Who worship God in the Spirit: This defines the true circumcision. They worship God in the Spirit, as opposed to the fleshly and external worship emphasized by these legalists.
i. “The word ‘worship’ is the translation of the Greek word referring to the service of Jehovah by His peculiar people, the Jews. A Jew would be scandalized by the application of this word to a Gentile.” (Wuest)
c. Rejoice in Christ Jesus: This also characterizes those of the true circumcision. Their joy is not found in their own ability to be justified by the law or by their law-keeping. Jesus and Jesus alone is their joy.
d. Have no confidence in the flesh: This is a third characteristic of the true circumcision. They do not trust in their own ability to be righteous before God through external works (the flesh), but their only confidence is in Jesus.
e. I also might have confidence in the flesh… I more so: Paul knew that he was more qualified to be justified by the keeping of the law than any of his present legalistic opponents were.
i. Curiously, often those who promote the idea of having confidence in the flesh are the same ones who are the least qualified to have such confidence. This is because of the principle Paul explains in Colossians 2:23 – These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
3. (5-6) Paul’s reasons why he might have confidence in the flesh.
Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
a. Circumcised the eighth day… : Paul first listed four things that were his possessions by birth, all reasons why he might have confidence in the flesh.
· Paul was circumcised the eighth day in accordance with Leviticus 12:3.
· Paul was of the stock of Israel, a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and therefore an heir to God’s covenant with them.
· Paul was of the tribe of Benjamin, a distinguished tribe. Benjamin was distinguished by the fact that it gave Israel her first king, Saul (1 Samuel 9:1-2). It was the tribe that aligned itself with faithful Judah when Israel divided into two nations at the time of Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:21). It was also the tribe that had the city of Jerusalem within its boundaries (Judges 1:21).
· Paul was a Hebrew of the Hebrews. This contrasted him with the Jews who embraced Greek culture as it spread through the Mediterranean. In that time, many Jews became ashamed of their Jewishness and tried to live and act as much like Greeks as they could, sometimes even to the point of having their circumcision cosmetically restored or hidden so they could enjoy the Roman public baths without being noticed as Jews. In contrast, Paul was raised by his parents as a Hebrew of the Hebrews.
b. Concerning the law: Paul then listed three things that were his by personal choice and conviction, all reasons why he might have confidence in the flesh.
· Paul was concerning the law, a Pharisee. This tells us that among an elite people (the Jews), Paul was of an elite sect (the Pharisees), who were noted for their scrupulous devotion to the law of God. “There were not very many Pharisees, never more than six thousand, but they were the spiritual athletes of Judaism. 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 one aim of their lives to keep every smallest detail of the Law.” (Barclay) The concern that Pharisees had for keeping the law is reflected in passages like Matthew 23:23.
· Concerning zeal, persecuting the church. Paul was not merely an intellectual opponent of perceived heresies against Judaism; he was also an active fighter against them – even in his blindness to God. Paul’s observation that the Jews of his day have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2) was true of his own life before God confronted him on the road to Damascus.
· Concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. This shows that Paul achieved the standard of righteousness which was accepted among the men of his day – though this standard fell short of God’s holy standard. Because of how the law was interpreted and taught, there were those of that day who were deceived into thinking that they really were blameless, like the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-23).
i. In summary, if anyone could lay claim to pleasing God by law-keeping and the works of the flesh, it was Paul. He was far more qualified than his legalizing opponents were to make such a claim.
4. (7) Paul rejects all confidence in the flesh.
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.
a. These I have counted loss for Christ: Any of the corrupting teachers Paul warned against would be proud to claim Paul’s pedigree. Yet Paul made it plain: these things I have counted loss for Christ.
i. “The word ‘gain’ is plural in the Greek, namely, ‘gains.’… ‘Loss’ is singular. The various gains are all counted as one loss.” (Wuest)
ii. “He was skilled in spiritual arithmetic, and very careful in his reckoning. He cast up his accounts with caution, and observed with a diligent eye his losses and his gains.” (Spurgeon)
b. I have counted loss: Paul counted these things loss. It wasn’t so much that they were a loss by their very character, as much as he chose to regard them as loss.
i. They were counted loss not so much because they were harmful to Paul, but because these things were ways in which Paul sought to please God in the energies of the flesh. Before Paul became a Christian, he thought all these things made him a success in the effort to please God by works.
ii. We can say that Paul’s attitude was the same that Jesus described in the parable of the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46).
B. Paul’s utter confidence in a living relationship with Jesus Christ.
1. (8) Paul’s gain in Jesus Christ.
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ
a. Yet indeed I also count all things loss: Paul did not only count his religious pedigree as a loss; he counted all things loss – but he counted them as a loss in view of the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus.
i. Yet indeed: “The translation of five particles, which latter are literally translated, ‘yea, indeed, therefore, at least, even,’ and show the force and passion of Paul’s conviction.” (Wuest)
ii. It wasn’t so much that those things were worthless in themselves, but compared to the greatness of the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, they really were nothing.
iii. Paul here put a personal relationship with Jesus Christ at the very center of the Christian’s life. He joyfully accepted the loss of all other things for the greatness of this personal relationship.
iv. In Philippians 3:7 Paul said that he counted; in this verse he said I also count. This first counting was at his conversion; the second – some 30 years later – was in his Roman prison. After all he had experienced, he still counted it worthy to give everything up for the sake of following Jesus.
v. “After twenty years or more of experience Paul had an opportunity of revising his balance-sheet, and looking again at his estimates, and seeing whether or not his counting was correct. What was the issue of his latest search? How do matters stand at his last stocktaking? He exclaims with very special emphasis, ‘Yea doubtless; and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.’” (Spurgeon)
b. For whom I have suffered the loss of all things: This counting loss was not merely an internal spiritual exercise. Paul had indeed suffered the loss of all things that he might gain Christ.
i. This is demonstrated by the place and circumstances under which Paul wrote this letter – a Roman prison, where he truly could say that he had suffered the loss of all things.
c. Count them as rubbish: Paul here used strong language. Literally, Paul considered them as excrement – as dung; not only as worthless, but as offensive.
i. The ancient Greek word for rubbish had one of two uses. It could describe excrement from the body or table scraps that were fit only to be thrown to the dogs. We may suppose that Paul would be comfortable with either meaning in this context.
ii. “The word [rubbish] means the vilest dross or refuse of any thing; the worst excrement. The word shows how utterly insignificant and unavailing, in point of salvation, the apostle esteemed every thing but the Gospel of Jesus.” (Clarke)
2. (9) The spiritual benefits of his gain in Jesus Christ.
And be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;
a. And be found in Him: Because Paul was in Him, he could renounce his own righteousness and live by the righteousness which is from God by faith. The foundation for his spiritual life was in what Jesus had done for him and not in what he had done, was doing, or would do for Jesus in the future.
b. The righteousness which is from God by faith: Paul here exposed the great difference between the legal relationship stressed by his opponents and his personal connection with Jesus Christ. The difference is between living and trusting in your own righteousness and living and trusting in God’s righteousness given through faith in Christ.
i. “He disowns his own righteousness as eagerly as other men disown their sins, and he highly esteems the righteousness which Christ has wrought out for us, which becomes ours by faith.” (Spurgeon)
3. (10-11) Paul’s experience of a personal relationship with Jesus.
That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
a. That I may know Him: This was the simple plea of Paul’s heart. It was a plea unknown to the legalist, who must necessarily focus on his own performance and status to find some kind of peace with God. But Paul wanted Jesus, not self.
i. To know Jesus is not the same as knowing His historical life; it is not the same as knowing correct doctrines regarding Jesus; it is not the same as knowing His moral example, and it is not the same as knowing His great work on our behalf.
· We can say that we know someone because we recognize him: because we can distinguish what is different about him compared to other people.
· We can say that we know someone because we are acquainted with what he does; we know the baker because we get our bread from him.
· We can say that we know someone because we actually converse with him; we are on speaking terms with that person.
· We can say that we know someone because we spend time in his house and with his family.
· We can say that we know someone because we have committed our life to him and live with him every day, sharing every circumstance as in a marriage.
· Yet beyond all this, there is a way of knowing Jesus Christ that includes all of these yet goes beyond them.
ii. “They tell me he is a refiner, that he cleanses from spots; he has washed me in his precious blood, and to that extent I know him. They tell me that he clothes the naked; he hath covered me with a garment of righteousness, and to that extent I know him. They tell me that he is a breaker, and that he breaks fetters, he has set my soul at liberty, and therefore I know him. They tell me that he is a king and that he reigns over sin; he hath subdued my enemies beneath his feet, and I know him in that character. They tell me he is a shepherd: I know him for I am his sheep. They say he is a door: I have entered in through him, and I know him as a door. They say he is food: my spirit feeds on him as on the bread of heaven, and, therefore, I know him as such.” (Spurgeon)
b. And the power of His resurrection: Knowing Jesus means knowing this power, the new life that is imparted to us now, not when we die.
i. “He wants to know in an experiential way the power of Christ’s resurrection. That is, he wants to experience the same power that raised Christ from the dead surging through his own being, overcoming sin in his life and producing the Christian graces.” (Wuest)
ii. “I do not think, however, that Paul is here thinking so much of the power displayed in the resurrection, as of the power which comes out of it, which may most properly be called, ‘the power of his resurrection.’ This the apostle desired to apprehend and to know.” (Spurgeon)
· The power of His resurrection is an evidencing power. It is the evidence and seal that everything Jesus did and said was true.
· The power of His resurrection is a justifying power. It is the receipt and proof that the sacrifice of the cross was accepted as payment in full.
· The power of His resurrection is a life-giving power. It means that those who are connected with Jesus Christ receive the same resurrection life.
· The power of His resurrection is a consoling and comforting power. It promises that our friends and loved ones who are dead in Christ live with Him.
c. And the fellowship of His sufferings: Knowing Jesus also means knowing this fellowship of His sufferings. It is all part of following Jesus and being in Christ. We can say that suffering is part of our heritage as the children of God; we get to be part of the family of suffering: If children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Romans 8:17).
d. Being conformed to His death: This reminds us that being in Christ also means being “in” His death. These words had particular relevance to Paul who faced possible martyrdom.
e. If, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead: Paul was not morbidly focused on suffering and death in the Christian life. He saw that they were a necessary way to the goal of resurrection life right now and the ultimate resurrection from the dead.
i. This was a goal that was worth any means to Paul. The suffering was worth it, considering the greatness of the goal of resurrection from the dead.
ii. I may attain: Paul didn’t doubt that he was saved, but he did long mightily for the completion of his salvation through the resurrection of his body. It was something that he had not yet attained and longed for.
iii. Remember that Paul wrote this having experienced more suffering than we will ever experience, and he wrote it from the custody of Roman soldiers. This wasn’t merely theological theory and ideas, but a lived-out connection with God.
4. (12-14) The future of Paul’s relationship with Jesus Christ.
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
a. Not that I have already attained: Paul wrote from such spiritual maturity and purity that we might expect he believed that he had conquered all spiritual difficulties and saw himself as having arrived at near perfection. Yet he assured us this was not so. There was no perfectionism in Paul.
i. Sadly, it is common for many Christian leaders to cultivate the attitude that they have already attained. Without saying the words, they put forth the image of constant triumph that gives the idea that they have already attained and are already perfected.
ii. “Brethren, it is a very healthy thing for us who are ministers to read a biography like that of M’Cheyne. Read that through, if you are a minister, and it will burst many of your windbags. You will find yourselves collapse most terribly. Take the life of Brainerd amongst the Indians, or of Baxter in our own land. Think of the holiness of George Herbert, the devoutness of Fletcher, or the zeal of Whitfield. Where do you find yourself after reading their lives? Might you not peep about to find a hiding-place for your insignificance?” (Spurgeon)
iii. “Just as a little child is a perfect human being, but still is far from perfect in all his development as man, so the true child of God is also perfect in all parts, although not yet perfect in all the stages of his development in faith.” (Muller)
iv. “But while the work of Christ for us is perfect, and it were presumption to think of adding to it, the work of the Holy Spirit in us is not perfect, it is continually carried on from day to day, and will need to be continued throughout the whole of our lives.” (Spurgeon)
b. But I press on: Because Paul realized that he had not arrived, there was only one option open for him. He had to press on. There was no turning back for Him.
i. When Spain led the world (in the 15th century), her coins reflected her national arrogance and were inscribed Ne Plus Ultra which meant “Nothing Further” – meaning that Spain was the ultimate in all the world. After the discovery of the New World, she realized that she was not the end of the world, so Spain changed the inscription on her coinage to Plus Ultra meaning “More Beyond.” In the same pattern, some Christian lives say, “Nothing Further” and others say “More Beyond.”
ii. This is where child-like faith meets real maturity. A child can’t wait to be bigger and always wants to be more mature.
iii. But I press on meant that Paul had put his hand to the plow and refused to look back (Luke 9:62).
c. That I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me: Paul pressed on for what Jesus wanted. His effort was put forth to do God’s will, not his own.
i. When Paul said, “That I may lay hold,” he used strong language. “The word ‘apprehend’ is from the same Greek word translated ‘attained,’ but with a preposition prefixed which means in its local force ‘down.’ He wants to catch hold of it and pull it down, like a football player who not only wants to catch his man, but wants to pull him down and make him his own.” (Wuest)
ii. Paul began this verse with the idea that Jesus Christ had laid hold of him. This is an important idea; yet sometimes Christians react to that idea by being passive. They suppose, “Jesus got a hold of me; so that is it now. I am a Christian and I am going to heaven.” Paul showed a different attitude; he was determined to lay hold for that for which Jesus had laid hold of him. So one should ask, “Why did Jesus lay hold of Paul?”
· Jesus laid hold of Paul to make him a new man (Romans 6:4) – so Paul would lay hold of that and wanted to see the converting work of Jesus completely carried out in himself.
· Jesus laid hold of Paul to conform him into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29) – so Paul would lay hold of that and wanted to see the nature of Jesus within himself.
· Jesus laid hold of Paul to make him a witness (Acts 9:15) – so Paul would lay hold of both the experience of Jesus and to testify of that experience.
· Jesus laid hold of Paul to make him an instrument in the conversion of others (Acts 9:15) – so Paul would lay hold of the work of bringing others to Jesus.
· Jesus laid hold of Paul to bring him into suffering (Acts 9:16) – so Paul would lay hold of even that work of God in his life, wanting to know Jesus in the fellowship of His sufferings.
· Jesus laid hold of Paul that so that the Apostle might attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:11) – so Paul would lay hold of that heavenly hope.
d. The prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus: Paul was focused on one thing and would not let those things which are behind distract him from it. He pressed on for the prize.
i. We often let those things which are behind distract us, whether they be good things or bad things. Looking at what is in the past often keeps us from what God has for us in the future.
ii. It is a deception to live either in the past or in the future; God wants us to press on in the present, because the present is where eternity touches us now. Paul knew that a race is won only in the present moment, not in the past or in the future.
e. I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus: The prize is the upward call of God. The prize is the call itself, not the benefits that come from the call or any other thing. The prize is being able to run the race at all, working with God as a partner to do the work of His kingdom.
i. “It is a high calling because it comes from above, from God; the conception of it has emanated from His heart. It is a high calling because it is worthy of God. It is a high calling because it is so much above the ideals of men… And then this is a high calling because it summons us to where Christ sits at the right hand of God.” (Meyer)
ii. Because it is such a glorious call, it is worth reaching forward for it. “The Greek word points out the strong exertions made in the race; every muscle and nerve is exerted, and he puts forth every particle of his strength in running. He was running for life, and running for his life.” (Clarke)
f. The upward call of God in Christ Jesus: As everything else, this upward call of God is only in Christ Jesus. The legalists might say they followed the upward call of God, but they certainly didn’t do it in Christ Jesus; instead they did it in the efforts of their own flesh.
5. (15-16) Paul exhorts the Philippians to adopt this same attitude.
Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.
a. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind: Those who are really mature will have this mind. If they do not, Paul trusted that God would reveal the necessity of having it.
b. God will reveal even this to you: Paul had great trust in the ability of the Lord to deal with His own people. He didn’t have the attitude that if he failed to convince them, they would then never be convinced.
c. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule: However, Paul would not allow a lack of understanding to excuse anyone from doing what he did know to be the Lord’s will. What we don’t know can never excuse us from failing to fulfill what we do know to do.
d. Let us be of the same mind: Part of doing what we do know is being of the same mind. This is a call to unity (a unity of truth, against the potential division brought in by the legalists) that looks back to Philippians 2:1-2.
i. The problems of unity facing the Philippians did not spring from great problems with carnality as was the case with the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 3:1-4). Rather it seemed to be a danger brought on by pressure, both from the outside (Philippians 1:27-30) and from the inside (Philippians 3:2). Paul wanted to make sure that this pressure pushed them together instead of driving them apart.
C. Walking the walk.
1. (17) The good example of walking the walk: Paul and others.
Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.
a. Join in following my example: We shouldn’t think that Paul was being egotistical here. He knew that he was not a sinless or perfect example, yet he was still a good example. He could say as he also did in 1 Corinthians 11:1 – Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.
i. We need concrete examples. While it is wrong to put our trust in any man, it is hypocritical for any Christian to say, “Do as I say, not as I do.”
b. And note those who so walk: As well, Paul wasn’t so proud to think that he was the only one who could be such an example. He told the Philippians to note those who so walk in the way he spoke of, and he noted that the Philippians had us as a pattern (instead of saying that Paul was the only pattern).
2. (18-19) The bad examples: the enemies of the cross.
For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things.
a. For many walk: With great sadness, Paul realizes that there are many who walk in a manner contrary to what he teaches. He regards these people as enemies of the cross of Christ.
i. The enemies of the cross were really the opposite of the legalists, who celebrated their supposed liberty in Christ to the indulgence of their flesh.
ii. Paul had to contend with people like this in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 and Romans 6, who thought that salvation comes without repentance and conversion, and who thought that as long as your soul was saved, it didn’t matter what you did with your body.
iii. When we say that men are enemies of the cross, we do not mean that they are enemies of a physical representation of the cross. We mean that they are enemies of the Biblical truth of the atonement Jesus made for us on the cross and its ongoing power and effect in our life.
iv. These people were truly enemies of the cross of Christ, who did not want to follow Jesus by taking up His cross of self-denial (Matthew 16:24-26).
b. And now tell you even weeping: The work and the end of these enemies was that they, in their disregard for God’s holiness, gave ammunition to the legalist’s accusation that Paul preached a cheap grace that required no commitment of the life. This is what grieved Paul so at their teaching.
i. Spurgeon thought that Paul wept for three reasons. First, on account of the guilt of these enemies of the cross of Christ. Second, on account of the ill effects of their conduct. Finally, on account of their doom.
ii. “I never read that the apostle wept when he was persecuted. Though they ploughed his back with furrows, I do believe that never a tear was seen to gush from his eye while the soldiers scourged him. Though he was cast into prison, we read of his singing, never of his groaning. I do not believe he ever wept on account of any sufferings or dangers to which he himself was exposed for Christ’s sake. I call this an extraordinary sorrow, because the man who wept was no soft piece of sentiment, and seldom shed a tear even under grievous trials.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “Professors of religion, who get into the church, and yet lead ungodly lives, are the worst enemies that the cross of Christ has. These are the sort of men who bring tears into the minister’s eyes; these are they who break his heart; they are the enemies of the cross of Christ.” (Spurgeon)
c. Whose end is destruction: The word translated destruction is the same word used for perdition in other places (such as Philippians 1:28). This can refer to either their ultimate damnation or to the present destruction of their lives. Probably their ultimate damnation is more in view.
d. Whose god is their belly: This describes the idolatry of these enemies. Not that they were necessarily focused on what they eat, but belly here has a broader reference to sensual indulgence in general. They live for the pleasures of the body, mind, and soul.
e. Whose glory is in their shame: This shows the misplaced priorities of these enemies. They gloried about things they should have been ashamed about.
f. Who set their mind on earthly things: This describes the focus of their life. It was not to please and worship God, but to get along in this world. Their attitude was the same as the rich fool in Luke 12:16-21.
3. (20) Our citizenship and our Lord.
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
a. For our citizenship is in heaven: We need to appreciate all this would have meant to the Philippians, who greatly valued their Roman citizenship. Just as the Philippians could consider themselves citizens of Rome and were under Roman laws and customs (even though they were in fact far from Rome) so Christians should consider themselves citizens of heaven.
i. One paraphrase of citizenship is in heaven reads like this: “We have our home in heaven, and here on earth we are a colony of heaven’s citizens.” Paul is saying: “Just as the Roman colonists never forgot that they belong to Rome, you must never forget that you are citizens of heaven; and your conduct must match your citizenship.” (Barclay)
ii. If we are citizens of heaven, it means that we are resident aliens on earth. Foreigners are distinct in whatever foreign land they go. Christians must be so marked by their heavenly citizenship that they are noticed as different.
· Aliens should seek to do good works in the land they sojourn in.
· Aliens should not seek to interfere in the affairs of the land they sojourn in.
· Aliens have privileges as well as duties; they are not under the same obligations as citizens of the land they sojourn in.
· Aliens are not eligible for the same rewards and recognitions as the citizens of the land that they sojourn in.
· Aliens should not focus on building riches in the land they sojourn in.
iii. We also have a certain character as citizens of heaven.
· As citizens we are under the government of heaven.
· As citizens we share in heaven’s honors.
· As citizens we have property rights in heaven.
· As citizens we enjoy the pleasures of heaven.
· As citizens of heaven we love heaven and feel attached there.
· As citizens of heaven we keep in communication with our native home.
iv. “How heartily the Germans sing of the dear old fatherland; but they cannot, with all their Germanic patriotism, they cannot beat the genial glow of the Briton’s heart, when he thinks of his fatherland too. The Scotchman, too, wherever he may be, remembers the land of ‘brown heath and shaggy wood.’ And the Irishman, too, let him be where he will, still thinks the ‘Emerald Isle’ the first gem of the sea. It is right that the patriot should love his country. Does not our love fervently flame towards heaven?” (Spurgeon)
v. There is a significant contrast between the citizens of earth as described in Philippians 3:18-19 and the citizens of heaven as described in Philippians 3:20-21.
b. From which we also eagerly wait for the Savior: As Philippians would eagerly await a visit from the emperor in Rome, even more so should Christians eagerly await the coming of their King – Jesus Christ.
i. Savior was a title given to the Caesars. In 48 B.C. Julius Caesar was declared to be “the universal savior of mankind.” It then became a common title for the ruling Caesar. Paul means something when he applies the title to Jesus in the context of citizenship.
c. The Lord Jesus Christ: The title Lord was also applied to the Roman Caesar. It wasn’t long after the time of Paul that Christians were martyred for refusing to call Caesar Lord, claiming that Jesus was the only Lord.
4. (21) The future work of our Savior: transforming our bodies.
Who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.
a. Who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body: Our Savior can do and will do something that no Caesar can. When we are resurrected, we will have the same type of body that Jesus Himself had when he was resurrected.
i. Jesus was not merely resuscitated from the dead in the same body. He was resurrected in a new body, patterned after the old yet equipped and fitted for heaven.
b. According to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself: This is possible only because the God we serve is omnipotent. He is able even to subdue all things to Himself and accomplish something as amazing as the resurrection of our bodies after the pattern of Jesus’ resurrection.
i. Jesus really can subdue all things. “There may be sins within your heart that have long resisted control. Do with them as you will, they still defy you… But if you will hand over the conflict to Jesus, He will subdue them; He will bring them under his strong, subjecting hand. Be of good cheer. What you cannot do, He can.” (Meyer)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission