Philippians 3:1-21 - Outline of Philippians (Menu page)
1. Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.
To write the same things to you, to me indeed [is] not grievous,
but for you [it is] safe.
Finally... {GK=loipon, besides, with regard to what remains (to be said)}-
It sounds like Paul is bringing his letter to a conclusion, but the word can also indicate a change of subject. The conclusion of the letter is picked up again, with this word in 4:8.
...my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. - Perhaps what Paul is saying is: "Brothers, Let the Lord be your joy."
Remember how Paul rejoiced in the Lord inspite of his difficult circumstances:
  • The limitations of his imprisonment and the uncharitable motives of others (1:18).
  • The hope that his spiritual children would live as true sons of God (2:16).
  • His willingness to pour himself out as a drink offering, upon the sacrifice of Christ for the benefit of the Philippian believers (2:17,18). Remember that the drink offering is expended to honor and call attention to the sacrifice upon which it is poured out. But the drink offering is quickly lost to sight as it turns to vapor which vanishes away.
  • It was Paul's joy to give himself wholly to the honor of Christ (1:20,21). It was his desire that his spiritual children and brothers in Christ would find their joy in doing the same.
To write the same things to you,
  • to me is not grievous...-
    In writing letters to some other churches, Paul had the unpleasant task of correcting doctrinal and moral errors, or of defending his authority as an apostle (eg., 1Cor 3:1-3; 5:1; Gal 1:6-7; 2Cor 2:4; 11:23). In comparison to those churches, the Philippian church was strong and mature. Because Paul and the Philippian believers enjoyed rich "fellowship in the gospel, from the first day until now" (Php 1:5), he was able to write to them, as he prayed for them "with joy" (1:4).
  • but for you it is safe {ie., sure, certain}. -
    He was reminding them of things which they already knew, upon which their faith was founded (cp., 2Pet 1:12-15).
2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.
3 For we are the circumcision,
which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus,
and have no confidence in the flesh.
Beware of dogs...- Paul is not warning about vicious canines, which make life difficult for mailmen.
He is warning them of men, especially spiritual leaders, who tear and destroy their hearers, through false teaching.
  • Isa 56:10 "Dumb dogs" fail to bark at approaching danger. The false prophets said there would be "peace" even as the true prophets sounded the alarm that judgment was very near.
  • Isa 56:11 "Greedy dogs" knowingly turn from the truth, to gain followers, and financial benefit, and to pursue fleshly corruption (2Pet 2:12).
beware of evil workers...- Such spiritual leaders may make people feel good, for a time,
by offering false comfort. But, the reality is, that they are working to the eternal harm of all who follow them. Their end is described in Php 3:18,19.
beware of the concision {GK=katatome, the cutting off, the mutilation} -
Paul calls special attention to the judaizers, who taught that salvation was available to gentiles who believe in Jesus, but only if they first came under the OT Law. Circumcision was a ritual by which all Jewish men were marked. But these teachers said that all Christians had to submit to this ritual before they could be saved.
     Paul refers to them derogatorily as "the mutilation," since they were promoting the external cutting of the flesh, for no purpose. (See 1Kin 18:28, where the prophets of Baal cut themselves to gain favor of their gods, but to no avail.)
For we are the circumcision... - ie., true circumcision is not merely external,
but rather cuts away the fleshly corruption deep within the heart. Christ accomplished this surgery on the cross for those who are in Him (Col 2:10-13). Therefore, the external cutting of the flesh is of no value. The only thing that matters is your relationship to Christ (Col 3:11), through whom believers are born again, with a new nature of godliness (Gal 6:15).
who worship God in the spirit...- Worship is not a matter of external ritual,
but of the heart in which the Holy Spirit dwells. Joh 4:23
and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.-
'Rejoice' {GK=kauchaomai, to boast}. This is a different word than in v.1. The believer's boast or confidence is in Christ alone. In v.3, no 'confidence' {GK=sumphoneo, in harmony with, according to} indicates that our confidence has nothing to do with the flesh.
4. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh.
If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:
5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel,
[of] the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews;
as touching the law, a Pharisee;
6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church;
touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
If anyone could have claimed confidence {GK=pepoithesis, assurance, trust}, based on his fleshly credentials, Paul once thought he was that man.
He lists seven confidences:
  1. circumcized the eighth day...-
    This was a requirement of the OT Law (Gen 17:9-14). Of course, Paul was not responsible for accomplishing this token of identification as a son of the Covenant. But it demonstrates that he came from a godly family, and that his parents were observant Jews.
  2. of the stock of Israel...-
    Paul's lineage could be traced back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through both his father and his mother. He was not a half breed. He was an Israelite through and through.
  3. of the tribe of Benjamin...-
    Benjamin was Jacob's youngest and dearest son, born of Rachel, his beloved wife, who died in giving birth to him. In her parting words, Rachel named him Benoni ('son of my sorrow'). But Jacob called him Benjamin ('son of my right hand'). From the tribe of Benjamin, Israel's first king, Saul, arose. Saul of Tarsus may well have been named for him. The tribe of Benjamin stayed loyal to Judah and the house of David, and the Temple in Jerusalem, when the other ten tribes went their own way and began to worship idols.
  4. an Hebrew of the Hebrews...- ie., Paul was exemplary in his conduct. He was a leader of his people.
  5. a Pharisee {meaning: 'separated'} -
    The Pharisees separated themselves from the appearance of evil. They believed the Scriptures and took them literally, in contrast to other sects of Judaism, like the Sadducees which disregarded God's Word as moralistic myth. Paul studied "at the feet of Gamaliel," a respected Pharisee and Bible scholar of his day (Acts 22:3).
  6. as touching zeal, persecuting the church...-
    Paul was jealous to maintain the traditions of Judaism. Thinking that the followers of Jesus were promoting an aberrant cult, he was determined to exterminate them. While some were content to drive them out of Jerusalem, he had not stopped there, but had been relentless in pursuing them wherever they fled.
  7. touching the righteousness of the Law, blameless. -
    Paul was not claiming sinless perfection. But, in regard to the keeping of the commandments, his conduct was above condemnation. No one could accuse him of violating the Law. However, as he revealed in Romans 7, the Law convicted him of sin within his heart, where the eyes of men could not see.
For a long time, Paul had made his boast in these things. His confidence was completely in his flesh: His family background and religion, his fulfilling of its ritual and demonstration of his personal fidelity to its teachings. He was a good religious boy. You could find none better.
But Paul came to understand that these things in which he trusted were worthless.
Because, beneath his external religiosity, his heart was not right with God.
7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things [but] loss
for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord:
for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them [but] dung,
that I may win Christ,
9. And be found in him,
not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law,
but that which is through the faith of Christ,
the righteousness which is of God by faith:
What things were 'gain' to me {GK=kerdos, to my advantage, to my profit},
I counted 'loss' {GK=zemia, damage, liability}...
How did this sudden change of value systems come about, Paul?
...for {GK=dia, through, because of} the Christ. (v.7)
Yea, doubtless {'Yes, indeed,' or more literally: 'no rather'} ie., Let me be more clear (v.8):
...for {GK=dia, through, because of} the excellency of the knowledge of Christ, Jesus my Lord,
for whom I have suffered the loss of {ie., I have forfeited} all things, and do count them but dung...
'dung' {GK=skubalon, refuse, excrement. The word may be derived from kusibalon, 'that which is thrown to dogs.'}
     Once I sought the things which the dogs (the false teachers) seek (v.2). But I have turned away from those things because of the 'excellency' {that which 'far surpasses' everything else (this word is translated 'passeth' in 4:7)} of knowing Christ, my Saviour and Lord.
Do you begin to understand what it means to rejoice in the Lord? Paul valued Him as his dearest treasure.
Where is your confidence, Paul, now that you have cast away the things which you previously trusted?
...that I may win {GK=kerdaino, get gain (cf. v.7), receive profit} Christ.-
Nothing is of any value to me, except to know and to be identified with Christ.
...and be found in Him... - 'found' {GK=heurisko, searched out and discovered}
That when God has thoroughly examined all things, including my heart, He would find that I truly belong to my Saviour and Lord, and that my confidence is in Him alone.
...not having mine own righteousness which is of the Law,
but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.
We usually tell people that they must repent and turn from their sin, to the Saviour. But Paul repented and turned away from his own righteousness, to the Saviour. And so must you. All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags (Isa 64:6).
     In going about to establish our own righteousness we cut ourselves off from the righteousness which God has provided for us, in Christ (Rom 10:1-10; Rom 3:21-26).
What now, Paul? Is your joy complete, now that your confidence is in Christ for salvation?
No, I have only begun to enter into what the Lord has prepared for them who love Him and who are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). Through the righteousness of God, by faith in Christ, the way is opened for the child of God to enter into very wonderful things...
10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection,
and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;
11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
...that I may know {GK=ginosko} Him - This type of knowledge is very intimate, personal and complete.
It is an ever deepening relationship with the One who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal 2:20). It is wonderful to know about Him, but so much more wonderful to know Him.
...and the power of His resurrection...-
As I have been identified with Him in death to sin and to my fleshly righteousness, so I am identified with Him in resurrection. Yes, I have confidence that someday, He will raise me from my grave to join Him in heaven (John 5:21-29; 11:25,26). But even now, the power of His resurrection works within me, to free me from bondage to the law of sin and death (Rom 6:4-11; 8:10,11).
...and the fellowship {GK=koinonia} of His sufferings {GK=pathema, passions}...-
In walking with Him, I enter into the things that move Him. Our fellowship in the Gospel (Php 1:5) is with our Lord, as well as with other believers. eg., We are together with Him in persecution (Php 1:29; 1Pet 4:12-14)... in prayer, as the Spirit moves us to pray according to our Lord's desires (Php 1:8,9)... and in building up believers, as Satan seeks to tear them down (2Cor 1:5,6; Col 1:24,25; Gal 4:19,20).
...being made conformable unto His death...-
The verb is progressive: describing increasing conformity to Christ's death... through the mortification of the carnal desires (Rom 8:13; Col 3:5)... and through willing surrender to whatever price might be necessary to fulfill the Lord's purposes (Php 1:20,21; 2Cor 4:8-12).
     Paul rejoiced in the Lord Jesus Christ... in His righteousness... in knowing Him... in communing with Him through all his days, and in every situation, whether by life or by death. Yet, Paul had an urgent desire which reached through and beyond these things, toward a higher goal, and even greater joy...
...if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead...-
"If by any means I might attain..." The phrase is nearly identical to Acts 27:12, where the goal was to reach a certain port before the winter storms set in. Paul's desired destination is "to be with Christ," ie., in His Presence without the obscuration of the fleshly veil (Php 1:23; 1Cor 13:12). The yearning of his heart is, "That I may know Him..." (v.10). This goal continues to be the subject of the remainder of the chapter.
12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect:
but I follow after, if that I may apprehend
that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended:
but [this] one thing [I do],
forgetting those things which are behind,
and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
So what is this goal? What is Paul referring to in v.11?
The word for 'resurrection' {GK=exanastasis} here is unique in all of scripture. Literally it is the 'out-resurrection.' Paul wants to be removed 'out of from among the dead.' What does he have in mind?
  • Salvation? -
    We live in a world of spiritually dead men. All of us were 'dead in our trespasses and sins,' before the Lord 'raised us up.' He made us alive in Him, when we placed our trust in Him (Eph 2:1-10). This is an aspect of 'the power of his resurrection' (Php 3:10) that we experience when we abandon our self-righteousness to claim Christ and His righteousness. But Paul speaks as a saved man, looking beyond salvation.
  • The Rapture? -
    As God's born-again children, we remain 'in the world,' though we are no longer 'of the world' (Joh 17:6,14-16). We are to love the Father, not the things of the world (1Joh 2:15,16). So, Paul, had a desire to depart into the Presence of the Lord (Php 1:23). The 'blessed hope' of the true church is to be caught away from this world in the Rapture (1Thes 4:13-18; Titus 2:13). The Lord will snatch away His own, to take them to Himself ('so shall we be ever with the Lord'), and to keep them out of the Great Tribulation that they may escape God's wrath, when it is poured out in judgment upon the unbelieving world (1The 5:1-6). In anticipating the Rapture, our focus is often on escape: "Get me out of this fallen world, or, out of my difficult situation;" whereas it ought to be on entrance: "Bring me into your Presence." Paul is looking forward to Christ's return for His own (v.20), but he is concerned with more than a change of location and situation. For Paul, the 'resurrection out from among the dead' refers to the completion of God's work within him:
  • Sanctification and Glorification -
    Although we have been made alive spiritually, while we remain in the flesh, we are plagued with, and hindered by, dead works and our fleshly nature, which we must continually mortify (Col 3:1-5).
         Yet, the Lord's purpose for His children is that they should live far above their present sin corrupted condition (Rom 8:28-30). It was Paul's desire to be raised out of the deadness of his own fleshly nature, in order to enter into that which the Lord has prepared for His own.
'If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.' (v.11)
As noted previously, the phrase 'if by any means I might attain...' is nearly identical to that in Acts 27:12, which spoke of the urgency of reaching a protective harbor. In v.11, the word 'attain' {GK=katantao} refers to arriving at a destination. The destination is not in doubt. The Lord's purposes will be fulfilled: to bring His children safely into His Presence, and to conform them to the image of His dear Son. Eventually, everyone who has obtained "the righteousness which is of God by faith" in Christ, will enter this harbor (Php 3:9,10). But Paul was not satisfied to wait until that day, to know the Lord more closely.
...not as though I had already attained...-
In v.12-16, Paul twice uses a different word for 'attained' {GK=lambano, to grasp, to take hold of}. A strengthened form of this word is translated 'apprehend' in the same verses, three times.
     Yes, the Lord's purposes will be fulfilled, the destination will be reached. But I have not yet taken hold of the things for which Christ took hold of me. Paul's urgent desire was to be what His Lord wanted Him to be... not only in the future, but also, to the extent possible, in the here and now. Do you suppose that the intensity of that desire had any bearing on the effectiveness of Paul's ministry, or on the level of his reward in heaven? (not that he was looking for reward.)
...I follow after... I press toward...- both verbs are GK=dioko, to pursue eagerly and energetically, disregarding the pain.
The picture is of an athlete straining to reach the goal, or, of a child diligently seeking to keep up with his Father (Psa 63:8).
...forgetting {GK=epilanthanomai, no longer caring for, no longer giving attention to}
those things which are behind and reaching forth unto {GK=epekteinomai, stretching out towards} those things which are before...
  • Paul, What past things are you leaving behind?
    • The things which I once counted as gain (3:4-8).
    • The situations which seem to hinder my service for the Lord (1:12).
    • The failures of which the Accuser of the brethren frequently reminds me (3:6a; 1Tim 1:12-15).
  • Paul, What future things are you straining to obtain?
    He corrects us: not 'things,' but 'this one thing,' which he describes as:
    • 'that for which I am apprehended of Christ Jesus' (v.12).
    • 'the high {ie., upward} calling of God in Christ Jesus' (v.14).
    • Paul sums it up in one word: to be 'perfect' (v.15a).... as my Father in heaven is perfect (Mat 5:48), to become a 'perfect man' according to 'the measure of the fulness of Christ' (Eph 4:12-14).
    In short: My desire is to fully know Christ and to be completely conformed to His likeness.
    Paul says: This ought to be your desire also.
15. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded:
and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.
16 Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained,
let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.
...as many as be perfect...-
The same word for 'perfect' {GK=teleios} is used in v.12 and v.15. It means 'brought to its end, finished, mature.' The goal is to be completely conformed, to the likeness of Christ. The child of God falls far short of that standard, today. Yet, if he is spiritually healthy and growing in the grace and knowledge of God, he may be perfectly mature for the stage that he has reached.
     For example: A 'perfect' baby has all his fingers and toes, and demonstrates the appropriate abilities for his age (ie., sitting, crawling, vocalizations). Yet, he is a long way from being mature in the adult sense.
     Another example: Perfect circles can exist in many sizes, but only in one shape. The volume contained in perfect circles may be great or small. Our perfect heavenly Father encompasses the entire creation and more. What are you and I in comparison? Yet, His character can be perfectly reflected in each of His children, regardless of how small or large our bubble of influence may be upon our world.
     So, Paul is saying, whatever stage you have reached in your Christian life, your goal, like his, should be to know Christ and to be conformed fully to His likeness.
     If, that is not your goal (if you are a child of God who is 'otherwise minded'), God will reveal {GK=apokalupto, uncover, make manifest} this desire to your heart, in due time.
...Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained...- ie., according to your stage of maturity...
...be thus minded... let us walk by the same rule {GK=kanon, standard}... let us mind the same thing...-
How are we to walk, and to behave ourselves toward one another?
  • According to the mind of Christ (2:2-5). - which was to humble Himself, even unto death, dying to Himself, to do the will of the Father, for the good of others.
17. Brethren, be followers together of me,
and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.
18 (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:
19 Whose end [is] destruction, whose God [is their] belly,
and [whose] glory [is] in their shame, who mind earthly things.)
...walk so as ye have us for an ensample...- Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus (2:17-30) modeled:
  • The mind of Christ (2:5-8): who humbled Himself to do the Father's will.
  • The mind of the Father (2:9-12): to exalt Christ above everything.
...for many walk... the enemies of the cross of Christ...-
Many professed believers walk according to another rule. Paul wept as he remembered individuals with whom he had once enjoyed 'fellowship in the gospel' but who were now...
...enemies of the cross of Christ...-
Are these apostates who have turned away from the one way of salvation (eg., 2Pet 2:1)? or, believers who refuse to humble themselves? In the context of this epistle, the emphasis is on the latter. The only other occurrence of the word 'cross' in this epistle is Php 2:8, which refers to the depth of humiliation of Him who humbled Himself in our behalf.
     "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me." (Mat 10:38-42; 16:24-27) This is not the way of those who mind earthly things. If we are to 'follow after' Him and 'press toward' the purposes which God has in mind for us, we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by earthly appetites or ambitions. The pursuit, of the "high calling of God in Christ Jesus," is not pressed by reaching up to gain something for oneself. Rather, it is attained by those, who in the likeness of their Lord, humble themselves (2:3-5)... committing the outcome to God, who lifts up the humble... and looking beyond the earthly situation (Heb 12:2; 1Pet 2:21-24)...
20 For our conversation is in heaven;
from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:
21 Who shall change our vile body,
that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body,
according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
...our conversation {GK=politeuma, commonwealth, place of citizenship} is in heaven;
...from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ...
It is He whom we need to know, and in whose likeness we need to be perfected. It is He who will change {GK=metaschematizo, transform (not merely the external appearance but the entire 'scheme' of the inner man)}, that we may be fashioned {GK=summorphos, conformed (as in v.10)} into His likeness.
     Our vile body {lit., body of humiliation} will be made like His glorious body {lit., body of glory}, when He raises us out of what we are, into what He is. As the Father exalted the Son, who humbled Himself, so the Saviour will do, for those who humble themselves as they follow Him. For He has the power and ability to bring everything into subjection to Himself.
     "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time" (1Pet 5:6; also Jam 4:10). When will this change come? At Christ's return... in due time (ie., when the time is right in His sight).


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