True and False Righteousness
3:1 Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! To write this again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.
Verses 1-3 contain a warning to the circumcision party. ‘To understand what is being said here and in the next few verses we need to go back a little into the life of the early church. The first believers in Jesus were Jews, and as loyal Jews they saw the law as of vital importance and emphasized the covenant that Israel had with God, the sign of which was circumcision. These first believers were sent out with a world mission, (Acts 1:8) but it was hard for them to reach out to non-Jews (note Acts 10) and it was some time before a true mission to Gentiles began. (Acts 11:20) Paul, as apostle to the Gentiles, believed that if non-Jewish people turned to the Lord in repentance and faith they were to be accepted as members of God’s people, without the necessity of their becoming Jews and of males being circumcised. There were Jewish Christians, however, who in Antioch (Acts 15:1) and in Galatia insisted that these Gentile Christians should become Jews. So the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 was called, and to deal with the same issue Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians. Years later this was still a problem, and so to write about it was a safeguard for the Philippians.’ (NBC)
3:2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh!
Watch out for those dogs – ‘Dogs in the east are mostly without masters; they wander at large in the streets and fields, and feed upon offals, and even upon corpses. Comp. 1 Kings 14:11 16:4 21:19. They are held as unclean, and to call one a dog is a much stronger expression of contempt there than with us, 1 Sam 17:43 2 Kings 8:13. The Jews called the heathen dogs, and the Mohammedans call Jews and Christians by the same name. The term dog also is used to denote a person that is shameless, impudent, malignant, snarling, dissatisfied, and contentious, and is evidently so employed here. It is possible that the language used here may have been derived from some custom of affixing a caution on a house that was guarded by a dog to persons approaching it. L’Enfant remarks that at Rome it was common for a dog to lie chained before the door of a house, and that a notice was placed in sight, “Beware of the dog.”…The reference here is, doubtless, to Judaizing teachers; and the idea is, that they were contentious, troublesome, dissatisfied, and would produce disturbance. The strong language which the apostle uses here shows the sense which he had of the danger arising from their influence. It may be observed, however, that the term dogs is used in ancient writings with great frequency, and even by the most grave speakers. It is employed by the most dignified characters in the Iliad, (Bloomfield;) and the name was given to a whole class of Greek philosophers-the Cynics. It is used in one instance by the Saviour, Mt 7:6. By the use of the term here, there can be no doubt that the apostle meant to express strong disapprobation of the character and course of the persons referred to, and to warn the Philippians in the most solemn mariner against them.’ (Barnes) Cf. Mt 7:6; 2 Pet 2:22; Rev 22:15.
‘With us the dog is a well-loved animal, but it was not so in the East in the time of Jesus. The dogs were the pariah dogs, roaming the streets, sometimes in packs, hunting amidst the garbage dumps and snapping and snarling at all whom they met. J. B. Lightfoot speaks of “the dogs which prowl about eastern cities, without a home and without an owner, feeding on the refuse and filth of the streets, quarrelling among themselves, and attacking the passer-by.”
In the Bible the dog always stands for that than which nothing can be lower. When Saul is seeking to take his life, David’s demand is: “After whom do you pursue? After a dead dog! after a flea!” (1 Sam 24:14, compare 2 Kings 8:13 Ps 22:16,20). In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, part of the torture of Lazarus is that the street dogs annoy him by licking his sores. (Lk 16:21) In Deuteronomy the Law brings together the price of a dog and the hire of a whore, and declares that neither must be offered to God. (Deut 23:18) In Revelation the word dog stands for those who are so impure that they are debarred from the Holy City. (Rev 22:15) That which is holy must never be given to dogs. (Mt 7:6) It is the same in Greek thought; the dog stands for everything that is shamelessly unclean.
It was by this name that the Jews called the Gentiles. There is a Rabbinic saying, “The nations of the world are like dogs.” So this is Paul’s answer to the Jewish teachers. He says to them, “In your proud self-righteousness, you call other men dogs; but it is you who are dogs, because you shamelessly pervert the gospel of Jesus Christ.” He takes the very name the Jewish teachers would have applied to the impure and to the Gentiles and flings it back at themselves. A man must always have a care that he is not himself guilty of the sins of which he accuses others.’ (DSB)
‘In Phil. 3:2 Paul uses the deliberately offensive word katatomē, ‘those who mutilate the flesh’ (RSV), ‘the concision’ (AV). He is not defaming circumcision on Christians (cf. Gal. 5:12). The cognate verb (katatemnō) is used (Lv. 21:5, LXX) of forbidden heathen mutilations. To Christians, who are ‘the circumcision’ (Phil. 3:3), the enforcement of the outmoded sign is tantamount to a heathenish gashing of the body.’ (J.A. Motyer, NBD, art. ‘Circumcision’)
3:3 For we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, exult in Christ Jesus, and do not rely on human credentials 3:4—though mine too are significant. If someone thinks he has good reasons to put confidence in human credentials, I have more: 3:5 I was circumcised on the eighth day, from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. I lived according to the law as a Pharisee. 3:6 In my zeal for God I persecuted the church. According to the righteousness stipulated in the law I was blameless.
It is we who are the circumcision – It is we who are the true covenant people of God, Rom 9:24-26; 1 Pet 2:9-10. The thought is not of the physical mark but of consciousness of being the new Israel, Gal 6:16, in contrast to Israel ‘after the flesh’, Gal 2:7-12.
In contrast to Jewish formalism, the true people of God have three characteristics. Motyer calls these the upward, outward, and inward aspects of true religion:-
We worship (minister, serve) by the Spirit of God. Now, in contrast, our worship is spiritual, Jn 4:24. This does not only refer to what happens when the congregation does as a gathered people, but also to devotion to God as evidenced in life-style. It is service in the two senses that we often use the word: (a) engaging Christian services; (b) attending a church service. (Motyer)
‘Because ancient Judaism usually associated the Spirit with prophecy, “worship in the Spirit” (nasb, nrsv) may refer to charismatic worship of the sort depicted in 1 Chron 25:1-6; because most Jewish people believed that the Spirit was no longer available in that fullness in their own time, Paul lays claim to an experience of the church that confirms the Messiah’s arrival and that most of Judaism would not pretend to match.’ (NT Background Commentary)
‘Paul, breathtakingly, snatches the phrase “the circumcision” away from ethnic Israel and claims it for those in Messiah…This, by the way, is at the heart of the correct answer to those who suggest that I and others are guilty of imposing something called “supercessionism” on Paul. If such critics would show that they had read Philippians 3.3, and for that matter Romans 2.25-29, where a similar point is being made, they might deserve to be taken more seriously.’ (Wright, Justification: God’s plan and Paul’s vision, p120)
We glory (rejoice, exult) in Christ Jesus.
We put no confidence in the flesh.
As for legalistic righteousness, faultless – On the basis of this statement, many students of Paul have accept Stendahl’s opinion that Paul had a ‘robust conscience’ (rather than self-condemning one) prior to his conversion. But the ‘faultlessness’ that Paul is claiming here is surely an external conformity to the law.
See also Acts 23:1.
Compare the experience of George Whitefield: “I began to fast twice a week for thirty-six hours together, prayed many times a day and received the sacrament every Lord’s Day. I fasted myself almost to death all the forty days of Lent, during which I made it a point of duty never to go less than three times a day to public worship, besides seven times a day to my private prayers. Yet I knew no more that I was to be born a new creature in Christ Jesus than if I had never been born at all.” (George Whitefield, cited in Dallimore, George Whitefield, Vol 1, p60)
3:7 But these assets I have come to regard as liabilities because of Christ.
3:8 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I may gain Christ, 3:9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness.
I consider them rubbish – The word can mean ‘excrement’ or ‘refuse’ – the kind that is thrown out for dogs to forage through. There may, therefore, be a reference back to v2: the things that count for nothing with Paul are highly prized by the Judaizers.
‘When Paul says he counts the things he lost rubbish, or dung (KJV), he means not merely that he does not think of them as having any value, but also that he does not live with them constantly in his mind: what normal person spends his time nostalgically dreaming of manure? Yet this, in effect, is what many of us do. It shows how little we have in the way of true knowledge of God.’ (Packer, Knowing God)
‘In Philippians 3:4–7, Paul lists all the things that he had presumed made him acceptable to God: his circumcision, his zeal for the Mosaic law, his previous status as a Pharisee, and his efforts to snuff out Christianity. He now considers all of these things as excrement—something not only viscerally offensive, but ceremonially unclean for sacred space in the old tabernacle and temple (Deut 23:12–14; Ezek 4:12–13). Paul could not have chosen a more vivid way of communicating his point that, next to Christ’s work on the cross, none of those things mattered to God.’ (Heiser, The Bible Unfiltered, p196)
‘Eudoxus was so affected with the glory of the sun, that he thought he was born only to behold it; much more should a Christian judge himself born only to behold and delight in the glory of the Lord Jesus.’ (Flavel)
‘Verse 9 speaks of justification, Php 3:10 of sanctification, and Php 3:11 of glorification. The sequence of privilege-death-exaltation suggests a connection with Php 2:6-11.’ (New Geneva)
Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law –
That which is through faith in Christ –
The righteousness that comes from God – ‘dikaiosune ek theou’ – a righteousness that comes from God. ‘Thinking back to the Hebrew law court, what we have here is the “righteousness,” the status, which the vindicated party possesses as a result of the court’s decision. This is “a righteous status from God;” and this is not…God’s own righteousness.’ (Wright, What St Paul Really Said, 104)
Wright argues elsewhere that this ‘righteousness that comes from God’ is not a righteousness which God himself possesses, and which he passes on to others. It is, rather, ‘the status which is given by, or comes from, God.’ The contrasting statement (‘a righteousness that comes from the law’) could scarcely mean ‘a righteousness which the law possesses and is passed on to law-abiders’. (Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, 127f)
3:10 My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, 3:11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
I want to know Christ – ‘Have your heart right with Christ, and he will visit you often, and so turn weekdays into Sundays, meals into sacraments, homes into temples, and earth into heaven.’ (Charles Haddon Spurgeon)
‘Paul has already spoken of the surpassing value of the knowledge of Christ. To that thought he now returns and defines more closely what he means. It is important to note the verb which he uses for to know. It is part of the verb ginoskein, which almost always indicates personal knowledge. It is not simply intellectual knowledge, the knowledge of certain facts or even principles. It is the personal experience of another person. We may see the depth of this word from a fact of Old Testament usage. The Old Testament uses to know of sexual intercourse. “Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived and bore Cain.” (Ge 4:1) In Hebrew the verb is yada‘ and in Greek it is translated by ginoskein. This verb indicates the most intimate knowledge of another person. It is not Paul’s aim to know about Christ, but personally to know him.’ (DSB)
‘Union with Christ is a unique emphasis among the world’s religions. No other religion offers its adherents a personal union with its founder. The Buddhist does not claim to know the Buddha, nor the Confucianist Confucius, not the Muslim Mohammed, not the Marxists Karl Marx. But the Christian does claim – humbly, I hope, but nevertheless confidently – to know Jesus Christ.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 346)
It has been said that “God will answer all our questions in one way and one way only. Namely, by showing us more of his Son.”
The power of his resurrection – Christ’s resurrection is powerful, in that it (a) confirms the truth of the Gospel; (b) assures us of a future state; (c) takes away the fear of death; (d) strengthens us to do and to endure in this life.
‘Here the apostle describes the nature and efficacy of faith, which is the knowledge of Christ; not a general and vague faith, but the faith we have in the power of his resurrection. Since resurrection completes the work of redemption, it presupposes death. But it is not enough to know that Christ was crucified and rose from the dead, unless we know these things in our lives. This is why Paul speaks explicitly of the power of his resurrection. We know Christ in the right way when we experience the meaning of his death and resurrection within us and as they become effective in us. The expiation and obliteration of sins, freedom from condemnation, satisfaction, victory over death, the attainment of righteousness, and the hope of a blessed immortality-all these are ours by the power of his resurrection.’ (Calvin)
The fellowship of sharing in his sufferings – Paul does not necessarily mean that he wanted to die as Christ died, but that he wanted to live as Christ died: i.e. in sacrificial self-giving.
‘Bearing wrong is a glorious part of the fellowship with Christ’s sufferings.’ (Andrew Murray)
Somehow – Paul does not imply doubt as to the outcome; he only wishes to say, ‘I shall use all means, I shall make the most strenuous effort, to obtain the goal.’
‘Paul recognizes that the believer’s perseverance depends on the will and the working of the sovereign God (Php 1:6; 2:13; 3:12-14,21; cf. Heb 6:3).’ (New Geneva)
First, we must suffer; then, we shall reign, 2 Tim 2:11-12.
‘He means not simply a resurrection from the dead, for that all men shall attain, whether they strive for it or no. But by a metonymy of the subject for the adjunct, he intends that complete holiness and perfection, which shall attend the state of the resurrection, so it is expounded, Php 3:12.’ (Flavel)
‘As no one can expect to stand in the last day who has not practised holiness in the fear of God, so no one can hope to attain unto the resurrection of life who has not learned to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed unto his death. Such a mode of viewing the resurrection need not do away with the other mode of viewing it as a gift of free grace bestowed for the sake of the merit of Christ.’ (G. Vos)
To attain to the resurrection from the dead – ‘Paul wants to make it clear that resurrection power is not only present identification or inward spiritual experience or even outward signs and wonders done by the power of the resurrected Christ working through a person. All of this would make the Christian life temporal, lasting only for this lifetime. Paul’s deepest expectation was that present intimacy and identification with Jesus would lead to future resurrection life with him. Perhaps some in Philippi believed that the resurrection was only inward and thus that no future resurrection was needed. Paul states emphatically that his hope is “to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” The expression states pointedly that the ultimate Christian hope is indeed resurrection from among the dead, not merely a hope for something inward and spiritual that one can have in this life.’ (HSB)
‘What is this language “somehow, to attain?” That is the language of humility and of hope. Paul knew he had not yet attained the resurrection, for he had not yet died. His physical resurrection was still a future hope. It is not that he is unsure of it, for Christ is already risen so the eventual resurrection is sure. The point he is making is that he is not there yet. He is still “pressing on.”‘(HSB)
Keep Going Forward
3:12 Not that I have already attained this—that is, I have not already been perfected—but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me.
3:13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, 3:14 with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
God has called me heavenward –
3:15 Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways. 3:16 Nevertheless, let us live up to the standard that we have already attained.
3:17 Be imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and watch carefully those who are living this way, just as you have us as an example. 3:18 For many live, about whom I have often told you, and now, with tears, I tell you that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ. 3:19 Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, they exult in their shame, and they think about earthly things.
Join with others in following my example – ‘Few preachers would dare to make the appeal with which Paul begins this section. J. B. Lightfoot translates it: “Vie with each other in imitating me.” Most preachers begin with the serious handicap that they have to say, not, “Do as I do,” but, “Do as I say.” Paul could say not only, “Listen to my words,” but also, “Follow my example.”‘ (DSB)
Enemies of the cross of Christ – ‘To be an enemy of the cross is to set ourselves against its purposes. Self-righteousness (instead of looking to the cross for justification), self-indulgence (instead if taking up the cross to follow Christ), self-advertisement (instead of preaching Christ crucified) and self-glorification (instead of glorying in the cross) – these are the distortions which make us “enemies” of Christ’s cross.’ (John Stott, Authentic Christianity, 58).
Their god is their stomach – cf. Rom 3:14. ‘Food and drink have undoubtedly become gods to many people, but the principle extends far beyond the dining room. It includes all who worship at the altar of their own appetites.’ (Blanchard, Does God Believe in Atheists? p493)
‘Excess in meat and drink clouds the mind, chokes good affections, and provokes lust. Many a man digs his own grave with his teeth.’ (Thomas Manton)
The glory is in their shame – “Is not many a man contented to suffer reproach for maintaining his lust? And shall not we for maintaining the truth? Some glory in that which is their shame; (Php 3:19) and shall we be ashamed of our glory?” (Thomas Watson)
Their mind is on earthly things – They are bent on ‘storing up treasures on earth’, cf. Mt 6:19.
‘More are hurt by lawful things than unlawful, as more are killed with wine than poison. Gross sins affright, but how many taken a surfeit and die, in using lawful things inordinately. Recreation is lawful, eating and drinking are lawful, but many offend by excess, and their table is a snare. Relations are lawful, but how often does Satan tempt to overlove! How often is the wife and child laid in God’s room! Excess makes things lawful because sinful.’ (Thomas Watson)
3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven—and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 3:21 who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself.
Our citizenship is in heaven – ‘This does not mean that we have to live in heaven or that one day we will be going there. The challenge is to recognise that our humanity, our values and our view of the world need to be shaped by God from heaven. God calls us to live in the culture of a fallen earth without conforming to its norms, being intent instead on transforming earth by living out the values of heaven. We are the light of the world and that light shines from heaven onto earth through us.’ (David Lawrence, Heaven – It’s Not The End Of The World, 57.
‘Here was a picture the Philippians could understand. Philippi was a Roman colony. Here and there at strategic military centres the Romans set down their colonies. In such places the citizens were mostly soldiers who had served their time-twenty-one years-and who had been rewarded with full citizenship. The great characteristic of these colonies was that, wherever they were, they remained fragments of Rome. Roman dress was worn; Roman magistrates governed; the Latin tongue was spoken; Roman justice was administered; Roman morals were observed. Even in the ends of the earth they remained unshakeably Roman. Paul says to the Philippians, “Just as the Roman colonists never forget that they belong to Rome, you must never forget that you are citizens of heaven; and your conduct must match your citizenship.”‘ (DSB)
‘The concept of spiritual citizenship is most clearly expressed in Php 3:20, where Paul writes, “Our citizenship (politeuma polivteuma) is in heaven.” This is the only place in Scripture where the word is used, but the idea is found in both Jewish and Christian literature. In fact, the development of the idea may be traced from the record of Abraham’s experience to the writings of the apostolic fathers.
Abraham viewed himself as a stranger and a sojourner in the land of promise Gen 23:4. The same words are used consistently to describe the experience of the patriarchs. (Ge 17:8; 28:4; 47:9; Ex 6:4) Even when Israel resided in Canaan, the people were to recognize that the land was God’s and that they were merely aliens in it. (Le 25:23; 1 Chron 29:15; Ps 39:12; 119:19) The Rechabites chose not to build houses, sow seed, or plant vineyards; they lived in tents as a reminder of their status as sojourners. (Jer 35:6-10)
Christ’s teaching on the kingdom has a strong heavenly orientation. His followers are to seek the kingdom that the Father has chosen to give them. (Mt 6:33; Lk 12:32) The kingdom, however, is not of this world. (Jn 18:36) Believers are to lay up treasure in heaven. (Mt 6:19-21) While Christ is absent, Christians are to take comfort in his promise that he is preparing a place for them in his Father’s house. (Jn 14:1-4) Ultimately, they will inherit the kingdom he has prepared for them. (Mt 25:34)
Paul reminds Christians that it is “the Jerusalem above” to which they are related Gal 4:21-31 and that they are seated with Christ in the heavenly places. (Eph 2:6 Col 3:1-4) Peter describes Christians in the same language used to describe Abraham in the Septuagint. They are elect “refugees” whose time on earth is a “temporary stay” in a foreign country. (1 Pet 1:1,17) Their status as “strangers” and temporary residents provides an incentive for holy living. (1 Pet 2:11)
The author of Hebrews brings these various themes together in the most comprehensive way. Abraham and the other patriarchs lived as strangers and exiles on earth, seeking the city designed, built, and prepared for them by God. (Heb 11:8-16) Similarly, Christians do not have a lasting city; they seek the city that is to come. (Heb 13:14) That city is the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God and the capital of an unshakable kingdom.’ (Heb 12:22-23,28) (EDBT)
‘Our kingdom is not from hence. We should be looking at earth as from heaven, instead of looking at heaven from earth, as though present things were already past, and future things already present.’ (Lady Powerscourt)
‘At death the soul leaves the defunct body behind, but this is not the happy release that Greek philosophers and some cultists have imagined. The Christian hope is not redemption from the body but redemption of the body. We look forward to our participation in Christ’s resurrection in and through the resurrection of our own bodies. Though the exact composition of our future glorified bodies is presently unknown, we know that there will be some sort of continuity with our present bodies.’ (1 Cor 15:35-49; Php 3:20-21; Col 3:4) (Packer, Concise Theology)
The power that will raise our bodies at the last day is variously ascribed to Christ (here), the Spirit, Rom 8:11; and the Father, 1 Cor 6:14; 2 Cor 4:14. All these statements closely link our resurrection with that of Christ himself. Ours will be like his, and as certain.
Our lowly bodies – ‘Not as God made it, but as sin has marred it. Not absolutely, and in itself, but relatively, and in comparison of what it will be in its second edition, at the resurrection. Then those scattered bones and dispersed dust, like pieces of old broken battered silver, will be new cast, and wrought in the best and newest fashion, even like to Christ’s glorious body. Whereof we have this evidence, that our conversation is already heavenly. The temper, frame, and disposition of our souls is already so; therefore the frame and temper of our bodies in due time shall be so.’ (Flavel, The Fountain of Life)
They will be like his glorious body – ‘It is not entirely clear what the Lord’s glorious body was like. We may think immediately of His post-resurrection appearances: to Mary in the garden on the first Easter morning; to the two on the road to Emmaus; to the disciples and Thomas; but the body with which He was seen on these and other occasions has, in my view, undergone serious transformation or transfiguration. When Mary saw Him she thought He was the gardener (John 20:15): He looked so very ordinary. But not for a moment did Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road imagine that what he saw was a gardener. All the paraphernalia of divine majesty was there. Again, the One John describes in Revelation 1, who is ‘like a son of man’, is a splendid and glorious figure.’ (MacLeod, (A Faith to Life By)
MacLeod adds that our bodies will be not be like Christ’s body as resurrected, but as ascended. It will be like ‘the kind of body that Saul saw on the road to Damascus; the glory that John saw on Patmos; and perhaps most significantly, what Peter and James and John saw on the Mount of Transfiguration.’
Again: ‘it is probably not possible to understand the resurrection body without understanding the new heavens and the new earth. That body will have different physical properties because the world itself will probably have different properties from those that we know at the present moment. It is possible, in fact, that when God gives us the new universe it will be multi-dimensional and our bodies will behave in it in ways that today we cannot even begin to imagine.’