About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

Home Page

This Section - Chapter 3

Previous Section - Chapter  2

Next Section - Chapter  4

ch. 3:1-11    ch. 3:12-4:2


No Confidence In The Flesh (ch. 3:1-12)


In verse 1 Paul says that it’s no bother to him to remind the Philippians of “the same things”.  The words “same things” don’t refer to the word  rejoice, but to the things that Paul will say in the following verses.  He considers these things a safe guard, or a reminder.  It is not burdensome to him to repeat himself if it will help his readers stay on the right track.


Verse 2 begins the warning or the reminder to Paul’s readers.  Paul says, “watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh”.


We have 3 statements here concerning men that Paul warns the Philippians about.  They have not yet reached Philippi but they had already infiltrated the churches in the province of Galatia .  These men are called Judaizers.  These Judaizers believe that to be a true Christian, a true follower of Jesus, you have to become a Jew if you weren’t one already, and you had to obey the Law of Moses, including being circumcised.   Without circumcision you could not be saved.  Paul calls this “another gospel” in Gal. 1:6-7.  This is the background to the book of Galatians.


Here in verse 2 Paul calls these men “dogs”.  The word “dog” was used by Jews in reference to Gentiles.  They called Gentiles “dogs” because Jews did not like Gentiles.  This was a derogatory term. 


In the middle east in those days large dogs were wild street scavengers.  Small dogs were pets.  So when  Jews called a Gentiles  “dogs” they were calling them  “wild street scavengers”, implying that the Jews sat at the table of the Lord while the Gentiles would beg for scraps of food after the meal.  You might remember Jesus talking about this in Matt. 15:26-27. 


Paul was using this derogatory name to represent these Judaizers, those men who distorted the real gospel of Christ.  But he continues and calls them evil men.  These men weren’t nice.  They weren’t simply mistaken in their thinking.  They were evil.  They knew well what they were teaching and their motives were far from pure.


Paul then refers to these Judaizers as “mutilators of the flesh”.  This is a direct reference to circumcision.  Circumcision is an Old Testament concept, something that God required men of Israel to do and was encoded into the Law of Moses.  By this I mean that circumcision existed before the Law but was put into the Law when it was given to Israel through Moses.   


The point to be made here is that the Law was nailed to the cross with Jesus.  The Law ended with Jesus’ death on the cross and therefore circumcision had no place in New Testament thinking. (Rom. 10:4 and Col. 2:14)  


What the Judaizers were doing was mixing law with grace which is not New Testament thinking. Salvation has nothing to do with obeying the Law of Moses, or any other law as far as that goes.  Salvation is by faith and not by any kind of works so none of us can boast of attaining this salvation on our own account.  Jesus did  all the work for  us on the cross.  We simply trust Him and what He did for us.


It is human tendency to want to attain to God’s salvation through our own good works.  We’ve done this throughout the history of the church. There’s been so many rules made to help us get saved, but they are all meaningless. Then beyond that, we’ve made rules to keep us saved.  But staying saved is all about continuing to trust Jesus with your life which includes your  salvation.  Paul clearly teaches this in all of his writings. 


When we add rules to getting saved or staying saved, we are telling Jesus that what He did on the cross was not good enough.  We just need to add a few things to improve on his work.   I cannot think of a worse sin that a Christian can commit.  This was the sin of the Judaizers.  It’s the sin of many people and groups today. Paul calls this another gospel, and he calls such promoters of this thinking dogs.  We need to remain pure in the gospel message we preach.


In verse 3 Paul calls true believers in Jesus who don’t add rules as the real circumcised people. New Testament circumcision is all about the Holy Spirit entering one’s life.  Paul calls this circumcision a circumcision of the heart, because in New Testament terms, issues of the heart are the important issues.  Outward issues are secondary. 


The fact of the matter is that if Jesus can change a heart, then all the outward things, all the outward sins get changed as well, because that which is in the heart will show itself in our outward actions.  The Old Testament dealt more with outward things while the New Testament majors on inner things. This is one reason why the Holy Spirit comes to live within us.


Also in verse 3 Paul says that the true believers “put no confidence in the flesh”, something he begins to explain in the next few verses.  If anyone has good reason to put confidence in the flesh, our outward activity it is Paul, and for the following reasons.


In verse 5 Paul says that he was “circumcised on the eighth day”. According to the Law of Moses male babies had to be circumcised on the eighth day of their lives, and so right away Paul was found to be in obedience to the Law before he even knew there was a Law to be obeyed. 


“Of the people of Israel” is the next phrase.  He was born into the people of God. This was another plus for Paul.


He then goes on to say that he was born into the tribe of Benjamin.  Paul points this out for a reason.  After  Israel was captured and sent off to Babylon, 10 out of the 12 tribes were lost and dispersed but there were 2 tribes that survived the Babylonian captivity, and they were Judah and Benjamin.  So in one sense of the word he was a pure Jew, with no mixture, and was born  into one of  the two tribes where you could see a clear heritage with no mixture.  This is why Paul calls himself “a Hebrew of Hebrews”.  He’s saying that He is one of the most pure Jew alive.  


Paul's Hebrew name was Saul.  Many people think that God changed his name from Saul to Paul after he became a Christian but that is not the case.  Acts 13:9 says, "then Saul, also named Paul."  Saul was his Hebrew name while Paul was the Greek equivalent.  Remember, Paul was raised a Jew in a Greek community in Tarsus .  He was born a Roman citizen and thus the reason for his Roman name, but what about his Hebrew name?  Why might he have been named Saul?  Saul was Israel 's first king and he was from the tribe of Benjamin.  It only makes sense that a Jewish father and mother from that tribe might name their son Saul.        


Then he says, “as in regard to the Law, a Pharisee”.  A Pharisee was one group in the ruling class of Israel known as the Sanhedrin. Pharisees were known to be  the strictest followers of the Law of Moses in the Sanhedrin.  When it came to following the Law as the Judaizers were telling Christians to do, they had nothing on Paul.  He followed and obeyed the Law more than most Jews.  His father was a Pharisee as well. (Acts 23:6)


In verse 6 Paul speaks to the issue of zeal, something that these Judaizers had lots of. But Paul says that he had so much zeal that he persecuted the church. Paul went out of his way to have Christians arrested and even killed.


Paul closes verses 6 by saying, “as for legalistic righteousness, faultless”.  Paul was blameless.  You could not find fault with him in his strict obedience to the Law. 


When Paul associates the word “legalistic” with the word “righteousness” he is saying there is more than one type of righteousness.  “Legalistic righteousness” is attained “legally”, by following certain “legal rules”, and in this case the rules are from the Law of Moses.  The book of Romans shows that there is another type of righteousness that is “apart from the Law”, as Paul puts it.  This righteousness is by faith in God’s grace.  Simply put, when we trust in what Jesus has done for us, since He’s done the work, He sees us as righteous.  This righteousness is a free gift.  You do not work for it.  You simply trust in what Jesus has done.


Paul tells his readers that when it comes to “legalistic righteousness” he is indeed righteous.  We will now see that this means nothing to Paul any longer.          


So what Paul has just done here is to measure his past life with the lives of the Judaizers who were attempting to make Christians into Old Testament Jews as well.  They had nothing on Paul in these outward issues of righteousness. By far Paul wins the battle of outward righteousness if one was going to make a comparison.


In verse 7 Paul says that all these things that he has just mentioned, things that were very important to him and to the society in which he lived, he now considered a loss.  He gladly forsook all of these glamorous things for Jesus.  To him there was no contest between Jesus and the prestigious life he lived.  He gave it all up.  It was worth absolutely nothing in his eyes after meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus. 


In verse 8 Paul goes even farther in considering things loss.  He just said that his past religious life means nothing to him any longer.  Now he says that he considers all of life a loss when compared to his relationship with Jesus.  There’s nothing more important to Paul in life than Jesus. It does not matter what it is.  There’s nothing in life that even comes close to being as important as Jesus.


He goes on to say that he “has lost all things’.  And Paul was right.  When he was in house arrest as he wrote these words, he had next to nothing.  He had no prestige, no money, and to use bad grammar, “no nothing”.  Paul was poverty stricken in every since of the word except spiritually.  Some scholars even believe that Paul was once married and that because of his  conversion to Jesus his wife left him.  We can’t say this for sure, but some reputable scholars believe this to be so.  


Also in verse 8 he says, “I consider them all rubbish that I might gain Christ. The King James Bible translates the word “rubbish” as “dung” and in this case the KJV translators are more accurate while the NIV translators who have attempted to be a bit more diplomatic and culturally correct in their wording.


In verse 9 Paul comes back to the matter of “righteousness” that the Judaizers were saying comes from obeying the Law of Moses.  Paul simply says that he’s forsaken all of that.  He does not want that outward righteousness any longer and in fact that is not part of the gospel.  He’d rather have the righteousness that comes from Jesus.  This righteousness is a free gift that is given from Jesus to those who believe, to those who have given their life to Jesus. 


Jesus can give us this righteousness because He lived the perfect life for us.  This is why Jesus obeyed the Law while on earth.  He obeyed it on our behalf.  He obeyed it for us.  And now God looks on the obedience of Jesus and says that finally someone has obeyed the Law as I wanted and it’s Jesus my Son.  If we place ourselves in the arms of Jesus then we are found to be righteous just as He is righteous even though we are far from being righteous.  This is the good news of the gospel.  The Jews understood this to be good news because   they understood being righteous as attempting to follow all the rules which was extremely hard. 


The Gentiles did not understand the gospel as good news as the Jews did because they were never under the Law and knew little about the Law of Moses.


This is important to know because as Christians we should never institute any rule that tries to make someone righteous.  Real righteousness come from trusting Jesus with your life. It can’t be found anywhere else no matter how religious the rule may look, and the Judaizers looked pretty religious.  But in Paul’s mind they were evil.


In verse 10 Paul says he wants to know Christ. Knowing Jesus is the most important thing to Paul.  But he continues.  Knowing Jesus is also knowing two other things.  The first is knowing “the power of His resurrection”.  Paul wants that same power that was demonstrated when the rock was blown away from the mouth of the tomb of Jesus. He wants this in his own life, and I think we can clearly see that in his life.


But Paul didn’t stop with the power stuff.  We’d all like that kind of power in our lives, but Paul knew that Jesus experienced more than power.  He also experienced great suffering and that was the other thing that Paul embraced once knowing Jesus.  Knowing Jesus to Paul meant having the power of the Spirit but it also meant suffering throughout his whole life as Jesus did while he was on earth. 


Also in verse 10 Paul says, “becoming like Him in His death”.  The suffering of Jesus reached its climax when Jesus was killed as a criminal.  Paul was more than willing to die the same death as Jesus. He was willing to have his head cut off as a criminal even though he wasn’t, and that’s what eventually happened to Paul.


This section ends with the words, “and so somehow to attain to the resurrection of the dead”.  Through all these things Paul wanted to end up on the right side of Jesus when the Day of the Lord came and life eternal would be given to all those who gave themselves to Jesus.  The word “somehow” suggest to us that maybe Paul had doubts, but I don’t think he did.  Somehow we can reach that place of resurrection, and that somehow is only by trusting our lives with Jesus implicitly.


Also concerning this word “somehow”, many commentators suggest that this does not express doubt  but more of an expectation.


Pressing On Towards The Goal.  (ch. 3:12-4:2)


Paul has just told his readers to what degree he’s dedicated to following Jesus.  Now in verse 12 he tells the Philippians that he has not attained to these things as yet.  He is not perfect, and this from a man that most of us would consider pretty close to having perfection and dedication to his Lord.  But we know that perfection only comes in the next life.


In the second half of verse 12 Paul says, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”.  This might be seen as a bit of a tongue twister here, but simply put, God took hold of Paul for a specific reason.  Acts 9:15 makes this very clear.  Jesus had work for Paul to do and he was pressing on to the work that Jesus had for him.  And not just doing God’s work, but being the person that Jesus called him to be.


Just to note what Acts 9:15 says.  Paul learns that he is called by Jesus to proclaim Him to the Jews, to the Gentiles and their kings, and along the way he’d suffer lots for the sake of Christ.


The word “press” suggests effort.  Paul was one who put great effort into being a follower of Jesus.  Yes, he preached faith and not works, but that does not mean he didn’t work as a result of his faith.  His faith, or trust in Jesus drove him to do God’s will for his life.  Too often some have stressed salvation by faith and not by works, which is very Biblical, but in so doing forget about works altogether.  True works follow real faith.  If there are no works of faith, then you might question if there is any faith in the person who has no works.  This is the message of James.    


In verse 13 Paul calls the Philippian Christians brothers. Once again we see that Paul  views these people as brothers, not as subjects under his apostolic authority. 


He goes on to say in verse 13 that he doesn’t consider that he’s taken hold of what he wants to take hold of.  He hasn’t quite done all that there is to do. Paul fully expects to be released from house arrest and finish the job that Jesus asked him to do.  Paul’s desire was to go to Spain and preach Jesus there. (Rom. 15:24)


Continuing in verse 13 Paul says that he forgets what is behind him.  Much of what Paul is forgetting is from his past life of rigid legal living.  Paul left the institution of religion, never to return.  He had no intension to duplicate legalistic Judaism into his new Christian life.  He forgot about all the legalism.   Now he is “straining towards that which is ahead”.   Once again see the word “straining”.  It is clear that Paul is putting extremely great effort into his life as a Christian.  He is not lax.  He is not sitting back doing nothing.


Concerning legalistic religion, Paul gave it all up.  It was now worthless to him. That which was once his life was now flushed down the toilet so to speak.  There is no way that he’d want to implement such legalistic religion into the church, the “ekklesia of Jesus”, and he never did.  But we’ve done it since.  It’s my thinking that Paul would be extremely disappointed with the institutional church as we know it today.  To him that would be to re-introduce legalistic Judaism back into his life.     


“That which is ahead” speaks of the work that he needs to do that culminates at the day he will stand before his Lord and give account of his life.


In verse 14 Paul says that he is making all this effort because he wants to win the prize.  He uses the word “heavenward”. This tells us that the prize is in the next life.  He also uses the word “called”.  Paul was called by Jesus in Acts 9 to a certain ministry, but in another real sense his final calling is to Jesus Himself in the next life.  This is the final calling of all Christians.  In our thinking we need a proper balance between our earthly calling and our heavenly calling.  Often we get out of balance and promote one over the other.


In verse 15 Paul says “that all of us who are mature should take such a view of things” The view of things that Paul is talking about are the things he just said.  A mature Christian is thus one that strains to do the work of the Lord here on earth with the goal of one day standing before Jesus his Lord to give an account of his life and receive the prize Jesus has for him. This is a mature understanding of the Christian life.


In the last part of verse 15 Paul says that “if on some point you think differently, God will make that clear to you”. Paul is suggesting that there might be some issue, probably a secondary issue that his readers may think differently than him on.  He views these people as mature but that doesn’t mean they agree on every last detail.  So what does Paul do?  Does he try to figure out where the difference is and try to make them think like he does?  No, he doesn’t do that.  He leaves it all up to the Lord.  God will reveal to his readers what needs to be revealed.


The idea that Paul is leaving such things to God to reveal to the Philippians is interesting to me.  Many view apostolic authority as being to heavily authoritarian in nature.  But Paul does not use his authority as an apostle here. He’s not straining to make these people understand every last detail as he does.  He leaves this up to God and the Holy Spirit, and he has to, because he can’t be with these people long enough to make sure they believe every last detail to how he believes.  This shows that Paul knows that in the final analysis the growth of these people doesn’t totally depend on him but on God.


In verse 16 Paul says that “we should live to that which we have already obtained”.  Simply put, “put in practice that which you already know”.  When you do that, what you don’t know will some day become clear to you by the Lord. Or another possible way to view this is that Jesus has placed us in a certain place along side of Him in the Spirit.  We should thus live accordingly.


In verse 17 Paul says, “join with others in following my example”.  Paul clearly tells his readers that they should follow his example.  I think Paul was able to say such a thing because he is a good example to follow.  If any of us says such a thing we better make sure our example is worth following.


I think Paul was telling his readers to follow him in the things he just said,  These things include making a great effort to do God’s will, whatever that would be in an individual’s life.  Not everyone was called to do what Paul did, but we are all called, and the same effort that Paul put into his calling should be found in our lives as well.  So Paul is not asking these people to do as he does.  He’s asking them “to be as he is”.  There’s a big difference between the two thoughts. 


Then he says to “take note of others who follow the pattern” we’ve given.  What pattern is Paul speaking of here?  He’s speaking of  one’s dedication to the Lord.  He’s not speaking of a list of rules to run a church by.  He’s talking about living a dedicated life for Jesus.  Pattern doesn’t suggest a formal blueprint.  It suggests a living example of one who follows Jesus, and Paul is that example. 


“Take note” means to acknowledge or watch for the sake of showing others that this is the way the Christian life should be lived.  Don’t let a good example go unnoticed.


In verse 18 Paul reminds his readers with tears something he’s said over and over again, that many “are enemies of the cross of Christ”. 


I believe the enemies of the cross of Christ are the Judaizers that he has warn these people about.  They are the enemies of the cross because what they teach degrades the cross.  They taught that people had to obey the Law of Moses in order to be a Christian.  This degrades the cross because it takes away from its importance.  The cross is so important that it is the only way in which one can be saved.  Obeying any rule, whether an Old Testament Law or some man made rule is not acceptable for the purposes of salvation.  If you say that you have to be circumcised to be saved, then you are adding a rule to the cross and that weakens the place of the cross in salvation. 


In verse 19 Paul says that “their destiny is destruction”.  Final destruction will come to these enemies of the cross in the next life after the Great White Throne Judgment of God.  Some use this verse to suggest that there is no eternal judgment.  The enemies of God simply are destroyed forever, not eternally living in the Lake of Fire.  I think there are sufficient balancing Scriptures that show that eternal death for the enemies of God is always being in the process  dying, but never really dying.


Paul also says “that their god is their stomach and their glory is in their shame”.   “There god is their stomach” suggests that their motivation is purely selfish, driven by money to feed their selfish desires. 


All the things these people do are shameful and only glory they have is found in these shameful activities. They have noting else to glory in.  


Then Paul says that these men are earthly  All of what they do is all about earthly success, fame and importance and has no eternal benefit.


In verse 20 Paul says that the Christian citizenship is in heaven. We may reside and be citizens of a particular country but as Christians our main citizenship is with God in heaven. Our first alliance is not to an earthly country but to the Kingdom of God. 


The last part of verse 20 says that “we eagerly await a Saviour from there”, meaning from heaven, who is the Lord Jesus.  Paul is “eagerly awaiting” the return of Jesus to this earth.  Here you see the balance between this life and the next.  We’ve just seen Paul speak about straining with all his might to do God’s will on earth, yet as he works, he is eagerly awaiting the return of Jesus to earth.


In verse 21 Paul says that at the return of Jesus He will transform these earthly bodies that we have into a glorious heavenly body, that which Jesus Himself has.  We will have a glorified body just like Jesus.  This is something we can look forward to, and it is clear that Paul is doing just that.


In the first part of verse 21 Paul says that Jesus will put everything under his control.   Jesus has this power, and He will do just that.  1 Cor.15 is all about the future resurrection of the dead when the time will come that Jesus will subject everything under His power, and the last thing to come under His authority is death itself.  At that point Jesus will come to His Father and hand it all over to Him.  Final victory will have been won.


The NIV puts chapter 4 verse 1 in this section.  Paul tells his dearly beloved brothers that he loves them immensely. He says this is how you should live.  “This” refers to all that he has said in this chapter.  All the things from putting great effort into doing God’s will, imitating him, expecting the great things to come; all these things are a part of the true Christian life.

Next Section - Chapter  4

Previous Section - Chapter  2

Home Page