The Apostle moves from his series of examples to present Christ as the object of our faith and hope. He introduces this section of the letter with a warning of the danger of religious systems that lead their adherents to trust works, law, religion, ritual or recitation of prayers instead of the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
A. Proper Reminders (3:1-3)
When Paul says “finally,” he does not mean he is almost through. The word could be translated “as for the rest.” He uses the word to introduce a rather long section on a very dangerous doctrinal defection these believers are facing. He has declared in Colossians 1:18 our Lord Jesus Christ has the right of preeminence in all things. Here in Philippians 1:21 he has declared for himself to live is Christ. Now he must warn these Philippians of a philosophy being propagated by some who call themselves believers. This philosophy would make the believer himself the center of life, rather than keeping Christ in the center. Every humanistic credo since that day has tried to accomplish the same objective. In issuing some thoughts on precautions, Paul tells them to:
1. Look Up (3:1) — Rejoice in the Lord
“Rejoice in the Lord.” Paul admits he is repeating himself, but he says it is not boring for him to do so. Furthermore, he tells them their safety lies in this repetition. The word translated “rejoice” means to greet, delight in, be glad. It is a combination of the thought “farewell” with a wish for the enjoyment of life. Literally, it may be translated, “keep on continually rejoicing and being glad in the Lord.” The false teachers Paul was warning against were rejoicing and being glad in man and his accomplishments, but Paul said he would glory only in the Lord Jesus Christ. (Please read carefully Galatians 6:12-14.)
2. “Look Out!” (3:2) — Resist the False Teachers
“Beware!” This word carries with it the idea of being on the lookout for danger and of constantly observing in order to avoid the recognized danger. He calls upon them to look out for and avoid:
This is Paul’s term of reproach for the Judaizers. They, being Jews, considered all Gentiles as dogs (Matthew 15:26); Paul says they are really the dogs. He may have had in mind the passage from Isaiah 56:10,11 in which he calls the false prophets “dumb dogs.”
b. Dangerous Workers, or “evil workers.”
These were the Judaizers who with the zeal of the Pharisees described by our Lord (Matthew 23:15) were still working diligently to win the untaught. They were evil workers because they were working with all diligence to accomplish their purpose, but this resulted only in evil, because it took an individual from liberty to bondage.
c. Dead Works — “the concision.”
Paul is now calling the “circumcision” party a group of mutilators. He is playing on the word “circumcision” and is saying they are not only mutilating their own bodies, but also mutilating the gospel.
3. Look Within (3:3) — Reckon Yourselves Dead
Paul had written the Colossian believers that in Christ we have experienced a “circumcision that is made without hands” (Colossians 2:11). Ours is a spiritual circumcision. In this text he takes it a step further and says, “we are the circumcision who worship God in the Spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” The people who were troubling the Philippians had called themselves “the circumcision” and had insisted only those who had experienced this rite were really saved. Paul tells them we are the circumcision; even though our bodies may not have had the literal rite.
May we note in passing this is another of those Scriptures which tears down the theory that “before Acts 28” the epistles of Paul were largely Jewish, and “after Acts 28” and the setting aside of national Israel we have nothing Jewish. Believers today, even though members of the Body of Christ, have a heritage from Israel; we are the circumcision who worship God in Spirit. Three things are said about us in this role:
a. We Worship in Spirit
The word for “worship” is from latreuein, a verb which had come to be used in a very special sense to denote the service rendered to the Lord by His peculiar people, Israel (see Romans 11:4). Paul seems to say, “not only are we the true circumcision, but we possess the true service; a spiritual worship, not a service of external rites.” Some have interpreted this verse to mean, “we have a spiritual worship.” Others interpret it to mean, “worship God by the Spirit.” Dr. Kenneth Wuest says, “the best Greek texts have ‘worship by the Spirit of God.'”
b. We Glory in Christ Jesus
The Lord has spoken through Jeremiah the prophet to tell us:
Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches, but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord who exerciseth lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, saith the Lord (Jeremiah 9:23,24).
Paul quotes a part of this passage in 1 Corinthians 1:31 and in 2 Corinthians 10:17. Paul tells the false teachers to go on rejoicing or glorying in their religion if they choose, but true believers can only glory in Christ Jesus our Lord. This gives us a glimpse of the high spiritual level of the apostle’s life.
c. We Refrain from the Flesh
Paul expresses this in the words “we have no confidence in the flesh.” The word “confidence” refers to a coming to a settled persuasion regarding something. The Judaizers liked to glory in the flesh. Paul told the Galatians this same philosophy had prompted the false teachers of Galatia to desire their disciples to be circumcised in order that they might glory in the flesh (Galatians 6:13). He also spoke to the Corinthian church about those who glory in the flesh (2 Corinthians 11:18). But he declares he has come to a settled persuasion; a firm conviction, that we must glory only in the Lord and have no confidence in the flesh.
Not only is circumcision of no avail, but anything pertaining to the flesh cannot be involved in spiritual worship. It is vital to conclude the old nature is carnal, whether it refers to the physical, the intellectual, or the ceremonial. “The flesh profiteth nothing” (John 6:63); “that which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6). We cannot worship God in the energy of the flesh. We cannot be saved by fleshly ordinances. We cannot convert the flesh. It has been crucified with Christ. We cannot crucify it, we can only reckon it to be dead because of what Christ has done (Romans 6:6-11) and live by the controlling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
B. Proud Religion (3:4-6)
The legalists who were so antagonistic to Paul’s teaching of salvation by grace insisted, in addition to faith in Christ, it was necessary to be circumcised and to keep all the law in order to maintain their salvation. To them, Christianity was merely a branch of the Jewish religion. In the verses we are about to consider Paul uses his own religious background to prove if a religion based on works could save, he would have been saved. He was very proud of the perfection of his religious practice, until he met Christ. Then he saw whereas religion is man’s effort to work himself up into favor with God, Christianity is God’s reaching down to sinful man and saving him on the basis of the work of Christ. Christianity is unique in this message. It is not a religion but a revelation of God’s way of making man righteous.
Dr. Lehman Strauss has done an excellent job of outlining Philippians 3:4-6, and I am going to borrow his outline as a basis for a few thoughts on the pride Paul the Jew took in his religion:
1. He Was Proud of Its Ritual (3:5)
Paul was “circumcised the eighth day.” This ritual marked him off as a son of Abraham. He could point to Genesis 17:14, which states, “And the uncircumcised male child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people.”
2. He Was Proud of His Relationship (3:5)
He was “of the stock of Israel.” He was a direct descendant of Abraham through Jacob, whose name was changed to “Israel.” He did not come through Ishmael or Esau. He was in the direct line of promise. He was very proud of his ancestry!
3. He Was Proud of His Respectability (3:5)
He not only was a descendant of Abraham through Jacob, he was a descendant of Jacob through his son Benjamin. He took special pride in being able to say, “I am of the tribe of Benjamin.” This was the tribe always associated with loyalty to the throne of David. It was the only tribe to be associated with Judah in the Southern Kingdom.
4. He Was Proud of His Race (3:5)
He was “a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” He was associated with the faction among the Jews maintaining their peculiar “Jewishness.” Some of them had given up the Hebrew language and customs for the Greek culture of their day. Some had even laid aside the dietary laws associated with their religion since the days of Moses. There was a small segment, however, who, because of their devotion to God, were extremely strict about their entire manner of living. Paul was proud to be of this “strictest sect.”
5. He Was Proud of His Religion (3:5)
He was “as touching the law, a Pharisee.” He is setting himself over against the Sadducees, the liberals of his day, who denied the existence of angels, spirits and the resurrection. He is disassociating himself from the Herodians, who had given up the promises of Israel’s future glory and had decided to become Romans. When he stood before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem he reminded them of his heritage as a Pharisee (Acts 23:6). When he was brought before Agrippa he made the same profession (Acts 26:5). He was a “fundamentalist” in every respect.
6. He Was Proud of His Reputation (3:6)
He could honestly say, “concerning zeal, persecuting the church.” He was as sincere when he was persecuting the Christians as he was when he was writing to the Philippians. The only difference was the persecuting of Christians was a blind zeal, done in the energy of the flesh, whereas the letter to the Philippians was a divine revelation, preserved by divine inspiration.
Today’s counterpart is the man who works hard at his religion and measures his religious zeal by his hatred of communicants in other religions. Jew-Arab hatred in the Middle East and Protestant-Catholic strife in Ireland are examples of the suffering which can come when misguided men take pride in a religious relationship priding itself in the persecution of others. With all of his zeal and fervor, Paul was outside of Christ and a lost sinner.
7. He Was Proud of His Righteousness (3:6)
He could honestly say, “touching the righteousness which is by the law, blameless.” Paul is not claiming sinless perfection in these words. He is simply stating the acknowledged fact that his observance of the demands of the law was so meticulous his conscience was clear on all of its points.
If anyone could hold his head high, and say like the Pharisee in our Lord’s illustration, “I thank Thee that I am not as other men,” Paul could do so. He was meeting the religionists on their own ground. But he was doing more than that. He was using his own record as a good Jew to show them and the rest of the world religion is not enough!
C. Provided Righteousness (3:7-9)
In a moment of time on the road to Damascus some thirty years before Paul wrote these words he had come face to face with the Lord Jesus Christ. There he came to see the only righteousness God accepts is the righteousness He Himself provides. He became convinced this God-provided righteousness is the Lord Jesus Christ; He is our Righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). Through Him we are declared righteous (Romans 3:24). Through Him we are enabled to have fulfilled in us (not by us) the righteousness of the law (not by the law) (Romans 8:1-4).
Bishop J. B. Lightfoot points out when Paul is referring to his “gains” under his religion he uses the plural, but when he speaks of them as “loss,” he lumps them altogether into a single loss. He paraphrases it, “All such things which I used to count up as distinct items with a miserly greed and reckon to my credit—these I have massed together under one general head as loss.”
The word translated “dung” in 3:8 was used not only of excrement but also of table scraps. Paul is saying, “Now that I have tasted the provision made by the Lord Jesus Christ, I can never again be satisfied with the table scraps, the leftovers, of a legalistic religion.”
Paul’s new-found faith can be summarized in two words: “IN HIM.” He wants to be found IN HIM; not having his old religious righteousness, but the RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT CHRIST PROVIDES! We do well to pause for an application here.
Multitudes of people today are relying on church membership, baptism, good deeds, or any one of a dozen other means to make themselves acceptable to God. These are the most difficult people to reach with the gospel of grace. There is no better place in the Scriptures to establish the two-fold truth that the most zealous religionist cannot please God (Philippians 3:4-6), but any sinner, religious or irreligious, can be counted righteous in the sight of God by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Such is the precious doctrine of our standing by His grace. We are made to be accepted in the Beloved. We are complete in Him. We are to be found in Him. The phrase “in Christ” or “in Him” occurs in some form or other more than 160 times in Paul’s epistles.
The greatest things that can ever happen to a religionist is for him to give up the table scraps of his religion and feast at the table prepared for him by the Father. Bishop Lightfoot expresses it well when he says, “the meats served to the sons of God are spiritual meats; the ordinances, which the formalists value so highly, are the mere refuse of the feast.”
D. Powerful Relationship (3:10-14)
In verses 7 to 9 Paul has acknowledged his total dependence upon Christ for salvation from the penalty of sin and for the only righteousness God will accept. He has told us, “I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” He is obviously referring to his coming to know Christ as Savior, and the resulting position which became his in Christ by the grace of God.
Far too many believers have stopped at this point. They are persuaded this salvation from the penalty of sin is God’s goal for His children. But in verses 10 to 14, Paul shows this is the BEGINNING, not the END of God’s working in the believer. Paul is not satisfied in knowing Christ as Savior. He desires to know him as Lord of all. The verses before us express Paul’s burning desire.
1. The Power of His Resurrection (3:10)
Paul cries out, “that I may KNOW HIM.” The verb “to know” is defined by Dr. E. W. Bullinger in his CRITICAL LEXICON AND CONCORDANCE as “to perceive, observe, obtain a knowledge of or insight into.” He further states, “it denotes a personal and true relation between the person knowing and the object known, i.e., to be influenced by one’s knowledge of the object, to suffer one’s self to be determined thereby.” It is this kind of knowledge Paul desired. He was not content in merely knowing about Him. He did not stop at knowing Him as Savior. He wanted to come to know HIM and the POWER OF HIS RESURRECTION.
In the light of the context, Paul is not looking backward and saying, “I want to know more about the power which brought Christ out of the tomb.” Nor is he looking forward and saying, “I want to be sure my own body will experience resurrection power.” He was looking at the present and saying, “I want the power I know raised the body of Christ from the tomb, and I know will one day bring my own body forth. I want that power to be mine now by experience. I want to know in a practical, experiential way what it means to appropriate the resurrection power of Christ in my own life. I have been raised with Christ (Colossians 3:1), and I want to live in the power of that resurrection.”
2. The Partnership in His Sufferings (3:10)
Paul is not asking to experience a literal crucifixion. He is not supposing his sufferings will in any way add to the finished work of Christ. He is asking that he may come to know experientially what it means to have fellowship with Christ in His sufferings. The Lord told Ananias on the occasion of Paul’s conversion God would “show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”
Paul wrote the Corinthians in an earlier letter (2 Corinthians 1:5), “for as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.” In his last letter he told Timothy, “If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Timothy 2:12).
3. The Pattern of His Death (3:10)
Here Paul asks to “be made conformable unto His death.” The New International Version translates this, “becoming like Him in His death.” The Jerusalem Bible gives us, “reproducing the pattern of His death.” Paul is not asking to die in the same way Christ died. Rather, he is expressing a desire he may come to know in a practical way that which was already his positionally.
He knew in the sight of God when Christ died, Paul died with Him (Romans 6:6). He wanted to realize this positional truth in practical daily living (Romans 6:11). He makes reference to this practical truth many times in his epistles (see 1 Corinthians 15:31; Galatians 2:20; Galatians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 4:10, etc.).
4. The Practice of His Resurrected Life (3:11-13)
This portion of the epistle is admittedly difficult. Some have made this to teach salvation from the penalty of sin is by grace, but salvation from the power of sin, and the possibility of our salvation from the presence of sin (in a glorified body), come though our own effort. Some have made it to teach not all believers will share in the blessed hope, but only the “overcomers.” And we are at the mercy of the interpreters as to the identification of the “overcomers.” Some have made it to teach a “split rapture,” with the “overcomers” going before the tribulation period and the remainder of the body of Christ going after the tribulation. Some would have us believe only those who subscribe to a certain system of dispensational frontiers will share in the “blessed hope,” while other believers will have to wait for some second-class rapture. Still others insist it takes a “charismatic experience” of “speaking in tongues” to qualify the believer for the hope described here.
Since none of these theories can stand the test of “all truth,” it becomes easier to say what the passage does NOT teach than to determine what it does teach. We can know positively Paul was NOT expressing any uncertainty concerning his future resurrection. He had believed in the resurrection of the body even when he was a Pharisee. He is speaking here of an “out-resurrection, out from among the dead ones” which he is now pursuing or striving after. In other words, Paul is pursuing, desiring, to live IN THIS LIFE in day by day experience, the RESURRECTED LIFE OF CHRIST. I agree with Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost when he says:
Paul is not doubting here the fact of the resurrection of the body. The resurrection of the body does not depend on one’s service here or one’s sanctification while in the body. The resurrection is the final victory and triumph over Satan because of the cross of Christ. Paul has quite a different thought in view when he says, “I want to attain unto the resurrection.” We may read it this way, “I want to realize in my daily walk what it is to have been resurrected with Christ.”
To realize this, the Apostle admits he has not yet achieved this goal, he has not reached the finish. The word “perfect” refers to maturity or to finishing a goal.
He sees the need to FORGET the great mistakes lest they discourage him. After all, Christ has forgiven him ALL his trespasses. He sees it just as necessary to forget his past spiritual victories, lest he become complacent in the idea he has already done enough and can “retire” from Christian service, or lest he develop spiritual pride in his victories. He has as his one aim in life to reach forth, to stretch himself forward as in a race, for the prize set before him.
Anytime we find the language of the athlete in Paul’s writings we can be sure he is speaking of rewards for believers; he is NOT speaking of the salvation of the lost. It is trite but true, salvation is by grace while rewards come through acceptable service. For parallel passages note 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 3:9-17; 2 Timothy 2:1-13; Hebrews 12:1,2.
5. The Prize of the High Calling (3:14)
We are again in an area in which there is great lack of agreement among sound Bible scholars. Some interpret this to mean “the prize associated with the heavenly calling,” while others believe it means “the prize—that is, the ‘calling on high’—that is, the rapture.” These are two of the many conflicting ideas as to the meaning of this statement. We can be sure God is not making the blessed hope a prize for which we must strive. We can also be sure when a prize or reward is in view Paul is not speaking of salvation but of the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Could he not be referring to an immediate as well as a remote realization of this goal? For Paul, TO LIVE IS CHRIST. The PRIZE Paul sought in this life was conformity to His death and a sharing in His resurrection living. Ultimately, Paul was striving for reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ. In his last letter he spoke with great assurance when he said, “I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith; henceforth, there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge shall give me at that day.” This will be the full and final realization of Paul’s reaching forth for the prize.
E. Perfection: Relative (3:15-17)
“Let us, therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded.” These words from the Apostle Paul begin the section we now consider. The first thing we notice is the seeming discrepancy between these words and what Paul had written in verse 12, “not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect.” He seems to say in verse 12, “I have not yet attained perfection,” and in verse 15, “I am now perfect.” When we check the original language we find he is using the same basic word in both verses. Knowing, of course, God’s Word is true and contains no contradictions, and realizing even apart from inspiration Paul would not contradict himself within a few sentences, we need to look further. We can see in verse 12 he is saying, “I have not yet attained the full and complete perfection that will be mine in the consummation of my salvation,” while in verse 15 he is saying, “Let the mature ones think in this way.”
1. Maturity (3:15a)
“Let us, therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded.” Bishop H. C. G. Moule translates and paraphrases this as follows, “Let all us perfect ones, with the perfection not of ideal attainment but of Christian maturity and entirety of experience, be of this mind.” The word “perfect” in verse 12 is in its verb form and in the perfect tense. Therefore, considering the negative in the sentence we may paraphrase, “I have not yet reached a state of once for all perfection,” but “I am following after (present tense) or pursuing this.” In verse 15 the word “perfect” is not in the form of a verb but an adjective, and it is describing not one who has in a practical way attained sinlessness in this life but one who is mature, in contrast to a babe in Christ. This same contrast is made in such similar passages as 1 Corinthians 2:1-6; 3:1-4; Hebrews 5:14-6:1.
Dr. John Walvoord explains this passage in his book entitled PHILIPPIANS, TRIUMPH IN CHRIST, page 93:
Having given his own testimony, he now makes the application and exhortation. He addresses this to those whom he describes as “perfect.” “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded.” Here Paul uses the adjective in contrast to the verb which appeared in verse 12. By “perfect” reference is made to being “mature,” as it is translated in the Amplified Bible. Muller interprets the perfection of verse 15 as “principal perfection,” which all believers in Christ possess, in contrast to “the ethical perfection towards which all must constantly strive, and of which no one can boast that he has already attained it.” Vine, considering perfection in verse 15 as maturity, quotes Augustine as saying that believers may be “perfect travellers, but not perfect possessors.”
2. Mental Attitude (3:15b)
“… and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.” In this gracious sentence Paul is saying to those who are not in agreement with him, who have other attitudes and opinions regarding the subject, that God will reveal the truth to them. Turning again to Bishop Moule’s translation and paraphrase (the italicized words being his translation and the words not italicized his paraphrase) we see:
And if you are diversely minded in anything, if in any detail of theory or statement you cannot yet see with me, this also God shall unveil to you. Sure I am that “the Spirit of God speaketh by me,” and that ultimately therefore you will, in submission to Him, see as I have taught you. But I am not therefore commissioned in this matter to denounce and excommunicate; I lay the truth before you, and in love leave it upon your reverent thoughts.
Surely there is a lesson here for us. This is putting into practice his admonition to the Ephesians to “speak the truth in love.”
3. Motivation (3:16)
a. The Reach
“Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained,” or “what we have succeeded in reaching” refers to the condition in which we now find ourselves on this scale of Christian maturity. Paul is here recognizing degrees of growth and development; “Wherever you find yourselves now, I have a message which will lead you to further growth.”
b. The Rule
“… let us walk by the same rule.” The verb “to walk,” Vine tells us, is used metaphorically of walking in relation to others, rather than the usual word for the individual walk. The Greek word stoicheo is used in Galatians 5:25 and 6:16. Dr. Lehman Strauss explains it quite well in these words:
The knowledge Paul had and the progress he made were the result of walking the royal road of divinely-revealed truth. Now he calls upon his own soul and exhorts the brethren to “walk by the same rule.” In other words, the present duty of every believer is to obey the light God has given him. As Christians we must be of one mind in being true to the light we have already attained. Paul exhorts all those who, along with himself, would pursue the course of pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus to continue on in the race, to live unitedly the great truths that had been learned. When two or more persons walk by the same measuring rod they are in step with each other (STUDIES IN PHILIPPIANS, p. 196).
c. The Responsibility
Paul adds one more injunction, “Let us mind the same thing.” Most commentaries omit this clause because they tell us the best Greek manuscripts do not contain it. Surely, however, the exhortation is in keeping with the context and is an expansion of “the rule” above. If we are to “step in the same path,” we must be of one mind, we must have our minds on the common goal or prize. The only way we can do this is to have the mind of Christ.
4. Model (3:17)
“Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them who walk so as ye have us for an ensample (example, type, pattern).”
“Be followers together of me.” These words from the pen of the Apostle Paul surely deserve our close attention. He is not boasting in himself. He is magnifying his office and attempting to establish the Philippian saints.
The root of the word translated “be followers together” is a word meaning “imitators” or “mimics.” In fact, the transliteration of this word gives us our English words “mimic” and “mimeograph.” But in this text the Greek word mimetes has something extra; a prefix meaning “together with” or “jointly.” The thought carried by the word is, therefore, “be fellow-imitators,” “joint-imitators” or “imitators together.”
Furthermore, the verb “be” in the passage is not the verb “to be,” but rather the verb “to become.” It is in the present tense, thus signifying, “keep on becoming imitators (joint-imitators) of me.”
We can only speculate and wonder as to what Christianity might be today had believers in every century given heed to this one imperative and been followers together with Paul, fellow-imitators of Paul, in his doctrine and manner of life. Just as surely as Moses was God’s key man in the dispensation of the Law, Paul was His key man in the dispensation of Grace (Romans 11:13; Ephesians 3:1-10; 1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; etc.).
Under the Law, there was swift judgment against those who disobeyed. When Miriam rebelled against the authority of Moses, for example, she was smitten with leprosy (Numbers 12). When the sons of Korah rebelled against Moses, the earth swallowed them (Numbers 16). We can only observe if this were not the dispensation of Grace, when God is withholding judgment, there would be a fantastic number of leprosy clinics and a multitude of people buried alive, for Paul’s authority in this dispensation is just as real as Moses’ authority in the earlier dispensation.
There is no doubt the message of grace and the truth of the mystery Paul preached so faithfully and yet so graciously during his lifetime were lost to Christendom for hundreds of years. Professed believers forsook the message of Paul, refusing to be “fellow-imitators.” They accepted a watered-down “Christian-ity” that professed to be a spiritualization of Israel’s religion. Even after the Reformation and many years of more enlightened Bible teaching, the majority are still unwilling to follow Paul as he follows Christ, and to recognize the distinctiveness of his message and his ministry. The world and the church suffer as a result.
“Mark them who walk so as ye have us for an example.” The word “mark” was generally used by the Greeks in a negative sense; mark in order to beware or avoid. Paul used it in this way in Romans 16:17. The word is translated “take heed” in Luke 11:35 and “consider” in Galatians 6:1.
It is interesting to note with all of the positive uses of this word in Scripture, a contemporary “non-sectarian” group has made great use of this word to indicate “excommunication.” In their assemblies they are very quick to “mark” anyone who disagrees with them. This “marking” means other members of the assembly are forbidden to speak to the marked one, or to have anything to do with him.
Here, on the contrary, Paul is urging the Philippians to make a deliberate effort to look for those who are faithful in following him. He is instructing them to watch for those who are true to his message in order to walk in the same path with them. The “us for an example” he mentions would include not only himself, but possibly Timothy, Epaphroditus and other faithful co-workers.
We realize the place of Paul was unique. He was the vessel through whom God made known the truth called the “mystery.” It is through him we know our position, our hope, our calling, and our standard of conduct as members of the body of Christ. It is true in a real sense, however, that God has saved you and me to also be examples or patterns. Timothy was not inspired to write any portion of the Word, as was Paul, yet Paul exhorted him to be an example to other believers (1 Timothy 4:12-16).
Dr. Kenneth Wuest translates Philippians 3:15-17 as follows:
As many therefore as are spiritually mature, let us be of this mind. And, if (as in the case) in anything you are differently minded, and that, in an evil sense, this also will God reveal to you. Only one thing, so far as we have come, let us keep our lives in the same path. Become imitators of me, brethren, and observe attentively those who conduct themselves in a manner which reflects the example which you have in us.
C. Perdition: The Reason (3:18-19)
“For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things” (New International Version).
These verses are usually taken to describe unsaved people whom the Apostle is pointing out in contrast to the ideal Christian. The majority of standard commentaries assume this to be the case. These “enemies of the cross” are taken to be the Judaizers who are preaching salvation through the law rather than through the work of the cross. This whole passage, then, is a warning against the doctrinal error of the legalism of the Judaizers. And this may very well be the intent of the Apostle.
Bishop J. B. Lightfoot, however, takes issue with this and suggests it may be a refuting of the practical error of the Antinomians rather than the doctrinal error of the Legalists.
These words (enemies of the cross) do not in themselves decide what persons are here denounced; for the enemies of the cross may be twofold: (1) Doctrinal. The Judaizers, who deny the efficacy of the cross and substitute obedience to a formal code in its place; compare Galatians 5:11; 6:12,14. (2) Practical. The Antinomians, who refuse to conform to the cross (3:10; 2 Corinthians 1:5,6) and live a life of self-indulgence; compare 1 Corinthians 1:17. If the view, which I have adopted and which the context seems to require, is correct, the latter are here meant. (Lightfoot, THE EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS, p. 153).
Pastor Charles Welch raises a most interesting question in his commentary on Philippians. He suggests the persons described here may very well be believers who have not grown in grace, and who, while accepting the work of Christ on the cross for salvation, have never accepted the doctrine of the place of the cross in sanctification. He deplores the limiting of the doctrine of the cross to initial salvation, or the evangelistic aspect of the doctrine, and shows that:
Paul uses the doctrine of the cross to counter the fleshly wisdom of the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:17,18; 2:2), he teaches the Galatians that by the cross the world and its boasting are repudiated (Galatians 5:11; 6:12,14), and that the emancipation of the believer together with the complete reconciliation of the one body, are accomplished by the Cross of Christ (Ephesians 2:16; Colossians 1:20; 2:14) (THE PRIZE OF THE HIGH CALLING, p. 173).
This quotation will certainly bear further study. It can be clearly seen to be an application we as believers can use, regardless of the interpretation of the passage. Let us analyze the persons described here.
1. Their Guilt
They were enemies of the cross. Surely those who reject the gospel of the grace of God and try to please God through their own works, religion or merit are “enemies of the cross.” The world is full of such enemies and religion is led by such enemies. But must we not ask, “Can a true believer ever be an ‘enemy of the cross of Christ?'”
To answer this question we must remember the doctrine of the cross is revealed to Paul and found in his writings in a way far beyond any other portion of God’s Word. One has only to contrast Peter’s early Acts sermons with Paul’s “cross” passages to see this. Peter condemns his fellow-Israelites for the crime of crucifying their Messiah and asks them to repent of this great sin. Paul glories in the cross, and teaches that BY THE CROSS we can overcome the world and the flesh! Can the believer who has trusted Christ and His finished work at Calvary for salvation, but who depends on himself and his religious works for living the Christian life, be an enemy of the cross, at least so far as the walk of the believer is concerned? Surely many who are saved through hearing the gospel on the radio or in some evangelistic crusade find themselves in churches which never teach the full doctrine of the cross and are “seeking victory” through charismatic experiences, rules for holy living, or other fleshly means.
Even our reconciliation into one body is by the cross, according to the Apostle Paul, and those who have tried to make known the mystery across the years have surely found believers who are enemies of this part of the doctrine of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2. Their Goal
“Their end is destruction.” It might at first appear this is an unbeliever, for no believer, regardless of his knowledge of the doctrine of the cross or his failure to appropriate the cross in daily living, has as his end or goal “destruction.” But the word “destruction” or “perdition” does not mean annihilation.
It is the word translated “waste” in Matthew 28:6, “But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste?” This, of course, was the statement made following the anointing of the feet of our Lord with the costly ointment. Vine tells us the word means “loss of well-being, not of being.” He believes it is used in Philippians 3:19 of professing Christians. The word is used in Hebrews 10:39 as a warning to the readers of the epistle not to go back to this perdition or waste, but to go on to perfection (Hebrews 6:1). While realizing the unbeliever’s destiny is waste and eternal destruction in the lake of fire, believers must take this as a warning of the danger of loss at the judgment seat of Christ.
3. Their God
“Whose god is their belly.” This surely calls attention to the carnal nature of the devotion of these people. Dr. Lehman Strauss gives us a thought-provoking, conscience-smiting comment on this passage:
Their principle (sic) aim is the gratification of their own pleasures and the pampering of their own appetites. “For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:18).
There are more gluttons who make gods of their stomachs than will admit it. There is more truth than fiction in the saying, “We dig our graves with our teeth.” That which contributes to the gratification of the flesh, whether in what we eat or what we wear, means more to some professing Christians than anything else in their life. Herring says: “The golden calf has been cast into a different form today.” One look at our gorging, our garments and our gadgets and a voice says: “These be thy gods” (Exodus 32:4) (DEVOTIONAL STUDIES IN PHILIPPIANS, pages 204, 205).
4. Their Glory
“Whose glory is in their shame” is another clause Paul uses to describe the people against whom he is warning the Philippians. Paul gloried in the cross (Galatians 6:14). These enemies of the cross were glorying in the things of which they should have been ashamed. Hebrews 12:2 tells us our Lord Jesus, “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” The people of whom Paul spoke were despising the cross and glorying in their own shame. Nineteen hundred years have not improved the situation. With religious organizations today preaching “the new morality” or “situation ethics” many of us are constantly offended to hear people, in the name of Christ, glorying (boasting) in perversion, promiscuity and permissiveness who are in total opposition to the revealed will of God. Surely, these are glorying in their shame.
5. Their Grossness
“Who mind earthly things” is another description of these enemies of the cross. It seems this is another reason to think these words are spoken of believers who are out of fellowship with God. Unbelievers have no choice; they MUST mind earthly things, because they cannot comprehend heavenly things. Believers, however, may, and all too often do, mind earthly things. If all believers were at all times minding heavenly things, why was it necessary for Paul to admonish the Colossians, “Set your affections (minds) on things above, not on things on the earth?” (Colossians 3:2). Someone has well said believers here on earth should not become so heavenly minded they are no earthly good. The reverse is also true, and perhaps this opposite warning is needed much more. We can, even though we have been seated with Him in the heavenlies, become so earthly minded we lose the joy of our heavenly citizenship, and lose our perspective so far as our Christian growth and Christian goals are concerned.
In summary, may we say these verses surely describe a false teacher, an unbeliever who may have professed faith in Christ, but is not a possessor. But they also come so near to being the description of some who are truly saved but are carnal, ignorant of the truth of the Word, untaught in the principles of right division, and unaware of the message for this dispensation, that their example is a warning and a challenge.
G. Perfection Realized (3:20,21)
1. The Citizenship
“For our conversation (citizenship, commonwealth) is in heaven.” Bishop H. C. G. Moule translates the word “city-home” and comments:
I thus attempt to give the meaning of politeuma, so far as I understand it. The R.V. renders it “citizenship” and “commonwealth” in the margin. The usage of the word in Greek literature amply justifies either, and either well suits the general context. The Apostle means that Christians are citizens of the heavenly City as to their status, and are therefore “obliged by their nobility” to live, however far from their home, as those who belong to it and represent it (PHILIPPIAN STUDIES, pp. 202,203).
Without agreeing with Bishop Moule in identifying “heaven” with the “heavenly city,” which he undoubtedly thought to be the same as the “heavenly city” of Revelation, we can see the meaning of the word “conversation” or “citizenship.” Dr. Kenneth Wuest says:
The stability and security of the citizen under Roman law filled the thoughts of the time with high conceptions of citizenship and its value. Philippi, being a Roman colony, and its citizens therefore Roman citizens, thought in terms of citizenship. Paul seizes this fact as a good opportunity to illustrate to the saints their heavenly citizenship with its privileges and responsibilities. What a contrast between those mentioned in 3:18,19, who were citizens of this earth, and those spoken of in 3:20,21, who are citizens of Heaven (PHILIPPIANS IN THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT, p. 102).
Dr. H. A. A. Kennedy gives us this exposition:
This world has a characteristic spirit of its own. Worldliness is the common bond of citizenship in it. There is another commonwealth, not of the world … which inspires its members with a different tone of life. They “seek the things above where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God” (THE EXPOSITORS GREEK NEW TESTAMENT, Volume III, p. 462).
The verb “is” is not a part of the verb “to be,” but rather a word which should be translated “is even now.” While getting ready to point to the Blessed Hope, Paul is reminding his readers even now, today, our citizenship is in HEAVEN. Because we are citizens of heaven, we are to set our minds on heavenly things. We are to rejoice in all spiritual blessings which are ours in heavenly places!
2. The Coming
“From whence also we look for the Savior.” This is an expression of the expectancy that should be in the hearts of believers. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Head over all things to the church which is His body, is now in heaven. We are taught to LOOK for His coming. Dr. E. W. Bullinger says in his A CRITICAL LEXICON AND CONCORDANCE TO THE ENGLISH AND GREEK NEW TESTAMENT, “looking for” as, “to wait out, i.e., to wait long and patiently, to await ardently.” The word occurs seven times in our New Testament. Five of those times it is translated “wait for.” The word is a compound of three smaller words meaning “to welcome, or receive,” “off” and “out.” When these words are combined they make a very intensive form, which Bishop Lightfoot translates, “we eagerly await.” It is translated “waiting” in 1 Corinthians 1:7; Romans 8:18,23 and 25, where we are said to be waiting for the adoption, that is, the redemption of the body. It is translated “look for” in Hebrews 9:28, where these believers are looking for Christ to come. Surely, knowledge of our heavenly citizenship makes the blessed hope more real and precious to us.
3. The Change
The One for Whom we eagerly wait is the One “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.” The word “change” literally means “to transform.” It is so translated in 2 Corinthians 11:13,14 and 15, where it refers to Satan and his ministers as being transformed into angels of light. It is translated, “I have in a figure transferred” in 1 Corinthians 4:6.
The body of the believer, while being the temple of the Holy Spirit, is “of the earth, earthy” (1 Corinthians 15:47). It is subject to aches and aging. The sin nature is still present as long as we are in these bodies. All of these things make them unfit for the eternal joys God has prepared for them that love Him. This makes the change necessary. The New American Standard Bible gives us a clearer translation, “Who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory.”
We know so little of what the glorified body will be like, but we do have glimpses. The resurrected body of our Lord, in His appearances between the Resurrection and Ascension, shows us a body free from all of the limitations of time and space. He could enter a room with the doors being shut. He could appear wherever He chose from one location to another, seemingly without the ordinary processes of travel. But all of these wonderful abilities were His in a resurrected body not yet glorified. Rather than speculate as to just how these bodies will be, let us rest and rejoice in the fact they will be “like His glorious Body,” or like “the body of His glory!” Is this not sufficient for now?
How will this great change be accomplished? “By the exertion of the power He has even to subject all things to Himself” is the way the NASB translates these assuring words in Philippians 3:21. What a bright and blessed hope! Paul uses a variation of the same word “looking for” when he tells Titus to be “looking for (expecting, awaiting) that Blessed Hope and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).