The apostle cautions the Philippians against judaizing false teachers, and renounces his own former privileges. (1-11) Expresses earnest desire to be found in Christ; also his pressing on toward perfection; and recommends his own example to other believers. (12-21)
Verses 1-11 Sincere Christians rejoice in Christ Jesus. The prophet calls the false prophets dumb dogs, ( Isaiah 56:10 ) ; to which the apostle seems to refer. Dogs, for their malice against faithful professors of the gospel of Christ, barking at them and biting them. They urged human works in opposition to the faith of Christ; but Paul calls them evil-workers. He calls them the concision; as they rent the church of Christ, and cut it to pieces. The work of religion is to no purpose, unless the heart is in it, and we must worship God in the strength and grace of the Divine Spirit. They rejoice in Christ Jesus, not in mere outward enjoyments and performances. Nor can we too earnestly guard against those who oppose or abuse the doctrine of free salvation. If the apostle would have gloried and trusted in the flesh, he had as much cause as any man. But the things which he counted gain while a Pharisee, and had reckoned up, those he counted loss for Christ. The apostle did not persuade them to do any thing but what he himself did; or to venture on any thing but that on which he himself ventured his never-dying soul. He deemed all these things to be but loss, compared with the knowledge of Christ, by faith in his person and salvation. He speaks of all worldly enjoyments and outward privileges which sought a place with Christ in his heart, or could pretend to any merit and desert, and counted them but loss; but it might be said, It is easy to say so; but what would he do when he came to the trial? He had suffered the loss of all for the privileges of a Christian. Nay, he not only counted them loss, but the vilest refuse, offals thrown to dogs; not only less valuable than Christ, but in the highest degree contemptible, when set up as against him. True knowledge of Christ alters and changes men, their judgments and manners, and makes them as if made again anew. The believer prefers Christ, knowing that it is better for us to be without all worldly riches, than without Christ and his word. Let us see what the apostle resolved to cleave to, and that was Christ and heaven. We are undone, without righteousness wherein to appear before God, for we are guilty. There is a righteousness provided for us in Jesus Christ, and it is a complete and perfect righteousness. None can have benefit by it, who trust in themselves. Faith is the appointed means of applying the saving benefit. It is by faith in Christ's blood. We are made conformable to Christ's death, when we die to sin, as he died for sin; and the world is crucified to us, and we to the world, by the cross of Christ. The apostle was willing to do or to suffer any thing, to attain the glorious resurrection of saints. This hope and prospect carried him through all difficulties in his work. He did not hope to attain it through his own merit and righteousness, but through the merit and righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Verses 12-21 This simple dependence and earnestness of soul, were not mentioned as if the apostle had gained the prize, or were already made perfect in the Saviour's likeness. He forgot the things which were behind, so as not to be content with past labours or present measures of grace. He reached forth, stretched himself forward towards his point; expressions showing great concern to become more and more like unto Christ. He who runs a race, must never stop short of the end, but press forward as fast as he can; so those who have heaven in their view, must still press forward to it, in holy desires and hopes, and constant endeavours. Eternal life is the gift of God, but it is in Christ Jesus; through his hand it must come to us, as it is procured for us by him. There is no getting to heaven as our home, but by Christ as our Way. True believers, in seeking this assurance, as well as to glorify him, will seek more nearly to resemble his sufferings and death, by dying to sin, and by crucifying the flesh with its affections and lusts. In these things there is a great difference among real Christians, but all know something of them. Believers make Christ all in all, and set their hearts upon another world. If they differ from one another, and are not of the same judgment in lesser matters, yet they must not judge one another; while they all meet now in Christ, and hope to meet shortly in heaven. Let them join in all the great things in which they are agreed, and wait for further light as to lesser things wherein they differ. The enemies of the cross of Christ mind nothing but their sensual appetites. Sin is the sinner's shame, especially when gloried in. The way of those who mind earthly things, may seem pleasant, but death and hell are at the end of it. If we choose their way, we shall share their end. The life of a Christian is in heaven, where his Head and his home are, and where he hopes to be shortly; he sets his affections upon things above; and where his heart is, there will his conversation be. There is glory kept for the bodies of the saints, in which they will appear at the resurrection. Then the body will be made glorious; not only raised again to life, but raised to great advantage. Observe the power by which this change will be wrought. May we be always prepared for the coming of our Judge; looking to have our vile bodies changed by his Almighty power, and applying to him daily to new-create our souls unto holiness; to deliver us from our enemies, and to employ our bodies and souls as instruments of righteousness in his service.
Philippians 3:1-21 . WARNING AGAINST JUDAIZERS: HE HAS GREATER CAUSE THAN THEY TO TRUST IN LEGAL RIGHTEOUSNESS, BUT RENOUNCED IT FOR CHRIST'S RIGHTEOUSNESS, IN WHICH HE PRESSES AFTER PERFECTION: WARNING AGAINST CARNAL PERSONS: CONTRAST OF THE BELIEVER'S LIFE AND HOPE.
1. Finally--rather, not with the notion of time, but making a transition to another general subject, "Furthermore" [BENGEL and WAHL] as in 1 Thessalonians 4:1 . Literally, "As to what remains," &c. It is often used at the conclusion of Epistles for "finally" ( Ephesians 6:10 , 2 Thessalonians 3:1 ). But it is not restricted to this meaning, as ALFORD thinks, supposing that Paul used it here intending to close his Epistle, but was led by the mention of the Judaizers into a more lengthened dissertation.
the same things--concerning "rejoicing," the prevailing feature in this Epistle ( Philippians 1:18 Philippians 1:25 , 2:17 , 4:4 , where, compare the "again I say," with "the same things" here).
In the Lord--marks the true ground of joy, in contrast with "having confidence in the flesh," or in any outward sensible matter of boasting ( Philippians 3:3 ).
not grievous--"not irksome."
for you it is safe--Spiritual joy is the best safety against error ( Philippians 3:2 , Nehemiah 8:10 , end).
2. Beware--Greek, "Have your eye on" so as to beware of. Contrast "mark," or "observe," namely, so as to follow Philippians 3:17 .
dogs--Greek, "the dogs," namely, those impure persons "of whom I have told you often" ( Philippians 3:18 Philippians 3:19 ); "the abominable" (compare Revelation 21:8 , with Revelation 22:15 , Matthew 7:6 , Titus 1:15 Titus 1:16 ): "dogs" in filthiness, unchastity, and snarling ( Deuteronomy 23:18 , Psalms 59:6 Psalms 59:14 Psalms 59:15 , 2 Peter 2:22 ): especially "enemies of the cross of Christ" ( Philippians 3:18 , Psalms 22:16 Psalms 22:20 ). The Jews regarded the Gentiles as "dogs" ( Matthew 15:26 ); but by their own unbelief they have ceased to be the true Israel, and are become "dogs" (compare Isaiah 56:10 Isaiah 56:11 ).
evil workers--( 2 Corinthians 11:13 ), "deceitful workers." Not simply "evildoers" are meant, but men who "worked," indeed, ostensibly for the Gospel, but worked for evil: "serving not our Lord, but their own belly" ( Philippians 3:19 ; compare Romans 16:18 ). Translate, "The evil workmen," that is, bad teachers (compare 2 Timothy 2:15 ).
concision--Circumcision had now lost its spiritual significance, and was now become to those who rested on it as any ground of justification, a senseless mutilation. Christians have the only true circumcision, namely, that of the heart; legalists have only "concision," that is, the cutting off of the flesh. To make "cuttings in the flesh" was expressly prohibited by the law ( Leviticus 21:5 ): it was a Gentile-heathenish practice ( 1 Kings 18:28 ); yet this, writes Paul indignantly, is what these legalists are virtually doing in violation of the law. There is a remarkable gradation, says BIRKS [Horæ Apostolicæ] in Paul's language as to circumcision. In his first recorded discourse ( Acts 13:39 ), circumcision is not named, but implied as included in the law of Moses which cannot justify. Six or seven years later, in the Epistle to Galatians ( Galatians 3:3 ), the first Epistle in which it is named, its spiritual inefficiency is maintained against those Gentiles who, beginning in the Spirit, thought to be perfected in the flesh. Later, in Epistle to Romans ( Romans 2:28 Romans 2:29 ), he goes farther, and claims the substance of it for every believer, assigning the shadow only of it to the unbelieving Jew. In Epistle to Colossians ( Colossians 2:11 , 3:11 ), still later, he expounds more fully the true circumcision as the exclusive privilege of the believer. Last of all here, the very name is denied to the legalist, and a term of reproach is substituted, "concision," or flesh-cutting. Once obligatory on all the covenant-people, then reduced to a mere national distinction, it was more and more associated in the apostle's experience with the open hostility of the Jews, and the perverse teaching of false brethren.
3. "We are the (real) circumcision" ( Romans 2:25-29 Colossians 2:11 ).
worship God in the Spirit--The oldest manuscripts read, "worship by the Spirit of God"; our religious service is rendered by the Spirit ( John 4:23 John 4:24 ). Legal worship was outward, and consisted in outward acts, restricted to certain times and places. Christian worship is spiritual, flowing from the inworkings of the Holy Spirit, not relating to certain isolated acts, but embracing the whole life ( Romans 12:1 ). In the former, men trusted in something human, whether descent from the theocratic nation, or the righteousness of the law, or mortification of "the flesh" ("Having confidence," or "glorying in the flesh") [NEANDER] ( Romans 1:9 ).
rejoice in Christ Jesus--"make our boast in Christ Jesus," not in the law: the ground of their boasting.
have no confidence in the flesh--but in the Spirit.
4. "Although I (emphatical) might have confidence even in the flesh." Literally, "I having," but not using, "confidence in the flesh."
I more--have more "whereof I might have confidence in the flesh."
5. In three particulars he shows how he "might have confidence in the flesh" ( Philippians 3:4 ): (1) His pure Jewish blood. (2) His legal preciseness and high status as such. (3) His zeal for the law. The Greek is literally, "Being in circumcision an eighth day person," that is, not one circumcised in later life as a proselyte, but on the eighth day after birth, as the law directed in the case of Jew-born infants.
of the tribe of Benjamin--son of Rachel, not of the maid-servant [BENGEL].
Hebrew of the Hebrews--neither one or other parent being Gentile. The "Hebrew," wherever he dwelt, retained the language of his fathers. Thus Paul, though settled in Tarsus, a Greek city, calls himself a Hebrew. A "Grecian" or Hellenist, on the other hand, in the New Testament, is the term used for a "Greek-speaking" Jew [TRENCH].
touching the law--that is, as to legal status and strictness.
a Pharisee--"of the straitest sect" ( Acts 26:5 ).
6. Concerning--Translate as before and after, "As touching Zeal" (compare Acts 22:3 , 26:9 ).
blameless--Greek, "having become blameless" as to ceremonial righteousness: having attained in the eyes of man blameless legal perfection. As to the holiness before God, which is the inner and truest spirit of the law, and which flows from "the righteousness of God by faith," he on the contrary declares ( Philippians 3:12-14 ) that he has not attained perfection.
7. gain--rather as Greek, "gains"; including all possible advantages of outward status, which he had heretofore enjoyed.
I counted--Greek, "I have counted for Christ's sake loss." He no longer uses the plural as in "gains"; for he counts them all but one great "loss" ( Matthew 16:26 , Luke 9:25 ).
8. Yea doubtless--The oldest manuscripts omit "doubtless" (Greek, "ge"): translate, "nay more." Not only "have I counted" those things just mentioned "loss for Christ's sake, but, moreover, I even DO count ALL things but loss," &c.
for the excellency--Greek, "On account of the surpassing excellency (the supereminence above them all) of the knowledge of Christ Jesus."
my Lord--believing and loving appropriation of Him ( Psalms 63:1 , John 20:28 ).
for whom--"on account of whom."
I have suffered the loss--not merely I "counted" them "loss," but have actually lost them.
all things--The Greek has the article, referring to the preceding "all things"; "I have suffered the loss of them all."
dung--Greek, "refuse (such as excrements, dregs, dross) cast to the dogs," as the derivation expresses. A "loss" is of something having value; but "refuse" is thrown away as not worthy of being any more touched or looked at.
win--Translate, to accord with the translation, Philippians 3:7 , "gain Christ." A man cannot make other things his "gain" or chief confidence, and at the same time "gain Christ." He who loses all things, and even himself, on account of Christ, gains Christ: Christ is His, and He is Christ's ( Solomon 2:16 , 6:3 , Luke 9:23 Luke 9:24 , 1 Corinthians 3:23 ).
9. be found in him--"be found" at His coming again, living spiritually "in Him" as the element of my life. Once lost, I have been "found," and I hope to be perfectly "found" by Him ( Luke 15:8 ).
own righteousness . . . of the law--( Philippians 3:6 , Romans 10:3 Romans 10:5 ). "Of," that is, from.
righteousness . . . of God by faith--Greek, "which is from God (resting) upon faith." Paul was transported from legal bondage into Christian freedom at once, and without any gradual transition. Hence, the bands of Pharisaism were loosed instantaneously; and opposition to Pharisaic Judaism took the place of opposition to the Gospel. Thus God's providence fitly prepared him for the work of overthrowing all idea of legal justification. "The righteousness of faith," in Paul's sense, is the righteousness or perfect holiness of Christ appropriated by faith, as the objective ground of confidence for the believer, and also as a new subjective principle of life. Hence it includes the essence of a new disposition, and may easily pass into the idea of sanctification, though the two ideas are originally distinct. It is not any arbitrary act of God, as if he treated as sinless a man persisting in sin, simply because he believes in Christ; but the objective on the part of God corresponds to the subjective on the part of man, namely, faith. The realization of the archetype of holiness through Christ contains the pledge that this shall be realized in all who are one with Him by faith, and are become the organs of His Spirit. Its germ is imparted to them in believing although the fruit of a life perfectly conformed to the Redeemer, can only be gradually developed in this life [NEANDER].
10. That I may know him--experimentally. The aim of the "righteousness" just mentioned. This verse resumes, and more fully explains, "the excellency of the knowledge of Christ" ( Philippians 3:8 ). To know HIM is more than merely to know a doctrine about Him. Believers are brought not only to redemption, but to the Redeemer Himself.
the power of his resurrection--assuring believers of their justification ( Romans 4:25 , 1 Corinthians 15:17 ), and raising them up spiritually with Him, by virtue of their identification with Him in this, as in all the acts of His redeeming work for us ( Romans 6:4 , Colossians 2:12 , 3:1 ). The power of the Divine Spirit, which raised Him from literal death, is the same which raises believers from spiritual death now ( Ephesians 1:19 Ephesians 1:20 ), and shall raise their bodies from literal death hereafter ( Romans 8:11 ).
the fellowship of his sufferings--by identification with Him in His sufferings and death, by imputation; also, in actually bearing the cross whatever is laid on us, after His example, and so "filling up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ" ( Colossians 1:24 ); and in the will to bear aught for His sake ( Matthew 10:38 , 16:24 , 2 Timothy 2:11 ). As He bore all our sufferings ( Isaiah 53:4 ), so we participate in His.
made conformable unto his death--"conformed to the likeness of His death," namely, by continued sufferings for His sake, and mortifying of the carnal self ( Romans 8:29 , 1 Corinthians 15:31 , 2 Corinthians 4:10-12 , Galatians 2:20 ).
11. If by any means--not implying uncertainty of the issue, but the earnestness of the struggle of faith ( 1 Corinthians 9:26 1 Corinthians 9:27 ), and the urgent need of jealous self-watchfulness ( 1 Corinthians 10:12 ).
attain unto the resurrection of the dead--The oldest manuscripts read, "the resurrection from (out of) the dead," namely, the first resurrection; that of believers at Christ's coming ( 1 Corinthians 15:23 , 1 Thessalonians 4:15 , Revelation 20:5 Revelation 20:6 ). The Greek word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. "The power of Christ's resurrection" ( Romans 1:4 ), ensures the believer's attainment of the "resurrection from the (rest of the) dead" (compare Philippians 3:20 Philippians 3:21 ). Compare "accounted worthy to obtain the resurrection from the dead" ( Luke 20:35 ). "The resurrection of the just" ( Luke 14:14 ).
12. Translate, "Not that I," &c. (I do not wish to be understood as saying that, &c.).
attained--"obtained," namely, a perfect knowledge of Christ, and of the power of His death, and fellowship of His sufferings, and a conformity to His death.
either were already perfect--"or am already perfected," that is, crowned with the garland of victory, my course completed, and perfection absolutely reached. The image is that of a race course throughout. See 1 Corinthians 9:24 , Hebrews 12:23 . See TRENCH [Greek Synonyms of the New Testament].
I follow after--"I press on."
apprehend . . . apprehended--"If so be that I may lay hold on that (namely, the prize, Philippians 3:14 ) for which also I was laid hold on by Christ" (namely, at my conversion, Solomon 1:4 , 1 Corinthians 13:12 ).
Jesus--omitted in the oldest manuscripts. Paul was close to "apprehending" the prize ( 2 Timothy 4:7 2 Timothy 4:8 ). Christ the Author, is also the Finisher of His people's "race."
13. I--whatever others count as to themselves. He who counts himself perfect, must deceive himself by calling sin infirmity ( 1 John 1:8 ); at the same time, each must aim at perfection, to be a Christian at all ( Matthew 5:48 ).
forgetting those things . . . behind--Looking back is sure to end in going back ( Luke 9:62 ): So Lot's wife ( Luke 17:32 ). If in stemming a current we cease pulling the oar against it, we are carried back. God's word to us is as it was to Israel, "Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward" ( Exodus 14:15 ). The Bible is our landmark to show us whether we are progressing or retrograding.
reaching forth--with hand and foot, like a runner in a race, and the body bent forward. The Christian is always humbled by the contrast between what he is and what he desires to be. The eye reaches before and draws on the hand, the hand reaches before and draws on the foot [BENGEL].
unto--towards ( Hebrews 6:1 ).
14. high calling--literally, "the calling that is above" ( Galatians 4:26 , Colossians 3:1 ): "the heavenly calling" ( Hebrews 3:1 ). "The prize" is "the crown of righteousness" ( 1 Corinthians 9:24 , 2 Timothy 4:8 ). Revelation 2:10 , "crown of life." 1 Peter 5:4 , "a crown of glory that fadeth not away." "The high," or "heavenly calling," is not restricted, as ALFORD thinks, to Paul's own calling as an apostle by the summons of God from heaven; but the common calling of all Christians to salvation in Christ, which coming from heaven invites us to heaven, whither accordingly our minds ought to be uplifted.
15. therefore--resuming Philippians 3:3 . "As many of us then, as are perfect," that is, full grown (no longer "babes") in the Christian life ( Philippians 3:3 , "worshipping God in the Spirit, and having no confidence in the flesh"), 1 Corinthians 2:6 , fully established in things of God. Here, by "perfect," he means one fully fit for running [BENGEL]; knowing and complying with the laws of the course ( 2 Timothy 2:5 ). Though "perfect" in this sense, he was not yet "made perfect" (Greek) in the sense intended in Philippians 3:12 , namely, "crowned with complete victory," and having attained absolute perfection.
thus minded--having the mind which he had described, Philippians 3:7-14 .
otherwise minded--having too high an opinion of yourselves as to your attainment of Christian perfection. "He who thinks that he has attained everything, hath nothing" [CHRYSOSTOM]. Probably, too, he refers to those who were tempted to think to attain to perfection by the law ( Galatians 3:3 ): who needed the warning ( Philippians 3:3 ), "Beware of the concision," though on account of their former piety, Paul hopes confidently (as in Galatians 5:10 ) that God will reveal the path of right-mindedness to them. Paul taught externally God "reveals" the truth internally by His Spirit ( Matthew 11:25 , 16:17 , 1 Corinthians 3:6 ).
unto you--who sincerely strive to do God's will ( John 7:17 , Ephesians 1:17 ).
16. The expectation of a new revelation is not to make you less careful in walking according to whatever degree of knowledge of divine things and perfection you have already attained. God makes further revelations to those who walk up to the revelations they already have ( Hosea 6:3 ).
rule, let us mind the same thing--omitted in the oldest manuscripts. Perhaps partly inserted from Galatians 6:16 , and Philippians 2:2 . Translate then, "Whereunto we have attained, let us walk on (a military term, march in order) in the same (the measure of knowledge already attained)."
17. followers--Greek, "imitators together."
of me--as I am an imitator of Christ ( 1 Corinthians 11:1 ): Imitate me no farther than as I imitate Christ. Or as BENGEL "My fellow imitators of God" or "Christ"; "imitators of Christ together with me" Ephesians 5:1 ).
which walk so as ye have us for an ensample--In English Version of the former clause, the translation of this clause is, "those who are walking so as ye have an example in us." But in BENGEL'S translation, "inasmuch as," or "since," instead of "as."
18. many walk--in such a manner. Follow not evildoers, because they are "many" ( Exodus 23:2 ). Their numbers are rather a presumption against their being Christ's "little flock" ( Luke 12:32 ).
often--There is need of constant warning.
weeping--( Romans 9:2 ). A hard tone in speaking of the inconsistencies of professors is the very opposite of Paul's spirit, and David's ( Psalms 119:136 ), and Jeremiah's ( Jeremiah 13:17 ). The Lord and His apostles, at the same time, speak more strongly against empty professors (as the Pharisees), than against open scoffers.
enemies of the cross of Christ--in their practice, not in doctrine ( Galatians 6:14 , Hebrews 6:6 , 10:29 ).
19. destruction--everlasting at Christ's coming. Philippians 1:28 , "perdition"; the opposite word is "Saviour" ( Philippians 3:20 ).
whose god is their belly--( Romans 16:18 ); hereafter to be destroyed by God ( 1 Corinthians 6:13 ). In contrast to our "body" ( Philippians 3:21 ), which our God, the Lord Jesus, shall "fashion like unto His glorious body." Their belly is now pampered, our body now wasted; then the respective states of both shall be reversed.
glory is in their shame--As "glory" is often used in the Old Testament for God ( Psalms 106:20 ), so here it answers to "whose God," in the parallel clause; and "shame" is the Old Testament term contemptuously given to an idol ( Judges 6:32 , Margin). Hosea 4:7 seems to be referred to by Paul (compare Romans 1:32 ). There seems no allusion to circumcision, as no longer glorious, but a shame to them ( Philippians 3:2 ). The reference of the immediate context is to sensuality, and carnality in general.
mind earthly things--( Romans 8:5 ). In contrast to Philippians 3:20 , Colossians 3:2 .
20. our conversation--rather, "our state" or "country"; our citizenship: our life as citizens. We are but pilgrims on earth; how then should we "mind earthly things?" ( Philippians 3:19 , Hebrews 11:9 Hebrews 11:10 Hebrews 11:13-16 ). Roman citizenship was then highly prized; how much more should the heavenly citizenship ( Acts 22:28 ; compare Luke 10:20 )?
is--Greek, "has its existence."
in heaven--Greek, "in the heavens."
look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ--"We wait for (so the same Greek is translated, Romans 8:19 ) the Lord Jesus as a (that is, in the capacity of a) Saviour" ( Hebrews 9:28 ). That He is "the Lord," now exalted above every name, assures our expectation ( Philippians 2:9-11 ). Our High Priest is gone up into the Holy of Holies not made with hands, there to atone for us; and as the Israelites stood outside the tabernacle, expecting Aaron's return (compare Luke 1:21 ), so must we look unto the heavens expecting Christ thence.
21. Greek, "Who shall transfigure the body of our humiliation (namely, in which our humiliation has place, 2 Corinthians 4:10 , Ephesians 2:19 , 2 Timothy 2:12 ), that it may be conformed unto the body of His glory (namely, in which His glory is manifested), according to the effectual working whereby," &c. Not only shall He come as our "Saviour," but also as our Glorifier.
even--not only to make the body like His own, but "to subdue all things," even death itself, as well as Satan and sin. He gave a sample of the coming transfiguration on the mount ( Matthew 17:1 , &c.). Not a change of identity, but of fashion or form ( Psalms 17:15 , 1 Corinthians 15:51 ). Our spiritual resurrection now is the pledge of our bodily resurrection to glory hereafter ( Philippians 3:20 , Romans 8:11 ). As Christ's glorified body was essentially identical with His body of humiliation; so our resurrection bodies as believers, since they shall be like His, shall be identical essentially with our present bodies, and yet "spiritual bodies" ( 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 ). Our "hope" is, that Christ, by His rising from the dead, hath obtained the power, and is become the pattern, of our resurrection ( Micah 2:13 ).