You Can Provide Clean Water to Persecuted Christians

Philippians 3




No Confidence in the Flesh (3:1-11)

1 … rejoice in the Lord! Why is it so important for us to rejoice? There are three reasons. First, joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22); therefore, our rejoicing is proof that the Holy Spirit is dwelling within us. Second, if we continually rejoice, we will more easily avoid the sin of complaining and grumbling against God when things don’t go well. Third, because of our joy, others will want to know Jesus Christ too. If our face is always dark and sad, who will want to become a Christian?

In many countries of the world, Christ’s church is growing rapidly. One of the main reasons for this is that the Christians in those countries are joyful—even though they are being persecuted!

In what is our joy? It is in the Lord. It is in His blessings, in His grace, in His fellowship. That’s why trouble and persecution can’t take away our joy. Our joy is not in this world; it is in Christ.

2 In this verse, Paul mentions dogs … men who do evil … mutilators of the flesh. These are simply three different names for the same group of people: namely, false teachers and false prophets. In Paul’s time, most of the false teachers in the church were Jews who tried to teach new believers that in order to obtain salvation they must be circumcised. But Paul clearly taught that there was no spiritual advantage in being circumcised (1 Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 5:2,6).

3 For it is we who are the CIRCUMCISION. That is, says Paul, we believers in Christ are the true circumcision, the true Israel. The Jews believed that because they were the natural descendants of the first Jew Abraham and because they had been circumcised, they were therefore the only “true Jews,” the “people of the circumcision.” But Paul denied this. He taught, rather, that the “true circumcision” are those people whose hearts have been “circumcised”; that is, those who have been circumcised inwardly, spiritually. The “true circumcision” are those who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus. The “true circumcision” are those who put no confidence in the flesh—that is, they put no confidence in the act of circumcision itself, the cutting away of the “flesh” at the end of the penis. They put their confidence only in Jesus Christ (see Romans 2:25-29; Colossians 2:11 and comments).

4 The false Jewish teachers put their confidence in the flesh; that is, they put confidence in the fact that they were natural descendants of Abraham and that they had been circumcised. “We are the true Jews,” they boasted.

But Paul was also a true Jew according to the flesh. If these false Jewish teachers thought they could put confidence in the flesh, Paul could put even more confidence in the flesh.

5 According to Jewish law, Paul had been circumcised on the eighth day of life (Genesis 17:12). Paul belonged to the nation of ISRAEL, the Jewish nation; that is, he was a Jew according to the flesh. Paul was descended from Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob. Jacob was Abraham’s grandson, and he had twelve sons, from which the twelve tribes of Israel are descended. Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews;9 that is, he was as true a Hebrew (Jew) as one could be. He spoke the Hebrew language and followed Hebrew customs (2 Corinthians 11:22). Not only that, Paul was also a PHARISEE ; the Pharisees were the strictest sect of the Jews.

6 Paul was so strict and zealous a Jew that he persecuted the CHURCH, that is, the believers in Christ (see Acts 9:1-2; 22:3-4; 26:9-11; Galatians 1:13-14).

Paul says that as for legalistic righteousness, he was faultless; that is, outwardly he obeyed all the rules and regulations of the Jewish law.

7 But whatever was to my profit—that is, all the things Paul wrote in verses 5-6—Paul now considers to be of no profit. In fact, Paul now considers them loss; he considers them harmful, disadvantageous. These things (being a Jew, Hebrew, Pharisee, etc.) were disadvantageous because they had kept Paul from putting his confidence in Christ. Now, for the sake of Christ—or, because of Christ—Paul has left all these old Jewish things.

8  There is nothing on this earth more valuable than knowing Jesus Christ personally. Nothing else can give a person salvation and eternal life. Only by knowing and accepting Christ as our personal Savior can we obtain salvation.

As an illustration, let us imagine a boat. The boat is loaded with valuable goods. The boat is crossing the sea when a great storm comes up. The boat begins to sink. What must the sailors in the boat do to be saved? They must throw all those valuable goods overboard. Yes, the goods are valuable; but because of the weight of the goods, the boat is sinking and the men are about to drown.

In the same way, Paul has had to “throw overboard” all his old religious “goods”—such as, his Jewish background, his circumcision, his legalistic righteousness (verse 6). Paul has lost all these things so that he may gain Christ—so that he might be saved.

On this subject, Jesus told two parables of men who sold everything they had in order to buy something else of even greater value (Matthew 13:44-45). Jesus Christ is that “something;” He is more valuable than everything in the world put together.

9  Paul does not want a RIGHTEOUSNESS … that comes from the LAW —that is, that comes from obeying the law. Such righteousness is not true righteousness (see Galatians 2:15-16). Rather, Paul wants to receive Christ’s righteousness—the righteousness that comes from God and is by FAITH (see Romans 1:17; 3:21-24 and comments). Only this is true righteousness. True righteousness is always a gift of God. It is not given to us on the basis of our own work or effort; it is given to us by God’s grace (see Ephesians 2:8-9 and comment).

10  Paul seeks not only Christ’s righteousness, but he seeks also to know Christ—to know Christ and the power of his RESURRECTION. Paul wants to know Christ personally; he wants Christ to dwell within him (John 15:5). Paul wants to experience the power of the resurrected Christ, which is given through Christ’s Holy Spirit. Paul, in short, wants to have a new life (see Romans 6:4; 8:11; Ephesians 2:4-6).

In order to share in Christ’s life and in His power, we must also share in His sufferings. Therefore, Paul wants to know the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings.

Not only that, Paul wants to become like him (Christ) in his death. This has two meanings. First, Paul wants his “old sinful self” to be crucified with Christ (see Romans 6:6; Galatians 2:20; 5:24 and comments). Second, Paul is ready every day to die with Christ (1 Corinthians 15:31). Paul wrote: We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:1011). Paul is ready to lose his life for Jesus’ sake (Mark 8:34-35).

Therefore, to know the fellowship of sharing in [Christ’s] sufferings means not only to outwardly suffer trouble and persecution for Christ’s sake, but also to inwardly crucify the old sinful nature and its desires—to put to death the misdeeds of the body (Romans 8:13).

11 Having died with Christ, Paul hopes to attain to the resurrection from the dead (see Romans 6:4-5,8 and comment).


Pressing on Toward the Goal (3:12-16)

12 Paul has not yet obtained the full knowledge and the full righteousness of Christ. He is not yet perfect. But Paul presses on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of [him]—that is, to take hold of holiness, perfection, and maturity (Ephesians 4:13). Because it is for this reason—that Paul might be holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:4)—that Christ took hold of Paul.

Remember, Christ first “took hold” of us. Because of that, we can “take hold” of Him; we can obtain Him and hold on to Him in a spiritual sense. And even though, as we take hold of Him, our grip is weak, His grip on us is strong; He will not let us slip out of His hands.

13-14 But this one thing I do. Paul is completely single-minded. He does not allow himself to be distracted from his purpose. He does not waste his energy on secondary issues. Forgetting what is behind … Paul forgets what is behind. That is, he doesn’t look back; he doesn’t mope over his failures, his mistakes and sins. It is useless to keep thinking about these past things. Paul is like a runner in a race: he looks only ahead (see Luke 9:62; Hebrews 12:1-2). A runner is slowed down if he looks back.

Paul then says: … straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal. Paul is not a passive Christian; he is actively—strenuously—pursuing the goal of becoming like Christ.

Many Christians are confused about this point. They say: “Everything is by God’s grace. Not only our justification is by God’s grace, but also our sanctification. Just as fruit ripens on a tree, so will we become like Christ. We don’t need to strive and struggle.”

In saying this, these Christians are in part correct. It is indeed correct to say that all is by grace, and that we do not need to strive and struggle on our own strength. However, there is another side to the truth—a side which Paul presents in these verses. Men are not quite like fruit on a tree. Fruits submit naturally to the ripening process; men do not. Men must actively submit to God and obey Him; they must actively throw off everything that hinders … and run with perseverance the race marked out for them (Hebrews 12:1). The Christian life is a race, and we must run it. No one ever won a race by sitting on the sideline.

The prize (verse 14) that Paul wants to win at the end of the race is full fellowship with Christ. Paul also hopes to be a “coheir” with Christ and to share in His glory (Romans 8:17; 1 Corinthians 9:24-25; James 1:12).

15 Who are the mature whom Paul mentions here? In verse 12, Paul says that he has not yet been made perfect. Christians cannot be “perfect” in this life, but they can be “mature.” The mature are those who forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead (verse 13); they believe that looking back is useless, even harmful. The mature are those who are single-minded, who, like Paul, have only one consuming passion in life: namely, to know Christ (verse 10) and to be like Him (Romans 8:29). All mature Christians should take such a view of things. If any among the Philippians take a different view of the matter, Paul is confident that God will make clear to them that Paul’s teaching is correct.

16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Paul means by this that each of us should live according to the grace he or she has received. We do not receive God’s full grace all at once; we do not become mature at once. Through the Holy Spirit, God shows us our hidden sins and weaknesses one by one. We cannot correct sins and faults we don’t know about.

Therefore, Paul says here that we must walk according to the grace, knowledge, and power we have each been given. If the Holy Spirit reveals to us a particular sin in our life, we must turn from that sin. Day by day God will give us enough grace to overcome sin. We must live according to that grace. We must live up to [the grace] we have already attained.

The Enemies of the Cross (3:17-21)

17 It is not enough to preach about Christ; we must also live like Christ. New Christians, especially, need examples of Christlike living to follow (see 1 Corinthians 11:1).

The Philippians should follow not only Paul’s example but also the example of those who live according to the pattern given by Paul. Paul’s own example has influenced many to live like Christ; now they in turn are influencing still others. The influence of our example will spread to those we have never even met! Therefore, we need to ask ourselves: What kind of example am I setting?

18 Let the Philippians not follow the example of the enemies of the cross. The enemies of the cross are those who say that Christ’s death on the cross is not sufficient to save men. Such enemies say they are Christians, but they are not; they are false teachers (Matthew 7:15; Mark 13:22; Acts 20:29-30; 2 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Timothy 4:1-2). They are those who look out only for their own interests (Philippians 2:21).

19 Here Paul writes four things about these enemies of the cross. First, they will be destroyed. Their destiny is destruction. They will receive eternal punishment on the day of judgment. Second, their god is their stomach—that is, they serve their own desires and appetites; they do not serve Christ (Romans 16:18). Third, their glory is in their shame; that is, they glory in their shameful lusts and shameful acts.10 Fourth, their minds are on earthly things, or worldly things, not on spiritual things (Romans 8:5-6). Such men are indeed enemies of Christ’s cross.

20 But Christians should not be like this. Let the Philippians set their minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:2). Paul says that our citizenship is in heaven. God has seated us with [Christ] in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6). In this world we are only aliens and strangers (1 Peter 2:11). Therefore, let believers not put any significance on what their nationality is, on whether they are “nationals” or “foreigners.” Because, in this world, all believers are foreigners. But in heaven we will all be “nationals,” for that is where our citizenship is.

And we eagerly await a Savior from [heaven]. Christians know that Jesus Christ will come again at the end of the world. Let us eagerly watch for His coming.

21  After Christ comes again, our lowly bodies will be transformed. In other words, it is then that the redemption, or resurrection, of our bodies will take place (see Romans 8:23; 1 Corinthians 15:4244,49; Colossians 3:4; 1 John 3:2 and comments). Our resurrection will take place through the power of the risen Christ (Ephesians 1:19-22).