Philippians 3 Study Notes


3:1 About this refers to Paul’s warning about false teachers that follows. He had previously dealt with this subject in person, through an intermediary, or in a previous letter.

3:2 The Jews hated dogs. This word was often used of Gentiles, but in this context it refers to overly zealous Jewish teachers who were ravenous like scavengers. These evil workers attempted to gain salvation by keeping the law. Mutilate the flesh refers to their “circumcision.” Paul used a play on the Greek words for “circumcision” and “mutilation.” These “circumcisers” were actually “mutilators” who offered no spiritual benefits.

3:3 Those of the circumcision—“true Jews” or Christians—have three characteristics. First, they worship by the Spirit of God, not the works of the flesh (Gl 5:16-18). Second, they boast in Christ Jesus. “Boast” (“take pride in”) means their highest treasure is Jesus. Third, they do not put confidence in the flesh. “The flesh” describes the values and activities of humanity unaided by the Holy Spirit.

3:4-6 Paul’s fleshly confidence included heredity and accomplishments. On the issue of his heredity, circumcised the eighth day (lit “an eighth-day one”) placed him in a special group whose parents scrupulously kept the law. A Hebrew born of Hebrews means he had impeccable credentials. This countered those who may have assumed otherwise because Paul was from Tarsus. Regarding achievement, he spoke of zeal and the law. Pharisee comes from a word meaning “separation,” e.g., to honor the OT law. Zeal, evidenced by persecuting the church, was unnecessary even for Pharisees. Righteousness that is in the law means that Paul achieved all the law could promise. He had not failed by Jewish standards.

3:7-8 Paul evaluated his former life (vv. 7-8) and expressed his current aspirations (vv. 9-11). The word loss and a synonym dung are compared with gain three times. Paul’s loss was for the sake of Christ (v. 7), for the surpassing value of knowing Christ (v. 8), and for gaining Christ (v. 8).

3:9-11 Paul described his new aspirations in three ways: gaining Christ and being found in him, having a Christian righteousness, and attaining resurrection from the dead. Found refers to judgment day. Christ brings a righteousness through faith in Christ (imputed), not from works of the law (cp. v. 6). To know him (personally, experientially) parallels and explains “found in him.” It involves experiencing the power of his resurrection, resulting in Paul’s own resurrection from death, and knowing the fellowship (lit “participation in”) of his sufferings. Identification with Christ’s suffering brings conformity to Jesus’s death through refining obedience, and a believer attains the resurrection from among the dead.

3:12-16 These verses contain a call to follow Paul’s pattern of living.

3:12-14 Paul acknowledged his imperfection. Not reached the goal and not already perfect indicate the need for growth. Make every effort recalls the athlete’s discipline and focus. Together these reveal that Paul had not yet achieved perfection. Paul aspired to complete salvation through resurrection. Because presents the substance of Paul’s hope—the perfection of the resurrection. Pursue (cp. v. 12), goal, and prize use athletic imagery of the runner’s energy, focus, and reward. “The prize” is God’s heavenly call (to heaven), like a referee calling a winner to the platform to receive the prize.

3:15-16 Paul exhorted the mature (lit “perfect”). The use of the same root word in v. 12 reveals that Paul addressed the false teachers who claimed perfection. Think this way is “value” (cp. 2:1-11; 3:15). Live up to means to walk in order, in rank like a soldier. Whatever truth we have attained is what brought previous success in Christian living.

3:17-21 First, Paul encouraged believers. Imitating me reveals his confidence that he lived correctly before God and man. Paul often urged believers to imitate him (4:9; 1Co 11:1; 1Th 1:6; 2Th 3:8-9). He spoke with tears because of the damage these false teachers brought to God’s work. As enemies of the cross, they were inflated with their own spiritual abilities (cp. v. 3) rather than trusting Christ. Paul described them four ways. First, their end is destruction (not annihilation but eternal judgment). Second, their god is their stomach reflects their preoccupation with Jewish dietary laws. Third, their glory is in their shame means focusing inappropriately on the genitals (circumcision). Fourth, they focused on earthly things, unable to see beyond the present time.

True believers differ from these false teachers. Citizenship was rare and prized, and the Philippians were justifiably proud of their Roman citizenship. “Citizenship” in heaven reminded the church of the existence of a greater society and culture. Military images continue with the Savior from heaven. Roman citizens called the emperor “savior”; Christians expect their deliverer from heaven. The body of our humble condition refers to the body limited by finitude, frailty, finiteness, and sin. Christ will change the body into the likeness of his glorious body. Physical bodies will become glorified bodies in the image of Christ. Salvation has three stages: conversion, moral perfection at death, and the transformation of the body through resurrection at the second coming of Christ.