V. Knowing Christ (Philippians 3:1-11)


V. Knowing Christ (3:1-11)

3:1 Paul begins chapter 3 with joy, not despair, urging the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord. Reminding them to do this is no trouble for him and is a safeguard for them. We can’t be reminded too often to rejoice in Jesus. But how can we find joy in the Lord when our circumstances are bad? Paul is about to answer that question.

3:2 Paul opens by warning them to watch out for the dogs . . . for the evil workers . . . for those who mutilate the flesh. In biblical times, dogs were considered unclean animals; thus, Paul is saying to beware of false, “unclean” teachers. Paul had a perpetual problem with a group called the Judaizers. These Jews said one must keep the Old Testament law to be saved and sanctified. They tried to combine faith and works as a way of getting right and staying right with God. In spreading that message, they were undermining the ministry of Paul and the truth of the gospel—a message of grace, not law keeping.

We must beware of any system of theology that says we must earn our standing with God. All the spiritual calisthenics we might do, including good things like going to church, reading our Bibles, praying, and giving will not help us earn right standing with him. Religion, in fact, only weighs us down. It never tells us when we’ve done enough because it allows no such end. The Judaizers highlighted circumcision, but that ritual—and all things similar—was made obsolete by the death of Christ. God gives us right standing with him only through the righteousness of his Son, Jesus Christ. This comes by grace, not by how hard we work. These religious teachers were relying on their works instead of on Jesus.

3:3 Paul contrasts these false teachers with followers of Jesus, saying we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God. The true circumcision, then, is comprised of those who understand that a relationship with God under the new covenant occurs in the realm of the Spirit of God. To “worship by the Spirit” means to relate to God based on God’s standard, not on standards we make up. That’s why living in the Spirit is also living according to the Word.

Next, he says we are to boast in Christ Jesus. We are to make a big deal about Jesus. He must be the focus of our worship. If Jesus is not a big deal to us, we can’t worship by the Spirit of God because the Spirit was sent to make much of Jesus.

Paul concludes with a huge point of emphasis—we are not to put confidence in the flesh. “Confidence in the flesh” refers to the conviction that I can do on my own what’s necessary for me to become what I’m supposed to be as a Christian. But when you put confidence in yourself about your relationship with God, you nullify his work in your life.

3:4-6 Next Paul lists his impressive spiritual pedigree, saying he has reasons for confidence in the flesh if anyone does (3:4). Indeed, he had quite the spiritual record before becoming a Christian. His discussion of the topic culminates with the bold claim that regarding the righteousness that is in the law, he was blameless (3:6). Yet, as a believer, he puts no confidence in the flesh. If he had, he wouldn’t have been able to rejoice in the Lord from a prison cell.

If we place our confidence in our accomplishments, or in anything other than Christ, we will find it impossible to rejoice in the Lord when things don’t go well. When we struggle in our marriages or in our careers, we’ll be miserable if we’ve placed our confidence in things. To be steady and joyful in all circumstances, we must place our confidence in Jesus.

3:7-8 Paul says, Everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ (3:7). Then he gets even more radical, pointing out that he continues to consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus (3:8). Paul counts his past accomplishments and anything in the present or future as a “loss” compared to knowing Jesus. In fact, he considers them no better than dung (3:8). Things are worthless to Paul when compared to Christ. But the only way a person can view life from this perspective is to see how valuable Christ truly is.

3:9-11 Paul then returns to the necessity of finding his righteousness in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith (3:9). If you have accepted Christ, he took up residence within you through the Spirit and gave you his righteousness. The key to the Christian life is not you living it, but Jesus living it through you. That’s what makes Christianity unique. Christianity is not merely a religion; it is driven by a relationship. That’s why Paul says his goal is to know him (3:10). Our passion, too, must be knowing Jesus. All the religious stuff we do only becomes valid if knowing Christ is the goal.

Paul wants to know the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death (3:10). When you are going through a rough time, then, remember that Jesus Christ invites you to get to know him better through it. He will hurt with you, and you will get to understand him better in the process. Suffering is a call to intimacy with Jesus. Walking through hard things with the Lord results in resurrection from among the dead (3:11). Paul is not talking about rising from the dead when Jesus comes back, though that will happen. He’s talking about experiencing Jesus’s resurrection power in this life to joyously overcome every challenge. Paul desired an outside-the-box experience of the living Christ operating in and through his life. Do you?