Philippians 3. This One Thing I Do.
Key Notes: Paul's pedigree. Why work? To know Him.
Philippians 3 is a summary of Paul’s quest, for the close and personal knowledge of Christ, the ultimate spiritual experience. It is the basis of all his longing and dreams. It is the epitome of who he is and what he hopes to be. One can only hope that we will follow him.
The chapter can be divided into six parts.
3:1 Exhortation to rejoice.
3:2–3 A denunciation of Judaizers.
3:4–6 His pedigree, the equal of any in Judaism.
3:7–17 His renunciation of Judaism to win Christ.
3:18–19 Grieving over people who have fallen away.
3:20–21 A hope for resurrection glory.
It begins and ends on high notes, rejoicing on one end, and being resurrected on the other. In the middle, he tells of his own spiritual journey, rejecting religious people on either extreme of the legal spectrum.
3:1 He encourages them to rejoice, not hard for him to say again—and again (1:3,19,25; 2:2, 18:4,10) —and helpful for them.
3:2 Paul uses strong language on the Judaizers who dogged his steps all over Asia Minor, stimulating riots and seducing the weak back into Judaism. “Those who mutilate the flesh” is simply “the cutting” in Greek. They “glory in your flesh.” (Gal.6:13).
It was attractive for Christians to be circumcised because the Jews were a protected minority and the Christian could be somewhat protected from persecution under their mantle. But then they would be encouraged to pursue Judaism in other ways.
3:3–6 There is a true circumcision made by “putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ.” Col.2:11). Such followers are worshiping God in Spirit (Jn.4:23), glorying in Christ Jesus (Gal.6:14), and not glorying in the flesh. Rom.7:18
He of all people could glory as a human being, biologically and ideologically.
*Circumcised on the eighth day according to the Law. Lev.12:1
*From the tribe of Benjamin, that produced the first king of Israel, named Saul, and that stood by the kingly tribe of Judah to the end. He was not named "Saul" for nothing.
*Pedigreed stock, pure on both sides of the family.
*A Pharisee, of “the strictest party of our religion”, (Acts 26:5), "Brought up... at the feet of Gameliel...." (Acts22:3).
*Zealous to persecute the church, “breathing out threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord….” (Acts 9:1KJV)
*Under Law, blameless, like the rich young ruler, who could say “I have kept these things from my youth up.” (Mk.10:20)
He discarded gains from that pedigree and privilege, like pulling all his academic diplomas off the wall, dumping his Olympic medals and trophies in the trash. He became an outcast from a small, close-knit, intolerant society, a target for death by extremists.
My spiritual mentor also gave up his career. He had won his PhD in geography at U. of Illinois. He rose through the ranks to be chairman of the Geography Department at another big mid-western university and authored what was arguably the best book on economic geography in the United States. He was the Assistant Dean in the School of Letters and Science. He gave up the prestige and prerogatives to become the head of a Christian organization, a servant to the Christian community. I saw him months later, bruised by conflicts. He had lost a lot. But God richly rewarded him and made his name great.
In the following verses, Paul uses the word “counted” three times.
“Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss “
“I count everything as loss”
“I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as refuse….”
The climax of the passage is 3:8–11
“…that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that if possible I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. "
“for the sake of Christ” (1:29)
“that I may gain Christ”
“and be found in Him".
Can you say more?
“Because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
“that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings…”
“becoming like Him in His death….”
Are you driven?
“I press on”
“straining forward to what lies ahead ”
“I press on toward the goal”.
“…that I may know…the power of His resurrection”
“that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead”
“who will change our lowly body to be like His glorious body”.
Paul speaks of his resurrection in a strange way. He speaks of “attaining” to the resurrection, and twice uses the Greek word for “out of”, “away from”, to be resurrected out of, away from the dead. Since he taught the resurrection with great conviction (ICor.15), he cannot be speaking as if he were unsure of it. Commentators have suggested that he is really hoping to be “raptured” before dying, as he says in I Thes. 4:17.
He wants to gain Christ, to have faith in Christ, to know Christ and become like Him. But after a long life of service, has he not arrived? What more is there? What is the upward call of God?
To understand, we must go on to 3:12 –16.
“Not that I have already obtain this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own” . To Paul, salvation is not “a done deal.” It is a maturing process and there are others who have attained it and should be holding on.
3:17–21 Those who live as enemies of the Cross, who have their minds set on the earth, who have made a god of their stomachs and who glory in their shame sound like professed believers gone astray. They became lawless, the opposite of the Judaizers who insisted on close conformity to OT Law. At the beginning he warns against legalists, and at the end, the lawless, the antinomians. Both are deplored.
Paul said “Not that I have already obtained this, or am already perfect, but I press on….’
To many of us, salvation is a completed operation. As one class-member asked: “Why should I work and strain? My place in Heaven is assured.” A simple answer is that there are rewards for high-grade work and that requires effort. (ICor.3:12–15). Another question was “does my spiritual temperature have any effect on the group?” Be assured that it does.
Paul speaks tentatively, of gaining Christ, knowing Him, and attaining to the resurrection. But we know from experience that “knowing” is not an absolute word. Two teen-agers who have been friends for a year, know nothing of each other compared to a couple who have been married for fifty years. The researcher who works with stem cells “knows” stem cells in a quite different way from a reporter trying to summarize the work. We may start by assuming that we know little of Christ, and even less about the resurrection.
How should one speak of knowing Christ? At first glance, it is being identified, united with Him, in the three ways he speaks of. (3:10)
- The first answer is that “the power of His resurrection” is the power of a transformed life. “…God…made us alive together with Christ…and raised us up with Him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus….” (Eph.1:19–2:7). We know that we know Him because our lives are different.
- “The fellowship of His suffering” is at least being identified with Him by non-believers and accepting the reproach that comes with it. “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth”. “Surely you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” (Matt.26:71, 73)
- “Being made conformable to His death”, (3:10KJV) means being crucified. Jesus demands it. (Matt.16:24). That is just what Paul says has happened to him . “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal.2:20)
The crucified life is being freed from the power of sin and alive to God in union with Christ. Rom.6:5–11
There is more. Jesus is known by direct communication. He talked to Abraham face to face about the destruction of Sodom. (Gen.18:22–33) Moses spoke with Jesus as a friend. “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Ex.33:11) And Moses asked for more: He wanted to see the glory of God. Who would not die for such a privilege? Who would not strain and press on for it?
And we know that the Lord directed Paul through the Holy Spirit through the Acts. He also spoke to Paul directly, and through a vision and an angel. (Acts 9:5; 18:9; 27:23). Paul had been caught up to the third Heaven and received revelations that he cannot talk about. IICor. 12:1–10
Alas, there are surprisingly many who are afraid of such an overpowering Presence in their lives. Even idealistic and spiritual young people may say “Let’s not go there. I am afraid. ”
Don’t be afraid. God loves you. He wants His best for you. Do not refuse Jesus. Love Him. Seek His glory.