TEXT: Philippians 3:1-21
Moving from the subjects of Christ-like love, unity and humility that are the hallmarks of Christians in the previous chapter, Paul the apostle here exhorts believers to holy living and pursuit of higher spiritual attainments. Attaining holier aspirations requires that believers renounce the flesh and carnality. This is the reason the Apostle reiterates his earlier warning against imbibing the
false teachings of Judaizers who trust in the flesh. He clarifies that all the privileges of physical birth and observance of rites of circumcision the Judaizers pride themselves in cannot afford the salvation of God. He therefore exhorts believers to “rejoice in the Lord” who alone is the Author of salvation, righteousness and the hope of eternal life. Apart from obtaining present salvation by grace alone through faith, every believer should make eternal salvation and hope of eternal prize their pursuit.
PAUL’S PEDIGREE AND WARNING AGAINST JUDAIZERS (Philippians 3:1-6; Acts 21:37-39; 22:1-5; Galatians 1:13- 18; 3:1-11; 1 Timothy 1:12-16)
The text begins with Paul the apostle’s admonition to “brethren” to “rejoice in the Lord”. As believers, we should rejoice that the Lord has rescued us from eternal damnation. Without the Lord’s intervention, we would still remain in bondage to sin, Satan, the flesh, self and the world. We would pine in life and burn in hell forever had He not incarnated and offered His life to make atonement for our sins. The privilege of being born into a rich, religious or godly family will not be cause for real joy without His mediation that reconciles and brings us into fellowship with God. Paul’s repeated emphases on this truth of salvation by faith was necessary to counter the false teaching of Judaizers who claimed that circumcision was required to be saved.
Having partaken of the salvation of God by faith, the Apostle warns the Philippian Christians to “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision”. He calls the Judaizers by different names to describe the potential dangers they pose to the Christian faith. As “dogs”, they are shameless, corrupt and contentious. As “evil workers”, they are mischievous and seek to destroy the faith of the Philippian believers. Calling them the “concision”, for instance, refers to mutilation or cutting of the flesh or those who believe in the act of circumcision. Their insistence on the literal act of circumcision by believers showed they were ignorant of the fact that the practice only foreshadowed a New Testament spiritual experience of sanctification of the heart (1 Thessalonians 4:3,7,8; 5:22-24). Even in the experience of heart circumcision, faith is required from consecrated, praying and thirsty believers to obtain it.
Understandably, Paul declares: “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh”. Here, he describes true believers who were Jews by birth and observed the rite of circumcision but obtained salvation by grace through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 2:11). Thus saved, they worship God in spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus who alone is their Saviour and hope of eternal reward (John 4:23,24).
Paul the apostle highlights that if salvation were to be obtained by privilege of birth, education, religious zeal and conformity to the law, he was more qualified than any other Jew by all standards. One, he was “circumcised the eight day” in accordance with the letter of the law (Genesis 17:12) unlike the proselyte who was circumcised in adulthood. Two, he was “of the stock of Israel”, the covenant name of God’s people. Three, he hailed from “the tribe of Benjamin”, one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Four, he was “an Hebrew of the Hebrews” and a bona fide Jew with both parents possibly Jews, tainted with no Gentile admixture. Five, “as touching the law a Pharisee”, he belonged to the sect that was the most orthodox defender, observer and expounder of the Old Testament and was a student of the learned and great teacher, Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Six, he was, “concerning zeal, persecuting the church” and was vehement in his efforts to stamp out Christianity. Seven, “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless”, though not sinless. It is obvious from the foregoing that earthly achievements, cultural background,
Christian parentage, human accomplishment, reputation, works, religious affiliation, rites and zeal, no matter how impressive, cannot earn a person eternal life with God. Salvation comes through genuine repentance and absolute faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Believers must not remain indifferent while present-day religious zealots continue to spread their untruth (Ecclesiastics 9:10; Romans 12:11; John 2:17).
PASSIONATE PURSUIT OF SINGLE- MINDED BELIEVERS (Philippians 3:7-14; Matthew 5:29,30; Galatians 2:18; Luke 9:62; Psalm 57:7; Matthew 13:44-46)
Paul’s single-minded and steadfast pursuit of spiritual goal began with his salvation and renunciation of all personal achievements. He decided to get rid of all things, including legitimate ones, which would hinder its attainment. He overwrote the aforementioned things that had been gain to him with a single word: Christ. He discovered his entire earthly achievements would amount to nothing when compared with the treasures he had found in Christ. Counting all privileges his natural birth and education afforded him as “dung”, he consecrated and committed himself to a lifelong walk with the Lord. “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord… and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” Paul speaks of a voluntary action and attitude of foregoing legitimate rights and privileges, preferring to suffer the consequences of losing them. Moses also damned the consequences of losing earthly royal privileges for greater spiritual riches and reward (Hebrews 11:24-27). No true believer ever holds to the mundane and ephemeral at the expense of the spiritual and eternal. Believers today must emulate Paul’s example by identifying whatever human achievements, privileges, possessions, power, positions, partnerships or profits that pose a hindrance to their consecration, spiritual growth, pilgrimage to heaven and hope of eternal reward, and deal with them appropriately (Matthew 5:29,30). “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:35,36). Christ illustrated believers’ expected consecration to Him and the gospel in two parables (Matthew 13:44- 46). In the parable of the hid treasure in the field that a man found, and that of the merchant man who discovered a priceless pearl, both men had to make great sacrifices to the point of disposing some of their valued possessions to obtain the invaluable treasure they have found. Applicably, the earnestness, diligence, promptness, perseverance, watchfulness and care with which believers seek Christ should be higher than those of unbelievers in search of silver and gold (Proverbs 2:4,5).
Paul’s statement in the present tense, “that I may win Christ”, does not mean he needed salvation experience as he had been saved and written the epistle as an apostle and servant of Jesus Christ (1:1). But he expresses the great desire of his heart which is that Christ may be his gain, not gold, or silver or religious reputation. He had his eyes fixed at the end and climax of his Christian race; hence the need to remain steadfast and watchful so as not to be cast away after preaching and writing great epistles to other people.
Appearing at the marriage supper of the Lamb without a wedding gown or robe of righteousness obtained and preserved by faith alone would be risking eternal damnation. Self-righteousness which is like a filthy rag in the sight of God was all that the Judaizers had (Romans 10:1-3). Paul knew and greatly desired to “be found in him, not having mine own righteousness… but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith”. Faith is vital to obtaining and maintaining the righteousness of God. With this spiritual summit and eternal goal in mind, the Apostle sought to know Christ more intimately and experience Him in a most sublime way. “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (verse 10,11). He sought to know more about the Person of Christ. This is possible through unbroken communion with Him in prayer, reading, studying, meditating on His word and obeying His commands. He sought to know the power of His resurrection: the power that raised the Lord from the dead (Ephesians 1:19,20). Since Christ first died before He was raised to life, the believer must be crucified and dead to self to experience this quickening power (John 12:24; Galatians 2:20; Romans 8:11).
Paul also desired to know “the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto his death”. It was part of his commission which he had also taught: that every believer must suffer for Christ (Acts 9:16; 26:15-17; Philippians 1:29).
Fellowship means communion, companionship, partnership and sharing. Though Christ calls us to share in His suffering, He does not abandon His people in suffering. He appeared in the furnace of fire with the three Hebrew children and sent His angels to deliver Peter and Paul with Silas from prison. He granted John the beloved timeless revelations while on the island of Patmos
where he was banished for his faith. Conformity to Christ must be in life as well as in death. He lived and died in righteousness, so must every believer who seeks to reign with Him.
Believers who die in Christ will be resurrected to life at rapture to live with Him forever. Death loses its sting, pain and power over everyone who is saved by grace and lives a holy life. This is why the doctrine of resurrection of the dead is pivotal to our faith and eternal joy. Paul did not count himself to have arrived as some people profess today. The secret of his unrelenting and passionate pursuit is singular: ‘‘But this one thing I do forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before’’ (verse 13). Relishing past successes or bemoaning past failures will incapacitate and rob us of any initiative for spiritual progress. Like Paul, we must always bear in mind that there are greater challenges, battles and tasks ahead.
Like an athlete, Paul the apostle says, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”. He had a clear vision and knowledge of the prize he was striving to win. It was the “…crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). This hope of eternal reward should be the anchor of the believer’s spiritual pursuit.
PRIORITY OF EXEMPLARY LIFE WHILE WAITING FOR THE RAPTURE: Philippians 3:15-21; 1 Corinthians 10:12; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Hebrews 13:7,17; Malachi 3:16-18; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
Having proposed himself as an example worthy of emulation, he urges the Philippian believers who can also discern spiritual things to follow suit. “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.” Paul realizes that not all will agree with him in adopting such a hardline conviction. But he expresses the confidence that if any person is really willing and sincere to know the truth, God would give him understanding. Irrespective of different levels of spiritual attainment, he admonishes that believers should “… walk by the same rule”, “mind the same thing” (verse 16) and emulate those who live like Christ. Paul once admonished Timothy to be a Christ-like example among believers while Peter the apostle also exhorted Christian wives to win their husbands by exemplary lifestyle (1 Timothy 4:12;1 Peter 3:1). When a professing believer lives contrary to Christ and His word, he becomes a bad example that leads others astray and thus become an enemy of the cross of Christ. Incidentally, Paul tearfully affirms that in the Philippian church, there were many of such hypocrites who pretended to be spiritual but “mind earthly things”. They were bereft of the fruits of righteousness that qualify for admission into heaven. The Apostle was always heaven-conscious. “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body…”. True believers live and serve in expectation of the imminent return of the Lord to take His redeemed people to heaven. Now that we live on the fringe of time, soon to be translated from earth to heaven, everyone must forsake religion without righteousness, obtain salvation by faith, avoid imbibing and peddling erroneous teachings, maintain a holy, exemplary life and conviction, and remain fervent in spiritual service and pursuit of heavenly rewards.