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Philippians 3:121comment (0)

March 31, 2011

By Cecil Taylor

Related Scripture: Philippians 3:121

Explore the Bible
Dean, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile

Philippians 3:1–21

Against Legalists (1–11)

With “for the rest” (literally) and the repetition of “rejoice” throughout this letter, Paul turned to the remaining topics before him.

Legalists were Jewish Christians who said Gentiles had to become Jewish proselytes either before they could accept the Jewish messiah, Jesus, or perhaps before they could become fully mature as believers (cf Gal. 3–4). “Dogs,” “men who do evil” and “mutilators of the flesh” are the Judaizers, the legalists. Jews called Gentiles “dogs;” Paul turned the name on them as unclean people outside God’s new covenant in Christ. The Judaizers thought they worked righteousness; Paul said they worked evil. “Mutilators” involves wordplay: “Peritome” meant circumcision; “katatome,” the word used here, meant mutilation. Making circumcision essential to salvation and/or full Christian maturity mutilated it. The true sign a man belongs to God is not a mark in the flesh but worship in the Spirit (cf John 4:23–24), glory in Christ Jesus and no dependence on the flesh, i.e., no dependence on heritage.

In case his opponents thought he decried Jewish heritage because he had none, Paul listed those assets. Ancestry. “Circumcised the eighth day,” i.e., born into Judaism. “Of the tribe of Benjamin,” i.e., among Israel’s elite (Benjamin was the only tribe that remained faithful with Judah; 1 Kings 12:21). A “Hebrew of Hebrews,” i.e., of pure Jewish descent and faithful to Jewish customs and manner of life. Orthodoxy. “A Pharisee,” i.e., one who cut himself off from common life, tasks and people to devote himself to the details of the law. Activity. To a Jew, zeal was the greatest quality of the religious life. Zealously he persecuted by prosecution. Morality. By Pharisaic legal standards, he was “faultless.”

Whereas once he tallied these things as assets, because of Christ, he now counted them total loss — probably because they stood in the way of his coming to Jesus. In repeating this statement, he extended it several ways. “Whatever was to my profit” now became “everything,” “for the sake of Christ” became “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ” and “loss” became “rubbish, refuse, dung.” The rest of the paragraph simply expands “that I may gain Christ.” Paul wanted only the “righteousness” given by God through faith. “To be found” may refer to being overtaken by death or facing the final judgment. Either way, Paul wanted to turn out as actually in Christ. He wanted to “know” Christ personally. Also he wanted to know (by experience) both the “power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings.” In union with Christ, Paul “died” in a spiritual sense and rose to new spiritual life. As a consequence, he hoped to “attain,” arrive at, the “resurrection of the dead.” The peculiar word (“ekanastasis”) describes raising some (the saved) from among the total number of the dead.

Against Libertines (12–21)
Libertines applauded Paul’s teaching about grace but abused it by loose living. Paul made it clear he did not claim to have finally “arrived” in the Christian life. He had not become “perfect,” i.e., fully complete in Christ. He was still trying to “grasp” that for which Christ “grasped” him on the Damascus Road. He had eyes only for the goal. Past failures — yes, and even past successes — meant nothing. Specially honored athletes were not crowned below in the stadium. The king called them up to crown them on his dais. It was for this “upward” or “above” calling by God to receive the prize that Paul disciplined and drove himself.

All believers with any degree of maturity “take such a view of things,” i.e., recognize they have a long way to go. God expects each to live up to the level of Christian maturity he or she has attained. Some “mimicked” Paul; others proved rather “enemies of the cross.” Their destiny was destruction, i.e., moral ruin. Their deity was digestion, i.e., their appetites ruled. Their degradation was their dignity, i.e., boasting of things that disgraced them. They had a mind set earthward, not heavenward. In the closing two verses, Paul set forth the heavenmindedness of God’s true people.

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