DIGGING IN THE WORD: PHILIPPIANS 3
1: It is not surprise that Paul returns to the theme of rejoicing. No matter what has happened, is happening, or will happen, the Christians are to rejoice.
2-3: The dogs, evil workers, and mutilation have many references in scripture, and Paul may be including any or all of them here. For sure, he is collecting their identities to clarify who the Christians are in contrast to them: The Christians are the true followers of the covenant of old (the covenant of circumcision with Abraham and the people of God), which has been superseded by the new covenant ratified in the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ. The Jews are very careful to follow the Law to obtain righteousness. Paul is reminding the Christians that observance of the Law does not make one righteous; placing one’s claim to righteousness in the work of Jesus Christ is what must be done. “I cannot save me; God has saved me, in Christ Jesus.” This is the foundation of Christianity.
To return to the dogs and the evil workers, Psalm 22 includes them in a particular way. Psalm 22 is at the height of pre-Christian prophecy of what was to occur in the life of Jesus. A surface read proves that. Verse 17 of that prophecy puts the dogs and evildoers together, and continues into verse 21: “Dogs surround me; a pack of evildoers closes in on me. They have pierced my hands and my feet… deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the grip of the dog.” We can remember the words of our Divine Lord Himself, when He alludes to the people not of Israel: “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:27). In the New Covenant, there are potential problems coming from any number of false ideas. The Christians may be provoked to return to old covenant practices which negate the work of Jesus Christ; they may be influenced by Gentiles who refute the Cross of Jesus Christ; they may be tricked by false practices within Christianity, oftentimes by the spiritual elitists of the gnostic sorts. The dangers come from any direction, but the remedy is clear: hold fast to the knowledge of the revelation from God of Jesus Christ as the author of the New Covenant, ratified in His Precious Blood.
4: Paul is now going to highlight all the things he has done so well from his former life in Judaism, so as to highlight his point that none of that matters when it comes to attaining right standing with God. The Law is not the measure; The Cross of Jesus Christ is the measure. Paul does this from time to time in his letters. Since the first converts to Christianity were Jews, there needed to be a teaching on how to transition from Judaism to this new way. From time to time Paul employs a testimony to make sure that those converts who wanted to boast of their following of the Law know that their boasting has no place now.
5-6: Paul lists his Jewish pedigree. He was circumcised on the right day, he is not a convert to the race, he knows his tribe, both parents Hebrews themselves, and he was rigorous with the Pharisees. All of this would indicate the purity of his upbringing, and he adds his own claim of following the law carefully.
7: Paul’s pedigree has been set aside, because he is not trying to gain righteousness by who he is or what he has done. Rather, Jesus Christ is his focus now, not himself. Our Lord Himself spoke of this kind of change in his parables: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). Paul knew that to inherit this new treasure, he had to let go of what he had known or possessed up to then.
8: A most precious passage of the New Testament writings: “I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Commit Philippians 4:8 to memory and let it take root in your mind, heart, and soul.
8-11: Paul continues to inform the Jewish converts that the law no longer should be the measure for religious conduct. Rather, he focuses on these things: faith in Jesus Christ; knowing the power of His resurrection; sharing in His sufferings. The focus is completely on Jesus as the source and power for attaining eternal life. The law used to be the measure; it is no longer the measure: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, through testified to by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation…” (Romans 3:21-25).
10: Christians participate in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, for sure by their own death they will awaken to eternal life. But even in this life, the Christian mystically participates in the death and resurrection of Jesus. “Or are you unaware that we who are baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). On the theme of suffering with Christ, Paul sets it up as a preparation to share in the glorification of Christ: “we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17). Paul goes so far in this identification with Christ that he says: “From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body” (Galatians 6:17).
12-13a: Paul is aware of his present relationship with Christ Jesus, but knows that he cannot presume that ‘yesterday’ is good enough. Each day the Christian must strive to move forward. You have heard the saying: “If you are not going forward, you are going backward.” Something like this is at work here. There is more, and the Christian must continue, must abide, must keep on. We have not yet been perfected, so today is our opportunity to become more like Our Lord. The idea of pressing forward (or else failing) is seen in many of Paul’s letters, oftentimes with the language of competition or athletic activity. Paul writes to Timothy: “Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses,” and to accumulate “as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life.” (1 Timothy 6:12, 19). Paul writes of himself: “I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified,” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27). Nearing the end of life, Paul concludes: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
13b-14: It is the Christian way to release yesterday and things gone by and enter into the mercies which are new every morning. The goal is complete configuration to Jesus and possession of Heaven, gained by daily fidelity. The athletic theme in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 serves well here: “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises disciple in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.”
15-16: Paul is highlighting the fact that nobody is as of yet perfect, but that we all must continue forward. If someone thinks that they are perfect, God will help them see the error of there thoughts. They are on the right path; therefore, press on.
17: Paul was aware that his life was to become a model of this new way of life found in Christ Jesus, one which was zealous, singlehearted, pure (with regards to faith) and clearly distinguished from false teachers. Paul says to be an imitator of him numerous times (1 Corinthians 4:16, 1 Corinthians 11:1), imitators of the leaders in other cases: “you became imitators of us and of the Lord… so that you became a model for all the believers” (1 Thessalonians 1:6,7). Saint Peter asks the leaders the same: “Be examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3).
18-19: There are countless ways to be an enemy of the Cross of Christ. This case seems to be those who would consider themselves Christians, but are living a very worldly and indulgent life, even sinful. Paul warns of these ‘fleshy’ people in Romans 8:5-6: “For those who live according to the flesh are concerned with the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit with the things for the spirit. The concern of the flesh is death, but the concern of the spirit is life and peace.” These same people can become troublemakers, establishing factions which Paul warns of: “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles, in opposition to the teaching that your learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the innocent” (Romans 16:17-18). Others who are enemies of the Cross of Christ are Gentiles and Jews: “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).
20-21: Earth is a valley of tears, a place of pilgrimage, a practice or dress rehearsal, an exile, a stepping stone. Heaven is the goal. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7). Paul continues in Ephesians 2:19: “So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God.” So we are to lift our thoughts, hearts, and desires to our true homeland: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4). We will be transformed into our heavenly body, free of every defect imaginable, and filled with every perfection pleasing to God. “We groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies”; “Those he justified he also glorified”; “it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one”; “All of us, gazing with unveiled faces on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (Romans 8:23, 30; 1 Corinthians 15:44; 2 Corinthians 3:18). Two places are not included here because they are lengthy, but worthy: 1 Corinthians 15:42-57 and 2 Corinthians 5:1-5.
*[NOTE: This Bible exposition has not been edited, so there are misspellings, grammatical errors, and possibly verse citation errors. Maybe one day someone will professionalize it. I simply wanted to get the content to you. God bless!]