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Rev. VanBaren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.

Read and study Philippians 3:1-11

“Finally” says the apostle. It marks not the conclusion of his teachings but rather the introduction of another element or thought in the epistle. He commands them to rejoice in the Lord. This spiritual characteristic must be evident in one delivered from sin and death. Such a one can rejoice because of the glorious work of Christ for him on the cross. To these joyous ones, he has something serious to discuss, something presented to them before, that requires emphasis. But Paul would have it understood that he presents this matter, of course, in deep love for the church. He addresses them as “my brethren,” another indication of the great personal attachment Paul had with the church at Philippi.

In rejoicing in the Lord, one rejects the false doctrine of the Judaizers. Paul had warned against these heretics before. Now he will do that again. Repetition is not a tedious thing for Paul when he knows the need of that—for this will prepare the church to resist the false doctrine.

Paul uses strong language in speaking of those who were teaching the need of circumcision also for the church of the New Testament. He warns of “dogs”—not the loving, affectionate house pet, but the voracious, mean dog of the street (so common in Paul’s day). Usually it was the Gentile who was called a “dog” by the Jews—but here Paul labels Judaizers in the same way. These seek not the welfare of the church, but would tear and destroy. They are “evil workers,” workers indeed who put forth great effort. But these seek to work not the benefit of the church, but its destruction. They are of the “concision.” Note the play upon the word “circumcision.” The “concision” is the tearing of the flesh without any spiritual profit. The Judaizers would insist on the cutting of the flesh but not a cutting of the heart, mind, and ear. These are wretched, miserable leaders who deceive and harm.

Paul insists in verse 3 that he and the faithful church are “of the circumcision.” Though many of them, including Paul, may have been circumcised, these considered themselves to be “of the circumcision” in a spiritual sense (readRomans 4). Spiritually, these properly worship God first of all, and do this in the way of rejoicing in Jesus Christ. All such have “no confidence in the flesh.” Their salvation rests wholly in the blood of Calvary—not in any way in the works of the flesh.

In verses 4-6 Paul presents his own “credentials.” Are there any who would boast in themselves? Well, Paul could outdo them all. If salvation were of the flesh, Paul would have been able to attain salvation sooner than any other. He points to his own circumcision the eighth day. That would be according to the requirements of the Mosaic law. Some who were converted from the Gentiles unto Judaism would not be able to make that claim. Paul was of the stock of Israel—not only a son of Abraham, nor only of Isaac, but of Israel. He was of the tribe of Benjamin—a matter which elicits pride on the part of some who were such. He was a Hebrew to top all Hebrews. And he came from the sect of the Pharisees. In fact, he was an outstanding practitioner of their precepts. He had been known as one who kept the law perfectly. He was zealous above others his age and of his sect. Outwardly, and according to the judgment of men, Paul had “attained.” He was judged “blameless.”

There was probably no other who could match the credentials of the apostle. He had showed his zeal by his presence at the stoning of Stephen. He had been on his way to Damascus in order to find Christians there who could be persecuted. But then he was turned to the light of the gospel through the special revelation of Christ to him.

Now Paul has a completely different perspective on those things which had happened to him. There was a time when he prided himself in his own attainments. Now he understood that what had seemed so important was in fact nothing—and less than nothing. All of his accomplishments are “loss” and “dung.” These works and honors of men are as garbage or refuse. Paul recognizes these as utterly useless. All these accomplishments put together can not serve to pay for even one sin. Three times Paul insists that he counts the material things to be “loss.” Not only did all this not gain anything for the apostle, but they detracted from that which he thought he had attained. When one places his trust in himself and in his own works; he deceives himself. These very works of men only add to one’s condemnation before God.

Paul sees rather the glory of the “knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” He has the knowledge of true deliverance through the cross. Paul had emphasized in all the churches that he determined to know nothing among them save Jesus Christ and Him crucified (I Cor. 2:2). That knowledge involved the fact that he himself was the “chief of sinners.” He knew that nothing less than the blood of the Son of God in our flesh could deliver him. His knowledge of Jesus was also a very personal thing: “My Lord,” he says. All things he willingly relinquishes that he may win (gain) Christ. He himself did not first receive the Christ, but Christ came to Paul. Christ called and appointed him to serve as apostle to the Gentiles. Paul gained Christ through the direct intervention of Christ Himself.

Now Paul understands that it was not his own “righteousness” (vs. 9) but the righteousness of God in Christ by faith that counts. Paul believes the promise of God in Christ. He knows that Christ has cleansed him of all sin and has adopted him as His own.

Verse 10 presents a beautiful statement of that faith. Paul knows Christ personally. He sees the success of Christ’s work. There is the power of Christ’s resurrection. In resurrection, Christ shows that He fully satisfied the justice of God on behalf of His people. He could not arise unless full payment had been made for sin. Christ’s resurrection has the “power” to raise all of His people also from the grave and deliver them from the wrath of God.

There is also that “fellowship of his sufferings.” The Christian can not suffer in order to atone for sins as Christ did. But he suffers, as Christ did, for righteousness’ sake. Those who hated Christ, also hate all those who belong to Christ. Many including Paul himself according to tradition, were also put to death by the hands of wicked men. All such suffer with Christ and because of union to Christ.

Likewise, these are “conformed unto his death.” In Romans 6:4ff. we are reminded that we become dead to sin through Christ’s crucifixion. There is death to our sinfulness and evil deeds. His death results in the godly walk of His people.

The glorious result is that we attain to the resurrection of the dead. “If by any means…” does not express doubt about this outcome, but indicates that in every way we shall surely enjoy the benefits of Christ’s resurrection: new life now, and the literal resurrection of our bodies in that day of Christ’s return.

What is earthly attainment through man’s striving compared to the blessed fruits obtained by Christ’s perfect work on the cross? Truly, in the cross of Christ I must glory.

Questions:

1. Does “finally” mean that Paul intended to stop writing at this point—only to change his mind and write some 43 more verses?

2. Paul speaks of “rejoicing” (vs. 2). Where else does Scripture speak of rejoicing or joy?

3. What is the reason or basis for true joy?

4. Why is repetition of a good point advantageous?

5. What is the significance of “dogs” (vs. 2)?

6. In what other passages does Paul speak of circumcision and its value or lack thereof?

7. Can you find references to “spiritual” circumcision of the heart, etc. in Scripture?

8. In what ways might we today show “confidence in the flesh”?

9. Why might Paul take pride in being of the tribe of Benjamin?

10. Find the accounts (3), in the book of Acts, of Paul’s conversion.

11. What was the teaching of the Pharisees?

12. What is “righteousness”? How is it obtained?

13. Find Scriptural passages which speak of the righteousness which the Christian must seek.

14. In what ways do we today have the “fellowship of his sufferings”?

15. When do we attain to the resurrection of the dead?

16. What is the great chapter which speaks of the resurrection body?