Daily Devotion Text

December 26, 2022

Philippians 3 Commentary

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3:2 Dogs was not only a general term of derision in the ancient world, it was particularly a word used by some Jews in reference to Gentiles, who were considered ritually unclean. With biting irony, Paul says that the Judaizers, not the Gentiles, deserve that label. Paul’s irony continues as he labels those who extol good works of the law as evildoers and those who mutilate the flesh. This last phrase (Gk. tēn katatomēn) is a play on words with circumcision (Gk. peritomē). The Judaizers’ supposed badge of pride turns out to be the sign of their destruction. On Jewish views of circumcision, see note on Acts 15:1.

3:3 In contrast to those promoting physical circumcision (v. 2), the true people of God (the circumcision) are those who worship by the Spirit of God (cf. John 4:23–24). They glory in Christ Jesus (cf. Phil. 1:26) and put no confidence in the flesh (that is, as Calvin put it, in “everything that is outside of Christ”). This verse mentions all three members of the Trinity: “God” (the Father), “Christ Jesus” (the Son), and “the Spirit of God” (the Holy Spirit).[1]

3:4–6 Paul’s opposition to the Judaizers was not because he himself in any way lacked a Jewish “pedigree.” When it came to the things of the flesh—the whole system of life that held sway before the coming of Christ and the giving of the Spirit—Paul had perfect credentials. He was circumcised on the eighth day in accord with OT law (Lev. 12:3). He was an ethnic Israelite and knew the tribe from which he came. Hebrew of Hebrews probably indicates his descent from Jewish ancestors, and many think it also means that he spoke Aramaic (the national language of Israel in his day), even though he came from Greek-speaking Tarsus. He was from the strictest religious sect—the Pharisees (Acts 26:5). His zeal was such that he had even been a persecutor of the church. He probably had thought of himself as following in the footsteps of Phinehas (Num. 25:11) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:10, 14) in his zeal. If anyone could be said to be blameless in following the law, it was Paul. But before God it was no righteousness at all, for though Paul thought he was pleasing God, in persecuting the church he had shown himself to be the “foremost” of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15).[2]

3:7–8 gain … loss. Paul’s accounting, however, has now changed completely: what formerly went into the gain column—his power, prestige, and “obedience”—now goes into the loss column. Likewise, the crucified Messiah, whom he had assumed must be a “loss,” is now seen as the ultimate “gain.” The language of loss and gain probably alludes to Jesus’ teaching (see Matt. 16:25–26).[3]

3:10–11 The goal of trusting in Christ is to know him, that is, to know Christ in a personal relationship, and also to know the power of his resurrection—namely, the power Christ exerts now from the right hand of God. But this power is made known as the believer shares the same kind of sufferings Jesus faced—the sufferings that attend faithful witness in a fallen world. The good news is that those who suffer with and for Christ will attain the resurrection from the dead, even as he did. [4]

3:12 Paul stresses that he is not already perfect—he is still involved in the struggles of life in a fallen world and hence he still sins; the full glory of the resurrection remains in the future. I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. There is a balance of faith and works, of God’s call and the believer’s response.

3:14 Goal (Gk. skopos) could also refer to the finish line in a race or an archery target. Paul’s life is purposeful, for he constantly aims toward a heavenly goal. The prize is the fullness of blessings and rewards in the age to come, most especially being in perfect fellowship with Christ forever.

3:17 While Paul is not yet perfected, he is confident enough in his Christian walk to ask the Philippians to join in imitating me and other mature Christians. Much Christian growth comes through imitation of other Christians (4:9; 1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Thess. 3:8–9; 1 Tim. 4:12, 15–16; 2 Tim. 3:10–11; Heb. 13:7; 1 Pet. 5:3).[5]

[1] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2285). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2285). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2285). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2285). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2286). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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