Notes on Philippians 3:1-11

Philippians 3:1‑11  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 10
THE apostle had touched on various sources of joy to himself and the saints he was addressing. It was with joy he made supplication for them all. (Chap. 1:4) It was with joy, and ever new joy, that he beheld his very bonds giving a fresh impulse to the preaching of Christ. (Chap. 1:18) So too he is assured of his continuance with them all for their progress and joy of faith, that their boasting might abound in Christ through him. (Chap. 1:25) Next, he called on them to fulfill his joy (chap. ii. 2), not merely by the proof of their love to him, but by cultivating unity of mind and mutual love according to Christ, who, though the highest, made Himself the lowest in grace, and is now exalted to the pinnacle of glory. “Yea, and if I be offered (or, poured forth) on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all. For the same cause also do ye joy and rejoice with me.” (Chap. 2:17, 18) So, again, the apostle sends away his companion and solace, Epaphroditus, when recovered, to the Philippians, who were uneasy at the tidings of his dangerous sickness, “that when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be less sorrowful.” (Chap. 2:28)
But there is a joy independent of all passing circumstances, and deeper than all others because it is nearer to, yea, it is the one spring of all joy: it is to this the apostle now calls them. “Finally [or, for the rest], my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” It is of the deepest moment that we, that all saints, should heed the call. It is due to Him, in whom we are exhorted to rejoice, that we should bear a true testimony in this respect. I say not a testimony worthy of Him, for none is, save that which God the Father has borne and bears, and that which the Holy Ghost renders in word and deed. Still, great as our shortcoming is, the Holy Ghost is in us to give us a divine appreciation of the Lord. May we not then dishonor Him by gloomy thoughts, by unbelieving feelings, by ways that betoken fear, doubt, dissatisfaction, yearning after creature pleasure in one form or another; but may we be enabled by faith, heartily, simply, alone or with others, in public and in private, to “rejoice in the Lord.”
It was thus with Paul and Silas when the foundation of the assembly at Philippi was laid at midnight in the prison, and the jailor and his house were gathered among the first-fruits. (Acts 16:25-3425And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. 26And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed. 27And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. 28But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. 29Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, 30And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? 31And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. 32And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. 33And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. 34And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house. (Acts 16:25‑34).) Long labors had intervened, many years of reproach and suffering. The heart of the apostle fresh as ever, though a prisoner at Rome, calls on the saints to “rejoice in the Lord.” So he had taught when with them; so he had already urged in this letter, though now he presses it with greater distinctness as to its ground and spring. “To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.” It was no trouble to him, for beloved them too well to mind it.
It was safe for them, for Satan threatened otherwise. Joy in the Lord is the truest safeguard against the religious snares of the enemy. Where the truth is known, the grand thing is to have the affections kept on the right object, and withal in happy liberty. This is secured by rejoicing in the Lord, which supposes the heart at rest in His grace, and Himself known and beloved, the most attractive and precious object before us. Put Him at a distance, wrap Him in clouds and darkness, think of Him mainly as the inflexible Judge about to be revealed in flaming fire taking vengeance, mix all this up with your own associations and relationships to Him, and with your experience; and is it any wonder that, under such conditions, peace is unknown, and eternal life a question unsolved and insoluble till the day of death or judgment? In such a state “rejoice in the Lord” has no tangible place, no practical application, not even a distinct meaning; and the soul is exposed, but for divine mercy which by other means may hinder all, to sink lower and lower into the dregs and deceits of Judaisers.
Hence, says the apostle, “beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.” (Ver. 2) There is not only a warning to take heed, but accumulated and bitter scorn of these high-minded men. For, rejecting grace and not submitting to the righteousness of God, they were restlessly prowling about, themselves unclean, whatever their pretensions; their work mischievous, their boasted privileges not only null but despicable in the extreme. There were “the dogs” now, not Gentiles even, still less Christians, as such, but the Judaisers. Evil workmen were they, and not the circumcision, which they affected literally or in principle—they were but “the concision.” “For we,” the apostle says with emphasis, “are the circumcision (whatever we might have been in the flesh, Jews or Gentiles—it mattered not), who worship God in the Spirit, [or, according to the best MSS., who worship by God's Spirit], and boast in Christ Jesus, and trust not in flesh.” (Ver. 3)
It is a mistake to imagine that these adversaries of God's work advocated a return to mere Judaism. Such there were elsewhere, as in Hebrews, but they are treated as apostates. The class here in view consists rather of persons who professed Christianity, but sought to blend the law along with it, a system of evil which, far from being rare, is the commonest thing now-a-days. Do you not hear of a fresh recourse to the cross, and fresh sprinkling of the blood to restore the soul? Are there not souls who take the place of God's children and Church, and yet confess themselves miserable sinners, crying for mercy; sheep of His pasture, yet tied and bound with the chain of their sins? Does not this return to Jewish experience, under tutors and governors, ignore Christianity and annul redemption and the Spirit of adoption? Are there not notions still of holy places and holy castes, holy feast-days and fast-days, and administration of sacraments among those baptized into Christ's death? The word of God is read, Christ is more or less preached, but these unquestionable Jewish elements are mingled with what is Christian. Hence human forms of prayer, ordinances, &c., take the place of God's Spirit as the power of worship; law-fulfilling (though by Christ) is openly boasted as the door into heaven, and our only title of righteousness; and thus to be risen with Christ, to be not in flesh but in Spirit, is supposed to be a fanatical dream, instead of the only condition which the Holy Ghost now recognizes as properly Christian.
Next, in verses 4-6, the apostle briefly exposes the entire baselessness of their claims in comparison of his own, if flesh availed in divine things. “Though I [again speaking emphatically] have trust in flesh also; if another think to trust in flesh, I more: in circumcision of eight days, of the race of Israel, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, persecuting the Church; as to righteousness that is in the law, blameless.” Thus, on grounds of the best earthly stock, due honor to ancient and divine ordinances, a high rank acquired in the school of tradition, an utter repudiation and hatred of new light in religion, and a life blameless according to the law, who could stand as firmly as Paul? “But,” adds he, “what things were gain to me, these I counted loss on account of Christ. But so then I also count all things to be loss on account of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, on account of whom I suffered the loss of all, and count them to be dung [refuse], that I may win Christ and be found in him, not having my righteousness, which [is] of law, but that which is by faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God on my faith; to know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, if by any means I may arrive at the resurrection which is from out of the dead.” (Ver. 7-11.)
What was it, then, which had wrought so deep, so permanent, and, as we know from Acts 9, so sudden a change? What poured contempt on every natural, on every religious advantage from the birth up to the day when, with credentials from the high priest, he neared Damascus? It was the heavenly vision which arrested him on the way; it was Christ seen in glory, yet one with those whom his infatuated zeal was persecuting to prison and death. “I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest.” Sure that He whose light shone on him brighter than the noonday sun was no other than the Lord God of Israel, the astonished Saul of Tarsus learns from His own mouth that He was the Crucified, whose disciples he would have up to this conscientiously exterminated. No wonder, then, that the converted, delivered Israelite, obedient to the heavenly vision, judges all things by this new and divine light. A new creature in Christ, for him old things had passed away, all things were become new; all things were of that God who reconciled to Himself by Jesus Christ. Hence the things that were to him gains, he counted loss on account of Christ; yea, all things to be loss on account of the excellency of the knowledge, as he says with such affection, “of Christ Jesus any Lord,” on whose account he not only suffered the loss of all at first, but now to the last continued to count them refuse that he might gain Christ (or, have Him for gain). What was his boasted righteousness now? His one thought was to be found in Christ, not having any such righteousness of his own, which must be legal, but that which is by faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God grounded on faith; to know Christ and the power of His resurrection (not even Christ on this side the grave), and the fellowship of His sufferings. His eye was on Christ above, and if he added aught of Christ here, it was not in His deeds of power, nor His recognition of the ancient sheepfold, but in the moral glory of His sufferings. It was in that which proved the total alienation of man from God in his good things, not in his bad; in his religion, and not merely in his lusts and passions. His own experience was the witness of it. His confidence in the tradition of the elders, in Israel, in the law even, was ruin and rebellion to God as He now reveals Himself in Him who died, and rose, and ascended. Nothing, consequently, has the trust of his soul or value in his eyes, but Christ; and even if he could have anything else that looked good, he would know none but Christ, and have nothing but Christ the sufferer, risen and in heaven, as his portion. Hence conformity to His death was now a jewel to be won, rather than an evil to be shunned. Let the path be ever so dangerous, come what might, all would be welcome, “if by any means I may arrive at the resurrection from out of the dead.” This last is not an expression of fear of failure, but of a heart which so prized the blessing of being thus with Christ as to mind no suffering that might intervene.