The Church at Philippi: During Paul’s second missionary journey (c. A.D. 49-52), Paul and his traveling companions (Timothy and Silas) were making their way across Asia Minor when Paul received a vision at Troas. Acts 16:6-12: “In the vision, a man of Macedonia pleaded, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ Perceiving that the Lord was calling them to go to Macedonia, they sailed from Troas (Luke having joined them) and eventually arrived at Philippi.”

An interesting note about the church of Philippi was a lack of a “synagogue” indicating that this church was primarily Gentile. It seems that they were the only church that supported Paul (cf. 4:15); and we find no heresy that Paul addresses (although, humility was an issue (esp. 2:1-13). It is important to note from the outset, Paul’s imprisonment was due to his persistent apologetics, that is, defending and affirming the gospel (cf. 1:7, 16).

An appropriate key text is Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice.” For in this letter, Paul uses the term “joy” fourteen times (NA28), five times as a noun (chara) and nine times as a verb (chairw), while the cognate term charis (“grace”) is used three times. For this reason, the epistle to the Philippians has often been called Paul’s “Hymn of Joy.”

 

Philippians 3:1-14

 

Verses 1-2 “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision.”  

“Dogs” is a figurative reference to false teachers whom Paul regards just as filthy as dogs.

 

Verses 3-5 “for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. 4 Although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee.”

 

Here Paul parades his illustrious accreditations. As a Pharisee, he was a member of one of the most significant religious as well as political parties of Judaism in the time of Jesus. According to Josephus (cf. Ant. 17. 2.4; 17.42) there were more Pharisees than Sadducees (it is estimated that there were more than 6,000 Pharisees at this time).  Some doctrines and behavior patterns differed between the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees were stringent and zealous devotees to the OT laws and to the vast amount of extra traditions (e.g., Sadducees, unlike the Pharisees, denied the existence of angels/spirits and the notion of a bodily resurrection).

 

Verse 6 “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” Pre-conversion, Paul was a popular persecutor of the church (cf. Acts 7:58-8:3). However, note the next passage.  

Verse 7 “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”

 

  • When Paul became a Christian, he gave up his brilliant prospects in regards to this life, and everything he planned for in his early life.  

 

  • He was no doubt excommunicated by the Jews at his conversion and gave up his dearest friends and those whom he loved.

 

  • He might have risen to the highest point of life and honor in his native land, which any ambitious young man desires.

 

Such a great loss by the world’s standards, but Paul sacrificed all things in order that he might gain Christ Jesus, his Lord and Savior.

 

Verse 8 “more than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish [dung] so that I may gain Christ,”

 

“Surpassing value.” From huperechw (from huper, “above” and echw, have, possess), thus literally, “to above possess, hold above, have beyond.” Paul’s loss of all things did not compare to the “surpassing value” of knowing Christ (cf. Mark 8:36; Col. 3:2-3).

“Dung” (skubala) was often used in Greek as an uncouth term for fecal matter; thus, it would most likely present a certain jolt to Paul’s readers. This may be the intended meaning here since contextually Paul is speaking of what the flesh produces.

 

Verse 9 “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from [ek] the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness, which comes from [ek] God on the basis [epi] of faith,

First, Paul speaks here (and v. 6) of His pre-conversion self-righteous haughtiness, that is, his own “so-called” righteousness ek nomou (“from [the] Law”) contrary to the righteousness now as a Christian epi tē pistei (“upon the basis of faith”).

Note the Greek particle of negation, (“not”): “Not having righteousness of my own derived from [lit., “out of”] the Law.” Consider also, how the same preposition (ek, “out from”) expresses the two radically contrasting ideas regarding righteousness ek nomou, “from Law” vs. ek theou, “from God.”

Further, it is best (semantically) to see both genitives in the prepositional phrases (ek nomou, “from Law”], ek theou [“from God”]) as genitives of sourcehence, the very source of Paul’s own righteousness was from the Law in contradistinction to the true righteousness, which is imputed from God alone. In Paul’s mind, his former self-righteousness is generated and is derived from (as the source) one’s self,—which is false. This idea is perpetuated by Roman Catholics and other non-Christian religions. However, as a Christian, Paul understands that “the righteousness, which is from God, is on the basis (instrumentally) of faith”—Sola Fide!     

 

Verse 10 “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

“To Know” is from the verb, ginōskw meaning, “to experientially know.” It can carry the idea of intimacy in distinction to mere cognition (cf. Matt. 7:22-23; John 17:3; Rom. 8:29; 2 Tim. 2:19). The term is related to the Hebrew verb yada (“to know, perceive”) and often translated as ginwskw by the LXX[1] (e.g., Gen. 4:1, 17, 25; Jer. 1:5; Amos 3:2).

 

Verses 11-13 “in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect [teleiow, or “complete”], but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.”

 

The apostle understood the call in his life as an apostle, evangelist, and apologist living and soon dying for sake of Christ— “forgetting . . .  and reaching forward.” As he wrote a few years before:  “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).

  

Verse 14 “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Even from house arrest, Paul writes in 4:4-7:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Paul’s Christian life is well defined by his affirmation of hope in the first chapter: “For me, to live is Christ to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

The Apostle Paul lived out the rest of his life as a slave of Christ. He counted everything he had previously, his goals, high Jewish status, reputation, friends, family, and his so-called righteousness from his bondage to the Law as dung, worthless compared to his now relationship with Christ. In 2 Timothy 4:6-8, we read of his last words on earth, you might say, his last will and testimony:    

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

 

In verse 7, we have three perfect indicatives: ēgwnismai, “I have fought,” teteleka, “I have finished,” and tetērēka, “I have kept.” Linguistically, the perfect tense denotes a past completed action with continuous results. So, the literal rendering would be: “The good fight, I have fought, the course, I have finished, and the faith, I have kept”summarizing Paul’s life from his conversion to his martyrdom in a Roman prison (c. A.D. 66).   

As Christians, we are “slaves to righteousness” (Rom. 6:18), “enslaved to God” (Rom. 6:22). Therefore, as Paul instructs us in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.”          

 

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[1] LXX is the abbreviation for the Septuagint (“seventy,” i.e., the traditional number of scholars that translated the OT Hebrew into Greek around 300-200 B.C.). Most citations of the OT contained in the NT were from the LXX.   

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