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Philippians 3

January 15th, 2012 by Vic

Philippians 3
January 15, 2012
“Choose your mentors carefully”

After explaining why he was sending this letter with Epaphroditus and not Timothy, Paul returns to his theme of joy. He commands them to rejoice in the Lord. The Lord is their source of joy and the sphere in which it thrives. Joy is in Christ. Paul believes that if the Philippians will rejoice in the Lord, they will discover that this positive attitude will safeguard them from the murmurings, dissensions, and empty conceit he addressed earlier.

3:2-3 Look our for the dogs. Literal dogs were scavengers, not family pets. To call someone a dog would be similar to calling them a buzzard or coyote at the city dump. The Jews called the Gentiles ‘dogs’. Paul turns the tables and identifies dogs as those men who view themselves as noble observers of the Law, but are doing evil by their self-reliant failure to trust God.

Paul is playing with words. Mutilation (katatomein) (against to cut) and circumcision (peritomein) (around to cut) both mean to cut, but have different prefixes. These dogs mutilate the flesh. Many Jews regarded circumcision as a physical rite that identified them as a child of God. They had forgotten that what God really required was circumcision of the heart (Deut 10:16; 30:6). Jeremiah accused them of having uncircumcised ears. Paul says their circumcision is mutilation because it was not from the heart. Be careful what you see, desire, and hear with your heart.

Paul gives 3 reasons why we are the people of the true circumcision and these dogs are just mutilators of the flesh. First, we worship by the Spirit of God. Our heart desire is to please God. The Christians actions are not directed by external laws or rituals that can be performed and boasted about, but they are directed by the impulse of the Spirit of God dwelling within. The Spirit of God is the initiator at work in the heart. Secondly, we glory in Christ Jesus. We can’t boast in what God has given us or done through us, but only in Christ Jesus. We accept the gracious gift of righteousness offered in Christ Jesus. Thirdly, we have no confidence in the flesh. Flesh is not bad, but it is the target of sin’s attack. We have confidence, but our confidence is in the grace, mercy and love of God not in the flesh.

3:4-11 Using himself as an example, Paul explains what it means to consider yourself truly circumcised, true worshipers in the Spirit, and only boasting in Christ Jesus. Paul says he has personal advantages greater than any other authentic Jew who thinks he has grounds for boasting in himself. But for Paul nothing he received by way of heritage or anything he did by way of human achievement can be the means of life or the grounds of righteousness before God.

Regarding circumcision he was ‘an eighth-day-er’. He was circumcised precisely on the right day. Ishmael’s descendents were circumcised when they were 13 years old. Proselytes to Judaism were circumcised as adults. Paul was an eighth-day-er.

He was descended from the nation of Israel. After Jacob wrestled with the angel, he was called Israel because he would be the father of a promised nation. The nation was called Israel.

He belonged to the tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin’s mother was Rachael, Jacob’s favorite wife. Benjamin was the only son of the 12 sons of Jacob that was born in the Promised Land. Israel’s first king, Saul, was also from the tribe of Benjamin.

He was a Hebrew born of Hebrew parents and grandparents. He was brought up speaking the Hebrew language.

He chose to be trained as a Pharisee. The Pharisees were a small Jewish sect (less than 6,000) that not only bound themselves to observe the Law of Moses, but also the commandments contained in the oral Law. He was a disciple of the great Pharisee, Gamaliel.

He was a zealous persecutor of the church, not because he was evil, but because he was a good and zealous Pharisee. By trying to zealously preserve the purity of Israel he actually ended up persecuting the new Israel.

“With regard to a righteousness rooted in the law, I became a blameless person.” He had kept all the commandments from his youth up. He was a model Jew, satisfied with himself until he met the living Christ Jesus.

Suddenly all those good things Paul enjoyed, all those advantages he possessed from his parents and from his own efforts that made him proud and self-reliant are now considered not as assts but as liabilities. The perfect tense of the verb ‘consider’ suggests that Paul thoroughly thought about his decision. He considered the alternatives. Then he made a decision to radically change the values of his life. The decision he made was not to go from good to better or to add Jesus to his life. His decision meant a loss, a radical conversion.

In verse 8 he uses the same verb ‘consider’ in the present tense to confirm that he continues to count everything a loss. Daily he now makes moral choices against depending on himself to gain favor with God. He chooses the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ and being known by Christ. This is the only place in Paul’s writings that he calls Jesus “my” Lord. He is emphasizing an intimate personal relationship. The Greeks spoke of a knowledge of the mysteries that would transform the life of the knower. Paul was taking this thought to a higher level. Knowledge of Christ is more than the collection of facts from history. His relationship with Christ Jesus had changed his life. There was a heart connection.

Paul lost everything that he used to value highly and he is happy about it. He has lost his position, his income, his retirement, his home and apparently his family. He continues to count everything as loss. First, because he wants to gain Christ (8c). The word ‘gain is an accounting term. It is like a balance weight.
Paul sees a relationship with Christ as the value of all values. The gain of Christ surpassed any perceived balancing of accounts. Paul has both gained Christ and is yet to gain Christ. It is a dynamic relationship. To lose everything and to gain Christ is to possess all.

Secondly, Paul wants to be found in Christ (9) when he stands before God at the judgment. He does not want to stand before God alone. He knows he cannot win God’s approval. Paul is no longer self-reliant.

Third, Paul wants to know Christ in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings (10). To know Christ is the ultimate goal toward which Paul set the course of his life. Even to begin to know Christ far outweighs all other values. Knowing Christ results in a growing knowledge of Christ.

Knowing Christ is not collecting historical facts about Christ, but a dynamic relationship with the risen Lord and Creator of all things. In Christ there is newness of life. The fellowship of His sufferings is not a bad thing. For every Christian there is a dying to self and resurrection to new life. Paul coined a new word “to make oneself like” to describe the dying and resurrection that is not yet physical. We are linked together with Christ when we take up our cross daily and renounce selfish desires. Discipleship is costly. All things are being renewed day by day as we look forward to that great bodily resurrection from the dead.

3:12-16 Christ is too great to be fully known in a lifetime. Don’t be content with your past experiences. Your knowledge of Christ is not complete. “Keep pressing on” is a word used for hunting. Paul also uses it for an athlete in verse 14. Paul’s one desire is to know Christ. His lifetime quest is to pursue, hunt down, and know Christ as well as Christ knows him. That’s relationship!

He again calls us ‘brothers,’ family members. Here’s one thing that will help you improve your relationship with Jesus. Forget the past and work on your future. Forget those wrongs you have done. We’ve all done things and said things that we need to forget. Paul had even killed some Christians. We’ve all done things and said things that we are proud of. We need to forget those too.

It is important that you think about your future. Reach for something other than yourself. Keep working on your relationship with Jesus. You must be as a runner with his body bent forward, his eyes never looking back, and his hand reaching for the prize. Practice daily as a runner so you have a growing intensity of desire to achieve your goal.

In vs. 14 Paul says, “I keep on running.” But here he is running toward the ‘goal marker’ rather than the final goal. He can see the goal marker but not the tape stretched across the finish line. Paul alternates the tense of his verbs with the already and the not yet; between perfect tense and present tense.

The prize for Paul was to know Christ fully and completely. The call of God may be the call up to the judges stand to hear the announcement of the winner’s name and receiving the crown.

The word ‘mature’ (15) is the same Greek word that is translated ‘perfect’ in verse 12. Maybe some of Paul’s friends in Philippi misunderstood his teaching about justification by faith alone, and they believed that they had arrived as a Christian and maybe they were neglecting spiritual disciplines. Paul says you can be perfect and not perfect at the same time. The nature of a Christian does not lie in what he has become but in what he is becoming (Luther). A little child can be a perfect human being, but is still far from perfect in his development as a mature person.

It seems to be a paradox that the perfect Christian is one who is striving for perfection. Some of you will not agree with Paul so he says live up to what you already know. Do what you know you should be doing and God will direct your next step. Your lifestyle should be consistent with the level of truth you have already reached.

3:17-21 For the 3rd time in this chapter Paul calls them brothers. He invites them to be imitators of him as he is of Christ (1 Cor 11:1). It is important for the young to have good examples to follow. Take note of those who are fixing their eyes on Jesus and follow them.

There are ‘many’ leaders who teach the wrong doctrine and model wrong behavior (18). They refuse to believe that the Messiah had to die so that sinners can be forgiven. We believe Christ’s death was essential for our salvation. Without accepting God’s plan their destiny is destruction, their god is their appetites, and their glory is in temporal values that pass away. Their minds were set on earthly things and they lost their ability to see God’s will and ways.

The last 2 verses could be another early hymn as we had in 2:6-11. Christians have their minds fixed on heaven because that is where their colony is. The word translated citizenship could be translated commonwealth or state. It was used to designate a colony of foreigners or relocated veterans whose purpose was to secure the conquered country by introducing Rome’s way of doing things, its customs, its culture, and its laws. The point of creating colonies was to extend Roman influence, creating networks of people loyal to Caesar and also it was a way of avoiding the problems of overcrowding in Rome. The Emperor did not want retired solders, with time on their hands, hanging around Rome ready to cause trouble.

Philippi had been designated a Roman colony. Caesar Augustus had settled his veterans there after the battles of Philippi (42 B.C.). Not all residents of Philippi were Roman citizens, but all knew what citizenship meant. They dressed like Romans. They partied like Romans. They never expected to go back to Rome, but the Emperor would come to them if need be. He would come to subdue local enemies and make everything right. They had no plans of going to Rome when they died.

Paul is saying the local church is a colony of heaven. Its citizens enjoy full citizenship of the heavenly city. We have all the rights of full citizens, but also the responsibility for spreading the culture, customs, and laws of heaven. As colonists there was no intent to compromise with the old culture, but introduce and promote the new. We are to colonize earth with the life of heaven. We regularly pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Our Savior will come from the Heavenly city. We wait for a new heaven and new earth. We wait for a visit from the Emperor, the Lord Jesus Christ. When He comes He does not declare our old bodies as redundant scrap, but He will transform our bodies of humiliation into incorruptible glorious bodies by the power of His resurrection. He does not just improve the old model, but transforms it. In a great act of resurrection power He will change our present kind of body into one like His. The resurrection of the body is the last act in the drama of salvation including the new heaven and new earth.

We are living where we are because that is where God wants us to be salt and light in a corrupt and dark world. If we grow in our desire to know Him, the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings we will be vessels of honor in the Potter’s hands. Have you thought about what it takes to know Jesus better? The Bible says, to know Him is life. It pays to develop your relationship with Jesus. Nothing in this world can balance out the value of your relationship with Jesus Christ. Shouldn’t you spend some effort working on that relationship?

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