Commentary on Philippians Chapter Three

by | Mar 9, 2024

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not troublesome, but for you it is safe.

In typical Pauline fashion, the words ‘finally’ come some way off from the end! Paul it seems wanted to console the Church of Phillipe; and wished to recapitulate the lessons so far taught. Taught it seems in other letters – we do not have in our Bible today; thus showing that the scripture is not foundational to the Church; for the Church can suffice without every word written by Paul! It is possible – that Paul had finished the letter at ‘finally my brethren rejoice in the Lord’ but then felt cause to pick up the pen again in a long post scriptum. He does not return to theme of Chapter two until chapter 4 verse 4. Our teacher Grotius believed some new concern or information had arisen to compel Paul to write further, and St Chrysostom, believed it was to assure them, it was not over; Paul, Timothy, Epiphroditus; were all with them; or going to be with them in the near future.

Note the unassailable joy for us brethren; our cause for Joy is in Christ, not our circumstances; our reason to rejoice is the constancy of Christ Himself; neither victory nor shame is to move us to or from such joy; but the relishing satisfaction that Christ is ours, and we are His.

The need to underscore the lesson, as he does in this chapter, shows for us, the great struggle that was having, with the first heresy of the Church; the Judaizers; who were calling gentiles to embrace the fullness of Judaism; and become Jews, as the path of salvation.

Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilators.

Three scores, does he make the same point, to hammer home, who is enemy of the Church. Nota bene; Paul is rough with his language, he insults his opponents, he mocks them; he calls them out for what they are: ‘evil’ workers. We must consider Paul’s own use of language here when we interpret his own writings about language in (Eph 4: 29; Col 3:8; Math 15: 10 – 11; Eph 5: 4). Firstly, he is speaking of the flavour of our conversation; not the written word, designed for ‘correction, and teaching in righteousness’. Furthermore, the teaching about our use of language is not meant to be the kind of person in which ‘butter would not melt in the mouth’ but the kind of person, who used considered speech – according to the context and purpose – that we might bridle the tongue and master its use! Did not Christ himself not call people ‘serpents, brood of vipers’, see also Mt 15.26; sometimes harsh language can be used to underscore the gravitas of the situation; can serve to sound the alarm; and thus in some cases can be an appropriate means of communication; but not as a matter of course! Middle class sensibilities are often offended by course language and curse words, but appropriately applied, they can serve like as an appropriate means of communication. The language is not sinful in and of itself, the words that make up curses, are themselves used in other contexts, without the implication. Therefore, it is not the words, but the reason for our use of the words, that is the matter at hand; are we using them to alarm, and to warn, to cut a path to someone soul; or are we using them, to shock, to intimidate, or out of idleness!

Our teacher Ambrosiaster says this: “He uses this name for those who, in envy of the Gentiles, have overthrown them by their evil conversation and persuaded them to be circumcised. These he says should be absolutely avoided and rejected. They are like dogs that first bark and then mutilate the flesh with savage bites.”

Therefore it is an error; to try and make our fellowships a place for everyone – they are not – our fellowships are a place for those committed to learning about the New Covenant, and those who are partakers of it! Those that seek to change the fellowships into communions of something else, should be cast out; like; their doctrine subject to ridicule and rebuke! Paul mocks the practice of gentile ‘circumcision’; by calling it by a corrupted noun ‘concision’ colloquially we might say ‘gash’; thus aligning it to the pagan practice of cutting ones self: (see 1 Kings 18. 28; Lv 19: 28 & 21: 5; Dt 14:1; Is 15: 2; Hos 7:14 Galatians 5: 12;) he will not give it the honourable title of ‘circumcision’ (peritome)but calls it something else. The Church should not refrain from rebuking corrupting influences within the Church from the pulpit and from whatever platforms we can! Many exist today: the dogs; of the trans ideology, the LGBTQ militant, the Progressive, the Pro choice advocate, the universalist, seek to change the nature of our communions into something they are not – civic societies, committed to the ideology of Humanism!

For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.

Here Paul underpins why; the work is completed, that which circumcision signified is already accomplished, we are the reality it foreshadows as Christians! We in fulfilment of Chris’s own teachings – ‘worship in spirit and truth” for we are in Christ; part of His mystical body; and as such; are through Him and by the Holy Spirit present to the Father in the heavenly throne room; where we render spiritual service. It is not what we do to the body or with the body, that has accomplished this, but Christ Himself; through His salvific work! Thus we exult Christ; who has made this possible to us!

The ‘flesh’ here is referring to the mosaic law in its entirety, with its external ritualistic emphasis around purity; and demarcation of the people of GOD; in these outward markings like circumcision, and acts such as food laws; of themselves we Christian place no confidence! Only upon the inner workings of the soul; the heart; the mind!

Our teacher Ambrosiaster said this: “It is evident that those who are faithful are circumcised in their own hearts. By cutting away the cloud of error, they see and recognize the Lord of creation. This is what it means to “serve in the Spirit” and “glory in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The direction of the soul supersedes, the outward works of the body; this does not mean, the body is of no role, but of a secondary role, to the place and position of the heart! Circumcise the heart; and the body is ready to meet its maker! Renew the mind, and you will be transformed; nothing is availed from an outward snip. Paul here is clear in His mind, these are the signs and foreshadowing’s of Israel, like the Sabbath, they are not given to gentiles; but gentile participate in their reality, in the same way as the Jews, by the fruits and gifts of the spirit!

Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinks that he has reasons he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.

Here Paul underscore his point, he is a Jew; he has the mark of the Jew; and so if anyone could feel secure – in the Kingdom – because of the flesh; the mosaic law – it would be him. If anyone could feel secure in the faith, because of being Jewish; it would be him: born of a tribe of Israel, fastidious in keeping the law, so zealous he was known at one time to have persecuted the Church, he was considered a righteousness man amongst his fellow Pharisees; a ‘Hebrew of Hebrews’; but now he considers all these things loss for Christ. Paul is not here saying these things were worthless ; but now that the New Covenant had come, the Old Covenant, was being transformed and renewed; by the inclusion of the gentiles; he was not claiming he or others Jews, should abandon the law; no; we see he keeps it in Acts; it is the culture of the Jewish people after all; but rather, Gentiles adopting Judaism; have misunderstood their place in this covenant; he is seeking to reassure them; by diminishing their view of the law; using the weight of his own Jewishness; by highlighting, to them, how even he, a ‘Hebrews Hebrew’ counts it all as ‘loss for Christ’.

Our teacher Chrysostom said this: “What do the false teachers say about this passage? “See, the law is a loss; it is refuse. How then do you say it is of God?” In fact, all this is in favour of the law. How so? It is clear from this passage, if we attend closely to the words. He does not say “the law is privation” but “I count it loss.” And when he spoke of gain, he did not say “I count it” but “it was.” For the latter was true by nature, the former in his own estimation. So, whatever gain I had in the law, I count as loss “on account of Christ.” How then was the law ever a “gain,” and not in supposition but in fact? Consider what a great thing it was to restore the human form to people who had been turned to beasts. And without the law, there would be no grace. How so? Because the law served as a bridge. It was not possible to be raised from this extreme lowliness. So the law served as a ladder. Note that when a person has gone up a ladder, he no longer needs it. Yet he does not despise it but gives it thanks, because it is due to the ladder that he is in the state of no longer needing it…. It is not the law that is a privation but apostasy from Christ through adherence to the law. So when it leads us away from Christ it is a loss. When it leads us to him, no longer so.”

Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but rubbish, that I may win Christ,

Here Paul once again begins to highlight the excellency of Christ; that in comparison, all other things even the mosaic covenant ‘seems’ a loss; not that they are a loss; the evaluation is of the comparison, not the things in and of themselves. If you compare one precious metal to another, one is of greater value; and thus to have the other, and not the more valuable, is a loss! Paul a confessor of the faith at this point; had suffered, stripes, shipwrecks, beatings, stoning, the loss of standing, friends, and family, imprisonments, wealth; and through it all when compared to gaining Christ he values it as rubbish compared to winning Christ; the excellence of knowing Him. What then have we lost in our pursuit of Christ – count it as nothing – what then have we suffered in our pursuit of Christ – count it as gain; for Christ said ‘rejoice and be glad for so they persecuted the prophets’. We Christians then should draw resolve from the fact, that nothing we can lose is comparable to Christ; and even when we suffer; we will have our reward before Him; when He calls us good and faithful servants.

This also applies to our sins, giving up our addictions, our pleasures and comforts, even our wealth and fortunes; for the cause of the kingdom; are trivial compared to Christ. We must as Chrysostom teaches, lay hold of Christ in all things, and make Him the foundation of all things!

The ecclesial writer Tertullian wrote: (“in other words, ) it was not the God of the Jews, but their stupid obduracy, which he repudiates. These are also the things “which he counts but dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ”. , for the purpose of “winning the Lord; ”

The Judaizers; are thus barking up against the wrong tree! We have Judaizer today in the Church today, they must be rejected by all; both messianic believer, and gentile Christian!

And be found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

Our salvation is to be in the mystical body of Christ to be united to Him; by our faith in Him; and it is that faith that allows us to know him; this is the basis of our standing before GOD. We then will be subject to the power of the resurrection; to be renewed in our spirits; and to be granted eternal life at the Judgment. Note well, how we are to share in His sufferings, conforming ourselves unto His death; their is transformation in our sufferings for Christ; it makes us and perfects us, when we suffer in the way of His Kingdom and its cause, we do not suffer in vain, but through it, we become more Christ like! We develop in the path of suffering which produce perseverance which produces character, which opens our heart up to hope; and that hope will not be disappointed because in it, the Holy Spirit will pour in love – the perfecter of all virtue. Let me clear, the one who is enduring for the Kingdom, against resistance and opposition; is the one who is spiritually more mature than the comfortable Christian; the fellowship encountering opposition for the cause of the Kingdom, is the one doing the Kingdom work! Christian who are not, are not on the path of maturity; they are spiritual infants!

Our teacher Gaius Marius Victorinus said this: “It is because Paul is still persevering in the fellowship of suffering, which is very similar to death itself, that he says “that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” There can be no doubt of his attaining to the resurrection. But what is this attaining to the resurrection of the dead? It is the perfect and full life of every individual which is elicited from the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings by every means, which will appear clearly at that end time when the resurrection from the dead occurs, that is, when the dead come back to life… We who believe in Christ endure sufferings with him and indeed all sufferings, even as far as the cross and death. From the knowledge of all these and from the sharing in suffering comes resurrection. And thus, as we are sharers in his death and his burden, we are enabled to share his resurrection.”

Note how Paul; wants to know Christ as Lord – more intimately, more deeply, more profoundly; this we can do; when we suffer as He suffered (See Heb 2: 18; 4: 15; 12: 2 – 4; 2 Cor 5: 21; 1 Pet: 2: 21 – 24); serve as He served; love as He loved and so on; it is our imitation of Him, that helps us to know Him! We must be willing even to die to advance the salvation of this world! Our participation in the life of Christ; communicated through the works of His Holy Spirit; prepare us, for the Resurrection; and to enter into the presence of the Father. We should be bald then to seize the kingdom by force; pushing aside all opposition; that will not allow us to make the kingdom here on earth as it is heaven! The resurrection here, is one that lifts us out of the spiritual death of Adam see Luke 20: 35; not the general resurrection of sinners and saints; at the judgment! We have the reality now in Christ!

Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if indeed I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Note here the Holy Apostle speaks of his own ‘progression’ along this path; his own increasing in virtue; are you further back from this ‘chief of sinners’ then have courage to galvanise yourself once more to press forward – energetically like an athlete in a race; like a soldier in battle! David committed adultery and murder, Peter denied Christ three times; what sins have you done brethren; I dare say it can not be much worse than these! If Paul still feels himself improving, we should not allow our hearts to be downcast, in belief that we are unworthy to approach the throne of grace! We must press on – push forward; drag yourselves forward by the nails across the rocks if you have to! However – don’t give up; worse sinners than you have gone ahead of you – and now they are with their Lord in this day in paradise! We grow and develop in holiness, thought by thought, habit by habit, action by action! Do not be bound to the past; sin or pleasure, or both; do not rely on yesterdays victories whilst the war rages on; they now mean nothing – the contest is ever today! Do not be held to what has been lost or what was before, press forward, with force, ‘clear a path for the Kingdom of GOD’ towards renewal, to transformation, to change through repentance. That is why Christ gripped you – to make you new – therefore grasp with both hands this transformative power; and let it change you more and more into Christlikeness here on earth! We are a people defined, not by where we have come from; but by where we are going; our identity, is the realisation of our future now! One people under GOD! If your story about yourself is based on things passing away, rather than the things coming; you like the Judaizer are looking in the wrong direction!

Let us therefore, as many as would be perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything you be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you Nevertheless, to what we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.

We can see from this verse, that there is in the mind of Paul degrees of being perfect; degrees of perfection imply that people are in different stages of their spiritual development; and that our advancement upon this scale depends upon how minded we are to embody what Paul has hitherto spoken; it appears that this point of reference may well be the north star by which other ‘mindsets’ are revealed to us! He then calls us to persist in whatever standard of perfection we have thus attained – to not go backwards, if we can not go further forward but to hold fast to what we have embodied. Note the confidence with which Paul believes that the Holy Spirit of GOD will ‘convict the world of sin’; and guide the believer ‘into all truth’. We must have a similar level of confidence; encourage one another in the truth; but don’t make yourself a busy body! According to a textual variant he speaks of his words; as not merely an instruction; but rather a ‘rule’ that we must uphold, a standard to upheld; however even without the word ‘kanoni’ in the Greek, the Church upholds his words – as a rule all the same!

Our Teacher Augustine said this: “Hold true with the affections of the mind and habits of living, so that one is able to be perfectly in the possession of righteousness when, advancing day by day along the direct road of faith, one has already become a perfect traveller on the road.”

Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them who so walk, since you have us for an example.

Here Paul instructs us again to ‘imitate me as I imitate Christ’; and make note in the community of those who are an example of such a walk – thus lifting them; which is why the Church developed its remembrance of the lives of the saints, to inspire the Church to walk in the ways of the Lord. Does your fellowship do this? Here Paul, would surely have meant the living saints of the fellowship; the mature Christian; but he himself used the glorified saints of the past in Hebrews 11. Thus the ones that have walked ‘The Way’ well, and have left for us lessons in their books; or in their advice, we should listen to; because only disciples can make disciples! Therefore gather around the spiritually wise; as children gather around fathers and mothers of the Church; and when they are gone; remember their lives, or consider their writings!

Our teacher John Chrysostom said this: “Remember above when he said “beware of dogs” and drew them away from those people? Now he directs them to what they ought to imitate. “If anyone,” he says, “wishes to imitate me and tread the same path, let him hold fast to the faithful. And even if I am not present, yet you know my manner of walking—that is, my way of acting, speaking and living.” For he taught them not through words only but also through deeds. In a chorus or a military camp you expect the others to imitate the director or the general. They should walk in the same good order. Otherwise the line can be broken by conflict.”

For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.

He contrasts the examples to which we should cleave ourselves; and stumble after in pursuit of; with those from we should flee; those who ‘mind earthly things’; whose ‘god is their belly’; and who ‘glory in their shame’; we see much of this in the world, and the worldly church today – Liberal Christians – who make a mockery of the faith; and celebrate: debauchery, sacrilege, abominable acts, and care only for their own comforts! These ‘Christians’; these ‘Libertines’ of which the Church of England give us countless examples; from such Christians – we should flee! They want to replace Christianity – with Liberal culture; we who are faithful to the Lord must oppose them at every turn! Those who would Judaize the faith; and say we must become Jews to be saved; or follow the laws of Moses to be saved; with all of its dietary demarcations; make their belly a god; and in these days there are many – like the Hebrew Israelites, and other misguided fellowships – they all make themselves by their preaching – enemies of the cross; which with the power of the resurrection are our only means of salvation; we need no other – we want no other! To offer other means, is to say that you know better than GOD – who has made it plane in the preaching of the Gospel – how man might be saved!

For our citizenship is in heaven; from which also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ Who shall change our humble body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working by which he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

Note this well brethren; the only citizenship granted to us, as ours in holy writ is that of heaven; your American, British, French, German – or whatever else, are nothing; but the figments and imagining of this world. None of them are special; none of them important; and none of them, has a special mission from GOD; only the Church, and her citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven; are valid! We do not divide along these worldly lines, and we do not fight for another kingdom! We look to this Kingdom of Heaven, for the coming of the King, our ‘great GOD and saviour Jesus Christ’; who upon his Parousia – will sublimate us; into the ‘spiritual bodies’ we are destined to be – to live with Him eternally in the ‘new heaven and earth’ where we will see the ‘new Jerusalem’; which Christ first adorned at His resurrection. It is in this resurrection power Christ has wrought the victory; worthy then of acclamation and subservience of all things – to the conqueror of death, the liberator of the slave to sin, the healer of our souls, the lamb of GOD the Father!

Our teacher Clement of Alexandria said this: “We know that this is well said, for we ought to live as strangers and expatriates in the world … not using the creation to satisfy our passions but highmindedly and with thanksgiving.”

I pray during this holy season of Lent – this reflection might encourage you to press on – in the midst of this holy campaign, against your sin, the world and the devil; to the glory of Christ!