Philippians Chapter 3, Part 1
by Karl Kemp
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This two-part article was taken from the internet version of my paper titled, "A Verse-by-Verse Study of 1 Corinthians Chapters 10-14; Philippians Chapter 3; and James 3:1-4:10, which was published in March, 2000. In the original paper and in the internet version of this paper that in on my internet site (Google to Karl Kemp Teaching) I was able to use bold, italics, underlining, and footnotes. I always use the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition, unless otherwise noted. Sometimes I will use double brackets [[ ]] and (( )) in this article to make them more obvious.
This entire chapter of Philippians is quite important, but one primary reason I wanted to discuss this chapter is Phil. 3:12, which is often listed as a verse that supposedly proves the widespread (but I believe wrong) viewpoint that the New Testament teaches that all Christians - starting with the apostle Paul - necessarily continue to sin to some extent as long as they live in this world. I don't believe this verse says anything whatsoever about Paul (or any other Christian) continuing to sin. All that Paul says in Phil. 3:12 is that he has not arrived - he has not finished the race - and he must, therefore, press on in faith (which includes disregarding the things of the past and the things of the flesh), as required by the new covenant in the blood of Christ, until his race is finished and he ends up in eternal glory. In Phil. 3:12 (with 3:7-15), Paul used himself as an example of what all Christians can, and should, and must, do in order to instruct/exhort those Christians at Philippi who needed to make some changes.
Rather than refer to his life in Christ to prove that Christians cannot stop sinning, Paul referred to his life in Christ to illustrate that Christians can live above sin. Compare, for example, Acts 23:1; 24:16; 1 Cor. 4:4, 16; 11:1 ("Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ"); 2 Cor. 1:12 ("For our proud confidence is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you"); 2:17, 18; 4:1, 2; 6:1-10; Gal. 2:20; 6:14; Phil. 1:20, 21; 3:7-10, 15, 17; 4:9; 1 Thess. 2:10-12 ("You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; (11) just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his children, (12) so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory."); and 2 Thess. 3:7-9.
Much more important than the verses cited in the last paragraph, where the apostle spoke of his walk in Christ, are the large number of verses where he taught that walking in righteousness, holiness, and victory over sin (by the grace of God in Christ) is a big part of what Christianity is all about. (The gospel that God gave the apostle Paul to proclaim must be our primary standard, not the life of the apostle Paul.) Equally significant are the many similar verses in the New Testament that were not written by the apostle Paul. Many of those verses (from Paul and other writers) are discussed in my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin," especially in the last three chapters of that book. And many such passages are discussed in my subsequent papers, especially "A Paper on Faith," "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism," "Verse-by-Verse Studies of Ephesians Chapters 1 and 4; and Romans 8:16-39" and "A Verse-by-Verse Study of 2 Peter." I will mention quite a few key verses where the apostle Paul taught the full victory over sin as we continue with this paper.
The New Testament does, of course, make it clear that Christians can sin and that they will sin to the extent they do not know and/or do not walk in the full truth of the gospel on a continuous basis by faith, being enabled by the Holy Spirit. Even though the church at Philippi was a solid church (as this epistle shows), there was room for improvement (cf. Phil. 1:9-11, 25; 2:1-5; 3:11-15; and 4:2), not that all such room for improvement would be classified as sin. God does not use the word sin in a loose way; it is a serious word. Everything short of total, absolute perfection does not constitute sin.
I'll quote Phil. 2:12-16, verses that do not fit well with the idea that Paul taught the Philippians that Christians cannot live in righteousness and holiness with the victory over all sin. "So then, my beloved, JUST AS YOU HAVE ALWAYS OBEYED, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence [Paul was not there to help them], work out your salvation with fear [[I had a footnote: Although many Christians in our day reject this concept, the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) makes it quite clear that God's people are supposed to fear sinning against Him. See the discussion of Phil. 2:12-16 on pages 28-30 of my paper titled "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism" on my internet site.]] and trembling; (13) FOR IT IS GOD WHO IS AT WORK IN YOU [His enabling grace is sufficient, but God does not force Christians to learn the full, balanced truth, to have faith in the truth, or to live in the righteousness and holiness of the truth (cf. Eph. 4:24)], BOTH TO WILL AND TO WORK FOR HIS GOOD PLEASURE. (14) Do all things without grumbling or disputing; (15) SO THAT YOU WILL PROVE YOURSELVES TO BE BLAMELESS AND INNOCENT, CHILDREN ABOVE REPROACH IN THE MIDST OF A CROOKED AND PERVERSE GENERATION, AMONG WHOM YOU APPEAR [or, SHINE] AS LIGHTS IN THE WORLD, (16) HOLDING FAST THE WORD OF LIFE, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain." Paul would have toiled in vain (at least in one sense) if the Christians he ministered to rejected the truth, chose sin instead of righteousness, and were not ready to stand before God on the day of judgment.
"(Phil. 3:1) Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord [cf. Phil. 4:4]. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. (2) Beware of the dogs [cf. Psalm 22:16, 20; Rev. 22:15], beware of the evil workers [cf. Psalm 22:16], beware of the false circumcision [The "false circumcision" is to be contrasted with the "true circumcision" mentioned in the next verse. I assume, in agreement with most commentators, that Paul was referring to the Judaizers here (throughout verse 2). The Christians at Philippi, who were (at least for the most part) Gentiles, would have been a target for the Judaizers.] (3) for we are the true circumcision [cf. Rom. 2:28, 29; Col. 2:11, 12.], who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus [cf. Gal. 6:14] and put no confidence in the flesh [Some of the Judaizers probably had become born-again Christians, but their faulty doctrine, which required Gentiles to be (physically) circumcised and to submit to other ceremonial works of the Mosaic Law in order to be accepted by God, significantly distorted the gospel and detracted from the work of the Spirit. To put confidence in the flesh, as Phil. 3:4-6 demonstrate, includes putting confidence in ceremonial works (like circumcision) and things like physical lineage instead of relying totally on the all-sufficient, new-covenant salvation freely given in Christ Jesus.], (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 [[Compare 2 Cor. 11:13-12:13. Paul's point here in Phil. 3:4-9 is that if he, with his high-level credentials in Judaism, needed to disregard Judaism and the things of the flesh (especially referring to the ceremonial laws) and to be totally faithful to Christ and the new covenant in His blood, all the other Christians need to do the same thing. According to the gospel that Paul proclaimed, no one could legitimately "put confidence in the flesh"; all men need to be saved through the grace of God in Christ Jesus, who lifts us above the flesh by giving us the Holy Spirit to regenerate us, to dwell in us, to sanctify us, etc. Some of the Judaizers undoubtedly were quite sincere, but they were in serious error. Following the doctrine of the Judaizers could cost a person their salvation (e.g., Gal. 5:2-4). Gentiles can also be guilty of putting confidence in the flesh (in things like works of the flesh, the family name, riches, worldly fame, intelligence, education, will power, etc.).]]: (5) circumcised the eighth day [cf. Gen. 17:12; Lev. 12:3; Luke 1:59; and 2:21], of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin [cf. Rom. 11:1], a Hebrew of Hebrews [[Compare 2 Cor. 11:22. I'll quote part of what William Hendricksen said on the meaning of these words ("Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon" [Baker, 1979], pages 158, 159). "...that is, 'purest of the pure.' The idiom stresses at least the purity of his lineage: Hebrew son of Hebrew parents; hence definitely a Hebrew, a Hebrew if there ever was one!" In a footnote Hendricksen mentions that "Many are of the opinion that the phrase 'Hebrew of Hebrews' also calls attention to the fact that the apostle was a Jew not only by race but also by language and customs," and he says the possibility of this viewpoint must be granted.]]; as to the Law, a Pharisee [cf. Acts 23:6; 26:5]; (6) as to zeal, a persecutor of the church [cf. Acts 8:3; 22:3-5; and 26:9-11]; as to the righteousness which is in the Law [see Phil. 3:9], found blameless. [Paul may have kept (to some reasonable extent) the righteousness required by the Law (especially when it came to the external, ceremonial requirements of the Law), but it is quite clear that he was not saying that he had fully kept the Law in his pre-Christian days. If he had been able to fully keep the Law, he would not have needed the Lamb of God to save him. Compare, for example, Acts 22:16; Rom. 3:9, 19-30; 6:14; 7:5-8:17; Gal. 2:16, 21; 3:10, 11, 13, 17-32; and 4:5.] (7) But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. [[It would be easy to misunderstand what Paul said here with this translation of these last words, "for the sake of Christ" (which is also the translation of the NIV). You could get the (wrong) idea that Paul did what he did for the benefit of Christ. As Paul continues, it becomes clear that what he did he did for his own sake. He did what was required of him by the terms of the new covenant; he was concerned (and rightly so) for his salvation. The Greek might be better translated something like "on account of (or, because of) Christ," with the understanding that Paul was setting aside the things of the past (and the things of the flesh), which he spoke of in Phil. 3:4-6, "on account of/because of [his need to fully appropriate new-covenant salvation in] Christ." Gordon D. Fee translates "because of Christ" ("Paul's Letter to the Philippians" [Eerdmans, 1995), pages 312, 313].]] (8) More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord [On knowing Christ/God, cf., e.g., John 17:3; Eph. 4:13; Phil. 3:10; and 2 Pet. 1:2, 3.], for [The same Greek preposition ("dia") is used here that was translated "for the sake of [Christ]" in Phil. 3:7. I prefer a translation like "on account of/because of [whom]" here too. (Fee has "because of whom.") I am not denying, of course, that in some ways Paul did what he did for Christ, but in this context the emphasis is on what Paul was required to do to meet the terms of the new covenant in order to gain salvation in Christ - if we miss salvation, we miss everything. We are required to take up our cross and follow Christ! We are required to die to the old man!] whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ [The apostle did not merely set aside the things of his pre-Christian past in which he used to put confidence (the things he spoke of in Phil. 3:4-6), he also set aside everything that could interfere with his being a fully faithful Christian in union with Christ Jesus. He set aside his rights, even his right to keep on living, in order to fully submit to the will of his Savior and Lord. For one thing, he knew that the rewards would infinitely outweigh all the difficulties he had to face as he lived in faithfulness to Christ as the apostle to the Gentiles (cf., e.g., 2 Cor. 4:16-5:10; Heb. 11:25, 26).], (9) and may be found in Him [Paul wanted to make sure that he, at all times (but especially when it would be time for him to stand before God in judgment), would be found in Christ, and fully in Christ and in His righteousness.], not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law [[Compare Rom. 10:5; Phil. 3:6. There was a time when Paul, before he heard and understood the gospel, thought in terms of having his own righteousness before God (especially on judgment day) because he had (in some ways and to some extent) kept the (Mosaic) Law. (It is not true, as you sometimes hear it said, that Jews like Paul [speaking of his pre-Christian days] didn't leave any room for the grace and mercy of God under the old covenant. Being the people of the covenant(s) with God, they believed they benefited from His grace and mercy.) Now, as a new-covenant believer, he understood that righteousness, the very righteousness of God, is given to believers through and in Christ Jesus, and only through and in Christ Jesus.
It is very important to understand that this righteousness (the very righteousness of God) is both imputed and imparted. See the section titled "Christians are Enabled, and Required, to Live/Walk in Righteousness, Which Means Living/Walking in the Will of God, According to His Word/Law/Commandments," in my paper titled "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism," including the cross-references to my book "Holiness and Victory Over Sin" and my "A Paper on Faith."
To receive and to walk in the righteousness of God in Christ, Paul had to set aside his own very inadequate "righteousness." Significantly, as we discussed under Phil. 3:6, Paul came to understand that his own "righteousness" was not at all adequate (it would not suffice to open the doors of heaven for him when he stood before God in judgment). And he came to understand that this was not the plan of God (who, before the creation of the world, planned to sacrifice His Son to make His people righteous, which is a big part of what salvation is all about. We needed to be set free from the spiritual death and bondage to sin that has been with all the descendants of Adam since the fall (see Romans chapter 5, which is discussed in "Holiness and Victory Over Sin"). Paul discovered that he had no other reasonable option than to receive and to walk in "the righteousness [of God] which comes from God on the basis of faith [faith in Christ and the One who sent Him]" (see the next verse).]], but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, (10) that I may know Him [Compare Phil. 3:8. Paul is speaking of knowing Christ in a way that includes the experiential dimension through literally being united with Him through the indwelling Holy Spirit. This knowing Christ includes experientially knowing "the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death" (see verse 10).] and the power of His resurrection [See Rom. 6:1-11; Eph. 1:19-2:6 (especially 1:19, 20; 2:5, 6); Col. 2:9-15 (especially 2:12, 13); and 3:1-11. Here in Phil. 3:10 (as in all the references just cited), the apostle is thinking, at least for the most part, of the power (the resurrection power that has spiritually resurrected/raised Christians through union with Christ by the Holy Spirit) that enables them to live in the truth, righteousness, and holiness of God as born-again Christians.] and the fellowship of [or, "participation in" (Greek "koinonia")] His sufferings, being conformed to His death [[(This double bracket continues for more than three pages.) We participate in (have fellowship with) Christ's sufferings and are conformed to His death to the extent we truly die to the old man in union with Him and live in faithfulness to Him. (Christ's "sufferings" centered in His atoning death; He was bearing our sins with the guilt and the penalties (including the major penalties of spiritual death and bondage to sin); He died in our place.) Even as young Christians, we can, and we should, be dead to the old man (e.g., Rom. 6:1-11; 8:12-14; Gal. 5:16, 17, 24; Eph. 4:22-32; Col. 2:11, 12; and 3:1-11 [especially 3:2, 3, 5-9]; most of these super-important verses are discussed in my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin; Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ," and many of them are discussed in my papers). (I had a footnote: To be dead to the old man (to the flesh) includes not doing the sinful works of the old man/of the flesh [cf. Rom. 8:12-14; Gal. 5:19-21, 24]. To the extent Christians really are dead to the old man [to the flesh] they won't be sinning. This is good news!) To the extent we are not conformed to Christ's death (to the extent we are not dead to the old man), our lives are not consistent with the new covenant established on the blood of Christ. Several of the cross-references just cited make it clear that the death of the flesh/old man is not automatically achieved, nor automatically maintained; we must deny the flesh/old man and walk after the Spirit (based on what the New Testament teaches) on a continuous basis by faith.
What I said in the last paragraph is a big part of the gospel that Paul preached (as confirmed by the cross-references to his epistles that I listed). It also serves as a necessary foundation for what I will say in this paragraph and in the next three paragraphs. Because of the order of Paul's words here in Phil. 3:10, with "the fellowship of/participation in [Christ's] sufferings, being conformed to His death" being mentioned after "that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection," Paul apparently intended a different emphasis on the meaning of "the fellowship of [participation in] His sufferings, being conformed to His death" than I gave in the last paragraph. ((I had a footnote: What I said in the last paragraph is more foundational and more important than the issue the apostle is dealing with here. Paul has already incorporated what I said in the last paragraph into this discourse by speaking of having the righteousness of God in 3:9 and by speaking of knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection here in 3:10, and he will say more about the sanctified life as he continues with this epistle. He also discussed these things to some extent in chapters 1, 2, and Paul knew that his readers understood these things because he had taught them these things.))
Paul apparently was thinking here, at least to some significant extent, of the sufferings that came to him because he was a faithful Christians and faithful to the ministry that had been assigned to him. Paul was imprisoned when he wrote this epistle, for one thing (Phil. 1:7), and he knew that the Philippian Christians were facing opposition too (Phil. 1:27-30). (See, for example, Acts 14:22; and Rom. 8:17-39. I had a footnote: These verses from Romans are discussed in some detail in a paper on my internet site.) He was faithful to be conformed to Christ's death, which included his being dead to sin and his willingness to suffer with Christ (as he frequently did), or even to literally die for Christ (as he ultimately did). For Paul to live was Christ and to die was gain (cf. Phil. 1:21); he had renounced all for Christ (which is required of all Christians). God's grace is sufficient for each of us to do what we are called to do, but we must appropriate and cooperate with His grace by faith.
Romans 8:17 says, "and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him." This verse (Rom. 8:17) is doubly significant in that it speaks of our suffering with Christ (which corresponds with "the fellowship of/participation in His sufferings" spoken of in Phil. 3:10), and it also speaks of our ultimate glorification (which corresponds with the "resurrection from the dead" spoken of in Phil. 3:11). Some suffering comes with the salvation we have received in Christ; we cannot allow such suffering to cause us to back off from pressing on (by grace) in faithfulness to Christ.
Second Corinthians 4:7-18 (especially 4:10, 11) are another important cross-reference for Phil. 3:10, 11. In 2 Cor. 4:7-18 the apostle was speaking about himself (and his ministry team), which is directly applicable to Phil. 3:10, where Paul is speaking of himself. ((I had a footnote: Even though Paul was speaking of himself (and his ministry team) in 2 Cor. 4:7-18, as being distinct from the Christians at Corinth to whom he ministered, the words of 2 Cor. 4:10, 11, 16-18 have some application for all true Christians. It is important to understand that Paul, even at the time of his conversion, was shown that his call would involve much suffering, much more than the suffering that comes to most Christians (cf., e.g., Acts 9:16). The New Testament confirms that those words regarding Paul's suffering for the sake of the gospel came to pass, but also that God's grace was/is sufficient.)) Second Corinthians 4:10, 11 say, "always carrying about in the body [the physical body] the dying of Jesus [which corresponds with "the fellowship of/participation in His sufferings, being conformed to His death" of Phil. 3:10], that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." (Cf., e.g., 2 Cor. 12:9, 10.) Second Corinthians 4:14, 17, 18 go on to speak of Paul's (and his ministry team's) ultimate resurrection and glorification (which corresponds with the "resurrection from the dead" spoken of in Phil. 3:11). Compare 1 Cor. 15:30, 31; 2 Cor. 1:5, 8, 9; and Col. 1:24.
Did Paul include any idea of his progressively dying more and more with the words "being conformed to His death" (Phil. 3:10)? Verses can be cited from Paul to show that we are improved through trials, assuming that we rightly respond to them (e.g., Rom. 5:3, 4; cf. James 1:2-4) and that we will continue to grow in Christ throughout this age (e.g., 2 Cor. 3:18). ((I had a footnote: The Bible also shows that God chastens His children, as required, to help motivate them to repent, etc. (e.g., Heb. 12:5-11); but if His people walk in His righteousness and holiness, they will not need to be chastened, and I don't believe the apostle meant to include the idea of chastening here in Phil. 3:10. Paul is speaking of "the fellowship of [Christ's] sufferings, being conformed to His death" here, and Christ certainly never sinned so that He needed to be chastened. He did, however, learn about obedience through suffering (Heb. 5:8).)) But we need not necessarily understand Paul to be including the idea of progressively dying with Christ (or of our growing in Christ) here in Phil. 3:10.
What I especially disagree with is the idea of some that Paul was saying here that he was progressively dying to sin, which would mean that he was confessing that he was still living in sin to one degree or another. (See under Phil. 3:12-15.) If we are dead to the old man and are living in the will of God in union with Christ Jesus (walking in the righteousness of God spoken of in Phil. 3:9) by the enablement of the Holy Spirit - which includes suffering with Christ as the need arises - then we are living in a state (an abiding state) consistent with "being conformed to His death." The apostle certainly was not saying that he had to live a long life full of suffering so that, when he had finally been conformed to Christ's death (Phil. 3:10), he could be taken to heaven (Phil. 3:11).
Above, in the first paragraph under the words of Phil. 3:10 that we are discussing ("and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death"), I listed some key verses that show that Paul's typical viewpoint was that we are to be dead (not just gradually dying) to the old man and to sin. (I had a footnote: This viewpoint was not at all limited to the apostle Paul; this is the typical viewpoint presented in the New Testament .) I'll quote another relevant verse from the apostle, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh [speaking of the life he was still living in this world in a physical body] I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me" (Gal. 2:20).
I'll quote from three commentators on the meaning of the words, "being conformed to His death." First I'll quote from Robert P. Lightner ("Bible Knowledge Commentary - New Testament" [Victor Books, 1983], page 660). "As Christ died for sin, so a believer has died to sin (Rom. 6:2, 6-7; Col. 3:3). He should exhibit that cutting off from his former way by daily being set apart from sin (Rom. 6:1-4, 11-14) and living a new life by means of Christ's resurrection power (Rom. 6:4)."
I'll also quote from Henry Alford ("New Testament for English Readers," Vol. 3 [Baker, 1983 reprint], page 1271). "It does not appear to me that St. Paul is here speaking, as Meyer and others maintain, of his imminent risk of a death of martyrdom, but that his meaning is general, applying to his whole course of suffering and self-denial, as indeed throughout the sentence. This conformity with Christ's death was to take place by means of that perfect self-abjuration [giving up rights] which he here asserts of himself - see Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 2:14; 4:10ff.; 1 Cor. 15:31; and especially Gal. 2:20."
Lastly, I'll quote from Ralph. P. Martin ("Philippians" [Inter-Varsity Press, 1987], pages 152, 153), "Conformity to Christ's death is best explained in the light of Romans 8:29 and Philippians 3:21. It involves the teaching and experience of Romans 6, where the death and resurrection of Christ are representative acts in which his people share. His death for sin, and to sin, carried the implication that in him we likewise die to the dominion of the old nature and rise to newness of life. When he died at Calvary our death was involved; but its outworking requires the exhortation of Romans 6:11 ["Even so consider (reckon) yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus"], which is another way of saying, 'Be conformed to his death.' Death, however, is the gateway to life. Paul dies to himself that he may live to God (Gal. 2:20). Self, represented by his past life as a Pharisee (see vv. 4-6), is dethroned - indeed, crucified (Gal. 5:24; 6:14) - that Christ might be enthroned as supreme Lord."]]; (11) in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
I'll quote verse 11 again, and we will discuss this important verse and the rest of Philippians chapter 3 in Part 2.
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