Last week, we talked about how a human, like God, is really a three-part being. We didn’t go into a lot of detail, because Paul was actually talking about us having to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” which we had shown did not refer to Salvation-justification, that is the salvation of our Spirit, where it is made alive, or born again, and thus restored to God, but instead referred to the salvation of our souls, that is, salvation-sanctification, the process by which the redeemed person is made holy in preparation to see God. We know this because Paul was writing to believing Christians, not the unsaved. Believers are already justified, so Paul had to have been speaking about something else. In many ways, this letter to his friends is about showing them how to unlock that sanctification, the deeds to do, the things to avoid, the attitudes to have. Try to keep this in mind as we go through the Scripture today.
Having said that, I’ll just jump in at verse 1.
1: 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.
- The first word used here in English is “finally,” but it can also be translated as “moreover” or “also.” This is not the “Finally,” we have come to expect in summative arguments or debates of logic. Paul is saying, “Oh, and this also…”
- Rejoice [chairo, verb form of chara – joy, hence rejoice, be calmly happy or cheerful] in the Lord. This may sound strange, but this is possible even when you are down in the dumps depressed because of circumstances. I cannot explain it, but I know it’s true – I am there every day, friends. I have the weight of a new ministry from God on me, and it’s hard NOT to look around at the things in the way and the money I DON’T have to do it. And yet, somehow, God has filled me with His joy, and I must be cheerful about it. Why? I know the Lord. It’s His ministry, and where He wants it to succeed, it will. ‘Nuff said about that. Paul is telling us that this is a choice as well. The verb here, rejoice, is in the active voice, which means it is something we are to do. We must choose to look at the Lord in hard times, not at the circumstances.
- Paul is also telling us that this is a written reminder for the Philippians, and it is no trouble for him to do so. This brings up an interesting question – what is my attitude toward service? If my heart is right before God, it will be no trouble for me to do these things. If it is not, it becomes a drudgery.
- Paul also says this is a “safeguard” for the Philippians. The Greek here is actually the negative form of sphallo, to fail. So this means to NOT fail [asphales], or to make secure or certain, true, firm, something to be relied on.
2: Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision;
- To be clear, Paul is not warning us about canines here. Kuon does mean “dog,” but this is a figurative reference to people. What characterizes these individuals is that they will relentlessly pursue a person, topic, idea, etc., run it down, and will not let go of the subject until it is dead, at which point they consume it and bury the bones for a snack later. These are the people that will argue over something that they actually agree with you about, just because they need somehow to argue. Paul even tells Timothy to mark (make note of who they are) and avoid these ones, because they can pull you offtrack in the work, and even in one’s own walk with the Saviour.
- Evil workers are essentially those that labour at evil. Notice it doesn’t say “avoid,” is says “beware,” which means to look at, consider, heed, watch. It also doesn’t say, “confront.” Is says to know about them, and be aware of them, and watch what they do. Sometimes, you just have to respond accordingly. A topical example of this is the baker in Denver that refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The two men were on a mission to pick out a winnable example to legally bulldoze in order that they might set a legal precedent for same-sex marriage in America. Well, the baker fought back, with help from the Christian Defense League (I think they call themselves something else these days), and the American Supreme Court said that they could not force someone to violate his or her own religious views. I know a guy that knows the baker. I’ve encountered them myself. Without going into details, it’s how I know about the Christian Defense League, and their Canadian counterparts, Opus Dei. (Not THAT Opus Dei! It’s a Latin phrase that means “Act of God.”)
- The false circumcision is a direct reference to the concept Paul talks about in Romans 9:6 where he says, “…not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel…” Paul is actually playing a bit of a word game here. “False circumcision” is the Greek katatome, and the next verse contains the word peritome, meaning circumcision, and by implication, because it does not contain the prefix kata, the true circumcision, as is translated in the NASB that I use. Paul is telling us that there are such people called false brethren, and we need to watch for them, be aware of them, and respond as the Spirit leads.
3: 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,
- Paul is completing the sentence from verse 2 (Remember, chapter and verse divisions are not inspired – the chapter divisions came along in the 1300s, and the verse divisions about 300 years later). Paul is telling us the mark of the real Christian – we are to worship God in Spirit and Truth (see Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well).
- We also must glory (that is, boast) in Christ Jesus. There are those that say that Christ Jesus vs. Jesus Christ makes no difference, but kind of disagree with that. To me, the difference for the careful reader is one of emphasis. Christ Jesus puts His divine title of Christ first. It Literally means the Anointed One, and is a reference to the Old Testament Messiah of God. This is emphasizing that our boast should be in the Divine One who became a man, not in Jesus Christ, which puts His humanity first, and there are appropriate times to do that, particularly when we talk about times when He obeyed the Father. My point is that little differences can make a difference, and it is why we must find out what it say. Like the Bereans of old, we must SEARCH the Scriptures to see what is really true as it is in Jesus.
- Also, we must put no confidence in the flesh. Isn’t that the enemy’s favorite path of attack? Lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, or the pride of life? We must put no confidence in this. We must not “follow our heart,” as the modern proverb says, because the “heart is deceitful and desperately wicked…” Only God can even know how bad they really are, and that is why He became a man and suffered death, even death on a cross (2:8) for the express purpose of redeeming us to God, buying us back from the slavery into which we had all sold ourselves.
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:
- You know, conversations like this have often put me off my feed. When people are introduced, they are introduced by their qualifications on paper. We print these things on business cards. We use titles like “Reverend,” which if you read Scripture in other translations than an NASB, you find is reserved for God alone. We talk about who is ordained and what their ordination means. Yeah, well, whose ordination do they have? I’m very troubled to say that many if not most so-called pastors today are not ordained by God, but by their universities and cemeteries, uh that’s seminaries, and don’t follow Jesus at all. The “word” they speak is not the Logos, the Divine expression, but a carefully catalogued review of others opinions, with no leading other than their denomination’s doctrinal statement of faith, many of which have become quite troubling if you read them. It is my studied opinion that Paul here is taking up a facetious line of reasoning, telling people of his “qualifications.” The list itself is quite instructive, especially what he says all of his own qualifications (which were a matter of historical record in the Sanhedrin paperwork) are worth.
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;
- All of this was culturally important to Jewish men, and has great symbolism to the Jews.
6: as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.
- Hey, this is all serious stuff for the Pharisees, and Paul belonged to their strictest sect. But the next verse is where this gets really god, and becomes important.
7: But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
- What does that mean? Well, in Paul’s case, he gave up a pretty great future as a Pharisee and leader inside the Sanhedrin Council. But he says he accounted it as loss [zemia, damaged] for the sake [reason] of Christ. I don’t think it matters what qualifications anyone puts there. It’s all damaged by the curse as a result of the fall. Sure, we gain knowledge, but unless the Lord builds the House, they labour in vain who build it (Psa. 127:1, a Song of Solomon!). In the context of Christ, what counts isn’t how much you know, how well you learn things, your marks on your Biblical theology course, or your Ph. D Thesis. It’s all damaged. The cause of Christ is a far more worthwhile pursuit. What human degree could compare with the anointing of God Himself for the sake of His work? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a diabetic cardiac patient. I use insulin, and without the work of those two Canadian guys Banting and Best, I’d be dead. Without living in a city with the one of the premier heart hospitals in the world, I’d be in a hurting condition. Not everyone should pursue being a pastor. God made doctors too, and in fact we call Him the great Physician. This verse does not tell you what you should do for a living. But God did create you and give you certain skills for a reason, and that reason is to help people. If you aren’t doing that…well…take what you want out of that before I start ranting.
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 so that I may gain Christ,
- Paul is saying that in view of the superior value of knowing [gnosis, here used in the sense of the deeper and more perfect enlarged knowledge such as belongs to the more mature believer/follower] Christ Jesus [remember, the Divine Anointed One as opposed to the obedient Son of Man, although it’s the same guy, just a different emphasis] my Lord [kurio, supreme in authority, controller, Master].
- For the sake of this One, he reckons all things to be loss [again, damaged] to him, and he now regards all those incredible worldly qualifications as refuse [skubalon, garbage] for the single reason that he may gain Christ…and wait for it, that is a comma, not a period…
9: and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,
- …and may be found in Him, listen, not having a righteousness of his own that is derived from the Law. Fill in the blank here – whatever way you think you can derive your righteousness from – it’s useless. Paul instead says that he wants that righteousness to come from faith in Christ – the specific righteousness that comes from God on the basis of that faith. Not just rightness that comes from doing right things. Rightness that comes from God as a gift by His grace through faith that results in His gift of salvation.
10: that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;
- All that Paul previously mentions builds to this – that Paul may know [ginosko, to come to know, to perceive, to recognize] Him, and the power [dunamis, force, miraculaous power, ability, abundance, strength] of His resurrection. THE power that raised the Christ from the dead. To Know Him by THAT.
- …and the fellowship [koinonia, sharing, communion] of His sufferings [pathema, that which befalls], being conformed [sumorphizo, to conform – nothing magical here, it means what it means] to His death [thanatos, danger of death, pestilence]. Notice that this isn’t a concept of suffering. It is a specific application, specific to the details of His sufferings, those things that happen to us. Paul says here in no uncertain terms that it is our sufferings that are the very things in operation here, and not just to conform us to His death…
11: in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
- Paul here, is I think talking about what John tells us is the first resurrection (Rev. 20: 4, 5 – Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.) Paul certainly was beheaded in Rome for Christ.
- Please understand that it is not my purpose here to begin an eschatological debate, and I don’t think Paul’s purpose was that either. Paul knew that everyone dies at some point. Not everyone will rise from the dead and be a part of Christ’s 1000-year kingdom reign. Paul seemed to be of the opinion that this was a prize so worth pursuing that he would give up everything for it, including his own life, eventually.
12: Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.
- Paul is also humbly and freely admitting that he has not arrived at that theological destination yet. I see an interesting dichotomy here in this verse. Paul says at the end of the verse that he had been “laid hold of” by Christ Jesus, the God-man. Christ initiated that relationship in Acts 9:3-5 – As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting…” Paul, then Saul, didn’t exactly seem like he wanted any part of Jesus or His followers of the Way. No, Christ laid hold of Him. With that, Saul was saved, and became Paul. But would Paul then choose to lay hold of Christ and grow, and become the Apostle we all know and love through his letters to various churches and people? Would he become Holy? I think Pual is using his own example to show us as believers OUR choice – to lay hold of Christ after He laid hold of us, or to just get dragged along for the ride and miss out on a lot of good stuff, which I won’t go into here for sake of time. It really is a whole other study. Paul chose to press on in the faith [remember, firm persuasion of who Christ is] and to lay hold, and thank God he did, or we might be reading the letters of the Apostle Melvin to Philippians. (I believe that if Paul had said no, God would have used someone else, though I am not dogmatic on the point, it’s just my opinion.)
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,
- Paul could not say he had apprehended it at this point in time yet, but he seemed to know how to get there – through the daily practice of forgetting the things in the past that he could not change and looked forward to what is ahead. It might be a debate as to whether he could affect that or not, and I can allow for that, but Paul did look forward. He prayed. He planned. He walked. And God did what God wanted, and Paul was filled with joy, as per verse 1 of this chapter.
- It is important to note that Paul is speaking with BELEIVERS. This is NOT power of positive thinking nonsense for the world at large, and cannot be applied in that sense. Paul was outlining a lifelong pursuit of his (and our) Messiah and how he accomplished it.
14: I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
- And HOW did he accomplish it? He pressed on. Regardless of circumstance, regardless of situation, resources or lack thereof, political climate, personal pain, whether he was allowed to by Caesar or not. Whether it was convenient or not like he told Timothy in a later letter. He pressed on.
- Toward the goal. We all need a goal to keep in view. I don’t know about you, but I used to do a lot of camping. And I’m not talking about the kind of camping everyone does now, where we drive to the lake and set up our tents. I mean the kind of camping where you strap about 120 pounds of gear to your back, get dropped off on the side of some road somewhere with a compass and map, and you walk 5 miles thataway. When orienteering (using the compass to make sure you were going in the right direction), whenever we took a bearing, we would pick out a feature of the terrain that we could easily see and identify, and then we would walk toward that. When we reached that objective, we would do it all over again until we reached our eventual destination. More times than I can count, I came out within about 30 feet of the point I picked out on the map. I got a reputation for it after a bit, and people would follow me because I knew where I was going.
- Folks, we have a compass right here in our Bibles. It points the way home. We also have a map in our Bibles. It SHOWS the way home. It highlights obstacles for us, and tells us what our points of reference should be. Our best point of reference is Christ Jesus the God-man. Hebrews 12:2 tells us to fix our eyes on Him. He is the most identifiable and easy-to-see reference on the spiritual landscape we navigate. Let us press on toward Him.
- But Paul said more than just have a goal, and make the goal Jesus. He said there is a prize – the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. For the sake of doctrinal correctness and completeness, this is actually two Greek words, ano klesis. Together, they simply mean “upward call” as the NASB has here. For all those that will attempt to use this as a proof text to show an idea of “the rapture,” this isn’t the place to do it, please don’t try. That’s like Doctor Kenneth Wuest translating 2 Thessalonians 2:3 (Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,) use of the word “apostacy” [Gk. Apostacia, a falling away] to mean “calling away” to present an idea of the pre-tribulation rapture directly in the text of the New Testament. It is deplorable. The organization called the “Jehovah’s Witnesses” did the same thing when they “re-translated” (incorrectly) John 1:1. Absolutely deplorable. Re-writing scripture caries its own penalties, and I don’t want that, and neither should any of you. “upward call.” I take this to be the spiritual calling to a higher purpose, a better life, lived in a better way, and one that makes peace, not war. One that engenders grace through faith, not works of rightness that God says are “menstrual rags” in Isaiah.
- No, God calls us toward a prize – to that higher call to be a better person – to be like Christ Jesus, the God-man.
15: Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you;
- And there is Paul, saying it again…”and not just me – you can come too.” Here’s a question for you…how many of those activities of Paul were meant to be imitated? Answer: ALL OF THEM. Imitated by who? Well, those who are “perfect.” The word teleios means to come to an end of sorts, and therefore maturity of some kind. The NASB here notes in the margin that as many as are MATURE should have the attitude Paul is describing.
- And if your attitude needs changing, God is going to show you – then it’s your job to obey Him in faith.
16: however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.
- Let us “keep following in line” by that same standard to which we have attained. When I went camping with others, we followed the leader (we took turns orienteering for the group), and we all walked in a single line. Why? It was the broken trail, and it was easier to walk.
- People wonder why living as a Christian is so hard sometimes. My very first question when they ask me is where they fellowship, and I will invariably hear from them that they don’t think it is important to go to church or fellowship with other Christians, sometimes with excuses, sometimes with justifying reasons (I have been hurt is the usual one, and it’s a valid reason to leave a place). It is just plain easier to walk with the Lord if we all take turns breaking trail and keeping each other encouraged with fellowship along the way. This verse doesn’t say you have to fellowship with other Christians, but I think it demonstrates why it is better.
- There is something that needs to be pointed out here. The word “standard” is inserted into the English translation to clarify the meaning. The actual Greek is arranged like this: “however to which we have attained by that same let us keep living.” That’s the word order, and I think the NASB translators have done a great job. But this one has a cool twist for me and my orienteering analogy. The translation could be like this: “however, by what we have reached or have attained, let us continue to range in a military-style line of marching.” I’ve never served in the military here in Canada, but I certainly respect them. And if you know anything about a regular military-style skirmish line, it’s in single file behind the point man who is breaking trail, about 10 feet apart. And they take turns breaking trail, too. The word is stoicheo, and we get our word stoichiometry from it (it’s a relationship between relative quantities of substances in a chemical reaction for all of you who also had to suffer through organic chemistry in university). You know, Scripture tells us that we are strangers and exiles (Heb 11:13). The imagery is like that of Israel in the desert, all “camping” in tents. The word “tabernacle” can be translated “tent.” Maybe it is no wonder that I miss going camping. Let’s not get into fishing, that’s a whole other gospel conversation.
17: Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.
- Again, written to real believers, not to nominal churchians, meaning the folks who think that they’re doing God a favour by showing up for an hour every Sunday. Why real “little Christs?” Because Paul is calling them to join in. The word is sumimetes and means “become a fellow imitator.” Paul wants them to follow his own example, and not just his, but also to observe with the point of imitating, others who also walk like we (Timothy was with Paul, remember) do.
18: For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ,
- Remember those nominal churchians? Not all of them show up for an hour and then leave until next time they darken the door. Some of them think that religion is their thing and have to be involved in all the committees they can be involved in, and get really angry when they aren’t but more on that in a minute. They’re back with a vengeance.
- Paul has often told those friends in Philippi about these people, and now says it with real tears, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ. Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve used words to be diplomatic most of my adult life. Paul has pulled no punches with this remark. We used to say back on the farm, “Them’s fightin’ words…” He describes them. Next verse.
19: whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.
- Paul says a lot here. Let’s break it down and unpack it a bit. “whose end is destruction [apoleia, ruin or loss, death, perdition, perish, pernicious, waste]…” Well, does this say these people will end in Hell? I think so, but to all the annihilationists, this does not seem to imply they will be no more. This has a flavour of living through destruction, as after ruin, loss, and waste in Greek. I will admit that I’m not a Greek scholar, but there seems to be suffering as an outcome. Even death or perishing isn’t an end, it’s merely a state of change (some say separation, I think maybe not, more like cannot get away from God the Wrathful).
- “Whose god is their appetite [koila, stomach, inward parts, appetites…]” These are the people that pursue wholeheartedly what they want when they want it, to the point where it rules their schedule, their time, their energy, their entire life like God wants to do. Some of these things are not wrong in themselves. Like Camping! But if I spent all my money on it, what would my kids eat? How would I pay for my insulin and heart medications? You get the idea. Sometimes, these things are wrong. Like a sexual relationship. There is only one contextually correct place to have that, and it is within the borders of Christian marriage. Anything else is either fornication (meaning sex before you are married with anyone) or adultery (meaning sex with someone other than the one to whom you are married). Pornography is related to those. It’s interesting that the word in the New Testament for “sorcery” is pharmakia, the use of spells and drugs to influence one’s own reality. Alcohol is an subcategory of that.
- “Whose glory is in their shame…” And some of these people are PROUD of the affair, of the amount they drink or use, of their political influence they use for selfish ends. In situations where they should be ashamed of themselves, they are not! In fact they brag about it, some offhandedly, some directly.
- “Who set they minds [phroneos, understandings, thoughts] on earthly things.” As opposed to spiritual things, where the battle really is – it is for our thoughts and our understandings of things. If we set those things on earthly ideals, what hope have we to gain any spiritual victory at all? No, we must let those things we love before God go, and repent and believe. Why?
20: For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;
- The word for “citizenship” here is politeuma, and is a reference to a form of government that rules us. It is well translated as citizenship. Paul in other places thinks of himself as an ambassador for Christ. An abassador is a citizen of another realm, and that is what Paul is telling us that we are – citizens of heaven.
- Paul also tells us that we should be eagerly waiting for our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ to come from there! This and the next verse are one of a few dozen reasons I cannot see an Amillenial view of Scripture. If you look at this and the next verse together, Paul is talking about some very real physical events, and I cannot simply “spiritualize” it. It says that our Lord is going to come from there in this verse…
21: who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
- He is talking about a physical transformation of our bodies from that which is earthly into that which is like His own, by the exertion [energia, the operative power] of the power [dunamai, to be able, capable, strong, powerful] that He has even to subject [rank under] all things to Himself.
- Do you realize the implications of what Paul has said here? Jesus saved us when He died on the cross to redeem us, He is saving us as we struggle and press on toward that higher call, that being a better person, that holiness that He is performing – both the willing and the doing – of God’s good pleasure in us, and that when He returns, He will save us by transforming what we were to be like Him, that is salvation-glorification. That is when He returns for us. Amazing stuff.
Okay, we’ll stop there for this week. We’ll be back next week with Philippians 4, and then move on to the book of Colossians.