STUDY 9: PHILIPPIANS 3:1 – 11

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

So far in his letter to the Philippians Paul has referred several times to the concept of joy or rejoicing. He uses a number of different words to refer to this, and continues to do so as we read on through the letter.

Here is what he says and the words he uses

‘I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel’ (1:4) – chara – joy, delight, gladness.

‘... Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice’ (1:18) – chairo – rejoice.

‘... I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith’ (1:25) – chara.

‘... so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me’ (1:26) – kauchema – rejoicing, boasting, glorying.

‘... make my joy complete ...’ (2:2) – chara.

‘... as you hold out the word of life – in order that I may boast on the day of Christ’ (2:16) – kauchema.

‘I am glad and rejoice with all of you’ (2:17) – sugchairo – rejoice with.

‘So you too should be glad and rejoice with me (2:18) – sugchairo.

‘... so that when you see him again you may be glad’ (2:28) – chairo.

‘Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord!’ (3:1) – chairo.

‘... who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh’ (3:3) – kauchaomai – boast, glory, joy, rejoice.

‘Therefore, my brothers ... my joy and crown ...’ (4:1) – chara.

‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!’ (4:4) – chairo.

Before we look at what Paul writes in chapter three, note two things about the concept of joy and rejoicing:

[1] The most commonly used words – chara (noun) and chairo (verb) – are closely, etymologically, related to the word usually translated ‘grace’ – charis. This connection should cause us to pause and consider the theological connection between the two concepts of grace and joy. It is God’s grace that causes our joy. At the same time, it gives God great joy to act towards us in grace. Grace is a particularly joyful thing – both for the giver and the receiver.


[2] There is a connection between rejoicing and boasting/glorying. This is evident in Philippians and elsewhere in the New Testament. The cause of our rejoicing (Jesus Christ and the salvation he gives us), is also the focus of our glorying/boasting. And this Christocentric joy/glory/boasting is what Paul is now going to impress on us in the first half of his third chapter.

 

A. REJOICE IN THE LORD

Christians should be the most joyful people on the planet because God has lavished his saving grace upon us without measure, without limitation, without conditions. The message the angel gave to the shepherds in Luke 2 was ‘I bring you good news of great joy ... a Saviour has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord.’

But so very often Christians are not joyful, and this absence of joy is not because of any failure or lack in the gospel. The gospel does two things: firstly, it makes the one true God known to us in Christ, which in itself is a cause of joy; and, secondly, it assures us of a comprehensive and complete salvation given to us in Christ: a salvation that is rock solid because it depends solely on the finished work of Jesus Christ, and not at all on ourselves.

And there, in these grand and glorious truths, we find the reason for the absence of ‘great joy’ in many of our Christian brothers and sisters: that they are, for one reason or another, looking at themselves, rather than on Christ, and finding themselves to be a cause for despair, rather than a cause for joy.

It is this self-focused dilution or corruption of the gospel, or substitute for the gospel, that Paul now addresses in Philippians 3. He does so very emphatically. He knows he has told these believers the same things before (v1), but he is determined to say them again. He knows that they need to hear again the glorious, liberating truth. He knows that only hearing again the truth of God’s grace will keep them safe from the common distortions of the gospel that erode both the peace and the joy of believers.

A.1 Rejoice in the Lord
So Paul’s command is clear and brief: Rejoice in the Lord.

Christ is the source of our joy. Both because of who he is and because of what he has done for us.

When our trust is divided between Christ and our personal religious credentials there are no rational grounds for joy. Christ will never fail, but we both will and do. And because we and our perceived religious contribution to our salvation are never reliable the solidity and certainty of Christ’s contribution is irrelevant if we are trusting in both. There may be a day here and there when we think we have successfully walked the Christian walk, but tomorrow always looms ahead of us with high potential for failure, and self-doubts, most likely well-placed, dilute our confidence even on our good days.

God wants us to be people of great joy. What do these verses teach about the focus and cause of joy?
1Chronicles 16:10

1Chronicles 16:31 – 33

 

2Chronicles 6:41

Psalm 5:11

Psalm 9:2, 14

 

Psalm 43:4

Psalm 98:4 – 9

 

Isaiah 25:9

Isaiah 35:10

Habakkuk 3:18

Zechariah 9:9

1Peter 1:6 – 8

These are just a few examples of verses that speak of rejoicing or glorying in the Lord and in the wonderful things he has done for us. But that is something that we can do only if we know and believe who he is and what he has done, and trust only in that. When we put something else there, either instead of or beside him, the joy and the confidence are either seriously diminished or destroyed.

A.2 ‘Watch out ...’
Jesus and the apostles consistently warned against people who distort the truth. They commanded alertness and awareness because of the inevitability that such people would always be present in the church. (This study focuses on the New Testament guidelines about how to respond to false teachers and false teaching.)

The particular false teaching that Paul addresses in Philippians 3 was being promoted by Jews who did not understand that God’s gift of righteousness is apart from law. They were teaching that in order to be accepted by God Gentiles who believed in Jesus Christ must undergo the Jewish ritual of physical circumcision. In other words, physical circumcision was necessary for salvation.

Read 3:2, 3. Answer/discuss these questions:
What two ‘names’ does Paul call these false teachers?

Suggest what feelings/thoughts moved Paul to use such harsh words.

 

What does Paul mean by these phrases:
[1] ‘it is we who are the circumcision’

 

[2] ‘we who worship by the Spirit of God’

 

[3] ‘who glory in Christ Jesus’

 

[4] ‘and who put no confidence in the flesh’.

 

It is obvious from Paul’s name-calling that he is very upset by these false teachers. And that is not at all surprising. They were diminishing the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ and rendering his grace ineffective. They were so distorting the gospel that it ceased to be grace-based and became performance-based. And by that distortion they robbed it of its life-changing, liberating power. By that distortion, they forced those who succumbed to their teaching into a relationship with God where everything depended on them, and where Christ and his cross were effectively removed from the scene. Joy in Christ was replaced with a spurious joy/boasting in one’s own conformity to ritual.

‘Dogs’ was a derogatory and insulting term used by Jews to refer to Gentiles. But here Paul turns the table on these Jewish false teachers and calls them ‘dogs’. They believed they were upholding Judaism by insisting on circumcision, but they were by that insistence identifying themselves as people who failed to rightly believe. It is they who are outside, not these Gentiles who had believed in Jesus Christ. All they are doing is insisting on, and putting their confidence in, what Paul here terms the mutilation of the flesh – circumcision, a physical thing - unrelated to true faith in Christ.

In clear contrast Paul refers to himself and other believers as ‘the circumcision’ and those ‘who worship by the Spirit’ – that is, their worship of God is not based on anything physical. It is something generated by the Spirit and grounded not on human achievement but on the regenerating, life-giving operation of the Spirit of God. They are not set apart as God’s people by the physical sign of circumcision, but are set apart, sealed and marked as God’s possession by the Holy Spirit.

Check these verses:
Romans 2:25 – 29

Ephesians 1:13, 14

1Peter 1:2

A second contrast is that Paul and all who trust in Christ ‘glory in Christ’, not in anything to do with their own perceived credentials. They thank and praise him for their salvation. They see their salvation as provided completely in and by him. He is their boast. He is their glory. He is the source of their joy. Not themselves or anything they themselves are or do or have done. They ‘put no confidence in the flesh.’

So Paul strongly warns us to ‘watch out’ for people in the church who teach otherwise.

A.3 Paul’s previous reasons for boasting
Paul understood very clearly the perspective of these false teachers. He himself used to have the same mindset. He himself, up to the day Christ confronted him on the Damascus road, had rated his acceptance with God, his ‘righteousness’, in terms of his personal religious credentials and his personal religious performance. That was his mindset. That was his belief. That was what drove him to oppose those who proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord and salvation through Christ alone.

Read Philippians 3:4 – 6. Make a list of everything Paul previously pinned his confidence on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul was confident that no one’s religious résumé was better than his. His list of merit points was the ultimate.

He was ‘circumcised on the eighth day’, which is what the law required (Genesis 17:12).

He was ‘of the people of Israel’ – the nation descended from Abraham, created and chosen by God for his special purpose (Genesis 12:2 – 3).

He was ‘of the tribe of Benjamin’, one of the two tribes that did not desert the God-appointed kingly line of David (1Kings 12:21 – 24).

He was ‘a Hebrew of the Hebrews’ – a ‘pure’ Jew, with no foreign blood in his ancestry, and one who did not mix his Hebrew cultural heritage with the surrounding Greek and Roman cultures and values. He lived as a Hebrew, uncorrupted by the dominant culture.

He was ‘in regard to the law, a Pharisee’. He was very intentional about keeping the law of Moses, even the hundreds of miniscule, keepable regulations into which the teachers of the Law had expanded the Law.

He was so zealous for God’s honour that he ‘persecuted the church’ which was, in his opinion, dishonouring God by blasphemously preaching the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they designated Lord and God (Acts 8:1; 9:1, 2, 21).

He was, in terms of legalistic righteousness, ‘faultless’. He so lived that no legal charge could be brought against him.

So, Paul is saying, I know what it’s like to have confidence in the flesh – in who I am and what I have done, in my race and my religion. I know what it’s like to boast and brag about personal religious credentials. I know what it’s like to glory in my own religious merit. I know what it’s like to get my joy and my confidence from my own religious achievements.

In bagging the false teachers Paul is not ignorant of their position. He understands their perspectives and their theology. Because that is exactly where he stood before meeting with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus.

Consider/discuss: To what extent are you basing your relationship with God on any of these things?
Religious rites and rituals

Nationality

Religious affiliation

Racial heritage

Keeping God’s laws, or human additions to God’s laws

Zeal for God

Civil obedience

Now change the question. To what extent do you feel that your fellow believers are relating to you on the basis of any of these things?
Religious rites and rituals

Nationality

Religious affiliation

Racial heritage

Keeping God’s law, or human additions to God’s laws

Zeal for God

Civil obedience

Now change the question again, and think very honestly about it: To what extent are you relating to your fellow believers on the basis of any of these things?
Religious rites and rituals

Nationality

Religious affiliation

Racial heritage

Keeping God’s law, or human additions to God’s law

Zeal for God

Civil obedience

Paul used to rejoice in all of these things. He used to think them enough to gain and maintain a good relationship with God. But he is now telling the Philippians, and us, not to rejoice in these things. Not to put our confidence in any of these things. Not to boast, brag or glory about any of these things.

From a human religious perspective these are the things that are valued. These are the things that give a person significance in the eyes of their fellow humans. These are the things that make a person feel that they are acceptable and have succeeded.

But in God’s perspective that is not the case. From God’s perspective all that matters is Christ.

So Paul tells us, rather than glorying and boasting in these kinds of personal credentials, to ‘rejoice in the Lord’, to ‘glory in Christ Jesus’, to ‘put no confidence in the flesh’.

All of our confidence, all of our boasting, all of our glorying, all of our rejoicing should come only and always from Jesus Christ. We believe in him. We do not believe in ourselves. He alone is faithful. He alone is worthy of our trust. He alone is worth boasting about and glorying in.

 

B. PAUL’S SOLE FOCUS - CHRIST

Having told us where his confidence used to be, he then tells us where it is now. The contrast is intense. The two are separated by a strong ‘but’. [There are two ‘buts’ in the Greek – one soft, the other strong and significant. It is this strong ‘but’ – alla in the Greek – that begins verse seven.] The things he used to value and trust, he values and trusts no longer. He now places no saving value on them at all.

Read Philippians 3:7 – 11. Answer/discuss these questions:
How does Paul regard the things he used to glory in?

 

What does he consider far greater?

What has he discarded, and what has he put in its place?

Instead of seeking personal glory, what does Paul want?

Suggest what Paul means by ‘the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith’.

 

What phrases does Paul use to describe the superior and exclusive significance of Jesus Christ?

 

In Paul’s description of the change that occurred in his thinking we see a powerful example of biblical repentance. It was not a turning away from moral sin, but a turning away from wrong belief. This repentance, this change of mind, was for Paul extremely radical, and it resulted from a radical, revelationary confrontation with the risen, glorified Lord Jesus Christ. That confrontation, and the resultant repentance, is reported in Acts 9.

Read Acts 9:1 – 30. Answer/discuss these questions:
Prior to this encounter, what was Paul’s attitude to Christ and those who believed in him? (vv1, 2, 4, 5, 13, 14, 21, 26).

 

What similarities are there between the way Jesus Christ appeared to Paul (Saul) on the road to Damascus, and the way God appeared to significant people on other occasions? (vv.3; compare Exodus 3:2; 13:21, 22; Ezekiel 1:27, 28).

Suggest how Paul would have felt when the voice of God said ‘I am Jesus’.

 

Suggest how the Lord’s words ‘whom you are persecuting’ would have made Paul realize how wrong and misdirected his ‘zeal’ for God’s honour was.

 

What was the central aspect of Paul’s change of mind? (vv 20, 22).

 

How does this help you to understand what the word ‘repent’ means?

 

Paul (Saul) began his journey to Damascus firmly convinced of two things central things:

That his relationship with God was secure because of the personal religious credentials that he lists in Philippians 3:4 – 6.
That Jesus Christ was a blasphemous human being, and both his name and those people who proclaimed him as the Lord, needed to be eradicated.

But Paul (Saul) arrived in Damascus having completely changed his mind. He now believed that:

Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of God, the Lord.
That salvation is not a matter of human credentials, but wholly dependent on Jesus Christ, as he explains in Philippians 3:7 – 11.

This change of mind is biblical repentance. The Greek word translated ‘repent’ is metanoeometa indicating change, and noeo a verb meaning to understand, to perceive, to comprehend. Repentance is thus a change in a person’s mind, in the way a person thinks, perceives, understands. Such a change will, inevitably flow on into a change in action and behaviour, but the key element is a change in a person’s thinking.

What Paul previously believed and was committed to, he believes no more. He now repudiates what he once staked his life on. What he once trusted he trusts no longer. He has completely discarded his previous belief about Jesus Christ and about his own religious credentials.

Before he denied Christ. Now he proclaims Christ as Lord.

Before he trusted in himself. Now he trusts only Christ.

Before he persecuted those who named Christ as Lord. Now he is persecuted for proclaiming Christ.

Personal inventory:
Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Lord God Almighty?

If not, who or what do you believe he is?

Do you realize the significance of believing or not believing that Jesus Christ is God? (Read John 8:24.)

What are you trusting for your acceptance by God? Your own religious credentials? Or Christ alone?

Do you realize the impossibility of your religious credentials ever being sufficient to qualify you in God’s presence? Read Romans 3:20.

 

B.1 The ‘righteousness’ in which Paul trusted
The contrast between Paul’s perceived personal ‘righteousness’ and the ‘righteousness’ that comes from God by faith is great.

As Paul recounts in Philippians 3:7 – 11:

The perceived personal ‘righteousness’ that he used to reckon as ‘profit’ he now reckons as ‘loss’ – that is, detrimental to his standing with God, rather than improving to his standing with God.

He considers all of that list in verses 4 – 6 to be ‘rubbish’. The word literally means ‘that which is thrown to the dogs’. Some translations have ‘dung’. It refers to refuse that is thrown away as worthless. Some commentators include ‘excrement’, along with ‘dregs’ and ‘dross’.

He now considers that list of personal merit given in verses 4 – 6 not only useless, but also as making a negative contribution to his standing with God. It is not even worth considering. It is not worth including. He does not even dare to add these previously perceived personal credit points to the perfect righteousness of Christ in which he now placed his confidence.

Read 3:7 – 10. List the phrases used to describe this ‘righteousness’ that Paul now depends on.

 

 

 

 

That perfect, utterly trustworthy, righteousness is:

Not his own.
Not based on the law.
It comes through faith in Christ.
It comes from God.
It is by faith.
It is inseparable from knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.

In his letters to the Romans and the Galatians Paul has much to say about this ‘righteousness’, this being ‘justified by faith.’ Note that the English words ‘righteousness’ and ‘justification’ translate the same Greek word - dikaiosune. The related verb, justify, is dikaioo. These are words from the law courts, referring to the declaration of a ‘not guilty’ verdict. They are words of legal acquittal.

Check these verses. What do they teach about this righteousness/justification/acquittal?
Romans 1:17

Romans 3:21 – 26

 

Romans 4:3

Romans 4:5

Romans 4:23, 24

 

Galatians 2:15, 16

Galatians 3:6 - 9

 

The ‘righteousness’ of which Paul writes in Philippians 3 is the free gift of God to all who believe in his Son. It is the crediting to them of the righteousness of Christ, who fulfilled completely the just requirements of God’s law. In his living Jesus was completely innocent. He had no sin. In his dying he bore completely the just penalty of the law incurred by our sin. All of that – both the positive innocence, and the bearing of the negative penalty – is credited to those united to Christ by faith. Christ provides the righteousness that God requires. Christ took upon himself our sin and guilt and paid its price in full.

So now Paul has embraced this incredible provision of God. Confronted by the Lord Jesus, the Lord of glory, God the Son, Paul has not only realised that his perception of Jesus Christ was totally wrong; he has also realised the poverty and powerlessness of his own perceived religious credentials and has cast them aside. He now trusts only in the perfect righteousness of Christ. That ‘righteousness’ of Christ not only provides the 100% perfection that he himself could never confidently achieve, but also deals with the totality of his sin and guilt.

And in that righteousness, in that Christ, he rejoices, he boasts, he glories.

For extended discussion of this ‘righteousness’ look at this study and this study.

C. PAUL’S DESIRE

Read Philippians 3:7 – 11. What desired outcomes does Paul express in these verses?
Verse 9:

Verse 10 - #1:

Verse 10 - #2:

Verse 10 - #3:

Verse 10 - #4:

Verse 11:

These are the outcomes for which Paul has stopped trusting in his own religious credentials. We will discuss them further in the next study.