Philippians 3 is all about justification. Justification may be defined as that act of God whereby he declares righteous him who believes in Christ. The key verse in this chapter is:
Philippians 3:9 (NKJV) and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;
This is the righteousness that Paul wanted to have, that which comes by faith in Christ. This is speaking of justification by faith alone. At the end of verse 9, Paul says, "the righteousness which is from God by faith." The source of true righteousness is God. When you trust in Christ, God gives you His righteousness.
The Greek word that Paul uses here for "righteousness" is dikaiosune. When Paul uses this word, he nearly always has the meaning of "a right relationship with God" in mind. It means that you are loved and accepted by God on the basis of faith alone.
In verses 4-7, Paul talks about what he did in the flesh to earn favor with God. He lists all his human accomplishments. In verse 8, he says that he now counts all his fleshly accomplishment as dung, in order that he may win Christ. He tells that he is no longer trusting in his own righteousness in order that he may gain Christ. Then in verses 9-11, he tells us what it means to gain Christ. In verse 9, he tells us that to gain Christ means to receive His righteousness. Then he goes on in verses 10-11, to explain further what it means to gain Christ.
I see all of the things he mentions in verses 10-11 to be results of justification. Paul "suffered the loss of all things, and counted them as dung" in order that he may "gain Christ." And gaining Christ means: "Receiving his righteousness, knowing him, knowing the power of his resurrection, knowing the fellowship of his suffering, being made like him in our death to sin, and attaining the resurrection from the dead."
Then in verse 12, Paul says this:
Philippians 3:12 (NKJV) Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
This can be very confusing if you don't understand the transition period. Paul is saying, "I don't have it yet." What was it that Paul had not yet attained? What is it that he doesn't have yet? Is it the resurrection that he mentioned in verse 11 that he has not attained? Yes, the resurrection is included, but it is more than that, it is justification!
I think that what Paul is saying is that his justification had not yet been consummated. This fits the context of what Paul has been talking about. At the time of Paul's writing, righteousness was not a consummated reality, it was still a hope. The futuristic perspective of God's righteousness was clearly expressed by Paul:
Galatians 5:5 (NKJV) For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
If righteousness was already a fulfilled or completed event, Paul made a big mistake in making "righteousness" by faith a matter of hope. You don't hope for what you have.
Most believers don't understand that we live in a different age than Paul did. Paul lived in what the Bible calls the "last days"- they were the last days of the Old Covenant age. Those "last days" began with the birth of Christ and ended at AD 70 when the Jewish temple was destroyed. We now live in what the Bible calls "the age to come," which is the New Covenant age. The forty year period, from Pentecost to Holocaust, was a time of transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. In this transition period, the New Covenant had been inaugurated but not consummated. It was a time of "already but not yet." In this forty year period, the church was moving from infancy to adulthood, from immaturity to perfection. The ongoing tension of this transition period from the Old to the New Covenant is what much of the New Testament talks about.
Under the Old Covenant, they were never made perfect. And because they were not perfect, they could not enter God's presence.
Most commentators see Philippians 3:12-16 as Paul talking about his growth in practical Christianity, practical sanctification. But I think it is clear from the context that Paul is talking about justification. In order to understand Paul, we need to understand the transition period.
Let's look at a passage that shows us this transition from the Old to the New Covenant:
2 Corinthians 3:1-3 (NKJV) Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you? 2 You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 3 clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.
Do you see the contrast that Paul is making here? He is comparing the Old Covenant (tablets of stone) to the New Covenant (tablets of flesh). Giving his people a heart of flesh, the New Covenant, was prophesied in the Old Testament:
Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NKJV) "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
So, Paul is clearly making a comparison in this chapter between the Old and New Covenants.
2 Corinthians 3:6-9 (NKJV) who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory.
Again, we see the contrast in the covenants, the Old Covenant "kills," it was a "ministry of death," but the New Covenant "gives life." The Old Covenant was a "ministry of condemnation," but the New Covenant is a "ministry of righteousness."
2 Corinthians 3:11 (NKJV) For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.
If you are using the KJV, verse 11 is an incorrect translation. It is not past tense but present tense, "is passing away."
2 Corinthians 3:11 (KJV) For if that which isdone away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.
The Old Covenant , which was inferior in glory, was in the process of passing away in Paul's day. The writer of Hebrews says this same thing:
Hebrews 8:13 (NKJV) In that He says, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
During the transition period, the Old Covenant was passing away, it was "becoming obsolete", it was ready to "vanish away."
2 Corinthians 3:18 (NKJV) But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
"But we all" is referring to believers in contrast to unbelievers. Believers during the transition period were "being transformed" into the image of God. Again the KJV gives the wrong tense:
2 Corinthians 3:18 (KJV) But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
The transformation was a process that was going on during the transition period. The saints of the transition period were being changed into the image of God. To be in God's image is to have His righteousness. Paul expresses this same idea in:
Galatians 4:19 (NKJV) My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you,
The word "formed" is the Greek word morphoo, which means: "essence or nature." At the consummation of the New Covenant, they would have the very nature of Christ -- they would have His righteousness.
Back to our text in 2 Corinthians 3:18, "From glory to glory" is in this context referring to the Old Covenant glory and the New Covenant glory. They were moving from the Old Covenant glory to the far superior New Covenant glory. They were moving from the "ministration of condemnation" to the "ministration of righteousness."
So, in Philippians 3:12-16, Paul is pressing on to lay hold of the righteousness of Christ at the consummation of the New Covenant at the return of Christ. Righteousness was not yet consummated, justification was not yet a completed act until the second coming. Paul pushes on to this end.
Now, in Philippians 3:17-19, Paul calls upon the Philippians to follow his example in counting human effort, fleshly achievements, as dung in order to win Christ.
Philippians 3:17 (NKJV) Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.
Paul is saying, "follow me and others of like conduct in 'reaching forward to those things which are ahead.'" Paul is not talking here about spiritual growth. He is striving for the eschatological consummation that would come at the end of the Jewish age at the return of Christ.
The words "following my example" are from the Greek word summimetes. It means: "co-imitators." "Join" is in the present tense and speaks of continued action. "Keep on being mimics of me." Paul is saying, "I press on (verse 14), you mimic me."
In order for Paul to say this, he had to be exceptionally careful about his conduct. He urged his followers to be equally careful:
1 Corinthians 10:32-33 (NKJV) Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. 11:1 Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.
Paul didn't ask others to do what he himself was not doing. He led by example. As we study the New Testament, we see so much from the life of Paul that helps us. He is a model of what God wants us all to be.
The word "note" (Phil 3:17) is the Greek word skopeo. It means: "to fix the attention upon with a desire for or interest in, to observe intently." This verb is used in Romans 16:17 in a negative sense of: "watch and avoid":
Romans 16:17 (NKJV) Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.
But in the Philippians text, it is used in a positive sense of: "watch and follow."
The word "walk" (Phil 3:17) is peripateo. It is used of practical conduct as distinct from mental activity. It is referring to life, how we live. The word "example" is from the Greek word tupos, which means: "example or pattern." Its original usage had reference to an impression, or mark, made by a blow. It is used of the nail prints in Christ in:
John 20:25 (NKJV) The other disciples therefore said to him, "We have seen the Lord." So he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."
Unless we are imitators of Christ, we leave false impressions with others as to what Christianity really is. Everyone of us is to be an example to someone. The children in our homes and in this assembly are consciously or unconsciously following the examples we set.
Paul not only tells them what to do, he shows them by his life. With Paul, it wasn't "do as I say, not as I do." With Paul, is was, "Do as I do." Notice what he said in:
Philippians 4:9 (NKJV) The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.
Paul is saying, "Do as I do." We all need flesh and blood examples that we can follow. This is one of the purposes of elders or pastors in the local church. They are to lead the church by example.
1 Peter 5:1-3 (NKJV) The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock;
The word "elder" is the Greek word presbuteros. This word is used 70 times in the New Testament. It refers to maturity in age, it simply means an older man. Presbuteros is used 20 times in Acts and the Epistles in reference to leaders in the Church. Elders should be older men who are spiritually mature.
The word "shepherd" is the Greek word poimaino. Its normal meaning is: "shepherd", which is to protect, feed, care for, and lead. And the word "overseers" is the Greek word episkopeo. Its basic meaning is: "overseer or guardian," It is used 5 times in the New Testament, once of Christ (1 Peter 2:25), and 4 other times to refer to Church leaders.
We can see from this text in 1 Peter that Pastors are not distinct from Bishops and Elders; the terms are simply different ways of identifying the same people. Textual evidence indicates that all three terms refer to the same office. Peter instructs the elders to be good overseers as they pastor.
Then in verse 3, Peter tells the elders to be an example to the flock. The elders are to follow Christ that the church may have flesh and blood examples to follow. Paul told Timothy to be an example:
1 Timothy 4:12 (NKJV) Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
This is a serious responsibility for church leaders, they are to be an example. What I teach is very important, but it must be supported by my life. To preach one thing and live another is to be a hypocrite! And the church certainly doesn't need any more of those.
I was listening to a tape from a preacher in Texas, and he said, "What I am outside this pulpit is none of your business." He's wrong! Our lives are to be an example to all we teach.
This is one of the most serious failings in the church today -- ungodly leaders. The church is to be lead by the living, visual power of example.
In this text in Philippians, Paul is calling the Philippian believers to follow him in his pursuit of righteousness. Since AD 70, the church has had what Paul was pursuing. We now have Christ's righteousness. We are complete in Him. But we are still to be pursuing a life of practical righteousness. We are to work out in practice what we are in reality. This is our pursuit-- practical sanctification. We are to display Christlikeness in our daily lives.
So Paul tells the Philippians to "follow examples", and then he tells them to:
Philippians 3:18-19 (NKJV) 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: 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame; who set their mind on earthly things.
Paul was always concerned with the enemies of the church. He says, "Follow me and others who are pursuing the prize, because many aren't pursuing the prize and they are enemies of the cross of Christ. Don't follow them!"
Paul says, "Don't follow the many." The word "many" is the Greek word polus, it means: "much, largely, mostly, many." A large number aren't pursuing the prize, they are enemies. The word "walk" is peripateo, It is used of practical conduct as distinct from mental activity. It is referring to life, how we live. Notice it is their WALK that makes them enemies. "Of whom I have told you often." Paul no doubt warned them of these enemies when he was with them. "Even weeping"-- this is the only time in the New Testament where Paul actually says he's presently weeping. "As I write, I weep." Paul was deeply grieved over these enemies of the cross.
WHO ARE THE ENEMIES? There is much debate on this subject, but I think it is clear from the context (Phil. 3:2) that Paul is talking about the Judaizers. This is a continuation of Paul's warning from verse 2. Paul used similar language in warning the Ephesian elders in:
Acts 20:29-31 (NKJV) "For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 "Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. 31 "Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.
The Judaizers were a group of people who went around in the first century promoting Judaism. They were pushing Judaism on the believers. They were saying that in order to be a Christian, you must first come through the door of Judaism. You must be circumcised and keep the law. They were saying, "Yes, you must trust in Christ, but you also must keep the law." Their object was the overthrow of Paul's form of Christian doctrine and the establishment of a Christianity in which the Mosaic law should continue in full force, especially in the matter of circumcision.
In Acts 15, we see one of the first church counsels. And the debate was over the need for believers to be circumcised and keep the law.
Acts 15:1 (NKJV) And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."
This is an attack on the finished work of Christ on the cross. They are saying that you can't be saved by faith alone, you must also be circumcised.
Acts 15:5 (NKJV) But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses."
These Judaizers can be either one of two groups; they can be Jews who are not Christians that are just out pushing Judaism, or they could be believers, as verse 5 indicates, "Pharisees who believed." They were believers who had not parted from the Mosaic system. The Judaizers didn't denounce Christ, they just said that what He did was not enough. We must add to it. They were teaching a faith plus works system, which is a denial of the saving power of the cross.
Paul gives us five descriptions of these enemies:
1. "They are enemies of the cross of Christ."
"The cross of Christ" is used in metonymy for the atoning work of Christ. This is a good description of the Judaizers. They didn't deny that Christ died, but they said it was not enough. They were teaching that the law and the cross were both necessary to obtain righteousness. But Paul said:
Galatians 2:21 (NKJV) "I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain."
R.C.H. Lenski writes, "The worst enemies of 'the cross' are not those who object to a crucified Savior but those who deny that the cross and the sacrifice of Christ alone justify and save the sinner."
We don't have Judaizers around today but there are plenty of other enemies of the cross who teach that the faith alone in Christ's finished work is not enough.
If you are trusting to any degree in you own morality or religious attainments, or if you believe God will somehow recognize any of your good works as merit toward your salvation, you need to seriously consider if you are truly a Christian.
R. C. Sproul wrote:
Perhaps the most difficult task for us to perform is to rely on God's grace and God's grace alone for our salvation. It is difficult for our pride to rest on grace. Grace is for other people-- for beggars. We don't want to live by a heavenly welfare system. We want to earn our own way and atone for our own sins. We like to think that we will go to heaven because we deserve to be there. ("Suffering and Merit?", Tabletalk Magazine, vol 13, no. 1.)
2. "Whose end is destruction."
The word "end" is telos meaning: "goal or outcome." The word "destruction" is the Greek word apoleia, which means: "ruin, loss, destruction." It is translated "wasted" in:
Mark 14:4 (NKJV) But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, "Why was this fragrant oil wasted (apoleia)?
This verb form of the word is used of unbelievers being eternally damned:
John 3:16 (NKJV) "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish (apollumi) but have everlasting life.
But this same verb is also used of believers:
Romans 14:15 (NKJV) Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy (apollumi) with your food the one for whom Christ died.
1 Corinthians 8:11 (NKJV) And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish (apollumi), for whom Christ died?
As those who hold to the Reformed faith, we know that if Christ died for them, then they are believers and this could not be referring to eternal destruction.
This same verb is also used of physical death:
1 Corinthians 10:9 (NKJV) nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed (apollumi) by serpents;
If our text in Philippians 3:19 is talking about unbelievers, it could be referring to eternal damnation. But, if it is referring to believers who have departed the faith and gone back to Judaism, it could be talking about their physical death in the destruction of Jerusalem. The verb is used this way in:
Matthew 21:33-41 (NKJV) "Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. 34 "Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. 35 "And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36 "Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. 37 "Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' 38 "But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.' 39 "So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 "Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?" 41 They said to Him, "He will destroy (apollumi) those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons."
This destruction is in the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Notice also:
Matthew 22:1-7 (NKJV) And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: 2 "The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, 3 "and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. 4 "Again, he sent out other servants, saying, 'Tell those who are invited, "See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding."' 5 "But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. 6 "And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. 7 "But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed (apollumi) those murderers, and burned up their city.
All who held to the laws of Judaism were destroyed in the destruction of the city in AD 70. This could be the "end" that Paul is referring to in our text.
3. "Whose god is their belly."
The word "belly" is the Greek word koilia, it means: "a cavity." Our word "colitis" comes from it, it has to do with the mid section, particularly the stomach.
This description has caused many commentators to take the position that this is not speaking of the Judaizers. They try to make this a reference to antinomianism. But this description fits well with Judaism. This would be another way of saying that they are controlled by the flesh and not the spirit. Paul gave this same warning in:
Romans 16:17-18 (NKJV) Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.
In view of the Judaizers' blind devotion to the earthly types and shadows of the Old Covenant, the term "belly" aptly defines their state of carnality.
4. Whose glory is in their shame."
Their glory was in their law keeping, their circumcision.
Galatians 6:12-13 (NKJV) As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. 13 For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast (glory) in your flesh.
The Judaizers boasted or gloried in their circumcision. By way of contrast, Paul, after coming to understand the inadequacy of the law, no longer gloried or trusted in "the flesh." Paul wrote:
Galatians 6:14 (NKJV) But God forbid that I should boast (glory) except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
5. "Who set their mind on earthly things."
The word "earthly" is epigeios, which means: " worldly or physical." The earthly things here refer to the temporal things of the Old Covenant economy. The error of the Judaizers was that of clinging to the earthly types and shadows in opposition to the "good things to come."
Hebrews 9:1 (NKJV) Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary.
Hebrews 9:9-10 (NKJV) It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience; 10 concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.
The Old Covenant was earthly, it was a shadow until the time of reformation.
Hebrews 9:11 (NKJV) But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.
The Old Covenant age was quickly coming to an end and Paul was "reaching forward to those things which are ahead" -- the consummation of the New Covenant and righteousness. In AD 70, the Jewish temple was destroyed forever, the Old Covenant had come to an end. We live in the consummated kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ where righteousness is the present possession of every believer.
The Judaizers are gone but the principles taught here remain timeless. We are not saved by anything we do, but by the completed work of Christ on Calvary. We also have a responsibility to follow godly examples and to flee from the enemies of the cross of Christ. The enemies of the cross are those who say that Christ's atoning work on Calvary was not enough to save us, we must add works, human effort, to what Christ has done. This is a lie! We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone!
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