Philippians chapter 3 gives us rich and deep insight into what it means to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”. Paul uses his own life and experiences to warn against the dangers of putting our confidence in the flesh, while also encouraging his readers to place their knowledge of Christ as their greatest ambition.
Join me as we delve into the heart of Philippians 3, exploring its timeless lessons on joy, righteousness, and the pursuit of an intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father. In a world often marred by distractions and uncertainties, the words of Paul in this chapter offer a roadmap to a purposeful and fulfilling life. Let’s navigate through the verses together and discover the enduring truths that continue to resonate through the ages.
The Main Point of Philippians 3
Let’s start with a quick summary.
Chapter 1 gave us some historical context into the book of Philippians. We learned that Paul and the church in Philippi were all suffering persecution. Paul wrote this letter from prison. We also see how the Lord used these sufferings and trials for the advancement of the gospel.
Then, in Philippians 2, we saw a glimpse into the depth of Christ’s humility. He emptied Himself of the form of God to come in the form of man. He then humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross. God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name above every name and authority in heaven and earth.
Christ is worthy of our lives lived for His praise, glory, and honor.
In chapter 12:12 we see the focus of Paul’s letter shift. He moves from talking about the mind and the work of Christ, to instructing the Philippians what their proper response should be to all that the Lord had done for them.
Now, in Philippians 3, we see Paul continue giving these instructions for how they were to conduct themselves as followers of Christ.
Summary of Philippians 3
From my own study, I was able to pick out four different sections in this chapter.
- 1. Philippians 3:1-6 – No Confidence in the Flesh
- 2. Philippians 3:7-9 – Excellency of the Knowledge of Christ Jesus
- 3. Philippians 3:10-16 – The Prize of the High Calling in God
- 4. Philippians 3:17-21 – Walk as Those Who Have Been Called to Eternal Life
Here is an overview of each of these sections, verse by verse.
Summary of Philippians 3:1-6 – No Confidence in the Flesh
Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble for me, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; 3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and take pride in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh, 4 although I myself could boast as having confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he is confident in the flesh, I have more reason: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.
The first thing we should notice in this section is the use of the word “beware”. Paul is giving the Philippians some very specific warnings. He warns them of the dogs, the evil workers, and the false circumcision.
- The word dog in the original language means a man of impure mind.
- The word evil worker in the original language means a man of bad nature.
In these two warnings, Paul is exhorting believers to watch out for false teachers; men of bad conduct and bad character.
How about the false circumcision? If we keep reading into verse 3 we see that he contrasts the false circumcision to the true circumcision.
Those of the true circumcision:
- Worship in the Spirit of God
- Take pride in Christ Jesus
- Put no confidence the flesh
If these traits characterize those who belong to the true circumcision, then the opposite must be true for those who belong to the false circumcision.
28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from people, but from God. – Romans 2:28-29
Circumcision in the Old Testament was the physical removal of flesh. It was a sign that a person belonged to the Lord. Many of the Jews that Paul is referring to in this passage were circumcised physically, but their hearts were far from the Lord. They were depending on their own righteousness.
They put their glory and confidence in themselves. A person circumcised by the Spirit places their glory and confidence in Christ.
Paul’s warning is against not just listening to the teachings of the false circumcision, but also, not becoming like them.
This warning holds true for us today. We must be careful to not place our hope and confidence in our own abilities, strength, or power. Our hope lies in the sufficiency and strength of God and in the work of His Son accomplished on the cross.
Philippians 3:7-9 – Count All Things As Loss
Watch the Bible Study Video of Philippians 3 Summary
7 But whatever things were gain to me, these things I have counted as loss because of Christ. 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 mere rubbish, so that I may gain Christ, 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
I absolutely love this passage! It’s such a beautiful reflection of Paul’s heart and his devotion to the Lord.
We had just seen in the prior passage that he had been a greatly esteemed man.
- Circumcised on the eighth day
- Of the tribe of Benjamin
- A Pharisee and Hebrew of Hebrews
- Righteous according to the Law
And yet, how does he now feel about all of this?
…it’s rubbish!! The KJV calls it ‘dung’. Waste.
Also, the Greek word for ‘loss’ in the original language means ‘damage’.
Paul is saying that all the good works that he once considered important – power, prestige, popularity – he now considers all those things to be wasteful pursuits for the sake of Christ. He found a much greater purpose in knowing Christ. Anything that stood in the way of this ambition he thought to be damaging.
What an amazing transformation.
We must ask ourselves if there are such things in our lives that are keeping us from knowing Christ. Are we willing to count those things as wasteful and damaging to our relationship with the Lord and lay them aside for the sake of pursuing the righteousness of Christ?
Another component of this passage we should notice is the mention of the two kinds of righteousness.
The first kind of righteousness is that which is based on the Law. Here is what we learn about this kind of righteousness.
- From our own (our own strength and ability to ‘do what’s right’)
- Derived from the Law
The next kind of righteousness is based on faith.
- Comes from God
- Derived from faith
What kind of righteousness are you pursuing? This is the thought that this passage encourages us to consider.
Summary of Philippians 3:10-16 – Prize of the High Calling of God
10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 if somehow I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already grasped it all or have already become perfect, but I press on if I may also take hold of that for which I was even taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not regard myself as having taken hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore, all who are mature, let’s have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that to you as well; 16 however, let’s keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.
This scripture, initially, should spark some questions in our minds.
- What is that for which Paul was taken hold of by Christ?
- What was Paul’s goal?
- What is the prize?
Let’s first talk about Paul’s goal in Philippians 3:14. If we back up to the previous section, we see that Paul’s desire was to gain Christ (Phil 3:8).
Paul’s goal was Christ-likeness.
We see this reflected in some of Paul’s other epistles to the churches.
For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters – Romans 8:29
My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you – Galatians 4:19
Paul wanted to gain Christ by becoming like Him. Christ-likeness begins with knowing Him.
Ok. So, if the goal is christ-likeness, then what is the prize? Verse 11 tells us that Paul wanted to “attain to the resurrection from the dead”.
The word attain means “to come to”. Paul’s goal was Christ-likeness so that he could come to the resurrection. This was the prize for which Paul was pressing on.
However, we must also notice the verse prior to this. What does it say that must happen prior to the resurrection?
that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death… – v. 10
Paul says that he wants to know Him. This “knowing Him” included a knowledge of not only His power, but also His sufferings.
We cannot press on towards the goal of Christ-likeness apart from suffering. Suffering conforms us into the likeness of His death. The good news is that we can endure trials and suffering with joy because we know that it’s taking us closer to the goal (christ-likeness) to receive our prize (the resurrection).
For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection – Romans 6:5
If we keep moving on into verse 15 we see Paul encourage the believers with a promise from God. Paul is saying that those who are mature should have the same attitude that he just described as having himself. Whoever has a different attitude, God will faithfully reveal that to them.
I love Paul’s approach in this exhortation. He doesn’t bring the fire and brimstone. He doesn’t, bluntly, tell them that they need an attitude adjustment, but rather, he gently encourages them to allow God to search their own hearts.
We must do the same. Do we share Paul’s attitude in these things? What are the goals we have set for ourselves? How does the way we spend our time and the choices we make reflect our true ambitions?
What are you seeking to attain?
Summary of Philippians 3:17-21 – Walk As Citizens of Heaven
17 Brothers and sisters, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even as I weep, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who have their minds on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our lowly condition into conformity with His glorious body, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
This passage contrasts the character traits of two different groups of people.
- Enemies of the cross of Christ
- end is destruction
- whose god is their appetite
- whose glory is in their shame
- have their minds on earthly things
- Citizens of heaven
- eagerly wait for a Savior
- live in the light of the resurrection
Do you see how this section is closely related to the previous? Again, this comes back to our attitude and how it affects the way we live.
If our walk looks more like an enemy than a citizen, this should be a warning signal prompting us to evaluate our minds and attitudes.
This final section of Philippians 3 flows into chapter 4 which begins by discussing how to stand firm in the Lord.
Summary of Philippians 3: Final Thoughts
Philippians 3 helps us to acquire and maintain a proper perspective. There is nothing as precious as knowing Christ, there is no goal greater than becoming more like Him, and there is no prize more valuable than the resurrection. Let’s pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help us maintain this attitude, especially in the midst of suffering, while also making us faithful professors of the gospel of Christ.
Philippians Chapter 3 serves as a powerful reminder that our identity and purpose are found in Christ alone. As we navigate the journey of Christian life, we are urged to press on toward the goal of knowing Him more deeply, letting go of distractions and earthly pursuits. The apostle Paul’s unwavering commitment to Christ challenges us to consider what truly matters in our own lives.
Lets us embrace the transformative power of faith, counting everything as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus. In the journey of our heavenly citizenship, may the joy of the Lord be our strength, and may we find true fulfillment in a life lived for His glory. Let Philippians 3 inspire us to run the race with endurance, fixing our eyes on the Author and Perfecter of our faith.
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