Philippians - Pursuing Christ to Know Him

by Thomas W. Finley

CHAPTER THREE – PURSUE CHRIST

Encouragement to rejoice and glory in Christ, with warnings against Judaizers (3:1-3)

1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. 2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh -

The Darby translation has the first words of this verse right, I believe. A number of translations use “finally” instead of “for the rest.” This Greek phrase here (to loipon) can be translated “finally,” but context should determine the translation. It does not seem that Paul, at this point in the letter, is about to close with one final point. This Greek phrase, which literally means “for the rest,” is also used as a term of transition to a new subject. What follows next is the injunction to “rejoice in the Lord.” Of course, this matter of rejoicing is one theme that appears throughout the letter. Paul is urging the believers in Philippi to rejoice in the Lord — all that He is in His person, and all that He is to us and for us personally! Such a source of joy is needed as we consider the challenges of life and discipleship. This call to rejoice sits at a juncture here where the believers will now learn of another challenge — the possibility of being disturbed by Judaizers. The Judaizers are those who teach that the law must be observed to progress in the Christian life. Paul may also have in mind the need to rejoice as believers face the costly challenge of following Christ fully in discipleship (3:7-16).

Paul says he is writing to them again about some things, and this repetition is for their safeguarding. What follows next is the very thing he wishes to warn about (again) for their safeguarding in the faith:

“Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” (Phil. 3:2)

This verse uses three terms to describe one class of opponents to the truth – the Judaizers, a sect of the early church. These were born Jews and seemingly embraced Christ as the Messiah. Yet, they also taught that all believers (including Gentiles) must be circumcised and follow Jewish customs in order to be holy before God. Of course, this controversy was supposed to have been resolved at the council in Jerusalem (Acts 15). That council probably occurred about A. D. 49 or 50 Nevertheless, “the circumcision party” (Gal. 2:12) was still a problem at the time of the writing of the letter to the Philippians (around A. D. 62). That is seen by this warning, where the emphasis is obviously on the matter of circumcision (vs. 2-3). Such legalists must have still been quite active for Paul to issue such strong and repeated warnings.

Paul denounces the false teachers as “dogs,” simply animals that were unclean scavengers at that time. He further condemns them as “evildoers,” meaning religious workers whose teaching was evil. But the most direct reference to their central doctrine is that of circumcision, or “mutilation” as Paul describes it in negative terms in verse two.

3:3 – In this verse Paul states that the born again believers of the church of Jesus Christ (“we”) are actually the true circumcision, in contrast to those promoters of circumcision in the flesh. Note Romans 2:28-29 where the true Jews are described as those who have been circumcised in heart, by the Spirit. This is explained by Colossians 2:11-12, which says our circumcision is the removal of the body of flesh (meaning the fallen life of man). This removal was accomplished through the “circumcision of Christ” (His death on the cross), and made real in our lives by the Spirit.

Therefore, we worship and serve not in an outward way (like circumcision and ritual) but in the Spirit of God. And, our “glory” is in Christ Jesus, not in some religious observance carried out by the effort of man. Thus there is a contrast here between the Spirit and the flesh. Believers in Christ should place no confidence in any effort of the flesh, relying on man’s abilities and power and religious doings.

A preferred translation here is: “who serve [not “worship”] by the Spirit of God.” The verb here islatreuo (Strong’s # 3000), often used in the Greek version (LXX) of the OT for temple service. The same verb is used of Paul serving God in Romans 1:9 and 2 Timothy 1:3. The contrast in this verse is between serving God by circumcision (outward doings in following ritual practices) and serving God by the power of the Spirit.

Paul’s great example – the pursuit of Christ (3:4-14)

4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

3:4-6 – In these verses Paul tells how his own background in Judaism might have given him reason to have confidence in the flesh. Paul could have reasoned that his religious credentials and accomplishments counted for something before God. “Circumcised on the eighth day” — of the Jewish religion from birth, not a convert to Judaism. “Of the people of Israel” — one of God’s chosen people of the OT. “Of the tribe of Benjamin” — a tribe that gave Israel its first king and never deviated in loyalty to the house of David. Also, the heads of the tribe of Benjamin were among those who went back to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:5). “A Hebrew of Hebrews” — one of those in the nation that held onto the original language and ancient customs. “As to the law, a Pharisee” — of the sect that remained orthodox in doctrine, whereas the Sadducees rejected the doctrine of the resurrection. “As to zeal, a persecutor of the church” — zealous to wipe out any threat to Judaism among the people. “As to righteousness under the law, found blameless” —meaning he kept all the rules exactly, including presenting appropriate offerings when he committed a trespass.

In these verses Paul has catalogued his “good flesh.” He had a proper religious pedigree and been faithful in doctrine. He was zealous for good religious works and upright by God’s standards (the Law). But, when he was in this condition Paul had not yet recognized that his self-efforts to be something or do something for God are worthless before Him. Only what finds its origin and power from the Spirit of God is what is acceptable to God. All religious doings of men, even believers, are of no value if not originating from the Spirit and not performed by the power of the Spirit.

3:7-14 - Overview: To understand this section we should begin with a broad overview in order to keep several key ideas in mind. It is easy to get lost in the details of this section and not see the broad sweep of it. By seeing the “big picture,” we can more easily grasp the details. Firstly, we should note that this section (in conjunction with verses 4-6) is autobiographical. It represents Paul’s personal experience and personal aspirations. In verses 4-6 we have Paul’s history before he became a believer. It is a history highlighting all of his religious background and accomplishments. In verse seven Paul states that all he viewed as gain in the past, he has counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

In verse eight the apostle moves to the present and explains what his life is all about now. It is clearly about “knowing” Christ, which calls for suffering the loss of all things in order to “gain” Christ. The complete “gain” of Christ refers ultimately to a future outcome. Verse ten again picks up the theme of knowing Christ. In verse eleven Paul looks to the future — he hopes to “attain to the out-resurrection [a literal translation of this special Greek word] from the dead.” Then in verses 12-14 Paul brings in a subtle picture of a runner running a race. He describes himself as one straining forward towards the goal for a prize. Thus, verses 12-14 view Paul’s Christian life as a race for a prize.

Both verses 8-9 and 10-11 speak of a pursuit of Christ now in the present that ends in the future, with a positive result: “gain Christ and be found in him” (8-9); “attain to the out-resurrection from the dead” (10-11). Both of these brief two verse passages speak of the outcome (the positive result) as one that is not certain or guaranteed. This thought is underscored in the final verses, 12-14. There Paul tells us that even though he is pursuing, his race is not yet over and he has not yet laid hold of “the prize.” Therefore, he is single-mindedly pressing on so that he might gain the prize.

Into these few verses Paul has packed a lot of theology about the Christian life. What we will see is that the Christian life is altogether defined as a pursuit of knowing Christ in a very experiential and spiritual way. We will also learn that how we “run the race” of this Christian life now will greatly impact our reward at Christ’s coming. What is at stake in our Christian life, after initial belief, is not our eternal salvation, but is our reward.

Our eternal salvation is forever settled at the moment of belief based upon Christ’s work (Acts 13:38-39; 16:31; Jn. 3:16; 5:24; Eph. 1:13-14). Eternal salvation is not according to any works, before belief, at the moment of belief, or following belief (Eph. 2:8-9). This is one great principle in the Bible, which we may call “Eternal Salvation by Grace” (which is apart from works), or simply the “Gift” principle. However, there is another great principle which runs throughout the Bible: “Reward According to Works,” or simply the “Reward” principle.[1] Note some verses that specifically state this principle: Matthew 16:27; Romans 2:5-6; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12. For the believer this happens at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10).

The main point here is that this passage in Philippians 3:7-14 is about living our Christian life now in view of the possibility (not a guarantee) of gaining a great positive reward at Christ’s coming. In these verses Paul is modeling for us a Christian life lived in this purposeful way. With this overview in mind, let us now look at the details of this very important passage.

3:7 – When Paul saw the glory of Christ on the road to Damascus and realized Christ’s great love for him and for all men, he knew that all of the things he had valued before were nothing compared to Christ Himself. No doubt in the weeks immediately following his conversion he began to see more of the beauty of Christ’s person and work in the Scriptures. This only deepened his conviction that this magnificent One made all his previous life in Judaism seem as a total loss in comparison.

3:8 – Paul now states that there is yet something more besides his initial experience of counting his former life as a devoted Jew as loss. Using the present tense he shows us that his practice is to count all things in the human realm as a loss when compared to the surpassing worth or value of the knowledge of Christ. The excellent thing here is not just Christ (although He is excellent), nor is it knowledge about Christ. Rather it is the experiential knowledge of the person. Knowing Him is our experience of Him, our knowing of His life. It is experiential knowledge, where we learn of Him in our intimate contact with Him in spirit. It is our inward, personal experience of the living God. This is the eternal life that He came to give us, experiencing it abundantly and increasingly (Jn. 10:10; 17:3).

The whole passage is deeply experiential, showing Paul’s one great aim in life was to experience Christ in the fullest possible way, even living Christ (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:19-21). The great danger and loss to the carnal and worldly Christian is to pursue something of this world instead of Christ. The great danger and loss to the more serious Christian is to pursue something in the Christian realm other than the intimate knowledge of Him (such as truth, right practice, service, gifts, miracles, works, “worship music,” etc.). This does not mean that we do not need truth, right practices, service, etc., but all of these things should flow out of our single-minded pursuit to know Him intimately. We should understand that a growing knowledge of Christ means our lives are marked by an increasing conformation to His character and obedience to His will (Col. 1:9-10; 2 Pet. 1:3-8; 3:18). It is very possible for believers to know and preach some truth, do some good works for God, seek after miracles, and spend hours participating in “worship music,” and yet not grow in the true knowledge of Christ.

Paul saw that the excellent thing was to know the living Christ. As one pursues this unique goal, our Christian activity should flow out of and in concert with our spiritual union with Him (Jn. 15:4). Paul’s initial prayer for the Philippians was that in full knowledge and discernment they would “approve what is excellent” (Phil. 1:10). This prayer in Chapter One is linked to the choice of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ in Chapter Three.

Verse eight states: “for his sake I have suffered the loss of all things.” This means that Paul has let everything go, in a sense, in order to concentrate on one goal: gaining Christ. To “gain Christ” means to gain Him as a person, to increasingly know Him in experience. The strength of Paul’s passion and pursuit are interestingly captured in one translation: “Not only those things; I reckon everything as complete loss for the sake of what is so much more valuable, the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have thrown everything away; I consider it all as mere garbage, so that I may gain Christ.” (GNB)

All of our gaining of Christ in this life is moving towards a goal: the final and ultimate gain of Christ during the next age, the millennium (the 1,000 year reign of Christ; Rev. 20:4-6). Knowing Him now in our experience naturally means being obedient to Him. This is altogether a matter of discipleship. This matter will be covered more in verse ten. We can say here, however, that our obedience in this life leads to great positive reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ. And, a central feature of this reward is the full knowledge of Christ in the age to come (the 1,000 years). In this regard, consider the following passage:

“Peter began to say to him, ‘See, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.’” (Mk. 10:28-30)

Bible students should learn that the term “eternal life” is used in different aspects in the New Testament. This term occurs 42 times in the New Testament. Sometimes it refers to the life of God we receive as a gift in the new birth (e. g., Jn. 3:16; 5:24; 6:40). However, other times the context shows that eternal life describes something that is to be gained in the future by obedience or godly living (Rom. 2:7; Matt. 19:16, 29; Mk. 10: 17, 30; Lk. 10:25-28; 18:18-30; Jn. 12:25-26). Therefore, we can see that eternal life in the NT can be seen as falling either under the gift principle or the reward principle, depending upon context. In all cases, eternal life describes our intimate knowledge of God in experience (Jn. 17:3).

The exchange in Mark 10 above between Peter and the Lord happened right after the rich young ruler refused to sell all and follow Christ. This lifestyle of forsaking all to follow Christ describes the path of discipleship, not initial belief. This is what Paul is talking about in Philippians 3:8 — counting all things as loss in order to know Christ in experience, to gain Him. Note that in Mark 10:30, Jesus tells His disciples that the one who leaves all to follow Him will gain many times as much in human needs (along with persecutions) in the present time, but will also gain eternal life in the age to come. Here Jesus is speaking of reward for obedience, for being a faithful disciple. This is “reward according to works.” And, the reward highlighted here is “eternal life.”

This “eternal life” in the age to come is a greatly increased and perfected experience of eternal life, the experiential knowledge of Christ Himself. In this age we do have eternal life, received as a gift in initial salvation. Yet, our experience of eternal life can be enhanced now through our seeking to know Him more fully. Also, following the Judgment Seat of Christ, the victorious believers are rewarded with a special portion of intimacy and knowledge of Christ. This special portion is enjoyed during the 1,000 year period — “the age to come.”[2] This term, “the age to come,” is almost a technical term for the next age of the millennium, where Christ rules openly on the earth. “The age to come” does not speak of eternity, because the Scripture tells us that there is more than one age yet to come (Eph. 2:7).

In verse eight Paul says he is counting all as loss so “that I may gain Christ.” The word may is used to give a clear sense of the subjunctive mood of the verb here. Thus there is the sense here of possibility, not certainty, of the outcome of gaining Christ. The subjunctive mood is used in Greek verbs not to describe what presently is, but what might be. It is not used to express present reality, but possibility. Since the activity of the verb in the subjunctive mood is not yet completed, its usage often refers to some future possible happening. In this case, the ultimate fulfillment of Paul’s gaining of Christ is something that hinges upon Christ’s judgment at the Judgment Seat. When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he was not yet certain of that final outcome. However, at the end of his life, Paul did have revelation from God that he had finished his course well. He had assurance that he would receive the crown of righteousness, indicating approval for reigning with Christ in His 1,000 year kingdom (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

3:9 – “and be found in him” — The opening phrase of this verse is linked to the prior verse. The verb form for “be found” is also in the subjunctive mood. This clause is well translated by Darby: “and I may be found in him” (Darby; similarly, the NASB also uses “may”). To be “found in him” (with a certain type of righteousness) is a possibility for Paul. It is surely something that he is striving for. This being “found in him” points to some degree to his present experience on the earth. Paul wishes to be found, to be discovered by others, as a person living in Christ. Yet, it also points to its ultimate fulfillment — to be found by God in the day of judgment as a person whose practice is living in intimate union with Christ. This matches the desire of Paul’s prayer in 1:10: “and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.”

In this verse the words “be found in him,” are modified by this phrase: “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” It is common for most interpreters to think that the righteousness described here is imputed righteousness, or positional righteousness, granted by faith to the believer at conversion (as in Romans 3:21-24; 4:3-5). Although such an interpretation may sound reasonable upon initial thought, I think that there are good reasons to think this phrase is talking about practical righteousness in the actual living of the believer, not positional righteousness. Here are the reasons that could support this understanding:

  1. The verb in the main clause is in the subjunctive mood – “may be found in Him.” Is there any doubt or uncertainty about Paul being found in Christ having imputed righteousness? Certainly not, as Paul himself teaches us that such righteousness is credited to our account upon the moment of initial belief in Christ (Rom. 3:21-24; 4:3-5). However, as to Paul, or any believer, being found in Christ at the Judgment Seat with a life seen as practically righteous by the Judge is altogether uncertain. For one thing, our race is not over yet as long as we are alive. Secondly, only the Judge can truly evaluate our condition (1 Cor. 4:2-5).

  2. In verse nine Paul compares two types of righteousness. The former type was one produced by his efforts under the Law (vs. 6, 9). That former righteousness was a practical righteousness, one lived out in life. The righteousness Paul desires to possess is a righteousness by faith. There is no reason why this latter righteousness could not also be a practical righteousness. However, the point of comparison with the former righteousness could simply be the means of achieving such a practical righteousness. In fact, the way of achieving practical righteousness by faith, as contrasted with man’s efforts to perform under law, is a major theme in the NT. The idea of one possessing a practical righteousness by faith is seen in Hebrews 11. The entire context of Hebrews 11 is a display of righteous actions and lives carried out by God’s people who lived by faith. The example of Noah is particularly clear. The immediate context, as here in Philippians Three, is reward, not initial salvation. See the footnote for comments on Noah.[3]

  3. The entire context of this section (3:8-14) is pursuing Christ to know Him intimately. The focus here is on living in abiding union with Christ, not positional truth. In the epistle as a whole, as context, there is nothing about positional truth. The whole epistle focuses on the living of the disciple. Additionally, from verse eight onward, the focus for Paul is on the present and the future, not on what transpired at his conversion (imputed righteousness).

  4. Besides 3:6 and 3:9, the only other mention of righteousness in Philippians is in 1:11. Note its usage tied to verse 10: “and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Here we see righteousness as fruit in the life of the believer, preparing him for the day of Christ (the day of Christ’s judgment, the Judgment Seat of Christ). This righteousness is equivalent to the fruit produced in the believer’s life by abiding in Christ (Jn. 15:4-5). This concept of righteousness matches well with 3:9. Compare the two phrases in Scripture: “filled with fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (1:11) “that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (3:9). Both verses have to do with future approval by Christ at the coming judgment. Both speak of a righteousness that prepares us for approval. Both speak of a righteousness that comes from God or Christ. In 3:9 the idea of faith is added. This is easily understood as a living out of righteousness through a living faith in Christ (see Galatians 2:19-20; 3:3-5). Where there may be a misunderstanding is that one may think such a practical righteousness must be perfect in order to be approved by God. Our positional righteousness must be perfect for God’s acceptance of us and our eternal salvation. This righteousness is provided for us through Christ’s work of propitiation and redemption (Rom. 3:21-24; 4:3-5; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 1:7; Heb. 9:11-12; 10:10, 14). However, our approval by Christ at His Judgment Seat for reward is based upon our works, our doings while in this body (2 Cor. 5:10). There Christ will evaluate our doings since we became a believer. Our approval for reward is not based upon perfect obedience, as no one can have perfect obedience. Rather, it is based upon our faithfulness in living rightly and doing God’s work in God’s way (Lk. 19: 11-26; 1 Cor. 3:12-15; 4:1-5; 1 Pet. 1:13-16; Heb. 10:35-36). When we sin, and we all do, we need to acknowledge our sins before God so that our unrighteous doings may be cleansed from us and our fellowship with Him can be restored (1 Jn. 1:9; Prov. 28:13). If we have been unfaithful in any point, we can repent and confess and begin again to walk in faithfulness. Paul desired to be a servant who was “found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2). In the passage in 1 Corinthians 4 Paul was speaking of future approval at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Cor. 4:5). He uses the same word “found” in 1 Corinthians 4:2 as used here in 3:9 – “found in him . . . [having] . . . the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” The two passages are speaking of the same thing: preparing for our approval at the Judgment Seat of Christ by being faithful in this life.

  5. The passage in Philippians 3:9-14 is dealing with reward, not eternal salvation or justification. Since reward is “according to works” it makes sense for the righteousness in 3:9 to be talking about practical righteousness, actions in Paul’s life. We can therefore easily see that Paul was hoping to be “found” at that future day as a person who has lived righteously, thus worthy of positive reward. At the end of his life Paul did have assurance that he had finished his race well and that Christ, the righteous Judge, would award him a “crown of righteousness” (2 Tim. 4:7-8). It is obvious that this reward is connected to Paul’s righteous living.

3:10 – “that I may know him” — This clause does not introduce a new topic, but lays ground for the expansion of the matter under discussion — the knowing of Christ. The knowing of Christ’s life is constantly a matter of knowing His resurrection power to obey God and of His dying to self (Lk. 22:42; Jn. 6:38; Rom. 6:10-11). These two aspects of His life always go together. The whole concept of discipleship is one that involves death to the self-life and the following of Christ in His will. Some think that to “share his sufferings” refers to the sufferings of persecution that come because of our witness for Christ. Such sufferings are certainly included. But, I believe the sufferings of Christ are much broader here. Not all believers will suffer direct persecution to a significant degree.

The sufferings of Christ should first be seen as His willingness to suffer death to His own will in order to obey God. Christ put aside His own will, His own comfort, and His own choices during His entire life (Jn. 6:38). This was His role as a servant being obedient to the Father, as seen in Philippians 2:7-8. His obedience was unto the suffering of death. We see this clearly in the climactic moment of Christ’s self-denial in order to embrace God’s ultimate will for Him — the cross. “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Lk. 22:42). In the same way, our discipleship must follow in Christ’s pattern of choosing to die to self in order to take up God’s will for us in obedience. This is a daily matter of dying to self. This is the primary emphasis of what it means to “share his sufferings.”

“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.’” (Lk. 9:23-26)

Jesus teaches us that we must lose our life (literally, “soul”) now in order to find it at the time when He returns to reward men according to their deeds. To deny one’s self means that we deny our soul the fulfillment of its desires, pleasures, and satisfaction in our choices in this life. We do this in order to take up our cross — God’s choices for us. To take up the cross is to do God’s will (Matt. 26:39). If we follow this pattern of self-denial and doing the will of God, when Christ returns, we will find the true satisfaction of our soul in the coming kingdom with Christ (that is, eternal life in the age to come; Lk. 18:30). This passage refers to reward, as mentioned in the parallel passage in Matthew 16 (note Matt. 16:27). Discipleship here involves works of obedience.

To follow Christ in self-denying obedience requires the power of God. As we experience “the power of his resurrection,” then we can follow Christ in obedience. Even Christ Himself did not go to the cross by His own power, but needed empowering grace from God to go to the cross (Heb. 2:9).

To “share in his sufferings” is modified by the phrase “becoming like him in his death.” This phrase means dying to self to the fullest extent, even as Christ did by accepting the death of the cross.

3:11 – “if by any means I may attain to the out-resurrection from among the dead” [a more literal translation] — Now Paul tells us the final goal of this knowing of Christ. His goal is to attain to the “out-resurrection” — a special word signifying a unique resurrection status. The first phrase I show here as “if by any means.” This phrase in Greek is ei pois and is used only four times in the New Testament (Acts 27:12; Rom. 1:10; 11:14; Phil. 3:11). It surely expresses uncertainty of outcome, as is seen in its uses in the NT. We also see the subjunctive mood of the verb here, again expressing uncertainty: “I may attain.” In other words, at the time of this writing Paul was not at all certain that he would attain to this “out-resurrection.”

Unfortunately, most all Bible versions simply translate the word “out-resurrection” (Greek, exananstasis) as “resurrection” (Greek, anastasis). The text however is clear — the apostle penned an almost unique word here by adding the preposition ek to the normal word for resurrection. W. E. Vine, in his respected lexicon of NT words, comments on the phrase here: “ek, ‘from’ or ‘out of,’ and No. 1 [the Greek word for resurrection], Philippians 3:11, followed by ek, lit., ‘the out-resurrection from among the dead.’”[4] This almost unique word is used only this one time in the NT, and only once or twice in other Greek literature (where its usage has nothing at all to do with a resurrection from the dead).

This word cannot refer to the normal resurrection of the saints, which is a certainty (not an uncertainty) for every saint (1 Cor. 15:22; 51-52; 1 Thess. 4:13-16). We are helped in our understanding to realize that verse 11 is connected to verse 10. That is, our knowing Christ in discipleship is linked to the possibility of attaining to this “out-resurrection.” And, verse 11 is also clearly directly linked to verses 12-14, which speak of pressing onward as in a race for the prize. All of this should make us aware that the “out-resurrection” speaks of a reward associated with following Christ in discipleship. Some Greek experts view this word, due to the prefix of ek, as signifying an intensification of resurrection. They interpret it as a fullness of life in resurrection. This interpretation fits well with the idea of a special portion of eternal life to be realized by the overcomer in the age to come.

This out-resurrection equals the “better resurrection” of Hebrews 11:35 (KJV). Note that in Hebrews 11:35 some endured torture in order to gain a better resurrection. The “out-resurrection” is a special reward for the overcoming Christian. In line with the other verses we have seen, this is a special positive reward, realized in the coming kingdom of 1,000 years.[5]

The attainment to the out-resurrection is based upon our participation in Christ’s sufferings in verse ten. We can now add a word about suffering with Christ in order to attain to this millennial kingdom reward. Note Romans 8:17, as translated below in a more accurate translation rendered by an expert in the Greek. This translation brings out the important correlative conjunctions in the Greek text meaning “on the one hand . . . but on the other”:

“And if children, also heirs; heirs on one hand of God, joint heirs on the other of Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that also we may be glorified with Him.”

Rom. 8:17 is a very important verse that makes a distinction between “heirs of God” and “joint-heirs with Christ.” According to the construction of the Greek text, there is a definite difference between the two heirships here. As children of God, we are automatically in line to inherit some of the blessings God has for us by placing us in His family. In fact, Romans 8:29-30 shows some of these blessings that are the portion of every child of God (see also Galatians 3:29).

To be a “joint-heir with Christ,” however, is clearly conditional. Only those children of God who meet this condition of “suffering with Him” will be joint-heirs with Christ. Christ’s enduring obedience included suffering involved with that obedience (Phil. 2:8; Heb. 5:8; 12:3). As a result, He was given the highest position by God and will rule over all (Phil. 2:9-10; Heb. 1:9; 12:2). Christ has been made “heir of all things” (Heb. 1:2). When He returns, He will set up the kingdom on the earth and inherit (possess) it (Lk. 19:11-12; Heb. 1:6-9). In that kingdom, Christ will reign in glory (Is. 24:23; Matt. 19:28; 25:31; Mk. 10:37).

We have an opportunity to be fellow heirs, co-possessors of His coming kingdom (ruling together with Him — “glorified with Him”). However, such a possession is conditional for us. Our sharing of His rule will require obedience and suffering (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:26; 3:21). The suffering here is “suffering with Him.” This means we are willing to suffer in order to be obedient to God, as He suffered by being obedient to the Father’s will (Phil. 3:8; Heb. 5:8; 12:3).

This suffering could include rejection or persecution for our faith. Yet, all types of human trials and suffering are useful in preparing us to reign with Christ in glory. This is because sufferings offer opportunity for us to grow to maturity through faith and obedience (Acts 14:22; Rom. 5:1-4; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Phil. 2:12-16; Heb. 10:35-36; Jas. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:5-8; 4:1-2, 12-13). To “suffer with Him” means to take up our cross as Christ took up His cross. Our “taking up of our cross” involves a voluntary loss to our soul’s natural desires and choices (self-denial) in order to follow Christ in obedience, choosing His will (Matt. 16:24-26).

It should now be clear that our participation in the coming kingdom with Christ will yield two significant benefits for victorious Christians. Firstly, there is the wonderful promise that these victors will enjoy a special portion of eternal life, experiencing a fullness of union with Christ. Secondly, they will be awarded crowns and be co-rulers with Christ in His 1,000 year kingdom.

Both of these benefits exactly match God’s intentions for man in His creation of man. Genesis 1:26 states: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’" For man to be in God’s image means man is to express God in His qualities and virtues. This design will be fulfilled when the overcomers enjoy eternal life in fullness. Secondly, God created man to rule over His creation. This also will be fulfilled in the millennial kingdom, as the victorious Christians will be awarded positions of rulership in Christ’s kingdom. Because this participation in Christ’s kingdom is conditional, Paul was running the race for this kingdom reward as his great priority. He counted all else as loss in view of this.

3:12 – “Not that I have already obtained this” — Paul is saying that he has not already obtained what he has been writing about, namely the completed experience of knowing Christ and attaining the goal of the “out-resurrection.” “Or am already made perfect.” The word for “perfect” means to be brought to a state of completion, or to arrive at a goal. Paul is likely saying here that he has room for more growth in Christ-likeness. Another possible explanation is that he may be restating the fact that he has not yet reached his final goal of approval for the “out-resurrection.” In any case the two ideas of Christian maturity and attaining to the out-resurrection are surely linked together.

The idea here of Paul not yet arriving at his goal may be the beginning of Paul’s verbal picture of a race. If not, Paul’s race picture surely begins with the next clause. “But I press on.” Paul definitely presents a picture here, as evidenced by the following verses, of a runner running a race. The verb “press on” is repeated in verse 14 with clear reference to a race at the games. The verb for “press” means here to run swiftly in order to reach the goal. Paul is telling us that although he “has not yet arrived” at his goal, he says he presses on “to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” I like a more meaningful translation of this clause from Young’s Literal Translation: “if also I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by the Christ Jesus” (YLT; ASV and NASB similarly). For what was Paul laid hold of by Christ? Very simply, he was “laid hold of” in order to know Christ in the fullest way, to be brought into full experiential union with Christ. Paul is pressing on to know Christ in the fullest possible way in this life. This pursuit has a potential consummation in the next age by attaining to the “out-resurrection.” In “the age to come” a greatly increased experience of eternal life would be his.

3:13 – “Brothers” — Paul interrupts his biographical narrative to be sure that the readers are brought into the picture. Paul is desirous that they too will pick up his passion to run such a race for the prize! He then repeats his claim that he has not laid hold of his goal yet. Next, the apostle writes: “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” He lets his readers know that he has a single aim, a single pursuit in life that captures his attention completely. He is pursuing the knowledge of Christ and the prize. The “one thing” refers to his single practice and his single aim. As a runner in a race who does not look behind him, so Paul forgets all behind to stretch towards the goal.

In his Christian race Paul is not distracted by anything that is already behind him. The things behind him would include not only his former life in Judaism, but also all of his failures as a believer, and his victories too. Thinking about the past is a great distraction in the Christian life. Many saints have fallen down in the race by focusing on their past failures, past hurts, trials, or tragedies. They may think about what “might have been,” or savor memories of past service or past experiences of God. Let us follow Paul and forget about it all in order to concentrate on the goal and the prize still ahead of us in the race.

3:14 – There are three key things in this verse that we must identify. Firstly, what is the goal? The Greek word for “goal” here indicates the distant mark, or goal, in view. The runners in the games looked ahead at this mark and ran forward in a focused way toward it. As part of the race metaphor it would indicate the finish line of the race. The aim of Paul’s race, his overarching goal, was to know Christ. This would include knowing the power of His resurrection, and sharing in His sufferings. He pressed towards this mark. this mark. This is clear from verses 8-13. He was throwing aside everything to reach his goal of knowing Christ as fully as possible by the time he reached the end of his race.

Now, we must identify the prize. The race towards the goal is for the prize. If a runner won the race at the games, passing the goal as the victor, then he would be awarded the prize. It is most helpful to look at another Scripture portion where Paul also uses the picture of a race for a prize.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:24-27)

The Greek word for prize here is brabeion (Strong’s #1017). It is used only twice in the NT. It is used here in Philippians 3:14 and also in 1 Corinthians 9:24 quoted above. It refers specifically to the prize (a perishable wreath) given to the victor in the athletic games of the time. The prize here for the believer equals the reward given to the overcomer for his victorious race. It is the reward related to the coming 1,000 year kingdom. It is the special portion of eternal life and co-ruling with Christ in His millennial reign. It is the “out-resurrection.” From my study the reward seems to be strongly related to the 1,000 year kingdom age, although some carry over of special status into the eternal age for the overcomer may be possible.

We should note that the prize is a reward for running a victorious race. Paul was concerned in 1 Corinthians 9 quoted above that he would run in such a way as to win. He was concerned about being disqualified from being awarded the prize. The prize is awarded to the victorious believer at the Judgment Seat of Christ. There Jesus will examine the believer’s life and decide if the believer will receive this prize or if he will forfeit this reward in the kingdom of the next age.

Although Paul’s goal was to know Christ fully, he also constantly kept this final examination at the Judgment Seat in view. He knew this examination awaited him at the end of the race and his desire for approval on that day governed his life. Note the following passage in 2 Corinthians 5:

“So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Cor. 5:9-10)

It is instructive to note how some other notable men of faith kept the Judgement Seat of Christ uppermost in their minds, as Paul did, in their Christian life.

George Whitefield:
A biography of Whitefield noted that his awareness of an accounting at the Judgment Seat of Christ greatly affected his behavior. He constantly lived with this guiding principle in mind[6]

George Müller:
He kept continually before him his stewardship of God’s property; and sought to make the most of the one brief life on earth, and to use for the best and largest good the property held by him in trust. The things of God were deep realities, and, projecting every action and decision and motive into the light of the judgement-seat of Christ, he asked himself how it would appear to him in the light of that tribunal. Thus he sought prayerfully and conscientiously so to live and labour, so to deny himself, and, by love, serve God and man, as that he should not be ashamed before Him at His coming.[7]

Next we need to examine “the upward call of God.” This is the third item in this verse that needs to be identified. This may be the most difficult item of which to be certain. A few Bible teachers understand this “call” as paralleling the call to the victor in the ancient athletic games. After a victorious run, the victor was called by a herald to the victory platform where he received the prize. One interpreter sees it as a summons by God for the prize, and then equates it with the prize (reward) in this way. But, it is hard to see a summons to a prize equaling a prize. The upward call is definitely related to the prize, but probably has a deeper significance than a call to receive the prize. It is the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Hebrews 3:1 says that believers “share in a heavenly calling.” God’s call to believers is to something “upward,” or heavenward, away from this earth. It is something in Christ Jesus Himself. It seems to be God’s call to us to gain Christ, laying hold of Him to the fullest extent (note verse 12).

The upward or heavenly call to us is one that prompts us to seek and know Christ above. It stands in contrast to the practice of those in Philippians 3:19 who have “minds set on earthly things.” Paul reminds us in Philippians 3:20 “that our citizenship is in heaven.” The “prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” seems to me to be the prize (the kingdom reward) that brings fulfillment to at least part of God’s calling to us in Christ. All believers will experience the spiritual realities of Christ and God in the New Jerusalem in eternity. This is part of their inheritance as children of God. But, only victorious believers will receive a special portion of these spiritual realities during Christ’s 1,000 year reign. The prize is likely the reward portion of our upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul’s entreaty to follow his example (3:15-19)

15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. 17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

3:15 – “those of us who are mature” — In 3:12 Paul says he had not yet become perfect. That reference to “perfect” (Greek, teleios), in context, probably meant Paul had not yet reached the final goal of fully knowing Christ. Here, using the same Greek word, the context lends itself to translate the word as “mature,” as of adult stature (in contrast to a child or a youth). So here it means spiritual maturity. All words must be translated according to context, of course.

Paul is saying here to the Philippian believers: All of you who are mature ones should be constantly holding this way of thinking. What exactly does he mean? Paul is referring to the mindset he has just been talking about — a mind to pursue knowing Christ as the great goal in life. It is the desire to experience the power of His resurrection and to share in Christ’s sufferings. It includes a willingness to die fully to self in order to obey God.

Then note that Paul tells us that if such mature ones start to drift from this attitude in any point, God will make that deviation known to them. I used to wonder why so many saints seemed to be oblivious to the fact that they were “off the path” of God’s way. This verse tells us that only those who are spiritually mature, with a genuine discipleship attitude, will get enlightened by God when they start to deviate from this attitude. In other words, those who have not held this attitude are already “in the dark” that they are missing God’s way.

Thank God that He is faithful to enlighten the mature ones when they start to drift! Any mature one who gets enlightened by God in this way should humble himself in repentance and turn once again to the right path and the right goal: knowing Christ in experience so as to become more like Him. It is actually very possible even for mature believers to misstep because their pursuit can undergo a subtle change. There can be a drift from the goal to know Christ to pursuing and focusing on Bible knowledge, proper Christian practice, Christian ministry, good deeds, etc. Such is the essence of the warning to the church at Ephesus: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Rev. 2:4).

3:16 – The verse begins with the Greek word plen (#4133). This word in this verse has been translated in various ways: “however,” “but,” “nevertheless,” “yet,” and “only” for example. I like “only,” which is how the ESV translates the word. Paul is saying here that the attitude that has brought us to any stage of maturity is the very one we should keep living by. Paul is reinforcing his appeal in verse 15 to maintain the right attitude, the right mindset. True spiritual maturity and growth come solely through the principle of seeking to know Him intimately in our experience, especially in the power of His resurrection and in the sharing of His sufferings (3:10).

Life Application

In Philippians 3:7-14 we have seen the passion that drives Paul — a passion to gain Christ, to know Him in the fullest possible way. Paul has also unfolded to us a picture of the Christian life as a race towards a goal for a prize. The goal of the race is to gain Christ to the fullest extent in our time on earth in this life. And the prize for running a good race is a special reward in the coming millennial kingdom. This prize will consist of a greatly magnified experience of eternal life (knowing Christ) and will include sharing the responsibility of rulership with Him. Now, it is up to us to pick up this goal in our lives. This is the goal we must learn to embrace as our life’s priority every day. We can seek this priority even in the midst of routine matters, like performing a job, going to school, and living with family members. Of course, this goal also applies to our service to God in the church.

May I suggest that you pause just now to pray about this priority and ask God to work in you to hold onto this mindset each day? Ask Him to strengthen you to seek Him daily for the fulfillment of God’s upward call to you to know Christ. Ask God to let you know when you are drifting away from this mindset of pursuing Christ to gain Him. Be on the alert that even good things, perhaps Christian things, may become a subtle replacement for seeking Christ Himself. God is for us and He will hear our prayers on these matters as we pray with a true heart to Him.

3:17- Now Paul urges the believers in Philippi to take note of himself as an example to follow. See 4:9 also in this regard. Paul was not saying this from pride. Rather, like a loving father or friend, he was urging those close to him to walk in a way pleasing to God. Paul had confidence that he was walking uprightly with God. He was confident that he was following the best path — the path of seeking to know Christ as his goal. In addition, Paul makes note that there are others who also walk according to this pattern. These others would surely include Timothy and Epaphroditus, whom the Philippians could also observe in person.

3:18-19 – The apostle now turns to a negative example, describing “many” who have a walk contrary to his walk. Before we get into the details of these persons and who they might be, let us consider why Paul now speaks to the Philippians about these people. It seems logical to me that Paul is mentioning such people because he has some concern for his readers. He is concerned that they might be influenced by the negative example of those who walk, or live, wrongly. Paul specifically notes that he has often spoken about these “many” to the Philippians. Since Paul is not one given to gossip, his speaking has a true purpose — as a warning about the possible influence of these who walk wrongly.

Even though interpreters might have differing views on the details related to these “many,” the summary of their problem is plain: they are those with “minds set on earthly things.” Paul’s overall thought is: don’t follow the example of those who set their minds on earthly things, because our citizenship is in heaven. We should be those who set our minds on heavenly things, seeking the spiritual realities of knowing Christ Himself.

Now I share my understanding of the details concerning these who constitute a negative example. The reader may come to a different conclusion about their identity. The main thing we should take away from this passage is that Paul does not want the Philippians to be influenced by the negative example of this group. Their example of living is exactly opposite of the example Paul is trying to set in his own life as a Christian.

Paul writes “for many, of whom I have often told you.” This certainly suggests that this group of “many” was not part of the Philippian assembly. When Paul wanted to speak about some or many among those addressed in a letter, he makes this identification clear (1 Cor. 4:18; 6:11; 11:20; 15:12; 2 Cor. 12:21; 2 Thess. 3:11).

Paul then uses this phrase: “and now tell you even with tears.” We do not have much Biblical information about Paul weeping for others. This deep concern for certain people would indicate that they are straying believers, not unbelievers taken as a whole (note Ephesians 4:17 where Paul speaks of unbelievers as a whole.) Paul speaks of his weeping for believers in Acts 20:31. Paul labored much over the churches and his emotions were affected by them (for example: 2 Cor. 6:11-13; 11:28-29; 12:15; Gal. 4:19; Phil 1:8; 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:8).

How should we understand Paul’s statement that “many . . . walk as enemies of the cross of Christ”? To many Bible readers this clause may make them immediately think that this description must be of unbelievers. But, what is the context here? The context of this chapter is all about discipleship, seeking after knowing the Lord and following Him in obedience. Even the cross in Philippians 2:8, where Christ is our example, is not from the perspective of its redemptive work. Rather, it is from the perspective of Christ’s willing obedience to the Father as His servant. Then, in Chapter Three, the emphasis on the cross is on Paul’s desire to know Christ by sharing in His sufferings. Therefore, the context is the cross of discipleship, not the cross of redemption. The cross of discipleship is the cross we voluntarily take up (self-denial and obedience) to follow Christ. The cross of redemption is the cross where Jesus bore our sins as our substitute (Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18).

Can believers act as “enemies” of God? James makes it clear that they can (Jas. 4:1-5). To be an enemy of the cross of discipleship is to be unwilling to follow the Lord in obedience. Unfortunately, we can find a number of examples of this in Scripture. And, we all know believers who resist denying themselves in daily life and thus refuse the cross of discipleship. The overarching description of their resistance of the cross is that they have “minds set on earthly things.”

Unfortunately, this describes many genuine believers in the church today, especially in America. These believers are captured by materialism and are pursuing the things of this life, at the expense of seeking the heavenly and spiritual things. Some of the “things of this life” that can affect the focus of Christians might be “success” (whether financial success or achievement in other areas of life), family life, entertainment and pleasures. Christians may also be preoccupied with the “worries of life” (Lk. 8:14; 21:34). Those who set their minds on such things are not looking at the goal of fully knowing Christ. They are not making it their aim to please Christ in preparation for the coming Judgment Seat of Christ.

Another significant phrase is “their end is destruction.” Here is where many readers and interpreters make too quick of a judgment. When they see that the end of these “many” is called “destruction,” they assume this equals eternal perdition. Therefore they tend to think that these “many” are unbelievers, or some type of false believers, or believers who have now lost their salvation. But in interpreting Scripture we must take time to carefully look into things. It is well to remember that probably no Greek word has any explicit and definite theological meaning! These words were part of the language of the day and were used by the common people in all types of conversations, not just theological discussions. The exact meaning of any word must be determined by its context and also in comparison to its other uses in Scripture. The study of key words should be done carefully. Appendix B lists some resources for this type of study. A number of good resources are accessible for free on the Internet.

The Greek word for “destruction” here is apoleia (Strong’s #684). This noun is used in 19 verses in the NT. Sometimes it does describe the eternal destiny of the lost (examples: Rom. 9:22; Phil. 1:28; Rev. 17:8, 11). Other times it does not. For example, this word appears in 1 Timothy 6:9: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires which plunge people into ruin and destruction (apoleia).” If one examines the context (1 Tim. 6:6-12), one sees that the warning about desiring to be rich is applied here to the believer. The very next verse states: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” The reference is to believers, who after yielding to the temptation to get rich, end up wandering away from the faith (meaning that faith which was once held by them and influenced them). Thus, they end up being pierced with many pangs. Since these are true believers, if we hold that the destruction in verse ten must mean eternal perdition, then we have a real problem. Taking that line of interpretation means we have to cancel out the clear truth of eternal security by grace!

The word here in 1 Timothy 6:9 must mean to suffer some temporal (not eternal) ruin or loss. In this case, a believer who yielded to the temptation does suffer a ruin or loss — certainly at least the loss of fellowship and comfort from God. This also leads to sorrow and emotional pain. This noun is also used to mean “waste” in Matthew 26:8 and Mark 14:4. There it refers to the woman who poured out the flask of expensive perfume upon Jesus to prepare Him for His burial. Some stated that this expensive perfume was “wasted” in this way.

We should also consider that this noun (“destruction”) is derived from the verb apollumi (Strong’s #622). This verb has a variety of meanings, dependent as always on the context. For example, the verb can mean to destroy, to lose, to render useless, to be deprived of, to put out of the way and more. Paul is talking in Philippians 3:17-19 about patterns of living, both positive and negative. I have described how Paul’s pattern is that of proper discipleship. Its end is the reward of the “out-resurrection.” Now we can review a key passage on discipleship, which shows both a positive and negative recompense, with the verb apollumi used in relation to a negative recompense.

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose [apollumi] it; but whoever loses [apollumi] his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” (Matt. 16:24-27)

This passage above from Matthew 16 is one talking about discipleship. Note also that the passage ends in verse 27, which speaks of repayment according to works. Since works are the basis here for recompense, this passage is most certainly not talking about eternal salvation, which is apart from works (Eph. 2:8-9). Verse 24 contains the basic terms of discipleship. One must be willing to “lose” his life (the word here for life is “soul”) for Jesus’ sake in order to “find” his life. This means that the believer who chooses to follow Christ in discipleship must be willing to lose, or forego, what satisfies his soul in order to follow Christ.

Notice how this soul-satisfaction is described in terms of “gaining” what this world has to offer (verse 26). Notice that apollumi is used to mean to “lose” one’s life, or soul. To “save” one’s life means to preserve it, keep it untouched from any damage or loss. To do this means we want to hold onto what pleases us and makes our soul happy in this life. On the other hand, if we are willing to deny ourselves what we want in order to follow Christ then we will be recompensed with finding our soul’s real satisfaction. This recompense takes place when the Son of Man comes again. At that time He will repay every man according to his deeds. The deeds of men are viewed here in two simple categories: preserving one’s soul or losing one’s soul for Christ’s sake.

The possibility of loss to the disciple’s soul is seen in verses 25 and 26. If we keep our soul whole and happy now in this world (unwilling to suffer loss to its desires), then when Jesus comes we will “lose our soul.” To lose our soul, through Christ’s judgment at His Judgment Seat, means at least to lose all that we might have gained in positive reward had we followed Christ in discipleship. We will lose the benefits of the out-resurrection, with its special enjoyment of eternal life. And, we will lose partnership with Christ, co-ruling with Him in the coming kingdom age of 1,000 years.

Bearing these discipleship and reward principles in mind, we can now readily see how the persons in Philippians 3:18-19 provide an exact contrast to Paul’s pattern of discipleship. Paul’s pattern is one of willing to suffer loss to everything in order to know Christ, and attain to the out-resurrection reward. In contrast, those whose “god is their belly” and have minds “set on earthly things” will suffer great loss at Christ’s Judgment Seat. All that they could have possessed in the coming kingdom is lost and ruined! Any believer who rejects the path of genuine discipleship is moving toward an end that is ruin.

Another key clause is “their god is their belly.” It certainly seems like this means more than bodily appetite in eating. It surely means that they value and seek after what satisfies their appetites belonging to the old nature and the self-life. A very similar wording is used by Paul in Romans 16:17-18 to describe those who were deceiving saints and causing parties in the church. There the wrong appetites mean some selfish desire.

The phrase “whose glory is in their shame” means that these believers take delight in things that they should view as shameful for a believer. Some interpreters make this matter of shameful things extreme, meaning immorality. But, I do not believe it needs to be that extreme. The fleshly appetite and the glorying in things that should be shameful are clearly modified by the clause, “who set their mind on earthly things.” Just the pursuit of earthly pleasures and earthly things, not necessarily immorality, is enough to be considered shameful in God’s eyes. After all, we should be those, as God’s people, who are not seeking these things (Lk. 8:14; 16:13; 17:31-33; Col. 3:1-3; 1Tim. 6:6-11; 2 Tim. 4:10; 1 Jn. 2:15-17).

Most likely the “many” of 3:18-19 refers to Christians who did not live in Philippi, but could exert some negative influence upon the Christian community in Philippi. They may have been itinerant travelers who could have passed through Philippi from time to time. Philippi was a leading city of the province of Macedonia, and thus was a place of traffic for travelers. These may have included some from Corinth, the capital of the neighboring province of Achaia. Or, it could have been that the Philippians might visit Corinth or Achaia and be wrongly influenced by some believers there. That worldly-minded believers were existent at that time is surely true (see James 4:2-4).

We should not be at all surprised that there were “negative examples” of Christians existent at that time, ones who had their “minds set on earthly things.” This problem is still plaguing the church today. Moreover, now we even see a significant problem beyond just a focus on earthly things. Material blessings in this life has even become a key doctrine in some circles. This is true in the so called “prosperity gospel” movement. That message is all about God’s supposed aim to bless believers in this age with worldly goods and other worldly “blessings.” This is false teaching that is creating blight upon the testimony of the church.

Finally, the Scripture contains a particularly powerful example of one who suffered loss because he focused on the things of this world and disregarded spiritual realities. That example is Esau, and Hebrews 12:16-17 describes how his choice brought a great loss for him. For a full interpretation of this warning concerning Esau, see Appendix C for an article titled The Birthright. This article explains how the birthright, which was despised by Esau, has everything to do with recompense for the believer in the next age.

3:20 – In great contrast to some who were focused on earthly things, Paul reminds the believers that our real citizenship is in heaven, where Christ now is and where our real life now is (Col. 3:1-4). Those who were citizens of Philippi were privileged to have Roman citizenship, as Philippi was a Roman colony (Acts 16:12, 21). In the Mediterranean world of that day, to be a Roman citizen was something of special status and privilege. Yet, we are indeed citizens of God’s kingdom (Col. 1:13), where Christ is our Lord, not Caesar. Christ is the One we must follow in our lifestyle (2:5-13). The verb here translated “await” includes both the notions of hope and patience. With hope and patience we are waiting for Christ to come from heaven and to change our bodies. We should long for His coming, and not be focused on earthly things.

3:21 – When Christ comes again He will use His power to change our body, which is decaying, into a body like His gloried, resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:43). In this sense Christ will be our Savior at His coming. This same hope is stated in Romans 8:23-25. Rom. 8:25 says that “we wait for it [the redemption of our body] with patience.” This change removes the presence of sin from us.

Life Application

In Philippians 3:17-21 Paul the apostle is urging the Philippian believers to take note of how he and others live the Christian life. Their living was in contrast to “many” who were living much differently. Paul urges the believers to live as citizens of heaven, which they truly are in reality. Paul was living with a mindset of seeking heavenly things. He desired to forsake all in order to increasingly gain Christ and be ready for His return. This is the way of discipleship, learning of Jesus and how He lives. But, those who focus on the earthly things of this life are termed “enemies of the cross of Christ” — the cross of true discipleship.

In much of Christianity today the cross of discipleship has been lost, both in teaching and in practice. This message of the cross is not popular. Instead, a “me-centered” message is often preached and sought after. It falsely teaches that God wants to give you whatever makes you happy in this life. The true message of discipleship is one that calls us to deny ourselves and take up our cross — God’s will for us — and follow Jesus. Only by responding to this call can we be truly satisfied spiritually. This is true now and also especially in “the age to come” (the next age of Christ’s 1,000 year kingdom). Those who only want to satisfy their earthly desires (the god of their appetites) will suffer great loss at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

So, let us be humbled before God and believe His word. Let us reject the message of the false teachers. Let us seek and find His grace to take up our cross and follow Jesus. This is a daily choice, made by seeking God in humility and sincerity each day. Let us set our minds on the things above, where Christ is, and eagerly await His return. He is our life, and to know Him as fully as possible is our goal. Let us run the race of our Christian life with endurance, looking to Jesus (Heb. 12:1-2).



Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)

[1] These two great principles of Biblical truth – Gift and Reward – must be understood if one is to interpret many passages rightly. Sound interpretation must be done carefully, accurately handling the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). A good introduction to these two principles, and to the security of the believer’s eternal salvation, can be found in the booklet titled Eternal Security.

[2] Victorious Christians, or “overcomers,” refers to believers who have learned how to “overcome” various obstacles to faith and obedience. These obstacles may be sin, the world, the self-life, the devil, difficult circumstances or other obstacles. Such a victorious Christian life does not speak of sinless perfection. Rather it speaks of an increasing consistency of holiness in many aspects of human life. Overcomers do sin, but have also learned how to repent and confess their sins for cleansing (Pr. 28:13; 1 Jn. 1:9). Those who overcome are given positive rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ and reign with Him in the coming Kingdom of 1,000 years. See Appendix D, the booklet on Eternal Security, for more information on the Judgment Seat and rewards. Also, for help on living a victorious Christian life, see the author’s book titled "The Victorious Christian Life

[3] Hebrews 11:1-2 opens the chapter often described as a catalogue of “the heroes of the faith.” Verse two explains: “For by it [faith] men of old gained approval.” Dr. Joseph Dillow explains that Noah’s righteousness here is practical, not positional:

“But how did Noah obtain this verdict of righteousness? He obtained it because he ‘in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world’ (Heb. 11:7). He obtained it by works. Noah was already a believer before he built his ark. Before he even struck the first nail, God said of him, ‘But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord’ (Genesis 6:8). He displayed his saved status when he worshipped God ‘in reverence’ as he hammered every nail. Thus this verdict of righteousness was something added to a salvation which he already possessed.

What does it mean that Noah became ‘an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith ’ (Hebrews 11:7). What is this ‘faith’ and this ‘righteousness?’ Paul Tanner argues that in Hebrews 11 ‘faith’ does not refer to the initial transaction through which we are born again, rather, ‘faith’ in this chapter refers to the ‘walk of faith ’ in every instance. He further points out that the word ‘righteousness’ is used six times in Hebrews and never of imputed righteousness. In each instance it refers to the moral quality of righteousness. Tanner concludes, ‘Since “faith” in Hebrews 10-11 is not “saving faith,” and since “righteousness” in Hebrews is not “forensic imputed righteousness,” this verse is probably talking about something else. Noah was a man of faith, and as Genesis 6:8 teaches us, he was a “righteous and blameless man.” So what did that gain him? It qualified him (or led to) him becoming an heir.’” (Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny (Monument, CO: Paniym Group, Inc., 2012), p. 572.)

[4] W. E. Vine, M. A. Entry for 'Resurrection'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ved/r/resurrection.html. 1940.

[5] There seems to be a distinction between the act of resurrection and a state of resurrection. The “out-resurrection” should most likely be seen as a state of resurrection belonging to the age to come (see Luke 18:30; 20:33-35). An important passage describing this state would be Revelation 20:4-6. The term “first resurrection” in that passage may be better rendered as the “best resurrection.” The Greek word for “first” is protos (Strong’s #4413), which can mean “chief” or “best” instead of first in a numbered series. An example would be “the best robe” in Luke 15:22. Compare this with the thought in Hebrews 11:35.

[6] Details are noted in Arnold Dallimore’s biography entitled George Whitefield. See Vol. 2, p. 518. Whitefield was a mighty evangelist much used by the Lord in “The Great Awakening” of England and America in the 1700s.

[7] Arthur T. Pierson, George Müller of Bristol (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, no date), p. 299. Müller was one of the most famous and influential believers of the late 1800s. He was known for his prayer life. Without any public appeals for money, the Lord used him to raise up an orphanage that eventually served over 1,000 orphans in Bristol, England. All funds for the orphanage were raised solely by dependent prayer to God.