As we move from chapter 2 to chapter 3 in our study of Philippians, we encounter a transition, identified in the very first word: “finally.” Finally, in this case, does not mean a conclusion, since forty-four verses remain in Paul’s letter. Finally here is used to introduce a new subject (and perhaps hint that the letter is drawing to a conclusion). In chapter 1, Paul encouraged the believers at Philippi to continue walking in a manner worthy of Christ. Chapter 2 shifted focus to our unity in the body of Christ through an attitude of humility. In chapter 3 the focus is on the word “rejoice.”
Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put 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; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. 7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.
Paul’s transition is contained in a simple command; “rejoice in the Lord.” He has encouraged the Philippian believers with the word “rejoice” four times previously in the letter: twice in chapter 1, and twice in chapter 2. He will use the word two more times in chapter 4. Obviously, Paul places a great deal of importance on our need to rejoice.
In Greek, the word translated rejoice is charió, (khah’-ee-ro) literally means to be “favorably disposed to God’s grace.” It is a verb; to be cheerful or delighted. In many of the New Testament letters it is used as a salutation on meeting or parting, much as we might use terms like “take care” or “God speed.”
While Paul has used the word rejoice earlier in this letter, this time he adds “in the Lord.” This signifies where the believer’s joy exists. True joy is only possible through an unchanging relationship with the Lord. This is a good reminder for us today. When we are discouraged or disheartened, we may need to change our focus from ourselves and our circumstances to the certain hope we have in Jesus Christ.
Even in good times, when things seem to be going well, we can lose our focus on God and His promises. When some of his disciples were excited that, empowered by the Holy Spirit, they were able to cast out demons, Jesus encouraged them to think beyond their current experience to the blessed hope of the future, when He said, “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20)
By reiterating the word “rejoice,” Paul is employing a common learning technique; rote. Rote learning is the process of gaining knowledge based on repetition. Paul knew that continually focusing on God was a safeguard for the believers when tough times come, as he knew they would. It was worth repeating. What a good lesson this is for each of us; continually re-directing our attention on God and His certain promises. I like to start each day by simply reminding myself that, “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)
Besides repeating the importance of rejoicing, Paul is now going to repeat a stern warning he gave in chapter 1. He warns them to protect them from succumbing to the false teachers that are creeping into the church, even in its first-century infancy.
Paul is not shy in his accusation of these false teachers. He calls them “dogs.” During the first-century, dogs were not tame house pets, but wild scavengers. Because dogs were such filthy animals, the Jews often referred to the Gentiles as dogs. Turning their own words on them, Paul uses the exact same word to describe the Judaizers who were trying to pull young believers from grace back to the works of the law.
In particular, Paul says these false teachers do evil by mutilating the flesh, a reference of the need to be circumcised. The circumcision they required was an outward sign of keeping the law. To correct this error, Paul, here and elsewhere, says that true circumcision is a work done in the heart by God when anyone accepts Christ through faith. Paul says the believers themselves are the circumcision.
When Paul is talking about the “flesh,” he is referring to man’s abilities and achievements apart from God. The Jews placed their confidence in outward signs: circumcision, being descendants of Abraham, and performing ceremonies and rituals required by Mosaic law, none of which could actually save them. Not only were they wrong, they were bent on getting others—especially followers of Jesus—to do the same.
In the Old Testament, the rite of physical circumcision was a sign of covenant relationship with God. Paul emphatically says that true circumcision is a spiritual act, not a physical one. He cautions that we are never to put our confidence in the flesh (our abilities, talents, etc.), but rather, we should put our confidence in Jesus. Recall Paul’s words in chapter 1, verse 6: “Being confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” Paul’s confidence was in God alone.
Just in case there are those who don’t understand what Paul is talking about, he uses himself as the perfect example. In essence he says if you are going to trust in legalistic righteousness, let me be the standard. Whatever confidence you have in your flesh, I have much more. Of course, he is putting no real confidence in the flesh, he’s just showing that if it were possible, he would be first in line. He gives a brief autobiography: was a Hebrew, a Benjamite, a Pharisee, and absolutely blameless in living as an Old Testament Jew. (He gives an even longer version in 2 Corinthians 11:22-33). The problem was, all that he had done meant nothing insofar as being reconciled with God, for that was only possible through faith in Jesus Christ.
8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, 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 is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Paul says that not only did he give up depending on his flesh and his Jewish heritage, he gave up everything he previously trusted in, apart from Jesus Christ. Paul not only gave them up, he considers them to be “rubbish.” The Greek word for “rubbish” is skybalon and has the idea of not simply the leftovers from dinner, but refuse, as the excrement of animals, garbage, worthless and detestable. The Old Testament word was “dung.” I don’t think I need to explain further what that is. Suffice it to say that the “dung heap” or the “dung gate” was not a place you would want to frequent.
Paul is not mincing words. He is not only saying that he is not putting his confidence in himself or what he has done in his own strength, he likens all of that to dog poop; absolutely worthless. He gave up his former profits of self-effort to “gain” (kerdainō) Christ. This is an interesting word. It is the same word Jesus used when he told the parable of the men who were given talents to invest. Gain has the idea of multiplication (the one with five talents gained ten, and the one with two talents gained four). It also has the idea of moving away from evil and going in a better direction. It was what Jesus said to His disciples, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul.” (Matthew 16:26)
This gain results in what is most important—that which Paul also emphasized in the letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians—being found “in Christ.” Paul is not depending one bit on his own righteousness, he is relying solely on the righteousness of Christ, and being found in Him.
What a reminder that is for each of us; understanding the way that God views us when we put our faith in Jesus Christ. He sees us through the righteousness of Jesus, our Advocate. He no longer sees us as His enemy, but as His chosen adopted children. And because we cannot be in His presence while we have any sin—which we all still do—He sees us through His sinless Son. How comforting it is that we don’t have to “perform” for God. In Christ, we wear the robe of His righteousness. Because of that, we can approach His throne at any time, day or night. We can stand fully in His presence and call Him Abba, Daddy. We can do this because we are in Christ.
Paul concludes this portion of his letter by giving two things that he desires above all else: to know the power of Christ’s resurrection, and to experience the fellowship of His suffering. Paul links power with suffering. Obviously, Paul is not referring to the suffering of Christ on the cross, for Christ alone took on the sins of the world. He was, rather, referring to the suffering Christ endured when he left the glory of heaven to come to earth as a man, which we looked at in our study two weeks ago (Philippians 2:6-11). Paul desires what each of us should yearn for; gaining a deeper knowledge and intimacy with Christ.
First, he wants the power of His (Christ’s) resurrection. Christ’s resurrection from the grave most graphically demonstrated the extent of His power. By raising Himself from the dead, Christ displayed His power over both the physical and the spiritual worlds. This power (dynamis), is the same word where we get word dynamite. Resurrection power is far more powerful than the largest explosive ever made; it is so powerful it can transform death back to life. And we have that same power according to Scripture, for “we have been raised with Christ.” (Colossians 3:1)
This incredible power comes with a cost; suffering. But suffering, according to Paul, is not a negative or something to be avoided, for it results in fellowship. Fellowship infers something shared with others. We will all suffer at one time or another. Fellowship here has the idea of empathy, sharing in suffering. Sympathy is done from a distance; empathy is close and intimate. It involves suffering along with someone else, truly feeling their pain.
Paul willingly invites suffering, an intimate desire to suffer as Christ suffered; willingly, without complaining or attempting to escape. He writes this letter from a cold and dark prison cell, probably chained to a Roman soldier. Yet, he does not complain. He embraces his difficult circumstances and remains hopeful because he looks beyond the present to the promised future. What an encouragement that should be for each of us. When our circumstances are difficult, we should remember the words of James and “count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds.” (James 1:2)
How can we face difficulties with joy? By remembering that we have been raised with Christ and that one day we will behold Him in all His glory. Our blessed hope in Christ is not just for this life, but for all of eternity. Our hope is not just wishful thinking, it is the absolute promise of God. So along with Paul, I say, rejoice.