Philippians 3:1-11 All For Christ.

Paul stresses repeatedly in this letter the importance of joy and rejoicing in the Lord. There is a sense in which only the Christian understands what is true joy. Paul also saw the need to repeat himself, for the sake of the spiritual safety of his readers (v. 1 Cf. I Th. 5:16). In particular he has to warn them to beware of those who claimed that in order to be Christians the males had to be circumcised. In short, there were some teachers who did not understand the transition from the old covenant administrations of the covenant of grace to the new (v. 2 Cf. Gal. 5:15). There were both physical and spiritual aspects to circumcision (Cf. Rom. 2:28).

Paul claimed that Christians were the true inheritors of the spiritual forebearers in the old covenant. Circumcision was never intended as a badge of national identity (Cf. Dt. 30:6). Circumcision was not instituted with Moses, rather it was given as a sign of the old testament administration of the covenant of grace beginning with Abraham. God sovereignly reaffirmed this covenant with Abraham, and then later circumcision became the sign of it, which was then reaffirmed by Moses and later by David (Cf. Gen. 15; 17). Circumcision was to be Abraham’s response to God, a response which followed grace, it did not precede grace (17:9-10).

The LORD alone passed through the sacrifices when he “made a covenant with Abram” (Gen. 15:18). There were some who did not understand the covenantal transition, but there were also some for whom religion was nothing more than a pride in externals. There was never any “confidence in the flesh” for Abraham and those who had like faith with him (vv. 3-4 Cf. II Cor. 5:16; 11:18, 22-23). Abraham was, by grace, effectually called by God from a culture and religion of idolatry to a life of faith in God’s word spoken to him (Gen. 12:1-4). Likewise, Paul placed no confidence in himself, even though he had far more “credentials,” so to speak.

It is not a matter of ethnicity, external signs or rites, observance of the law, or zeal (vv. 5-6 Acts 8:3). What mattered was salvation by grace through faith, which in Abraham’s case simply had as one evidence among many, the obedience of administering the sign of circumcision (Cf. Eph. 2:8-9). “The righteousness which is from God,” is “by faith,” and “through faith in Christ” (v. 9). Paul counted all the externals of his life as rubbish compared to being found, not with a righteousness of his own, but the righteousness that comes by faith in Christ (vv. 7-8). Paul also stands in opposition to those who disparage knowledge in favour of a false spirituality of feelings.

One will not find Paul saying that the problem is too much theology, quite the opposite. The answer to bad theology was biblical theology. Paul regarded all these externals as a loss compared to “the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus” as Lord (v. 8 Cf. Jer. 9:23-24). On the one hand there was a confidence in humanity, on the other hand there is a biblical Christology and soteriology-a knowledge of Christ and the way of salvation that was both intellectual and personal. True biblical theology has always been knowledge with power, in fact it has always included three essential elements.

The first is always knowledge-we cannot have a relationship with a God whom we do not have any true knowledge of, and this comes by Him revealing Himself to us. Secondly, this knowledge must be combined with the power which He alone can give us. Finally, we must know something of the cost of true discipleship-sharing in “the fellowship of His sufferings” (v. 10a). It is only with all three of these elements that we will be conformed to Him in His death and know the power of His resurrection in our own resurrection on the last day (vv. 10b-11). All of these things are as a result of grace, not because of anything we are or do.

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