There was rejoicing then both for Paul and for the Philippians as
regards Epaphroditus; but as we enter upon chapter 3 we find where the
truest and most permanent rejoicing lies for the Christian. God may,
and indeed often does, give us to experience His mercy and make our
hearts glad, yet on the other hand often He has to pass us through the
valley of weeping. But even if circumstances are permitted to move
against us, and sickness end fatally, the Lord Himself remains the
same. Our rejoicing really lies in Him. "Rejoice in the Lord," is the
great word for us all. In thus writing the Apostle might be repeating
himself, yet the happy theme was not irksome to him, and it was safe
for them. No servant of God need be afraid of repeating himself, for we
take in things but slowly. Repetition is a safe process in the things
Our rejoicing however must be "in the Lord." There are those who
would divert us from Him, as is indicated in verse 2. In saying "dogs"
the Apostle probably alludes to men of quite evil life, akin to the
unclean Gentiles. By "evil workers," to those who while professedly
Christian were introducing what was evil. By "the concision" he refers
to the Judaizing faction, in contrast with whom are the true
"circumcision" of which verse 3 speaks. The word translated "concision"
means a mere lopping off, in contrast to the complete cutting
off of death, which was figured in circumcision. The Judaizers believed
in lopping off the uglier excrescences of the flesh but would not have
that bringing in of death, "by the circumcision of Christ" (Col. 2:
11.), which is the truth of Christianity. The object before the
Judaizers was "that they may glory in your flesh" (Gal. 6:
13). Men cannot exactly boast in the grosser manifestations of the
flesh, so they aim at lopping them off in order to encourage more
amiable and aesthetic manifestations in which to make their boast. But
it is boasting in the flesh nevertheless.
Verse 3 speaks by way of contrast of what believers are, if viewed
according to God's thoughts of them. We are the true spiritual
circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, who boast in Christ
Jesus, and do not trust in the flesh. We accept God's sentence of
condemnation upon the flesh, and find our all in Christ. Then it is
that in the energy of an ungrieved Spirit we are filled with the
worship of God.
But what a lot of time is usually spent in learning not to trust the
flesh, and in passing a "vote of no confidence" in it. What experiences
often have to be gone through! The kind of experiences we refer to are
detailed for us m Romans 7, and the lesson is one that cannot be
learned theoretically, merely, it must be learned experimentally. There
is no need that we should take a long time to learn the lesson, but as
a matter of fact we usually do.
Paul's own case, to which he now refers-verses 4 to 7-shows that the
lesson may be learned in a very profound way in a very short space of
time. If ever a man was exemplary in a fleshly way, he was. Nowadays
people are said to die, "fortified with all the rites of the church." We may say of him that for some years he lived, fortified
with all the rites and ordinances and advantages and righteousness of
Judaism. If ever educated and religious flesh was to be trusted, it was
to be trusted in Saul of Tarsus. He was filled with religion and filled
with the pride which was generated by his belief that all was so much
gain to him.
But in that tremendous revelation, which occurred on the road to
Damascus, all was reversed. He discovered himself to be outrageously
wrong. His fancied advantages he discovered to be disadvantages; his
religious flesh, to be rebellious flesh. All that he had counted on,
trusted in, prided himself upon, came down about him with a crash.
Christ in His glory was revealed to him. All that had been esteemed
gain by him, he now counted loss for Christ. His confidence in the
flesh was gone for ever. As soon as the three days of his blindness
were over, his boasting in Christ Jesus began. In those three days his
great lesson was learned.
And the lesson was learned solidly and for ever. Verse 7 speaks of the conclusion he reached on the Damascus road. "I counted"-the verb is in the past. Verse 8 carries us on to the day when he wrote this epistle in a Roman prison. "Yea doubtless, and I count"-the
verb is in the present. The point reached at his conversion is
confirmed and even deepened, thirty years or more later. Only now he
can say what in the nature of things he could not have said at his
conversion. For thirty years he had been growing in the knowledge of
Christ, and the excellency of that knowledge commanded him. Compared
with that all things were but loss, and the depth and ardour of his devotion are expressed in the glowing words-"Christ Jesus MY LORD.'
Nor was this counting of all things but loss merely an attitude of
his mind, for he adds, "for whom I have suffered the loss of all
things." It is one thing to count all things as loss, and quite another
to actually suffer the loss of all. Both were the experience of the
Apostle. He was not unduly disturbed when he lost everything, for he
had already esteemed everything as loss. Moreover, in Christ he had
infinite gain, in comparison with whom all else is but refuse.
It was not that he hoped to "win Christ" as the result of giving up
all things, after the fashion of those who give up possessions and
retire into monasteries or convents in the hope of thereby securing
their soul's salvation. It was rather that, having found such
surpassing worth in Christ, such excellence in the knowledge of Him, he
was prepared as to all things to suffer loss in order that he might have Christ for his gain. It was a remarkable form of profit and loss account, in which Paul emerged an infinite gainer.
All Paul's gain then could be summed up in the one word-CHRIST. But
of course all this was based upon being "in Christ," and standing
before God in that righteousness which is by faith in Him. Apart from
that them would be no having Christ as one's gain, nor preparedness to
suffer loss in this world.
How striking, in this 9th verse, is the contrast between "mine own righteousness" and "the righteousness which is of God." The
one, were it possible to attain to it, would be "of the law." It would
be something purely human, and according to the standard exacted by the
law. The other is the righteousness in which we stand as the fruit of
the Gospel. It is "of God;" that is, divine, in contrast to
human. It is "through the faith of Christ ;" that is, it is available
for us on the basis of His intervention and work as presented to faith
in the Gospel. And it is "by faith;" that is, it is received by us on
the principle of faith and not on the principle of works of law.
Have we all taken this in? Are we rejoicing that we stand in a
righteousness which is wholly divine in its origin? Do we realize that
all the things of the flesh in which we might boast are so much loss
and that all our gain is in Christ?
These are weighty questions that demand an answer from us each.
We may gain very considerable insight into the character of a man if
we are made acquainted with his real desires and aspirations. The
passage before us gives us just that insight into the character of the
Apostle Paul. His desires seem to range themselves under three heads,
all found in the great sentence which runs through four verses. There
is no full stop from the end of verse 7 to the end of verse 11.
First, he desired to win Christ. Second, to be found in Christ, in a
righteousness which is wholly divine. Third, to know Christ, and
flowing out of that to know an identification with Christ, in
resurrection, in sufferings, in death. We are conscious at once that
this third aspiration has great depths in it. We might truly have
Christ for our gain, and for our righteousness, and yet be very poor
and shallow in our knowledge of Christ. "That I may know HIM," seems to
have been the very crown of Paul's desires.
But then, did not Paul know Him? Certainly he did, as indeed every
believer knows Him. He knew Him in fact in very much larger measure
than most believers know Him. Yet there is such an infinitude in
Christ, such depths to be known, that here we have the Apostle still
panting to know more and more. Have we not caught at least a little of
the Apostle's spirit? Do we not long to know our Saviour better-not
merely to know about Him, but to know Himself in the intimacy of His
Our knowledge of Christ is by the Holy Spirit, and primarily through
the Scriptures. Had we been on earth in the days of His flesh, we might
have been acquainted with Him for a brief season "according to flesh."
But even so we should have to say, "yet now we know [Him thus] no
longer" (2 Cor. 5: 16, N. Tr.). When His disciples spent those brief
years in His company they had indeed a most wonderful experience, yet
at that time they had not received the Holy Spirit and hence they
understood but very little for the moment. It was only when they had
lost His presence among them, but had gained the presence of the Holy
Spirit, that they really knew the significance of all they had seen and
heard. All that we know of Christ objectively is presented to us in the
Scriptures, but we have the indwelling Spirit to make it all live in
our hearts in a subjective way.
If the knowledge of the true living Christ, thus objectively
presented to us, is brought subjectively into our hearts by the Spirit,
it leads to a third thing; an acquaintance with Him in an experimental
and practical way. To this Paul alludes in the latter part of verse 10.
The order of the words is significant. The historical order in the case
of our Lord was, sufferings, death, resurrection. Here resurrection
comes first. Neither Paul nor any of us can contemplate sufferings or
death save as we are fortified by the knowledge of the power of His
resurrection. His resurrection is the pattern and pledge of ours.
Indeed our resurrection altogether depends upon His.
As the Apostle realized in his spirit the power of Christ's
resurrection, he looked upon "the fellowship of His sufferings" as
something actually to be desired. He even desired to be conformed to
His death! Until the Lord comes we can only know the power of His
resurrection in an inward and spiritual way, yet the fellowship of His
sufferings and conformity to His death are of a very practical nature.
Paul would taste of suffering in the cause of Christ and after the
pattern of Christ-suffering which should be of the same order as those
sufferings which Christ Himself endured at the hands of men. He would
even die as a witness to the truth, seeing Christ thus died. He
actually desired these things.
Let us each take a few quiet moments to interrogate our own hearts.
Do we desire these things? We fear that to ask the question is to
answer it. A few of us might be able to say, "I believe that through
the Lord's grace I could face these things if called upon to do so. But
desire them? Well, no. " The fact that Paul did desire them is an
eloquent witness to the wholly exceptional degree in which Christ
personally had captured his heart, and the power of His resurrection
had filled him with a holy enthusiasm. The fact is, he was like a
well-trained athlete running in an obstacle race with a mighty
enthusiasm for reaching the goal. The earlier verses have told us how
he had flung away seeming advantages as being hindrances to his course.
These verses tell us that he would be detained by no obstacle, he would
tear his way through the barbed wire of suffering and plunge into the
watercourse of death, if in such fashion he might reach his goal.
Now this is just the force of verse 11. The Authorized version would
almost make it appear that resurrection is an attainment for us, with a
measure of doubt as to whether we ever get there. A better rendering
is, "If any way I arrive at the resurrection from among the dead" (N.
Tr.). He would get there any way, through no matter what obstacles,
even through sufferings and martyrdom. And not merely is it
resurrection, but resurrection out from among the dead; that is, the
first resurrection, of which Christ is the firstfruits. It is while
waiting for that resurrection that we are to know the power of His
resurrection from among the dead, and so be walking here as those who
are risen with Christ.
Verses 12 to 14 show us that the thought of a race was present to
the Apostle's mind in writing. The word, "attained" in verse 12 is
really "obtained" or "received" as a prize. He wished no one to think
that he had already received the prize, or that he was perfected. The
position rather was that he was still pursuing it. Christ Jesus had
laid hold of him, but he had not yet laid hold of it. Still he was
ardently in pursuit of it, stretching out like an eager athlete towards
the prize of God's calling on high in Christ Jesus.
The word "high" simply means "above." The same word is used in
Colossians 3: 1, where we are bidden to "seek those things which are
above." The prize, of the calling to the things above, is surely that
full and perfect knowledge of Christ Himself, which will be possible
for us when our bodies are changed and fashioned like unto His body of
glory at His coming.
Paul thirsted to know Him yet more deeply, as we have seen, while
still he ran the race with the prize of a full knowledge of Him at the
end. His desire was so intense that it made him a man of one thing. He
was marked by concentration and intensity of purpose, suffering nothing
to divert him from his aim. This feature, of course, goes far to
explain the amazing power and fruitfulness that characterized his life
and ministry. The weakness and lack of fruit that so often marks our
lives and ministry may be very largely traced to exactly opposite
features in ourselves-lack of purpose and concentration. Time and
energy are frittered away on a hundred and one things of no particular
value or moment, instead of the one thing commanding us. Is it not so?
Then let us seek mercy from the Lord that in an increasing measure we
may be able to say, "One thing I do."
This really is very much what verse 15 says. Paul rejoiced in the
knowledge that others beside himself could be spoken of as perfect or
full-grown in Christ: they would be like-minded with him in this
matter. Others again had hardly made the same spiritual progress, and
consequently might view things somewhat differently. These are exhorted
to walk in the same way according to their present attainment, with the
assurance that God would lead them on until they saw things in just
that way in which they had been revealed to the Apostle himself. We
need to take these two verses very much to heart, for they exemplify
the way in which the more spiritual and advanced believer should deal
with those of lesser attainments than himself. Our natural tendency is
to look down on these who may be less advanced than ourselves, to
despise them or even to attack them because of their lack of conformity
to that which we see to be right. This tendency is specially pronounced
when the advance, upon which we rather pride ourselves, is more a
matter of intelligence than of real spirituality.
Verses 15 and 16, then, reveal the spirit of a true pastor in Paul;
and in verse 17 we find that he is able to refer them to his own life
and character as an example. One is reminded of the words in which one
of the poets has described the pastor. He
". . . allured to brighter worlds
And led the way."
In verses 15 and 16 we see Paul alluring his weaker brethren to
brighter worlds. In verse 17 we see him leading the way. Example is, as
we know, an immense thing. Paul could say to the Philippians as he did
to the Ephesians at the close of his ministry, "I have shewed you and
have taught you" (Acts 20: 20). With him there was practice as well as
For this reason he could call upon his converts to be "followers" or
"imitators" of himself. He was to be an "ensample," that is a type or
model for them, and this was the more necessary since even in those
early days there were many walking in such fashion as to deny what is
proper to Christianity, though evidently they still claimed to be
within the sphere of Christian profession. Here we have brought before
us not immature believers, as in verse 15, nor believers in a very
perverse frame of mind, as in Phil. 1: 15, but adversaries whose end is
destruction. These are exposed with great vigour of language.
We must not fail to notice the spirit that characterized the Apostle
in denouncing them. There was nothing petty or vindictive about him,
but rather a spirit of compassionate grief. He wept even as he wrote
the denunciation. Moreover, his care for the Philippians was so zealous
that he had often warned them before as to these men.
His exposure falls under five heads.
1. They are enemies of the cross of Christ. Not perhaps of His
death, but of His cross-of that cross which has before God put the
sentence of death on man, his wisdom and his glory.
2. Their end is destruction. This alone would make Paul weep as he thought of them.
3. Their God is their belly; that is, their own lusts and desires
governed them: desires often of a gross nature, though, we suppose, not
always such. Always however, in some shape or form, self was their god.
4. They gloried in that which was their shame. They had no spiritual
sensibilities at all. Everything in their minds was inverted. To them
light was darkness and darkness light: glory was shame and shame was
5. Their minds were set on earthly things. Earth was the sphere of
their thoughts and their religion. They carried on the tradition of
those of whom the Psalmist spoke, saying, "They have set their eyes
bowing down to the earth" (Ps. 17: 11).
And that tradition is still being carried on vigorously. The
generation of earth-minders still flourishes. It has indeed multiplied
amazingly within Christendom. The unbelievers who fill so many pulpits
that are supposed to be Christian, and control the destinies of so many
denominations, have an incontestable claim to this un-apostolic
succession. The cross of Christ as pouring contempt on man's pride and
abilities they will have none of. Man-that is to say, self-is their
god. They glory in things, such as their descent from the brute
creation, which if true would only be to their shame. Earth fills their
vision. Believers of the old-fashioned, New Testament type they
ridicule as being "other worldly." They are altogether for this world.
Now, "our conversation is in heaven." It is really our commonwealth,
our citizenship. Our vital associations are there, not here, as the
enemies of the cross would teach. Heaven is our fatherland, and to
heaven, as a matter of fact, we are going. But before we get there a
great change as to our bodies is needed, and that change will reach us
at the coming of the Lord. Our bodies of humiliation are going to be
transformed into the likeness of His body of glory, and the working of
His mighty power is needed for its accomplishment.
So our attitude is that of looking for the Saviour, who is coming
forth from the heavens, to which we belong. He is coming as One who
wields a power which will enable Him to ultimately suWue all things
unto Himself. Is it not a touching thought that the very first exercise
of that power of His is going to be in the direction of subduing the
poor bodies of His saints, whether living or in the graves, into
conformity to Himself? Then in His likeness we shall enter upon all
that our heavenly citizenship involves.
So, we look for the Saviour. Let us keep the eyes of our hearts
directed to the heavens, for the next move of decisive importance is
coming from thence.