Philippians 3:1-6

Philippians 3:1-6
1Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe.

2Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! 3For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, 4though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: 5circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

I’m really excited we have finally come to Philippians 3 – my favorite chapter in the entire Word of God. I really, really did want to plough through verses 1-11 tonight, so we can get to my favorite verses in the Bible – Philippians 3:12-14. But in studying this passage, I find too much rich spiritual food here in verses 1-11. We need to delve deeply into these, and savor their richness. Indeed, in studying them, I find we’re going to need to devote an entire study session, possibly more, to verses 8 and 9 alone! So let’s dive in…
Finally – Before we can delve into the richer aspects of this passage we need to take a short dive down a shallow rabbit hole. Some have postulated from the appearance of the word λοιπόν loipon here at the beginning of chapter 3, and again in verse 4:8 that the book we call Philippians is actually made up of fragments from at least 2 (or more often supposedly 3) separate letters. Furthermore, many claim that only the vv. 1:1 – 4:7 fragment may be definitively attributed to Paul as author, since the second fragment contains no greeting claiming authorship like we find in v. 1:1.
As most words do, the word λοιπόν loipon we see translated here as “Finally” has several meanings…
remaining, the rest, hereafter, for the future, henceforth, at last, already, for the rest, besides, moreover
In the KJV, this word is translated…
finally (5x), now (2x), then (1x), besides (1x), moreover (1x), it remains (1x), furthermore (1x), henceforth (1x), from henceforth (1x)
I know virtually nothing about textual criticism, but it seems to me that given the wide variety of possible translations for λοιπόν loipon, its existence in this position within the letter lends little strength to the argument that Philippians comes from multiple fragmentary sources. Having said that, if we review the previous few verses in chapter 2, none of the other meanings of λοιπόν loipon seem to fit the text any better than “finally.” Most English translations do translate it as “finally,” with only the NIV (among those translations I checked) translating it as “further,” as does the 1984 revision of Martin Luther’s translation which uses the German work “weiter” meaning further or furthermore. The German “Unity” (Einheit) translation renders the word as “vor Allem” meaning “above all” or “first and foremost.” The German Elberfelder translation renders it “Übrigens” meaning “by the way” or “incidentally.” But I must admit that my tummy feels a little funny when someone says “By the way, brothers, rejoice in the Lord.” There shouldn’t be any “by the way” about it!
If, indeed, Philippians comes from multiple fragments, then the idea of an author other than (or in addition to) Paul for the book logically follows, since only the first fragment contains a greeting claiming authorship. For the same reason, Bible scholars have also been reticent to proclaim Pauline authorship for the book of Hebrews, since it contains no greeting whatsoever. Indeed, some might even claim that Hebrews is missing its first part, because it contains no greeting. But whether or not Philippians comes from multiple source letter fragments, the idea of an author other than Paul is largely dismissed by most Bible students, not only due to the presence of the greeting in v.1:1, but from the character of the text itself being nicely aligned with other texts known (or assumed) to be from Paul. Furthermore, even if we assume that the letter is made up of multiple fragments, the existence of a claim of authorship in v.1:1 doesn’t necessarily validate Paul as the author since certainly a forger could claim authorship in Paul’s name.
Clearly, as we have already seen, Paul does make some abrupt transitions in his train of thought within the letter, moving from exhortation, to description of his situation, to thanking the Philippians for their support, back to exhortation, to warning of false doctrine, etc. This might, indeed, lend credence to the idea that the letter we have is actually made up of multiple fragments of letters which did not make their way down to us intact. However, since a largely complete manuscript of all the Pauline epistles (including all of Philippians) dating from around 200AD survives, we know that the letter was being treated as a unified whole, at least since then. Furthermore, we know…
1 Corinthians 14:33
For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
If we believe that the Bible we hold is the inerrant Word of God Almighty, spoken by the Holy Spirit to its human scribes, it is difficult to imagine that God would exclude certain portions of His spoken Word, while including others. Admittedly, this is circular reasoning, but the matter is mostly irrelevant given that we have the Word that we have been given, and we know and believe the Truth we find in…
2 Timothy 3:16-17

16All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

So with that out of the way, let’s crawl out of this rabbit hole, dust ourselves off, and press on with the business of examining the message of the text, rather than its form.
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1Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you isnot tedious, but for you it issafe.
The German Einheits translation strikes me as closest to the mark in understanding Paul’s thrust here at the beginning of chapter 3 – “Above all, rejoice in the Lord.” So far, Paul has used the word χαίρω chairō six times in this letter, and even reminds us here that he rejoices to tell us to rejoice again and again!
And why should we not rejoice?…
John 10:10
…I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
Luke 10:19-20
19Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. 20Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.
Matthew 28:8-10
8So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. 9And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!”So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.”
Psalm 118
1Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.
2Let Israel now say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
3Let the house of Aaron now say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
4Let those who fear the LORD now say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
5I called on the LORD in distress;
The LORD answered me and set me in a broad place.
6The LORD is on my side;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
7The LORD is for me among those who help me;
Therefore I shall see my desire on those who hate me.
8It is better to trust in the LORD
Than to put confidence in man.
9It is better to trust in the LORD
Than to put confidence in princes.
10All nations surrounded me,
But in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.
11They surrounded me,
Yes, they surrounded me;
But in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.
12They surrounded me like bees;
They were quenched like a fire of thorns;
For in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.
13You pushed me violently, that I might fall,
But the LORD helped me.
14The LORD is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation.
15The voice of rejoicing and salvation
Is in the tents of the righteous;
The right hand of the LORD does valiantly.
16The right hand of the LORD is exalted;
The right hand of the LORD does valiantly.
17I shall not die, but live,
And declare the works of the LORD.
18The LORD has chastened me severely,
But He has not given me over to death.
19Open to me the gates of righteousness;
I will go through them,
And I will praise the LORD.
20This is the gate of the LORD,
Through which the righteous shall enter.
21I will praise You,
For You have answered me,
And have become my salvation.
22The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
23This was the LORD’s doing;
It is marvelous in our eyes.
24This is the day the LORD has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.
25Save now, I pray, O LORD;
O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity.
26Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.
27God is the LORD,
And He has given us light;
Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.
28You are my God, and I will praise You;
You are my God, I will exalt You.
29Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.
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Paul turns another corner here, and begins to warn of the things of the world, particularly legalism, which can steal away our rejoicing.
2Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!
Anyone who has done any evangelism at all knows that some take readily to the Word, most are polite but uninterested, and a few are rude and adversarial. I think it’s the latter that Paul speaks of when he refers to dogs…
Matthew 7:6
Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.
Paul goes on to warn about legalism within the church – especially, those who were demanding that the brethren (both Jewish and Gentile believers) conform to the Old Testament law – particularly circumcision. Remember that it was to refute and oppose these “Judaizers” that Paul, Silas, Barnabas, and Judas Barsabas had been sent out following the council in Jerusalem (Acts 15) on the missionary journey during which the church at Philippi was founded. Paul uses a particularly strong and sarcastic word – “mutilation” – here to describe fleshly circumcision. This is the only place in the Bible where this word is found. Paul speaks out frequently in opposition to the idea, not of circumcision itself (remember that he himself circumcised Timothy), but that fleshly circumcision has any power whatsoever for salvation…
Romans 2:25-29
25For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? 27And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? 28For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
1 Corinthians 7:18-19
18Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. 19Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.
Galatians 5:1-6
1Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. 2Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. 3And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. 4You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.
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3For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh,
In verse 3, Paul wishes to draw the distinction between the rite of fleshly circumcision as an outward sign of conformity to God’s law, and true spiritual “circumcision” of the heart – that is true devotion and submission to God’s holy will. Fleshly circumcision was (and is) so ingrained into the Jewish identity that we see Jewish society referred to frequently in the New Testament as “The Circumcision”…
Acts 10:45
And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.
Acts 11:2
And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him,
And by contrast, Gentiles were called Uncircumcision…
Ephesians 2:11-13
11Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— 12that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Indeed, calling a Jewish man uncircumcised was a deeply offensive insult. Without doubt, Stephen’s fate was sealed when he called his accusers uncircumcised…
Acts 7:51-54
51“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 52Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, 53who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.”
54When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth.
Yet Paul reiterates here what we have seen he said in other places – that fleshly circumcision is of no avail for salvation, but rather the spiritual circumcision of those who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.
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Paul sets the stage in v. 4-6 for the magnificent pronouncements of v. 7-11.
4though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: 5circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
He has already stated that he has no confidence in the flesh, but in case someone might presume Paul had nothing to lose in forsaking everything for Christ, he reminds them of his worldly credentials before God. Paul knows that these things are of no use in salvation, but is in a sense laying a logical trap for those who believe that they are. Make no mistake. God declares throughout His Word that Israel are His chosen people. Yet in their pride at being the chosen people of God, they lost site of the God who had chosen them, and failed to recognize the coming of the promised Messiah that they so eagerly await even until today…
Romans 11:1-15
1I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, 3“LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life”? 4But what does the divine response say to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” [1 Kings 19:18] 5Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. 6And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.
7What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. 8Just as it is written:
“God has given them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes that they should not see
And ears that they should not hear,
To this very day.” [Deuteronomy 29:4]
9And David says:
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
A stumbling block and a recompense to them.
10Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see,
And bow down their back always.” [Psalm 69]
11I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. 12Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!
13For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. 15For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
Before we press on, I want to take a quick look again at verse 6…
…concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless
This is really a bold statement. Who am I to question Paul’s righteousness in the law? I’m working out my own salvation with fear and trembling. I must say, though, that if he did, indeed, keep the law perfectly, then Paul was unique among human beings. I suggest Paul may be using a bit of poetic license here. Nevertheless, I’m reminded of the story of the rich young ruler…
Luke 18:18-23
18Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
19So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. 20You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.'”
21And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”
22So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
23But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.
If, then, Paul was truly blameless in the righteousness which comes from the law (as the rich young ruler also claimed to be), then as we’ll see next, the difference between them was that while the young ruler was sorrowful, being unwilling to sacrifice everything for Jesus, Paul, having lost everything of the world for the sake of Jesus, rejoiced at the prospect of eternal salvation in Him. Hallelujah!
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