I introduced “Saved by Faith (Philippians 3:1-11)” by observing that Paul seemed to have been about to close his letter to the Philippian Christians when something led him to warn them to beware of those who taught that circumcision was necessary for salvation. After warning them about the Judaizers, Paul again shared with the Philippians the central place that Christ occupied in his life and identified some benefits of knowing Christ. Now he explains to them that he hasn’t yet attained all that is involved in knowing Christ but is striving to, and he warns them about another, much different, kind of “Christian.”
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, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 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. (Philippians 3:12-16, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)
Paul compares his spiritual life with a race in which he presses on toward the goal that he’d described in Philippians 3:10-11 (see below) and encourages the Philippians to take the same view of life. He brings out three resemblances between himself and a runner racing to obtain a prize:
- A runner strains forward, not allowing himself to be distracted by other things. Paul doesn’t let pride in past successes or regrets over past failures interfere with his pursuit of his goal.
- A runner has a goal. Paul has a goal, to “know [Christ Jesus] and the power of his resurrection, and … share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” and thus to “attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).
- A runner gets a prize on reaching his goal. Paul’s reason for running is to obtain a prize—to become completely identified with Christ Jesus, even to having his body transformed (Philippians 3:21).
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. 1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 3:17-4:1)
Paul encourages the Philippians to follow his example and the example of others who take the view of life that he’s described and warns them against the many who live as enemies of the cross, interested only in their belly, their glory, and earthly things. Some biblical scholars think that Paul is still referring to the Judaizing teachers of Philippians 3:2, but I think that it’s more likely that he is referring to antinomians who argue that since they were saved by grace it doesn’t matter what they do (compare Romans 6:15, “Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?”) and so live in self-indulgence. Paul says that their end is destruction. As citizens of heaven, Christians should have their minds focused on heavenly, not earthly, things (compare Colossians 3:2, “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth”) and look forward eagerly to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, when they’ll receive heavenly bodies and become part of the heavenly kingdom.
The closing verse of this section of Paul’s letter to the Philippians epitomizes his relationship with them. They are his friends “my brothers, whom I love and long for” and a reason for him to rejoice “my joy and crown.” Thus, his charge to them is just to “stand firm” in their commitment to Christ Jesus.
Earlier this week the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host discussed Philippians 3:12-4:1 guided by the questions given in “The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups.”