Paul is so concerned with the problems of the church at Philippi that he is anxious to reinforce
the instructions he has sent via Epaphroditus. It is not a burdensome task for him since it is done for the welfare
of the church.
3:1–2 A warning
The dogs or evil workers are Jews, or Jewish Christians, who are seeking to win Gentile
converts to Christianity for Judaism. Jews often spoke of Gentiles as “dogs” which were for them ritually
unclean animals. Here Paul transfers the description to the Jews themselves because of the havoc they were causing in
predominantly Gentile-Christian congregations. Their work is evil because their insistence on circumcision was undermining
and unsettling the faith of Christian Gentiles. This circumcision by which they set so much store was not something
to be proud of. It was only the mutilation of the body.
3:3–11 The flesh and salvation
In verse 3 Paul makes four claims for himself and his fellow believers. First, they are the true circumcision. As
Paul teaches in Romans 2:28–29 circumcision is in the final analysis a spiritual, not a physical state. All who
have been inwardly transformed by divine grace are members of the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31ff.). They do not need
an outward physical sign for they have God’s forgiveness and Spirit in their lives. Secondly, they worship God
in Spirit, as Jesus told the woman of Samaria – see
John 4:21–24. This is far superior to the use of rites and animal sacrifices as in the Temple. Thirdly, they glory in Christ Jesus. They take pride only in Christ,
relying only on him for salvation and life. Fourthly, they put no confidence in the flesh: they do not think that their
good behavior can in any way win salvation for them.
In verses 3–6 Paul looks at his own history. It was not because he had no ancestry of which to boast that he made
light of his birth, status and human achievement. On the contrary, he had much of which to boast, but this he counted
as nothing because of what he had in Christ. His excellent Jewish pedigree faded into insignificance alongside what
knowing Christ meant to him.
In verses 7–8 Paul declares that the knowledge he has is of Christ as Lord. The worth of such knowledge not only
goes beyond all his previous knowledge of God which he had as a Pharisee (one who diligently kept the law of Moses), but makes
it as a worthless liability. He rejects it so that he may wholly gain Christ.
Paul’s new ambition (verses 9–11) is to be found in Christ. That is, to be in the position of being justified
by and reconciled to God. The righteousness – not moral virtue but the state of being right with God – which
he now has was not achieved by his own efforts at keeping the law. It comes from God through Christ and is received
by faith. It is a gift the believer cannot earn. Moving on from this gift Paul wants an intimate relationship
with Christ so that he can share in his resurrection power. To share in this divine life he knows that he must be willing
to suffer just as Christ suffered.
At baptism the believer symbolically experiences the death and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:1–11) and in life he
experiences the power of the resurrected life of Christ. The final stage is the actual receiving of the resurrection
body and new life, for which Paul also longs (1 Corinthians 15:42ff.).
Questions for discussion
1. What are the distinctive marks of spiritual worship?
2. What types of things would claim the allegiance of modern, western people, and in what sense would they be a hindrance
to a full commitment to Jesus Christ?
3. What does it mean to know Jesus Christ as Lord?
4. What are the ways in which Christians today are tempted to think that they make some contribution towards their