Philippians 3:1-2 Paul now sets down two very important things. The first is the truth that as Believer God has given us a joy that cannot be taken away. Our joy is not based on circumstances but rather on the presence of the Living Messiah who dwells in us. His indwelling means that even in circumstances where joy would seem to be impossible the joy of Believer remains, because nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:35-39).
We all experience sorrow, trials and difficulties but because of this great reality we can still have joy in the Lord. The great thing that rejoicing does is it keeps a person in the presence of the Lord. Knowing this gives assures us that God in Messiah will give us supernatural power and strength to overcome it. After commanding the Philippians to rejoice, Paul turns to his next major theme in this letter; his call for his readers to develop discernment.
Discernment, like faith, needs to grow and mature, one of my responsibilities as a shepherd of the flock is guard the flock from wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing. In Philippians 1 Paul told the Philippians not to be alarmed by those who oppose them and here is telling them how to recognize them. He first describes the false teachers as dogs.
He is referring not to pets but wild dogs roamed in packs feeding on garbage and that would at times attack people. There are a number of descriptions in the Scriptures that speak of such animals (Exodus 22:31;1 Kings 14:11;16:4;21:23-24) because of this the expression “dogs” was frequently used as a derogatory term (1 Samuel 17:43;Psalm 22:16;Revelation 22:15). Dogs were vicious and dangerous, and to be avoided and so too were the false teachers.
Scripture teaches that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). But there were false teachers who were proclaiming a different method of salvation. Yeshua warned his disciples about these (Matthew 7:15), people who teach that there is a broad way to heaven rather than a narrow one (Matthew 7:13).
The false teachers prided themselves on their righteousness which they taught came from religious actions which appear very religious but compromise the truth of God’s grace.
Paul himself prided himself on his zeal for religion but soon came to realize that all of his good works were worthless (Galatians 1:14;Philippians 3:7-8). Only believers controlled by the Spirit of God can do genuine good works (Ephesians 2:10). Paul clearly identified these false teachers as those who taught that circumcision and keeping the Law of Moses were necessary for salvation (Acts 15:1).
The Jerusalem Council condemned their teachings (Acts 15:1-29), as did Paul (Galatians 1:6-9;2:16-21;3:2-14,22-25;5:11-14). Circumcision has always been essential to the Jewish people, since it is the distinguishing mark of God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:11;Acts 7:8). Yeshua nor Paul taught that we should no longer circumcise our sons but rather that we suggest that Gentiles must do so to be a part of God’s covenant people.
Circumcision for Israel was not only an outward identification with Abraham but it was also to reflect an inward reality. God commanded the Israelites, “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord and remove the foreskins of your heart” (Jeremiah 4:4;9:26;Deuteronomy 10:16). True circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit. No ritual can transform the heart. And only those with transformed hearts can please God.
Philippians 3:3 Believers are called “the true circumcision.” What does Paul mean? Believers are those who worship God as He really wishes to be worshiped: in the spirit. Those who worship in Spirit and in truth have circumcised or cut away the flesh, in how they worship God. Most people attempt to worship God by attending church services, by praying, by giving, through rituals, by observing special days, to name just a few ways.
These are all good things but they are not the basis of true worship. They are things that we do because we worship but they are not the basis or spirit of worship. They may help us to focus on God and stir us to worship Him, but they are not the basis and spirit of worship. The basis of worship is the Spirit of God, and the spirit of worship is the Spirit of God.
To worship God, we must have the Spirit of God living within us. It is not just worshiping God externally through rituals and ceremonies, but worshiping God inwardly through the Spirit of God who lives within us. True worship has to be of the heart and spirit. Why?
Because a man can attend services and keep all the rituals and ceremonies, and still be living in rebellion to God. But if a man’s spirit is right with God, he worships God with a clean and pure heart, free from all sin and defilement. The truly circumcised person is the person who worships God in spirit (John 4:24).
Believers are those who have no reliance in the flesh. The flesh is the physical and material and dwells in the physical and material. The flesh can only do good works and keep external rituals and ceremonies and religious practices but cannot penetrate the spiritual world, the dimension that God abides in. The flesh is temporal and corruptible and dies while the spirit is eternal. The true believer has no confidence in the flesh. His reliance is in Yeshua (Romans 7:18;8:13;Galatians 5:17;6:8;1 John 2:15-16).
Philippians 3:4-6 Paul gives and example of what reliance on the flesh looks like. Paul had achieved the height of self-righteousness because he had perfected reliance on the flesh through his religious zeal and faithfulness. Paul ranks among the greatest of men who have attempted to work their way into God’s presence. Paul did all the good he could to gain God’s approval, but to no avail.
His goodness and his accomplishments did not make him acceptable to God, because through it all he could not make himself perfect and that is the requirement of God. Paul lists 7 achievements that made him above all others in standing before God through the flesh. The list is divided in privileges derived from his birth and those by his own efforts.
“Circumcised the eighth day” speaks of a privilege from his birth, born Jewish, a physical descendent of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; from parents in the line of promise. “Of the nation of Israel”, born of the right nationality.
“Of the tribe of Benjamin”: Benjamin was considered the aristocratic tribe of Israel because of the tribe’s loyalty as opposed to the 10 Northern tribes who abandoned the God of Israel. The first three in his list are related to his birth and the next four are by virtue of his religious zeal and discipline. “A Hebrew of the Hebrews”:
Paul claimed he had mastered the right language and the right traditions. Paul had the mark of faithfulness to the heritage. “A Pharisee”: Paul claimed to have had the right practice or denomination of religion; Yeshua even endorsed the practice of the Pharisees (Matthew 23:2-3). Of them he was the most “zealous”. His zeal was demonstrated in seeking to wipe out those who were compromising the truth like Pinchas (Numbers 25).
In his obedience to Torah, he was blameless. This doesn’t mean that Paul was sinless; it means that when Paul sinned, he obeyed the law and took his sacrifice to the temple. He claimed to be holy as Zachrias (Luke 1:5-6).
John’s father obeyed all the commandments, rituals, and ceremonies just like Scripture said. Paul was saying that goodness and righteousness are not found in keeping all the rituals and ceremonies of religion. They are not even found in keeping all the commandments of the Scripture. (Matthew 5:20;7:22-23;Romans 10:3).
Philippians 3:7-11 Paul sought instead to find his righteousness in Yeshua by abiding in His perfection. and righteousness rather than in his own. He knew that no matter how good he could become, he could never become perfect. He still came short and he was still doomed to face death because the soul that sins shall die.
Therefore, his only hope for living forever was the righteousness and perfection of Yeshua. He had to trust Yeshua’s work on his behalf. He instead lived an exchanged life, living for Yeshua. He trusted God to count his faith as the righteousness and perfection found in Yeshua. His only hope was in Messiah and His work alone.
Paul came to a place where he gave up on his own righteousness. This did not mean that Paul quit trying to live for God. On the contrary, it meant that Paul tried more diligently than ever to live for God. But his total commitment now was to Yeshua. Paul had an ongoing relationship to Yeshua by considering all things as empty or vain in order to gain the righteousness and peace in Messiah.
He made the decision to follow Yeshua and continuing to seek to know Him more and more (Luke 9:24;14:33). Further Paul looked to the future desiring to be found in Messiah when he came face to face with God rather than in his own righteousness (Romans 3:21-22;10:3-4). Paul understood that victory over the world would only be found in Yeshua. Philippians 3:10 tells us what he meant by knowing Messiah:
1) To know the power of His resurrection. The word in the Greek is where the word “dynamite” comes from. It is the power that rose Yeshua from death.
2) The fellowship of His sufferings. Most of us are willing to share in the blessings of Messiah but we want nothing to do with his sufferings. It is only through the sufferings that we experience the exchanged and victorious life, as in the life of Joseph. (2 Timothy 3:12;1 Peter 2:21).
3) To know Messiah is to be subject to death; that is like Yeshua putting to death His own flesh and desires; He did only what God willed and desired. Even when He died, His flesh did not desire to die or experience being separated from God (Matthew 26:39,42). But He subjected Himself to God’s will. Paul sought to count himself dead to sin but alive to God (Romans 6:11;1 Corinthians 15:31;Galatians 2:20;2 Timothy 2:11).
4) Paul looked to the resurrection which would forever remove him from this world into the glorious eternal joy of God, where there will be no more sufferings or sorrows.
Philippians 3:12-16 Paul did not count himself as having attained perfection but it was his goal, this is the process of sanctification. Sanctification is the process whereby we allow God to take more and more of our life under His dominion.
God has laid hold of the believer to perfect us so that we can live and worship and serve the Lord forever. But the reality is that we will not achieve perfection on this earth. The fact is so evident to the thinking and honest person that it is actually ridiculous to even make the statement. Yet, two extremes exist among those who claim to be followers of Messiah:
1) that it is too unattainable so since we are sinner why bother trying to attain it, or
2) There are some who claim that they have attained perfection because of their faith in Messiah. Concerning 2) Paul confessed to not being able to fully attain perfection (Romans 7:18-19;2 Corinthians 3:5).
Paul was one of the greatest men who has ever lived. If Paul was so short of perfection, how much further are we? But concerning the call to attempt to strive for it we see that Paul did. When Yeshua called Paul that was just the beginning, not the end; He had been set apart to live for Messiah and to serve Him, and as long as he was on this earth he was going to just that. The expression “press on” in the Greek means to pursue just like a runner in a race.
There was no place for walking, much less for sitting or lying around in comfort. There was work to be done and Paul was the Lord’s bond servant and so too are we. Paul was going to do all he could to help the Lord in the Lord’s great task of perfecting him. Paul was going to do all he could to lay hold of perfection—the perfection for which the Lord had laid hold of him. There is no such thing as a genuine believer sitting still after we has been saved.
We too are not to become comfortable, complacent, lethargic, or lazy. We are not to waste time and lose opportunities, to think we are safe and secure forever and so think that we can do whatever we like and give in to our own desires. We like Paul are called press on toward perfection this is why Yeshua saved us that we might not live for ourselves but for God (1 Corinthians 9:24-27;Hebrews 12:1).
Paul worked at forgetting the past. This is a verse is so important for those of us who have failed God in the past. Paul was always confessing how far short he came (Romans 7:18-19;2 Corinthians 3:5). Paul faced what so many of us face: failure and shortcomings and the struggle to forget it and to move on.
This is one of the most difficult things in all the world to do. And it is especially difficult if others are not forgiving and willing to let the believer put his failure behind him. But Paul tells us how to deal with the past. By concentrating and controlling the mind and by reaching for the things which are before us. He says “this one thing I do”.
The act involves two parts: both forgetting and reaching forth. The past cannot be forgotten without reaching forth to what lies ahead. A person cannot sit around moaning and regretting the past. To do so is to be concentrating on the past. The things of the past are to be forgotten. The things of the future are to be the focus of our mind. The believer is to zero in on the things at hand and on the things that lie ahead. If we do this, there is no time to wallow around in the past and its failure (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Furthermore Paul pressed on toward the goal, toward God’s purpose in Messiah Yeshua. What is God’s purpose for us in Messiah Yeshua? It is to be conformed to His image —to be perfect even as He is perfect. Perfection means eternal life, a perfect life that never ends and that goes on and on doing the things that God created us to do (Romans 8:16-17;29).
Paul kept his mind on growing and maturing in Messiah. This is generally difficult to do because we live in a world that is absorbed by the desire for comfort, pleasure, possessions, recognition and the pursuit of more and more. But God will not let the genuine believer rest unless his mind is on living like we should— pressing for perfection (Matthew 5:48;Ephesians 5:13;Hebrews 6:1).
Paul maintained the growth he had already achieved. Too many of us live up and down lives. We gain some discipline and some growth, then before too long, we slip right back to our old ways. Growth takes place, but then some circumstance or interruption takes place, and the new man and new growth are forsaken and we slip back into being the old man, living just like we used to live (Galatians 5:16;Ephesians 5:15;1 John 1:7).