Philippians 3:1–11 (NKJV)

1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe.
2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, 4 though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:1-11

It would appear that Paul begins to sum up the letter to Philippi with some instructions about circumcision. There will be a few other topics, but Paul demarks this chapter from the rest of the book with the use of the word “finally (poilos in the Greek).” This is not just unique here, however, as it happens in chapter four, verse 8. Perhaps Paul thought his inspiration was finishing here, then he received additional words to add, then assuming he was winding down in chapter four with the next “finally.” Since letters were written in ink, he could not go back and delete the initial “finally.” Whatever the case may be, Paul wants to bring attention to what follows this demarcation. He offers encouragement that the letter he is writing to Philippi will not bring harm to him or the Christians receiving the letter. Instead, the letter should be cause for rejoicing. He then leaps into some subtly different warnings about people who would do them harm. Just as he did in numerous other letters, Paul assures them that circumcision is no requirement for the new Christians, Jews or Gentiles. He calls those who would require such a thing dogs, evil workers, and mutilators! He then characterized those who worship God in the Spirit, those who rejoice in Christ Jesus, and those who have no confidence in the flesh to be circumcised in the way that matters. These have their hearts circumcised and are pure.

Paul then turns to his own testimony to exemplify one’s past accomplishments as no reason for confidence. Achievements are nice, but they are not salvific. He sarcastically says that if anyone could have confidence in the flesh, it would be him. He was circumcised at the exact time specified by the Jewish law, the eighth day after his birth. He was an Israelite by birth. He was certain of his ancestry in the tribe of Benjamin. He followed all Hebrew customs and was learned in the law, achieving the status of being counted among the Pharisees. His zeal was unmatched, as he picked up the gauntlet of persecuting the church before his conversion. According to the law of Israel, he was blameless! Yet, Paul says that all this gain, all these accolades and achievements, he simply counted as loss. The Greek word here, zatoumenon, is a noun. However, the verbal form of this word (translated here as loss), would be more easily translated in this instance as “forfeit.” To forfeit a game means that one team chooses to lose the game, or else is insufficient to play. In this case, Paul forfeits his reputation that is based on his past works, in order that he may achieve in Christ what was truly valuable. He goes on to say that not only his accomplishments, but anything he knew or believed before that Damascus road experience he is now forfeiting, counting them loss, so that he may know Christ with excellence. He asserts that he has lost everything for Christ, but then characterizes the things he lost as garbage. The word here for garbage or rubbish could also be translated as human excrement, thus the older translations using the archaic form, “dung.” That is how useless Paul thought his life before Christ was.

Paul then finishes up this discussion with his claim that he gave up everything that he could be found in Him, Christ, not with his own righteousness as his calling card, but with the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ. He then writes the often-quoted words, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings….” Paul makes a powerful statement here of the association and integration with Christ that we must seek in order to be righteous. Christians cannot simply go to a meeting at a church or home regularly and be in fellowship with Christ. Before one can experience the power of the resurrection, he or she must first experience the fellowship of His sufferings. One must first be conformed to His death in order to attain to the resurrection from that death. You cannot have the victory of resurrection until you suffer the loss represented by suffering and death. We are not talking about physical death, here, but we are talking about the death of the fleshly man that leads us to sin. Discipline and spiritual warfare will lead you to victory. Deny this fleshly man and live in the power and fellowship of Christ!

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