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No Confidence in the Flesh August 26, 2012

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Philippians 3:1-11.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Philippians that in conclusion, they should rejoice as Christians; also, it is not tedious for him to warn them again about their internal dissensions.

Now Paul is interrupted in his concluding remarks – and so he warns the Philippians to be on their guard against the Judaizers; he condemns their actions and even states that their circumcision is equivalent to heathen mutilation. In contrast, all believers:

  • are spiritually circumcised
  • render a spiritual service to God
  • boast as Christians
  • do not trust in external privileges.

Now he, for the sake of the following argument, trusts in external privileges.

If anyone seems (to himself) to have external privileges, Paul can stake his claim to greater external privileges:

  • he was born to Jewish parents
  • his parents were descendants of the original twelve tribes of Israel
  • his parents were descendants of the faithful tribe of Benjamin
  • he is a Hebrew Jew
  • in terms of law, he lived as a Pharisee
  • in terms of zeal, he persecuted the church
  • in terms of righteousness in the law, he was blameless.

Yet all of these privileges which Paul formerly reckoned to his credit are now regarded by him as a single loss for Christ. Indeed, he views these privileges as the refuse from God’s banquet table. He desires to be known as a Christian on the day of judgment; he does not desire a righteousness that comes from works, but he desires a righteousness that comes from God on the condition of faith. He desires to recognize Christ and have the following benefits that are connected with His resurrection:

  • assurance of immortality
  • participation in His sufferings
  • union with Him in his death.

Paul concludes by hoping that he will be resurrected from death to life.

Thoughts: This is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture – yet it commences in a rather disjointed fashion. Lightfoot offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 2:

As the apostle is on the point of referring once more to the divisions in the Philippian church before concluding, he is interrupted. Whether the interruption was momentary, or whether some hours or even days elapsed before the letter was resumed, it is vain to conjecture. But it has diverted, or at least modified, the train of thought…It seems probable therefore that he had meanwhile been told about some fresh antagonism or reminded of some old antagonism on the part of his Judaizing opponents in Rome.

This is an interesting tidbit; I had never noticed this rather abrupt transition between verses 1 and 2 in my previous excursions through Philippians. I am confident that believers through the ages have been thankful that God kept Paul from concluding the letter at this point; if he had wrapped up the epistle here, we would have been deprived of an excellent (and quite lofty) passage. Now I am unsure as to whether any other books of the Bible contain a similar “delayed conclusion”; any insights are welcomed.

Verses 7-9 contain a marvelous explanation by Paul of the true value of his external privileges. Lightfoot offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 8:

Rubbish. The word seems to signify generally “refuse,” being applied most frequently in one sense or other to food. The two ways this word is used are: (1) “Excrement,” the portion of food rejected by the body as not possessing nutritive qualities. This sense is frequent in medical writers. (2) “The refuse or leavings of a feast,” the food thrown away from the table…The Judaizers are themselves the “dogs” (verse 2); the meats served to the sons of God are spiritual meats; the ordinances, which the formalists value so highly, are the mere refuse of the feast.

In some sense, this passage reminds me of the church that I attend, which includes a disproportionate number of alums of top-ranked colleges. Many of our members are professionally successful, and many of them are doctors, engineers and lawyers. Yet this passage reminds us that these external privileges are truly “refuse” compared to the awesome “feast” that lies in knowing Christ and possessing His righteousness. As believers, if we can stake our claim to any external privileges, we must view them with the proper perspective – the only thing in this life that we cannot afford to lose is our saving relationship with Christ.

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