Paper 2: Philippians 3
E. A. R. Shotter, Northampton
In the third chapter the apostle firstly takes the Philippians back to what he has brought before them of the Lord in chapter 2. The wonders of the humility of the Lord in His not looking to His undoubted "qualities and advantages" must have impressed them greatly. In Him he exhorts them to rejoice. And not only so, but the statements which he has enumerated of his Lord are not irksome for him to reiterate, particularly as contemplating them is a safeguard to the believers.
Turning from this he warns them to look out for the three k's — the kunes (dogs); the kakoi ergatai (evil workmen); and the kakatome (the concision or cutters off). W. E. Vine tells us that the dogs represent those of moral impurity, and that the Jews used this term of the Gentiles as ceremonially impure; that the evil workers were morally and ethically evil and the word not only has to do with persons but of what is injurious, destructive, baneful, and pernicious, which would suggest their doctrine; and that the concision means to cut off and therefore to mutilate. It would seem that the apostle is referring to those who found it difficult to accept others who were not circumcised as they were; who taught pernicious doctrine (for in the assembly circumcision had been done away in Christ), and who were prepared to mutilate the assembly by cutting off the uncircumcised believer. All this he later shows to be a mark of the flesh. In fact, in Galatians 6. 12-13 he says, "As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh".
But is there no spiritual application from circumcision? Yes, indeed. Circumcision, says Paul, is peritome not kakatome—it is cutting around and not cutting off! And, he says, "we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh". So, then, spiritual circumcision demands the removal (by cutting around) of all that pertains to the flesh without the mutilation of the body.
Now, says the apostle, you want to glory in the flesh? — I can beat you at that! Look at all my qualities and advantages! I was circumcised on the chosen day — the eighth; I am of Israel (the people of God — the chosen ones); I am of the tribe of Benjamin (the first mentioned after God called Jacob's name Israel on returning to the land, born in the land, the son of Rachel (Jacob's beloved), named the son of my right hand, not guilty concerning Joseph, and found with those who brought back David after the rebellion of Absalom, despite their own way wardnesses); I am of Hebrew parentage (so have a pure birth and language); I am a Pharisee (a separated one); I am of perfect, zeal (I persecuted the assembly); I am righteous in the eyes of the law (I have kept myself blameless). These are some of my qualities and advantages. Now, those of you who want no glory in the flesh, can you equal that?
But those things which I have been listing to you as my qualities and advantages, since Christ has laid hold of me I find them to be the things which were positively causing my downfall; they were a dead loss lo me, they were good for nothing — the ship and its cargo are lost, and lost for ever! Why so, Paul? For the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord! That is repentance exemplified, surely. Look, he says, that precious cargo I was carrying I now find but to be the leavings, the filth, the refuse, the churnings up of the sea, its scum, and its flotsam and jetsam.
In our first paper we referred to "contrasting similarities" between the second and the third chapters. We now look at some of these, bearing in mind of course that among men there is no "similarity" lo our Lord Jesus Christ, He is "over all, God blessed for ever. Amen". And whilst we aver lhai He is equal with God, and thought it not a thing to be grasped at to be so, yet of Saul of Tarsus we read thai he "profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals", and in character was like his O.T. namesake who was physically "higher than any of the people from his shoulders and upward". Considering the similarity of contrast expressed in "equality", we see the pride of Saul of Tarsus contrasted with the humility of the Lord Jesus Christ.
After the experiences of the Damascus road and in Arabia, it becomes patently clear that it is a different Saul that we come to know. In fact, following the account of his conversation in Acts 9, we later read of him in Acts 13. 9, "Then Saul |asked for], (who also is called Paul [little, small, short])1', and from thenceforward he is always called Paul in Scripture. Here is another contrasting similarity. Our Lord Jesus made Himself of no reputation; but Paul has to be made of no reputation, accepting this as his new position now that the course of his life is changed. Not only so, but Christ Jesus took the form of a servant (bondslave), and it needs no enlargement here to record how often the apostle delighted in the position of being "a bondslave of Jesus Christ!"
Looking again, we find these contrasting similarities continue for we next read of Paul's desire to "know the fellowship of his sufferings". Had not the Lord Jesus "learned [the cost of] obedience by the things which he suffered?" And Paul in his defence before Agrippa, Acts 26. 19, says "Wherefore... 1 was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision!"
Further, on several occasions in his lipistles, he enjoins obedience on believers. Indeed, his gospel was preached "for the obedience of faith among all nations", Rom. 1. 5 marg. So, if the Lord Jesus became obedient unto (right up to) death in His intense desire to fulfil the Father's will, His enraptured slave desires also to follow the footsteps of his Master in implicit obedience, and that right up to death. Little wonder, then, the confidence that he expresses to the elders of Ephesus as he bids them farewell, for he says, "Serving (as a bondservant) the Lord with all humility of mind... neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy". Acts 20. 19-24. Later, he can say, "1 have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a (victor's) crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day", 2 Tim. 4. 7-8.
All this he desires to know in the power of his Lord's resurrection. He had spent years in religious effort — and, before men, had succeeded. Now, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which arc before, he presses towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, glorying in his infirmities that the power of the Christ may rest upon him. As his Lord, after His stoop and obedience, was exalted by His God and given the Name which is above every name, so the apostle in his measure desires to lay hold of that for which he has been laid hold of — the up-calling of God! Similarity in contrast is punctuating the life of the apostle as he seeks to imitate the Christ. Qualities and advantages as men count them are rejected for those pertaining to the mind of Christ, and the apostle is being conformed to the image of His Son, Rom. 8. 29.
Exhortations. Having traced some of the ways of grace through which he had been taken, the apostle then exhorts his readers to be "followers together of me", or as he adds in 1 Corinthians 11. 1, "as I also am of Christ". He is a man who could use such an exhortation, for he had learned the ways of Christ in his experience and had submitted to them. The qualities and advantages that he had were completely submitted to his Lord, so much so that now the qualities of Jesus Christ, the advantages of Jesus Christ, His things dominated his life. No wonder he could say, "What then? not with standing, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein rejoice, yea, and will rejoice...For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain", Phil. 1.18, 21.
How small those who preached from self-ambition must have felt, when measured against such a man! No wonder that, against such a spirit, his walk was to them an evident token of perdition, but to those who preached out of love an evident token of love, and that of God.
But what of those in the assembly at Philippi? How would Euodias and Syntyche have felt as they heard that letter read? And what of those with responsibility there, who were perhaps racking their brains to find a solution to this problem of discord? And what of us today? How humbling, how salutary, how rebuking and yet how comforting that this one, who could say on the one hand "For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles", 2 Cor. 11. 5, and on the other, "For I am the least of the apostles", 1 Cor. 15. 9, and "who am less than the least of all saints", Eph. 3. 8, is the same one who would say in that same humility, "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you", Phil. 4. 9.
May we seek to follow the example of the apostle, as he did that of the Lord Jesus Christ.