Philippians 3. 20, 21

In the previous article, we considered Paul’s assertion that the “citizenship” of the Christian lies in heaven.

At the close of verse 20, the apostle turns our attention away from even heaven itself to the Person of the Lord Jesus. He is the true object of the believer’s hope. It is “the Lord himself for whom we look, 1 Thess. 4. 16.

Note should be taken of the title which Paul gives to the Lord. He speaks of Him as "the Saviour”. The phrase carries no article in Greek, emphasizing that it is in the character and capacity of a “Saviour” that He will come. He will return to bring us full and final “salvation”, which is nearer for us today “than when we (first) believed”, Rom. 13. 11. It is interesting that both “saviour” and “lord” were titles which were commonly assumed by the Roman emperor of the day – Nero. The term “saviour of the (inhabited) world” had been first applied over half a century earlier to Julius Caesar. Augustus had later been hailed as “saviour of the whole race of men” in, for instance, an inscription from Halicarnassus in Asia Minor dated just prior to the turn of the era.

"On his accession, Nero was venerated in the East as ‘saviour of the world’ … The emperor himself coined a catchword … ‘sosikosmios’ (belonging to the world-saviour”, A. Deissmann. An inscription of A.D. 67 describes Nero as “god, the saviour for ever”. Also, by the time of Nero, “lord” was the standard title, at least in the East, for the emperor. Compare Acts 25. 25-26, where the Roman procurator Porcius Festus referred to Nero as “my lord”. (The title “Augustus”, vv. 21, 25, had been given first to Octavius but “was afterwards conferred on his successors, and so came to mean ‘His Imperial Majesty’, whoever might be on the throne. The present ‘Augustus’ was Nero”, J. R. Lumby.)

Possessed of full Roman citizenship, the people of Philippi could look to Rome, knowing that from there would come their “saviour”, namely the “lord” Nero, to deliver [hem in the event of an invasion by brigands from the hinterland. Possibly with this in mind, Paul points out to the Christians at Philippi that, as citizens of heaven, it is from there that they eagerly expect their “Saviour”, namely the “Lord” Jesus Christ, who would deliver them from the very scene and presence of sin! The Saviour from heaven is able to “subdue” (hupotasso, "primarily a military term”, W. E. Vine) all to Himself.

The first half of verse 21 should be translated, “who will refashion our body of humiliation (so that it will be) conformed to His body of glory.

Change. "Refashion”, lit. Elsewhere this word often signifies merely outward appearance. It is used, for example, to describe the transformation of Satan into an angel of light and of his servants into apostles of Christ, 2 Cor. 11. 13-15. The word indicates a “less real change than that implied by” the word translated “conform”, A. Plummer. The Saviour’s work of refashioning will not involve any break of continuity between the old body and the new. Compare “we shall all be changed (allasso, to make other than it is) … the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed”, 1 Cor. 15. 51-52.

Our. Although Paul includes himself here, this does not mean that he believed that he would continue until the Lord came. In 1 Corinthians 6, 14 he also included himself among those who would be raised by God’s power. Indeed, at one stage in Philippians 1 he clearly envisaged death as a possibility for him – although he went on to express his conviction that he would remain in the flesh for the spiritual benefit of the saints at Philippi, vv. 20-25.

Vile. "Of humiliation”, lit. The word is translated “low estate”, Luke 48, and “made low”, James 1. 10. It is akin to that rendered “abased”, Phil. 4. 12, and “cast down”, 2 Cor. 7. 6. (This latter verse alludes to Isaiah 49. 13), and refers to being de
pressed and low in spirits; cf. 2 Cor. 1. 13.)

While on earth, the body of the Christian is exposed to physical limitations and needs, 4. 12, suffering, 1. 29, sickness, 2. 27, and death, 1. 20. This is its “low estate".

We are not only “eagerly expecting (apekdeckomai) the Saviour Himself, 3. 20. Because of His power to refashion our body, we are “eagerly expecting” the “redemption of our body”, also Rom. 8. 23.

Conform. The root word (morphe) indicates not a superficial likeness but “the essence of the thing”, R. C. Trench. (See die helpful note in the article on Phil. 2. 6 in the July/August 1985 issue of Precious Seed , Vol. 36, No. 4.) Perhaps the compound of mor-phe is used to remind them of the completeness of their future assimilation to Christ”, H. A. A. Kennedy. “Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son”, Rom. 8. 29, What an unspeakable privilege is to be ours! It seems that the very sight of the glorified Lord will itself trigger this transformation: “we shall be like him; for (hoti, because) we shall see him as he is”, 1 John 3. 2.

His body. When He comes we shall become “like” Him; even if we die meanwhile, we immediately go to be “with” Him, 1. 23.

Of glory. Here Paul has in mind the glorification of those who remain to the Lord’s coming. He also speaks of the glorification of those who die in Christ: the body “is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory’, 1 Cor. 15. 43. The very body in which Christ was magnified on earth, 1. 20, will share His glory in heaven!

The words “humiliation”, “refashion” and “conform” suggest a contrast with 2. 6-7. There, He who was in the form of God was found in fashion as a man and then humbled (tapainoo) Himself. Here, our body of humiliation (tapeinosis) will be re-fashioned that it might be formed like His body of glory. The one passage stresses His condescension, the other His power.

Working. “Activity” (energeia, English “energy").

Able. Dunamai, that is, He “has the power to".

Even. This serves to intensify the point made.

To subdue. "To subject”. In the present, angels, authorities and powers are subject to Him, 1 Pet. 3. 22. His power is adequate, however, to subject “all things” to Himself. The adapting of our lowly bodies for a higher existence and service in the heavenly realm is not beyond His ability. One day, for each of us “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain”, Rev. 21.4.

"Therefore”, Paul continued, “stand fast”, 4. 1. That is, “in view of these things – our present citizenship and our future glory – and in spite of all the opposition (see 1. 29-30), continue firm and stedfast”. May God so enable us.


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