Philippians 3

 
Christ Our Object: Joy is a Result of Having Christ as Our Object
Philippians 3
 
Philippians 3. In the previous chapter we had the danger of strife warned of. Christ was set before us as our pattern in humility, and this as the secret to unity among believers. Now in ch.3, the apostle speaks of another danger, that of influence from the Judaizing teachers, and the whole system of natural religion. The solution to this danger is Christ again, now as our object or focus. In ch.2 we were directed to Christ as a man on the earth to deal with strife, but in ch.3 we are directed to Christ in heaven to deal with vainglory! Paul brings in his own personal history to show what grace can do in a person’s life when they have Christ as their object. The key to Elisha’s strength was keeping eye on the ascending Elijah. He saw a chariot of fire, which is a picture of strength. It is secret strength the world can’t see. This is what we have in Philippians 3; the energy that carries us through this wilderness scene. What gives us this energy is having an object in heaven; which is Christ in glory.
 
Nothing but Christ, as on we tread,
The Gift unpriced, God’s living Bread;
With staff in hand and feet well shod,
Nothing but Christ — the Christ of God.
 
Everything loss for Him below,
Taking the cross where’er we go;
Showing to all, where once He trod,
Nothing but Christ — the Christ of God.
 
Nothing save Him, in all our ways,
Giving the theme for ceaseless praise;
Our whole resource along the road,
Nothing but Christ — the Christ of God.1
 
 

Joy in the Lord and What Can Spoil it (3:1-3)

CHAPTER 3
For the rest, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord: to write the same things to you, to me is not irksome, and for you safe. v.1 Rejoicing in the Lord. Throughout the epistle to the Philippians, a common theme is joy. But before v.1, the joy is always mentioned in conjunction with a circumstance; e.g. joy in seeing God use difficult circumstances to further the gospel (Phil. 1:18), the joy of Christian fellowship (Phil. 1:25), or the joy of seeing our brethren go on in one mind (Phil. 2:2). But here it is an exhortation to “rejoice in the Lord”, and this plane is maintained for the rest of the epistle (Phil. 4:4). This is a joy we can have that is independent of circumstances. This is the same character of joy that Paul and Silas exhibited in the Philippians jail while they were held in the stocks, after having been severely beaten. “And at midnight Paul and Silas, in praying, were praising God with singing, and the prisoners listened to them” (Acts 16:25). To rejoice in the Lord is to have our focus fixed on Him, and therefore to delight in who He is and what He does. Without joy in the Lord we will not have joy in our circumstances. But Satan is endeavoring to steal that joy from us, as he was with the Philippians. Paul would “write the same things” to the saints – exhorting them to rejoice in the Lord – and it would not be irksome or annoying to him to do so. This was first of all because Paul’s heart was full of Christ, and he wanted the saints to share in that. It was not an annoyance to speak of something precious to him! But secondly, Paul loved the Philippians, and desired their blessing; “for you it is safe”. Knowledge of the truth is not enough to keep us; we need to have our affections attached to Christ as well. It is impossible to over-emphasize or over-repeat this. Joy in the Lord is necessary for our preservation!
 
2 See to dogs, see to evil workmen, see to the concision. v.2 Warning to Steer Clear of the Judaizers and Their Legalism. Next Paul warned of a particular danger, which threatened the well-being of the saints in Philippi. There was a class of false teachers who were moving among the assemblies spreading wrong doctrine. These were the Judaizing teachers that Paul wrote so vehemently against. The effect of their ministry was to blend Judaism with Christianity, and put the saints under law. This is the very opposite of rejoicing in the Lord. Rather than have Christ as the object and joy of our life, the law makes self the object, and puts the soul at a distance from Christ; “Ye are deprived of all profit from the Christ as separated from him, as many as are justified by law; ye have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4). Paul refers to these men under three headings. First, they are called “dogs”, which means they were shameless and unclean persons, worthy of disgust. This was a term reserved in Old Testament times for the Gentiles, but now applied to unconverted Jews who rejected and perverted the gospel. Second, they were “evil workmen”, or those who labored to bring in wicked and perverted teaching. Third, they were “the concision”, or ‘the mutilation’. This a play on words. Circumcision means ‘cutting off’ and concision means ‘cutting up’, or ‘mutilation’. The teachers were those who pressed the outward form of circumcision, but produced mutilation in a spiritual sense; i.e. they only harmed those they influenced. The mixture of Judaism and Christianity is positively harmful! These three summarizing statement show us that the Judaizing teachers were: (1) shameful, (2) sinful, and (3) harmful. Note that the mention of repetition in v.1 may apply equally to the warning against Judaizing teachers as well as rejoicing in the Lord. We must always be on guard against the tendency to mix Judaism and Christianity, to mix law and grace.
 
Judaizing teachers are mentioned in many of the Epistles: they had made inroads among the Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:22), the Philippians (Phil. 3:2), the Colossians (Col. 2:18), but nowhere with as much success as among the Galatian assemblies. The tendency towards natural religion has been the bane of Christianity. They were those of whom Paul wrote, "desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm" (1 Tim. 1:7). They were of Jewish ethnicity, but had come under the umbrella of Christianity. They found some benefit to being among Christians. Their primary motive was to gain a following after themselves, and perhaps to profit financially. They claimed to be closely connected to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, but they could not prove their genealogy as Paul could (Phil. 3). Paul was raised up as a suited vessel to deal with the Judaizers, because he himself had been one!
 
3 For “we” are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and boast in Christ Jesus, and do not trust in flesh. v.3 Christianity in a nutshell. Next Paul gives the true character of Christianity. This is really the only doctrinal statement in book of Philippians (perhaps vv.20-21 also), but worthy of our attention. When Paul says “we” he refers to believers; those in the full Christian position. In the Old Testament, the Jews were the circumcision because they had the outward mark of it. But here Paul turns the term “circumcision” around. It doesn’t matter if we were Jews or Gentiles before. Since the cross, Paul says that the true circumcision, in a spiritual sense, are those who “put no confidence in the flesh”. In v.2 we had three statements that summarized the Judaizers, and in v.3 we have three statements that summarize Christianity in practice. First, we “worship by the Spirit of God”. The believer has the Holy Spirit of God indwelling them individually and among us collectively. A primary function of the Spirit is to lead out the worship of God’s people (see also Eph. 5:18-19). In Heb. 2:12 we find that the Lord Jesus leads in the song of praise (see Heb. 13:15), but it is orchestrated by the Spirit. This worship is in contrast to the outward ceremonies of Judaism. Second, we “boast in Christ Jesus”. I take this to be a general thing; we acknowledge that all of our blessing comes from and is associated with a risen Christ. This boasting is in contrast to boasting in religious accomplishments. Third, we “do not trust in flesh”. We understand the meaning of the cross, that nothing good can come from the flesh, and since God has condemned it, we should put it in the place of death.
 
The Spiritual Application of Circumcision. There are actually two kinds of circumcision. Paul speaks in Eph. 2:11 "the circumcision in the flesh made by hands" and in Col. 2:11 of "the circumcision made without hands". The former refers to that with outwardly identified the Jew; i.e. a physical mark in the flesh. The latter refers to the spiritual position that we have been brought into through Christ. Although literal circumcision has nothing to do with Christianity, and should not be practiced for religious purposes, yet it does represent something spiritual. As literal circumcision was physically the "cutting off" of the flesh, so it morally represents the believer passing judgment on the flesh. In Colossians circumcision is applied to the believer in this way. In Col. 2:11 it is viewed as something that a believer does when they believe the gospel; "In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ". But then we find in Col. 3 that there is an ongoing need to pass judgment on the flesh as well. We find the same thing in Philippians 3; "For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." This is how circumcision is applied to the believer in the New Testament.
 

Paul’s Experience Under Judaism and in Christianity (3:4-14)

4 Though “I” have my trust even in flesh; if any other think to trust in flesh, “I” rather: v.4 Saul an Exemplar. Next Paul sets himself forward as an example of what it means to have confidence in the flesh. He is not just an average example, but an extraordinary specimen; “if any other think to trust in flesh, I rather”. It is interesting that Paul is set before us an example for what we should be (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Phil. 3:17), and also – when he was Saul of Tarsus – for what we should not be (Gal. 1:13-14). We get both of these aspects in 1 Tim. 1:15-16; Saul was the chief of sinners, but Paul was “a pattern to them which should hereafter believe”. Here Paul is comparing himself to the Judaizing teachers who trusted in their qualifications, which Paul simply calls “the flesh”. Some people have the mistaken idea that the flesh can only produce vile, base, and vulgar actions. But the flesh also capable of putting up a facade, an outward form of godliness, although the motives are not right. This is what we call religious flesh. It is important to see that the flesh is an energy which fallen man can trust in, rather than rely on God. This is how Paul could remain outwardly “blameless” (v.6) while at the same time being “the chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Religious flesh is insidious, because it is sin disguised as a cloak of godliness (John 16:2; Matt. 16:23). Paul explains that, according to Judaism, he had even better credentials than these false teachers did. This is important because later, when Paul was converted, all of those credentials were worthless to him.
  
5 as to circumcision, I received it the eighth day; of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, persecuting the assembly; as to righteousness which is in the law, found blameless; vv.5-6 Saul’s Resume. When you look at Paul’s resume, it is quite extensive. Ceremonially, he was circumcised “the eighth day”, according to the law. This meant a that he was a Jew from the beginning, not a later convert. He was “of the race of Israel”, not a proselyte brought in from among the Gentiles. Paul belonged to one of the most prestigious tribes in Israel; “the tribe of Benjamin” (Judges 5:14). When the other ten tribes abandoned Judah, Benjamin remained faithful. He was full immersed in the ethnicity of the Jews; a “Hebrew of Hebrews”From a religious standpoint, Paul was a Pharisee. The word ‘pharisees’ means ‘the separate ones’. In Acts 26:5 he he said “after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee”. The Pharisees were scrupulous in their attention to detail, following the smallest instructions in the law. Concerning zeal or religious energy, Paul went so far as to persecute the assembly. He led the charge against the Christians, those who were of “the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5). Morally also, Paul was “blameless” as far as keeping the commandments and ordinances of the law. All of these things were what the flesh could boast in. There was ceremonial pride, racial pride, tribal pride, ethnic pride, sectarian pride, personal pride, and legal pride.
 
7 but what things were gain to me these I counted, on account of Christ, loss. v.7 Gain turned to loss. Before he was saved, Paul thought of his successes in Judaism as “gain” or “advancement” (Gal. 1:14), but when he was converted he counted it “loss for Christ”. He even changed his own name from Saul to Paul. Saul means ‘desire’ or ‘unrestrained’, but Paul means ‘restrained’ or ‘little’. Grace makes us humble. What a change took place when that voice spoke to him from heaven, and the light shone around him! He went from a ‘hero’ of Judaism to a ‘zero’ almost instantly.
 
8 But surely I count also all things to be loss on account of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, on account of whom I have suffered the loss of all, and count them to be filth, that I may gain Christ; v.8 All Things Loss in Comparison to Knowing Christ. There is an advancement in v.8 over v.9. First, “what things” is now changed to “all things”. As the “excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus” grew in his soul, like the brightness of the light that shone from heaven (Acts 22:6; 26:13), Paul’s estimation of everything else was totally eclipsed. In v.7 it is past tense “I counted” but in v.8 it is present tense “I count”. It was a personal knowledge of Christ, captured beautifully in these words; “the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord”. This Person, whom Paul came to know, was so valuable to him that Paul would gladly part with his reputation under Judaism. He had “suffered the loss” in a passive sense by following a rejected Christ. But he counted it worthless in an active sense. A “loss” is worth something, but “filth” is worth nothing. If we are occupied with self, with man’s opinion, we will have difficulty counting these things as filth. But if we are focused on Christ, discounting our successes will be easy. Paul’s object in life now was Christ, and his goal was to know Him more. Our lives demonstrate what our object is. If our object is money, our life will show it. If our object is pleasure, our life will show it. And if – by grace – our object is Christ, our life will show it.
 
9 and that I may be found in him, not having my righteousness, which would be on the principle of law, but that which is by faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God through faith, v.9 What it means to be found “in Him”. Paul speaks of being found “in Him”, that is “in Christ”. To be found in Christ’s place before God is a most blessed thing, and the characteristic statement of Christian position. Here it is viewed as a future thing, though true of us now. In Christianity, our righteous standing before God is not on the basis of what we do (“not having my righteousness”), but it is a righteous standing that we have “of God through faith”. It isn’t something we can earn or merit through our own efforts. If we could, it would be “on the principle of law”. But, as Paul shows in Romans (Rom. 3:30; 4:16) and Galatians (Gal. 2:16; 3:12), and which is nicely summarized here, true justification can only be be had “by faith of Christ”. Paul would happily exchange his legal righteousness for the righteous standing that God offers, and which is given to those who are found “in Christ”. In Romans it is a question of the righteousness which God gives compared to our sins. But here it is the righteousness which God gives compared to self-righteousness.2
 
10 to know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, 11 if any way I arrive at the resurrection from among the dead. vv.10-11 What it means to “know Him”. But more than being found “in Him”, Paul wanted to “know Him”. To know Christ is to have a personal knowledge of Him by walking the pathway in fellowship with Him. This is something that begins with conversion, and progresses throughout the Christian life. Second, Paul wanted to know “the power of his resurrection”. As Paul explains in Eph. 1 and elsewhere, the greatest display of power the world has ever seen was in the resurrection of Christ. It was not a flashy, external display only, but a deep, moral reality. The power of Christ’s resurrection is a power that rises above every obstacle. The believer shares Christ’s resurrection life! Paul wanted that power to be manifest in his own path, as he passed through difficult circumstances.3 Third, Paul wanted to know “the fellowship of his sufferings”. The sufferings of Christ (here not including the atoning sufferings, which we cannot have fellowship in) were something the Jews detested. The Christian is happy to suffer with Christ, because to be with Him is the great object. It was neither the miracles of Jesus nor His crown of glory that Paul wanted fellowship with, but rather a suffering Christ, now risen and in heaven. Knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection gives us the strength to share the yoke of suffering. I take v.10a to be more general; knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings is what every normal Christian should experience. But in vv.10b-11, it is more specific to literal death and resurrection. What Paul desired most of all was total conformity to Christ. To be with Christ means to be with Him in the lowest points and also the highest points. To be “conformed to his death” means to suffer martyrdom, as Paul was prepared to do. To “arrive at the resurrection from among the dead” is to be part of the special resurrection of the just; to get the victory over sin and the power of Satan through the power of God. Ultimately this is what every believer will experience at the first resurrection (v.21); total and complete victory over the power of sin. Read more… This indicates a special privileges for saints who die. They follow Christ in death, and get to experience resurrection. When Paul says “if any way” in v.11 he means that he was even willing to suffer death, if that lay on the path to the resurrection from among the dead. As the old gospel hymn reads, “I must needs go home by the way of the cross, there’s no other way but this”.4 None of us have “arrived” to that moment yet (v.12), but we are to live and long for that day. I believe that there is an application of these things to believers who do not suffer martyrdom. In a certain sense we can be “conformed to his death” by having the full meaning of Christ’s death applied to our soul. What does that entail? We are to realize that the glory of the world is empty, to realize that the flesh is incorrigible, and to recognize that all blessing comes through the Person and work of Christ.
 
12 Not that I have already obtained the prize, or am already perfected; but I pursue, if also I may get possession of it, seeing that also I have been taken possession of by Christ Jesus13 Brethren, “I” do not count to have got possession myself; but one thing — forgetting the things behind, and stretching out to the things before, 14 I pursue, looking towards the goal, for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus. vv.12-14 Running to obtain. Perfection in the sense of v.12 is total conformity to the Person of Christ, which will not be reached until the rapture, when the dead are raised and we all are changed (vv.20-21). Paul viewed his life as a race which he was still running. He says, “Not that I have already obtained the prize, or am already perfected; but I pursue”. We are still running the race. What are we running for? What is the goal of this race? Christ. To be with Christ and like Christ. The word “perfected” refers to the resurrected state; i.e. it is not possible to reach in this condition. Like an athlete running for a prize, Paul wanted to gain possession of Christ, but Christ had already gained possession of him; “if also I may get possession of it, seeing that also I have been taken possession of by Christ Jesus”. William Kelly translates this, “I follow after [or pursue], if also I may lay hold, for that also I am laid hold on by Christ.” Paul pressed forward in his quest to deeper understand the purpose of God with respect to saving him. Again, Paul insists in v.13 that he had not reached the goal or gotten the prize. It is not possible this side of heaven to be fully conformed to the image of Christ. But we can still pursue that goal (v.14). The “one thing” we are to do is keep our eye on the goal. This entails “forgetting the things behind”, which refers to the past successes in Judaism. Some people say that this refers to past failures, as if we can be indifferent to our sin. Paul never lessened the seriousness of his past failure.

Paul's sense of his own sin did not lessen with time. There can be a tendency to think higher ourselves as time passes in light of past wrongs. Not Paul. Writing in A.D. 54 he referred to himself as "not fit to be called apostle" (1 Cor. 15:9), in A.D. 64 as "less than the least of all saints" (Eph. 3:8), and in A.D. 65 as "the chief of sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15). His humility only grew as time went on! Interestingly, his sense of the light of God's glory which shone about him on the Damascus road also increased each time the story is told (Acts 9:3; 22:6; 26:13).

In addition to forgetting the successes of the flesh, Paul was “stretching out to the things before”. He was longing for heaven, to see his Lord and Savior. This prize, that of being with and like Christ, it is the reason we were called by God, although we will not receive the prize until we are in the resurrection state. Our calling is referred to as “the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus”. The name “Christ Jesus” brings before us the glorified man in heaven, while the name “Jesus Christ” brings before us the humbled man on earth. Our calling is a holy calling (2 Tim. 1:9), a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1), and a high calling (Phil. 3:14). And the object of our high, holy, and heavenly calling is a glorified man, the man Christ Jesus!

Exhortation to Follow Paul (3:15-21)

15 As many therefore as are perfect, let us be thus minded; and if ye are any otherwise minded, this also God shall reveal to you. v.15 Various Stages of Growth. There are various stages of spiritual growth within the family of God. We see this elsewhere in scripture. Spiritual growth is natural, and we see this in 1 John 2, Eph. 4:14, and 1 Peter 2:2. When much time goes and normal growth does not occur, the immaturity is rebuked; as in 1 Cor. 3:1 and Heb. 5:13. But at any given instant, there is a wide range of states among the children of God, as Paul explains here. First, there are those who are perfect, or full-grown. Paul uses the word “perfect” in two ways in this chapter. In v.12 ‘perfection’ refers to the resurrected state that the saints will enter in the future, and which cannot be achieved in this life prior to the rapture. In v.15 ‘perfection’ refers to the state of full growth, which can and should be achieved in this life if our object is right. Those who are full grown should be “thus minded”; i.e. they should have the same outlook as Paul did who counted everything loss for Christ, and lived each day as one who runs to receive a prize, in view of being with and like Christ. Those who are full-grown have nothing but Christ before their souls.5 They are in the full Christian position, and they understand themselves to be so. They do not seek men’s applause, nor do they tamper with religious formalism. Notice that Paul includes himself in this group; compare “us” with “ye” and “you”. Yet there are others who are not “thus minded”; instead they are “otherwise minded”. They had not gotten Christ as their object completely. They were still valuing things according to the flesh. The glory of Christ had not yet eclipsed the glory of man. This is a sign of immaturity. Perhaps every believer has been there at one time or another. What does Paul say to those who are “otherwise minded”? He says “this also God shall reveal to you”. God, by the working of the Holy Spirit, will lead these souls into the full knowledge of Christ in glory. The answer is not to force them to see things our way, but rather to allow God to reveal it to them. It is always better to allow God to work in souls than to force a change on them through external pressure. But how can we help? First, we need to walk consistently ourselves (v.17). But also, we can minister Christ to those who are “otherwise minded”, knowing that He, the man in glory, will fully eclipse every other object that men can seek.
 
16 But whereto we have attained, let us walk in the same steps. v.16 Walking Together. Although some are at different stages of growth, we are all running the race together. Note that Paul changes back to the plural pronoun ‘we’, including the “thus minded” and “otherwise minded” together in one group. Paul explains that there is no reason why a company of believers, even in various stages of growth, cannot go on happily together. Scripture never gives us a license to walk with others in the steps of sin. But “whereto we have attained”, or in the measure that we have Christ as our object, we should “walk in the same steps”. This goes all the way back to chapter 2, where the exhortation was “that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (Phil. 2:2). Unity in heart and mind will lead to unity in our walk together as a company of believers.
 
17 Be imitators all together of me, brethren, and fix your eyes on those walking thus as you have us for a model; v.17 Paul and Others as a Model. 

Many times over Paul exhorts us to be followers of him (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 1 Thess. 1:6; 2 Thess. 3:7; 3:9). Paul could say this without being vain or fleshly, because "he so thoroughly realized the power of God in Christ, that it just illustrated the energy of the Spirit in him. He was led of the Holy Ghost to speak thus."6 Apart from being led of the Spirit to say this, it would be pride. Sometimes when exhorting the saints to follow his example, Paul adds "as I am of Christ", and other times he does not. In Phil. 3:17 he does not add "as I am of Christ" because the context there is running to attain a prize, putting down thoughts of self-exaltation and worldly glory, and Christ never had to do that. But whenever possible, Paul adds that little expression.

The words “all together” refer to those whom Paul was addressing; the saints in Philippi collectively. Along with himself, Paul includes others who were “walking thus” (v.15). God is pleased to use mature believers – the perfect or full-grown ones – as models for new converts to follow. Those who are experienced in the path have a tremendous responsibility to be examples for those who are younger in the faith. We can only be a help to others if we are wholeheartedly pursuing the prize, which is Christ in glory. If we have other objects that divide our hearts from Christ, we will be a poor example to others.
 
18 (for many walk of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is the belly, and their glory in their shame, who mind earthly things:) vv.18-19 The Path and End of the Earthly Minded. A third class of individuals is mentioned, not in the family of God, but in the Christian profession. We have had those few who are “thus minded”, and those who are “otherwise minded”. Now we get “many” who are “earthly minded”. This is mentioned in a parenthesis, and it serves as a backdrop or contrast to vv.20-21. These are not true children of God, although they have at one time professed the name of Christ. We know this because a true sheep of Christ can never perish (John 10:28). They were those who perhaps showed early signs of promise, but then followed their own lusts and earthly objects off onto a path that ends in “destruction”. It is helpful to understand that during Paul’s middle years of ministry, Christianity experienced a tremendous boom, but many of those who took the name of Christ initially later departed when the persecution became intense. By the end of Paul’s life, huge numbers had abandoned the faith, and others were attempting to reduce Christianity to a natural religion of the flesh, compatible with earthly-mindedness. Here he speaks of “many” that were “enemies of the cross of Christ”. By contrast, Paul desired to know “the fellowship of his sufferings” and “to be made conformable unto his death”. Paul had told the Philippians about these ones often, and as he wrote of them again it was with tears. Perhaps some were ones Paul had known and preached the gospel to. Perhaps some had remained among the company of believers for a time. But they did not have Christ as their object. They minded “earthly things” rather than heavenly things. Rather than serve and obey the God of heaven, these ones serve their own lusts; “whose god is the belly”. Rather than seek the glory of the first resurrection with Christ, these ones have “their glory in their shame”.
 
20 for “our” commonwealth has its existence in the heavens, from which also we await the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour, 21 who shall transform our body of humiliation into conformity to his body of glory, according to the working of the power which he has even to subdue all things to himself. vv.20-21 The Path and End of the Heavenly Minded. Finally, we have the portion of those who are heavenly minded in contrast to those who mind earthly things. The word translated commonwealth, citizenship, conversion, or realm in v.20 is a difficult word to translate into English. It is ‘politeuma’ in the Greek, from which we get our English word ‘politics’. It has the thought of a person’s entire outlook, associations, and conduct. It governs what we think about, our worldview, and our practical walk.7 For the believer, all of this “has its existence in the heavens”. Not only are we going to heaven in the future, but we are citizens of heaven even now! We are not defined by this earth, but by heaven. Our politics are not those of earth and the governments here, but in heaven. And this is further emphasized by the believer’s hope. We “await the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour” who will come from heaven. The Christian’s character and his hopes are directly connected together. This is one reason why dispensational truth is so important. When the Church loses her heavenly hope and heavenly object, then she will begin to be characterized by the things of earth. We are waiting for the Lord Jesus Christ to come “as Savior”. This is a different aspect of salvation than the salvation from the penalty of our sins. Here it is the salvation that the Lord will effect when He comes. This salvation involves changing our bodies and bringing us into the glorified state (v.21). 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 shows that not all the saints will die. Some will remain alive until the event of glorification. Therefore, “we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality”. Every saint will have a glorified body. The “mortal” are the living saints, who are subject to death in the process of time. The “corruptible” are the dead saints, whose bodies are corrupting in the grave. Putting on incorruptibility and immortality are the twofold character of our glorified bodies. Paul describes that here as what the Savior will do, “who shall transform our body of humiliation into conformity to his body of glory”. Some translations render this “our vile body”; however, this gives a wrong thought. The body is never viewed in scripture as sin. Our bodies are feeling the effects of sin. But the body is not vile in itself. If our bodies were evil, we could never be called on to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). The idea that the body is evil was coming into the early Church as one of the Gnostic doctrines. Our bodies now are bodies of “humiliation”, and as we grow older we understand this more and more. But when the Lord comes, our bodies will be changed to be just like His body of glory! We will be completely like Christ in that moment. 1 John 3:2 shows that we will be like Him morally; “we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is”. Philippians 3:21 shows that we will be like Him physically. The transformation will then be complete. The heavenly link that we have now will be fully manifested then, and all the world will see. The “mighty power” that Christ will put forward to effect this change is the same power by which He will “subdue all things unto himself”. The first resurrection is the first step in a series of victories that will end with the total subjection of the universe under the feet of the glorified Son of man. Since this is our future, how fitting it is that we should walk even now with that Person as our object!
 
Be Thou the object bright and fair
To fill and satisfy the heart;
My hope to meet Thee in the air,
And nevermore from Thee to part;
That I may undistracted be
To follow, serve, and wait for Thee.8
 
  1. Cluff, Samuel O’Malley. Nothing but Christ, as on we tread. Little Flock Hymnbook #25A
  2. A poor man may not part with his old coat; but if you give him a new one instead, he will soon have done with it. The moment the soul has the eye fixed on the Lord Jesus, all our righteousness becomes filthy rags, and the heart revolts from mixing it up with Him. – Darby, J.N. Brief Thoughts on Philippians.
  3. In a world where Christ had been rejected, the object of all my hopes is at the right hand of God. I have got a life completely paramount over death. The resurrection of Christ was past sin, past Satan’s power, past judgment, past death. The second Man had gone into death – was made sin; but He is risen, and all that is past. God has been glorified, and death belongs to us now as we belonged to it in the first man. We have got this divine life which is above everything in the world. – Darby, J.N. Brief Thoughts on Philippians.
  4. Pounds, Jessie B. The Way of the Cross Leads Home.
  5. The apostle John calls them “fathers”, because they had “known him that is from the beginning” (1 John 2:13).
  6. Kelly, W. The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians.
  7. J.N. Darby made this comment in his translation – ‘Commonwealth’ does not satisfy me, but ‘citizenship’ gives a different idea. ‘Conversation’ is wrong, though it be a practical consequence. It is ‘associations of life,’ as, ‘I am born an Englishman.’
  8. Frazer, George W. Have I an object, Lord, below. Little Flock Hymnbook #46A