Philippians 3:17-4:1


In order to understand this text better perhaps it's a good idea to look back at what Paul says in chapter 3.  In verse 1 he brings up a new topic which bears repetition.  Then in verse 2 he warns them about the Judaizers, those who insist on circumcision as a meritorious work in order to be saved.  In verse 3 he gives a description of the true Jew, the Christian.  In verses 4-6 Paul tells us that once he was blameless so far as the Law was concerned. but, in verses 7-11, he tells us that once he learned of justification by faith all of these fleshly prerogatives became meaningless. he now considers them as mere garbage.  He has found the imputed righteousness of God through faith in Christ.  In verses 12-16 he dwells on sanctification, the inevitable result of justification.  As Luther said:  "Faith alone justifies but faith is never alone."

Philippians 3:17 Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.

The two verbs in the imperative denote continued action.  The second means  "watch closely"   "Others"  are living (walking) according to the example which Paul in his colleagues are giving. Now the Philippians should do the same.  Beck translates:  "My fellow Christians, all together imitate me more and more, and watch those who live according to the example we're giving you."

Who are the  "we?"  At least Paul and Timothy, see 1:1, if not others of Paul's coworkers.  In what sense does Paul call himself (and others) an example?  He means the description of himself which began at verse 7.  Paul was a prime example of an unbelieving, anti-Christian Jew who became an ardent believing Christian.

Every preacher ought to be such an example of justification and sanctification so that he can say the same thing to his hearers.

Philippians 3:18 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.

"I say this because."   "Many"  are the many deluded people, those who think they are Christians but are not.  Note that the same metaphor (walking) is used in this verse as in verse 17.  Paul is weeping and speaking at the same time.  The  "enemies" are those who hate Christ's cross.  They hate the Gospel.

Who are these people described in verses 18-19?  Most of the earlier commentators and some moderns take it to mean the Judaizers, people who were saying that the ceremonial law had to be observed if a person wanted to become a Christian.  Many modern commentators take it of antinomian libertines of Epicurean tendencies.  Both false doctrine and immoral living cause people to hate the Gospel, to be fleshly minded, to glory in what is truly shameful and to be minded only about earthly matters.  Don't be quick to go beyond the idea that Paul is here speaking about Judaizers.  According to Paul they are dogs, evil workers, the concision, they are  "in the flesh."  They are what Paul was before conversion.  Verses 18-19 can be understood of Judaizers.

Philippians 3:19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.  Their mind is on earthly things.

Paul begins this verse by saying what their fate will be.  "Their end is destruction."  Now Paul goes on to describe their way of life.  First, in verse 18, he spoke of their attitude, then of their fate, now of their way of life.

"Their god is they belly" or  "their belly is their god," either way.  Their highest desire and good is their stomach.

What is meant by  "stomach?"  Is it meant metaphorically of the garbage of the righteousness of the law, verses 8-9, or does it literally mean gluttony and loose living?  This is what the commentators debate.

Moule: The antinomian claimed to live in an upper region, to be so conversant with celestial principles as to be rid of terrestrial restrains of letter, and precept, and custom.  As a fact, his fine-spun theory was a transparent robe over the corporeal lusts which were his real interests.

What he means is that these people considered themselves so righteous that they didn't need either the second or third uses of the Law.  And thus their supposed piety became a thin cover for their real selves, debauched people.

"Glory"  in this context means  "that which they are proud of."  "They are proud of what they should be ashamed of (TEV)."  "They are proudest of something they ought to think shameful (JB)."  By the way, it is quite clear that NEB, JB and TEV evidently take this verse wholly of loose living.

The translation of the TEV is good for the last clause:  "They think only of things that belong to this world."  This could be taken of crass materialism or it could be taken as the very antithesis to Paul's description of the Christian in verses 7-14.  In any case we are dealing with unbelievers, self-centered libertine antinomians.  We are surrounded with this kind of person in the USA.

Philippians 3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,

This is where the Christian's heart lies.  But Paul is no Gnostic.  He is not saying that material things are sinful  per se.  But when physical things, money, fame, etc. become one's god, heaven is lost.

The verb  "eagerly await"  is always used of the eager longing of the child of God, except for 1 Peter 3:20.  Look at Romans 8:19, 23, 25; 1 Corinthians 1:7; Galatians 5:5; Philippians 3:20 (our passage), Hebrews 9:28.

At the end of this verse which is direct object and which is in apposition to it? Compare these two translations: . "But we are citizens of heaven and look for the Lord Jesus Christ to come from heaven as the Savior (AAT Beck)" "But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ."  In any case, we have a clear  "Jesus Christ is our Savior."

Philippians 3:21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

The change mentioned here is to change without loss of identity.  The new body is not identical with the present body.  There is a change, but not a destruction of personal identity.  On this verse look at 1 Corinthians 15:24-27, 42-44, 49, 52-54.

Our lowly bodies are compared to His glorified body.  Both are truly human.  Here we have another instance of the fact that the divine nature in Christ empowers His human nature to do those things which only God can do.

"By the power"  occurs only in Paul's writings.  It is power in exercise and is used only of superhuman power.

Note how often the Lord Jesus is referred to in verses 20-21.  The point of the latter part of verse 21 is that if the glorified Jesus is able to subdue all things to Himself, He is surely able to raise our dead bodies and make them just like His. Look at 1 John 3:2.  He does not say  "He will be able"  but "He is able."  All things are already subject to Him. We don't yet see it, but it is so.

Philippians 4:1 Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!

This is really the conclusion to the entire third chapter. He calls the  "brothers"  as he did in 3:17.  There he used the word to tell them to be joint imitators of himself.  Here he uses it to give a parting injunction.  This reminds us of what Paul said in 1:8.  He calls them his joy and crown.  Look at 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20.  He calls them his joy because they cause him joy.  He calls them his crown because they are his prize.  They were a symbol of the victory God had given Paul.

"Stand firm"  is used more than 40 times by Paul in his writings.  The only other place it is used is in Revelation 14:13.  Very likely it includes  "in the strength which the Lord gives."

The Augsburg Confession, Art. XXVII, Tappert, page 83, quotes verse 20 with reference to the distinction between the spiritual and the temporal authorities:

Therefore, the two authorities, the spiritual and the temporal, are not to be mingled or confused, for the spiritual power has its commission to preach the Gospel and administer the sacrament.  Hence it should not invade the function of the other, should not set up and depose kings, should not annul temporal laws or undermine obedience to government, should not make or prescribe to the temporal power laws concerning worldly matters.  Christ himself said, 'My kingdom is not of this world.' and again, 'Why made me a judge or divider over you?' Paul also wrote in Philippians 3:20 'Our commonwealth is in heaven,' and in 2 Corinthians 10:4,5 'The weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God.'


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 68-71. Used with permission.

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