Philippians 3:7-14


For a proper understanding of this text, one must look first at verses 2-6. Note that we have included verse 7 in the text. In verse 2 Paul warns the Philippian Christians about false teachers who are teaching a garbled version of circumcision. He calls them dogs and evil workers. He warns them of their false teaching. He calls it a "concision," obviously meaning that their teaching was not truly circumcision. Note that he uses  "beware" three times. Verse 3 is a beautiful description of Christians.

Circumcision is the sign and seal of the righteousness of God. Abraham is the father of all believers, both circumcised and uncircumcised. The truly (spiritually) circumcised people are Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. That is what Paul is going to explain in verses 7-11. In verse 3 Paul uses three participles of these people: they serve God spiritually, they boast in Christ Jesus and they do not put their trust in the flesh.

Obviously the Judaizers were making much of  "the flesh" and how this related to their Jewish prerogatives because of Jewish descent. Paul throws down the gauntlet. He challenges those mentioned in verse 2. In verses 5-6 Paul lists seven items which fall under the fleshly, Jewish prerogatives. They begin with circumcision and end with the righteousness of human endeavor. He even says that he was blameless. No one could point the accusing finger at him so far as sin was concerned, he thought.

Now comes the great contrast. Paul is about to say that his former plusses, verses 5-6, were not merely zeros but actually minuses, verses 7-8, in view of verse 9, justification, followed by sanctification, verse 10, with a constant expectation of the final resurrection, verse 11.

The best that Paul's former state could yield was righteousness on the basis of human achievement. But on the Damascus road, by grace, he learned of God's imputed righteousness, the exceedingly great knowledge concerning Christ, knowledge of the power of His resurrection, partaking of His sufferings and the benefits of His death.

Philippians 3:7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.

Note the utter contrast.  "Because of Christ, I have come to consider all these advantages that I had as disadvantages." This is the staggering realization of every Christian convert and this realization continues to stagger him.

Philippians 3:8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ

Not only the seven items mentioned in verses 5-6, but absolutely everything. And Paul gives the reason why he reckons as he does. NEV:  "The surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus." TEV:  "What is so much more valuable, the knowledge of Jesus Christ." The construction here is similar to that found in Galatians 3:14. It means  "the exceeding great knowledge."

The knowledge is both about Christ Jesus and unique limited to Christ Jesus.

Note that Paul repeats  "all." What does he mean by all? All those things which stood in the way of and tried to supplant the imputed righteousness of God by faith in Christ. Christianity does not aid or recommend mere poverty for its own sake. Paul is saying that anything and everything that stood in the way of his relationship to Christ had to go.

Paul considers all these things  "rubbish, dung, refuse, garbage." What these various words have in common is that they are repulsive and are to be removed from our sight. Who wants rubbish lying around?

Paul is not saying that his purpose lies merely in the future. By virtue of his conversion Paul has all that is said of him in verses 7-9. The hammer of the Law caused the loss. The sweet Gospel, which is about to be described, brought him to Christ and caused Paul to be found in Him. Very likely Paul uses the verb  "to gain" because he spoke earlier of what he formerly considered gain. His former supposed gain is superseded by a greater gain.

Philippians 3:9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ -- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

"Gaining" and  "being found in" Christ are really one and the same thing. To be found in Christ is a metaphor. Faith abandons self and finds itself in its object, Christ.

The work righteous man, in his delusion, declares his actions, words and thoughts as righteous. But this righteousness will not stand before God, no matter how good the individual or others may consider it. Take the extreme example of a criminal who, beyond the shadow of a doubt, has been found guilty. In many instances such people go to their death declaring themselves innocent. It is a false declaration.

Paul says in Romans 3:10, a quotation from the Old Testament,  "There is none righteous, not even one." In Isaiah 64:6 we read:  "All our righteousnesses are like filthy rags." These two passages include Christians, apart from their faith in Christ.

Righteousness is by faith in Christ. Salvation by works and salvation by grace are mutually exclusive. Righteousness comes from God. The true imputed, saving righteousness finds its source only in God and His Gospel, not even in God's Law. The Law cannot justify or make alive. Righteousness is based on faith. In a word, Paul is saying that Christ is his righteousness. Paul is a sinner but by the declaration of God, God sees Paul only through Christ, righteous.

A Christian is at one and the same time a righteous person and a sinner. Righteousness is imputed to the sinner. When Christ died, sin was imputed to the Righteous One.

TEV:  "No longer do I have a righteousness of my own, the kind to be gained by obeying the Law. I now have the righteousness that is given through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God, and is based on faith."

In Romans 1:17 Paul says  "The righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel by faith from beginning to end." In Romans 3:21 he says  "But now, quite apart from Law, the righteousness of God has been revealed."

Our text is quoted twice in the Formula of Concord. The first is in the article on Good Works.

If anyone draws good works into the article of justification and rests his righteousness or his assurance of salvation on good works in order to merit the grace of God and to be saved thereby, it is not we, but Paul himself, who declares no less than three time in Philippians 3:7ff, that good works are not only useless and an impediment to such a person but are actually harmful. The fault, however, lies not with the good works themselves, but with the false confidence which, contrary to the express Word of God, is being placed upon good works. (Tappert 557)

The second is found in the article on Righteousness.

Accordingly the word 'justify' here means to declare righteous and free from sins and from the eternal punishment of these sins on account of the righteousness of Christ which God reckons to faith. (Tappert 541)

Philippians 3:10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

This verse enumerates the fruits of faith in Christ.  "I want to know Christ" reminds us of John 10:27  "My sheep hear My voice and I know them and they follow me." The most intimate mere human knowledge is the relation between husband and wife. For example:  "Adam knew Eve." The most intimate divine knowledge is that between Christ and believer.

Faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ gives the believer the strength to fight sin and live a new life.

The Christian partakes of the sufferings of Christ, not vicariously of course, but as a pattern of suffering willingly for His sake. Look at 2 Corinthians 4:10 where the reader will find parallel passages.

For the last phrase TEV and NIV read  "becoming like Him in His death."  With this Paul evidently means that as Christ died unto sin, having no more to do with it, so likewise the Christians.

Philippians 3:11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

ICC:  "His words here are an expression of humility and self-distrust, not of doubt." Paul lives in the constant expectation of the final resurrection.
Bengel: Christ's resurrection and ours are considered as one, by reason of the fellowship.

In His sermon at Capernaum, recorded in John 6, Jesus promises the believer at least four times that He will raise him on the last day. That is the Christian's grandest hope, in the sense of conviction. Works cannot gain forgiveness of sins. Works cannot earn the resurrection from the dead. Both are God's gracious gift.

Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Verses 12-14 are a beautiful description of sanctification. As is the case in Galatians 2:19-20, Paul here in these verses speaks in the first person singular for all Christians. Any Christian can say these words, as well as verses 7-11, of himself. Verse 12 is explained by verses 13-14.

Paul says he hasn't arrived yet. His self-sufficiency is utterly denied. From here on we see that Paul is always concerned about progress. Christianity is a state but is not static. Expectation, not doubt, is denoted in verse 11. but it implies the struggle of Christian living.

Christ's apprehending of Paul is total. Paul's apprehending of perfection is imperfect. Paul's apprehending is based on Christ's apprehending of Paul.

Philippians 3:13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,

We note first of all that verses 13-14 are a grand passage on repentance. Paul calls them brothers. They are like him in this whole matter of justification and sanctification. Paul is speaking in the person of every repentant sinner. Paul is confessing that his Christian living is imperfect. Despite his imperfection Paul strives. At this point an athletic metaphor begins. It runs to the end of verse 14. No true athlete would cease to strive simply because his performance has not been perfect.

Here is a contrast between  "things behind" and  "things ahead." This is similar to Romans 7:14-24 where the Christian's constant grief is mentioned, that in spite of his best efforts, he still sins. Paul is contrasting work righteousness and sin with faith in Christ and eternal life.

The metaphor is from the foot race and the word pictures the body of the racer bent forward. Runners in a foot race give it their all. That's a picture of true sanctification. Warn your hearers against sloppy sanctification. There is no such thing.

Philippians 3:14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

The umpire awards the prize. God has judged in the believer's favor. Going to heaven is simply the consummation of that to which God has already called me. The Beck Bible translates:  "And with my eyes on the mark I go after the heavenly prize to which God has called us in Christ Jesus."

This text outlines itself beautifully; Verse 2 warns against false teachers, verse 3 describes the true Christians. Verses 4-6 describe the pitiful condition of the work-righteous unbeliever. Verses 7-9 describe justification. Verses 10-11 dwell on the fruits of faith. Verses 12-14 describe repentance and sanctification and the ultimate goal of the Christian's call from eternity.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 86-90. Used with permission.

Return to top

Return to Buls' Notes Index