The Epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians
E- Interpretation of the Epistle
Chapter 3 (contd.)
3- St. Paul as an example of transformation from righteousness of the Law to righteousness of the Faith (Phil. 3:5-11, contd.)
There was no more room for “righteousness which is from the law;” rather, St. Paul earned through faith in Christ “the righteousness which is from God by faith.” (Phil. 3:9) Through this righteousness St. Paul unites with the Lord, to know Him like no one ever did:
A. He experienced “the fellowship of His sufferings“ (Phil. 3:10) and said: “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ,” (2 Cor. 1:5) “…..for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus [meaning the marks of His sufferings and crucifixion].” (Gal. 6:17) Moreover, “I…..fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church.” (Col. 1:24)
B. Being “conformed to His death“ [meaning unto death] (Phil. 3:10), so he said: “always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus,… that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” (2 Cor. 4:10, 11) It thus becomes a privilege to a believer, to share pain and death with the Lord. This is as though the Lord has set aside a portion for us to have fellowship with Him in His sufferings, carrying His cross, and His death; this, in turn, enables us to enjoy more the “power of His resurrection”, while overcoming the self, this world, and its leader and, finally, entering with Him into His glory, on the last day. St. Paul states: “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection“ before mentioning “the fellowship of His sufferings” and death; this is because our appreciation of the power of the Lord’s resurrection imparts to us the ability to accept suffering and endure it unto death. We are therefore certain that death is not the end of the road; rather, death and all weakness are crushed by a triumphant resurrection.
4. Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead (Phil. 3:12-16)
Upon contemplation of the goal, a novice believer might feel overwhelmed, and subsequently discouraged, by the daunting path ahead: looking up to St. Paul as a role model, it might seem impossible to apply what he says. Appreciating this scenario, St. Paul presents himself as simply another fighter, continuing to seek the path of the Lord, leaning on His arm, and calling on everyone to persevere in their march in the Savior’s company, maintaining their focus on the kingdom which the Lord promised to those who love Him.
St. Paul says, “Not that I have already attained [thereby ending the matter], or am already perfected [we will never achieve perfection here]“; God’s call remains: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Mat. 5:48) The incentive is thus to persevere without stopping,“…..that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” (Col. 1:28) The purpose is to become like Him, but not to become Him, “….but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.“ (Phil. 3:12)
Once again, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended [the goal, or the end of the road]; but one thing I do, [which I ask each one of you to do] forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.” (Phil. 3:13) Looking back is a hindrance, and our Lord said clearly: “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) He also reminded us of Lot’s wife (Genesis 19:26, Luke 17:32) and what befell her when she looked back. It is pointless to look to the past since if it were bad, then it would have been washed in the blood and forgiven and, if it were good, then we should proceed beyond it to that which is better: “… grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…..” (2 Peter 3:18)
What is the goal towards which we are aiming?
Surely we are aiming to win the prize which is “… the upward [heavenly] call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14) This has to be our ultimate target and the focus of our thoughts, we, the spiritually mature who have tasted salvation and who are seeking perfection (“mature” in verse 15, vs. the fallen, who have not found faith yet). Furthermore, God’s grace will correct our path, if our thoughts were diverted to some other cause. Therefore, as long as we maintain awareness of God’s purpose in our lives, and of the kingdom to which He has called us, “…let us…..have this mind; and….. walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.” (Phil. 3:16) Our deeds and direction should therefore be fully consistent with this long-term goal; our struggle against all temptations of the flesh will be in the Holy Spirit, supported by the grace of God, crucifying “the flesh with all its passions and desires.” (Gal. 5:24) A true believer’s life resembles that of a soldier at war: until his last hour he is ever watchful, he never yields to complacency and restfulness, and his spiritual armor is always in a state of readiness for use against the enemy. As for the lazy, the careless, and the complacent, the doors are always closed to them, however good their intentions might be.
5. Awaiting the final salvation (Phil. 3:17-21)
The existence of an example is living proof that a Christian life is fact not fiction; at the same time, it helps novices in their growth and development. Our Lord offered Himself as an example: “….learn from Me….” (Mat. 11:29) and, when He washed His disciples’ feet, He told them, “For I have given you an example, ….” (John 13:15) Furthermore, St. Peter offers the Lord as an example to believers, as he urged them to accept and endure suffering: “because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps….” (1 Peter 2:21) Finally, through His incarnation, the Lord rendered possible our wearing of the new man “which was created, according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:24) Consequently, He is our perfect example that the apostles directed us to follow: “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.” (Eph. 5:1) – just as they did, which led them to ask believers to do likewise. In his first epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul urged them to “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” (1 Cor. 4:16, 11:1) Here, he has no qualms about saying “Imitate me,” or telling the Philippians (in 3:17) “Brethren, join in following my example…..”; since he does not portray himself as an isolated example, rather, not only as a follower in Christ’s footsteps, but also as someone who was crucified with Christ such that Christ now lives in him, melting his soul in Him. (Gal. 2:20) He goes beyond telling the Philippians to follow his example, by saying, “…..and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern,” in other words, all those who, like us, follow the Lord’s example. (Phil. 3:18) Following the Lord’s example is our only guarantee to attain the heavenly homeland; all other paths lead to perdition.
St. Paul also mentions those who foundered on the road, after having had a good start; previously, he used to mention them with pride, but now he laments over them since they became “the enemies of the Cross of Christ.” (Phil. 3:18) They perceive that the blood is insufficient for salvation, and they insist on the requirements of the law, such as circumcision and others. They aim to render those requirements restrictions for those who wish to accept Christ. In that category we also find the physically degenerate, “…..whose god is their belly, and……who set their mind on earthly things.” (Phil. 3:19), or those who believe that grace will abound through persistence in sin. (Rom. 6:1) They seek the glory which this world offers, and they “suppose that godliness is a means of gain.” (1 Tim. 6:5) They believe that they are being elevated in glory, when in fact their “glory is in their shame.” (Phil. 3:19)
True believers are completely different, “For our citizenship [also our hope] is in heaven [not in matters of the flesh or of this world], from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ [in other words, in His second coming, revealing the “salvation … in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:5) and the glorification of “those who eagerly wait for Him” (Heb. 9:28)] (Phil. 3:20). In His second coming, the Lord “will transform our lowly body [the corrupt body made from dust] that it may be conformed to His glorious body, [see also 1 Cor. 15:43] according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” (Phil. 3:21)
Glorious indeed is the fate of those who persevered in their faithfulness to their Master, who were ever watchful for His coming…..
Wretched indeed is him who trampled the Son of God underfoot and “counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace….” (Heb. 10:29)