V. Polemic: Righteousness and the Goal in Christ*
Against Legalistic Teachers. 2* Beware of the dogs! Beware of the evil workers!b Beware of the mutilation!* 3For we are the circumcision,* we who worship through the Spirit of God, who boast in Christ Jesus and do not put our confidence in flesh,c 4although I myself have grounds for confidence even in the flesh.d
Paul’s Autobiography. If anyone else thinks he can be confident in flesh, all the more can I. 5Circumcised on the eighth day,* of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrew parentage, in observance of the law a Pharisee,e 6in zeal I persecuted the church, in righteousness based on the law I was blameless.f
Righteousness from God. 7[But] whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss* because of Christ.g 8More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ,h the righteousness from God, depending on faith 10to know him and the power of his resurrection and [the] sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death,i 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.j
Forward in Christ.* 12k It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity,* but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ [Jesus]. 13Brothers, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.l 15Let us, then, who are “perfectly mature” adopt this attitude. And if you have a different attitude, this too God will reveal to you. 16Only, with regard to what we have attained, continue on the same course.*
Wrong Conduct and Our Goal.* 17Join with others in being imitators of me,* brothers, and observe those who thus conduct themselves according to the model you have in us.m 18For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ.n 19Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their “shame.” Their minds are occupied with earthly things.o 20But our citizenship* is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.p 21He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.q
* [3:1] Finally…rejoice: the adverb often signals the close of a letter; cf. Phil 4:8; 2 Cor 13:11. While the verb could also be translated “good-bye” or “farewell,” although it is never so used in Greek epistolography, the theme of joy has been frequent in the letter (Phil 1:18; 2:2, 18); note also Phil 4:4 and the addition of “always” there as evidence for the meaning “rejoice.” To write the same things may refer to what Paul has previously taught in Philippi or to what he has just written or to what follows.
* [3:2–21] An abrupt change in content and tone, either because Paul at this point responds to disturbing news he has just heard about a threat to the faith of the Philippians in the form of false teachers, or because part of another Pauline letter was inserted here; see Introduction. The chapter describes these teachers in strong terms as dogs. The persons meant are evidently different from the rival preachers of Phil 1:14–18 and the opponents of Phil 1:28. Since Phil 3:2–4 emphasize Jewish terms like circumcision (Phil 3:2–3, 5), some relate them to the “Judaizers” of the Letter to the Galatians. Other phrases make them appear more like the false teachers of 2 Cor 11:12–15, the evil-workers. The latter part of the chapter depicts the many who are enemies of Christ’s cross in terms that may sound more Gentile or even “gnostic” than Jewish (Phil 3:18–19). Accordingly, some see two groups of false teachers in Phil 3, others one group characterized by a claim of having attained “perfect maturity” (Phil 3:12–15).
* [3:2–11] Paul sets forth the Christian claim, especially using personal, autobiographical terms that are appropriate to the situation. He presents his own experience in coming to know Christ Jesus in terms of righteousness or justification (cf. Rom 1:16–17; 3:21–5:11; Gal 2:5–11), contrasting the righteousness from God through faith and that of one’s own based on the law as two exclusive ways of pleasing God.
* [3:2] Beware of the mutilation: literally, “incision,” an ironic wordplay on “circumcision”; cf. Gal 5:12. There may be an association with the self-inflicted mutilations of the prophets of Baal (1 Kgs 18:28) and of devotees of Cybele who slashed themselves in religious frenzy.
* [3:7] Loss: his knowledge of Christ led Paul to reassess the ways of truly pleasing and serving God. His reevaluation indicates the profound and lasting effect of his experience of the meaning of Christ on the way to Damascus some twenty years before (Gal 1:15–16; Acts 9:1–22).
* [3:12] Attained perfect maturity: possibly an echo of the concept in the mystery religions of being an initiate, admitted to divine secrets.
* [3:16] Some manuscripts add, probably to explain Paul’s cryptic phrase, “thinking alike.”
* [3:17–21] Paul and those who live a life centered in Christ, envisaging both his suffering and resurrection, provide a model that is the opposite of opponents who reject Christ’s cross (cf. 1 Cor 1:23).
* [3:17] Being imitators of me: not arrogance, but humble simplicity, since all his converts know that Paul is wholly dedicated to imitating Christ (1 Cor 11:1; cf. also Phil 4:9; 1 Thes 1:6; 2 Thes 3:7, 9; 1 Cor 4:6).
* [3:20] Citizenship: Christians constitute a colony of heaven, as Philippi was a colonia of Rome (Acts 16:12). The hope Paul expresses involves the final coming of Christ, not a status already attained, such as the opponents claim.