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Philippians Chapter 3, Part 2

by Karl Kemp  
5/21/2012 / Bible Studies

Part 2 begins where Part 1 ended.

(Philippians 3:11) in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. [[The apostle is speaking here of the yet-future, bodily resurrection into the glory of the fullness of eternal life that will take place when Christ returns. In Phil. 3:20, 21 he speaks of our resurrection into the glory of heaven, our true home ("For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself"), and in Phil. 4:5 he says, "The Lord is near."

Other translations of these words at the beginning of verse 11 (and the literal translation of the Greek contained in the margin of the NASB, "if somehow," instead of "in order that") seem to better communicate what Paul said here; they make the outcome seem far-less-certain than the translation of the NASB. The NKJV has, "if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead," and the KJV is similar. The NIV has, "and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." I don't believe that Paul was wondering whether he would make it to glory, or not (cf., e.g., Phil. 1:21, 23). He did, however, understand that it was necessary for him to press on in faith until the end of the race, and he knew that he was committed in his heart to finish the race by the sufficient grace of God in Christ.

The apostle undoubtedly spoke as he did here, with his far-less-than-certain tone, in an attempt to wake up some Christians at Philippi that he knew were not adequately conformed to the death of Christ and pressing on in Him. I assume he could have named some Christians at Philippi, even though this was one of the more solid, healthy churches. (Even Christians that are quite sincere and committed can miss the center of God's will in one direction or another. There are many forces at work trying to keep us from, or get us out of, the center of God's will. That is one reason we must stay humble, open, and teachable before God, and before our brothers and sisters in Christ.) In verses 12-15 Paul goes on using himself as an example of what must be done; he puts most of the emphasis on the need for Christians to press on in Christ until the end of the race. If the great apostle to the Gentiles had not arrived and needed to press on, the Philippians did too, and so do we. By using himself as an example, he avoided giving offense as much as possible (but some will always take offense).]] (12) Not that I have already obtained it [[Paul had not yet finished his race and obtained resurrection glory. (The great apostle has now finished his race, but he must still wait for the return of Christ to obtain the full resurrection glory of the age to come.) Until he finished the race, he - and all Christians, very much including all the Christians at Philippi - needed to press on. As an example of how Christians can miss God's will, consider 1 Cor. 4:8, "You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have already become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we might reign with you." It is not hard to imagine that those Christians who overstated the extent to which they had arrived were not adequately pressing on in Christ. I do not believe that the Philippian Christians were as far off as some of the Corinthian Christians (as pictured in 1 Cor. 4:8), but we all have all-too-much potential to miss the center of God's will.

First Corinthians chapter 15 shows that some at Corinth went so far as to deny the future resurrection of the body (cf. 1 Cor. 15:12). Somewhat related, if not directly related to this serious problem that surfaced at Corinth, was the viewpoint of two Christian leaders Paul mentioned by name in 2 Tim. 2:17, 18, "men who [had] gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection [had] already taken place," thereby, for one thing, denying the future resurrection of the body. It is not hard to imagine that those who believed that the resurrection was past might be failing to adequately press on in Christ. I don't believe that the doctrinal problems at Philippi were this serious. If they had been, Paul would undoubtedly have said more than what he said in this epistle to the Philippians to straighten them out.

The problems at Philippi that Paul was dealing with (by using himself as a example of what should be done) probably did not go beyond a failure on the part of some to adequately press on in Christ, which included the need to disregard the things of the past/of the flesh and to be fully faithful to the new covenant, even when it involved suffering with Christ. All Christians are called (and enabled) to press on with a single-hearted commitment until the race has been completed and the prize has been received.]] or have already become perfect [[(This double bracket continues for about three pages.) This becoming perfect (or however we translate the Greek verb here), as the words are used here in Phil 3:12, is speaking of something that will come to pass when Jesus returns and the resurrection from the dead (and glorification) takes place. (I had a footnote: It is also true, of course, that for those Christians who die before Jesus returns, like the apostle Paul, their race is over and they go to heaven, but they still must wait for the time of the resurrection and full glorification.) Those believers who are still living on the earth when Christ returns will be transformed and caught up into eternal glory at that time; they will become perfect/complete in a final, absolute sense.

Many think that with these words the apostle Paul was confessing that he still did not have the victory over sin, even though he was nearing the end of his life. (I had a footnote: The most common view is that Paul wrote this epistle to the Philippians while a prisoner at Rome about AD60-63. He had been converted some thirty years earlier, about AD32, and he apparently was martyred in Rome about AD65-67.) And it follows, of course, that IF the great apostle to the Gentiles did not yet have the victory over sin (that is, IF he confessed that he was still living in sin to some extent), we certainly could not expect (have faith) to have the victory either. I don't believe, however, that Paul confessed here (or anywhere else in his writings) that he had not been walking in righteousness and holiness with the victory over all sin. ((I had a footnote: I'm not saying that Paul would necessarily say that he had not sinned since he became a Christian [cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 4:3-5], but he certainly didn't confess that he continued to sin, quite the contrary. And he consistently taught that all Christians have been called to be dead to sin and walk in the imparted righteousness and holiness of God, by grace through faith. See the third and fourth paragraphs at the beginning of this study of Philippians chapter 3 (in Part 1). What I am especially concerned about is the widespread, but mistaken, idea that the apostle Paul taught that all Christians will necessarily continue to sin to some extent. That viewpoint makes it impossible for Christians to have faith for victory over sin.)) All he said here was that he had not already become perfect/complete (or, we could translate "have already reached my goal") in the sense that he had not arrived yet at his goal of resurrection perfection/completeness. He (and all the Christians at Philippi and everywhere else) must, therefore, keep running the race; they must keep pressing on until they arrive at that goal (or at least until their assigned race on the earth has been completed).

The Greek lexicons confirm that the Greek verb used here ("teleioo") includes the meanings of completing and bringing to a goal. A translation like "have already been made complete," or "have already reached my goal" (note the use of the word "goal" in Phil. 3:14) would also be quite acceptable, along with the translation of the NASB. ((I had a footnote: The translation of the NASB ("or have already become perfect") is acceptable as long as we don't understand Paul to be saying that he was still living in sin to some extent. We'll discuss this point as we continue.)) In the article on this Greek verb in the "Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament" (edited by H. Balz and G. Schneider, Vol. 3 [Eerdmans, 1993], page 344) under Phil. 3:12, H. Hubner translates, "not as if I already had reached my goal." The NRSV has, "or have already reached the goal"; the New American Bible has, "or have already finished my course"; and the New Testament in the Language of Today by William F. Beck has, "or am already at the goal." It is quite clear that Paul had not been made complete/perfect or reached his goal in the full and final sense of being glorified and taken to heaven. He (and all Christians) must, therefore, keep running the race, keep pressing on as long as he lives, or until Jesus returns.

With the translation of the NASB (which is essentially the same as the KJV, NKJV, and NIV), we can rightly understand what Paul meant: He had not yet become perfect in the full and final (absolute) sense of glorification. Whichever way we translate the Greek verb here, I don't believe that Paul was confessing that he still did not have the victory over all sin - that idea was not inferred at all. (It is true, however, that those who are still running the race still have the all-to-real potential to sin.)

To help substantiate the important point that the translation "Not that I...have already become perfect" need not, and should not, be understood to mean that Paul was confessing that he was still sinning to some extent (if we translate Phil. 3:12 that way, with the NASB), see Heb. 2:10; 5:9; and 7:8, where the NASB, NIV, and NKJV all translate this same Greek verb "to perfect, make perfect" (or the equivalent). All these verses from the book of Hebrews refer to the Lord Jesus Christ, and no Christian will suggest that Jesus was sinning in the days before he was made perfect. He was made perfect/complete only after His death on the cross and His resurrection and glorification, in the sense He was then able to be our great high priest, having defeated sin, Satan, and death (including spiritual death) in His atoning death.

It will be instructive to consider the Greek adjective "teleios," from which the verb teleioo was derived. For one thing, this adjective is used in a significant way in Phil. 3:15, which we'll discuss as we continue. This adjective is used in 1 Cor. 13:10 of our yet-future perfected/completed state in heaven. (The NASB translates "perfect.") The New Testament uses of this adjective that are the most important for our present purpose are those uses where we are told that all Christians are (enabled and) expected to be (relatively) perfect (see, for example, Matt. 5:48; 1 Cor. 2:6 with 3:1-3; Phil. 3:15; and Col. 4:12). (The NASB translates "perfect" in Matt. 5:48; Phil. 3:15; and Col. 4:12, but "mature" in 1 Cor. 2:6. We could translate perfect in 1 Cor. 2:6 too, with the King James Version.) Christians who are (relatively) perfect certainly walk with victory over sin; to be (relatively) perfect is rather parallel in meaning with saying (as the New Testament frequently says) that Christians are enabled and required to be righteous, holy, and blameless as they walk on a continuous basis in/by/after the Holy Spirit through faith.

1 Corinthians 3:1-3 demonstrate that the Corinthian Christians (at least some of them) were anything but spiritual (by the Spirit); they were fleshly, living (at least in some ways and to some extent) like mere men (like non-Christians). That is why they were not (relatively) perfect as they could, and should, have been (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Cor. 7:1). The apostle made it very clear that it was not acceptable for them to remain in that fleshly state. It was, and is, a dangerous place to be.

The verb teleioo is also used of a (relative) perfection of Christians in Heb. 10:14 and 11:40. I'll quote Heb. 10:10, 14; and 11:39, 40: "By this will [the will of God spoken of in the preceding verses] WE HAVE BEEN SANCTIFIED through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (10:14) For by one offering HE HAS PERFECTED for all time THOSE WHO ARE SANCTIFIED. (11:39) And all these [the people of faith spoken of throughout Hebrews chapter 11], having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised [New covenant salvation had been promised.], (40) because God had provided something better for us, SO THAT APART FROM US THEY WOULD NOT BE MADE PERFECT." On these super-important verses from the book of Hebrews, see pages 157-159; 166, 167 of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin." Also, see the subsection titled "A Discussion on the Overall Teaching of the Book of Ephesians Regarding How Long It Should Take for Christians to Become Holy/Spiritual (by the Spirit)/(Relatively) Perfect" on pages 41-43 in the internet version of my paper that includes Ephesians chapters 1, 4 (Google to Karl Kemp Teaching).

I'll quote a paragraph from what Ralph Earle said on the meaning of the verb here in Phil. 3:12 and on the meaning of the adjective in 3:15 ("Word Meanings in the New Testament" [Baker, 1986], page 343). "On the basis of the same Greek root in verses 12 and 15 it would seem that KJV and NASB were more consistent in using 'perfect' in both places. But since Paul denies perfection in verse 12 and seems to claim it in verse 15, it may well be that one is justified in using 'perfect' in verse 12 and 'mature' in verse 15 (RSV, NEB, NIV). A. T. Robertson [a noted Greek scholar] comments on verse 15: 'Here the term teleioi [a plural form of teleios] MEANS RELATIVE PERFECTION, NOT THE ABSOLUTE PERFECTION SO POINTEDLY DENIED IN VERSE 12' (WP ['Word Pictures in the New Testament], 4:455). The context suggests that IN VERSE 12 PAUL IS DENYING RESURRECTION PERFECTION. We may say that IN VERSE 15 HE CLAIMS WHAT JOHN WESLEY CALLED CHRISTIAN PERFECTION [my capitalization for emphasis]."]], but I press on [This verb, which is of key importance in this discourse, is repeated in verse 14. As I mentioned, Paul was undoubtedly using himself as a example of what all Christians must do, because he knew that some at Philippi were not adequately pressing on (and the problem, of course, was not limited to ancient Philippi).] so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. [Paul had not yet laid hold of the yet-future eternal life/eternal glory to which he (and all Christians) had been called (cf., e.g., 1 Tim. 6:12, 19). This includes the resurrection from the dead (for those who die before the Lord Jesus returns) and the ultimate perfection/completeness (or, reaching the goal) spoken of in the first part of Phil. 3:12. The apostle had been laid "hold of by Christ Jesus" in a rather dramatic (and merciful) way (cf. Acts 9:1-19; 22:3-16). The Lord also asked quite a bit of Paul in his ministry as the apostle to the Gentiles (cf., e.g., Acts 8:16; 2 Cor. 6:4-10; 11:23-12:10).] (13) Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet [The Greek verb ("katalambano") translated "having laid hold of it yet" here was used twice in verse 12. Paul is speaking of laying hold of resurrection glory (resurrection perfection).]; but one thing I do: forgetting [[I believe a translation like "disregarding [caring nothing about]" for this Greek verb ("epilanthanomai") would better communicate what Paul intended here. The translation "forgetting" fits better with the idea of forgetting the sinful things of the past. A translation like disregarding fits better with the idea of disregarding the things of the past to which we might cling (cf., e.g., Luke 9:62) and/or in which we might wrongly boast, which seems to fit this passage better. We do, however, have the privilege of disregarding/forgetting all the sinful and negative things from our past too - thanks be to God! Serious runners cannot afford to be distracted by looking back for any reason - with total devotion we must press on until the race is over (cf., e.g., Heb. 12:1, 2).

((I had a footnote discussing the translation "forgetting" here: See the BAGD Greek Lexicon. Gordon Fee ("Paul's Letter to the Philippians") translates "disregarding" on page 339, and on page 347, in a footnote, he says (in part), "Although the word can sometimes mean 'forget' in the sense of 'not remembering,' in figurative usage such as this one it more likely means 'to pay no attention to, be unconcerned about'...." The New American Bible has, "I give no thought to what lies behind." The New Testament in Modern English by J. B. Phillips has, "I leave [the past] behind." This leaving the past behind goes with having died to the old man and being conformed to Christ's death.))]] what lies behind ["What lies behind" includes the old man in its entirety, very much including the things of the flesh in which Paul used to boast (cf. Phil. 3:3-8) and in which some still were boasting (cf. Gal. 6:12-16). It is also true (whether Paul was thinking of these things here, or not) that we cannot rest on our past accomplishments/victories in Christ (even if our past life in Christ was all that it should have been) - we must continue to press on in Christ until the race is over.] and reaching forward to what lies ahead, (14) I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. [[Compare 1 Cor. 9:23-27. The "prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" refers to the prize of being caught up into the glory of eternal life when Christ returns. We could include the idea here of "the upward call" that initiates the rapture/catching up into the eternal glory of heaven (cf. 1 Thess. 4:16, 17; Rev. 11:12). Throughout Phil. 3:11-14 the apostle repeatedly speaks of the same ultimate goal for all Christians, using different terminology that expresses the same basic reality. If we miss that ultimate goal, we miss everything. In Phil. 3:11 he mentions the "resurrection from the dead"; in 3:12a he mentions obtaining it (eternal resurrection glory) and becoming perfect/complete (or, reaching the goal); in 3:12b he mentions laying hold of that for which also he was laid hold of by Christ Jesus (which speaks of the same basic reality, the eternal glory of heaven); in 3:13 he acknowledges that he has not laid hold of it yet so he must continue to reach forward to what lies ahead (the same prize of eternal glory); and finally, in 3:14 he says he presses on for this same prize. The apostle certainly belabored the point. He must have known that it was important to include this emphasis.

There can be no denying that the yet-future glory is extremely important (this is what we are saved for: to enjoy the presence of God and worship and serve Him forever), and there can be no denying that Christians must make pressing on toward that goal top priority. These verses make all the more sense if, as I have suggested, Paul knew that some of his beloved brethren at Philippi were not adequately pressing on, for whatever reason(s).]] (15) Let us therefore, as many as are perfect [[(The KJV has "perfect"; the NIV and NKJV have "mature.") One reason that these words are so important is that they help steer us away from the wrong interpretation of the words "or have already become perfect" of Phil. 3:12 (if we translate the Greek verb that way in Phil. 3:12; see under 3:12). Here in Phil. 3:15 Paul speaks of those who are (relatively) perfect, very much including himself. This use of the word perfect is rather common in the New Testament. (See under Phil. 3:12. As I mentioned there, the verb used in Phil. 3:12 was derived from the adjective used here in 3:15.) All Christians can, and should, be perfect in a relative sense (or you could translate "mature," but I prefer the translation "perfect" here and in quite a few other verses), which is rather parallel in meaning with saying that they can, and should, and must, walk by/in/after the Holy Spirit through faith (based on the Word of God) and be righteous and holy. This is consistent Christianity, consistent with what we are called to in the new covenant.

When the apostle wrote these words, he was probably thinking of some Christians at Philippi who thought of themselves as being perfect, but who were not really thinking and living that way, not by Paul's definition of perfect. What they must do if they really want to be (relatively) perfect (as they should be), the apostle has been telling them, and he will go on telling them with the next few words of this sentence. Based on what Paul has been emphasizing, their primary problem must have been that they were not adequately pressing on toward the ultimate goal. Christians who are clinging to the things of the flesh and/or Christians who overstate how much they have arrived will not be motivated to press on as they must.]], have this attitude [[I would translate "think this way," or the equivalent. The KJV has, "be thus minded"; the NKJV has, "have this mind"; and the NIV has, "should take such a view of things." The way they must think is the way Paul thought, which he has laid out for them in the preceding verses, using himself as an example of what all Christians must do. They must press on in Christ with a whole-hearted devotion, disregarding the things of the past/of the flesh. When I mention thinking, I am speaking, for the most part (as the Bible typically does), of the high-level thinking we do in our hearts (which includes our attitudes, motives, and priorities), not of thinking that is limited to our heads. ((We are called, and required [we have the privilege] to think by the Holy Spirit. See Rom. 8:5-8; Eph. 4:17, 23 [with the translation, "be renewed by the Spirit in your mind/thinking"]; and Rom. 12:1, 2. On these verses see under Rom. 8:5-8 in my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin" and see under Eph. 4:17-24 in my paper that includes Ephesians chapter 4 on my internet site.)) I have noticed over the years that there is a widespread (but wrong) viewpoint around the body of Christ (but not with the scholars) that the words "thinking" and "mind" are to be limited to the thinking we do in our heads. Very often, for example, when a pastor or a teacher mentions the mind he points to his head. This may be a common use of the words mind and thinking in popular English, but what we need to know is what Paul meant by the word(s).]]; and if in anything you have a different attitude ["you are thinking differently"], God will reveal that also to you [To those Christians at Philippi who were not adequately pressing on, which included clinging to, or boasting in, the things of the past/the things of the flesh, Paul said that God would reveal those things to them. Paul was assuming that the Christians at Philippi were submitted to his ministry and, more importantly, that they were committed to God and to His truth, including what Paul has been saying to them in these verses.]; (16) however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. [We must continue to maintain the things that are right while making any and all necessary adjustments as God reveals the need to us (through His Word, directly by His Spirit, or through another Christian, especially His ministers) to bring our lives into divine order.] (17) Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. (18) For many walk [[It doesn't seem that Paul includes any of the Philippian Christians (his beloved brethren at Philippi) among those he goes on to speak of in an extremely negative way. Many "Christians" would show up in Philippi from other places. (For one thing, Philippi was located on a major east-west Roman highway.) Furthermore, although (at least some of) the Judaizers that Paul spoke of in Phil. 3:2 could be included in the "many" of Phil. 3:18, the many are not at all limited to them. The Christians at Philippi (and all Christians everywhere and at all times) must be careful regarding who they fellowship with and especially who they submit to as ministers. "Ministers" that are not walking as they should walk (or "ministers" that are peddling false doctrine; false doctrine and sinful living often go together) can cause great damage to the Christian church.]], of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ [They claim to be Christians, but they are "enemies of the cross of Christ" in that they have not submitted to the sanctifying power of the cross of Christ. Their hearts are fixed on the things of the world, and their lives are characterized by sin. "They profess to know God, but by their deeds [works] they deny Him" (Titus 1:16a).], (19) whose end is destruction [Even though they think of themselves as Christians, their citizenship is not in heaven (contrast Phil. 3:20) - they will not end up in heaven (unless they repent).], whose god is their appetite ["Literally, belly." Compare Rom. 16:18. Putting the priority on the things of the body like what we eat goes with living for the world instead of living for God's kingdom (cf. Rom. 14:17). I'll quote part of what Craig S. Keener said under this verse ("Bible Background Commentary - New Testament" [Inter-Varsity Press, 1993], page 564). "Graeco-Roman philosophers and non-Palestinian Jewish writers (especially Philo) repeatedly railed against those ruled by their passions, often remarking that they were ruled by their 'belly' (KJV, NRSV) or their (sexual or culinary) 'appetite' (NASB), disdaining their neglect of eternal things. Gluttony especially became part of Roman culture, and its practice by the aristocracy was a frequent butt of satirists' humor. But being ruled by one's 'belly' meant more than gluttony; it was used to mean any fleshly indulgence...."], and whose glory is in their shame [Instead of pressing on to enter the glory of heaven (cf. Phil. 3:7-16), these worldly-minded "Christians" gloried in the shameful things they were doing.], who set their minds on earthly things [instead of setting their minds on (thinking on) heavenly things (cf. Rom. 8:5-8 [See pages 118-120 of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin" on these verses.]; Col. 3:2). The same Greek verb ("phroneo") that is translated "set their minds on" here in Phil. 3:19 (actually it is a participle formed from this verb) is translated "set their minds on [the things of the flesh]" in Rom. 8:5 and is translated "set your minds on [the things above]" in Col. 3:2. This verb could just as well be translated "think on" instead of "set the mind on." This same Greek verb was used twice in Phil. 3:15. Instead of thinking like Paul did (see under Phil. 3:15), these worldly-minded "Christians" thought on earthly things. As I noted under Phil. 3:15, thinking (and the mind) in the Bible typically includes the thinking we do in our hearts.]. (20) For our citizenship is in heaven [Even now we are citizens of heaven in a preliminary sense (cf., e.g., Luke 10:20; Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1; Heb. 12:22, 23; Rev. 13:8; and 17:8).], from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior [cf. 1 Cor. 1:7], the Lord Jesus Christ; (21) who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory [Compare 1 Cor. 15:42-53. There is a whole lot more involved here than the transformation/glorification of the physical body. Our entire being and existence will be glorified (cf., e.g., Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:19-21; Col. 3:4; 1 John 3:2; and Rev. 22:3-5).], by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself." Compare 1 Cor. 15:23-28.

May God's will be fully accomplished through this paper and His people be edified!

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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