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Bible: What Does Philippians 3 Teach Us About Man-Made Religion?

Updated on September 15, 2016

The Apostle Paul


Opponents of Paul

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True Believers and Judaizers

Addressing the Philippians again as brethren, Paul exhorts them to rejoice in Christ; he does not regard his reiteration of this command as tedious, but sees it as an attitude check for them (v. 1).

[It seems to make better sense to attach verse one to the end of chapter two where Paul exhorts the Philippians to rejoice over Epaphroditus than to connect it to a passage warning them about Judaizers.

Perhaps he urges them to rejoice here because they, unlike teachers of a false way of salvation, belong to Christ.]

The apostle identifies the Philippians’ adversaries with three sharply worded criticisms, thereby alerting the church to the spiritual danger these false teachers pose.

By attaching to them the same name with which they label Gentiles (“dogs”), Paul may be describing their vicious, pack-like character, or simply identifying their worthless religion.

He also designates them with the generic tag “evil workers” and the more graphic representation “mutilators” (false circumcision) [v. 2].

In contrast, Paul calls the Philippians (and himself) “the true circumcision,” identifying them with three characteristics that directly oppose those given to describe the Judaizers.

First, true Christians worship God within the sphere of the Holy Spirit, not with man-made rituals;

Second, they rejoice in the finished work of their Messiah Jesus, not in evil works; and

Third, genuine believers do not trust in religious accomplishments to please God.

Judaizers, on the other hand, put faith in their obedience to the rite of circumcision to try to acquire God’s gift of salvation (v. 3).

A Pharisee of Pharisees


Religious Accomplishments: Worthless?

Do you think your religious accomplishments merit anything before God?

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Paul's Credentials

Having mentioned the phrase “confidence in the flesh,” Paul launches from this lead into an impressive list of religious credentials that demonstrates how he would have more reason to trust in his worldly status than any of his opponents (v. 4).

He tells how he followed the dictates of his religion from his earliest days and later excelled in his professional life.

Circumcised on the day Moses prescribed, he became an elite Benjamite Pharisee who exceeded all others in his zealous persecution of the Church and lived blamelessly according to Torah (vv. 5-6).

Now, as one who has come to know Christ as his Lord and Savior, Paul regards all of his accomplishments in Judaism as rubbish.

Although he has suffered greatly for Jesus’ sake, he considers these credentials (and everything else) as loss so that he may gain an ever deeper, more intimate relationship with his Lord.

The apostle desires that God might find him in Christ, having a righteousness which he acquired by placing faith in Jesus, not by obeying the Law (vv. 7-9).

In addition, Paul wants to experience close fellowship with the Messiah, and know the power of His Spirit through an increased understanding of how his spiritual union with Christ in his death and resurrection to new life works in practical, day-to-day affairs (vv. 10-11; cf. Rom. 6).

The apostle acknowledges that he has not yet arrived at this level of spiritual maturity, but that he perseveres to attain to it one day in glory (v. 12).

He shares with his brethren in Philippi how he intends to lay hold of this prize: forget the past with its accomplishments and failures, and exert every effort in the present time as he looks forward to the future day when Christ will call him to glory (vv. 13-14).

Destination: Heaven via the Cross of Christ


The Heavenly Mindset

His concluding remarks on this point exhort mature Philippian believers to adopt his mindset and conduct their lives according to the Christian standard that has brought them to their current level of spirituality (vv. 15-16).

Wishing to guide them away from “enemies of the cross of Christ”—whom the apostle characterizes as temporally-minded individuals bound for dissolution as they “worship” their own sensuality and revel in their own disgrace (vv. 18-19)—, Paul encourages this church to follow his godly example.

He (and other unspecified leaders) models acceptable Christian behavior, has heaven as his current citizenship, and awaits the Rapture of the Church when the Lord Jesus Christ will exercise His omnipotence and transform his mortal body into one like His own (vv. 17, 20-21).

In light of this certainty, Paul exhorts his “beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown” not to give ground in their spiritual battle (4:1).

© 2013 glynch1


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    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Paul puts the emphasis where it belongs on our intimacy with Christ, not on our observance of the rules. Thank you for this reminder.


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