Philippians 3:1-4:1 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. What does the apostle Paul exhort Christians to do? See Philippians 3:1a (printed below) Why do you think he gives this exhortation?

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. For me it is not tedious to write the same things to you, and for you it is a safeguard. (Philippian 3:1)

The apostle begins by encouraging and, indeed, even commanding, us to “rejoice in the Lord.” The best safeguard against departure from the Lord is to develop a satisfying relationship with the Lord: enjoying Him and rejoicing in Him (cp. Nehemiah 8:10b, “the joy of Jehovah is your strength.”)

2. What warning does Paul issue in verse 2 (printed below?) Of whom is he speaking? Note Acts 15:5 (printed below)

Beware of the dogs, beware of those who are working evil, beware of those who mutilate the flesh. (Philippians 3:2)

…certain men of the sect of the Pharisees … stood up and said, The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to obey the Law of Moses. (Acts 15:5)

For the sake of these Philippian Christians (and for our sake) the apostle Paul issues a warning to be on guard against the subtle seduction of false teaching. Of whom is the apostle speaking? He is referring to a heretical group who had their roots in “the sect of the Pharisees;” they are described for us in Acts 15:1-12. This group apparently became involved with the church through a common belief in the resurrection: Jesus’ resurrection convinced them that He was the Messiah, the Holy One of God. But they had no true grasp of the gospel as the way of salvation by grace; to them, salvation was gained by the sacrament of circumcision and by observing religious regulations (note Acts 15:1,5), not through faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ alone.

3. Why do you think the apostle uses such strong language when speaking about these heretical teachers? Note Psalm 22:16 (printed below)

Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil doers has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. (Psalm 22:16)

Why does Paul refer to them in such strong and derogatory terms? In Psalm 22:16 “dogs” and “evil workers” are the two terms used to describe the enemies of the Messiah. By seeking to establish other criterion for salvation, these men were opposing Christ and His finished work; they were making themselves His enemies. Note: The term “the concision,” a term that can well be translated “those who mutilate the flesh,” in Greek is a play on the word “circumcision.” The heretical teachers’ reliance upon the Old Testament sacrament of circumcision as a means of salvation (when it was intended rather to be a sign and seal of the saving work of God) was a “mutilation” of its true significance.

4. What bold claim does Paul make about the church of Christ in verse 3a (printed below?) How would you explain the meaning of his assertion? Hint: Circumcision was the Old Testament sign of the covenant, identifying a man as being numbered among the redeemed and being a part of the people of God.

We are the true circumcision, we who offer worship by the Spirit of God and rejoice with confidence in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3)

In verse 3 the apostle boldly and confidently asserts: “we are the true circumcision” (i.e., we as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are the covenant people of God). Circumcision was the Old Testament sign of the covenant, it marked a man as belonging to the nation of Israel, the covenant people of God. The true people of God in the Old Testament era trusted in the Lord for their salvation and looked forward to the day when the Christ would come and fulfill His work of redemption. The sacrament of circumcision was the outward sign of their faith and covenant relationship with the Lord. As we trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work of redemption we become identified with those Old Testament believers as the true covenant people of God.

5. Is the apostle’s testimony concerning the Christian faith (as it is presented in Philippians 3:3) in agreement with the world’s view about religion, specifically, the world’s view concerning religious tolerance and human merit?

Notice two things about these declarations the apostle boldly asserts on behalf of all those who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. First, they are diametrically opposed to the concept of relativism and religious tolerance—the concept that maintains that all religions are of equal merit and have true value as a means of gaining a saving relationship with God. Second, they are diametrically opposed to all that the world holds to be of religious value: namely, personal merit produced by personal effort—our trust is in the merit of Christ alone and His atoning work on our behalf.