by Jeff Dominguez
Chapter 03 – PAST vs FUTURE (Our Past vs Our Future in Christ)
Before we begin, let us remember that the main theme of the Book of Philippians is exultation in Christ. In simpler words, it means finding joy in Christ. Everything that Paul taught in this book is in line with this theme. Now, in this chapter, Paul shared one of the reasons why we can find joy in Christ: A HOPEFUL FUTURE. This is why Paul is teaching us in this chapter to “forget what lies behind and look forward to what lies ahead” (v13). Because of this, we will present this chapter with the idea of past vs future. We will explore the things that Paul wants us to forget or leave behind and the things that he wants us to look forward to.
I. THE PRICELESS VALUE OF KNOWING CHRIST (vv1-11)
In this section, Paul wants the Philippians to learn and appreciate that knowing and gaining Christ is worth more than anything in this world including whatever they “lost” as a consequence of becoming a follower of Jesus.
A) Righteousness by Works vs Righteousness by Faith (vv1-6, 9)
“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” (vv1-6)
“…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” (v9)
In this passage, the first past that Paul wants the Philippians to forget is the teaching that we can obtain righteousness by works. Just like what he did with the Galatians, Paul also warned the Philippians about the “circumcision group” (also known as the legalizers) who teach the wrong gospel that aside from believing in Jesus, one must also become a Jew. And again, Paul recalled his past to express his counter-arguments. According to him, if righteousness can indeed be earned through human effort/works, then he’ll emerge as the topnotcher. He recalled how he obeyed every law and even how he persecuted the church to show how passionate and dedicated he was to the Jewish religion. But now, this is what he says:
B) Worthless Compared to Christ (vv7-9)
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
Paul was very clear in this passage. According to him, everything that he accomplished before is “rubbish” compared to the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.” In a simple sense, Paul is teaching that through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, we now become righteous in the eyes of God by having faith in Jesus Christ. Paul is teaching the Philippians to focus on this and never look back to the old ways of trying to earn righteousness through human effort/good works.
C) Death vs Resurrection (vv10-11)
“…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (vv10-11)
Another past vs future concept that Paul presented in this chapter is the concept of death vs resurrection. In the same way he taught in his other letters (1 Corinthians 15; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), Paul assured the Philippians that they have a beautiful future to look forward to because they will be resurrected. They don’t need to fear death because Christ has already overcome death (Acts 2:24). And since Jesus has already overcome death, then all of His followers will also overcome death (John 14:19).
II. PRESSING ON TOWARDS THE GOAL (vv12-17)
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”
We now come to Paul’s main message in this chapter. Again, as he does in his other letters, Paul is encouraging the Philippians to persevere in their faith. That is why to motivate them, he is presenting in this chapter the things that they should forget (the past) and the beautiful and hopeful things in Christ that they can and should look forward to (the future). Paul also encouraged them by sharing his example. He confessed that he too is in pursuit of Christ. According to him, he hasn’t obtained it yet nor he is already perfect (referring to glorification). Therefore, he, the Philippians, and the rest of the church is on this journey together. No matter what our status is in this journey, we should never stop or go back where we came from.
Remember, in the Christian life, the only direction is forwards, not backward.
III. THE ENEMIES OF THE CROSS (vv18-19)
“For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”
In this next section, Paul warned them of the bad example that they should avoid. Paul called these individuals “enemies of the cross.” According to Paul, an enemy of the cross has three defining features:
Therefore, not only should they avoid these people, but Paul is also teaching the Philippians to avoid these traits and become an enemy of the cross themselves.
IV. OUR CITIZENSHIP IN HEAVEN (vv20-21)
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.”
Out of the three defining traits of the enemies of the cross, perhaps the most striking is worldliness. A true enemy of the cross has a mind that is so fixated on worldly things. This is why Paul reminded the Philippians that as followers of Jesus, they are no longer citizens of this world, but are now “citizens of heaven.” This implies that Christians are foreigners and sojourners here on earth (as the Apostle Peter taught, 1 Peter 2:11). In other words, Christians will not stay here permanently. And since this is not their true home, Christians shouldn’t be so attached to this world. Again, Paul is teaching us that our old selves were the citizens of this world (the past). Since we are now a new creation (2 Cor. 5:11) and a citizen of heaven, we should look forward to our future, which is our coming home that will happen when our Savior, Jesus Christ, returns.
In summary, what Paul is trying to do in this chapter is to help us find our joy in Christ by teaching us to focus on the good and beautiful things that Jesus promised to us like the resurrection and our coming home to heaven. Paul knows that looking back on our old and sinful ways will only bring us misery and disappointments. Again, the main message is for Christians to look forward and persevere in that direction. As God said:
“But my righteous one will live by faith.
And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.”
– Hebrews 10:38
God Bless!! 🙂