Chase the goal to the finish line
Our faith is in Jesus, not in ourselves1 As I start to wrap up this letter let me say it again, dear family. You belong to the Lord. Rejoice and celebrate it. I don’t mind repeating myself. I think it’s good for you. 2 Watch out for the wild dogs. What I’m talking about are the evil critters who say that all men have to get circumcised to get saved. 3 Fact is, we’re the ones circumcised. True circumcision is spiritual, not physical. We’re circumcised by worshiping in the Spirit of God, which we can do because of Jesus the Messiah—not because of anything we do.
4 Let me tell you something. If anyone ever had reason to put their faith in themselves, it would be me. 5 I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I’m a citizen of Israel. I’m from the tribe of Benjamin. I’m a red-blooded Jew through and through, born to Jews. And when it comes to observing Jewish laws, I was a Pharisee. 6 I was so passionate that I went after the church with all the fury I had in me. As for spiritual integrity, I can tell you I didn’t break any of the laws. 7 All of this was important to me once. Not anymore. The Messiah is why.
8 Listen, nothing is worth more than knowing the Messiah, Jesus my Lord. I let go of all the baggage I once considered vital. It’s trash now. I did it so I could follow the Messiah. 9 And I did it so I could unite with him in spirit. I couldn’t make things right between me and God by obeying Jewish laws. God made things right when I put my faith in the Messiah. 10 I want to know Jesus and experience resurrection, as he did. But first I want to suffer and die, as he did, 11 so that I can be raised from the dead.
Finish line ahead12 I’m not perfect yet. I haven’t reached that goal. But I’m running hard for the prize at the end of the race. One day I’ll make that prize my own because Jesus Christ made me his own. 13 Dear family, I know I haven’t made it my own yet. But I know this, too. Forgetting the past and leaving all the baggage behind me, leaning forward I reach out for what lies ahead. 14 I’m pushing on toward that goal—upward toward the prize for which God calls us, because of Jesus the Messiah.
15 Those of us who are spiritual grownups should agree with what I’ve said. If you think differently, God will clear it up for you. 16 Either way, let’s hang onto the spiritual progress we’ve made by living it. 17 Dear family, learn from what you’ve seen in me. Follow my example and the example of others like me.
18 I’ve told you many times about people who live in such a way that it’s clear they are enemies of the Messiah who died on the cross. Well I’m telling you again, this time with tears. 19 There’s no prize at the end of the road for them. There’s destruction. It’s because their gut is their god, and they brag about what should shame them. All they think about is the here and now, in this earthly life. 20 But we are citizens of heaven. Our Savior is there, the Lord Jesus Christ. We eagerly wait for him to come. 21 When Jesus comes, he will change our frail bodies into glorious bodies like his. He’ll do it with the same power that gives him authority over everyone and everything that has ever existed.
Christianity started as a branch of the Jewish religion. The first Christians were Jews who said Jesus was the Messiah. In time, non-Jews started joining. Some leaders in the movement taught that if you wanted to be a good Christian, you had to be a good Jew and obey all the Jewish laws, including those about circumcision and eating only kosher food. Other leaders, like Paul, argued that the death and resurrection of Jesus marked the beginning of God’s new covenant agreement with people. As prophets predicted hundreds of years before Paul, the old laws written on stone were replaced by laws that God’s Spirit writes on the hearts of each person (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
Jews had observed this law for some 2,000 years, since the time of Abraham. “Throughout the generations, whenever a boy is born in your family you must circumcise him when he is eight days old” (Genesis 17:12).
Israel’s first king, Saul, was from the tribe of Benjamin—the family descended from Jacob’s youngest and dearly loved son, Benjamin.
Pharisees represented a branch of the Jewish faith that obsessed over the Jewish laws so much that they added laws of their own to make sure they didn’t accidentally break any of God’s laws. God’s law said to keep the Sabbath Day holy. Pharisees created a book of laws about how to do that, detailing what was allowed or not allowed on the Sabbath. Jesus had some run-ins with Pharisees about that: “The Son of Humans is the boss of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:5).
Paul makes the case that circumcision, which was and still is a big deal for Jews, is more spiritual than physical (3:1-11). Do you think he makes a convincing case? How do you think he could have made an even stronger case that may have helped Jewish Christians who insisted on circumcision to change their minds?
Paul it might seem is asking Jews to set aside some 2,000 years of religious tradition. How realistic do you think that was? Could he really have turned many devout Jews to Christianity, or do you think his best shot was at relatively uneducated Jews who weren’t especially observant?
Paul goes off on a bit of a bragging run: “Let me tell you something. If anyone ever had reason to put their faith in themselves, it would be me” (3:4). Then he goes on to list his resume. Do you think that helps his case or does it make him a little like a sociopathic egomaniac?
Why do you thing Paul would say something like, “I want to suffer and die, as he [Jesus] did, so that I can be raised from the dead” (3:10-11). Why not just die and skip the suffering?
Paul tells the Philippian Christians to “Follow my example and the example of others like me” (3:17). Do you think that’s a little too much of Paul? Or is it appropriate under the circumstances?
Paul said that one day Jesus “will change our frail bodies into glorious bodies like his” (3:21). What kind of body do you think Paul had in mind?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul told the Philippian Christians to “Watch out for the wild dogs. What I’m talking about are the evil critters who say that all men have to get circumcised to get saved” (3:2). That’s not the tune our wild dogs bark today. What do you think our wild dogs bark?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul says he is “running hard for the prize at the end of the race” (3:12). What prize do you think he’s talking about? What’s the prize for you, the thing you are looking forward to most in the afterlife?