1. Who are the “dogs”, “evildoers” and “those who mutilate the flesh”? How are they contrasted with the Philippians?
The evil does are the so-called Judaizers. They called themselves followers of Christ, thus they were able to infiltrate Christian communities. However, they advocated observing the statues of the Mosaic Law, thus obscuring and even nullifying the good news of the gospel. They trusted that their strict obedience to the Law of Moses would curry favor with God leading to salvation. Whether or not a person was circumcised became a litmus test of obedience to the Law. So Paul singles it out as a dominant feature of their anti-gospel message when he refers to them as “mutilators of the flesh”. On the other hand, the Philippians who have believed in the gospel understand their sinfulness and are trusting in Christ’s death and righteousness which they have received by their faith.
2. In the last section, Paul called us to “rejoice in the Lord”. His very next thought is to “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” How might the influence of these people keep the Philippians from rejoicing in the Lord?
If people believe they must earn God’s favor, obedience to the Lord becomes burdensome and fearful. How can you rejoice in the lavish blessings of God, when you are never quite sure if you have yet merited them? It does not matter how great the promises of God are or how wonderful God is described if you can never be absolutely sure his goodness is yours.
3. What does it mean to “put no confidence in the flesh”? Why do you think Paul give himself as an example of this? What does Paul put his confidence in now?
Putting confidence in the flesh is trusting that one’s own righteousness merits the favor or goodness of God. Paul uses himself as an example because he excelled beyond all of his contemporaries in strict observance of the Law, but even in his achievements knew that his righteousness was rubbish before God. So if Paul’s best efforts are rubbish, then all else are discouraged from pursuing the Law as if they could perform it to God’s satisfaction and earn salvation.
4. Look over Paul’s credentials. What “gain” was he deriving from them? Why does he now see them as loss?
The gain Paul derived from his achievements was the tentative hope that they amounted to enough good to please God. As a Pharisee perhaps he also appreciated the esteem from his contemporaries. However, as a Christian, he sees the foolishness and emptiness of the so-called “gain” he once sought. He now views his achievements as loss since the only thing they ever did was to blind Paul from his need for the gospel. They moved him further from Christ if anything, not closer.
5. What does it mean to be “found in” Christ? How is this related to being righteous?
To be found in Christ is a spatial metaphor that describes God finding us inside Jesus. Because we are inside Jesus, when God finds us, he only finds the merits of Christ’s righteousness and not our own. Therefore to be in Christ is to possess his righteousness.
6. Paul says the ultimate purpose of being righteous is so that he can know Christ and the power of his resurrection. What does he mean by these things?
Knowing Christ is having a relationship with him. The power of his resurrection is to experience the life-giving power that rose Christ from the dead. This resurrection power is currently at work in our souls. It initially gave us new life when we were born again at the beginning of our faith in Christ. It continues to be at work in every believer giving them life, transforming them to be more like Christ. When God works in us to will and to work for his good pleasure it is this resurrection power that he uses.
7. What is the resurrection of the dead?
This phrase is describing something different from the power of Christ’s resurrection. Here Paul has in mind the actual resurrection of the dead at the Day of Christ. This final resurrection is the beginning of the full experience of eternal life.
8. Some people argue that if you are assured eternal life there is no more motivation to persevere in a life of serving Christ. Yet here Paul indicates that his motivation to persevere is just because “Christ Jesus has made me his own”. How does this work? Why might the assurance that Paul belongs to Christ motivate him to “strain forward” toward heaven?
When we are assured of our place with Christ, we have every motivation to persevere for him until we get there. Imagine if you were only 50/50 you would go to heaven to be with Christ. If you encountered suffering for Christ in this life, you could easily conclude that it is not worth it to continue being faithful to Christ when, after all, you don’t know for sure if it will be worth it in the end. However, if you know Christ has made you his own, and you are 100% sure of your relationship with him, then you know that no matter what suffering you experience in this life for Christ it will be worth it, in the end, to be faithful and persevere, because Christ has guaranteed that the prize for your suffering will be waiting for you.
9. Why might Paul consider it a mark of maturity to recognize your own imperfection?
We are all imperfect, so anyone who is not willing to recognize that they have not achieved perfection is blind to his own condition. Mature people have a clear sense of their imperfection along with an indefatigable drive to be more Christ-like. This drive comes from God’s power at work in their lives and the joy of knowing Christ. The mature experience God’s power and joy in the Lord, not because they are more righteous, but because they put their confidence in Christ and not in themselves.
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