Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.III.
[6.Original Conclusion of the Epistle (Philippians 3:1).
“FINALLY BRETHREN, FAREWELL IN THE LORD.”]
(1) Finally.—The same word is used in 2Corinthians 13:11; Ephesians 6:10; 2Thessalonians 3:1 (as also in this Epistle, Philippians 4:8), to usher in the conclusion. Here, on the contrary, it stands nearly in the middle of the Epistle. Moreover, the commendation above of Timothy and Epaphroditus is exactly that which, according to St. Paul’s custom, would mark the final sentences of the whole. Again, the words “rejoice in the Lord” may, according to the common usage of the time (although certainly that usage is not adopted in other Letters of St. Paul), not improbably signify farewell in the Lord; and even if not used in this formal and conventional sense, yet certainly hold the position of final good wishes, which that sense implies. The resumption of them in Philippians 4:4, where the actual conclusion now begins, is striking. It seems, therefore, highly probable, that in this place the Letter was originally drawing to an end, and that some news was at that moment brought which induced the Apostle to add a second part, couched in language of equal affection, but of greater anxiety and more emphatic warning. Of such a break, and resumption with a far more complete change of style, we have a notable instance at the beginning of the tenth chapter of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians; as also of the addition of postscript after postscript in the last chapter of the Epistle to the Romans.
(1) AGAINST THE JUDAISERS.
(a)Warning against confidence “in the flesh,” illustrated by his own renunciation of all Jewish privileges and hopes, in order to have “the righteousness of Christ” (Philippians 3:1-9).
(b)Warning against confidence in perfection as already attained, again illustrated by his own sense of imperfection and hope of continual progress (Philippians 3:10-16).
(2) AGAINST THE ANTINOMIAN PARTY.
Contrast of the sensual and corrupt life of the flesh with the spirituality and hope of future perfection which become citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:17-21).
(3) AGAINST ALL TENDENCY TO SCHISM (Philippians 4:1-3).
To write the same things to you.—These words may refer to what goes before, in which case the reference must be to “rejoice in the Lord.” Now, it is true that this is the burden of the Epistle; but this interpretation suits ill the following words, “for you it is safe,” which obviously refer to some warning against danger or temptation. Hence it is far better to refer them to the abrupt and incisive warnings that follow.
These, then, are said to be a repetition; but of what? Hardly of the former part of this Epistle, for it is difficult there to find anything corresponding to them. If not, then it must be of St. Paul’s previous teaching, by word or by letter. For the use here of the word “to write,” though it suits better the idea of former communication by writing, cannot exclude oral teaching. That there was more than one Epistle to Philippi has been inferred (probably, but not certainly) from an expression in Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians (sect. 3), speaking of “the Epistles” of St. Paul to them. It is not in itself unlikely that another Epistle should have been written; nor have we any right to argue decisively against it, on the ground that no such Epistle is found in the canon of Scripture. But however this may be, it seems natural to refer to St. Paul’s former teaching as a whole. Now, when St. Paul first preached at Philippi, he had not long before carried to Antioch the decree of the council against the contention of “them of the circumcision;” and, as it was addressed to the churches “of Syria and Cilicia,” he can hardly have failed to communicate it, when he passed through both regions “confirming the churches” (Acts 15:41). At Thessalonica, not long after, the jealousy of the Jews at his preaching the freedom of the gospel drove him from the city (Acts 17:5). When he came to Macedonia on his next journey, the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, written there and probably at Philippi, marks the first outburst of the Judaising controversy; and when he returned to Philippi, on his way back, he had just written the Epistles to the Galatians and Romans, which deal exhaustively with the whole question. Nothing is more likely than that his teaching at Philippi had largely dealt with the warning against the Judaisers. What, then, more natural than to introduce a new warning on the subject—shown to be necessary by news received—with the courteous half-apology, “To write the same things to you, to me is not grievous (or, tedious) but for you it is safe,” making assurance doubly sure?
Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.(2) Beware of (the) dogs.—In Revelation 22:15 “the dogs” excluded from the heavenly Jerusalem seem to be those who are impure. In that sense the Jews applied the word to the heathen, as our Lord, for a moment appearing to follow the Jewish usage, does to the Syro-Phœnician woman in Matthew 15:26. But here the context appropriates the word to the Judaising party, who claimed special purity, ceremonial and moral, and who probably were not characterised by peculiar impurity—such as, indeed, below (Philippians 3:17-21) would seem rather to attach to the Antinomian party, probably the extreme on the other side. Chrysostom’s hint that the Apostle means to retort the name upon them, as now by their own wilful apostasy occupying the place outside the spiritual Israel which once belonged to the despised Gentiles, is probably right. Yet perhaps there may be some allusion to the dogs, not as unclean, but as, especially in their half-wild state in the East, snarling and savage, driving off as interlopers all who approach what they consider their ground. Nothing could better describe the narrow Judaising spirit.
Of evil workers.—Comp. 2Corinthians 11:13, describing the Judaisers as “deceitful workers.” Here the idea is of their energy in work, but work for evil.
The concision.—By an ironical play upon words St. Paul declares his refusal to call the circumcision, on which the Judaisers prided themselves, by that time-honoured name; for “we,” he says, “are the true circumcision,” the true Israel of the new covenant. In Ephesians 2:11 (where see Note) he had denoted it as the “so-called circumcision in the flesh made by hands.” Here he speaks more strongly, and calls it a “concision,” a mere outward mutilation, no longer, as it had been, a “seal” of the covenant (Romans 4:11). There is a still more startling attack on the advocates of circumcision in Galatians 5:12 (where see Note).
For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.(3) We are the circumcision.—So in Colossians 2:11-12, evidently alluding to baptism as the spiritual circumcision, he says, “In whom ye were circumcised with the circumcision made without hands.” Comp. Romans 2:20, “Circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter;” and passages of a similar character in the Old Testament, such as Deuteronomy 10:16, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your hearts;” Deuteronomy 30:6, “The Lord God will circumcise thine heart.” Hence the spirit of St. Stephen’s reproach, “Ye uncircumcised in heart and ears” (Acts 7:51).
Which worship God in the spirit . . .—The true reading here is, who worship by the Spirit of God, the word “worship,” or service, being that which is almost technically applied to the worship of the Israelites as God’s chosen people (Acts 26:7; Romans 9:4; Hebrews 9:1; Hebrews 9:6), and which, with the addition of the epithet “reasonable,” is claimed for the Christian devotion to God in Christ (see Romans 12:1). Such “worship by the Spirit of God” St. Paul describes in detail in Romans 8, especially in Romans 8:26-27.
And rejoice (or rather, glory) in Christ Jesus.—Comp. Romans 15:17, “I have therefore whereof I may glory in the Lord Jesus Christ,” and the Old Testament quotation (from Jeremiah 9:23-24) twice applied to our Lord, “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (1Corinthians 1:31; 2Corinthians 10:17). In Galatians 6:14 we have a still more distinctive expression, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” To glory in Christ is something more than even to believe and to trust in Him; it expresses a deep sense of privilege, both in present thankfulness and in future hope.
In the flesh.—The phrase is used here, as not unfrequently, for the present and visible world, to which we are linked by our flesh (see John 8:15, “to judge after the flesh;” 2Corinthians 5:16, “to know Christ after the flesh,” &c.) We have an equivalent phrase in an earlier passage, which is throughout parallel to this (2Corinthians 11:18), “Many glory after the flesh.” The particular form of expression is probably suggested by the constant reference to the circumcision, which is literally “in the flesh.”
Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;(5, 6) The comparison with the celebrated passage in 2Corinthians 11:18-23 is striking, in respect not only of similarity of substance, but of the change of tone from the indignant and impassioned abruptness of the earlier Epistle to the calm impressiveness of this. The first belongs to the crisis of the struggle, the other to its close. We have also a parallel, though less complete, in Romans 11:1, “I also am an Israelite, of the stock of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.”
(5) Circumcised the eighth day—i.e., a Jew born, not a proselyte.
Of the stock of Israel—i.e., emphatically, a true scion of the covenanted stock, the royal race of the “Prince of God.”
Of the tribe of Benjamin—i.e., the tribe of the first king, whose name the Apostle bore; the tribe to whom belonged the holy city; the one tribe faithful to the house of Judah in the apostasy of the rest.
An Hebrew of the Hebrews.—Properly, a Hebrew descended from Hebrews. The Hebrew Jew, who retained, wherever born, the old tongue, education, and customs of his fathers, held himself superior to the Grecian or Hellenist, who had to assimilate himself, as to the language, so to the thoughts and habits, of the heathen around him. St. Paul united the advantages both of the true Hebrew, brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, and of the Hellenist of Tarsus, familiar with Greek language, literature, and thought. Compare his own words to his countrymen from the steps of the Temple as illustrating the whole passage: “I verily am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous before God . . . and I persecuted this way unto the death” (Acts 22:3-4).
As touching the law, a Pharisee.—Comp. Acts 23:6, “I am a Pharisee, and the son of Pharisees;” and Acts 26:5, “according to the straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.” In these words St. Paul passes from his inherited Judaic privileges, to the intense Judaism of his own personal life.
Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.(6) Concerning zeal, persecuting the church.—The word “zeal” (as in Acts 22:3) is probably used almost technically to describe his adhesion to the principles of the “Zealots,” who, following the example of Phinehas, were for “executing judgment” at once on all heathens as traitors, ready alike to slay or to be slain for the Law. He shows how in this he departed from the teaching of Gamaliel, when he was “exceedingly mad against” the Christians, and “persecuted them even unto strange cities.”
Touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.—The “righteousness in Law,” which our Lord called “the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20), is the righteousness according to rule, in which a man, like the rich young ruler, might think himself “blameless,” and even hope to go beyond it in “counsels of perfection”—not the righteousness according to principle, which can never fulfil or satisfy itself. While St. Paul confined himself to the lower form of righteousness, he could feel himself “blameless;” but when he began to discern this higher righteousness in the Law, then, he felt the terrible condemnation of the Law, on which he dwells so emphatically in Romans 7:7-12.
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.(7) I counted loss . . .—Not merely worthless, but worse than worthless; because preventing the sense of spiritual need and helplessness which should bring to Christ, and so, while “gaining all the world,” tending to the “loss of his own soul.” St. Paul first applies this declaration to the Jewish privilege and dignity of which he had spoken. Then, not content with this, he extends it to “all things” which were his to sacrifice for Christ.
Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,(8) For the excellency of the knowledge.—The word “excellency” is here strictly used to indicate (as in 2Corinthians 3:9-11) that the knowledge of Christ so surpasses all other knowledge, and, indeed, all other blessings whatever, as to make them less nothing. As Chrysostom says here, “When the sun hath appeared, it is loss to sit by a candle.” The light of the candle in the sunlight actually casts a shadow. How that knowledge is gained we learn in Ephesians 3:17-18, “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith: that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may . . . know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.”
Dung.—The word appears to mean “refuse” of any kind. The sense adopted in our version is common. Dr. Lightfoot, however, quotes instances of its use for the fragments from a feast, and remarks on the old derivation of the word from that which is “thrown to dogs,” which, however etymologically questionable, shows the idea attached to the word. This use would suit well enough with the ideas suggested by the retort of the name “dogs” on the Judaisers.
I suffered the loss of all things.—There seems to be here a play on words. These things were (he has said) loss; he suffered the loss of them: and the loss of a loss is a “gain.”
That I may win (properly, gain) Christ, and be found in him.—The line of thought in these two clauses is like that of Galatians 4:9, “Now that ye have known God, or rather are known of God.” The first idea suggested by the context is that of “gaining Christ,” finding Him and laying hold of Him by faith; but this, if taken alone, is unsatisfactory, as resting too much on the action of man. Hence St. Paul adds, and “be found (of God) in Him,” drawn into union with Him by the grace of God, so that we may “dwell in Him, and He in us,” and be “found” abiding in Him in each day of God’s visitation.
And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:(9) Not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law.—This is not the same as “righteousness in the Law,” that is, defined by law. It is a righteousness resulting from the works of the Law (Galatians 2:16), earned by an obedience to the Law, which is “mine own”—“not of grace, but of debt” (Romans 4:4)—such as St. Paul declares (in Romans 10:3-6) to have been blindly sought by Israel, which he there defines as “life by doing the things of the Law.” We have here, and in the following words, a remarkable link of connection with the earlier Epistles of the Judaising controversy, corresponding to Ephesians 2:8-10, but cast more nearly in the ancient mould. Yet it is, after all, only the last echo of the old controversy, which we trace so clearly in the Galatian and Roman Epistles. The battle is now virtually won, and it only needs to complete the victory.
But . . . the righteousness which is of God by (on condition of) faith.—This verse is notable, as describing the true righteousness; first imperfectly, as coming “through faith of Jesus Christ,” a description which discloses to us only its means, and not its origin; next, completely, as “a righteousness coming from God on the sole condition of faith”—faith being here viewed not as the means, but as the condition, of receiving the divine gift (as in Acts 3:16). It may be noted that in the Epistle to the Romans, we have righteousness “through faith,” “from faith,” “of faith;” for there it was needful to bring out in various forms the importance of faith. Here, now that the urgent necessity has passed, we have the stress laid simply on the opposition of the gift of God through Christ to the merit of the works of the Law; and faith occupies a less prominent, though not less indispensable, position. (See Ephesians 2:8-10, and Note thereon.)
That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;(10) Inseparably connected with the possession of this “righteousness of God” is the knowledge of Christ, or more exactly, the gaining the knowledge of Christ (see Philippians 3:8), by conformity both to His suffering and death, and also to His resurrection. This “conformity to the image of Christ” (Romans 8:29-30)—with which compare the having “Christ formed within us” of Galatians 4:19)—is made by St. Paul the substance of the gracious predestination of God, preceding the call, the justification, the glorification, which mark the various epochs of Christian life.
(10, 11) The order of these verses is notable and instructive. (1) First comes the knowledge of “the power of the Resurrection.” What this is we see by examining it as historically the main subject of the first apostolic preaching. There it is considered, as in St. Peter’s first sermons, as giving the earnest of “forgiveness,” or “blotting out of sins,” and the “gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38; Acts 3:13; Acts 3:26), or, as St. Paul expresses it, of “justification from all things” (Acts 13:38-39). This same idea is wrought out fully in his Epistles. Thus, for example, without it (1Corinthians 15:17) “we are still in our sins.” It is the pledge of our justification (Romans 5:1), and the means of our being “alive unto God” (Romans 6:11). Hence “the power,” or efficacy, “of His resurrection” is the justification, and regeneration inseparable from it, which lie at the entrance of Christian life. (2) Next comes the “partaking of His sufferings” and “conformity to His death,” which are the “taking up the cross, and following Him,” in the obedience even unto death. This “fellowship of sufferings,” coming partly from the sin of others, partly from our own, is the constant theme of the New Testament. (See 1Peter 4:13; Romans 8:17; 2Corinthians 1:5; Colossians 1:24; 2Timothy 2:11.) The “conformity to His death” is the completion of the death unto sin, described as “mortification” of sin (Colossians 3:5); “as bearing about in the body the dying (or, properly, mortification) of the Lord Jesus” (2Corinthians 4:10); or more frequently as being “crucified with Christ,” “the world to us and we to the world” (Galatians 2:20; Galatians 5:24; Galatians 6:14). (3) Lastly comes the “attainment to the resurrection of the dead,” properly, “the resurrection from the dead,” which is (see Luke 20:35) the resurrection unto life and the glorification in Him, so nobly described below (Philippians 3:20-21). “If we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:5). For of our resurrection (see 1Corinthians 15:12-23) His resurrection is not only the pledge, but the earnest. Note how in 1Thessalonians 4:14-18, and 1Corinthians 15:51-57, the whole description is only of the resurrection unto life, and compare the first resurrection of Revelation 20:6. This is the completion of all; St. Paul dared not as yet anticipate it with the confidence which hereafter soothed his dying hour (2Timothy 4:7-8).
Philippians 3:12-16 lead us from the warning against trust in human merit to deprecate the supposition of a perfection here attained even in Christ. The transition is natural. The same spirit which shows itself undisguisedly in the one pretension, comes out half-concealed in the other.
Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.(12) Not as though . . .—The tenses are here varied. Not as though I ever yet attained, or have been already made perfect. To “attain,” or receive (probably the prize, see Philippians 3:14), is a single act; “to be perfected” a continuous process. Clearly St. Paul has no belief, either in any indefectible grasp of salvation, or in any attainment of full spiritual perfection on this side of the grave. We may note our Lord’s use of the word “to be perfected” to signify His death (Luke 13:32), and a similar application of the word to Him in Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 5:9; also the use of the words “made perfect” to signify the condition of the glorified (Hebrews 11:40; Hebrews 12:23).
If that I may apprehend that for which also I am (rather, was) apprehended of Christ Jesus.—The metaphor throughout is of the race, in which he, like an eager runner, stretches out continually to “grasp” the prize. But (following out the same line of thought as in Philippians 3:7-8) he is unwilling to lay too much stress on his own exertions, and so breaks in on the metaphor, by the remembrance that he himself was once grasped, at his conversion, by the saving hand of Christ, and so only put in a condition to grasp the prize. The exact translation of the words which we render “that for which,” &c., is doubtful. Our version supplies an object after the verb “apprehend,” whereas the cognate verb “attained” is used absolutely; and the expression as it here stands is rather cumbrous. Perhaps it would be simpler to render “inasmuch as” or “seeing that” (as in Romans 5:12; 2Corinthians 5:4). The hope to apprehend rests on the knowledge that he had been apprehended by One “out of whose hand no man could pluck” him.
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,(13) I count not myself . . .—The “I” is emphatic, evidently in contrast with some of those who thought themselves “perfect.” (See Philippians 3:15.) Not only does St. Paul refuse to count that he has ever yet “attained;” he will not allow that he is yet in a position even to grasp at the prize. (Comp. 1Corinthians 9:27.)
Forgetting those things which are behind . . .—The precept is absolutely general, applying to past blessings, past achievements, even past sins. The ineradicable instinct of hope, which the wisdom of the world (not unreasonably if this life be all) holds to be a delusion, or at best a condescension to weakness, is sanctioned in the gospel as an anticipation of immortality. Accordingly hope is made a rational principle, and is always declared to be, not only a privilege, but a high Christian duty, co-ordinate with faith and love (as in 1Corinthians 13:13; Ephesians 4:4). St. Paul does not scruple to say that, if we have it not, for the next life as well as this, we Christians are “of all men most miserable” (1Corinthians 15:19). Hence past blessing is but an earnest of the future; past achievements of good are stepping-stones to greater things; past sins are viewed in that true repentance which differs from remorse—“the sorrow of this world which worketh death” (2Corinthians 7:10)—in having a sure and certain hope of the final conquest of all sin. The “eternal life” in Christ is a present gift, but one test of its reality in the present is its possession of the promise of the future.
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.(14) The high calling of God.—Properly, the calling which is above—i.e. (much as in Colossians 3:12), “the heavenly calling,”—which is “of God,” proceeding from His will, for “whom He predestinated, them He also called” (Romans 8:30); and is “in Christ Jesus” in virtue of the unity with Him, in which we are at once justified and sanctified.
Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.(15) Perfect.—The word is apparently used with a touch of irony (as perhaps the word “spiritual” in Galatians 6:1), in reference to those who hold themselves “to have already attained, to be already perfect.” It is, indeed, mostly used of such maturity in faith and grace as may be, and ought to be, attained here (Matthew 5:48; 1Corinthians 2:6; 1Corinthians 14:20; Ephesians 4:13; Colossians 1:28; Colossians 4:12; Hebrews 5:14). But, strictly speaking, this life, as St. Paul urges in 1Corinthians 13:10-11, is but childhood, preparing for the full manhood, or “perfection” of the next; and his disclaimer of perfection above suggests that this higher meaning should in this passage be kept in view. The prospect of being “perfect” in indefectible faith or grace is the Christian’s hope; the claim to be already “perfect” is always recurring in various forms—all natural but unwarrantable anticipations of heaven on earth. St. Paul, by a striking paradox, bids those who hold themselves perfect to prove that they are so by a consciousness of imperfection. If they have it not, he says, they have something yet to learn. “God will reveal even this unto them.” The conviction of the Holy Ghost unites inseparably the “conviction of sin” and the “conviction of righteousness.” The “judgment” of absolute decision between them is not yet.
Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.(16) Let us walk . . .—In this verse the last words appear to be an explanatory gloss. The original runs thus: Nevertheless—as to that to which we did attain—let us walk by the same. The word “walk” is always used of pursuing a course deliberately chosen. (See Acts 21:24; Romans 4:12; Galatians 5:25.) The nearest parallel (from which the gloss is partly taken) is Galatians 6:16, “As many as walk by this rule, peace be upon them.” In this passage there seems to be the same double reference which has pervaded all St. Paul’s practical teaching. He is anxious for two things—that they should keep on in one course, and that all should keep on together. In both senses he addresses the “perfect;” he will have them understand that they have attained only one thing—to be in the right path, and that it is for them to continue in it; he also bids them refrain from setting themselves up above “the imperfect;” for the very fact of division would mark them as still “carnal,” mere “babes in Christ” (1Corinthians 3:1-4).
Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.(17-21) In these verses St. Paul turns from the party of Pharisaic perfection to the opposite party of Antinomian profligacy, claiming, no doubt, to walk in the way of Christian liberty which he preached. The co-existence of these two parties was, it may be remarked, a feature of the Gnosticism already beginning to show itself in the Church. He deals with this perversion of liberty into licentiousness in exactly the same spirit as in Romans 6, but with greater brevity; with less of argument and more of grave condemnation. It stands, indeed, he says, self-condemned, by the very fact of our present citizenship in heaven, and our growth towards the future perfection of likeness to Christ in glory.
(17) Followers together of me.—The word is peculiar. It signifies unite in following me. In accordance with the genius of the whole Epistle, St. Paul offers his example as a help not only to rectitude but to unity. For the simple phrase “followers of me,” see 1Corinthians 4:16; 1Corinthians 11:1; 1Thessalonians 1:6; 2Thessalonians 3:9. In 1Corinthians 11:1, a passage dealing with the right restraints of Christian liberty, we have the ground on which the exhortation is based, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” In that consciousness, knowing the peculiar power of example, both for teaching and for encouragement, St. Paul will not allow even humility to prevent his bringing it to bear upon them. Yet even then we note how gladly he escapes from “followers of me” to the “having us for an example.”
(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:(18) Even weeping.—The especial sorrow, we cannot doubt, lay in this, that the Antinomian profligacy sheltered itself under his own preaching of liberty and of the superiority of the Spirit to the Law.
The enemies of the cross of Christ.—Here again (as in the application of the epithet “dogs” in Philippians 3:2) St. Paul seems to retort on those whom he rebuked a name which they may probably have given to their opponents. The Judaising tenets were, indeed, in a true sense, an enmity to that cross, which was “to the Jews a stumbling-block,” because, as St. Paul shows at large in the Galatian and Roman Epistles, they trenched upon faith in the all-sufficient atonement, and so (as he expresses it with startling emphasis) made Christ to “be dead in vain.” But the doctrine of the Cross has two parts, distinct, yet inseparable. There is the cross which He alone bore for us, of which it is our comfort to know that we need only believe in it, and cannot share it. There is also the cross which we are “to take up and follow Him” (Matthew 10:38; Matthew 16:24), in the “fellowship of His sufferings and conformity to His death,” described above (Philippians 3:10-11). St. Paul unites both in the striking passage which closes his Galatian Epistle (Galatians 6:14). He says, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ!” but he adds, “whereby the world is crucified unto me, and I to the world.” Under cover, perhaps, of absolute acceptance of the one form of this great doctrine, the Antinomian party, “continuing in sin that grace might abound,” were, in respect of the other, “enemies of the cross of Christ.”
Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)(19) Whose end is destruction. . . .—The intense severity of this verse is only paralleled by such passages as 2Timothy 2:1-5; 2Peter 2:12-22; Jude 1:4; Jude 1:8; Jude 1:12-13. All express the burning indignation of a true servant of Christ against those who “turn the grace of God into lasciviousness,” and “after escaping the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, are again entangled therein and overcome.”
Whose God is their belly.—A stronger reiteration of Romans 16:18, “They serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly.” Note the emphasis laid on “feasting and rioting” in 2Peter 2:13; Jude 1:12.
Whose glory is in their shame.—As the preceding clause refers chiefly to self-indulgence, so this to impurity. Comp. Ephesians 5:12, “It is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” “To glory in their shame”—to boast, as a mark of spirituality, the unbridled license which is to all pure spirits a shame—is the hopeless condition of the reprobate, who “not only do these things, but have pleasure in those who do them” (Romans 1:32).
Who mind earthly things.—This last phrase, which in itself might seem hardly strong enough for a climax to a passage so terribly emphatic, may perhaps be designed to bring out by contrast the glorious passage which follows. But it clearly marks the opposition between the high pretension to enlightened spirituality and the gross carnal temper which it covers, grovelling (so to speak) on earth, incapable of rising to heaven.
For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:(20) Our conversation.—The original may signify either “our city” or “our citizenship” is in heaven. But both the grammatical form and the ordinary usage of the word (not elsewhere found in the New Testament) point to the former sense; which is also far better accordant with the general wording of the passage. For the word “is” is the emphatic word, which signifies “actually exists”; and the reference to the appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ is obviously suggested by the thought that with it will also come the manifestation of the “Jerusalem which is above . . . the mother of us all” (Galatians 4:26); as in Revelation 21:2, “I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from heaven.” The force of the passage would, however, in either case be much the same. “Their mind is on earth; our country is in heaven,” and to it our affections cling, even during our earthly pilgrimage. It is impossible not to remember the famous words of Plato of his Divine Republic, “In heaven, perhaps, the embodiment of it is stored up for any one who wills to see it, and seeing it, to claim his place therein” (Rep. ix., p. 592B). But the infinite difference between the shadowy republic of the philosopher, to which each has to rise, if he can, by his own spiritual power, and the well-centred “kingdom of God,” is suggested by the very words that follow here. The kingdom is real, because there is a real King, who has given us a place there, who will one day be manifested to take us home. It should be noted that the city is spoken of as ours already. As all the citizens of Philippi, the Roman colony, were citizens of the far distant imperial city, so the Philippian Christians even now were citizens of the better country in heaven. (See Ephesians 2:19.)
We look for.—Properly, we eagerly wait for. The word is a peculiar and striking expression of longing, found also in Romans 8:19; Romans 8:28; Romans 8:25, “The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God” (where see Note).
The Saviour.—The title is emphatic in relation to the hope of perfected salvation which follows. But we note that the use of the word “Saviour” by St. Paul is peculiar to the later Epistles, and especially frequent in the Pastoral Epistles. It is found also again and again in the Second Epistle of Peter.
Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.(21) Who shall change . . .—This passage needs more accurate translation. It should be, who shall change the fashion of the body of our humiliation, to be conformed to the body of His glory. (1) On the difference between “fashion” and “form,” see Philippians 2:7-8. The contrast here signifies that humiliation is but the outward fashion or vesture of the body; the likeness to Christ is, and will be seen to be, its essential and characteristic nature. This “humiliation” marks our condition in this life, as fallen from our true humanity under the bondage of sin and death. The body is not really “vile,” though it is fallen and degraded. (2) “His glory” is His glorified human nature, as it was after the Resurrection, as it is now in His ascended majesty, as it shall be seen at His second coming. What it is and will be we gather from the sublime descriptions of Revelation 1:13-16; Revelation 19:12-16; Revelation 20:11. What is here briefly described as change to conformity with that glory is worked out in 1Corinthians 15:42-44; 1Corinthians 15:53-54, into the contrast between corruption and incorruption, dishonour and glory, weakness and power, the natural (animal) body and the spiritual body. In 2Corinthians 3:18; 2Corinthians 4:16, we read of the beginning of glorification in the spirit here; in 2Corinthians 4:17-18; 2Corinthians 5:1-4, of the completion of “the exceeding weight of glory” in the hereafter, as glorifying also “our house which is in heaven. St. John describes that glorification with brief emphatic solemnity, “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is,” and draws out explicitly the moral which St. Paul here implies, “Every man that hath this hope purifieth himself, even as He is pure.”
According to the working . . .—Properly, in virtue of the effectual working of His power to subject all things to Himself. Comp. Ephesians 1:19; Ephesians 3:7, and Notes there. Here, as there, St. Paul speaks of His power as not dormant or existing in mere capacity, but as energetic in working, unhasting and unresting. Here briefly, as more fully in the celebrated passage of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (1Corinthians 15:24-28) he describes it as “subduing all things unto Himself,” till the consummation of this universal conquest in the Last Judgment and the delivery of “the kingdom to God, even the Father . . . that God may be all in all.” Of that power the primary exhibition, in which He is pleased to delight, is in salvation, gradually preparing His own for heaven; the secondary exhibition, undertaken under a moral necessity, is in retributive judgment. It is of the former only that St. Paul speaks here, as it shall be made perfect in the resurrection unto eternal life.