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Philippians, Epistle of Joy, part 3

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July 2024 - Philippians, Epistle of Joy, part 3

Issue #432
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Issue #432July 2024

Philippians, Epistle of Joy, part 3

In Phil. 2:24 we read that Paul hoped to travel to Philippi after his trial in Rome. Phil. 2:25-27 continues,

25 But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need, 26 because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27 For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow.

Epaphroditus was part of the Philippian church, and he had been sent to Rome with a generous donation to meet Paul’s needs. We read this later in Phil. 4:18,

18 But I have received everything in full and have an abundance. I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.

Prisons, in those days, provided barely a subsistence level of food, and those who had no friends or family to support them suffered greatly.

Paul calls him “my brother,” rather than “my son,” which seems to indicate that he was about Paul’s age or older. He is also said to be a “fellow worker,” from synergos, a term borrowed from the workshop and stressing comradeship.

Again, Paul calls him a “fellow soldier,” fighting side by side with a common cause in the struggle against the onslaughts of paganism. All in all, Epaphroditus received a good report, though we know little more about him.

The fact that his illness had caused the church distress only added to Paul’s own distress, making it even more necessary to send him back to Philippi as quickly as possible to ease their minds. The word translated “distressed” is from ademoneo, which literally means “not at home,” i.e., “beside oneself.”

Phil. 2:28 continues,

28 Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you.

Paul would have kept his brother with him longer, had the Philippian church not heard that Epaphroditus had been very sick. Phil. 2:29, 30 concludes,

29 Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking [parabolos] his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.

They were exhorted to treat Epaphroditus as a returning hero, not as one who had deserted Paul too early. He had risked his life for the cause of Christ. The term parabolos means “disregarding, venturesome, reckless,” giving the impression that his sickness was caused by overexertion.

In Alexandria, Egypt, there was a group of men called Parabolani, who engaged in heroic deeds such as nursing the sick during epidemics when few dared to approach them. Epaphroditus was certainly their equal in Paul’s eyes.

No Confidence in the Flesh

In the third chapter, Paul seems to have been distracted by another problem, perhaps in his discussion with his brother. It was a very basic problem, perhaps brought about by Jewish believers that they knew. It was built into Jewish religious culture that their biological connection to one of the tribes of Israel set them apart from fellow believers and gave them some advantage not enjoyed by other believers.

Paul had encountered this before and he reprimanded Peter for refusing to eat with Gentile believers.

Paul mentioned this in Gal. 2:11-13,

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For prior to the coming of certain men from James [in Jerusalem], he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. 13 The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.

Peter knew better, having seen with his own eyes how the Spirit had come upon non-Jews. His own testimony to the Jerusalem church is given in Acts 10:34, 35,

34 Opening his mouth, Peter said, I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, 35 but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.

The Holy Spirit then fell once again upon the believers who heard Peter’s testimony. This provided a clear witness that his testimony was true. Acts 10:44 says,

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message.

Nonetheless, Paul was often opposed by these Jewish believers who did not understand that the dividing wall of partition had been torn down by Christ in order to create “one new man” (Eph. 2:14, 15). This dividing wall has been rebuilt in the past two centuries by Christian Zionists who elevate Jews above non-Jews by calling them “God’s chosen people.” Paul says that the “chosen” ones are the remnant of grace (Rom. 11:7), which is based on faith, not on genealogy. So Paul writes in Phil. 3:1-3,

1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circum-cision; 3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.

Paul tells us in Rom. 2:28, 29 that physical circumcision does not make a Jew (i.e., one who praises God). He says also that heart circumcision is what praises God and is what makes a Jew in the sight of God. Genealogy is not a factor, because, for those who are “the true circumcision” are those who “put no confidence in the flesh.”

This is not merely a reference to fleshly circumcision but to anything associated with the old man of flesh which we received through our fleshly parents. As believers having New Covenant faith, we are begotten by God, and as His children, we “worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus.”

Paul’s Fleshly Credentials

Paul explains exactly what he means in Phil. 3:4-6,

4 although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more, 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.

Paul was not asking any Jew to give up anything that he himself had not already discarded. It might have been very different if a Greek had chided the Jews for having confidence in the flesh. But God chose Saul/Paul precisely because he was the epitome of fleshly religion.

For this reason, Paul was opposed and even hated for his revelation of the “one new man” and of the impartiality of God. Phil. 3:7, 8 continues,

7 But whatever things were gain to me [in the past], those things I have counted as loss [zemia, “damage, loss”] for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss [zemia] in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss [zemioo, “to sustain damage or loss”] of all things, and count them but rubbish [skybalon, “excrement from animals, worthless things thrown to the dogs”] so that I may gain Christ.

All of Paul’s early credentials which had given him a good reputation as a Pharisee, was lost when Christ met him on the road to Damascus. Furthermore, Paul came to realize that he had been trusting in things that were damaged and could only be cast aside as worthless.

Therefore, Paul counted those things to be “rubbish,” or “dung” (KJV). Paul could hardly have chosen a word that was more inflammatory to a Jew, who considered those things to be of great value. Religious Jews, both then and today, consider their genealogical heritage to be of paramount importance.

The meaning of skybalon includes things that are not fit for human consumption and which are thrown to the dogs. Perhaps that is why Paul wrote in verse 2, “beware of the dogs,” those who value such things as proper food, when, in fact, they are eating “rubbish.” From Paul’s point of view, Christians should eat from a different menu.

A pastor once told me of a conversation that he once had with a Jew, who told him, “Jesus we can tolerate, but we can’t stand Paul!” Given that there were such sharp words exchanged between Jesus and the religious leaders in the eighth chapter of John, this was an amazing admission.

True Righteousness

Phil. 3:9 says,

9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith…

Paul was not referring to the law itself but to the type of covenant that might result in righteousness. Both covenants involved the law, one being external and the other internal. The Old Covenant would have declared righteous any man who fulfilled his vow of obedience as per Exodus 19:8. The New Covenant, being God’s vow to man, requires God to fulfill His vow or oath. He who makes a vow is the one responsible to keep it.

God’s oath to make us His people (Deut. 29:12, 13) was applied universally to all (Deut. 29:14, 15). If the will of man proved to be a problem, then God should have kept His mouth shut. But we know that God is able to perform what He has promised, and that is the basis of our faith even as it was with Abraham himself (Rom. 4:21, 22).

Those who think that man’s will can override God’s will, or that man’s will is stronger than God’s will, ought to reexamine their faith. We have the authority to become the children of God, says John 1:12, 13, because we “were born [begotten], not of bloodline, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

If we believe that our righteousness is based upon our own will and own decision to follow Christ, then do we not have faith in ourselves? We need to dig deeper and learn the meaning of John 6:44,

44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws [helkuo, “drags”] him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

Hence, anyone who has faith in Christ must recognize that his faith did not originate in his own will. His faith is a response to God’s will. We should never take credit for our faith, lest our faith is found in ourselves and not in God.

Those who believe that they originated their own faith are among those who have a righteousness that is derived from the law, as Paul puts it, because it is modeled after Israel’s vow to God in Exodus 19:8. Our righteousness, on the other hand, is modeled after the Abrahamic covenant and the second covenant in Deut. 29:12, 13. This is later called “a new covenant” in Jer. 31:31.

Hence, all of the Israelites under Moses decided to follow God (the pre-incarnate Christ) and were thus known as “the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38 KJV), but only the remnant of grace actually had the type of faith that produced righteousness.

It may surprise some to learn that both covenants existed side by side prior to the coming of Christ. In fact, Paul says in Gal. 3:17, 18,

17 What I am saying is this: the Law [Law-covenant] which came four hundred and thirty years later [after the covenant with Abraham], does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is based on law [one’s vow of obedience to the law], it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.

What we know today as the New Covenant was ratified by blood 430 years before the Old Covenant under Moses. The Old Covenant was instituted to let us know that it is impossible for righteousness to come through man’s will, no matter how sincere he may be in his vow.

The Old Covenant was designed to fail, due to man’s inability to fulfill what he has promised. God asked men to vow in order to give the flesh the first opportunity to try to attain righteousness, knowing that it would fail. Failure brings humility and forces us to find a better way. We then search the Scriptures and discover the New Covenant path.

Unfortunately, the Jews held standards of righteousness that were lower than God’s standard of perfection. So when Paul listed his fleshly credentials, he stated that “as to the righteousness which is in the Law, [I was] found blameless.”

It is not that he was “blameless” in the sight of God but only in the sight of men.

What Paul Valued Most

Phil. 3:10, 11 says,

10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection [anastasis] and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection [exanastasis] from the dead.

To know Christ, one must have the law written on one’s heart, for this is what aligns one’s nature with His. This is the provision of the New Covenant (Heb. 8:10), which in turn repudiates any confidence in the flesh. If there is any part of the flesh that we think deserves full confidence, we will want to lean on it for righteousness.

The “fellowship of His sufferings” is not so much about outward suffering at the hands of men, but about dying daily (1 Cor. 15:31). Our baptism is a testimony that when He died on the cross, we died with Him as part of His body (Rom. 6:3). This is a legal act, not a physical one. Hence, His death was imputed to us, as if, when He died, we also died. Imputation is where God calls what is not as though it were (Rom. 4:17 KJV).

Paul then says, “that I may attain to the resurrection[exanastasis]from the dead.” Anastasis is resurrection in general. Exanastasis is explained by Dr. Bullinger’s notes as “out-resurrection.” He says it “implies the resurrection of some, the former of these two classes, the others being left behind.”

In other words, it is the resurrection of the few but not all of the dead. Therefore, it is not the resurrection described in Rev. 20:12, which says,

12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne…

This is the resurrection that includes all of the dead. No one is left behind. Yet John speaks of an earlier resurrection in Rev. 20:6,

6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection… they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.

The first resurrection includes only those who will reign with Christ during the millennium. No unbelievers are included in this resurrection. Hence, this is the exanastasis, the resurrection of some, the rest being left behind to be raised 1000 years later.

Most Christians miss the fact that not all believers will attain to this exanastasis. Jesus spoke of a resurrection that will include both believers and unbelievers (John 5:28, 29). Paul affirms this in his testimony before Felix, speaking of “a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous” (Acts 24:15).

Hence, Paul’s great desire was to be among the few believers who are raised in the first resurrection, those who will receive immortality 1000 years before the unbelievers and the rest of the church. It appears that this hope is tied to one’s refusal to have confidence in the flesh.

Phil. 3:13, 14 continues,

13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward [ano, “high, above, top”] call of God in Christ Jesus.

The “top” calling is to achieve the first resurrection, which gives an overcomer the right to reign with Christ during the Tabernacles Age (millennium). These will receive immortality 1000 years before the rest of the church.


Phil. 3:15-17 says,

15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect [teleios, “mature”], have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. 17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.

Those who are spiritually mature are to be examples for others to follow, knowing that not all have yet received the same level of revelation.

Phil. 3:18, 19 says,

18 For many walk of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.

There are many bad examples, those “who set their minds on earthly things,” whose confidence is in the flesh.

Phil. 3:20, 21 concludes,

20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

We are citizens of God’s Kingdom, whose origin is in heaven, where our confidence and loyalty lies. It has been coming to earth gradually over the ages, but the main event is the second coming of Christ. The transformation of our body into “the body of His glory” is the goal and purpose of the feast of Tabernacles. He will subject all to Himself.