Philippians 3:1-16 – Paul’s Personal Journey of Faith


Philippians 3:1-16


Paul ranks everything in his life, both successes and failures, as inferior to “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:8).


In this text, Paul is concerned with the foundational issue of where people put their confidence or faith; on what values do they base their lives? 

Paul first instructs the Philippians to beware of those who place their confidence “in the flesh,” that is, in physical pedigrees and practices divorced from spiritual matters. Paul views human life in holistic (not dualistic) terms, integrating physical, psychological, and spiritual elements. As in other letters (especially Galatians), Paul is particularly concerned that some teachers overemphasize the importance of circumcision, to the point of trying to impose this Jewish ritual on Gentile believers. Though he affirms this ancient practice for Jews as a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham’s descendants (see Genesis 17)—noting that he himself had been “circumcised on the eighth day” (3:5)—he strongly resists making this practice a requirement for Gentiles’ salvation. He even resorts to crude, sarcastic denunciation of those who insist on circumcising Gentiles, calling them wild “dogs . . . who mutilate the flesh!” (3:2). 

But Paul also engages in self-criticism. He knows well what it means “to be confident in the flesh” from his own experiences not only of circumcision but also membership in “the people of Israel,” righteous obedience to the law as a Pharisee, and zealous opposition to “the church” of Jesus Christ (3:4‒6)—all good things done in good faith, except for persecuting the church. But good or bad, all these things Paul now considers “loss,” “rubbish” even, compared to “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:7‒8). All claims to self-righteousness crumble in the face of the higher righteousness “that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God based on faith” (3:9). Such righteousness generates from the faith/faithfulness of Christ in his life, death, and resurrection. 

Even after believing in Christ and faithfully preaching the gospel of Christ, Paul makes no pretense of perfection. He confesses that he still has a long way to go to fulfill Christ’s purpose for his life. Imagining himself running a long-distance race, Paul strains to set aside his checkered past and “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:12‒14). He also urges the Philippian believers to have this same mindset as they run their own life-race, persistently moving forward, making progress, even as we “hold fast to what we have attained” (3:16).