The Example of Paul (3:4-14)

Despite the subjective element, there is nothing like telling one's own story to silence what are merely arguments on the other side. This is what Paul is now up to; but it is also more. As verse 15-16 make clear (note the crucial verb phroneo, "have this mindset"), he intends his story to be an example for the Philippians to follow, just as he did the story of Christ in 2:5-11. In his case, three crucial matters are being modeled: first, picking up the final clause of verses 3-4a, he sets his former and present life in contrast to what the "evil workers" are trying to achieve (vv. 4b-6[7]); but, second, the middle part (vv. 7-11) reminds us of earlier moments in the letter (especially his "motto" in 1:21 and the story of Christ in 2:6-8), calling us to knowing Christ as our ultimate concern and thus to live cruciform; he concludes, third, by returning to the recurring theme of vigorous pursuit of the final prize (vv. 12-14), which in light of verses 20-21 is an obviously primary concern in this letter as well (see 1:6, 10, 22-23; 2:16).

Thus he tells his (possibly) faltering and (apparently) feuding Philippian sisters and brothers that the future does not lie in embracing the past (vv. 4-6); rather, it lies altogether in knowing Christ now, even as that means knowing "the participation in his sufferings" (vv. 7-11); and such present "knowing" of Christ means that a certain prospect still lies in the future, where also lies the ultimate prize of knowing Christ forever (vv. 12-14).

For many of us, especially those from deeply religious but essentially "observant" backgrounds, this must become our story as well, or the gospel for which Paul eventually gave his life comes to naught. The same is true for the many whose past is not religious but in "the flesh" in the form of every kind of unrighteousness. And we may not choose the parts of the story we like and leave out the rest. For the surpassing [worth] of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, I not only must abandon every attempt to gain an advantage with God on the basis of giftings and achievements. But I must also be prepared to discover anew that truly knowing Christ means simultaneously knowing the power of his resurrection (the part I like) and sharing in his sufferings (the part I like less) so as to be conformed to the likeness of Christ's own death (2:8) and thus to gain the resurrection.

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