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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – The Future of Those Who Do (3:20-21)
The Future of Those Who Do (3:20-21)

Besides serving as Paul's immediate response to the "many" who "walk" contrary to the Pauline pattern, this sentence concludes the long exhortation that began in 3:1, returning to the theme of the eschatological prize (vv. 12-14) by underscoring its certainty. Whatever the current threat was, and whatever its source, Paul has apparently sensed an ebb in the Philippians' eschatological anticipation, a matter he has spoken to throughout the letter. At the same time, by picking up the play on their dual citizenship (cf. 1:27), plus the final affirmation that our Savior (a common title for the emperor) is the one who will also bring everything under his control, Paul puts their present situation—opposition in Philippi resulting in suffering—into divine perspective. All of this is said in a sentence that rises to extraordinary christological heights: not only is Christ the focus and center of everything, but his activities here are those ordinarily attributed to God the Father in Pauline salvation texts.

All kinds of contrasts mark the sentence: the inclusive we (cf. 3:3, 15-16) over against "them"; heaven over against earthly things; a glorious future over against destruction; and true glory over against the shame they glory in. Paul begins by emphasizing that our citizenship is in heaven, thus offering the ultimate reason for following his example and for looking out for others who do so as well (v. 17), while at the same time returning to the wordplay on citizenship from 1:27. In a classic expression of the "already/not yet" framework of his theology, Paul says in effect that "we are a colony of heaven" as we live the life of the future, our true homeland, while living presently in the Roman colony of Philippi.

Because heaven is our true homeland, we eagerly await our Savior from there, he goes on—in yet one more play on their Roman citizenship and clear attempt to encourage them in their present suffering. The primary title for the Roman emperor was "lord and savior"; Paul now puts those two words side by side: our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, who will not only transform our present humiliation into glory but do this in keeping with the power that enables him to bring everything under his control (including the Roman lord and savior, Nero Caesar!). All of this to reassure the Philippians that the heavenly prize is absolutely worth pursuing (vv. 12-14).

Now, however, instead of thinking about "attaining to the resurrection" (v. 11), Paul thinks in terms of Christ's return. The net result is the same. Our present earthly existence is expressed in terms of (literally) "the body of our [present] humble station" (NIV lowly bodies, same word as in 2:3 and 8), which for many of us is a constant reminder of our creatureliness. These Christ will transform so that they are (again literally) "conformed [symmorphon; cf. symmorphizomenos in 3:10] to the body of his glory." Therefore, just as knowing Christ now means being conformed into the likeness of his death (v. 10), so in our final glory we will be conformed into the likeness of his resurrection.

Christ's present existence is bodily in the sense of 1 Corinthians 15, that the body is the point of continuity between the present and the future. The form of that body is the point of discontinuity—a "mystery," Paul says—but adapted to the final life of the Spirit; hence it is a "supernatural body," or as here, "the body of his [present] glory." The good new is that the same future awaits those who are his, which is Paul's present concern. Our current lot, he has argued in 1:29-30 (cf. 2:17), is to suffer for Christ's sake. But we can "rejoice in the Lord" in the midst of such suffering (2:18; 3:1; 4:4) because our suffering itself is enabled by "the power of his resurrection" (3:10), which resurrection at the same time guarantees our certain future. Hence in our present "humiliation" we await the coming of the Savior, and with that coming the transformation of our humiliation into the likeness of his glory.

Moreover, the power by which Christ will bring about this transformation is "in keeping with [NIV by] the working" that enables him "also to subject all things to himself" (NIV to bring everything under his control). In some ways this is the most remarkable transformation of all, in that Paul here uses language about Christ that he elsewhere uses only of God the Father. The phrase "able to subject all things to himself" is Paul's eschatological interpretation of Psalm 8:7, where God will "subject all things" to his Messiah, who in turn, according to 1 Corinthians 15:28, will turn over all things to God the Father so that "God might be all and in all." Remarkably, in the present passage the subjecting of all things to himself is said to be by Christ's own power.

The little word "also" has unfortunately been omitted from many English translations, including the NIV. Here is the final word of assurance to the Philippians. By the same power by which he will transform their present bodies that are suffering at the hand of opposition in Philippi, Christ will likewise subject "all things" to himself, including the emperor and all those who in his name are causing the Philippians to suffer. As Paul has already said in 1:28, their own salvation from God will at the same time result in the destruction of the opposition.

It simply cannot be put any better than that. This passage reminds us that despite appearances often to the contrary, God is in control, that our salvation is not just for today but forever, that Christ is coming again, and that at his coming we inherit the final glory that belongs to Christ alone—and to those who are his. It means the final subjugation of all the "powers" to him as well, especially those responsible for the present affliction of God's people. With Paul we would do well not merely to await the end but eagerly to press on toward the goal, since the final prize is but the consummation of what God has already accomplished through the death and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.

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