Sunday School Lesson for October 5, 2003
Background Passage: Philippians 3:1-21
Focal Teaching Passage: Philippians 3:7-14; 20-21
Paul’s Past Life (3:7-8)
In this passage Paul spoke openly about his relationship to his Lord and Savior and, specifically, his determination to serve Him faithfully as a true minister of the gospel in contrast to those described as "evil workers" and "false circumcision" (3:3). While the normal tendency, albeit sinful, was to boast about past accomplishments and to locate one’s "confidence in the flesh" (3:4), Paul’s all-consuming passion was "to worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus" alone (3:3). In order to be faithful to the One who had saved him by grace, apart from the works of the Law, Paul "counted as loss," or reckoned as worthless, the numerous and impressive accomplishments of his past life (3:5-6). Not one of these achievements brought him closer to his goal—the knowledge of Christ.
The goal for which the apostle vigorously labored and sacrificed is identified here as "the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." This seems to be synonymous with his desire to "gain Christ." For Paul, the knowledge of Christ was the ultimate privilege. His use of this concept was probably based upon his understanding of the Old Testament’s many emphatic declaration’s regarding the knowledge of Yahweh (see for example Prov. 2:5; Is. 11:9; Hos. 6:6). Such intimate and personal knowledge of the Triune God, mediated through Jesus Christ, was an infinitely higher privilege than any past blessing or accomplishment Paul had ever experienced. The contrast between the knowledge of Christ and the combined total of all of his past achievements—those things he once considered "gain" (v. 7)—was so radical that Paul could only speak of them as "rubbish" (a rather indelicate term literally meaning refuse or dung). The premium he placed on the knowledge of his Savior was also reflected in the fact that he had, for Christ’s sake, "suffered the loss of all things."
Paul’s Future Hope (3:9-14, 20-21)
Having described his attitude toward his past life, the apostle turned to address his future hope in Christ. It is clear that the things he so fervently hoped to experience in relationship with his Lord supplied a powerful motivation to be faithful as a servant. Paul employed several important phrases that helped to articulate his future expectations:
Paul’s hope for the future is further reflected in these final verses of the chapter where he reminded his Philippian friends that the believer’s true "citizenship is in heaven" and not on earth (v. 20). Christians, then, are "resident aliens who dwell temporarily in a foreign country, but have their citizenship in heaven" [Martin, 161]. While Paul had previously taught that all believers are to be busily engaged in the service of God’s kingdom, they do so while "eagerly" awaiting "a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." When He returns, the Lord will bring about a radical transformation of the physical bodies of all those who are in Christ. The "humble state," or sin-ravaged bodies of believers, will at this time be brought "into conformity with the body of His glory" (see 1 Cor. 15:50-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). This change, according to Paul, will be brought about by nothing less than the very power of the Sovereign Lord who rules "all things."
Major Themes for Reflection and Application
One: "Where your treasure is . . . ." Paul’s words in 3:7-8 compel us to honestly examine what it is that we love most. What is the one thing that you value you more than anything else? For the follower of Christ, there is only one appropriate answer.
Two: Hope and holiness—Notice how Paul’s hope for the Second Advent and the resurrection of the body serves as an incentive to faithfulness and holiness. Rather than leading to laziness, the certainty of Christ’s return fosters determination and zeal in the service of God.
Three: Striving and running—Reflect on the fact that Paul depicts the Christian life as an athletic event requiring whole-hearted effort. How does this challenge modern notions of the Christian experience?