The Expository Files




“No Contest”

Philippians 3:1-11



Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—  though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

I’ve looked at this passage for many years and have always thought, first, of this simple point: There is value in review. “To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” Paul didn’t consider it a problem to repeat what he had said or written before. Review has spiritual value. We need to hear, over and over, the truth of the gospel of Christ. For most Christians, sermons and classes have a strong element of review. It should not provoke either criticism or boredom. We need it. Faith is enriched, principles confirmed and motivation enhanced when we go over and over the truth of God. There is value in review.


The rest of this passage conveys one primary point: Look out for the bad guys, who aggressively advance a fleshly Judaistic religion.” Paul says, “I was like that once. I share their ground of boasting. But, I gave all that up to know Christ and serve Him.” It was no contest.


Evildoers, false teachers, were aggressively seeking to recruit Christians to their ill-conceived cause (a heavy hand of legalistic Judaism, imposed on Christians).  Their actions included their claim that they were the true Jews, the real people of God who had authentic access to God. Their boasting – their religious resume – Paul could identify with.


But Paul was not holding tightly to that resume. He had rejected it. His Jewish background was not his ground of boasting nor his evangelistic story.


“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ … to be found in Him … that I may know Him and share in His suffering.” etc.


Paul could boast like the evildoers, but he had given all that vanity up – “for the sake of Christ.” To form a relationship with God through Christ was far more important to Paul than boasting about his Jewish background.


I think D.A. Carson had it right:


“Here, then, Paul exposes his fundamental values. On one side stands everything the world has to offer, including the privileged world of learned and disciplined Judaism. On the other side stands Jesus Christ and ‘the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.’ Paul insists that there is no contest; Jesus and the righteousness from God that Jesus secures are incomparably better.


We should pause a moment to reflect on why Paul would make this judgment. The word ‘righteousness’ could equally be rendered ‘justification,’ and often is. Despite the criticisms voiced by some scholars, in Paul’s letters the word regularly means that God on account of the death of his Son declares certain people ‘just’ or ‘righteous.’ Paul quickly and allusively makes three points about this ‘justification’ or ‘righteousness’:


 It ‘comes from God’; that is, it is God’s gift, secured because God sent his own Son to die for sinners.


It is ‘by faith’; that is, it is secured ‘through faith in Christ.’ The means of receiving it is faith, and the object of that faith is Christ.


This ‘righteousness’ from God is set over against whatever Paul could achieve on his own by observing the law, over against, as he puts it, ‘a righteousness of my own that comes from the law’ (3:9).

D.A. Carson

Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians


  By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 23.6; June 2016