Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

I Press On

I Press On

God cares more about the eternal well-being of souls than social pleasantries. It makes sense, then, that at the beginning of Philippians chapter three, Paul’s praise for faithful Christian coworkers (2:19-30) is followed by a swift rebuke to those teaching error (3:2-3). Like any good teacher, Paul is not afraid of repetition and review and he never tires of reminding those he loves of God’s familiar truths (3:1). Barclay observed that one of mankind’s biggest faults is the desire for novelty, yet the truth of the gospel does not change or evolve, and heeding such truths is a very useful safeguard. Such letters today must also be a safeguard for us. I know personally that a verse in Scripture has often acted like a guardrail for me and has kept me on track. On a practical level, we need to greatly appreciate such safeguards for the world has always contained “evil workers” (3:2), people who would intentionally or ignorantly lead us into error (2 Peter 2:1ff).

“I might have confidence in the flesh”: 3:4

In this verse, confidence in the flesh is not referring to confidence in sinful things, but rather confidence in such things as ancestry or pedigree.  Paul’s says that if you want to compare pedigree, or things like an education, he had an excellent list that few could top (3:5-6). No one could question the quality of his Jewish education, zeal for the Law of Moses or sincerity in observing its requirements, and yet as we read on, we will see the emptiness of such.

“But whatever things were gain to me”: 3:7

At one time in his life, Paul cherished all such attainments and was very satisfied with the goals he had achieved in Judaism. He was very contented with his Jewish life and extremely proud of the above attainments, right up until the time that he encountered Jesus.

“Those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  More than that, I count all things to be loss”: 3:8

When Paul said that he considered such earthly attainments to be “rubbish”, “scraps”, “trash” or “dung” (3:8), he is, of course, speaking by way of comparison. A good education in the Law of Moses was important, as was growing up in a Jewish home, thus being taught the Old Law from an early age (Romans 3:1; 2 Timothy 3:15). What Paul is saying is that such attainments without Christ are without value, in fact, any earthly prize without Christ is garbage. 


Observe that without Jesus — Paul’s zeal and sincerity were useless. Many people today want to pronounce as saved the zealous and sincere person who has a faith, but their faith is not in Jesus. This chapter makes it clear that great accomplishments and sacrifices outside of Jesus amount to nothing. Having a relationship with Jesus trumps everything! This is the reason why Paul was so willing to give up prestige and position in Judaism because such things did not mean anything apart from Christ. So he was willing to suffer the loss of all things — in order to be right with Christ (3:8). He let go of the temporal blessing to take hold of the eternal.

“And may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law” (3:9):   

Paul had been viewed by others as a very faithful adherent to the Law of Moses (3:6) and no one had been able to find fault with his example, yet he knew that while such had provided him with prestige and a good reputation, it had not resulted in his salvation. Only the blood of Jesus could remove his sins. Once again observe that sincerity and a fervent zeal for God — apart from trust and obedience to Jesus did not save him.

“The righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith”: 3:9

The context mentions a specific kind of faith, that is, faith in Christ (3:9). Certainly faith in some other religious leader or founder does not save. The faith under consideration is always a faith that obeys Christ:

  • “Let us keep living by the same standard to which we have attained” (3:16).
  • “Join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (3:17)
  • In addition, there is a warning against false teachers (3:2; 3:18-19).

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on”: 3:12

When Paul speaks of not being “perfect” what is he referring to?

  • First and foremost, the condition leading up to perfection is not a state of ongoing sin. Paul is obviously not saying, “Seeing I am not perfect — I must be sinning all the time, or I must be sinning in ways of which I am not aware”. This same writer exhorted Christians to have nothing to do with sin, “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you” (Ephesians 5:3). In this same letter he had said, “so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:10). “So that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent children of God above reproach” (2:15).   
  • Secondly, neither is Paul saying that since he is not perfect, he must be involved in some sort of doctrinal error.  For Paul who talks of not yet being perfect also condemned doctrinal error as did other biblical writers who obviously had not reached perfection (2 John 9; Revelation 22:18-19). In addition, in a number or passages the error that is condemned is not an entire collection of errors, but rather one deviation from the truth. For example, in 2 Timothy 2:17 the talk that will spread like gangrene, in which men have gone astray from the truth, is the specific error that the resurrection has already taken place. In the book of Galatians, the error that produced another gospel that did not save, was the specific addition of one practice, circumcision in order to gain favor with God (Galatians 1:6-9; 5:4). If the insertion of one practice from the Law of Moses into the gospel, created a completely different message and if those who spread that message were called “false brethren” (Galatians 2:4), how much more religious groups whose existence depends upon holding to an entire collection of false doctrines.

Neither is Paul saying that since he had not reached perfection that grace would automatically cover others in sin. In the book of Revelation the grace of Jesus did not cover people who had left their first love, or were lukewarm or who tolerated false doctrine among them (2:4; 2:20, 15; 3:16). Jesus did not call out the church in Ephesus as having left their first love and then excuse everyone else after that. The sins in Ephesus did not justify the sins in other congregations. I never find God, Jesus or the apostles making the argument that the imperfections in other Christians means that we are excused for not repenting of our own sins.

What is Perfection?

By the time this letter is written Paul had been a Christian for many years, probably over 30, and yet he had not reached a spiritual impasse nor did he cease growing and maturing. For example, the Thessalonians were doing a great job of loving each other, yet Paul tells them to abound even more (1 Thess. 4:10). Paul is not saying that there are essential doctrines yet to be discovered, for Paul had earlier said that he preached the whole counsel of God (Acts 20;27),  rather he is saying there is always room for personal growth in the life of the faithful Christian. The contrast is not between sin/error and perfection, but rather between “better” and “best”. In like manner, I may have known the truth for years (1 Timothy 2:4),  but I can always become more skilled at presenting it.

“Forgetting What Lies Behind”: 3:13

  • Paul refused to retire and rest on past accomplishments or stop at a certain level of spiritual growth.
  • He also refused to trust in things that could not save him, such as the attainments of 3:5.
  • He refused to allow the guilt of the past to hold him back (3:6). He did not hide behind the excuse, “I can’t make it because of what I did in the past”, rather he valued God’s forgiveness and worked with his whole heart for Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:9-10). We would do well to do the same.

I Press On: 3:12; 13-15

Like a runner that is straining for the finish line, Paul seeks to become the best Christian possible, and he exhorts all Christians to have the same attitude. Christians run against the winds of peer pressure and our own destructive fleshly desires. God counsels us to fix our eyes on Jesus, take every thought captive to obedience and run life's race with endurance so that we can, at the end of this life, be "more than conquerors."

Mark Dunagan  |
Beaverton Church of Christ  |  503-644-9017