Christ: The Source of All Righteousness


Philippians three speaks to one thing: The necessity of trusting Christ, because he alone is the source of righteousness, is the message of Philippians Three.  Righteousness cannot be earned it comes through faith alone in Christ alone: moreover, it does not grant us a license to Sin:  But inspires to follow the example of others who are more mature in the faith as they follow Christ so we follow them in desiring Christ to become more like Christ.

Do not trust in things of the flesh (1-6)

Paul begins this chapter by seeking to encourage his Christian brothers and sisters to rejoice in the Lord; which is the general theme of the letter.  Paul goes on to remind them of certain practices and rebukes them of others, so they can know Christ more.  A dramatic shift in tone occurs in verse two, leading some to speculate that verses 2-11 are a fragment of another letter.  However, Walter Hanson notes that Philippians contains several sections where Paul contrasts positive and negative examples (those preaching because they love Paul, those motivated out of selfish gain (1:15-17); citizens of heaven, their opponents (1:27-28); those who follow Christ’s example, those who live as opponents to the gospel (3:17-21))[1].  Paul’s three negative imperatives: ‘beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, and beware of those who mutilate the flesh!’ (NRSV) should be viewed against the positive imperatives of 2:29-3:1 ‘Welcome him [Epaphroditus] in the Lord with all joy, honour such people, rejoice in the Lord’ (NRSV). It was the negative imperatives that would affect the Philippian church’s ability to put Christ above all, and pursue the goal of being made more in the likeness of Christ through imitating Paul and the examples others have set[2].

Paul’s desire for the church at Philippi to maintain a proper understanding of righteousness sees him use himself as the ultimate example.  In the following verses of this section he offers his spiritual autobiography[3]: that if confidence was to be found only in the flesh, then he had all confidence. Paul had previously stated that those opposing him were ‘dogs’[4] of which he could be considered the ultimate, such was his previous life of trying to earn righteousness under the law.  This is not dogs in the western sense – pets – but animals that were unclean and not wanted[5] making this a deep insult to their attitude of trusting in the flesh. By his own example, Paul shows that true righteousness transcends and is found when Christ is known supremely above all else[6].  First Paul lists four factors beyond his control; ‘circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews’[7].  In today’s western society, success has to be earned, but in first century Holy Lands; family lines and heritage played a considerable part in standing and righteousness[8].  Johnson also notes that Paul mentions his circumcision first because this was probably the ritual being imposed[9] on the Gentile Christians[10]. Pauls shows that his birthright makes him equal to any Jew, then progresses to show his commitment to the law and persecution of the church, how he went above and beyond necessity to earn righteousness. Paul for a moment places himself on the same standing as these dogs and then removes himself from it ‘because he discovered through his encounter with the living Christ that nothing he received by way of heritage, nor by way of human achievement can be the means of life nor the grounds of his righteousness before God’[11].  Paul’s listing of different merits in his own life builds to the conclusion between verses 7-11 that no trust can be placed in the things of this world, and everything compared to a deep knowledge of Christ leads to loss.

Trust in Christ (7-11)

Using a trading metaphor, he declares that everything outlined in v1-6 is counted as loss. Such is the strength of Paul’s thinking and language that ‘garbage’[12] could have a stronger translation: it is that ‘all things past are now assessed as crap’[13]. Paul’s thinking is infused with the supremacy of an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ that means the seven previous listed attributes and anything else that can be dragged up by those who would mutulate are insignificant when compared to knowing Christ intimately.  It was for this sake that Paul ‘discarded’ (3:8 NLT) all previous attempts to earn righteousness; so that he could gain more of Christ.  Paul seeks to affirm to the Church at Philippi that righteousness is received through trust in Christ and not the flesh; that to do this we must be willing to count everything as loss not once, but a continued consideration of counting everything as loss[14].

In v10-11 Paul starts to paint a picture of what a personal knowledge of Christ look’s like in the life of a Christian. It is the ‘power of the risen Christ as it becomes a subject of practical knowledge and power in Paul’s inner life’[15] the reality of why he counted everything as loss; knowing Christ and his resurrection power.  Paul ‘does not have in mind a mere intellectual knowledge about Christ’[16] rather a personal encounter ‘that inaugurates a special intimacy with Christ that is life-changing and on-going’[17]. It is that personal encounter that allows us to understand the resurrection not simply as an occurrence after death but ‘as present continuously active force in his christian development’[18] The reality for a 1st Century Christian was that to count all things as loss when compared to Christ was being willing to face the same treatment[19] as Christ. ‘Becoming like him [Christ] in his death’ is an instruction to trust God, and a reminder that God/Christ is soverign over all things. It is the same power that raised Christ from the dead, that gives the Christian the power to become more in Christ’s Image.

Righteousness that inspires (12-16)

The imagery used here by Paul regarding the Christian life, is one of an athlete preparing to run a race: a journey moving forward towards a goal, and was probably inspired by Paul’s surroundings, writing from prison in Rome, where the Olympic Games would have taken place. A real understanding of the sovereignty of Christ will give us the fuel to start the race and keep running because we have confidence in the victory already assured by Christ[20].  In running this race, the Philippian Christians are in essence following the example set by Paul, responding to the righteousness of Christ and becoming made more in his image.  Never becoming complacent in our pursuit because we have an assurance of it[21], but pursuing it because it is the goal ‘that will only be reached at the resurrection’[22].  Three times Paul seeks to remind the Philippians that even he has not achieved the goal – the end of the race.  There are three rational thoughts as to what the ‘goal’ is: God calling people to heaven; reward for obeying the call of God or simply the imagery of reward for an athlete finishing the race[23].  Christ may be too great to be fully grasped in a single lifetime[24], but it is this vastness and implausibility that should motivate Christians to seek more knowledge of him.  Whatever the exact nature of ‘goal’, its imperative to all Christians is clear: to follow the example set by Paul and others in running the race and to allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and make us more in the image of Christ, not trying to earn righteousness (legalism) or become lazy (antinomianism).

Becoming the Image of Christ (17-21)

The closing section of this passage paints a contrast between two types of person; those who bear the image of Christ and those who bear the image of their own desires[25]. The imperative command to imitate can be considered two ways: either to imitate Paul[26] or Christ[27]. Both are essentially true in that Paul follows Christ’s example, reminding Christians of the importance of the example Godly leaders must set.  A command to imitate Paul is a command to become more Christ-like. The exhortation to imitate is enhanced by the contrast presented in verses 18-19[28], being those who seem to live a life selfishly; whose lives are governed by pride, arrogance and indulgence[29].  Paul shows his concern as a pastor knowing that it is hard to imitate an absent role model, and suggests they ‘observe those who live according to the example you have in us’ (v17b NRSV).  All this is motivated by a desire to see Christ take his rightful place in their lives. The image of those living a life of indulgence, opposed to the gospel is contrasted in the final verses,  where Paul points the gaze towards the things of heaven. While a life of indulgence will end in destruction; a life where Christ is soverign will by His power ‘transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body’(v21).  Those who ‘share the mind of Christ may confidently expect to share his victory because they are already citizens of heaven.’[30]


Philippians three is a passage that speaks about the place Jesus should occupy in the life of a Christian. Paul seeks to warn those who would place their trust in the things of the flesh, so subtracting from the sovereign work of Christ in granting righteousness. Applying his own life examples, Paul seeks to remind any believer that righteousness cannot be earned but is granted by the triune God.  For us today this means striving every day to place Christ above all else in our lives; not trusting in modern idolatry (legalism) – looks, jobs, status, power or influence – so that we, like Paul, can arrive at a place where everything will seem like rubbish compared to the beauty of Christ.  The assurance of righteousness we have will fuel us to run the race, forsaking all and never looking back, as we follow the example of those who went before us and seek to become more like Christ, not giving into our desires because we are fooled that grace gives free merit (antinomianism). Philippians three calls us to be like Paul, obsessed with Jesus and becoming more like him, so that others might too. Lastly it also calls us to be mindful of those who lead us, those who we model our lives on.  Are they living a life that is faithful to Scriptures, faithful to Christ and his people, Do they live with the love of Christ? If they do then follow their example, if they don’t then as you press on for the prize of which you have already obtained pray that God would give you those to run with who are worthy of following.


Hansen, G Walter. The Letter to the Philippians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

Hawthorne, Gerald F. Philippians: Word Biblical Commentary.  Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1993.

Hooker, Morna D. “The Letter to the Philippiansin The New Interpreters Bible: A Commentary in 12 Volumes – Volume XI. Nashville, USA: Abingdon, 2000.

Johnson, Dennis E. Philippians: Reformed Expository Commentary.  Philipsburg, New Jersey: P&R publishing Company. 2013

Thielman, Frank.  Philippians: The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995.

Reumann, John. Philippians: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary a New Translation with Commentary. New Haven, America/ London England: Yale University Press, 2008.

[1] G Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 216

[2] Philippians 3:12,16

[3] Philippians 3:4-7

[4] Philippians 3:2

[5] Frank Thielman, Philippians: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995), 167

[6] Philippians 3:7,8 – When he considered all things as lose for when compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ

[7] Philippian’s 3:4-7

[8] Dennis E. Johnson, Philippians: Reformed Expository Commentary (Philipsburg, New Jersey: P&R publishing Company, 2013), 193

[9] Philippians 3:2-3 – Paul talks about mutilating, then being the circumcision because they worship in spirit would lend to this thought.  That they were seeking to add onto the work of Christ, which subtracts from it.

[10] Johnson, Philippians, 193

[11] Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians: Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1993), 131

[12] Verse 8, NIV

[13] John Reumann, Philippians: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary a New Translation with Commentary ( New Haven, America, London England: Yale University Press, 2008), 516

[14] Hawthorne, Word Biblical, 136

[15] Rev Marvin R Vincent, eds Rev Samuel Rolles Driver & The Rev Alred Plummer and The Rev Charles Augustus Briggs, The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments:  Philippians and Philemon (London, England: T&T Clarke, 1897), 104

[16] Hawthorne, Philippians – Word Biblical, 143

[17] ibid.

[18] Vincent, International Critical, 104

[19] See John 15:18-21

[20] Johnson, Philippians, 210

[21] Morna D. Hooker, “The Letter to the Philippians”, in The New Interpreters Bible: A Commentary in 12 Volumes – Volume XI (Nashville, USA: Abingdon, 2000), 532

[22] Hooker, Letter to Philippians, 532

[23] Hooker, Letter to Philippians, 533

[24] Hawthorne, Philippians – Word Biblical, 149

[25] See Philippians 3:

[26] Hooker, Letter to Philippians, 535

[27] Hawthorne, Philippians – Word Biblical, 160

[28] Vincent, International Critical, 116

[29] Hooker, Letter to Philippians, 535

[30] Hooker, Letter to Philippians, 535

1 comment

  1. Hi Andrew, is “crap” a NI translation? Like your conclusion, our eyes should always be focused on Jesus and strive to imitate him. Well done bro. Ian


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