The prize, 3:4-11


The particular passage before us is part of a larger section where Paul warns the church about false teachers, 3:1-21. Unlike the members of the circumcision party who continually trouble the church with their work-based piety, Paul has willingly abandoned his reliance on law-obedience to access the fullness of God's promised new life, and now looks to God's grace in Christ, and this through faith.

The passage

v4. Having warned the Philippians to keep clear of the "mutilators of the flesh" (members of the circumcision party, law-bound believers), Paul points out that if anyone has the right to claim any status in the presence of God it is he himself.

v5-6. Paul goes on to detail the quality of his legalistic righteousness: his race (Israel), religion (temple worship), law-obedience, ritual and legal purity (Pharisaic traditions).

v7. Yet, Paul states that he regards his religious purity, encapsulated in his obedience to the law, as nothing and this because of his association with Christ. He regards this "confidence in the flesh", v4, as mere refuse/valueless, for the sake of Christ.

v8. In fact, as a believer, Paul regards "everything" of little value in comparison with the far greater worth, the supreme advantage, of knowing Christ - "knowing" in the sense of understanding and experiencing him. It is not just his religious purity that Paul regards as refuse, but "even of esteem and friendship and enjoyment and rest and relations", Greijdanus. Paul casts away everything, because first of all, to gain Christ is of far greater value.

v9. Paul sets aside his self-righteous purity because, to be found in Christ is of far greater value. He is happy to throw "everything" away and rely on the righteousness that is his in Christ - the right-standing that is his before God because of his union with Christ through faith.

v10-11. To be found in Christ is to know Christ, to experience an intimate association with him. We experience this knowing of Christ in the following terms: First, through his power - we experience the power that raised Christ from the dead, a power that aids us in our struggle with the realm of darkness; Second, through participation in Christ's suffering on our behalf - we experience forgiveness of sins. Paul then expands the idea of a believers identification with Christ in the terms of dying with him, "becoming like him in his death, and rising with him, "attaining to the resurrection of the dead." It is this identification with Christ's death and resurrection that gives us our eternal hope.


1. What should we consider lost for the sake of Christ?

2. What is the righteousness that comes by grace through faith, and what is the righteousness that comes from the law?

3. What does it mean to "know" Christ?

4. In what way is the "power of Christ's resurrection" operative in our lives?

5. In what way does the suffering of Christ affect us?

The gift of surpassing greatness

All I want is to know Christ in the power that is evident in his resurrection.

When Tony Hancock, the English comedian, came to Australia, it was the end of the road for a brilliant man. He took his life in a motel room and left a note to all those who loved him; "things seem to go wrong too many times". He had reached the end. He could never surpass his brilliant pieces like the "Radio Ham"; it was all downhill from there. Life seems to have this shape to it. We all have a moment of beauty, of brilliance, and from this height we slip into regret. Yet, for a believer, there is a different perspective to life. Regret but reminds us of a brilliance which is eternal in its realization; a brilliance found in knowing Christ.

What a wonderful word is "know". The Bible often uses it of the marriage relationship where "a man knows his wife." Is it not amazing that we are to see our relationship with Christ in the terms of such an intimate union? Since "God is love" we know him in his love for us, a love which is expressed in mercy. So, we strive to know Jesus in his forgiveness, and we respond toward this grace in repentance and faith. The intimacy of our union with Christ is something we have yet to experience in its fullness, yet even now we can taste of his love, and so we pant after it as a deer pants after streams of fresh water.

1. Knowing Christ in his death

We know Christ when we participate in his death. We have died with Christ. Our old life is hid with him, on the cross, on the tree. Our sinfulness is no longer counted against us by God; the curse of sin no longer hangs over us. God no longer sees the stains of our sin when we are hidden in Christ.

2. Knowing Christ in his resurrection power

We know Christ in the power that raised him to life. So many in the church today seek power: power to heal, power to witness, power to work miracles. Yet, the power we must seek is the power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, renewing and enlivening our very beings. We have risen with Christ, and as we look to our risen Lord, so his life-giving power gives life to our mortal bodies, life now and eternal - we begin to live a Christ-like life, we begin our eternal journey.


Let us, like Paul, long to know Christ, accessing the power of his resurrection, sharing the benefits of his suffering.

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