Philippians - Lesson 8

By Curt Niccum

Philippians 3:1-11


  1. The class will identify things the world esteems of value that have lost all meaning to Christians.
  2. The class will relate the ideas Paul expresses in 3:7-11 to the Christ hymn found at 2:6-11.


  1. Bibles for every student.
  2. Blackboard, overhead, or sheets of paper for making lists in the Application section of the lesson.
  3. If devotional period is desired, you may need songbooks and to designate people for singing, praying, and scripture reading.


Confidence in one's worldly achievements can offer no avenue for eternal progress; only the righteousness which comes from Christ accompanied by a life conformed to the cross can. 

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class

Devotional Period (5 minutes)

  1. Read Philippians 3:1-11
  2. Sing up to two songs. (The following are suggested tunes.)
    1. I Want to Know Christ
    2. Heaven Holds All to Me
    3. Lead Me to Calvary
  3. Prayer (some appropriate subjects for prayer are listed below)
    1. To identify what the more important things are
    2. To focus on storing treasure in heaven, not here on earth
    3. To know Christ better, not just his resurrection, but also the crucifixion

Introduction (10 minutes)

  1. Call the roll or have someone check it. (It is very important to know who is present so someone can check on those who are absent.) Introduce and welcome visitors, take prayer requests, and make any necessary announcements.
  2. Introduce chapter 3.
    1. In Philippians 3:1 it sounds like Paul draws his letter to a close. Although the word "finally” often suggests that in Paul's letters, it need not do so. Still, there seems to be good reason for suggesting that Paul was heading in that direction as the same words appear in chapter 4 (verses 4 and 8).
    2. It might be helpful to remember that Paul did not write his own letters (except for a paragraph or two at the end), but he dictated them. It is sometimes helpful to picture him pacing back and forth as he tries to word a message of encouragement. Such an environment probably explains his frequent jumps and mixed metaphors. (This ‘jump” in Philippians would be similar to what we find in Ephesians 3 where Paul begins a prayer [3:1], decides to include one more argument [3:2-13], and then Paul begins the prayer again [3:14]).
    3. Thus, as Paul begins to close the letter to the Philippians, his concern about the safety of their congregation causes him to include one more argument as to why it is so important for the Christians in Philippi to resolve their issues.
      1. Note to the teacher: The distinct change in tone between 3:1 and 3:2 has produced a number of different theories that students may be familiar with. The information in the sections below identified by lower case roman numerals is for dealing with specific questions that might be raised. Generally, such questions will not be beneficial for the class as a whole and should be avoided.
      2. Most biblical scholars suggest that Philippians is a composite letter made up of two or more different letters written by Paul. This is certainly a possibility, for such things were done in ancient times. On the other hand, this view, I believe, stems from reading a problem with Judaizers into the third chapter. Not every text about Judaism in the New Testament refers to Judaizers. Paul's reference to his Jewish status makes sense within a letter focusing on "citizenship.” Although Paul is both Jewish and Roman, he takes the heritage in which he has the highest standing (Jewish) and shows how he can regard it all as rubbish. I do not see a problem with Judaizers here. Paul focuses on national heritage (which in his case is Judaism) to make a point in a city (and presumably a church) where the idea of "citizenship” carries so much weight. Furthermore, the inclusio concerning heavenly citizenship found in 1:27 and 3:20 would be lost if Philippians were a composite work.
      3. Some scholars have suggested that Paul digresses for some reason. Perhaps he stopped writing the letter for a period of time, and returning to the task, decided a warning about Judaizers needed to be included. This makes better sense in taking the letter as a whole, but still fails to recognize that Judaizers are mentioned neither here nor elsewhere in the letter. iv. The interpretation proposed below appears best suited to the immediate context and the context of the letter as a whole, although it is not without its own problems.
    4. This lesson presumes that Paul, a) worried about the direction that this relationship problem in the church could ultimately go and b) triggered by his own words about the church's "safety,” decided to make one, last, impassioned appeal in order to move the church towards reconciliation. It is indeed likely that the argument between the two Christian women in the congregation was related to physical heritage. This would explain Paul's choice of theme (citizenship) and fit very well with what we know of the Philippian church (see Acts 16:11-40). Thus this "aside” in chapter 3 becomes even more pertinent as Paul personally reveals how worthless such worldly claims are.

Learning Experiences (20 minutes)

  1. Paul's language definitely takes a different tone in verse 2. The question is, though, is it really Paul's language?
    1. Note to the teacher: Caution is again suggested. What of the following information needs to be passed on to the class should be determined ahead of time. The different scholarly views on this passage might not contribute to a healthy understanding of the text or assist the class in making application. The interpretation offered in this lesson stands at odds with most of biblical scholarship, but appears to best explain a consistent message throughout the letter. As the teacher, you may, of course, choose to follow a different interpretation.
    2. Most scholars assume that Paul calls Judaizing opponents names in verse 2. Although Paul can at times be rather scathing in his language about others (as in Galatians), the letter lacks evidence of a major doctrinal problem and any presence of Judaizers. The tone of this letter is friendly throughout.
    3. Might it be possible instead that Paul is quoting the Philippians' own language? Epaphroditus could have informed Paul of some of the things that Christians in Philippi were saying about each other. Here are reasons for suggesting this is the case:
      1. Paul quotes the sayings of others elsewhere. In 1 Corinthians, for example, Paul seems to quote a number of slogans used by the Corinthian Christians with which he does not agree. (No punctuation was used in ancient Greek manuscripts. Therefore, where quotations begin and end is sometimes difficult for translators to determine, especially in letters. Most punctuation is the choice of the translator.)
      2. Of greater importance is the warning to "beware of the dogs.” Even those who assume that Paul refers to Judaizers here can find no evidence that Jews ever called other Jews "dogs.” In fact, the evidence strongly points to "dog” as a Jewish derogatory term for a Gentile.
        1. In other words, Paul would never have used this term to address Judaizers. (One might question whether he would have used the term at all.)
        2. Thus Judaizers cannot be the concern of Paul in the third chapter. Nor does any reason exist to posit Paul's opposition to a certain group of Gentiles. Within the letter and from our knowledge of the church's beginning related in the Book of Act, though, a church split along racial lines makes plenty of sense.
    4. Instead of Paul attacking his opponents, Paul quotes the Christians' own unchristian words. Christians from a Jewish background were calling the Roman Christians "dogs.” The Christians having a Roman background were making a play on words by identifying their Jewish brothers as the "concision” (i.e., mutilation) rather than the "circumcision.” Beginning with their own words Paul argues that there is no citizenship or heritage that matters other than that which comes through Jesus Christ.
  2. In verse 3 Paul draws the natural conclusion. Whereas Jews formerly could use their heritage to boast of a special standing with God, something the Romans could not do, the standing of Jews and Romans before God now hinges upon serving God and boasting in Christ.
  3. This leads Paul to use himself again as an example.
    1. Have the class read verses 5 and 6. Q: About what earthly achievements could Paul boast? A: Circumcised when eight days old (thus not a proselyte). He was an Israelite (thus not a child of proselytes). He was of the tribe of Benjamin (thus of one of the "better” Jewish tribes). He was the greatest Hebrew as the further points prove. (Hebrew of Hebrews means "greatest Hebrew” as Holy of Holies means "holiest place” and Song of Songs means "greatest song.”) Paul is the greatest Hebrew in terms of the Law (a Pharisee), of zeal (a persecutor), and righteousness (blameless in the Law).
    2. Q: How do these characteristics differ from those Paul attributed to Timothy and Epaphroditus in chapter two? A: Paul boasts about things that he accomplished for himself, not things he has done for others. When describing Timothy and Epaphroditus, he focuses on their total devotion to Christ and to others, focusing on what they have given up for others, not what they have attained for themselves.
    3. Q: What things might people want to boast about today? (This was part of last week's assignment.) A: Hopefully the class will be prepared with a number of different answers. Among these should be income, education, make of automobile, and achievements in sports or business. Make sure, though, that religious achievements (like becoming an elder or baptizing the most people) are included since Paul also includes those.
    4. Have the class read verses 7 through 9. Q: How does Paul view the great achievements of his earlier life? A: They are worthless and trash (literally "excrement”). Q: With what does he want to replace his accomplish-ments? A: With the accomplishments of Christ: God's righteousness and Christ's faithfulness rather than his own.
  4. This leads Paul to explain that being found in Christ is fully knowing Christ. This requires participation not only in the joy of his resurrection but the joy of his suffering as well (3:10-11).
    1. Q: What parallels in the pattern presented in 3:10-11 do you also see in 2:6-11? A: Exaltation follows humiliation. Glory follows crucifixion.
    2. Paul notes also that he still hopes to attain the resurrection of the dead. Q: Does this indicate that Paul is unsure of his own salvation? A: No. Paul simply has not been resurrected yet. At the same time, remember that salvation for Paul is a process. Salvation is "being conformed to his death” on a daily basis in the making of every decision.
  5. Considering the background of the Philippian church. It seems, then, that Paul uses his own remarkable background to point to the foolishness of boasting in human achievement and heritage before the Lord. As part of a final argument, Paul appeals again to the life of the cross as the ultimate solution. "Thinking” any other way can have dire consequences, as Paul will make clear in the verses that follow. Although the Philippians' problem seems minor, the worldly thinking that motivates it could lead to more significant problems if the church fails to imitate Christ.

Application (10 minutes)

  1. The road to healthy relationships is paved with self-sacrifice. Q: How much of Paul's own self did he sacrifice? A: Everything. Q: When it comes down to it, what does Paul boast about now that he has come to know Christ? A: He boasts in everything Christ has done for him. If pushed to real boasting, he boasts in his weaknesses (see 2 Corinthians 11:16-33)
  2. Our relationships with each other can be broken for a number of different reasons. Have the class list a number of these. At the top of the list, or perhaps the underlying reason for the entire list, will be selfishness or pride. You might have the class also list phrases that people use when fighting each other that demonstrate each item on the list. (Sometimes it is easy to list characteristics without identifying oneself with them. Hearing the words, though, might help some recognize their own complicity in breaking relationships.)
  3. Even if pride or selfishness did not create the break, it often sustains it. "I was not at fault.” "I am not going to say, ‘I am sorry,' until s/he says it first.”
  4. Clearly, whatever could stand in the way of two people loving and caring for each other was destroyed by the cross. Every claim to superiority, to rights, to privileges was removed at Christ's death and the very act of baptism attests to this.
  5. Close by reading Galatians 3:26-28.

Assignment (1 minute) 1. Each class member should read 3:12-16.

Back to Philippians

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.