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Philippians 3:9-12

[…] and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith.

10 My goal is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, 11 assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.

12 Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.

The Original Intent

1) What is the difference between righteousness from the law and righteousness through faith in Christ? (verse 9)

In Philippians 3:9, Paul expressed the desire to “be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith.

If anyone knew about righteousness from the law it was Paul, who studied the law of Moses and knew all the Lord’s commandments by heart. (Philippians 3:4-6) He understood better than most that keeping all the laws and commandments is impossible and could not make him righteous. (Romans 8:3)

Even with Paul’s knowledge and strict adherence to the law, he discovered, “There is certainly no one righteous on the earth who does good and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20) Righteousness from the law is based on what one does, the rules one keeps, and the steps one follows. It is based on adhering strictly to the commands and absolutely never failing. Paul understood “Our Creator revealed the Mosaic law to remind us that righteousness before Him demands perfection; to show us that sinners cannot meet this standard; and to make us long for a sinless Messiah who can keep the Law perfectly in our place.” (Ligonier.org)

Righteousness based on faith in God relies on the purity and perfection of Jesus Christ, not on anything a person can accomplish. Jesus became the spotless sacrifice for our sins (1 Peter 1:19) making a way for all who believe in Him to be blameless in His sight, washed of their sins by the Blood of the Lamb of God (Revelation 5:9). We don’t need to strive to become righteous because the work of Jesus on the cross cleanses us from all sin, making us righteous! (2 Corinthians 5:21)

The Everyday Application

1) What is the difference between righteousness from the law and righteousness through faith in Christ? (verse 9)

While planning my wedding, my mother and I tried to save some money by making the wedding veil ourselves. We thought it looked pretty good, so we brought it with us dress shopping. When the bridal attendant brought out a beautiful veil to go with the dress I selected, I started to get our veil out of its bag, but my mother stopped me.

Beholding the satin and lace grandeur of the bridal shop headpiece made it abundantly clear we could not come anywhere close to the quality of a professionally produced veil, despite our best efforts and good intentions. My endeavors to be righteous by following the law on my own turn out pretty much the same way, underwhelming and far short of perfection.

The apostle Paul found this to be true of himself in Philippians 3:9, where he said he wanted to be found in Christ, not “having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith.” Paul understood “no one alive is righteous in [God’s] sight.” (Psalm 143:2) Doing our best to fulfill all the requirements of the law will not work, because no one is able to keep all the commands without sinning.

Author F.B. Meyer asserts, “However zealous they may be in going about to establish their own righteousness, [people] discover that what has seemed a white and flawless robe is only as filthy rags, in the searching light of the great white throne.” Our standard of good is simply not acceptable to a Holy God. (Romans 3:23) This is why Jesus came to take our place, so He could present us blameless to His Father, having taken our sin upon Himself. (Colossians 1:22)

The Original Intent

2) What is the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings? (verse 10)

In Philippians 3:10, Paul claims he wants to know Jesus and the fellowship of His sufferings. Paul wanted to be like Christ in every way, even in how He suffered. Albert Barnes claims Paul “felt that it was an honor to live as he did; to evince the spirit that he did, and to suffer in the same manner. All that Christ did and suffered was glorious in his view, and he wished in all things to resemble him.”

To know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings is to suffer for the cause of Christ just as He suffered for us to bring us salvation. When you are persecuted for your faith, belittled for your belief in God, or face loss because of your love for God, you are participating in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. Author Sinclair Ferguson argues that suffering as a Christian is “related both to the fact that we are so profoundly counter-cultural in our lifestyle, and also to the fact that the gospel has sensitized us to the horror that sin affects in the world.”

We suffer because we live in a sinful world, but our suffering can be amplified because of our love for Jesus. Author Andrew Murray suggests, “The sufferings of believers are as indispensable as are those of Christ. They are to be borne in the same spirit. They are the means of fellowship with Him, and conformity to His image.”

The fellowship of His suffering works the characteristics of Christ in us. We learn His humility, love, forgiveness and patience when we encounter the same kind of suffering He experienced. (Romans 5:3-5) It is a blessing to know that even our suffering can be redeemed by God to make us more like Him while also spreading the gospel! (Philippians 1:12-14)

The Everyday Application

2) What is the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings? (verse 10)
Though many lessons from my Psychology 101 class baffled me, at least one rang true. The course taught that a group of people who experience something difficult together will become strongly bonded over that experience. They come away with deep, close relationships, causing them to view the difficulty in an overall positive light because of the bonds created.

Paul probably experienced something similar in what he described as the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings in Philippians 3:10. Paul was no stranger to suffering. He endured many hardships, including beating, stoning, shipwreck and imprisonment, because of His faith in Jesus. (2 Corinthians 11:25) Author John Eadie explains that Paul “longed so to suffer, for such fellowship gave him assimilation to his Lord, as he drank of His cup, and was baptized with His baptism. It brought him into communion with Christ, purer, closer, and tenderer than simple service for Him could have achieved.”

For Paul, it was an honor to suffer as Christ suffered. It brought him closer to Jesus and closer to being like Jesus. The Apostle Paul “implies that this cross bearing . . . this acceptance of affliction of any sort as for and from Him, is a deep secret of entrance into spiritual intimacy with Christ. (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges) If it brought him closer to Christ, Paul embraced it and its power to change him. He also knew that he was not alone in his suffering—God was always with him. (Deuteronomy 31:8)

Ann Voskamp writes, God “enters into whatever pit that is — and He offers Himself as the road under you, the arms holding you, the comfort around you, the courage within you […].” When we experience the fellowship of His sufferings, it is blessed assurance to know He is always with us.

The Original Intent

3) What does it mean for Paul to assume he will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead? (verse 11)

Paul tells the Philippians his “goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11) Theologians debate whether Paul is talking about a literal resurrection from the dead if he is not alive when Jesus returns, or whether Paul references a spiritual resurrection, fully living out the resurrection life of Christ. (Steven Cole)

Author James Burton Coffman argues for the literal interpretation, citing Paul’s discussion about resurrection in Romans 6:5 saying that Paul desired to be like Jesus in every way possible, knowing Him as fully as He can be known. (Philippians 3:8) Given this, it makes sense that Paul would hope to identify with Christ even in resurrection from the dead. David Guzik suggests Paul “did long mightily for the completion of his salvation through the resurrection of his body. It was something that he had not yet attained and longed for.”

Paul did not know if he would die before the return of Christ or still be on earth when Jesus returned, making it unclear if he would be dead so he could be resurrected. “Paul did not know if he would gain his resurrection body at the final judgment . . . or by being alive when the Savior returned. But he did know that the righteousness imputed to him by faith in Christ alone guaranteed that resurrection would be his.” (Ligonier.org)

Paul hoped to experience resurrection from the dead to identify more fully with his Savior, but he knew that alive or dead, he would be changed at the return of Christ! (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)

The Everyday Application

3) What does it mean for Paul to assume he will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead? (verse 11)

When my daughter was little, she went through a phase where she wanted to do everything that I did. If I sat down to pay bills, she sat across from me and used statement pages and envelopes to “pay” her own bills. If I volunteered at church, she would get up early to assist me as I prepped classes and materials for Sunday school teachers. She wanted to be like me, and that meant mimicking my actions.

In his quest to be like Jesus, Paul worked diligently to do everything he could to imitate Christ. This wasn’t to earn righteousness, of course, but out of love and desire to be like the One who rescued him from sin and death! Paul endeavored with all that was within him “to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)

Paul wasn’t just interested in the fun, exciting, enjoyable activities of Jesus. He was willing even to conform to His death, including resurrection, to have the full experience of knowing Jesus. He knew he would be with Jesus at the second coming either way (1 Thessalonians 4:17), but he hoped it would be as one resurrected from the dead so he could identify more closely with his Savior.

Lord, may we have the fervor and zeal of Paul to become more and more like You every day!

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