Learning How to Count (Philippians 3:1-11)

philippians 3.7Circumstances and people can rob us of joy, but so can things; and it is this “thief” that Paul deals with in Philippians 3. It is easy for us to get wrapped up in “things,” not only the tangible things we can see, but also the intangibles; such as, reputation, fame, and achievement. Jesus warns us that our lives do not consist in the abundance of things we possess (Lk. 12:15). Quantity is no assurance of quality. Many people who have the things money can buy have lost the things money cannot buy. We can be snared by both tangibles and intangibles, and as a result lose our joy.

The key word in Philippians 3:1–11 is count (vv. 7–8). It means to evaluate and assess. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” said Socrates. Yet, few people sit down to weigh seriously the values that control their decisions and directions. Many people are slaves of “things” and as a result do not experience real Christian joy.

In Paul’s case, the “things” he was living for before he knew Christ seemed to be very commendable: a righteous life, obedience to the Law, and the defense of the religion of his fathers. But none of these things satisfied him or gave him acceptance with God.

Like most “religious” people today, Paul had enough morality to keep him out of trouble, but not enough righteousness to get him into heaven! It was not bad things that kept Paul away from Jesus—it was good things! He had to lose his “religion” to find salvation.

One day, Saul of Tarsus, the rabbi, met Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and on that day Saul’s values changed (Acts 9:1–31). When Saul (now Paul) opened his books to evaluate his wealth, he discovered that apart from Jesus Christ, everything he lived for was rubbish. He explains in this section there are only two kinds of righteousness (or spiritual wealth)—works righteousness and faith righteousness—and only faith righteousness is acceptable to God.

Works Righteousness (Phil. 3:1–6)

1. The exhortation (vv. 1–3)

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things ‘again’ is no trouble to me and it is a safeguard for you. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the ‘true’ circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.

Paul has warned the believers at Philippi before, but now he warns them again. To whom is he referring in this warning? Paul is referring to a group of false teachers called “Judaizers”. He uses three terms to describe them.

Dogs. The orthodox Jew would call the Gentile a “dog,” but here Paul calls orthodox Jews “dogs”! These Judaizers snapped at Paul’s heels and followed him from place to place “barking” their false doctrines. They were troublemakers and carriers of dangerous infection.

Evil workers. These men taught the sinner was saved by faith plus good works, especially the works of the Law. But Ephesians 2:8–10 and Titus 3:3–7 make it clear that nobody can be saved by doing good works, even religious works. A Christian’s good works are the result of his faith, not the basis for his salvation.

The false circumcision. The Judaizers taught circumcision was essential to salvation (Acts 15:1; Gal. 6:12–18), but Paul states circumcision of itself is only a mutilation! The true Christian has experienced a spiritual circumcision in Christ (Col. 2:11) and does not need any fleshly operations. Circumcision, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, tithing, or any other religious practice cannot save a person from his sins. Only faith in Jesus Christ can do that.

In contrast to these false Christians, Paul describes true Christians, the “true circumcision” (see Rom. 2:25–29 for a parallel).

He worships God in the Spirit. He does not depend on his own good works which are only of the flesh (Jn. 4:19–24).

He glories (boasts) in Jesus Christ. People who depend on religion are usually boasting about what they have done. The true Christian has nothing of which to boast (Eph. 2:8–10). His boast is only in Christ! In Luke 18:9–14, Jesus gives a parable that describes these two opposite attitudes.

He has no confidence in the flesh. The popular religious philosophy of today is, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” It was also popular in Paul’s day, but it is just as wrong today as it was then. By “the flesh,” Paul means “the old nature” that we received at birth. The Bible has nothing good to say about “flesh,” and yet most people depend entirely on what they themselves can do to please God. Flesh only corrupts God’s way on earth (Gen. 6:12). It profits nothing as far as spiritual life is concerned (Jn. 6:63). It has nothing good in it (Rom. 7:18). No wonder we should put no confidence in the flesh!

A lady was arguing with her pastor about this matter of faith and works. “I think that getting to heaven is like rowing a boat,” she said. “One oar is faith and the other is works. If you use both, you get there. If you use only one, you go around in circles.”

‘’There is only one thing wrong with your illustration,” replied the pastor. “Nobody is going to heaven in a rowboat!”

There is only one “good work” that takes the sinner to heaven: the finished work of Jesus on the cross (Jn. 17:1–4; 19:30; Heb. 10:11–14).

2. The example (vv. 4–6)

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, blameless.

Paul was not speaking from an ivory tower; he personally knew the futility of trying to attain salvation by means of good works. As a young student, he had sat at the feet of Gamaliel, the great rabbi (Acts 22:3). His career as a Jewish religious leader was a promising one (Gal. 1:13–14) and yet Paul gave it all up—to become a hated member of the “Christian sect” and a preacher of the Gospel! Actually, the Judaizers were compromising in order to avoid persecution (Gal. 6:12–13), while Paul was being true to Christ’s message of grace and as a result was suffering persecution. In this intensely autobiographical section, Paul examines his own life. He becomes an “auditor” who opens the books to see what wealth he has and he discovers that he is bankrupt!

At this point we might ask: “How could a sincere man like Saul of Tarsus (Paul) be so wrong?” The answer is: he was using the wrong measuring stick! Like the rich young ruler (Mk. 10:17–22) and the Pharisee in Christ’s parable (Lk. 18:10–14), Saul of Tarsus was looking at the outside and not the inside. He was comparing himself with standards set by men, not by God. As far as obeying outwardly the demands of the Law, he was a success, but he did not stop to consider the inward sins he was committing. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes it clear there are sinful attitudes and appetites as well as sinful actions (Matt. 5:21–48).

When he looked at himself or looked at others, Saul of Tarsus considered himself to be righteous. But one day he saw himself as compared with Jesus Christ! It was then that he changed his evaluations and values, and abandoned “works righteousness” for the righteousness of Jesus Christ. In Part 2, we will take a closer look at this “faith righteousness” in verses 7-11.



  1. Well said! I’ve been reading this week in Philippians about how Paul found his joy in the midst of bad circumstances and didn’t count his accomplishments as anything compared to what Christ did for him. How we need that perspective!

  2. It can be so tempting to start weighing and measuring my “fruit” in order to assure myself I belong to Christ. And it only leads to either despair over not being good enough or pride that I’m “better” than someone else.
    Thank you for this reminder to look away from myself and to Christ instead.

  3. Thank you Pastor Joe and yes I agree with you, Carnal works won’t get us to Heaven as some claim, like those who teach Sinless Perfection and fear they will loose their Salvation if they don’t do enough of them. Yes we are to aim to be perfected in Love as God asks us to do and Paul shows us how to do by putting our Carnal flesh to death as we choose to walk in the Fruit The Spirit by His empowering but no matter how many worldly works we do, only heart repentance shows that we believe that Jesus alone is the only one who can save us from the punishment for our past sins and we rejoice also because He sets us free so we don’t sin, having been Born again of God’s seed or Nature.

    John 8:34-36 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

    1 John 3:9 No one who is Born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been Born of God.

    As you shared Pastor Joe we will show we are saved because Faith without works is dead. (James 2:18) we are also told to examine ourselves to see if Jesus Christ is in us (see below ) and if so we will show we are righteous because Jesus is and He is in us and we have His mind and so choose to do good and not evil. (1Corinthians 2:9-16)

    2 Corinthians 13:4-6 Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates.(KJV)

    1John 3: 7 Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous.

    Galatians 2: 20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who Loved me, and gave Himself for me.(KJV)

    God tells us He us prepared in advance good works for us to do but first we are to be fit to do them as shown in the Scripture below and we can’t do this by pumping up the Carnal flesh and forcing it to conform and measure up instead it must be put to death, purged completely. (Romans 8 :12-15-Colossians 3:4-6 -Galatians 5:24 -26)

    2 Timothy 2:19-21 Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And let every one that nameth the Name of Christ depart from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver but also of wood and of earth and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use and prepared unto every good work.

    2 Timothy 3 16 -17 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

    Christian Love in our Unity in Christ Jesus.

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