This paper has been written by me in the course of my theological studies at European Nazarene College (www.eunc.edu). You may use this text as a part of your work provided that you give credits to its author – Petar Neychev. If you have questions – please, leave a comment or contact me through the Contact Us page.
Sanctification and Christian perfection are the two heavy theology terms that in general lines reflect what Paul is writing about to the Philippian church in chapter 3, verses 10 and 11 of his letter. Well representing Paul’s style, however, this passage does not speak of theology in a commentary style – the same content is there, but it is served to the audience in a much more personal and effective way. A brief discussion on this is what will be presented to the reader in the following lines – what Paul’s message is and why it matters to Christians today.
The short passage on which this paper is focused falls in a significant way in the whole of the letter. Although referred to as a mere “warning against Juzaizers”(1) this passage is a part of the final direct teaching from Paul’s side towards the Philippians, with the exception of a few verses in the beginning of chapter 4.(2) It should not be surprising then that Paul escalates with such a greatness in his argument, with the end being the ultimate purpose for his life. This short passage is so rich of meaning, that it is difficult to select what to discuss and what not, but let us focus mainly on the most important.
The first look at the passage provides us with the observation that within three verses apostle Paul uses twice the root of the verb γινώσκω, which means to know, both times with Jesus Christ being referred to as the subject – in verse 8 and the beginning of verse 10 (another instance can be found in the beginning of the letter – 1:9-11). This would naturally raise the question What does it mean for Paul to know Christ? Moises Silva comments on this question by saying that „Paul appears to define knowing Christ as the believer’s experiencing of Christ’s own death and resurrection“ (Silva 163). He goes on to relate the concept of knowing Christ to the one of being baptized into union with him based on Paul’s writing in Romans 6:3 (Silva 164). Finally, „to know God in the biblical sense is also to be aware of his will and to be willing to obey him“ (Thielman 177).
Having said all this, we can move towards asking the legitimate question What does it take to know Christ? This question first of all leads us to noting the variation in translation of the beginning of verse 10. The modern NIV translates it „I want to know…“, which neglects the connection made so clear in the Greek and represented in NASB – του γνωναι, which means „that I may know“. For Paul it takes considering everything he has had as a profit to him loss for the sake of Christ – ancestral heritage, the covenant-bearing sign of circumcision, training in the Old Testament law… everything he constituted of as a righteous Jew.
This was looking backwards from the passage. Looking forward into the passage, however, brings about three more phrases which are no less complicated. Along with knowing Christ Paul needs to know or experience the power of His resurrection. This δύναμις is first of all what sustains the believers – „the source of power in the lives of believers“ (Hooker 529). Silva reaches the conclusion that Paul actually refers to the spiritual transformation happening with in the believer’s life as they „behold his glory“ (Silva 164). Both interpretations somehow refer to a strong identification with Christ through which this power is experienced.
The importance of clarifying this phrase is revealed when one looks at the next two. Paul adds with an „and“ that the „fellowship of sharing in his sufferings“, as well as „becoming like him in his death“ (Phillipians 3:10, NIV) is also a goal, which subsequently leads to the ultimate aim. Hooker talks about the frist phrase as a requirement for the one before it (Hooker 529), which I do not agree with. The Greek text does not support that with the given sentence structure. Further, the original text does not contain „sharing“. κοινωνία itself carries the meaning of it, but being simply in the fellowship of sufferings is descriptive enough of the level of necessary identification with Christ, as well as of what Christians experience in their life – called to live it in a world which is against them.
Concerning „becoming like him in his death“, I would suggest a relation to v.8b from chapter 2. In the context of this letter, this death does not refer to a physical experience. In the earlier passage of the letter – 2:8 Paul describes what Christ had to become in his death – humble and obedient. I believe this addresses well the notions of disunity among the Philippians. In addition, it makes it clear that without this, the ultimate goal of attaining to the resurrection of Christ is unavailable.
About this ultimate goal commentators have claimed that Paul expresses a specific uncertainty marked by the Greek εἰ πῶς. Knowing that this is clearly Paul’s ultimate goal it is unexpected to hear that he has doubts about it. I agree with Thielman that this uncertainty is more of a prevention for the Philippians from taking God’s mercy for granted, as well as placing God’s role in the process of salvation on a high stand (Thielman 173). Thus it is not to be misinterpreted as a doubt in the attainment of the resurrection from Paul’s side. With this definition of Paul’s ultimate aim, which surely enough lays in the future, our passage concludes, at the same time making a transition to the following one. Not much is necessary to be said as a summary of our brief discussion, but the following sentences can serve as such.
Verses 10 and 11 of chapter three are only a part of Paul’s message on sanctification and Christian perfection. In spite of this, Paul is able to warn his audience that this continuous growth in one’s relationship with Christ cannot take place without a certain price being paid – namely, the price of suffering, as well as dying to oneself for the sake of Christ and others. Paul’s powerful language, however, not only warns the listener of the needed dependency upon God on the way to the final goal, but it also assures them (mind the context of the whole letter, esp. 1:6) of the availability and possibility of getting there. As for the reader today – this passage can only be the highest challenge for humbly and obediently letting oneself to be transformed by the power of Christ distributed through the Spirit in our lives… on daily basis.
Hooker, Morna D., „The Letter to the Philippians,“ in New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 11, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004.
Silva, Moises. Philippians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the NT. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005.
Thielman, Frank. Philippians. NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.
The Holy Bible in the following translations: NIV, NASB, Bulgarian 2001, Textus Receptus Greek New Testament from Stephanus 1550 (e-SWORD), Greek New Testament (Majority Text) (e-SWORD)