The Text

Philippians 3:2-11 NKJV

2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship [a]God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, 4 though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. 7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain[b] to the resurrection from the dead.


I am going to be preaching on the text of Philippians 3: 2-11. It is in one of the prison epistles which Paul wrote. It is the book of Philippians. This was therefore written in the time which he served in Rome around A. D. 62. So while I was preparing my sermon, I was telling myself to read the passage as a part of a letter that a Christian leader in the first century had written to a church that he planted in the area of Philippi. We must keep this in mind because the tone of a person writing a letter will help us get to the bottom of what Paul is trying to convey in the passage we have taken.

But before going into the text, I would like to explore the general themes that Paul has penned in his letter to the Philippians. There are four chapters in the book. In the first chapter, Paul begins with a greeting to the church and then speaks of his confidence in them, that they will walk worthy of the call of the gospel. He also encourages them in this regard not to be distressed in trials but to persevere through them. In the second chapter, Paul takes the focus of the Philippians to the example of Jesus Christ and asks them to follow the same example in His humility and obedience to God. Then Timothy and Epaphroditus are also praised, that they would also be sent to the Philippian church to take care of their spiritual well-being for Paul trusts these two men.

In the third chapter, Paul warns the Philippians of those false teachers and Judaizers who put their trust in the flesh rather than in Jesus Christ. He writes about such kind of teachers who are the enemies of Christ and reminds the Philippians that they do not belong to such groups. In the fourth chapter, Paul proceeds to give a few instructions to the church, to also maintain unity in the Lord. As Paul ends the letter, he thanks and praises the church on their giving and that such sacrifices are pleasing to God. So the letter is written to the Philippian church by Paul to commend them on their good standing in the gospel and to encourage them to press on looking at the upward call of God. With this kind of a concern, Paul is writing to us today the passage of Philippians 3: 2-11.

The Warning of Paul

The text begins in verse 2 where Paul starts with a warning. He says, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!” The word ‘beware’ has been used three times which means to say that this warning is really really important. Living in the 21st century wouldn’t help us at once to get what Paul is saying because he is actually writing about a group of false teachers called as the Judaizers who in the first century distorted the message of the gospel. They taught that the gospel of Jesus Christ must be believed along with an obedience to the old covenant. This is not to say that we disregard the Old Covenant completely because of Jesus Christ (like not obeying the Ten Commandments). We fulfil it through Jesus Christ.

But for the false teachers, all of the parts of the old covenant should still be kept, specifically in the passage referring to the rite of circumcision. One must not only believe that Jesus Christ has paid the penalty for his sins but also now learn to obey what God had commanded to the Israelites in the old covenant. This meant that the Gentiles who had heard the gospel were asked to be circumcised to be able to receive salvation from God in Jesus Christ.

Here is where Paul jumps in with the warning. He directs the warning to the Philippian church which had a mix of Jews and Gentiles against such kinds of teachers. He does not want the church to listen to their teaching nor promote its audience. The words used like ‘dogs,’ ‘evil workers,’ and ‘mutilation’ suggest that these false teachers are not from God. They are the enemies of God and they are from the Devil. So it is important for us to be able to see through this false teaching clearly that we may discern what is true and right and rebuke the false teachers of today likewise.

The True Circumcision of the Philippian Church

In verse 3, Paul identifies the Philippian church as “the circumcision.” This is the way of Paul to say that the Judaizers who see that they are the circumcised according to the Law of Moses, that is, circumcision being the sign of being chosen to be the people of God, are not the true circumcision. Instead, Paul reminds the Philippian church that they are the true circumcision. He explains it saying that those who are truly circumcised “worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” This is a way of encouragement to the Philippian church.

Even if they had been looked down upon by the false teachers of the day or rebuked by them that they are not going to be saved but be thrown into the pits of Hell, Paul looks at the church to say that they are the true circumcision, not the ones who worship God based on their performance of keeping the Law (for by the Law no one can be saved but condemned; Romans 3). The Philippian church came to receive the gospel, trusted in its message, and rejoiced in the finished work of Jesus Christ for their salvation, not going back to work themselves up through their flesh to be found justified in the sight of God. The heart of man is corrupted in the nature of sin which cannot please God. It’s like believing in a broken system that does not work.

Paul’s Confidence in the Flesh

Paul in talking about who the Philippian church is and who the false teachers are turns to himself in verse 4. The context shows us that he is warning the church to stay away from those who put confidence in the flesh. But in verse 4 he turns to talk of his own confidence in the flesh to make the church know that he is not talking as if he doesn’t know what putting confidence in the flesh would look like. He not only knows the teaching of the false teachers. He has also lived it which is what he explains to us in the following verses (v. 4-6). He turns the tables upon the false teachers to tell them that if they want somebody who has put confidence in the flesh, then it should be him. But what does this confidence in the flesh actually mean? The word “flesh” used here is “sarx” in Greek. It means body, human nature or materiality. Paul uses it here to refer to the sinful nature of man, with all of its faculties, physical, mental and emotional.

So when Paul is speaking of having confidence in this nature, it means that a person would rely on his sinful self. Now when we turn to Paul’s explanation of how he has done this, he tells the Philippian church his testimony before coming to Christ, when he relied on who he was and what he had done. But when Paul begins to boast in his flesh, he thinks no one can actually boast of themselves like he can as he says, “If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so.” Then he makes a list in which we find the confidence of Paul in the flesh. It’s in verses 5 and 6. There are seven things on the list.

The first is his circumcision on the eighth day of his birth (a true Jew and not a proselyte), the second is that he is an Israelite (of the chosen people of God in the Old Testament), the third is that he belongs to the tribe of Benjamin (the tribe that remained faithful to Judah when other tribes revolted against Judah, the tribe that probably had the Temple close to it’s vicinity, the royal tribe from which Saul the first king of Israel arose), the fourth is that he is a Hebrew of Hebrews (he is of the purest of the pure lineage of Jews who had no mixture with Gentile blood or background keeping the tradition and culture of the Hebrew people), the fifth is that he is a Pharisee when it came to the Law or the Hebrew Old Testament (the Pharisees are the strictest sect when it comes to the observance of the inspired Scriptures of God with legalism, adding to God’s Law their own rules and regulations), the sixth is his zeal of persecuting the church (his actions showed how much he loved God though in ignorance, he went after the Christians to oppress and kill them), and finally, the seventh is that, according to the righteousness obtained by the Law, he is blameless (not the perfection of moral stature but it means that he cannot be found fault with in the instructions of the Law of the Old Testament in the legalistic sense of how the Pharisees saw the Law to be).

Having completed this list, we must remember that to the ears of a Gentile, all of this wouldn’t make much of a deal as much as it would to a Jew. But in the circle of the Jews, Paul would be considered as a legend, someone who is an exemplar of a man of God. Paul is saying that there is nothing more that a Jew could possibly attain which he has not. He is the Jew when all is said and done. He is at the top of the list of the most respected Jews.

The Surpassing Worth of the Knowledge of Christ

The time comes for Paul to bring Christ into his testimony (v. 7). And when Christ came, it changed everything for Paul, the same happens to those whom God would call around the world to Himself. But something happened to Paul. When Paul saw the revelation of Christ, the things that he gained through the flesh became as loss so that Christ could be gained. Not only that, in verse 8, Paul goes even further to show the “excellence of the knowledge of Christ” by saying that everything is counted as loss for it. We must understand an important Christian principle here and that is that both confidence in the flesh and Christ cannot be gained, this is how Paul speaks in these verses.

Paul talks in such a way of Christ that what can be gained by trusting in sinful human nature should be loss if Christ should be gained. Both cannot be gained. One should either put their trust in Christ or their own sinful selves. This is the reason why those who are blind to the beauty of Christ cannot understand the folly of trusting in their own selves. It is also attractive isn’t it to trust in our own selves. It is the pivotal point that distinguishes Christianity from other faiths and philosophies. Any religion except the Christian faith will tell you that you can do it. Everybody loves to hear that because they want that motivation. But Christ says the opposite, that no one except Him can do it, that they must learn to come to Him to see His perfection, incomparable and that He must be gained which would mean that everything else that is of the self must be counted as loss for the sake of gaining Him. The self has to die in order to gain Christ.

There is another question which we must ask here. What is the “excellence of the knowledge of Christ?” That is what is in the mind of Paul when he counts all things as loss for this excellence. In other words, he sees the excellence. He knows who Christ is. The key is in seeing this excellence, of the knowledge of Christ that the believer would count all things as loss for the sake of gaining Christ. What is then the question that must follow this? The question is, “Do you know the excellence of Christ?” What about the love of Christ, the mercy of Christ, the holiness of Christ, the power of Christ or the justice of Christ? When we come to know the person of Christ revealed in Scripture, we would say the same as Paul said, that we don’t want the whole world even if we could have it without Christ. I kept asking myself, if I could gain the whole world, would I still choose Christ over it?

How is Paul able to see the worth of Christ to be above everything that we could ever think or imagine? He saw that Christ is Lord and proved to be so in Acts 9:5. He saw the perfect obedience that Christ gave to the Father in Phili. 2:8. He saw that Jesus Christ was God Himself as in John 1:1. He saw that all things were made for Him and without Him nothing will exist or continue to be as in Col. 1:16-17. He saw that the righteousness of God which was spoken in the Old Testament that is by faith is revealed in the work of Jesus Christ according to Romans 1:16-17. He saw that the Hebrew Scriptures spoke of this Christ who was the Messiah that was sent by God to redeem man from sin. In essence, he understood the truth, that Christ is the only way for man to be rescued from the power of sin and death (1 Cor. 15:14). He is the same Christ who is going to come and judge every man according to his deeds and He is the same Christ who left heaven for you and for me to die on a cross. How much excellent is He!

Paul knew this about Christ and wanted to gain Him by any means possible. I want us to go back to the road of Damascus where Paul travelled with a violent aim of persecuting Christians. As he was travelling, he understood that Christians should be eliminated because they were following a false messiah called as Jesus Christ. But after Acts 9, when he was struck by God’s presence that he fell to the ground, he asked to know who it was that had done this to him, to prevent him from going to persecute the Christians. Wasn’t it not blasphemy that Christ made Himself to be God and Messiah? Was Paul right or wrong? He was about to find out. He was wrong! When he asked, “Who are you, Lord?” the answer he received is “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Do you see what happened? God could have killed him right there. But Jesus loved Paul even after all the persecution and violence he coordinated against the Christians. Do you see a glance of the excellency of Christ? He is a holy God who must strike you and me dead. But He chose not to and instead, came down Himself to die for the sake of rescuing us from the curse of sin and death. This is the Christ whom Paul wants to gain.

What does it look like then to pursue the excellency of Christ? Read the Scriptures and meditate on the truth of who Christ actually is. Pray to Him and ask Him to reveal Himself more to you so that you will see Him in His glory. Come to Him when you are weary and burdened to find that His presence is sweeter and comforting than anything else you could go to. Taste the goodness of Christ and see that He is good all the time, excellent in all His ways. Seek Him and see Him to then realize like Paul that He is more than who you think He is, everything is to be counted as loss for Him, and He is worth living and dying for.

The Righteousness that is by Faith and not by the Law

We have moved on from understanding how a person should gain Christ (it is by leaving the confidence in the flesh through the “excellence of the knowledge of Christ”). Paul does not stop here to speak about Christ. He now wants to be found in Him (v. 9). How can we be found in Christ? Paul explains to us in the rest of the verse, by receiving the righteousness of God through faith in Christ and not by the righteousness of the law which means to be in complete obedience to all that it says without any fault (the law refers to the commandments of God). We know that when we come to believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, His perfect sacrifice has cleansed us from our sins to have His perfect righteousness imputed to us. Thus we are free from the condemnation of sin. We no longer have to be guilty and fearful of death because we have eternal life through the righteousness of Christ.

But Paul talks about none of these things. He is talking only of Christ. Paul wants the righteousness by faith to “be found in Him.” That’s it. For Paul, Christ is all. Paul sees the excellence of Christ and he can’t help but say I want Christ, Christ and only Christ so much so that He counts all things as loss for gaining Him and now wants to be found in Him by receiving the righteousness of faith which is through Him. This is not to say that Christ will not bless us or that we will not have eternal life. Christ will be with you and He will give you everything you need. He will carry you and give you strength. He is there for you. But do you see the passion of Paul?

We can never measure the worth of Christ because He is God who is infinite in His worth. He loves you and if you desire to “be found in Him,” you don’t have to be in perfect obedience to keep the righteousness of the law. If there is anyone who must keep the righteousness of the law, it should be us, who disobey God by our sinful flesh. Yet Christ does not look at you and say to do everything thing perfectly according to His standard of holiness and then He will accept you. That’s not what He says. He calls us to believe in Him and thus we will “be found in Him.” Now again I am not saying that we are not to love the benefits of the gospel. Like I said, God is good and He will be good to you. I am asking you to look at the heart of Paul and ours.

Knowing Christ

From warning the Philippian church of “evil workers” who put confidence in the flesh in verse 2, we saw how Paul went on to show that putting confidence in the flesh is loss for gaining Christ in verse 8 and then to be found in Him in verse 9. So we are getting there to see the actual work that the false teachers are doing. They want the church to focus on themselves rather than on Christ. They are more concerned about their own glory than the glory of Christ. But Paul wants the church to see the excellence of Christ to come to the conclusion that if Christ be so excellent, then He is the One whom they must be concerned about. He is the One who should get all of their attention and He is the One whom they must put their trust in, losing everything that gets in the way of it.

In talking about Christ, Paul moves on to one more thing, that he wants to “know Him” in verse 10. How does this happen? It is by looking at verses 7-9. Counting all things as loss to “gain Christ” and to “be found in Him” will lead a believer to “know Him.” Paul is not talking about knowing of Him but about knowing Him, a personal knowledge of Christ. It is an unspeakable privilege that God has given us. We can only remain speechless as we do not deserve any of these blessings to be able to know Christ who is God Himself. I find great difficulty however in explaining this blessing because to know God would mean that we know the One who is above us, who is infinitely greater than us, the heights of which we can never even begin to have a slightest idea of. Yet Paul speaks of the reality of knowing Christ. One thing is sure though, that knowing Christ is the unspeakable gift of God to us and there is no gift that can match this. Knowing Christ is also the goal of every Christian. There is nothing beyond knowing Christ. He is everything and above everything.

In knowing Christ, Paul wants to know the “power of His resurrection” and the “fellowship of His sufferings.” This he adds when he clarifies that he is “being conformed to His death” in the latter part of verse 10 to complete it in verse 11 saying that “if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Once we get these parts in place, we will understand the reason why Paul says that he wants to know Christ’s resurrection power and share in His sufferings. It is because he wants to walk the life that Christ walked. Going through that, he would be able to know Christ, a personal knowledge of what He had experienced when He walked on this earth.

Knowing Christ is what we must be focused on. The entire passage leads us away from ourselves, the flesh, to Jesus Christ, to understand that Christ is worth more than anything and it is Him that we should pursue and love which is why it does not talk only about resurrection power but also about sharing in suffering. It means that we will both experience the power of God in our lives when He leads us miraculously every day and also that we will have our own appointed sorrows in the time that we have. The prosperity preachers only want the resurrection power and the poverty gospel preachers would cling to the world of suffering alone. Paul’s thinking is centred on Christ, that in knowing Him, he is ready to be exalted and to be humiliated like how He was, being obedient to the Father’s will. The part of experiencing pain or blessing is there so that we may know Christ more through it. It leads us to Christ more and more because it is the Christ whom we are looking at, to be the treasure of our lives.

In doing so he says, “If, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” in verse 11. Paul sees the final fruit of knowing Christ, that eternal life will be his. He is not going to die in sin but he is going to rise in a resurrected body just like Christ did. But it is not attained by putting confidence in the flesh. The flesh is corrupted and it will only lead to destruction which is why Paul directs the Philippian church to know Christ which is the secret to attaining eternal life. If we do not want to die and perish in our sins, then we must know Christ. Knowing Christ is the only way to salvation. Those of us who do not know Christ will face the everlasting wrath of God in Hell. But those of us who have tasted and seen Christ in His glory to savour Him continually will one day see Him face to face and rejoice together with Him in attaining the final fruit of our ‘knowing Him’ which is the resurrection from the dead, having a resurrected body like His to enjoy an eternal life of worship with Him.


Paul got us started with a warning that he was giving to the Philippian church. This warning applies to them as well as us as we are also just like them, the body of Christ, His church, His precious bride. What is the warning that is echoing to us today? It is not to put confidence in the flesh which manifests in doing things externally but has no power to cleanse the heart of the power of sin. It is to “beware” of the teachers who teach these kinds of things. As Paul stood in the truth of Christ to show How excellent He is and that He deserves to be known and that He is the only way to salvation, let me also say that do not look to yourself but to Him. Putting confidence in our sinful flesh is only going to take us down deeper into a spiral hole of death and eternal punishment. But believing in the name of Christ will give us life and true happiness for He is the perfect One and by His sacrifice we can finally know Him. Let me end by saying exactly like Paul said, “Beware….beware…beware” to then say ‘Behold, behold, behold’ the God-man, the One who took your place on a cross. Know Him and Him alone. He is worthy above all. Amen.