By Robert Anderson
PHILIPPIANS 3:8-141 NOTE CHAPTER 7
IF the commonly received exegesis of Philippians 3:8-14 be correct, we are faced by the astounding fact that the author of the Epistle to the Romans and of the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians -- the Apostle who was in a peculiar sense entrusted with the supreme revelation of grace -- announced when nearing the close of his ministry that the resurrection was not, as he had been used to teach, a blessing which Divine grace assured to all believers in Christ, but a prize to be won by the sustained efforts of a life of wholly exceptional saintship.
Nor is this all. In the same Epistle he has already said, "To me to live is Christ, and to have died is gain "; whereas, ex hypothesi, it now appears that his chief aim in life was to earn a right to the resurrection; and that death, instead of bringing gain, would have cut him off before he had reached the standard of saintship needed to secure that prize! For his words are explicit, "not as though I had already attained."
Here was one who was "not a whit behind the chiefest Apostles"; who excelled them all in labours and sufferings for his Lord, and in the "visions and revelations" accorded to him; whose prolonged ministry, moreover, was accredited by "mighty signs and wonders by the power of the Spirit of God." And yet, "being now such an one as Paul the aged," he was in doubt whether he should have part in that resurrection which he had taught all his pagan Corinthian converts to hope for: for to them it was he wrote the words, "we shall all be changed."
Such is the exposition of the Apostle's teaching in many a standard commentary. And yet the passage which is thus perverted reaches its climax in the words, "Our citizenship is in heaven, from whence we are looking for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of His glory."
"Our citizenship is in heaven " here is the clew to the teaching of the whole passage. The truth to which his words refer is more clearly stated in Ephesians 2:6 - God has "quickened us together with Christ, and raised us up with Him, and made us sit with Him in the heavenly places in Christ." More clearly still is it given in Colossians 3:1-3: "If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth. For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God."
Ephesians and Colossians, be it remembered, were written at the same period of his ministry as Philippians; and in the light of these Scriptures we can read this chapter aright. To "win Christ" (ver. 8), or to apprehend, or lay hold of, that for which he had been laid hold of, or apprehended (ver. 12); or in other words, to realize practically in his life on earth what was true of him doctrinally as to his standing before God in heaven -- this is what he was reaching toward, and what, he says, he had not "already attained."
The "high calling" of ver. 14 is interpreted by some to mean Christ's calling up His own to meet Him in the air (a blessing assured to all "who are alive and remain unto the Coming of the Lord"); but this is not in keeping with the plain words -- God's high calling in Christ Jesus, i.e. what God has called us (made us) to be in Christ.
If this passage refers to the literal resurrection, then the words "not as though I had already attained must mean that, while here on earth, and before the Lord's Coming, the Apostle hoped either to undergo the change of ver. 21, or else to win some sort of saintship diploma, or certificate, to ensure his being raised at the Coming. These alternatives are inexorable; and they only need to be stated to ensure their rejection.
One word more. If the Apostle Paul, after such a life of saintship and service, was in doubt as to his part in the resurrection, no one of us, unless he be the proudest of Pharisees or the blindest of fools, will dream of attaining it. In fact we shall dismiss the subject from our minds.