Father Callan’s Commentary on Philippians 3:8-14

This post includes Fr. Callan’s summary of Phil 3:1-16 to help provide context. The notes on verses 8-14 follow the summary.


Summary of Philippians 3:1-16~Before bringing his letter to a close St. Paul wishes once more to remind his readers of the dangers of the Judaizers, Those self-appointed seducers go about with their insolent ways, evil practices, and false doctrines, boasting of their fleshly, hereditary  privileges, while lacking all true spirituality. If it were a question, he says, of trusting in the flesh, he could surpass them all; but he has renounced those perishable privileges, along with every other impediment, in order that he might gain Christ and know Him, that he might attain to that justness which is through faith in Christ, and that, by imitating the life of His master here below, he might be crowned with Him hereafter. He says he has not yet attained to that desired perfection, but he is pressing on towards it; and he exhorts those of his readers who are likewise minded to do the same, keeping faithful to the standard they have attained.

8. Furthermore I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord; for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ,

The Apostle augments his statement. Not only those Jewish privileges, but also all similar things of the flesh, he has considered as useless and damaging in comparison with the surpassing spiritual benefits that have come to him through knowing his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, for whose sake he “suffered the loss of all things,” at the time of his conversion, counting them all as “dung” (better, as “refuse,” i.e., as of no value) in order that he might “gain Christ,” the secret and source of all graces and benefits. The present tense, “may gain,” is used only because the past experience is projected into the present.

9. And may be found in him, not having my justice, which is of the law, but that which is of the faith of Christ, which of God, justice in faith:

The same truth is stated in another way.

May be found. Again the past experience is spoken of as present, so vividly is it realized.

Not having my justice, etc., i.e., a justice which is acquired from the works of the Law and by one’s natural powers; “but that which is of the faith, etc.,” i.e., that justice which God gives on account of the faith one has in Jesus Christ; faith is the foundation of this justice or justness, and God is its author and giver.

The Jesu of the Vulgate here is not according to the best Greek.

10. That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death,

Returning to the thought of verse 8, the Apostle further explains the reasons and advantages of his rejection of Judaism with all its privileges.

Here in verse 10 he assigns a threefold end or purpose he had in seeking to “gain Christ” and to “be found in him,” having that justice which is through faith in Christ: (a) “that I may “know him,” i.e., that he might have an intimate, practical knowledge of Christ, God and man, the source of all knowledge and the model of all virtues; (b) that he might know “the power of his resurrection,” i.e., the power of the risen, glorified, immortal Christ, by whom we have been reconciled with God (Rom 4:24-25), who is the earnest of our own resurrection (1 Cor 15:20; 1 Thess 4:14), and who has sent us the Holy Spirit with his manifold graces, thus uniting us intimately to Himself (John 7:39, John 20:22; Acts 2:33) ; (c) that he might have “the fellowship of his sufferings, etc.,” i.e., that he might bear his own afflictions and sufferings for the sake of Christ, and with the help of Christ’s Holy Spirit, as his Master had borne His cross for him, and this he desires as a means of entering into a full, practical and fruitful knowledge here on earth of the risen, glorified Christ. The way to the living Christ is that marked out by Christ Himself: “H we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him” (Rom 8:17) ; “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26).

Sufferings, patiently borne for Christ and in union with Christ, are the royal way that leads to Christ now reigning in glory after His triumph over sufferings and death through the power of His resurrection; and it is by thus entering upon and continuing in this way of suffering that one’s life becomes “conformable” to the death of the Master: “Always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies” (2 Cor 4:10).

11. If by any means I may attain to the resurrection which is from the dead.

The end and purpose of this fellowship with Christ’s sufferings and conformity to the Master’s death, and indeed of all that the Apostle has related from verse 7 to now, was that he might, by all his sacrifices and sufferings, attain to the glorious “resurrection which is from the dead,” by which in body and soul he would be made like to his glorified Redeemer and thereafter forever associated with Him.

The resurrection here in question is the General Resurrection of all the just at the end of time, of which Christ’s resurrection was the pledge. St. Paul’s hypothetical manner of speaking in this verse, “if by any means, etc.,” indicates the great difficulty of attaining to that blessed state and the consequent uncertainty connected with it, apart from the help of God.

12. Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect: but I follow after, if I may by any means apprehend, wherein I  am also apprehended by Christ.

In verses 12-17 the Apostle cites his own example as an exhortation to his readers that they should increase their efforts to attain Christian perfection. It might be concluded from all he has said (ver. 7-1 1) about his sacrifices in order to acquire justice before God, and about his sufferings in union with Christ in order to reach the supreme goal of life, that he had reached a state of perfection in which further effort is unnecessary. Hence he hastens to observe in this present verse that he has not yet attained to this perfection, that much remains to be done, that, far from resting on his merits, he is bending every effort, like the runners in the Greek stadium, to win his prize, which is fully and perfectly to possess Christ, who took strong and lasting possession of him at the time of his conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts  9:3 ff.).

I follow after. Better, “I press on.”

The Jesu of the Vulgate is not in the best MSS.

13. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended. But one thing I do: forgetting the things that are behind, and stretching forth myself to those that are before,
14. I press towards the mark, to the prize of the supernal vocation of God in Christ Jesus.

The thought of the preceding verse is amplified, again under the figure of the runners in the stadium. The Apostle tells the Philippians that, instead of considering himself perfect or to have reached his goal, he is using every energy, like an athlete in a contest, to press on to the mark and to win the prize, which for him is eternal life with Christ in heaven.

Forgetting the things, etc., i.e., not stopping to think of his labors, his virtues, his merits ; and “stretching forth, etc.,” i.e., ever seeking new opportunities for growth in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). The Greek word for “prize” is found only here and in 1 Cor 9:24, in the New Testament; and it means eternal glory in both places. The “vocation” or call to this “supernal” or heavenly prize is from God the Father “in Christ,” i.e., through the merits of Christ.

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One Response to Father Callan’s Commentary on Philippians 3:8-14

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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