These small group studies of Philippians contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Philippians 3:1-11 Inductive Bible Study – Discovery Questions and Teaching Notes

Outline:

I. Our fleshly achievements count as nothing (1-6)
A. Rejoice (1)
B. Watch out for false teachers of any kind (2)
C. True faith relies on God (3)
D. If anyone could rely on their own achievements, it was Paul (4-6)
II. All worldly things are nothing compared to knowing Christ (7-11)
A. Paul realized these achievements were not only useless, but a “loss” (7)
B. Everything else is a loss compared to knowing Christ (8)
C. The righteousness that comes from God is true (9)
D. The chief goal is to know Christ intimately (10)
E. And to attain resurrection from the dead (eternal life) (11)

I. Our fleshly achievements count as nothing (1-6)

Discussion Questions

  • What same things is he referring to in verse 1?
  • Why do biblical writers often repeat things many times?
  • Who do the “dogs” refer to? Why does Paul call them dogs?
  • What is the false circumcision?
  • Why was this so dangerous?
  • What then is the true circumcision?
  • What is the key difference between the two groups?
  • What do people of the true circumcision focus on?
  • What does “flesh” refer to?
  • Why can we put no confidence in the flesh?
  • Is Paul boasting in verses 4-6?
  • What is his point?
  • If Paul could not rely on his earthly achievements what does this say about us?
  • What attitude should we have since we know we cannot merit God’s favor?

Cross-References

Galatians 2:3 – Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek.

Acts 15:1 – Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”

Romans 2:25-29 – Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker. A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.

Romans 7:5 – For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death.

Ephesians 2:1 – As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins

Genesis 17:12 – For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring.

Teaching Points

1. Rejoice in the Lord (1) – Paul again reminds the Philippians that they need to rejoice. He admits himself that he has told them this, and these other issues before. Yet he also realizes it is necessary to remind them. It is a way to protect them. The same issues are repeated again and again in the Bible because God knows we are forgetful. The word “remember” occurs in the Bible 227 times. Much of the content in the Bible is review.

2. Review is important (1) – Paul repeats a lot of instructions to the churches because reminders and review are necessary. It is like language learning. If you spend every day memorizing new lists, but don’t review the previous vocabulary lists, what will the result be? You will end up truly learning nothing. But if you spend 60-80% of the time on review you will end up retaining a lot more. Sometimes learners might feel in a rush to know new things, which is why Paul reminded them how necessary it was to repeat the same old things.

3. Look out for the dogs (2-3) – These verses refer to the problem of the Judaizers in the early church. These were groups of legalistic Jews who claimed to believe in the gospel, but added their own works and traditions to it. Their main doctrine was that you not only need to believe in Christ, but also need to keep the law, especially circumcision, or you cannot be saved.

Paul refers to this group as dogs (wild dogs roamed the streets of the cities in that area at that time causing havoc), evil workers (because they were doing the work of Satan), and the false circumcision (because they focused on external physical circumcision, but ignored the heart, which was truly important). Paul often warned the church to watch out for these works oriented groups.

There are many problems with a works oriented approach. Here are a few:

  • The biggest problem is that it cannot possibly be successful! They were teaching people to follow the law, but it is impossible for anyone to keep the whole law. That is one of the major points in the Old Testament and preparing people for the coming of Christ. A person who tries to follow all o the laws in the Old Testament will fall far short. He will be burdened to the point of collapse. And finally he will collapse under the strain which no man (except for Christ) can bear.
  • It encourages pride. Most Jews were extremely prideful. They looked down on all the uncircumcised. They trusted in themselves and thought it was their works which could save them.
  • It gives man the glory instead of God. It is no coincidence in the next verse Paul says that true believers glory in Christ Jesus. Those who trust in their own works don’t. In fact, they wouldn’t even need Christ. So while adding works seems like a small and even helpful addition to the gospel equation, it immediately makes things man-centric and negates the need for Christ.

4. True circumcision is circumcision of the heart – Circumcision of the heart refers to a heart that is set apart for and devoted to God, giving rise to a sincere faith in Christ. The rest of verse 3 also sheds further light on real circumcision. It is worshiping God (whereas works oriented approach focuses on man.) It is giving all the glory to Christ. That means it is recognizing that salvation comes from Christ alone. It is 100% Him and 0% us, not a fifty-fifty split.

It is also a recognition that the flesh avails nothing. There is no room for confidence in our own achievements or abilities. We put our confidence in Christ, not in ourselves. Many Jews felt that they were granted automatic entry into God’s family simply because they were “good,” circumcised Jews. Paul refutes that in these verses. The ones who actually belong to God are not those who are physically circumcised, but those who who worship Him, trust in Jesus, and put no confidence in their own flesh.

This last phrase “no confidence in the flesh” is one of the major themes of the passage today. Nothing we do can take away our sins. All of our own achievements cannot bring us to God. It doesn’t matter how many people we share with, how many Scriptures we memorize, how many times we have read the Bible, how many good deeds we have done, how many promotions we have gotten, how many exams we have aced, how many languages we have learned, how many houses/cars we have bought, how many friends we have made, how many patients’ lives we have saved, how much of the Bible we have memorized, who many prayers we have said, or how many times we have visited church. We must put no confidence in these things or anything else of ourselves to bring us to God.

5. Paul gives himself as an example here (4-6) – Keep in mind he is the example of the ultimate Jew. The Judaizers taught that you need to follow the law and get circumcised in addition to trusting in Christ. Paul uses himself as an example that all of these things they were putting confidence in is not enough. He doesn’t mention these things to boast. How do we know? Because he makes it clear that these worldly achievements are meaningless. He wasn’t praising them. He was saying they are useless.

Paul’s point is that by the Judaizer’s own standards, he was the ultimate Jew. If anyone could save themselves by being a good Jew it was Paul. However, all of these things which good Jews thought it was necessary to do actually led him away from God instead of to God. People were crushed under the weight of self-reliance and rules based religion, none of which worked.

Matthew 1:29 – Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

The yoke of the religion of good works is heavy and oppressive, but Jesus’ yoke is light. He can give rest to weary souls.

Application: Make a list of your own most memorable achievements. Then pray before the Lord and humbly acknowledge that all of these things cannot bring you any closer to Him. Ask Him to make you humble and rely on Him rather yourself.

II. All worldly things are nothing compared to knowing Christ (7-11)

Discussion Questions

  • What does it mean that Paul has counted the things listed in verses 4-6 as loss?
  • What are some earthly or religious achievements that you may need to count as “loss”?
  • What have you given up for the sake of following Christ? Was it worth it?
  • Based on verses 7-8, does your perspective toward this world need to change? If so, how?
  • What is Paul’s goal in verse 9?
  • What is the difference between righteousness that comes from following the law and the righteousness from God?
  • What does it mean to “know” Him?
  • What is the difference between this knowledge and how you might know an acquaintance?
  • What specific ways are given that we should strive to know God more deeply in?
  • What does “fellowship of His sufferings” mean?

Cross-References

Matthew 16:24-26 – Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

Luke 14:33 – In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Romans 12:1-2 – Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

John 17:3 – Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

2 Corinthians 4:6 – For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

Hebrews 4:15 – For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

Teaching Points

1. Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ (7) – Paul’s conclusion about his past as the model Jew is here in verse 7. Before salvation he considered these things valuable. Afterward, he considered them a loss. This is an accounting term for a business meaning taking a hit. This means that these things weren’t only neutral, they took him into the red territory. They led him farther away from what was truly important. Why?

It led him farther from Christ because it caused him to become prideful in his own achievements. It caused him to rely on himself instead of placing his faith in Christ. This is why Paul said those who preach that these things are important are evil workers. These things of themselves aren’t evil, but when we rely on them they become evil because they take the place of God in our lives.

Satan often works in this way. He knows it would be hopeless to convince many Jews to go out and start murdering and stealing and mugging people. He would be laughed out of town. Instead he encouraged them to follow a lot external traditions, try to get the respect of society, and do good deeds, knowing that they would soon believe that they were good and could deal with the sin problem by themselves. This temptation by Satan has been extremely successful for centuries.

However, Paul, by the grace of God, came to a realization that these traditions increased the distance between him and God. He decided to mark them in the loss column, immediately forsake putting his confidence in them and pursue things that were truly valuable.

Application: What is an example of a worldly thing you have pursued before (or are still pursuing) that you need to give up for the sake of following after Christ?

2. The surpassing worth of knowing Christ as my Lord (8) –

  • What is the most valuable thing we can ever get?
  • Could you truthfully say what Paul said in verse 8?
  • What are some things that you are tempted to place more value on than your relationship with Christ?
  • In comparison to your love for Christ, do you consider these things rubbish?

If you think Paul was too excessive in completely dismissing these seemingly good things, then you would be even more shocked at verse 8. What does he compare these things to in this verse? He compares them to rubbish. This word can even be translated manure.

Isaiah 64:6 – We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

The very best that the world has to offer and the very best that we can achieve is rubbish compared to what is truly important, knowing Christ. We just need to see these worldly things as they truly are. We need to look at these things with the eyes of Christ.

Compared with knowing Christ, EVERYTHING is a loss. The meaning is clear. Christ it the most valuable thing we can have in our lives. You often sing this at church and it is echoed in popular songs like “More Precious Than Silver” and “You Are My Hiding Place.” Every time we sing such songs we claim that Christ is the most important things in our lives. But do we live it out? Do our actions back it up?

Application: Actions speak louder than words. Do we exalt our own achievements or hold on to worldly things? Do we become prideful at what we have done for God? Do we really consider our worldly achievements to be trash?

We should be willing to put all of our money on the table and burn it if it keeps us from following Christ. Compared to knowing Christ, money is trash. We are commanded to be good stewards. But we should never let money interfere with our relationship to Christ. We should never put anything else in that cherished position in our heart.

What is one thing you can give up for Christ this week?

3. Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law –

If we truly value Christ and place our faith in Him instead of in ourselves, He will impute true righteousness to our account.

Romans 4:6 – God imputes righteousness apart from works.

Romans 4:3 – Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.

Righteousness does not come about through our own hard work. God puts it on us after we place our faith in Him, making us righteous.

4. Knowing Him is deeper than hearing of His name or knowing His story (10) – Knowing God is a personal relationship and fellowship. It includes experiencing the power of the resurrection since if we are in Christ we ourselves are alive from the dead. It includes identifying ourselves with Christ and therefore sharing in His sufferings, meaning that we have some taste of the persecutions that He went through.

Also, that we follow Jesus’ example of giving His life by dying to ourselves and living for Christ. We can develop a deep, personal connection to Christ if we truly have faith in Him by prayer and the Word.

5. Paul hoped to attain to the resurrection of the dead (11) –

Daniel 12:2 – And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

The final resurrect is taught throughout the Bible. As Daniel wrote, some people would arise again to punishment and some to eternal life. Paul hoped to be in the second category! All of this earthly achievements and even his fellow Jews’ opinion of himself were nothing compared to the hope of the resurrection. Would he face eternal punishment or eternal life? That is the question. Nothing else is important. Compared to one’s eternal destiny, everything else in life fades to complete insignificance.

Application: How can you make sure that you will be resurrected to eternal life? How can you make sure of your salvation?

Study Philippians 3:12-21

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