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
Our fleshly achievements count as nothing (1-6)
Watch out for false teachers of any kind (2)
True faith relies on God (3)
If anyone could rely on their own achievements, it was Paul (4-6)
All worldly things are nothing compared to knowing Christ (7-11)
Paul realized these achievements were not only useless, but a “loss” (7)
Everything else is a loss compared to knowing Christ (8)
The righteousness that comes from God is true (9)
The chief goal is to know Christ intimately (10)
And to attain resurrection from the dead (eternal life) (11)
What same things is he referring to?
Why is it necessary for Paul and other biblical writers to repeat things many times?
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. It is a way to protect them. The same issues are repeated again and again in the Bible because God knows we are forgetful. After a while without exposure to an issue, we put it out of our mind and focus on other things. 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 remembering 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.
2. Who do the dogs refer to? Why does Paul call them dogs?
What is the false circumcision? Why was this so dangerous?
Galatians 2:3 – The Judaizers were trying to force Titus to get circumcised.
Acts 15:1 – The Judaizers taught circumcision was necessary for salvation.
These verses refer to the problem of the Judaizers (Jzs) in the early church. These were groups of legalistic Jews who would go around following Paul. They did claim to be believe in the gospel, but they added their own works and traditions to it. Their main doctrine was that you not only need to believe in Christ, you also need to keep the law, especially including 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, why was teaching people to follow the law or be circumcised so evil?) and the false circumcision (because they focused on external physical circumcision, but ignored the heart which was truly important.) Paul spent much of Galatians teaching that church to watch out for these works oriented groups.
This is dangerous because it is a works oriented approach. There are many problems with such an approach.
It cannot possibly be successful. They were teaching people to follow the law, but actually it is impossible for anyone to keep the whole law. That is one of the major points in the OT and preparing people for the coming of Christ. Those who try to do it on their own will just become discouraged and demoralized and likely give up because it is just too difficult.
It encourages pride. The 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.
3. 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?
Romans 2:25-29 – Circumcision of the heart.
Romans 7:5 – The sinful passions of the flesh aroused…
Ephesians 2:1-3 – You were dead in sins.
See Romans. True circumcision is circumcision of the heart. This means a heart that is set apart for and devoted to God. A sincere faith in Christ from our hearts. A clear understanding that faith alone can save us. The rest of verse 3 also gives the answer. 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 left. We put our confidence in Christ, not in ourselves.
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. We must put no confidence in these things to bring us to God.
4-6. Is Paul boasting in these verses? Did he trust in his own accomplishments? What is his point? Tell more about the group Pharisees.
What was the point of circumcision? If you were to write a list of fleshly achievements, how might it stack up?
Genesis 17:12 – Eighth day command.
Paul gives himself as an example here. Keep in mind he is the example of the ultimate Jew. The Jzs taught you need to follow the law, get circumcised etc. plus trust 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. Go over each one by one.
Paul’s point is that by the Jzs metric, 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. They didn’t work.
Maybe we also make mental lists of our achievements, but for the purpose to think highly of ourselves instead of realizing these things are useless in God’s sight. If this is the case we should take a long hard look at the next few verses.
7. What is the main point of this whole passage? What does verse 7 mean? Explain “gain” and “loss”. Was Paul any less a Hebrew/Benjamite after his conversion? How about his zeal? Then what changed?
Luke 18:9-14 – Parable of the proud person and the tax collector praying.
Matthew 16:24-26 – Must give up his life. What will it profit a man if…
Luke 14:33 – He who wants to be my disciple must give up…
Romans 12:1-2 – Living sacrifices.
John 10:27, 17:3 – Knowing Christ.
2 Cor 4:6 – God shone a light in our hearts teaching us of t glory of Christ.
Paul’s conclusion 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 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? Aren’t they good things? 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. Instead he can encourage 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. It was Ebenezer Scrooge moment.
8. What is the most valuable thing we can get? What was Paul’s first priority? 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. It is a similar concept to our good deeds are as filthy rags verse in Isaiah. In fact, these things are 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. This is what Christian songs like more precious than silver and You Are My Hiding Place teach. 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? You know that 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 that these things are trash. I thought about one way to make this point. I could have brought a stack of money, put it in the middle of the table, and then burned it. After all it is only paper. Compared to knowing Christ, it is trash. Of course if I had done that you guys would have gone away thinking I was crazy. I still think it would be an effective way to get the point across, but I hope you can get the point without burning money since God also gave me a responsibility to take care of my family so it would be irresponsible to throw away my labor. 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.
How can we live out this understanding that Christ is most important in our lives?
9. 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? How can we get this righteousness? How does this compare with Paul’s discussion of true righteousness found in Romans?
Romans 4:13-25 – Righteousness from faith.
If we truly value Christ and place our faith in Him instead of in ourselves, He will impute true righteousness to our account. We learned of this righteousness in Romans. Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. God will take us and declare us righteous if we depend on Him.
10. 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?
1 Peter 2:21-24 – The sufferings of Christ.
Heb 4:15 – Suffered as we do yet without sin.
Knowing Him is deeper than hearing of His name or knowing His story. It 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.
11. How could Paul possibly hope to attain to the resurrection from the dead? Does he mean physical resurrection like Christ? Then what?
1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, 1 Cor 15-42-44. Rapture.