Partial Exegesis Philippians 3:1-11


Philippians is one of the letters of Paul written during a time when Paul was arrested and detained in Roman prison, an aspect that plays a huge role in creating the sense of the themes highlighted in the book (Burk, 2004). In Philippians 3:1-11, Paul condemns self-righteousness as an aspect greatly advocated for by the Jewish legalists (Cousar, 2013). By providing his life as an example, Paul highlights the importance of sacrificing self-ambitions and possessions for the sake of Christ (Betz, 2015). The goal of this paper is to perform a syntactic and structural analysis of Philippians 3:1-11 so as to obtain a basis for the theological issues highlighted in the context of the passage.

Syntactic Analysis

The letter of Paul to the Philippians is one of the profound Gospel books that contains key theological themes such as suffering, unity, joy, the gospel itself as well as humility among many other thematic issues (Mearns, 1987). There are many aspects of the book that can be studied so as to enhance the understanding of the message presented by the author, one of which is the syntax. A syntactic analysis of chapter 3 of the book of Philippians entails an exploration of the forms and structures of words, otherwise referred to as the morphology involved in phrases and sentences. Essential subject matters in the syntactical analysis include the study of features such as the tense, voice, mood, the person, number as well as the case of individual words. The primary goal of performing a syntactic analysis is to enhance the understanding of a given text organized in a way that builds a discourse.

In the first verse of the chapter, Paul uses the first person singular (me) as a way of introducing himself as the author of the chapter and stressing more weight on the thematic issues to be later presented in the text (Betz, 2015). There is always power in personal experiences, which was one of the reasons that Paul decided to stress on providing his personal life for comparison with other individuals in the society as regards to the things of Christ. He also begins the chapter with the word ‘Finally,’ which does not illustrate the end of his message since the word is continuously repeated in the book of Philippians. In fact, the literal translation of the word finally is ‘as for the rest’ as per its use in the provided text (Burk, 2004).

In the first verse of the chapter also, Paul introduces the phrase ‘Rejoice in the Lord’ with the aim of explaining the real source of joy. In the entire chapter, Paul tries to explain a new source of joy that comes from partaking in the suffering of Christ Jesus as opposed to the joy that comes from earthly attachments (Betz, 2015). Rejoicing in the Lord is a phrase that can be equated to the use of the term Hallelujah in the Old Testament that also brings about the theme of rejoicing in the Lord. 

Apparently, Paul changes the tone of his message in the second verse when he claims that it is not tedious for him to keep reminding the Philippians of the things he had initially written to them. The verse presents a remarkable outburst in its vehemence that cannot be compared to the tone presented in the rest of the letter as it is written by the same author. This portion of the chapter is calm, joyous and bright although still stormy and impassioned with plenty of flashing and scathing words. Incidentally, the tone becomes a bit harsher with the involvement of a comparative illustration that compares the existing Pharisees with dogs. Paul warns the readers to beware of such people in a relatively harsh tone illustrating the potential harm that could be afflicted by such people in the lives of true believers (Duling, 2006). Directly comparing the Jewish legalists to dogs is a form of onomatopoeia that entails the use of direct comparisons. By comparing such Jewish law makers and enforcers to dogs, Paul made them look worse than the Gentiles who were initially considered to be the dogs in other parts of the New Testament books (Reumann, 2008). The harsh mood in this chapter is continuously illustrated in the use of the term mutilation in the second verse. Paul looks at the Jewish legalists as people that were only concerned with the mutilation of their skins as opposed to undergoing the spiritual circumcision found in following the life and example of Christ Jesus (Snyman, 2006). The religious circumcision that was associated with the Jews was not sufficient to earn a believer a place in the kingdom of heaven; hence, such an act could only be considered as physical mutilation without an inner more significant meaning.

Verse 8 is characterized by a certain emphasis on the use of conjunctions that expands on the understanding of the kind of sacrifice that the author gave so as to gain Christ. The verse also experiences a sudden change from to present tense to the past tense to the perfect tense (Munn, 1959). Paul embraces the change of behavior as an act he not only succeeded in partaking in the past but also in the present. This fact is proven when he writes ‘but in all actuality, I also count all things to be loss.’ The past participle tense in verse 8 reminds the reader of the many achievements that Paul had made as a Jewish legalist, although the combination with the present tense confirms that the author regards all these achievements as rubbish for the sake of Christ (Black, 1995). That combination of the tenses shines light into the reason why Paul regards the past as trash in pursuance of Christ’s righteousness. After all, Paul was more justified than any other Jewish legalist to boast of self-righteousness following his historical background of being a Hebrew and brought up as a Hebrew from the tribe of Benjamin and being a Pharisee pursuing the persecution of Christians. Even with all these opportunities for self-righteousness including his circumcision on the eighth day, Paul considers it to be garbage worth of disposal for the sake of Christ whom he considers total gain (Fee, 1995). The connection of all the words in the verses is aimed at cementing the theme of self-sacrifice for the sake of Christ.

Structural Analysis

The main verb of this text is ‘rejoice’ as it can be considered to form the center of the analysis of the entire text. Rejoicing, in this case, is directed towards Christ’s ways and suffering that bring the resurrection of the spirit as occurred in the person of Jesus on the face of the world. Rejoicing in the Lord is not justified by the fulfillment of the law as is suggested by Paul in verse 3 to 4 but rather by being joyful in Jesus who is the source of joy. Furthermore, rejoicing in the Lord requires the believer to exhibit no confidence in the flesh, which is one of the traits of true circumcision as opposed to simple mutilation. People whose joy is in the Lord do not believe in their ability to be righteous since their confidence is forever established in Jesus Christ. Paul gave sufficient reasons for self-justification and self-righteousness according to the Mosaic Law (Reumann, 2008). He was born and raised a Hebrew, circumcised on the eighth day as per the Jewish law and became one of the legal elites by joining the Pharisee class. Nonetheless, none of these accomplishments gave Paul the attitude for self-confidence and righteousness. These are the achievements that he later refers to as garbage or rubbish in pursuance for the joy that comes from Jesus Christ (Snyman, 2006).

The subject of this verb is Paul as illustrated by his use of various personal pronouns such as me, myself and in the covered text. Paul acts as the sole example of the act of rejoicing in the Lord, giving a perfect example to be followed by fellow believers who look at every aspect of the author and find all reasons to believe in the writing of the biblical text. Other texts in the Bible quote Paul as a chief persecutor of Christians that failed to honor the legal requirements of the Pharisees by preaching the Gospel of Christ (Burk, 2004). As such, it was evident, initially, that Paul derived joy from persecuting Christians and not in the preaching of the Gospel as is evidenced in the book of Philippians. With respect to this finding, it is clear that Paul is the best person that could have explained the need for obtaining joy from serving Christ since he had tried serving the law for a longer part of his life without deriving sufficient joy. It goes without saying that the object of the text, therefore, is the joy that comes from the Lord Jesus who happens to be the source of joy as illustrated in the quoted text. Joy is a term that brings a meaning bigger than just being happy and experiencing pleasurable moments. In fact, joy is illustrative of unconditional happiness; being happy even during the most unconducive moments for such happiness like in the event of suffering for the sake of Christ and the Gospel (Snyman, 2006). Paul provided sufficient evidence for such joy since even during the writing of the book of Philippians he was detained in a Roman prison, yet he found pleasure in sharing the Gospel with Philippians in the form of writing a letter.

Theological Issues

One of the theological issues discussed in Philippians 3:1-11 is circumcision, an act of removing the foreskin of the penis that was practiced ever since the time of Abraham, the Biblical father of faith (Reumann, 2008). Circumcision was a significant mark of the Jewish culture, and for anyone to be associated with this culture, they had to undergo the tradition. While Abraham was circumcised at the age of 99 years, his ancestors were deemed to undergo circumcision on attaining the age of eight days under the Mosaic Law. Jesus was also a victim of this tradition as he was also circumcised at the age of eight days among other rituals that were customarily supposed to be conducted during the age of eight days for every Jew (Burk, 2004). The author of Philippians, Paul, was not left behind as he was also a Hebrew and a true follower of the Jewish legal requirements. He confessed that he was circumcised at the age of eight days according to the law, a tradition that made him a true follower of the Jewish customs.

Unfortunately, circumcision was mistaken to a key qualification for entering heaven and for being godly as illustrated in the text, which was not supposed to be the case. Circumcision was only an outward sign of being a Jew although it did not guarantee anyone direct access to God the father. Paul considered the physical circumcision to be mere mutilation unless it was done at a spiritual level (Reumann, 2008). This circumcision, as important as it was, was one of the key traditional sacrifices that Paul made so as to find the joy that comes from the Lord Jesus Christ. He emphasized the importance of avoiding self-righteousness that is brought about by such traditional acts and religiosity which falsely impacts on the Jews and Jewish legalists. Instead, Paul emphasizes on spiritual circumcision that is brought about by accepting Jesus into one’s life and looking up to him as the source of life after death through the resurrection of the spirit. 

Suffering is another theological issue highlighted in the text, especially in verse 8, 10 and 11 where Paul mentions about his suffering for the sake of Christ as well as Christ suffering for humanity. Suffering is largely associated with Christianity as a portion of bearing the cross of Jesus while preparing to enjoy eternal joy in heaven. Paul himself was a good example of the people that suffered for the sake of salvation despite the fact that he initially was involved in the persecution of Christians for personal gain (Snyman, 2006). After his conversion on a journey to accomplish his mission of persecution, he learned to endure suffering in pursuance for righteousness as evidenced by Philippians 3:1-11. Evidently, Paul writes this book while still in a Roman prison being persecuted for spreading the Gospel, which is part of the suffering that is necessary if one has to gain access to the kingdom of heaven. Moreover, having to abandon his own previous life of being a Pharisee was a great sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel. Jesus endured much more suffering to save human kind through his death on the cross, having undergone such suffering that the Christians may enjoy eternal life.

Teaching Outline

Structural Analysis

Here, the teacher will consider elaborating on the verb rejoicing for the students to understand the difference between rejoicing and just being happy. The entire lesson will surround the subject, in this case, Paul, who encourages Christians to rejoice in the Lord as the author and finisher of their faith (Betz, 2015). As earlier stated, the object will be the joy that will be explained in a way that differentiates it from simply being happy as well as its source which is Jesus Christ. It should be understood that unlike happiness, joy persists even during suffering as evidenced by the life of Paul, the apostle. 


Philippians 3:1-11 describes the essence of rejoicing in the Lord as evidenced by the life of Paul. The importance of sacrifice of personal assets for the sake of Christ is also elaborated through the ability of Paul to consider all his past experiences as garbage for the sake of Christ. Theological issues raised in the passage included circumcision which was an important rite of passage among the Jews and suffering which is a key component of true Christianity.


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Cousar, C. B. (2013). Philippians and Philemon: A commentary. Presbyterian Publishing Corp.

Betz, H. D. (2015). Studies in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (Vol. 343). Mohr Siebeck.

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Reumann, J. H. P. (2008). Philippians: a new translation with introduction and commentary (Vol. 33). Yale University Press.

Fee, G. D. (1995). Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

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Duling, D. C. (2006). 2 Corinthians 11: 22: Historical context, rhetoric, and ethnic identity. In The New Testament and Early Christian Literature in Greco-Roman Context (pp. 63-87). Brill.


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