COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“15Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained” (Phil 3:15-16, NASB)
Although himself incarcerated and subject to great inconveniences, Paul continued to think of the people of God. He knew they were the sheep of God’s pasture (Psa 100:3), and thus cared for them with consistency and tenderness. This was involved in his expression, “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches” (2 Cor 11:28). Some people cannot live a day without thinking of themselves. Paul could not exist without concern for the people of God. It was in this concern that he enjoyed a rich fellowship with the Lord Jesus, Who is the Good Shepherd. A valuable lesson can be learned here. It is when we are consumed with the things of God that we enjoy the fellowship and sustenance of the Lord. Grace is poured out upon those living within the perimeter of grace, who are occupied with matters relating to God’s eternal purpose.
AN ATTITUDE FOR THE PERFECT
“Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded . . . ” (KJV). There is a precious thing to note here. The man of God speaks as one of the members of Christ’s body, not as a lord over it: “Let US . . . ”Thirteen times in the book of Hebrews, this expression is used (4:1,11,14,16; 6:1; 10:22,23,24; 12:1,28; 13:13,15), as well as twenty six times in other letters to believers. It is the language of the kindred spirit–of one who is engaged in the good fight of faith, pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling.
“As many as be perfect.” Paul has just acknowledged he does NOT speak as one who is “already perfect” (3:12), yet now he speaks as though the state has already been attained. Perfection, in this case, is not a single point in time, but a process. Those who “are perfect” are spiritually mature. While they have not yet reached the goal, they are aware of it. They know where they are headed and have adjusted life’s compass to reach that goal. They are “no more children, tossed to and fro,” jostled by the delusionary and moved from here and there by the subtle (Eph 4:14). They have not reached the stage of the “full kernel in the head,” but have become the “head” that will yet be ripened (Mark 4:28, NIV).
Spiritual maturity, or being “perfect,” is not a state of moral attainment but a condition of heart and mind. Elsewhere, the Spirit reminds us such perfection involves the cleansing of the conscience–a condition in which the heart is assured of Divine acceptance (Heb 9:9; 10:1-2). Such souls are able to discern the “wisdom of God” in the preaching of the cross (1 Cor 2:6). Paul reminded Timothy that a “perfect” person was knowledgeably “equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:17). This is the person who does not require continual guidance in the details of life. Being mature, such can “walk in the Spirit,” abstaining from fleshly lusts that war against the soul. The appetite for the things of God is developed, longings for heaven intense, and one’s discontent with this present evil world profound. Such souls are blessed indeed, and are growing up into Christ “in all things” (Eph 4:15). Their religion is not a routine or a series of procedures. Rather, the Lord Jesus is the Source of their delight and the Object of their most devoted attention.
And what are such people to do–those “who are perfect”?They are NOT to rely upon their perfection as though it were complete, for it is not. In the fullest sense, they are not yet perfect. They are young adults, and not yet of full age. Because spiritual maturity is neither initiated nor consummated without effort, they are to be “thus minded.” Other versions say “have this mind” (NKJV), “have this attitude” (NASB), “take this view of things” (NIV), and“be of the same mind” (NRSV). What mind, attitude, or view is meant?
It is the frame of mind Paul has just affirmed he possessed (3:10-14). It is counting every loss for Christ, counting them but dung, and seeking to know the Lord more fully. It is acknowledging the prize has not yet been gained, but pushing toward it with unrelenting zeal and fervor. It is being determined to take hold on that for which Christ took hold of us.
That is the only acceptable mind for the people of God! Such a mind can be possessed, dominating those who have it. Yea, it MUST be possessed if we are to safely reach the appointed goal. O, that more exhibited this mind!
GOD WILL REVEAL IT TO YOU!
“ . . . and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you” (KJV). Without doubt, this is one of the most marvelous promises pertaining to life and godliness. Admittedly, it contradicts much historical and contemporary theologies, but that is its strength. The personal aspect of salvation may be seen in this text, as well as its dependability and certainty. The NIV reads, “And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.” “Anything,” or “some point,” in this case, means any view of life that conflicts with the frame of mind described in verses 10-14. It would involve not considering everything loss, not counting them dung, or not pressing toward the mark. Perhaps the individual does not see there is infinitely more to be had than what they possess, or that Christ can be more fully known. In other words, spiritual maturity is lacking.
In this expression the Spirit acknowledges there are stages of spiritual life in which a sort of fog hangs over the soul. The condition, while not ideal, is not a hopeless one. Salvation graciously addresses the matter of spiritual infancy and lack of maturity.
Notice the manner of the text. The Spirit does NOT say “If in anything anyone is mature.” Rather, the condition is “IF in anything” anyone thinks differently. Spiritual immaturity is thus viewed as the exception, and not the rule. Looking at the contemporary church, one would think spiritual juvenileness is the standard and spiritual maturity the exception. But that is not the case at all. A mode of thinking that is not like that expressed in 3:10-14 is variant and unacceptable in every way. Those so described are“otherwise minded,” thinking differently than the Kingdom standard or norm.
Faith, however small it may be, puts us within the circumference of Divine influence! Knowing this, the Apostle has great confidence in what will happen. Those who do not yet see the real objective of life have this promise,“God shall reveal even this unto you.” Those who deny God reveals things to people can derive no comfort from this promise. Paul does not say hewould make the matter known to the struggling believer, but that God Himself would. The Lord would clarify the matter for them. This is the same procedure Paul mentioned to the Ephesians. “But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus” (Eph 4:20-21).
Paul had confidence in this Divine provision, and often expressed the same to the churches (2 Cor 2:3; 7:16; Gal 5:10; 2 Thess 3:4; Phile 21). He knew a person living by faith, no matter how young and immature, will be directed by the Lord. Even though their spiritual lives may appear erratic and inconsistent, yet in those loftier times, when their spirits are wafted into the heavenlies, remarkable insights can be bestowed upon them. How we must learn to count on this–to believe God reveals the truth of what we teach to young and unstable souls. Our gatherings must be tailored for this to happen, providing spiritual heights and perspectives within which the Lord can work. Is not this a marvelous promise? “God will make [it] clear to you.” Every child of God can rest his soul on that promise, believing it will come to pass.
LIVING UP TO WHAT WE HAVE
“Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing” (KJV). Here is a marvelous Kingdom standard! “Only let us live up to what we have already attained” (NIV). The Lord does not expect us to live beyond what we have seen. However, we are expected to live up to what we have grasped, all the while seeking to lay hold of the fulness of the blessing.
Wherever genuine affection for the things of God exists, the happy prospect of attainment can be realized. Put another way, as we walk upon the highway to glory, we will not blunder or come short of the intended blessing. This truth was revealed through Isaiah. “A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God's people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray” (Isa 35:8, NRSV). The Apostle reckoned on this reality, and so must we.
Living up to what we have attained is translating the truth we have perceived into living. It is adjusting our lives to our vision, and not allowing anything to enter that obscures the vision. Thus, what we have “attained” or realized becomes “the same rule” or measure of life. This is the exact opposite of being a “forgetful hearer” (James 1:24).
We see here that spiritual attainment is not merely expanding our thinking, or becoming acquainted with additional Kingdom facts. That is involved, but it is a means to an end, and not the end itself. Spiritual life is not scholastic or academic, but dynamic and energetic. We can bend our lives around what we have been given to see. To put it another way, God has made no provision whatsoever for living in contradiction of what faith has beheld.
In this text we have an elaboration of what it means to draw back or backslide. Such wretched movement is not simply again doing the things grace taught us to deny. Drawing back occurs when we see some precious facet of the truth, yet run back into the darkness, forgetting what was seen. Many a soul has had a flash of spiritual insight that faded from view. They saw that they stood in need of the Savior, and realized they were on the wrong course. Yet, they intentionally turned from the vision, refusing to allow it to do its work upon their souls. They did not adjust their course. Like a ship in a storm, tossed by the raging waves, they were headed for the rocky coasts, about to be dashed upon its immoveable ridges of stone. The lighthouse flashed its lights, warning them of impending doom, but they did not adjust their course. Such are those who do not “walk by the same rule.”
This is what it means to “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7), “walk by faith”(2 Cor 5:7), and “walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:25). It is living up to what we have received. It is also the means through which more will be given to us. As we do this, God will make known to us what we are lacking. He will unfold the truth to our hearts, enabling us to see what must surely be seen if we are to land safely on that heavenly shore.
The exceeding rarity of this perception in the church is staggering–yet the condition is inexcusable. Spiritual growth consists of living up to what we have attained, and seeking to attain even more. Where this way of thinking is stifled or not even found, the person is on the very edge of condemnation.