Philippians 3:2 beware of the concision
The Webster's Dictionary (unabridged, 1951) defines concision as "That party in the Apostolic church which laid stress on circumcision, requiring it of Gentile converts." One of the most pervasive problems for early Christianity was the cultural and religious bias of the Jewish converts. Those who stressed circumcision were those who required strict attention to all the rules of pharisaical Judaism. They often had a difficult time shifting from the Law of Moses to the mercies of the Atonement, from the circumcision of the flesh to the circumcision of the heart. They were dangerous because they misunderstood the message of the gospel, the essence of discipleship, and the mission of the Master. They imposed their form of religion on new Gentile converts contrary to the teachings of the early Apostles.
Judaizing Christian ministers... were turning away the saints from the grace of Christ back to the beggarly elements of the law of carnal commandments; a circumstance which led Paul to exclaim: "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that had called you unto the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you and would pervert the gospel of Christ." (Gal 1:6-7) (History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., introduction and notes by B. H. Roberts [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932-1951], 1: xliv.)
Philippians 3:4-8 Paul Paraphrased
"If you trust in the importance of circumcision, the Law of Moses, and descent through Abraham, then I must be doing great! If you want to brag about your heritage, fine! I'll brag about mine. I am as Jewish as you can get. I am as zealous as you can get. I am as obedient to the law as you can get. Still, I am a loser without faith in Christ, for none of these things can save me."
Philippians 3:5 the tribe of Benjamin
After King Solomon, when the 12 tribes were divided by his sons into the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah, the two tribes who made up this latter kingdom were the tribes of Benjamin and Judah. About 720 BC, the northern Kingdom of Israel was taken captive and scattered throughout the earth. When this occurred, the only tribes left intact were Benjamin and Judah. (There were some individuals from other tribes who were preserved. For instance, the Levites were spread throughout all 12 tribes and there would have been a fair amount of Levites in the Kingdom of Judah. Furthermore, there were others of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh who lived in Jerusalem rather than the Northern Kingdom (1 Chron. 9:3). This is important because we know that Lehi and Ishmael were from Ephraim and Manasseh. If all of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh had been taken captive in 720 BC, then Lehi could not have come from Manasseh as the Book of Mormon teaches.)
In Jesus' day, the term Jew, referred to one's heritage through any of the 12 tribes of Israel. It did not necessarily mean that the individual was from the tribe of Judah. This was the case with Paul. He was from Benjamin. There were others of his day who would have been from other tribes: Levi (like Zacharias and John), Ephraim, Manasseh, and possibly others. Genealogies were important to the Jews, and Paul knew his. He was "of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews." Basically, Paul is saying, "I am as Jewish as they come!"
Philippians 3:6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church
"A zealous Pharisee, Saul saw it as his religious duty to protect Judaism from apostasy. Because the Pharisees considered Christianity a heretical sect of Judaism, he viewed his persecution of Christians as an attempt to defend Judaism. Unlike Gamaliel, who argued for tolerance of the Christians (see Acts 5:34-36), Saul sought for the extermination of the Christians and was present at the martyrdom of Stephen (see Acts 7:54-60; Acts 8:1). In A.D. 33, 'breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord' (Acts 9:1), Saul set out to find and arrest Christians in their synagogues in Damascus and bring them bound to Jerusalem for judgment before the high priest." (David Rolph Seely and Jo Ann H. Seely, "Paul: Untiring Witness of Christ," Ensign, Aug. 1999, 22, 24)
Philippians 3:8 I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus
What would we give up to have the gospel of Jesus Christ? Like Paul, we should be willing to give up everything. Remember the merchant man in search of goodly pearls, "the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it." (Matt. 12:46)
Compared with [worldly] knowledge, [Paul] says, "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ" (Philip. 3:8). That is indeed knowledge worth having, and it is to be had only by revelation. It is our happy duty to announce that since the restoration of the gospel such revelation is again available to mankind, provided they heed the words of the prophets. (The World and the Prophets, 3rd ed. [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1987], 32.)
Philippians 3:10 the fellowship of his sufferings
None of us will ever suffer as Christ suffered when he paid the price of the sins of the world. In this respect, we may feel unworthy to compare our sufferings with His. The cup the Father asks us to drink is certainly not as bitter. Yet with the exception of that remarkable and incomprehensible sacrifice, there are many saints, apostles, and prophets who have suffered as Christ has-even unto death. Many have been beaten; many have been spit upon; many have been ridiculed; and many have been killed. These are they who have been made "partakers of Christ's sufferings." (1 Pet. 4:12-13)
As Peter taught, "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps." (1 Pet. 2:21). "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy." (1 Pet. 4:12-13) "All they who suffer persecution for my name, and endure in faith, though they are called to lay down their lives for my sake yet shall they partake of all this glory. Wherefore, fear not even unto death; for in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full." (D&C 101:35-36)
Neal A. Maxwell
Mortal experience points evermore to the Atonement of Jesus Christ as the central act of all human history. The more I learn and experience, the more unselfish, stunning, and encompassing His Atonement becomes!
When we take Jesus' yoke upon us, this admits us eventually to what Paul called the "fellowship of [Christ's] sufferings" (Philip. 3:10). Whether illness or aloneness, injustice or rejection, etc., our comparatively small-scale sufferings, if we are meek, will sink into the very marrow of the soul. We then better appreciate not only Jesus' sufferings for us, but also His matchless character, moving us to greater adoration and even emulation.
Alma revealed that Jesus knows how to succor us in the midst of our griefs and sicknesses precisely because Jesus has already borne our griefs and sicknesses (see Alma 7:11-12). He knows them firsthand; thus His empathy is earned. Of course, we do not comprehend it fully any more than we understand how He bore all mortal sins, but His Atonement remains the rescuing and reassuring reality. ("From Whom All Blessings Flow," Ensign, May 1997, 12)
Neal A. Maxwell
President [Brigham] Young said of Jesus, "Why should we imagine for one moment that we can be prepared to enter into the kingdom of rest with him and the Father, without passing through similar ordeals?" (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe , 346). The Apostle Paul noted how this sacred process produces an exclusive cadre-those who have known the "fellowship of [Christ's] sufferings" (Philip. 3:10). These are they who will have the greatest capacity for endless service, joy, and happiness. ("Enduring Well," Ensign, Apr. 1997, 8)
JST Philippians 3:11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the just.
Is it an accomplishment to be resurrected? For those who have kept their first estate, it is a blessing but not an accomplishment. We know that all are resurrected from the least to the greatest (1 Cor. 15:22). Knowing this, Joseph Smith altered the text to represent the goal of the righteous-which is to be raised up at "the resurrection of the just." From sections 76 and 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants we further learn that the resurrection of the just includes those who are to inherit both a celestial and a terrestrial glory. Hence, latter-day saints strive not just for the resurrection of the just but for "the morning of the first resurrection" which is the resurrection of those who will inherit a celestial glory.
Philippians 3:12 Not as though I had already attained
How can Paul, near the end of his life, having done all he had for the cause of truth, say he had not "already attained"? Apparently, he did not dare speak with the same tone as modern Christianity. Ironically, while ministers have made Paul the harbinger of salvation-by-grace doctrines, Paul was unwilling to say, "I have been saved!" Rather, he preferred to live as though he had not already arrived. Such an attitude encourages continued diligence and application. To say, "I am saved," on the other hand lulls the believer into a dangerous sense of complacency.
"Many modern Christians claim to be saved, through the pure grace of Christ and by witness of the Spirit, before they have necessarily demonstrated their complete faithfulness. Yet as Paul indicates, to achieve salvation, even with the indispensable aid of Christ, is not easy or instantaneous. One must work at it, even 'with fear and trembling.' (Philip. 2:12.) Even near the end of his dedicated life, Paul himself announced that he had not attained perfection. He was still reaching, still pressing toward the mark for 'the prize' of eternal life. (Philip. 3:12-14.) Regardless of how well the Philippian saints were living, Paul counseled them to do better." (J. Lewis Taylor, "New Testament Backgrounds: Philippians," Ensign, Mar. 1976, 39)
Philippians 3:13 forgetting those things which are behind
"Too many people make themselves miserable by dwelling needlessly on their past failures and mistakes. They lie awake at night agonizing over the mistakes they have made and what they should have done. Almost everyone occasionally does thoughtless, impulsive things that bring unpleasant consequences. Almost everyone occasionally misses golden opportunities through apathy or oversight. Almost everyone may be occasionally selfish or unkind.
"We cannot help feeling despair over such occasions, but we should not feel as if we ought to be exiled from the human race simply because of them. In fact, mistakes are not only an acceptable part of life, but they may even be beneficial. The intelligent use of our mistakes helps us learn and grow; past failures may be guideposts to future successes. But our failures and mistakes can be constructive only if we analyze them, gain what profit we can from them, and then forget them.
"Paul wrote, '... this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before.' (Philip. 3:13.) Many other people have recognized the fact that sometimes one of the best things we can do with the past is to forget it.
"Will Rogers undoubtedly had this in mind when he said, 'Never let yesterday use up too much of today.'
"Ralph Waldo Emerson advised: 'Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt creep in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense.'" (Kenneth L. Higbee, "Forgetting Those Things Which Are Behind," Ensign, Sept. 1972, 83)
Howard W. Hunter
Fix your attention on your goals and don't look back. [Quotes Luke 9:61-62] To dig a straight furrow, the plowman needs to keep his eyes on a fixed point ahead of him. That keeps him on a true course. If, however, he happens to look back to see where he has been, his chances of straying are increased. The results are crooked and irregular furrows. Fix your attention on your goal[s] and never look back on your earlier problems. If our energies are focused not behind us but ahead of us-on eternal life and the joy of salvation-we assuredly will obtain it. (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], 66.)
Philippians 3:14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God
"If your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you, and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things. Therefore sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God." (D&C 88:67-68)
That is the key by which a person can always be successful. Paul says: "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
A grand object that every Latter-day Saint ought to have before him constantly. What is that prize? I have been reading it. "All that my Father hath shall be given unto him." (D&C 84:38) (Brian H. Stuy, ed., Collected Discourses, 5 vols. [Burbank, Calif., and Woodland Hills, Ut.: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987-1992], vol. 4; April 7, 1894)
Marvin J. Ashton
A truly wise person will constantly move forward, striving for self-improvement, knowing that daily repentance is needed for progress. He will realize the good life is simply conforming to a standard of right and justice. The joys of happiness can only be realized by living lofty principles. ("Shake Off the Chains with Which Ye Are Bound," Ensign, Nov. 1986, 15)
Neal A. Maxwell
One sees poignant parallels in Paul's description of his discipleship-"I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling" (Philippians 3:14; italics added)-and Nephi's description of what disciples must do to remain in the straight and narrow path: "Ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ" (2 Nephi 31:20; italics added). Discipleship is not simply surviving and enduring; discipleship is a pressing forward, a creative Christianity. Discipleship does not wait to be acted upon, but instead acts upon men and circumstances to make things better. (Things As They Really Are [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 99.)
Philippians 3:15 as many as be perfect
While perfect submission to the will of the Lord is possible in mortality (Job 1:1, Moses 8:27, D&C 107:43), only the Savior has lived a sin-free life. Paul is referencing those saints, whose righteous desires are great enough to bring them to the brink of perfection, not through their own merits, but by the grace of Christ. These are those striving for perfection, and we might paraphrase Paul's words as follows, "as many as would be perfect."
Howard W. Hunter
The word saint does not mean that any of us is perfect. What it does mean is that we are all trying, all serving, and all vowing to stand firm in the faith. ("Am I a 'Living' Member?" Ensign, May 1987, 17)
Theodore M. Burton
I dare not say that Mormons are perfect, for you know as well as I do that we each have many human faults. We do, however, call ourselves saints as did the members of the Church of Jesus Christ in the days of the original apostles. When those apostles wrote letters to the members of the Church they addressed them as saints. A saint is not necessarily a person who is perfect, but he is a person who strives for perfection-one who tries to overcome those faults and failings which take him away from God. A true saint will seek to change his manner of living to conform more closely to the ways of the Lord.
It is true that we each have imperfections to overcome. Life is a constant series of challenges and trials. Notwithstanding, we should never fail to strive for that perfection of life which can bring us closer into harmony with God. As the apostle Paul said in writing to the Philippians:
"I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as [would] be [come] perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you." (Philip. 3:14-15.)
Thus we should seek to overcome any discovered fault in our characters which tends to take us away from a total commitment to God.
I would like to speak about that principle of dedication or total commitment. It appears to me that when we join the Church of Jesus Christ and especially when we receive the oath and covenant of the priesthood, we should commit ourselves wholly and completely to the cause of God. By this I do not mean we need give up our daily occupations or our interests in the daily affairs of mankind unless we are called by authority from God to do so. I do mean that a true change must occur in our thinking so complete and so total that our very lives are changed for the better as far as our attitudes and our actions are concerned.
A person's attitude is perhaps the hardest of all personal attributes to change. If your attitude is right, then your life is made right. If your heart is touched, your mind and way of thinking will change and your life will change for the better accordingly. I believe we must become so immersed in the gospel of Jesus Christ that we become physically as well as mentally more and more like the Lord himself. We must yield our whole hearts to him. What we then do is done not because we are asked to, nor because we are forced to, but because we want to. Neither pressure nor force can be exerted upon us from outside, when what we do is done because it is our own choice and desire. It then makes no difference to us what other men may think, or say, or do. Our hearts being committed wholly to God, what we do is done out of our love for and our trust in him. We then serve God in every way we can because we have been converted, our attitude has been changed and we now desire to become like him both spiritually and physically. ("The Need for Total Commitment," Ensign, Jan. 1974, 114-115)
Philippians 3:15 Let us therefore... be thus minded
Ezra Taft Benson
"Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be?" asked the Master, and he answered, "Verily I say unto you, even as I am." (3 Ne. 27:27.) Now, there is a lifetime goal-to walk in his steps, to perfect ourselves in every virtue as he has done, to seek his face, and to work to make our calling and election sure. (quotes Philip. 3:13-14.)
Let your minds be filled with the goal of being like the Lord, and you will crowd out depressing thoughts as you anxiously seek to know him and do his will. "Let this mind be in you," said Paul. (Philip. 2:5.) "Look unto me in every thought," said Jesus. (D&C 6:36.) And what will follow if we do? "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee." (Isa. 26:3.) ("Do Not Despair," Ensign, Oct. 1986, 5)
Philippians 3:19 whose God is their belly... who mind earthly things
Neal A. Maxwell
For some, their god "is their belly," as are other forms of anatomical allegiance! (Philip. 3:19.) A few hedonists actually glory in their shame, and there is even a "greediness" in their "uncleanness" (Eph. 4:18-19). Sadly, too, a few envy the wicked. Still others complain that the wicked seem to get away with it! (See Prov. 23:17; Mal. 3:14-15.)
Ironically, in all their eagerness to experience certain things, hedonists, become desensitized. People who wrongly celebrate their capacity to feel finally reach a point where they lose much of their capacity to feel! In the words of three different prophets, such individuals become "past feeling" (see 1 Ne. 17:45; Eph. 4:19; Moro. 9:20). ("Deny Yourselves of All Ungodliness," Ensign, May 1995, 67-68)