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HAS THIS PASSAGE EVER BOTHERED YOU?
Philippians 3:11; Is Our Resurrection Certain?
by Bob Wilkin
Recently I happened upon two theses on Philippians 3:11. They
took completely different views of it--one concluded Paul was
uncertain that he would be rewarded in heaven and the
other that Paul was uncertain that he would be in heaven.
Let's examine this important passage.
The phrase whose meaning is in question is this: "If, by
any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead."
First, it is clear that whatever Paul meant by the
"resurrection from the dead" he was
unsure that he would attain it. The Greek words, ei pos,
translated "if, by any means," cannot
reasonably be construed in any other way except as conveying a
sense of uncertainty (cf. Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker's,
Greek-English Lexicon of the N.T., p.220).
Second, the term translated "resurrection" is not
the normal Greek term for resurrection, anastasis. The word Paul
used here is exanastasis. Some have suggested
that a more literal rendering of this term is "the
out-resurrection." I agree with this view.
Third, Paul knew without doubt that he was regenerated and
would be resurrected someday. Romans 8:38-39 and 1 Corinthians 15
are convincing in this regard.
Therefore, fourth, whatever Paul hoped to gain was something
other than the normal resurrection of all believers from the
Fifth, the context shows that Paul considered this
out-resurrection conditional for
believers. Faithfulness is required to attain it. To gain it one
must live Christ's resurrection
life experientially (3:10), must willingly share in His
sufferings by accepting persecution and
pain for his sake (3:10), and must conform himself to Jesus'
death by laying down his life for
others (3:10; cf. 1 John 3:16-18). Clearly more than faith in
Christ is involved. We must
"press on" daily in our Christian experience if we hope
to attain this prize (3:14).
Sixth, this out-resurrection is a prize, not a free gift of
grace (3:14). The word used here is an interesting one. It is
brabeion. It is only used twice in the New Testament, here and
in 1 Corinthians 9:24. In the latter passage Paul writes:
"Do you not know that those who run
in a race all run, but [only] one receives the prize? Run in such
a way that you may obtain it."
Commentators are widely in agreement that that passage refers to
eternal rewards which
believers can obtain for faithfulness in this life. It is very
likely, therefore, that the only other
use of the term also occurs in a rewards context. A comparison of
the two passages proves that
this is a valid hypothesis. Both concern a prize which Paul
suggest that believers should hope to
obtain, one which can be won through faithfulness in this life.
(See also Matt 6:19-21.)
Seventh, Paul strongly and repeatedly asserted that
is not a result of our
faithfulness, good deeds, or strivings (Rom. 3:23-26; 4:5;
Gal. 2:16; 3:6-14; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).
The meaning of this passage should be clear. It deals with
discipleship, not regeneration.
It pertains to believers, not unbelievers. It concerns rewards
(not kingdom entrance) which a
believer can obtain through striving to produce good works. The
out-resurrection is a special
reward which only faithful believers will receive. While the
exact nature of that reward is
unclear here, it can generally be understood as a sort of
abundance of life. All believers will be
resurrected and have joy forever. Faithful believers only will
obtain this out-resurrection and
have abundance of joy forever. Hebrews 11:35 is instructive here.
It speaks of believers who
"were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might
obtain a better resurrection." All
believers will be resurrected, but there is a better one for
those who endure. Obviously this
out-resurrection is something which is capable of many degrees
depending on the measure of
one's faithfulness. Thus the degree to which we are faithful to
use our talents, treasures, gifts,
abilities, resources, and opportunities in life to please Him is
the degree to which we will obtain
this out-resurrection abundance of life.
We should strive to attain this prize of the out-resurrection.
Like Paul, we won't know until the end of our lives whether we
will attain it (cf. 2 Tim. 4:7-8). Like him that goal should
motivate us daily to please the Lord (cf. 2 Cor. 5:9-10). Was it
not our glorious soon-to-be-returning Lord who said, "Where
your treasure is, there will your
heart be also" (Matt 6:21)?
Rather than causing us to doubt our salvation, Philippians 3:11
should cause us to rejoice in it
and to strive to realize all the fruit thereof which God intends.
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