religion, christianity, articles
Firm Foundation Logo

How is the word righteousness used in Philippians 3:9?

By Joseph D. Meador

religion, articles, christianity


Question: Please comment on the word righteousness as used in Philippians 3:9.

Answer: The apostle Paul wrote the book of Philippians about A.D. 61 from the imperial city of Rome. Paul was at this time a prisoner on behalf of Jesus Christ, yet he maintained an attitude of Christ-likeness and joy, which he exhorted every Christian to have. In Philippians chapter four Paul encourages each faithful believer to strive for a truly righteous life. It is the biblical idea of "righteousness" that is important to understand.

In Philippians 3:9 Paul wrote: "and be found in him not having a righteousness of mine own..." This "righteousness" refers literally to "a straight line" which is God's standard or will (cf. Gal. 6:16). Paul affirms in Philippians 3:9 that we cannot be righteous on our own merits, nor can we be righteous on our own terms. Rather, we must rely upon the standard for righteousness which is God's revealed will (cf. Rom. 1:15­17; 1 John 2:4).

In Philippians 4:1­9 Paul dearly shows righteousness and Christian living go hand-in-hand. Indeed, this fourfold formula for righteous Christian living is an integral part of living acceptably unto God. God himself, through his inspired Word, has settled his objective standard for what constitutes righteousness.

I. The exhortation to be righteous (4:1­3). Paul admonished his readers to be in a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. How can we stress to others the benefits of living the Christian life if we ourselves are not in a right relationship with God.

Paul wrote: "[S]tand fast in the Lord, my beloved." We must stand fast (cf. 1 Cor. 15:58) and we must do so "in the Lord," that is, in a right relationship with him. This is accomplished when we obey the Gospel and remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus. We must be right, according to God's standard of righteousness.

II. The exhortation to be righteous in prayer (4:4­7). Paul admonishes us to be active in prayer. This is a spiritual must. The avenue of prayer is open to every faithful Christian, and we must take advantage of the spiritual growth which prayer affords. One of the great results of prayer is found in Philippians 4:7 "The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus." Humanistic psychiatrists and counseling psychologists cannot adequately explain the peace of Christian living, yet this is one of the unexplained realities of God. Only by being right with God and being regular in prayer do we know the depth of this true peace. We must pray right.

III. The exhortation to be righteous in thought (4:8). Paul encourages his readers to be righteous in thought. In fact, we are to meditate, think, or contemplate upon only those things which are: "true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and of a good report." Do we really live for these things? Are our minds truly centered upon these facets of Christian thinking? The Hebrew Scriptures affirm: "As a man thinketh in his heart; so is he," and "Keep thy heart with all diligence; For out of it are the issues of life." Solomon urges us to "keep" or "protectively guard" our very minds. The Hebrew Scriptures again teach "I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes." How appropriate in consideration of Philippians 4:8. Let us purpose to keep, guard, and protect our mints as we reflect only upon that which God would have us to meditate upon. Brethren, we must think right.

IV. The exhortation to be righteous in our deeds (4:9). Paul affirmed: "The things which ye both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do: and the God of peace shall be with you." Notice that Paul mentions four things that were a divine demonstration of a righteous life (i.e., "learned," "received," "heard," and "saw"). We are to put the Christian life to the test by living it.

This may be novel to some, yet if we fail to make a personal application of the will of God to our lives what is the point? Finally brethren, we must do right not just feel right

Published October 1997