Archive for April, 2015

Notes on Philippians – 3:17-18

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

How could a preacher of grace, like Paul, call people to imitate him? Like the previous verses (and every other verse in the Bible), the context matters. We must ask, what is the example that we have in Paul and the others who walk accordingly? In two words, faith and repentance. It is easy to see in Paul’s words a call to all kinds of rules rather than a call to faith in Jesus Christ. Yes, Paul is pressing on, but he is doing so because, “Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12). He is not calling people to imitate him in his perfection for he has already said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect…” (Philippians 3:12). Paul is calling the Philippians to imitate him in pressing on by resting in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.

Why does Paul feel the need to encourage the Philippians to walk according the manner he has walked? Because there are some who would lead them astray. Because there are those who are enemies of the cross of Christ. Who are these enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ? Again, the context is helpful. Look back to Philippians 3:2ff where we find Paul distinguishing between those who put confidence in the flesh through circumcision and other religious rights and those who put not confidence in the flesh but chose to rest in Jesus Christ by faith. We forget that you can be an enemy of the cross in two ways. You can simply live an utterly pagan life in which you pretend there is not God or cross or sin or anything else and therefore think you have no need of the cross, or you can live a religious life in which you keep all the rules and pretend you have no need of the cross.

| Permalink
Notes on Philippians – 3:15-16

Let those of us who are mature think this way,

Philippians 3:15 is a go to verse for self-righteous folks who think they have it all figured out. The conversation usually goes something like this.

Mr. Self-Righteous will give a confident assertion about some issue. You will disagree with him and give a well thought out reason for you disagreement. Mr. Self-Righteous will take Philippians 3:15 out of context and respond saying in a gloriously condescending tone, “Well, Saint Paul, the Apostle, said, ‘Let those us us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.’”

The problem with this understanding of Philippians 3:15 is that it is actually the exact opposite of what Paul is saying. Mr. Self-Righteous thinks he has it all figured out and is basically perfect. Paul has just said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own” (Philippians 3:12). The “this way” that Paul wants mature people to think is along the lines of realizing they are not perfect, that they don’t have it all figured out. Isn’t that interesting? With maturity in Christ comes the realization that you are not perfect, but you are pressing on by faith because Jesus made you his own.

and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.

Paul takes this idea a step further. If you think you are perfect in some way, God will straighten you out and help you to see that you are not. This is part of what it means for God to not give his glory to another. This is another aspect of the idea found in Matthew 7:1-5 and Romans 2:1-5.

Matthew writes,

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:1-5).

Paul writes,

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed (Romans 2:1-5).

One way God reveals our foolishness to us, is by judging us according to our own standard. If our standard is, “I am perfect (in my morals, or theology, or social action, or whatever),” then we will in due time be judged by the true standard and shown otherwise. If our standard is, “I am not perfect, but Jesus has claimed me; therefore, I am following him by faith as best I can.” Then we will in due time be judged by Jesus and be found in him.

Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

What have Paul and the Philippians attained? The answer is found in 3:8-11. Paul has attained a righteousness that is not his own, a righteousness that does not come from the law, a righteousness that come through faith in Jesus Christ, a righteousness that comes from God and depends on faith. This is what Paul has attained, and this is what he wants the Philippians to hold onto. If we begin thinking we are perfect in some way, then we have let go of the righteousness that comes by grace through faith in Christ.

| Permalink
Notes on Philippians – 3:13-14

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.

Paul repeats that he is not living in some delusional state, thinking that he is perfect or has somehow figured out how to perfectly apply the realities of the resurrection in this life. Paul sees sanctification as an ongoing process.

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,

Paul is also clear that the Christian life is not passive, but is an ongoing fight. In the next line Paul tells us what the one thing he does actually is, “I press on.” In this clause he gives us two means of pressing on.

First, Paul tells us that he presses on by “forgetting what lies behind.” “The past is in the past.” “Let the past be the past.” “Don’t look back.” Paul’s idea is not a unique idea; however, the gospel does color this idea in a unique way. When we say, “The past is in the past,” we often are accepting a reverse fatalism. Our thinking is, “There is nothing I can do to change the past, so I may as well move on.” While this is true, and neither Paul nor the gospel deny this, the gospel does give us a slightly but significantly different take on things past.

Recall Paul’s past. He persecuted the church. He murdered and approved of the murder of Christians. Of course this was not Paul’s only sin, but it is enough to make the point. It would be easy for Paul to have this fact about his past constantly before himself and never truly accept the forgiveness that is his in Christ Jesus, constantly asking, “How could God love me?” However, his sinful failures are not what define him. Past failures are not what define any Christian. Sure, our past has shaped us, but if we are united to Christ by faith, then we are defined in gospel terms: loved, child of God, forgiven, restored, redeemed, freed from the bondage of sin, holy, forgiven, righteous, etc.

Another aspect of Paul’s past is that he did a fairly good job of keeping the law and being religious. Paul has a great pedigree and practice. Recall his self description from 3:5-6, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Along with his past sin, Paul forgets all of this as well. Why? Because the blood of Christ speaks a better word about Paul than all of his fleshly law keeping. If our past failures are not what defines us, then neither are our past triumphs what defines us. Paul is not righteous because of any providence or law keeping. Paul is righteous because of the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Further, Paul is defined by neither a one time act of believing in Jesus, as if that act of faith makes counts for righteousness, nor a post-profession failure. There is simply nothing in the past Paul clings to. He clings to Jesus Christ.

Second, Paul says he presses on by “straining forward to what lies ahead.” “Keep you eyes on the prize.” “Keep calm, and carry on.” “Just keep swimming.” Again, we are always coming up with new ways to say what Paul is saying, but there is a difference in our statements and Paul’s. The prizes we identify are severely limited. Our calmness is often mere denial of reality. We “swim” aimlessly just like the cartoon fish whose life philosophy we have adopted at a deeper level than we want to admit. Paul sees his risen, victorious King seated on the throne in glory having prepared a place for him and come hell or high water refuses to take his eyes off of Jesus. And it is a strain.

I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus.

Paul knows that something better is found in Christ. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). The Christian life is not self-denial for the sake of self-denial. The Christian life is not based on an imagined future that helps us function better in reality. Jesus Christ has secured a true hope and a certain future for us by dealing with our sin and brokenness through his life, death, and resurrection. The goal, the upward call, is glory, and it is secured for us by Jesus Christ. Paul presses on to that prize by believing the promises of the gospel and straining to live by faith in light of these glorious promises as opposed to the nullified condemnations and empty commendations of his past.

 

| Permalink
Notes on Philippians – 3:12

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect,

Paul longs to know the power of the resurrection – the forgiveness, the freedom from sin and death, the open and full acquittal in judgement, the full enjoyment of God apart from sin. However, he is not there yet. Paul still struggles against his flesh. He still fails. In Galatians Paul wrote,

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do (Galatians 5:16-17).

We often fail in the Christian life and walk off into some sin or another. This struggle against sin is normal. It is not “okay,” but it is normal. When we forget that struggle with sin is a normal part of the Christian life, we despair over our salvation at every failure. When we start thinking that the normal Christian life is a life of perfection, we live in constant fear and arrogance.

but I press on to make it my own,

While the Christian life is not about being perfect, it is also not about glorying in shame and growing comfortable in sin. The normal Christian life is a life of pressing on. The word that is translated “press on” is a word that is all about effort in pursuit. It is the same idea as walking in the Spirit so that you won’t gratify the desires of your flesh (Galatians 5). Or,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

Or again,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Notice in all of these passages there is a cooperation with God – not in justification but in sanctification. Let me give you two definitions.

First, “What is justification? Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone” (Westminster Shorter Catechism #33).

Notice that justification is an act, a one time action of God toward us, declaring something about us based on something Jesus did.

Second, “What is sanctification? Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness” (Westminster Shorter Catechism #35).

Notice that sanctification is an ongoing, gracious work of God enabling us to fight sin. Even in sanctification we are living by grace, but that grace is enabling us to live in a particular way. This is what Paul has in mind when he talks about pressing on to know the power of the resurrection.

These theological categories are helpful to understand for two reasons.

First, we must understand these categories lest we forget that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and begin living as if our successful pursuit of holiness is the basis for our justification. That is legalism.

Second, we must understand these categories lest we think that any call to holiness is legalism. John wrote in his first letter, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). There is the proper relationship defined. Christians should not sin, but a Christian’s sin does not undo his justification. Jesus’ blood did not cover only the sins committed before we professed faith, it covered all of them.

(Side note: Some are quick to point out that the idea of sanctification is sometimes used in Scripture in the sense of God declaring someone holy. This is most certainly true. In Scripture we can in fact distinguish between definitive sanctification, the idea that you are defined as holy or declared to be holy, and progressive sanctification, the idea that you grow in holiness. It is unwise and unbiblical to play these two ideas off each other as if one undoes the other.)

All of this begs a question, “What is Paul’s motivation for pressing on to make this resurrection life his own?”

because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Paul was loved and claimed by Jesus, and this fact of being loved and claimed motivated him to press on to know the One who had claimed him and the power of that One’s resurrection. Paul loved Jesus because he was loved by Jesus. Paul wanted to know Jesus because he was known by Jesus. Paul was not loving and knowing to gain something from Jesus; Paul was pressing on to love and know Jesus because he had been given everything by Jesus.

| Permalink
Notes on Philippians – 3:10-11

…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection,

Paul reiterates what has already been written in verses 8-9. His desire is to know Jesus. To this end, he has counted all of his law keeping for righteousness as dung. There is nothing higher for Paul than to know Jesus.

Here Paul expands on the idea of knowing Christ to include knowing the benefits that come with Jesus. Paul also desires to know Jesus’ resurrection. Paul is not thinking here of knowing Jesus’ resurrection as an historical fact. His desire is to know its power, that is to know the transforming, life-giving, hope inducing power of the resurrection. Paul writes in some detail about the power of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. After reminding the Corinthians of the historic fact of Jesus’ resurrection Paul spells out the implications.

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins… But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive… I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable… When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17, 20-22, 50, 54-57).

Paul wants to know life. Paul wants to know victory over sin. Paul wants to know victory over death. Paul wants to know and walk in the victory that is his in Jesus Christ. This is what it means to know the power of Jesus and his resurrection.

and may share his sufferings,

Jesus told his disciple that if the world hated him it would hate them as well. As the body of Christ we suffer with Christ. The apostles counted it a privilege to suffer. Acts 5 records one of the arrests of the apostles. The story concludes after their release with these words, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41). Union with someone entails sharing in all that person endures. This is the point of wedding vows, “In sickness and in health; in plenty and in want.” There will be no sharing in the resurrection of Christ without also sharing in his sufferings. This is not because we earn something by suffering but because we cannot partially identify with Christ.

becoming like him in his death,

Paul is quite willing to die if it means resurrection. Paul is quite willing to follow Christ if it means death. In Paul’s mind, “to live is Christ, to die is gain.” It is only through death that resurrection can come, but through death resurrection will most certainly come. This is Paul’s focus as we see in the following clause.

that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Resurrection from the dead meant eternal life in victory over sin and death. Resurrection meant final and full freedom from “this body of sin and death.” Resurrection meant forgiveness and eternal life with Christ. This was Paul’s desire. The restoration of life that can only come through the resurrection. Westminster Shorter Catechism #38 explains the point this way. “What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection? At the resurrection, believers, being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.” Paul’s thought is, “Come what may, the resurrection is worth it.”

| Permalink
Notes on Philippians – 3:8-9

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

To know Christ was of supreme value for Paul. Nothing in this life compared. Paul wrote a similar thing to the Romans, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Paul has just outlined his Jewish heritage and record as a law keeper. On paper, Paul had a stellar reputation on which he could easily draw in order to live a very comfortable life; however, the value of knowing Jesus outstripped all the identity, hope, and security that could come from such religious standing. Whatever Paul might have gained before men by some religious action or by earthly possession so paled in comparison to knowing Jesus Christ that it was rightly counted as a loss, a liability. In Paul’s mind, Jesus was the only asset.

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things

Paul did not hold on to anything earthly as if to gain some righteousness from it – not his law keeping, not his possessions, not his reputation, not his life. For Paul, the choice between holding on to anything in this world and knowing Jesus was a clear choice, know Jesus. Paul was regularly faced with the very real choice between possessions and Jesus, comfort and Jesus, freedom and Jesus, reputation and Jesus, life in this world and Jesus. Paul gave it all up for the sake of Christ. There is a profound freedom from this world and all its demands and arbitrary standards that comes with knowing and being known by Jesus Christ.

and count them as rubbish,

If you’re not British, you are probably missing what Paul is saying about his law keeping, and anything else we may look to in this world to gain some standing. In an American context, “rubbish” is entirely too cute and sanitary of a word for what Paul is saying. The King James translates the same word as “dung.” That’s better! Daniel Wallace, professor of Greek and New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, concludes his word study of this word (which can be read here) saying,

In Phil 3:8, the best translation of σκύβαλα seems clearly to be from the first group of definitions. The term conveys both revulsion and worthlessness in this context. In hellenistic Greek it seems to stand somewhere between “crap” and “s**t.” However, due to English sensibilities, and considering the readership (Christians), a softer term such as “dung” is most appropriate. The NET Bible, along with a few other translations, grasp the connotations here, while most modern translations only see the term as implying worthlessness. But Paul’s view of his former life is odious to him, as ours should be to us. The best translation, therefore, is one that picks up both worthlessness and revulsion, and probably a certain shock value.

Paul is not just rejecting his former life of religiosity, he is disgusted by it! This is a proper view of our good works by which we think we gain some standing before God. When we pretend our good works make us righteous, it’s as if we are rolling around in dung and pretending not only that we are clean but that it is the dung that makes us clean.

in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him,

There is a strong contrast at work in this verse. Much like Jesus’ statement, “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24), Paul is saying, “You can’t trust Jesus and your own righteous works.” Paul understands that he is either entirely defined by and justified by Jesus or he is not at all. If he holds on to his works he loses Jesus. If he holds on to Jesus he loses his works. It is as if Paul is a one-armed man stuck in pit, being offered two ropes, and faced with the reality that we can only hold on to one. If you are like me, your very first thought was, “Why doesn’t he just tie the ropes together and benefit from the strength of both?” And my response to myself and to you is, “Your arrogant confidence in the rope of your works to add some strength to the rope of Christ’s righteousness, betrays your supposed faith, and will be your death.”

There is one way out of the pit of sin and death and it is to be united to Jesus Christ by faith. Throughout the New Testament we find prepositional phrases like “in him,” which is employed in this verse. These phrases point to our being united to Jesus by faith. This is the doctrine of union with Christ. We are in Jesus. We are united to him in such a way that his perfect righteousness and wrath-satisfying death count for us.

not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,

Paul wants to be clear. The righteousness he desires, the righteousness he needs, is not his own. His law keeping won’t cut it. He does not want to be found standing on his own righteousness because he knows it would a self-made mountain of dung. Christians are not righteous because they have believed in Jesus and kept the law. They are righteous because by believing in Jesus, his righteousness is credited to their account. Our righteousness is not a resident righteousness, it is an alien righteousness. It’s not from these parts.

but that which comes through faith in Christ,

The righteousness Paul desires and needs comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is justification?” and answers, “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.” Later, the Catechism asks and answers another helpful question. “What is faith in Jesus Christ? Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.”

the righteousness from God that depends on faith - 

The righteousness whereby we can stand before the holy God does not come from us. It is “from God.” This righteousness that is “from God” does not depend on our works, that is, it is not applied to us by our being good, but it depends on faith, that is, it is applied to us by faith – by receiving and resting upon Jesus alone, as he is offered to us in the gospel. The righteousness required and by which we are counted righteous before God, is not something that we can come up with, it is supplied by God. In another letter, Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). And again in Romans,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17).

The righteousness we need cannot be produced by us, but is freely given to all who believe in Jesus. Stop playing with dung and pretending to be clean. Turn to Jesus in faith recognizing that all you’ve managed to do is cover yourself in excrement and actually be cleaned.

| Permalink
Notes on Philippians – 3:4-7

though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also.

After making the point that those in Christ put no confidence in the flesh, Paul uses himself as an example to say, “but we could put confidence in the flesh if that’s what counted.” Undoubtedly, there were some critics of Paul who took the position of saying, “Of course you don’t put any confidence in the flesh. You can’t.” Paul puts an end to this line of argument by rolling out his resume. Paul knew what it was to live according to the law and be approved because of your pious life.

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:

Paul then takes his statements about his law keeping a step further, essentially challenging people to produce a better resume than he can. It would be easy to take this as pure hubris; however, Paul is not being prideful. Paul does not think his law keeping actually counts for anything; he his simply making the point, that no one can rightly charge him with looking for an easy way out because he can’t keep the law.

circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews;

Each of these distinctions is to show that Paul was an ethnic Jew born to faithful parents, and not a Johnny-Come-Lately who was now not off to the next big thing.

Though he does not count it as anything in which to put confidence, like every Jewish boy born to faithful parents, he was circumcised on the eighth day, just as the law requires. If you remember the story of Moses and Zipporah’s return to Egypt in Exodus 4, we learn that Paul’s circumcision puts him in a category of faithfulness that even Moses’ children could not claim.

Paul was not just hanging around with Jews, he was a Jew, that was his lineage. His line was traced back through Benjamin. There is nothing particularly special about being in the tribe of Benjamin beyond being able to show a true, Jewish pedigree.

Calling himself “a Hebrew of Hebrews” could be understood a couple ways. Paul could be presenting himself as the paradigmatic Jewish man or simply stating in another way that his Jewishness is generational – a Hebrew born to Hebrews. Either way, Paul’s point is, “You can’t discount me on any genealogical technicality.”

as to the law, a Pharisee;

As with any religious group, there were parties among the Jews. The four major factions were the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots. In Acts 26:5 Paul says, “according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee.” To put this in modern, Presbyterian parlance, Paul was the 1st century Jewish version of a regulative principle (not the Lutheran version) following, psalms only singing strict-subscriptionist. Paul knew the rules, and he followed the rules.

as to zeal, a persecutor of the church;

Before Paul was a Christian, he was actually going out looking for Christians to persecute and even kill. Acts 9, which records Paul’s conversion begins this way (remember Paul’s name had been changed from Saul), “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1-2).

as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Paul is not necessarily claiming never to have sinned or never to have been found unclean for some reason outside his control. Rather, he is claiming to have followed all the legal rules when he did sin or was found to be unclean. If a sacrifice was needed, Paul made the sacrifice. If time outside the gate was needed, he went. He didn’t leave anything outstanding against himself in legal terms.

But whatever gain I had, I count as loss for the sake of Christ.

Paul didn’t turn to Jesus because he didn’t like the law or couldn’t keep the law. Paul turned to Jesus because that is where the law was designed to point him. His eyes had been opened as to the true effectiveness of the law. Paul had come to understand what he expressed in Galatians 2:15-16,

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

We can either count our law keeping as a gain and miss out on Christ, or count it as a loss and gain everything by grace, through faith, in Christ.

 

 

| Permalink
Notes on Philippians – 3:1-3

Finally my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.

Joy is one of the major themes of the book of Philippians. Over the four chapters of this short letter, Paul talks about joy 14 different times. Paul does see a place for rejoicing in response to earthly circumstances. He longs to send Epaphroditus back to the Philippians that they might rejoice at seeing him. However, most frequently, the joy Paul encourages in the Philippians is rooted in Jesus Christ. Here Paul tells the Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord.”  Just as Jesus is the source of righteousness, so he is the source of joy. Paul wants the Philippians to be confident in and satisfied with Jesus Christ.

To write the same things to you in no trouble to me and is safe for you.

As noted above, joy in Christ is not a new theme at this point in the letter. Paul has been beating this joy-drum from the very beginning of his letter. He understands that we need to be reminded repeatedly, and he does not mind reminding us. Apparently, with resting fully in Christ comes both joy and patience. Rejoicing in Christ, being fully satisfied with him, goes with the warnings that follow. When we are dissatisfied with Christ, we will look for anything we can to establish our own righteousness. There were some, whom Paul calls dogs, evildoers, and mutilators of the flesh, who were ready to offer up a different plan of righteousness, so Paul tells the Philippians to rejoice in Jesus – don’t lose sight of him.

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.

Calling someone a dog has never been a compliment. Paul may be turning the tables on the Jews by using their favorite derogatory name for the Gentiles to refer back to them. He may also be picking up on other references to dogs found in other Scriptures such as those in Isaiah 56, wherein the shepherds of Israel are condemned as dogs for their selfish motivation in dealing with the people, which led to the destruction of the people. Rather than creating unity among the people of God, the dogs divide the people against one another causing the people to “bite and devour one another” (Galatians 5:15).

Paul then warns the Philippians of the same group, referring to them as evildoers. Again, Paul is referring to those who fancied themselves religious and righteous in terms they would have used for those they counted unrighteous. Paul sees the works they are doing and the message they are proclaiming as evil, so he offers a warning.

A third moniker is offered for this group about which Paul is warning the Philippians, “those who mutilate the flesh.” This is the most pointed statement, but we miss it in English. The Greek word, which is translated “those who mutilate the flesh” is katatome (pronounced cat-a-toe-may), and is a word play with the Greek word for circumcision, peritome (pronounce pair-i-toe-may), used in the next verse. Paul’s sees those who would require circumcision as a badge of righteousness as mutilators of the flesh. He is directly attacking the religious views of the group about which he is warning the Philippians.

The group Paul is warning the Philippians about is the Judaizers, those who thought everyone needed to become Jewish, not simply in the sense of being grafted in to the cultivated olive tree, but also in the sense of fulfilling the law.

For we are the circumcision,

Here is the other half of Paul’s word play. After calling those who hold onto physical circumcision as a badge of righteousness “mutilators of the flesh”, Paul takes the audacious step of calling a bunch of Jesus-loving, uncircumcised gentiles “the circumcision.” Paul defines this group he calls “the circumcision” three ways.

who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh -

Going back to the prophet Joel, the Jews were given a promise that God would pour out his Spirit on all of his people. Jesus tells the woman at the well in John 4, “the hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). Peter, in his Pentecost sermon, told everyone listening that the prophecy of Joel was begin fulfilled right before their eyes. Paul is now looking back to all of that and telling the Philippians, “God is fulfilling his promises in you through Jesus Christ. You are those who worship by the Spirit of God, and you do so through faith in Christ.” Therefore, they glory in Christ Jesus because it is in and through him that they have access to God to worship him. Further, because their confidence is in Christ Jesus, they are not impressed with their own flesh.

Paul wants the Philippians to remember they are products of grace not their own impressiveness. This idea scandalized the Judaizers, though it should not have. God told the Jews in Deuteronomy that they were not getting anything because they were righteous. He said,

Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, “It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,” whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people (Deuteronomy 9:4-6).

Paul understood that circumcision, even though it was given to infants, pointed to the reality of a changed heart. God commanded the Israelites, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deuteronomy 10:16). However, the Israelites continued in their stubborn ways unable to transform their own hearts. God knew they would do this, so God later promised, “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6). Paul understood that God was working by grace.

Paul’s point in calling the Philippians “the circumcision” and defining the same through a relationship to God mediated by Jesus, the Son of God, and sealed by the Holy Spirit, is to show that God has fulfilled his promises made so many generations ago. Those who trust in Christ are the ones whose hearts have been circumcised by God even though their flesh doesn’t bare the mark of circumcision. Those who are still clinging to the physical act of circumcision are literally putting their confidence in flesh, or the lack thereof.

Religious people are still tempted to put confidence in their works, however they define them, rather than Christ. To do this is not different than mutilating yourself and thinking you’ve gained some standing with God. In what or whom is your confidence? If you count yourself righteous because of anything other than the finished work of Jesus Christ graciously applied to you by the Holy Spirit through faith, Paul has three words for you – dog, evildoer, mutilator. The good news is, Jesus died people like us. Turn to Christ and by faith, join the ranks of the circumcision.

| Permalink
Notes on Philippians – 2:25-30

I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need,

Epaphroditus was a Philippian who was sent to Paul in prison with a gift from the Philippians. Paul is now sending him back rather than Timothy; therefore, Paul commends Epaphroditus to the Philippians. Again, Paul does not see ministry as a lone ranger proposition but as a communal work. Paul and Epaphroditus, and through him the Philippians, are brothers-in-arms.

for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.

Epaphroditus loved the Philippians and was anxious to return to his friends and family. We do not know what the illness was, but we find out that it was fairly serious. Epaphroditus wanted the Philippians to know that he was okay.

Indeed he was ill, near to death.

Paul confirms the reports the Philippians had previously heard. We do not know how these reports had come to the Philippians, clearly there were others traveling that could have taken the news, or a previous letter could have been sent. We do not know. We do know that Epaphroditus was pretty bad off for a time, nearly dying.

But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.

This seemingly simple verse is very helpful. On the one hand Paul is affirming God’s sovereignty in the affairs of men. While God does work through means such as medicine, it is nonetheless God who numbers our days. We are dependent on him even for physical life in his sovereignty over us. Yet, this does not negate the human side of life. Had Epaphroditus died, Paul’s response would not have been to shed no tear or have no sadness on the grounds that God is sovereign. Rather, his response would have been “sorrow upon sorrow.” Accepting that God is sovereign does not mean we become stoics. Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. When we face the harshness of death it is hard, we mourn and we grieve, but “not as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). The hope we have is that death does not get the final word, Jesus does.

I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.

Considering others more significant than yourself means that you are going to be concerned for how they feel. Their sadness, in some ways, will be your sadness. Their joy will be your joy. Paul longs to send Epaphroditus home so the Philippians can rejoice at having their brother, who nearly died, restored to them again.

So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men,

It is not clear why Paul gives this command. It reads as though there may have been some question as to how the Philippians would have received Epaphroditus; however, that thought does not fit well with their longing to see him again. Whatever the motivation, Paul wants the Philippians to rejoice with and honor Epaphroditus and others like him. What kind of men are “such men?”

for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

The men Paul has in mind are those who have learned to hold their lives loosely for the sake of the gospel. Epaphroditus didn’t risk his life in the sense of going to some hard area and being persecuted. He risked his life through the normal risks that came with travel in those days in order to bring some service from the Philippians to Paul. We often think of being poured out for the gospel in terms of persecution, Paul adds the category of simply holding this life so loosely that you wear yourself out for the gospel and live in full reliance on the strength that comes through Christ.

| Permalink
Notes on Philippians – 2:19-24

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you.

The Christian life is a communal life. We are encouraged and strengthened by one another and how God is at work in and through us. Paul wants to send Timothy to his friends the Philippians so that he can bring back a report that he assumes will be a good report.

For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.

Timothy was a stand-up guy. He understood what Paul has been writing about in his letter. Timothy cared for people. He counted others “more significant than himself” (Philippians 2:3). Timothy looked not only to his own interests, “but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). These characteristics made him stand out among Paul’s people.

For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

There were others, besides Timothy, hanging around Paul who didn’t quite get what Paul was talking about. They were self-interested. They way Paul frames their attitude is interesting. Given the immediate context, we would expect seeking your own interests to be contrasted with seeking the interests of others. However, Paul says their selfishness means they are not seeking the interests of Jesus. Why is this? Because Jesus was concerned for others. If you are fixed on yourself, you are, by definition, not fixed on Christ. Further, if you are fixed on yourself, the outcome of your life will be different than if you were fixed on Christ. You will never care for others by being interested in yourself. You will never worship yourself if you eyes are fixed on Christ.

But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.

Timothy’s worth does not come from his natural ability or giftedness. It does not come from him being a dynamic speaker or a great leader or super in tune with the culture. Timothy’s proven worth comes from him having his eyes fixed on Christ, being satisfied with Christ, and therefore willing and able to serve the people around with with true concern and humility.

I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me,

Paul is waiting for answers regarding his fate. The Philippians are anxious about Paul as well. His plan is to send Timothy with a report to the Philippians once he has some idea of what is going on. In the mean time, Paul writes to comfort the Philippians and encourage them in the gospel. We are reminded again that Paul is not writing from a position of ease in life. His theology and practice are not theoretical.

and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.

Paul does not know what will happen, but he trusts God with the outcome.

| Permalink