Glory, Part 2

The word “glory” and variations of it are seen well over 500 times throughout the Bible. It’s a popular word that deserves our attention. Last time, we looked at how Paul used it in Colossians 1:27 –

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27 | NIV84)

The hope of glory” was the hope that Paul had; it’s the hope that all Christians have had since the early Church began – the hope that one day, our faith will become sight; that our beliefs – the beliefs that caused Paul to spend time in prison, that caused Stephen’s martyrdom, that caused so many Christians to suffer – will be completely vindicated and we will, like our Lord, will be glorified at His coming.

Closely related to that is Paul’s second use of the word “glory,” and we find it in Philippians:

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20-21 | NIV84)

Verse 21 is almost too good to be true, especially for those of us suffering any kind of chronic pain or illness. Just imagine a day when when your joints no longer ache; when you can hear with crystal clarity; when you can see without having to find your glasses. Imagine the day when your body stops betraying you; stops breaking down; stops aging, and is remade in perfection. That’s what Paul is getting at in these two verses. Jesus Christ, our Lord, will, one day, transform our bodies – the bodies that have right now – into bodies like His glorified Body. It’s an amazing thing to think about; it’s almost inconceivable. Let’s take a look how stunning a teaching this really is by looking at why Paul wrote it.

A look a the city

Philippi had a long and glorious history even by Paul’s day. It was named after Philip, the father of Alexander. It was the scene of the battle between Brutus and Octavian, which gave birth to the Roman Empire in 42 B.C. Octavian (Augustus), the head of the new state, rebuilt Philippi and filled it with his Roman soldiers, making it a military outpost and colony of Rome.

The citizens of Philippi were Roman citizens and were granted special privileges, including the right of voting and of being governed by their own senate and magistrates rather than by the governor of the province. While the official language was Latin, Greek was the language commonly used. Philippi was, for all intents and purposes, a mini version of Rome. It was a cultural center, full of different religions and cultural expressions and the people tended to be on the superstitious side.

The church at Philippi was founded by Paul and his associates during his second missionary journey about A.D. 52. There weren’t many Jews in the city, and there was no synagogue. This meant that Paul was unable to follow his normal practice of preaching and teaching in the local synagogue. But, he did find a prayer meeting down by the river:

On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. (Acts 13:13 | TNIV)

Lydia, a seller of purple fabric, was by the river that day and was the first convert and member of the new church. A slave girl, whose conversion brought a loss of profit to her masters, was another convert, and it was her conversion that resulted in the imprisonment of Paul and Silas. From the prison they prayed and sang praises to God and were set free by an earthquake. The prison keeper, seeing the power of God, was converted, with all his household (Acts 16:33).

That’s how the church in Philippi began. People became members of the congregation based on their confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Nothing more. No hoops to jump through. No courses to take.

Trouble brewing

There was a problem simmering in the church, though, and that’s one reason why Paul wrote this letter.

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. (Philippians 3:1 | TNIV)

Well, Paul certainly had a good attitude. It was no trouble for him to write this letter; it’s not like he could do much else, since he was in prison at the time! He was in prison for preaching the Gospel but he wrote this letter “as a safeguard” for his friends in Philippi. The problem there was a familiar one. Yet another false teaching had wormed its way into one of Paul’s congregations. And like all false teachings of the day, this one was a mixture of the true, seasoned by lies.

Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. (Philippians 3:2 | TNIV)

Those “dogs” were “evil doers” because the were encouraging Christians to mutilate their flesh. What does Paul mean by that? This was the false teaching and it was being pushed by converted Jews who thought that Christians needed to be circumcised in order to be saved. In other words, these people clung to parts of their old religion and tried to mix it into their new one. This false teaching, then, was a meshing together of Judaism and Christianity.

Now, Paul had encountered false teaching and false teachers before. In fact, most of his letters were occasioned by one false teaching or another. This one, though, was particularly troublesome because it involved cutting the flesh. It’s not that Paul didn’t believe it circumcision; as far as he was concerned only Christians were truly circumcised because it involved, not the flesh, but the spirit.

In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your sinful nature was put off when you were circumcised by Christ…. (Colossians 2:11 | TNIV)

These false teachers, though, were all about outward signs; they were all about what could be done in the flesh and to the flesh. The Christian, by contrast, understands that the sinner is changed from the inside out; that mutilating the flesh has no spiritual value whatsoever. None.

You may not be able to relate to this particular false teaching, but there are modern parallels you may be familiar with. Silas, the evil albino monk in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, for example, is seen flagellating himself while praying; whipping himself with a cat-tail whip made of knotted cord, flung over the shoulder until it draws blood. It’s a strange sight, but it didn’t come from Mr Brown’s fertile imagination. Historically, there have been movements that taught that mutilating the flesh purged sin from the soul. In the Roman Catholic Church, they were known as The Flagellants. Pope John Paul was one who practiced this bizarre ritual.

But Paul the apostle condemned such rituals. In his mind, faith in Jesus Christ was all that was necessary for salvation. That was quite a statement for Paul to make, and he certainly knew what he was talking about, considering his past. Here was a man who had, in the past, fulfilled the Jewish law right down to the minutest detail.

If others think they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. (Philippians 3:4 – 6 | TNIV)

If anybody knew about obeying the rules and regulations, Paul did. These false teachings were nothing new to Paul; he’d heard them all before. And here’s what he thought them:

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. (Philippians 3:7 | TNIV)

Paul is using the language of commerce here. The English “gains” is the Greek kerde, and is plural, but “loss,” or zemian is singular. Before his conversion, Paul had placed on the credit side of his ledger all of the supposed advantages of his religion, thinking that each one had some spiritual value in itself, and he would remind God of these virtues one at a time. Here is the very essence of sin. Man is so full of himself that he has no room left for the Spirit. He trusts his intellectual acumen, his humanistic ideals, his personal virtues, his disciplined life, his honesty, and even his religious exercises—and holds them up to God as though they merited salvation.

In contrast, repentance is to become horrified at one’s past and present life.. Paul on the Damascus road saw that this native trust in his own achievements merited such horror; it was more of a hindrance than a help. When he found Christ – or Christ found him – he transferred these former works from the credit side of the ledger to the debit side, considering all of them together as one great loss. As the sailor throws everything overboard in a storm to save his life, so Paul tossed overboard every bit of personal merit “for the of Christ.”

And that’s the attitude the congregation in Philippi needed to have. Instead of going backward and retrieving the law that they had tossed overboard for Christ, they needed to forget about all that junk and concentrate on moving forward in the faith, as Paul was doing.

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12b – 14 | TNIV)

That’s what Paul was doing, and that’s what the good folks in Philippi should have been doing, instead of entertaining false teachers and their false teaching.

All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Philippi 3:15, 16 | TNIV)

That’s brilliant advice from a man who thought a lot about interpersonal relationships. Mature people, Paul says, press on; they look ahead, they don’t go backward. Mature Christians may disagree on some points, and if they do, they should pray about it and God would make things clear. But most of all, according to Paul, Christians need to live up to their confession. If you confessed Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then live like you believe it.

Two destinies

Living what you believe means not paying attention to false teachers and their teachings. Here’s another reason why:

Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:19 | TNIV)

Those aren’t the kind of people Christians should be paying attention to. Christians should be paying attention to Paul and those who are living out their faith according to the Scriptures. And, if you need another reason to avoid false teachers and their wacky ideas is this:

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…. (Philippians 3:20 | TNIV)

In other words, we don’t belong here; we just visiting this planet, to borrow a phrase from Jellybean, a.k.a. John Benitez. If we don’t belong here, we should be careful how involved we become in worldly things, like the mutilation of our flesh or our participation man-made religions. Why get involved with those things if they are of no eternal, spiritual value.

That finally gets us to the verse that is reason for this teaching:

who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:21 | TNIV)

That’s a final stab at the false teacher who says a Christian must mutilate or alter his body in order to be saved. Paul says, “Don’t do it! Jesus is coming and HE, not you, will transform your pathetic body into one like His.” So just wait! Before you put a knife to yourself, remember that Jesus can do a better job. Jesus will give you a new body that will be glorified, just like His.

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