Posts Tagged 'Philippians'



PHILIPPIANS, Part 9

 

Even More Danger and Cause to Hope, 3:17—21

So far in chapter 3, Paul had confronted the threat of the Judaizers; self-appointed experts in salvation who taught that salvation included two components: Jesus Christ plus the Law of Moses. We don’t call them Judaizers anymore, but make no mistake they are still around, deceiving hapless believers into believing that their salvation depends on a confession of faith in Christ and other things; a litany of rules and church regulations. Their mantra: Follow our “constitution” for we are part of the “true church.” If you don’t, you aren’t.

The great Apostle also spent a few verses discussing his past as an example of why he is living the way he is living in his present.

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. (verses 13, 14)

In spite of his glorious past, Paul completely disregards it—he does not disown it—preferring to focus on Christ and the future.

In the early years of the Church, there was no New Testament and copies of the Old Testament were not generally found in people’s homes! So believers needed practical guides for conduct. With that in mind, Paul offers himself as an example to follow.

1. An example, 3:15—17

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. (verse 17)

This was not the first time Paul urged other believers to follow his example. He wrote this to the Corinthians—

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)

When we read such things, are they consistent with Christian humility? Would a truly humble person make such a request? Consider the following facts:

  • Before urging the Philippians the imitate him, Paul had spent considerable time reminding the Philippians that Christ is the supreme example to follow;
  • Paul was not telling his friends that he had achieved perfection in any way! He was urging them to work towards perfection, even as he was;
  • Paul had every right to point to himself as an example of a Christian who was at the very least was trying to live up to his high calling. Remember, these Philippians were living in a place and at a time where they were surrounded by immorality, amorality, and nominal Christians. They needed a solid example they could trust.
  • He not only cites himself as a good example to follow, but there were also others, telling to “keep your eyes on those who live as we do.”

Note that Paul used “we” not “I.” This is important; instead of fixing their attention of individual teachers and preachers who have confused ideas about salvation, these Philippians (as well as modern believers) ought to pay attention to the many genuine believers who were living in complete conformity to the Word of God.

Verse 15 gives us Paul’s idea of what a mature Christian looks like—

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.

Mature Christians are Christians who think the way Paul thought. Those who have different ideas will eventually see the light if their hearts are right. The Greek word translated “mature” in the TNIV is sometimes seen as “perfect” in older translations carries with it the idea of “complete.” Paul is in no way suggesting “mature” is synonymous with “sinless.” He is continuing his argument of growth; a Christian cannot remain like an infant, he must grow and mature. Just like a human being who remains an infant would be considered abnormal, so a Christian who never grows in grace. Christians who exhibit growth are mature Christians and think the way Paul thought because Paul was functioning with the mind of Christ.

What are some of the marks of a mature Christian?

  • Discernment; the ability to recognize true from false teaching
  • Knowledge of God’s Word; the ability to take the truths of the Bible and reasonably apply them to his life
  • Knows what his obligations to the Kingdom of Heaven are and attempts to fulfill them;
  • He forgets his past, as Paul did;
  • Is able to focus his attention on Christ and channels his energies in Heaven’s direction.

Naturally success in Christian growth is tied to our ongoing relationship with the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to live as Paul admonished his friends to live. But the key is verse 16—

Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Some may be discouraged at the get-go when they consider their own Christian growth, or lack thereof. And so Paul makes it clear that no believer should wait around for God pour all the knowledge of Heaven into his head before beginning his maturing process. We should all, to the best of our abilities, press on in growth. We are individuals and God views us that way. We all may possess different degrees of maturity; God understands that and so must we. To “live up to” may also be translated “in accordance to,” meaning each of us needs to live as best we can with the knowledge we have at the time.

Nobody can as for more than that! God is nothing if He is not reasonable.

2. Another threat, 3:18—19

As if watching out for the slippery Judaizers wasn’t enough, there was another group of false teachers making the rounds in Paul’s day: the libertines. These are antinomians who preached the polar opposite of the Judaizers. Where they taught strict adherance to man-made codes, the antinomians preached complete freedom from all earthly restraints. By living lives of complete anarchy, they were “enemies of the cross” and therefore of the Church.

Like the Judaizers, these men were professing Christians and possibly even members of the Philippian church. And like the Judaizers, they were tearing at the fabric of the unity that existed in that congregation. This was something that Paul could not tolerate.

It’s all well and good and commended to pattern our lives after other believers, but we must make sure the believers we watching are true believers and charlatans seeking to ruin us. How can you tell if one is a genuine believer?

Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. (verse 19)

It should be obvious just from watching how they live. A person’s true characters is not always revealed in what they say, but it is always evident from how they live! These libertines have inverted the true scale of values so that they actually glory from their shame. Writing about such people, Thomas Manton remarked:

Fallen man is but man inverted; his love is where his hatred should be, and his hatred where his love love should be; his glory where his shame should be and his shame where his glory.

These men are like the men spoken of by John: they claim to live in the light but walk in the darkness, 1 John 1:16. Elsewhere, Paul wrote about the attitude of these kind of people—

Let us do evil that good may result” (Romans 3:8)

These people don’t stand a chance for their destiny is sealed. And yet, over such, Paul weeps.

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. (verse 18)

3. Looking Ahead, not behind. 3:20—21

In contrast to the false teachers whose minds are always focused on earthly things, the true believer is carried far above them and empowered to set his mind toward Christ.

There are two things Paul wanted his Philippian friends to keep in mind, and it would do us well to also remember them:

  • Our citizenship is in heaven. The “our” is in the emphatic position, which means Paul is stressing the difference between the libertines and true believers. The most important relationships of our lives must relate to the heavenly sphere, whereas the false teachers primary concern is this world. The word “citizenship” (TNIV) can also mean “commonwealth” or “colony.” Even though the Christian is at present a citizen of Heaven, he lives here on Earth; he belongs to set-apart colony of other citizens of Heaven, temporarily located on Earth. This is a singular truth that, if we can own it, will revolutionize our whole way of relating to the world around us. Because we are here only temporarily, how involved should we be in worldly pursuits that have no eternal value? For that matter, do we really want any part of this world? We have more in common with Abraham than we do with anybody else on Earth!

For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:10)

  • We eagerly await a Savior from there. The hope of Christ’s return is one element that keeps the believer holy! Of this, John wrote—

All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:3)

If the only thing a person ever runs after are the things of this world, how can ever hope to be welcomed with open arms into the next? Remembering that Christ can return at any moment is a compelling reason to live right! We surely don’t want to be caught sinning when He returns for His own.

But is there not something else that seems to be missing in most modern believer’s lives? Paul used the word “eagerly” to describe how we ought to waiting for the Savior to come. Are we really “eagerly” awaiting the return of Christ? Is that consideration even a small part of our daily thinking? If it isn’t, that may explain why you find holiness so elusive and the riches of this world so attractive.

Finally Paul concludes this section of his letter with this verse, which may seem out of place, but really serves to buttress everything he has just written—

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. (verse 21)

The prevailing notion among the Greeks at this time was that the body was essentially a thing that burdened the soul and poisoned it, from which the soul would be set free at death. But to Paul, the body was the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). At the moment, though, because of the ravages of sin, our human bodies are suffering immeasurably; we face sickness, weakness, and eventually death; yet none of those things are the fault of our bodies. Our bodies are not evil; they will be transformed when Christ returns. Christ is our complete Savior! He saves our souls, our spirits and our bodies!

Through the incredible power of Jesus Christ, our future state will be highly exalted; we will be completely changed, even as Christ was changed when He rose from the dead. Our new bodies will be wholly appropriate to our new inner spiritual character.

Indeed, we all struggle with holy living, and we will continue to struggle as long as we are living on this earth. Sometimes in the struggle we emerge victorious, having successfully resisted temptation. Other times, no matter how determined we are, we are betrayed by the weakness of both body and soul. But there is hope, and this is Paul’s point. Don’t put so much stock in the things of this world—including our bodies—that we miss out on eternal blessings and the comfort and strength that comes from thinking about them.

(c) 2010 WitzEnd

PHILIPPIANS, PART 8

Philippians 3

Paul, the perfectionist

So far in this letter, we have seen Paul the:

  • Joyful servant of Christ;
  • The thoughtful pastor;
  • The unbeatable idealist;

Now we will see Paul the perfectionist. Anyone who knows a perfectionist or happens to be married to one, knows they can be difficult to live with. The thing with Paul, though, is that he was seeking perfection in Christ, not through his own efforts or skills.

Another way to look at this letter so far is like this:

  • We have the philosophy of the Christian: “To live is Christ, to die is gain,” 1:21
  • We have the pattern for Christian living: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus,” 2:5

In chapter three, we come to the prize for Christian living: “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus,” 3:14. Throughout this chapter we see how the Apostle has changed from the past so that he could accomplish his purpose in the present, all with a hopeful eye to the future.

1. An always present danger: Judaizers. 3:1—3

Paul begins this part of his letter with the word “finally.” Usually we use the word to conclude something, but that is not how Paul used it. The word in the Greek to loipon, which really means “as for the rest.” What is “the rest?” Paul was about to come to a vital part of this letter; a problem that was apparently threatening the unity of the Philippian church.

A small clue to the problem might be this:

Finally, my brothers, 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. (verse 1)

Were they rejoicing in something other than the Lord? Perhaps; and it seems that Paul had already addressed this issue sometime in the past. Maybe it was another letter which we no long have. Knowing that the Judaizers were really legalists who rejoiced in their own works, this might well be the case. Legalism and the temptation to pile rule upon rule in an effort to control members has always been an ever-present threat to the Church of Jesus Christ, even down to this day. It seems that for some, simple childlike faith is never enough.

Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. (verse 2)

In the verses that follow, it is clear that Paul has the Judaizers in mind. This group of false teachers had nothing better to do than dog the steps of the Paul and other Christian evangelists, seeking to force their converts to submit to certain Jewish practices, beginning with circumcision. It wasn’t that they hated Jesus or didn’t believe in Him; it was that they believed Jesus wasn’t enough. Salvation to the Judaizers was Jesus plus other things.

The reference to “mutilators of the flesh” obviously refers to circumcision, and these teachers that insist on it as a condition of salvation, are “men who do evil.” The Greek can also mean “deceitful workers.” These were men were appearing to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but were in truth working evil. Such men who add “accessories” to the plain, simple truth of the Gospel are nothing less than pure evil.

What is interesting is that Paul reserves the word “circumcision” for genuine believers! The Judaizers were “mutilators of the flesh,” but only a true believer could be considered as being circumcised. True circumcision involved three key points:

  • Such believers worship by the Spirit of God, not by human traditions or rites;
  • Such believers glory in Jesus Christ. In other words, true believers recognize that their hope is found in Christ alone and not in obsessive observations of a religious legal code;
  • Such believers put no confidence in the flesh. Sinful humanity has no grounds for confidence before God; true believers know they cannot achieve any kind of righteousness apart from Christ and therefore they trust wholly in Him.

True believers have realized the truthfulness of Edward Mote’s words:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus name.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

2. Paul’s example to follow, 3:4—16

Paul is very careful to ensure that his readers know his reaction to the Judaizers was not coming from jealousy or envy. There was nothing in the Judaizers Paul coveted. He put himself in their place for a few moments and contends that if external rites and obedience to rules and regulations have merit in themselves, he would have much more to place his confidence in than all the Judaizers put together!

In truth, Paul never denied his Jewish upbringing, and here he uses it to prove a point. Here was a man who had been raised in meticulous observation of the Mosaic Law. He was raised from infancy to be a Jew of the Jews. As an adult, he described himself as “faultless” in terms of his zealousness both in strict obedience to the Law and in making sure others practiced such obedience. There never was a Jew like Paul; no Judaizer could boast of the accomplishments Paul had achieved. Among the things he could boast of in his past:

  • Circumcised on the eighth day. This was the basic, initial rite of the Mosaic Law. He had godly parents who raised him right; they reared him according the Law of their day.
  • Of the people of Israel. He was no mere “half-breed,” as many of the Judaizers probably were. He was all Hebrew.
  • Of the tribe of Benjamin. In other words, he “came from the best family.” Of all the tribes, Benjamin alone had remained completely faithful to the Davidic throne at the time of the Kingdom’s division. From the tribe of Benjamin came Israel’s first king, after whom Paul had been named by his parents.
  • A Hebrew of Hebrews. There were no skeletons in his closet. In terms of his lineage, his language, his culture, Paul was completely Hebrew.
  • He was a Pharisee. Paul knew the Scriptures; he was a teacher of the Law.
  • He zealously persecuted the church. In other words, he fought to preserve the Law from outside corruption. He was totally devoted to its preservation and its practice.
  • He faultlessly obeyed the letter of the Law.

What an impressive resume! What Kosher business wouldn’t hire a man like Paul? He had it all. If ever there was Jews fast-tracked for success, it was Paul. And yet, in spite of his past, Paul had his present, which meant far more to him:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. (verse 7)

It wasn’t that Paul didn’t appreciate his upbringing or that it was valueless, but the truth was, his past was a great blessing to Paul. In fact, Paul was chosen by Christ because he was who he was. Only Paul could go the places he went and take the Gospel to the people he did; thanks to his past, he was the perfect choice. But while his past prepared him for his present, it did not make him righteous; it did not improve his standing before God one iota. All his learning, his godly parents, and his good name meant nothing to God. And in his present, they meant nothing to Paul in comparison to Christ.

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ… (verse 8)

All those “pluses” of his past had become less than zero in his present because of Christ’s presence in the present. In fact, all the good things in his past were like trash when compared to Christ. This verse is a marvelous statement about the majesty of salvation. Our confession of Christ is just the beginning of our salvation. Consider what Paul wrote to the Colossians—

in [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:3)

Everything of value that makes life worth living is hidden in Christ! But to find it and appropriate it personally takes a lifetime. How precious are these treasures hidden in Christ? They are worth letting go of the past; they are worth the sacrifice of jettisoning everything you have. Maybe that’s why so many believers never experience the fullness of Jesus Christ. He surely cannot give you new blessings to grab hold of if you are always holding onto the past.

In telling the Philippians all this, Paul is not boasting; he wants them to follow his example—

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. (verses 13, 14)

Paul’s single-minded desire is “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings,” (verse 11). His honest assessment of his spiritual journey was that he still had a ways to go; Paul the great Apostle had not arrived. As with us all, Paul’s conversion was the beginning, not the end of his journey.

Paul uses a familiar metaphor, a race, in describing the Christian life. The picture he draws is that of a runner leaning or throwing himself forward, stretching himself out as far as he can with all his might. This runner is committed to finishing the race; he does not look back, nor does he pay attention to other runners. Chrysostom remarked:

For the runner reckons not up how many circuits he hath finished, but how many are left.

It is true that Paul admonished his friends in Ephesus to remember where they came from and how far they had come in Christ, but the purpose in doing so was to give glory to God, not to dwell on it.

When we can leave the past behind, we can reach for the prize God has waiting for us. But what is this “prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus?” The prize is not something to be found on earth, but it is to be caught up and be in the presence of Christ. The prize is also not salvation; nobody can run for salvation. Salvation is a gift we accept from Christ, and a prize is not a gift. What Paul is teaching is simply this: after we receive the gift of eternal life, we must run for the prize. And that prize is to be with Christ in the heavenlies; that must be our goal.

In other words, living the Christian life requires a monumental effort on our part. It takes guts and determination and commitment. And it takes sacrifice. It takes effort to focus on Christ and not on the flesh and the accomplishments of the flesh. Maybe this is why so many Christians find false teachings so attractive. It takes no particular skill or effort to obey a rule or regulation. It takes fear; fear of punishment if the rule is broken. It takes no sacrifice to glory in the flesh or boast of your achievements. It makes you feel good. But faith is different. Living by faith takes skill and effort and a lifetime of practice to get right.

Conclusion

How we live our Christian life comes down to choices we make. These choices begin with salvation, but that choice was the easy one! We much choose who we listen to. We must choose in whom we put our faith and trust. We must choose to run our race to win.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

PHILIPPIANS, PART 7

Concern:  Philippians 2:19—30

Philippians 2 is a most remarkable chapter. In it, we see the great apostle, Paul, as the optimistic prisoner, joyful servant of Christ, articulate author deep spiritual truths, and now as a thoughtful pastor. Rarely in Scripture do we find such a wide range of topics in 30 verses. What begins as one of the most profound Christological passages in the whole New Testament ends up as an almost sentimental note from a pastor to his friends. But that only serves to illustrate the dynamic character of Paul. Here was a man who was so passionate about his faith, he saw no distinction between doctrine and discipleship, commitment to Christ and concern for fellow believes. He was able to slip from the role of theologian to thoughtful church leader with infinite ease. And why shouldn’t he? His faith was no mere Sunday exercise! It motivated his whole life; Paul was defined by his faith, not by his occupation or anything else with which we, today, are in the habit of defining ourselves.

1. The responsibility of concern, 2:19—24

Paul followed up a serious admonition (“do everything without grumbling”) with a passage of tender and thoughtful concern.

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. (verse 19)

Paul wanted to send Timothy, not only “to” them but also “for” them; Paul knew that the Philippians were anxious about his welfare and the last thing he wanted to be was the cause of their angst! But notice in Whom Paul’s hope rested: Jesus Christ. First, Paul did not wait for the good graces of his captors in fulfilling his duty. His hope was in Jesus; he knew Jesus would make a way for him to get word out to his friends. Paul forged ahead, certain doors would open; he did not sit around waiting for circumstances to become more amenable. Secondly, his union with Christ was so vital and so complete; it influenced the apostle’s every thought and action. He needed to get word out to the Philippians for the sake of Christ. He was concerned about the Philippians because of their mutual relationship to and with Jesus Christ.

In this, Paul is no different than any other believer. All believers are “in Christ” and all believers ought to show the same godly concern for each other as Paul showed for the members of the Philippian church. He was not exceptional in this. Indeed, he was simply demonstrating God’s expectation of how a Christian should live.

Just as Paul expected the Philippians to be relieved and heartened by the news from him via Timothy, he also expected to be relieved and heartened by Timothy’s report about them. Timothy was a man that Paul trusted. Why wouldn’t he? Consider what Paul thought of him in verse 20:

I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare.

The KJV translates this verse slightly differently:

For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state.

Since he was “likeminded” with Paul, Timothy had the mind of Christ. “Likeminded” literally means “no one of equal soul.” Isopsuchon is the Greek word used here, and only here in the New Testament. Given its rarity, it is significant that this was Paul’s estimate of his young friend. He had unqualified confidence in Timothy: there was no doubt he would show genuine concern for their welfare. Timothy’s concern for the Philippians was not phony or ginned up by sob stories coming out of that church; rather, it was personal. Timothy would make the trip to Philippi because he was genuinely concerned about them. And he shared their concern about Paul. Timothy wanted both parties to be at ease with each other’s current state.

What a marvelous picture of Christian unity we see here. Nothing can draw believers together like Jesus Christ! Believers ought to be drawn together, not by denomination or by political beliefs, or even by need, necessarily, but by a mutual relationship with Jesus Christ. This is something that must come naturally; it cannot be forced by religious councils or movements.

But why was Timothy so different from Paul’s other associates? Verse 21 gives us a clue:

For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

Herein is the single greatest problem in the Church of Jesus Christ today: self-centeredness. It seems to be the norm for people, Christians included, being preoccupied with cares and concerns that concern them. We have an inordinate interest in sometimes the most trivial of things in our lives. We are a very inward looking people, and that kind of behavior is ultimately self-destructive and detrimental to the health of the Body of Christ.

As we read Paul’s estimate of Timothy, we get the impression that he was disappointed with other believers. Already in this letter Paul noted that there were many converts and preachers in Rome and many who were serving the Lord for the wrong reasons. For example, there was man named Demas, whom Paul knew well and whom he mentioned in his earlier letters. But by the time he wrote to the Philippians, Demas is no longer mentioned. And by the time the apostle wrote his later letters, Demas had become a bitter disappointment:

Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. (2 Timothy 4:10)

Now, we don’t know what Demas was doing in Thessalonica; he could have been preaching for all we know. But he wasn’t where he should have been; he should have been by Paul’s side, giving him support:

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. (2 Timothy 4:16)

This “first defense” probably refers to Paul’s first imprisonment, which explains why he wrote what he did about Timothy. The very people that Paul expected to help him during this time had disappointed him; they were nowhere to be found. Where they bad people? Probably not; they were people like Jesus’ disciples, most of whom deserted Him during His hour of need.

But Timothy was different. His concern was genuine, both for Paul and for the Philippians. This concern came from his heart, borne of his relationship with Jesus Christ. Being concerned about our fellows is all part of being a Christian; this kind of concern is unique among believers; the world can’t have it nor can they experience it. How sad it is when Christians treat other Christians as worldly people. They deserve better, as Paul did. This is a responsibility we as believers all have; to show this kind of genuine concern for one another.

2. The reciprocity of concern, 2:25—28

Timothy would be the first of Paul’s messengers to Philippi; the second would be a man mentioned only here in the New Testament: Epaphroditus. We don’t know a whole lot about this man, but what we do know about him is impressive:

  • He was a spiritual leader in the Philippian church;
  • He brought a gift of money from that congregation to Paul, and stayed with the apostle, becoming his personal assistant;
  • He fell gravely ill;
  • The church back home found out about his illness and became greatly alarmed. He, in turn, learned of their anxiety.
  • He yearned to go back home in order to allay their concerns and fears over his health;
  • Paul, agreeing with Epaphroditus, sent him back home for that very reason.

Do you see a commonality between Timothy and Epaphroditus? They were both concerned with other people’s feelings and welfare. Incidentally, “Epaphroditus” means “lovely.” And he was, indeed. Here is what Paul thought about him:

my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. (verse 25b)

This description is in an ascending scale. Like every believer, Epaphroditus was Paul’s brother, united with him and to him in faith. We are all members of the same spiritual family, with God as our Heavenly Father. Epaphroditus was united to Paul not only in faith, but also in work; that is, the work of the Gospel. He was Paul’s “co-worker,” a title shared with Timothy and many others with whom Paul worked in the mission field. Not only in faith and in work, but the two were also united in battle; Epaphroditus was referred to as a “fellow soldier.” A worker also needs to be a warrior, and Paul’s lovely friend was.

Like Timothy, Epaphroditus was not special; he was simply living and behaving as any Christian ought to. And Paul knew that he could count on both men without hesitation. Both men were genuine and held genuine concern for others.

3. Risk of concern, 2:29—30

The Philippians needed to welcome their friend Epaphroditus back with “all joy.” No welcome could be too cordial; in fact, this faithful minister deserved much more than a mere welcome. But Paul goes a step further in adding this caveat:

and honor people like him… (verse 29b)

What does Paul mean by that? At the time he wrote this letter, he could not have been referring only to the martyrs. Epaphroditus was a willing servant of the Lord. He was a faithful servant of the Lord. He served the Lord in adverse conditions with joy. He fulfilled his calling and mission with distinction. He was engaged in work not typical of all believers. To people like that belong a special honor.

Furthermore, Epaphroditus carried out his ministry clothed in concern, for Paul and for the Kingdom of Heaven. From verse 30, we are given two more reasons why Epaphroditus deserved a big homecoming. First, he actually risked his life to fulfill his calling. This probably referred to his illness, but it could have referred to other risks, like that of imprisonment and/or bodily harm on account of preaching the Gospel. The word translated “risked” comes from a Greek verb meaning “to venture.” It is a word most often used of gamblers who would stake everything they own on the roll of the dice. Does that describe your attitude toward your Christian life and service? Could Paul commend you the way he did Epaphroditus? You may think that this description was only of Epaphroditus. In fact, the early church referred to people like Epaphroditus, Priscilla, Aquilla, and others as the parabolani, or “the riskers.”

Second, he had stayed behind with Paul, helping him, on behalf of the congregation in Philippi:

He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me. (verse 30)

The church had given him money, but they could do little else for Paul, separated as they were from the apostle by many miles. So this one man labored with Paul, as a representative of all the believers back home. And this hard, grueling work took its toll on Epaphroditus’ body. Because of that, this man deserved their concern, and a grand welcome home. Concern is nice, but it needs to be demonstrated in some way.

Dictionary.com gives this definition of concern:

1. to relate to; be connected with; be of interest or importance to; affect: The water shortage concerns us all.
2. to interest or engage (used reflexively or in the passive, often fol. by with  or in ): She concerns herself with every aspect of the business.
3. to trouble, worry, or disquiet: I am concerned about his health.

Wouldn’t you like to be that person?

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

PHILIPPIANS, Part 6

A Biblical Work Ethic, Philippians 2:12—18

If the first 11 verses of chapter two illustrate the supreme example of obedience to God, then verses 12—18 show us how to be obedient in the practical sense.  Jesus Christ is our example of what it means to be obedient to God.  It is easy to get lost in the powerful description of Christ’s obedience, but the opening words of verse 12 connect Paul’s injunction to his Philippian friends to the example of Christ’s obedience.  Specifically, the “Biblical work ethic” is connected to Christ’s example in three ways:

  • Jesus Christ’s obedience to His Heavenly Father was voluntary, complete, unreserved, and unwavering.  Ours should be as well.
  • Jesus Christ’s rewards for His obedience show that there are great things in store for all who live life as He did.
  • Jesus Christ is, today, our highly exalted divine/human Mediator who gives strength from Heaven to all believers who simply trust Him, ask Him, and yearn to live as He wants them to.

1.  Never stop working, verse 12

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling

The Philippians must have been a singular congregation!  Far from rebuking them for not living in obedience, Paul indicates that they “have always obeyed!”  But all was not right with them.  We have a clue in the phrase, “not only in my presence but now much more in my absence.”  It could very well be that Paul had noted a small weakness in these people; he had been in prison and away from them for so long, maybe some of them began to waver a bit in their faith.  So he urges them to continue growing in their faith even though he isn’t around.  He mentioned this earlier in his letter—

Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit.  (1:27)

Paul is not wanting them to obedient to HIS commands, but to the Gospel; to God Himself.  There is a dangerous tendency among believers to lean too heavily on their pastor, or their favorite Bible teacher.  Some in the Philippian church were leaning to heavily upon Paul, and that was problematic to the Apostle.  Paul knew that he, like all men, had feet of clay; no matter how hard he would try not to, he would disappoint somebody, as all pastors and Bible teachers will at some point in their lives, let down their listeners, usually unintentionally.

And so Paul urged his friends to be obedient to God, referring to this obedience as “working out” their salvation.  This is phrase of often quoted and usually misunderstood.  In fact, “working out” our salvation can only be understood when the Biblical concept of salvation is understood.  As we have already discovered, salvation has several aspects, including a present one.   When a sinner accepts Christ as his Savior, regeneration begins; he is born again into a brand new life full of obligations.  When we acknowledge Christ as Savior, we are binding ourselves to fulfill those obligations.   Those obligations do not save us, therefore as we “work out our salvation,” we are not working to get saved, but because we are saved.   We are justified immediately upon our confession of faith in Christ, but that objective justification must be followed by our subjective experiences; that is, we must look to Christ for the example of how to live.  It should never be “What would Jesus do,” but rather, “I must do what Jesus would do.”

This working in order to achieve continuous obedience is to be done “with fear and trembling.”  Fulfilling our obligations to live right is so crucial, we must be stalwart and resolute in doing it.  “Fear and trembling” in no way means that we should be scared of God or of punishment, but rather our obedience needs to be performed in a spirit of:

  • Wholeheartedness
  • Single mindedness
  • Reverence and awe, being afraid to offend God
  • Trust in God
  • Humility

2.  The ability to obey, verse 13

…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

There might be some who think living as Jesus lived is next to impossible for a mere mortal.  Paul deals a death-blow to this self-centered idea by indicating every believer is capable of living as Christ lived because it is God Himself who enables them to do so.  It would be impossible for any believer to live in complete obedience to God on his own, but with God working through him, it is not only possible, it must be done for it is His will.

The words “works” and “to act” come from the same Greek root.  It is always used of God’s action and of effective action.  What does that mean?  It simply means that it is God who works mightily in you (Lightfoot).  Salvation is all of God, both the will to save man and the act of saving man, from start to finish.  But that does not negate man’s part, which Paul has dealt with in verse 12.   The Christian attitude while allowing God to work in them and through them is to give God all the glory.

In this sense, Christians are like television sets.  A TV is useless until it is plugged into a power source.  Similarly, an electric iron is of no value until it is plugged in to the electric outlet.  There is no light in dark room until the light switch is switched on.  And, best of all, is Jesus’ argument—

No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  (John 15:4)

Christians are who they are because God has made us what we are.  By means of the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of His people, God accomplishes His will by making it your will.  That is, the Holy Spirit will make living in obedience your desire and your ambition.  It is God’s will for you, and it will become your will for yourself if you live in consistent obedience.

3.  Purpose of obedience, verses 14—18

The thing about obedience is that there are two kinds:  grudging and voluntary.  Grudging obedience is not the best way to live because, as is pointed out numerous times in the Gospels, true religion is never a matter of external compliance.  Peter, for example had this to say about offering hospitality—

Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  (1 Peter 4:9)

In the original, “everything” comes first in verse 14, making Paul’s admonition even stronger:  “Everything do without grumbling or murmuring.”   It can’t be clearer than that:  God must be obeyed in everything cheerfully and voluntarily.   It may take a while and it may take practice to get to that point, but this must be the goal for every Christian in living out his life.

Why is it important to be genuine in your obedience?  It is so that you may be pure and uncontaminated lights in a dark world.

…so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”  Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky…  (verse 15)

The inference of this verse is that you may become “blameless and pure” in the eyes of man.  God knows your heart, and people can spot a phony a mile away.   We must strive to make our obedience to God voluntary and our heart’s desire, otherwise, as Paul suggests, people will see our disingenuousness.

Another important aspect of this verse is Paul’s use of the word “become.”  At our conversion, we become children of God in nature and position.  But as we progress in our salvation—as we work it out—we become “children of God without fault.”  By adhering faithfully to God’s Word and by putting it’s admonitions to work in our lives, we will be free improper attitudes that sully the heart.  If our hearts are clean, our lives will be also.  They will hold up under the scrutiny with which the world examines us.  If we can be genuine in our Christian lives, our nature as God’s children will become evident to all who see us.

The fact is, identifying the Christian in a room full of people should be an easy task, both for other believers and for unbelievers.  We should stick out like a sore thumb!  Believers possess the Holy Spirit!  Believes are filled with the same Spirit that raised Christ from the death!  Nobody should be able to hide that.  Christians ought to shining like lights even while they are standing still, doing nothing.  But before that can happen, we must step out in obedience.

4.  Mind of Paul, verses 17, 18

But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.  (verse 17)

This is a powerful verse, which presupposes an understanding of what a “drink offering” is.  Increasingly, Paul is looking ahead at his end.  Not sure if he will be released or if he will die in prison, Paul refers back to Genesis 35:14 where Jacob set up a pillar at Bethel and offered a “drink offering.”  A “drink offering” proper was an offering of wine added to the burnt offering and the meal offering.  The drink offering was not added to the sin or trespass offerings.  It had nothing to do with forgiveness of sin or redemption or with the Person of Christ.   When the fires of the burnt and meal offerings were raging, the wine was poured out on the sacrifice and an amazing thing happened;  it went up in steam and vanished.

In this verse, Paul is offering his life as a drink offering to be poured out on the offering of Jesus Christ.  He wanted to be so identified with Jesus Christ that even in his death his desire was to be just as consumed and obscured as the wine was.  Whether he lived or died, Paul wanted Jesus Christ to receive all the glory.  This was what Paul wanted for himself, and this is what all believers should strive for.

So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.  (verse 18)

Today, we rejoice over all the wrong things.  If we want to be Biblical Christians, then we should continually rejoice over what Jesus did for us and over the fact that we can serve Him!  We should never be so great in our own eyes that we don’t rejoice with other believers over their successes, be they temporal or spiritual.

Are you willing to be consumed in Jesus Christ?   Are you willing to live your life in such a way that your genuineness would make you disappear into Christ?  May the Lord help us all to say as John the Baptist said—

He must become greater; I must become less.  (John 3:30)

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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