Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Notes on Philippians 3:17-4:1

3:17 In 2:5+ Paul exhorted the Philippians to have the mindset of Christ, who humbled himself, took the way of the cross, and ultimately received resurrection and exaltation. Similarly, in chapter 3 so far, Paul has set himself as an example of following in Christ’s footsteps - of having the mindset of Christ - leading ultimately in the future to resurrection and being with Christ. Now, Paul says that the Philippians are to follow Paul’s pattern (and that of those who also follow the same pattern), being of the same mindset (3:15), like that of Christ (2:5 - which is echoed explicitly in 3:15). Why? They are to follow Paul’s pattern because he follows Christ’s and this is precisely how they can follow Christ’s pattern, being of Christ’s mindset, putting aside all else, all other advantages (compare what Christ did, and what Paul did), counting them as dung in comparison.
(Christians learn Christ’s pattern and how to follow it in everyday life most often by observing those who have already been doing it longer - who are more closely conformed to that pattern than they are. Rules or laws may help, but ultimately it’s about the shape of one’s life - Christ-shaped or not - and this is most easily achieved through following examples. Rules alone can be misunderstood, misapplied, rationalized, treated overly rigidly or overly loosely, subject to loopholes, etc. - but whether something fits a pattern or follows someone’s example can often be much more difficult to “escape” from. Ancient students, in fact, tended to learn primarily by an apprenticeship - following the example of someone who was further along in the subject than they. Examples: Think of a set of instructions but with no example or model to look at or follow - say, instructions for putting together a set of furniture, a model kit with no pictures or information as to what is being assembled, a kid’s toy which requires a lot of assembly, etc. Or maybe trying to learn how to excel at a difficult magic trick or sports technique by reading written instructions alone - it probably won’t work!)

18-20 Some people outside the congregation - likely currently (or formerly) claiming Christ - behave as enemies of the cross by behaving in ways opposite of Christ’s pattern which Paul would have the Philippians continue to follow. Paul weeps over them! They are focused on their own desires rather than on Christ. Instead of working to further God’s kingdom, they work to further their own wants. But “we are citizens of heaven”. Philippi was a colony of Rome; its citizens, citizens of Rome. The point of a colony like this was to bring the homeland - here, Rome - to the place colonized - here, Greece. The point was not for the citizens in the colony to work to get away from Greece and go to Rome. Similarly, Paul’s point is not that the Philippians are working to get away from the physical realm and go to heaven but rather that they are there to bring heaven to earth (“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven...”). That is, they were called to bring themselves and creation into the fullness of the heavenly reality of the kingdom of God - God’s reign, his will being done. (Thus the contrast between the v.19 people and the Philippians is not between thinking about physical vs. spiritual things but rather not following Christ’s pattern, not submitting to God’s will or making Christ’s mindset their own, focusing on him above all else, vs. doing all that - there is no place in Paul’s theology for people who are “so heavenly minded they are of no earthly use”) This bringing of heaven to earth is finalized at Jesus’ return. Here, Jesus is called “Savior”, a title Paul rarely uses but which in the current context has great significance since it was a main title of the Roman emperor. This citizen/savior language, then, shows the Philippians where their true loyalties lie - who the true savior is, the true ruler or emperor of the world, calling them to forget their own advantages just as Paul had done his own (3:7 - and as Jesus had done in 2:6). The expression “Lord Jesus Christ” (there is no article (“the”) in the Greek) appears in this form rarely in Paul - here it is taken straight from 2:11 (which reads kyrios Iesous Cristos - the parallel does not show up in English since we have to supply a verb between some of the words in the expression to make it grammatical whereas this was not needed in Greek, so that in 2:11 it gets translated “Jesus Christ is Lord” whereas here the same expression in English becomes simply “Lord Jesus Christ”). This not only brings up again the pattern from chapter 2, especially the end part where Jesus is exalted over all, but it also prepares for the next verse.
(Do we work to bring heaven to earth or do we work only for our own benefit? How have we been false to our vocation as citizens of heaven and instead found our identity or citizenship primarily or first in other things, pursuits, loyalties? To connect this with the previous verses, do we have someone further along in following Christ’s pattern or example that we use as an example of our own to help us in this?)

21 This verse is a play on “form” (morphe) from chapter 2. Jesus in chapter 2 was in the “form” (morphe) of God but humbled himself, taking the form (morphe) of a man. But Jesus is ultimately resurrected and exalted as Lord. Now those who follow his pattern will ultimately be also raised by him, conformed (summorphon) in their bodies to his body. That is, the adoption of the pattern of Christ will be completed in us - our resurrection to be like him, heaven brought to earth, God’s reign through Christ that “every knee should bow” before him - Christ the Lord!
(The work of conforming to Christ’s pattern is ultimately God’s work - Christ’s work - not our own!)

4:1 Paul says all of this out of joy and confidence, not out of disappointment or shame in the Philippians. He knows they are overall doing very well - they just need some encouragement to keep going. (This is wise - knowing when to use encouragement and when, like in some other letters, a rebuke is more what is needed) Paul returns to the issue the letter began with in chapter 1 - that of the Philippians persecution. He had encouraged them to stand firm earlier, but now he tells them how - it is precisely by following Christ’s pattern, the pattern followed by Paul and his associates, that they will heal internal division (chapter 4) and withstand the persecution and hard times they have been going through. Rather than a digression, then, chapters 2-3 are precisely a response to the troubles they have themselves been encountering, a response centered on Christ and Christ alone.
(It seems paradoxical at first that the way to stand firm, to survive adversity and to bring heaven to earth, is through the way of the cross - through being humble, self-sacrificial and faithful like Jesus was. We want to force things through our own power rather than in obedient humility, submitting to God’s will!)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Notes on Philippians 3:7-16

For the Cornerstone sermon-prep study group.  Basically, I see the passage as  an application of 2:5-13ish, which helps organize and make sense of all the material in 3:7-16 and how it all fits together.

Quick summary of the passage:

7-9: Value is found in Christ, not Jewishness (or anything else!), because of what Christ did in 2:6-11.

9-16: Therefore, like, in 2:5-11, we follow Christ’s pattern both in life and in our thinking: humility and suffering and death, but ultimately glory and resurrection, becoming like Christ and truly knowing him. However, we even now have a foretaste of that finale and must live in accordance with this.

Long version:

7-8 We have here financial terms - an accounting metaphor using the idea of a credit (or profit)/loss ledger. Referring back to his activities and privileges in 5-6, Paul is not saying each of them were necessarily bad but compared to how great a financial gain Christ is, they may as well be on the loss side of the ledger! Paul’s privileges in his Jewishness (both in his ancestry or upbringing and in how he lived as a Jew) are nothing - next to worthless - next to Christ. Even if everything else in the whole world was gathered together into the loss column, with Christ in the credit column, the profits overwhelm the losses! (Contrast this with our own privileges and accomplishments - do we really always think of them as dung next to Christ (or at least, do we consistently act like it)?)

9 “Righteousness”: probably here a state of being right with God (and probably others as well, though that’s not the important part at the moment). Being Jewish and following the Law do not guarantee one is righteous - Paul had all of this but what he did not have was Christ and it is Christ who counts, not being Jewish or following Moses. Being in the right with God is a status from God given to those who are in Christ - who have faith(fulness) - and this is based upon what we learned about Christ in chapter 2 - Christ’s own obedience and faithfulness to God and his calling, even to suffering, even to death, as our representative in our place.

10-11 Like in chapter 2, then, the focus is on imitating Christ based on what he has done - being obedient and having faith even if and when that means suffering or even death. It means “having the same attitude as Christ Jesus” as in chapter 2. Suffering for his sake is to participate in his sufferings. And the power of his resurrection - God’s resurrecting, creation-restoring power by which he raised Jesus - is already at work in us and will raise us also just as it raised Jesus following his own humility and faithfulness. Paul says he will attain to the resurrection “somehow”, being hesitant to presume upon his own accomplishments. But the end result, which is guaranteed by and delivered by God’s own power, is not necessarily in question - rather, Paul is acknowledging that his life is a process of following Jesus in suffering and that God will do much in and through him to bring him to that point. As Paul said earlier, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”, knowing that it is God who both puts in the salvation and who is really behind the work. (No complacent Christianity here!)

12-14 As the “somehow” already admits, Paul’s final state of being in complete unity with Christ is still future - full knowledge of Christ, resurrection, and so on, await Christ’s return. Christ took hold of Paul for this final state and now Paul presses on to take hold of that state. Paul, however, has not yet arrived but he keeps moving in that direction. This process or activity is not so much a matter of earning merits or becoming a better person but rather running with one’s eyes on the prize - Christ. This is not an ordinary race with only one winner but where all who run may achieve the prize (but still they must run). With eyes focused on the prize, all else that might seem important pales in comparison (as he said several verses earlier) and this helps to order his life towards the goal, which comes from God’s call into his kingdom. This call into the kingdom is describe as “upwards”, which often has the idea of “heavenwards”. Paul is called to live in heavenly reality - divine reality - the reality of God’s kingdom, his will being done on earth as it is in heaven - the power and the presence of God. As he hints in verse 20 and says also in Ephesians (we are already seated with Christ “in the heavenly realms”), we are already in heaven, though it has not fully come yet to earth. So that final state discussed so far, Paul maintains, is one we have a foretaste of even now.

15-16 The adjective Paul uses to describe himself and others here (“mature” or “perfect”) is the adjective form of the verb Paul used in verse 12 to maintain that he has not yet reached his final state, his goal of Christ. Using this play on words, Paul affirms that though he has not yet reached his goal, he is already living in the light of it, with his eyes focused on it, in the foretaste of that goal, in the power and presence of God already available to Christians in Jesus. Those who are like Paul in this should take Paul’s same mindset, which is that of Jesus. Those in Philippi who might not think in such a manner will have that goal - that final state - revealed to them by God so that they may also have the mindset of Paul and Jesus. We are, however, to live according to what we have already attained - the power and presence of God that we possess in anticipation of that final state which is still future.

So we should set our eyes on Christ. (After all, we veer towards what we stare at - which is why when you’re driving on a cliff it is best to keep your eyes on the road and why drunks tend to crash into lights at night). God has given us his Spirit and empowered us even now in advance of the Second Coming - we should make use of that!