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!)

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