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!

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