Thursday, June 28, 2018

Reading Through Philippians #1 (1.1-2.18)

PhilippiansThis post begins the quick read through of Paul’s letter to the Philippians accompanied by Philippians (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series) , by Gordon Fee. In Philippians Paul urges the church to be joyful in the midst of persecution and united in the midst of disagreements. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Philippians is a friendly letter to a church in which Paul has spent a great deal of time and knows the people well. He is confident of their faith and partnership in the work of the gospel. He wants to thank them for the gifts that they have already given to advance his mission work. He also wants to warn them to keep focused on Christ and not succumb to the kind of divisions that result (Galatians and Romans) when the gospel is adulterated with additional requirements or selfish motives. For Paul it is "all about Christ" and he wants to instill this focus in the Philippian church.

God’s essential character on display in Christ, who redeems us to share that likeness—also underlies the other well-known themes in this letter: suffering, joy, unity, pressing on toward the prize...Thus the theology of Philippians is held together by its singular focus on Christ. Philippians Intro, 36–37

Paul begins the letter with a greeting and prayer. The greeting is brief but the prayer goes far beyond the standard friendly letter. Paul views their friendship as a "three-way bond" that is centered around Jesus Christ. He is confident that the work of the Holy Spirit within them will complete the goal of making them over into the image of Christ. He already sees this at work as the Philippian church has participated in the work of the gospel through their finances and sending of Timothy and Epaphroditus to help him. His prayer is that, in the Spirit, they will experience the love of Christ even more deeply, know him in a growing relationship and that this will bear the fruit of acts of righteousness that resemble Christ. Paul himself is an example of this as he lives his life based completely on what Christ has done for him and what He has promised for the future.

Joy lies at the heart of the Christian experience of the gospel; it is the fruit of the Spirit in any truly Christian life, serving as primary evidence of the Spirit’s presence (Rom 14:17; Gal 5:22). Precisely because this is so, joy transcends present circumstances; it is based altogether on the Spirit, God’s way of being present with his people under the new covenant. Philippians 1.1-11, 46

Paul has learned by the grace of God to see everything from the divine perspective. This is not wishful thinking but deep conviction—that God has worked out his own divine intentions through the death and resurrection of Christ, and that by his Spirit he is carrying them out in the world through the church, and therefore through both Paul and others. Philippians 1.12-18, 64

One wonders what the people of God might truly be like in our postmodern world if we were once again people of this singular passion. Too often for us it is “For me to live is Christ, plus other pursuits.” And if the truth were known, all too often the “plus factor” has become our primary passion: “For me to live is my work.” Both our progress and our joy regarding the gospel are altogether contingent on whether Christ is our primary, singular passion. Philippians 1.19-26, 75

Paul now moves to his first main exhortation to the Philippians in 1.27-2.18. He wants them to be the image of Christ as they "stand" for the Gospel, despite the opposition of the empire which declares "Caesar is Lord," and live out the Gospel without "grumbling or complaining," as Christ did, by using his status as God for the benefit of others as he saved us by going to the cross. This makes sense because, just as God exalted Christ through the resurrection and ascension, he will exalt all of Jesus' people when all creation acknowledges that "Jesus is LORD." So Paul calls the Philippians to courage in the face of persecution and unity in relationships within the body of Christ. This is only possible when believers live by the power of the Spirit. Only then can salvation be "worked out" in relationship with one another and in our common mission to proclaim and live out the gospel. 

A crucified Lord produces disciples who themselves take up a cross as they follow him. We are thus to live on behalf of Christ in the same way Christ himself lived—and died—on behalf of this fallen, broken world. That is why salvation includes suffering on behalf of Christ, since those who oppose the Philippian believers as they proclaim the gospel of Christ are of a kind with those who crucified their Lord in the first place. Philippians 1.27-30, 81

Paul’s reason is singular: to focus on Christ himself, and thus to point to him as the ultimate model of the self-sacrificing love to which he is calling the Philippians—and us...In Jesus Christ the true nature of the living God has been revealed ultimately and finally. God is not a grasping, self-centered being. He is most truly known through the One whose equality with God found expression in his pouring himself out in sacrificial love by taking the lowest place, the role of a slave, and whose love for his human creatures found consummate expression in his death on the cross. That this is God’s own nature and doing has been attested for all time by Christ Jesus’s divine vindication. Philippians 2.1-11, 101

The underlying theology in all of this is God’s own character, as that is now reflected in his children who bear his likeness as we live out the life of the future in the present age. Only as we reflect God’s own likeness will our evangelism be worth anything at all, in terms of its aim and in terms of success. Philippians 2.12-18, 113

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