Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Story of God Bible Commentary: Philippians

Earlier today I posted at Amazon.ca this review of Lynn H. Cohick’s Philippians in The Story of God Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013):

On my recent birthday my older daughter gave me one of the books on my wish list, Lynn H. Cohick’s Philippians in the Story of God Bible Commentary series. It was on my wish list because I want to emphasize Philippians’s application to Christian life when leading one of our church’s Life groups in a study of Philippians this fall and Philippians is the application commentary on Philippians most highly recommended by Denver Journal.

The Story of God Commentary series is under the editorship of Tremper Longman III (Old Testament) and Scot McKnight (New Testament). It examines each passage from three angles. First it cites (from the NIV) and introduces the passage, the introductions opening up discussion of the theme of the passage and/or tying the passage to its context in the book. Next it explains the passage in light of the Bible’s grand Story, which it describes as being “built around the … biblical themes of creation and fall, covenant and redemption, law and prophets, and especially God’s charge to humans as his image-bearers to rule under God” and as “coming to fulfillment in Jesus as the Messiah, Lord, and Savior of all.” Here the authors “explore biblical backgrounds, historical context, cultural codes, and theological interpretations” and “engage in words studies and interpret unique phrases as they attempt to build a sound and living reading of the text in light of the Story of the Bible.” Finally it considers how the text might be lived out today with the aim of compelling us “to live in our world so that our own story lines up with the Bible’s Story.”

On receiving Philippians, I found it so readable that I read through it immediately instead of just putting it with the other commentaries which I planned to use in preparing studies for the Life group. On doing so I found that even though the author’s explanations are generally easy to understand, they are based on thorough study and include discussion of controversial issues. Moreover they are so well documented that I’m tempted to use Philippians as my primary resource in preparing the studies, just referring to other resources as the author refers to them in her footnotes. Thus I highly recommend Philippians to both pastors and laymen in studying Philippians.

If I like Philippians so well, why have I rated it only 4 out of 5? Because I disagree with Lynn Cohick’s interpretation of a few passages. I won’t identify any of my disagreements here but may note some of them in the reports on our Life group’s study of Philippians that I’ll be posting at my Pauline Studies blog during the coming year.

The Life group study referred to in the review will begin in September. I plan to post before then two introductory articles here, one on the place and time of Paul’s writing Philippians and the other on his purpose(s) in writing it.

Life in the Spirit (Galatians 5:13-26)

Paul wrote his letter to the churches of Galatia because they were listening to people who told them that to be saved they had to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses in addition to believing in Jesus Christ. He asserted that Jesus Christ himself had called him to be an apostle to the Gentiles and revealed to him the gospel that he preached to them–that they were saved by faith in Jesus Christ and not by works of the law–and thus that their listening to the Judaizers (the name we give to the false teachers) was actually a deserting of the gospel rather than an assuring of it.

In my last post I considered 5:1-12, in which Paul reminded the Galatians that “for freedom Christ has set us free” and encouraged them to “stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (5:1, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV), the “yoke of slavery” being the law of Moses. Now he goes on to demonstrate that the believers’ liberty doesn’t lead to license, as the Judaizers probably charged, but to holiness before God through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The Law of Love

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Paul tells the Galatians that although they have been freed from the law, they cannot do whatever they feel like doing. J. B. Lightfoot speculates, “It may be that here, as in the Corinthian church, a party opposed to the Judaizers had shown a tendency to Antinomian tendencies” (Lightfoot, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1957 [originally published in 1865]); an “Antinomian” is one who believes that because of grace right conduct is unnecessary for salvation. Martin Luther observes:

This evil is very widespread, and it is the worst of all the evils that Satan arouses against the teaching of faith: that in many people he soon transforms the freedom for which Christ has set us free into an opportunity for the flesh. Jude complains of this same thing in his epistle (verse 4): “Admission has been secretly gained by some ungodly persons who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness.” For the flesh simply does not understand the teaching of grace, namely, that we are not justified by works but by faith alone, and that the Law has no jurisdiction over us. Therefore when it hears this teaching, it transforms it into licentiousness and immediately draws the inference: “If we are without the Law, then let us live as we please. Let us not do good, let us not give to the needy; much less do we have to endure anything evil. For there is no Law to compel or bind us.” (Lectures on Galatians 1535 in Luther’s Works, Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1964, volume 27, page 48).

Christians are to serve (literally “slave for”) and love others as well as God and in doing so they will actually fulfill the law (Paul developed this idea later, in Romans 13:8-10). “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is from Leviticus 19:18, which Jesus also quoted, in Matthew 22:39 and Luke 10:27. Thus Paul implies that Christians should still follow the moral standards found in God’s law although doing so doesn’t earn them salvation. Warren W. Wiersbe attributes the biting and devouring of one another which Paul warns the Galatians against to strife between “the legalists and the libertines” in the Galatian churches, the former being followers of the Judaizers and the latter being those who took Paul’s teaching to a do-as-you-want extreme (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1989, Volume 1, page 717).

Walking by the Spirit

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Having contrasted the flesh with love, Paul now contrasts it with the Holy Spirit. The only way to conquer the flesh is to live (literally “keep on walking”) in dependence on the indwelling Holy Spirit for guidance and power. Verse 17 suggests that Christians have two natures, a sinful nature received on birth and a new nature received on being born again, and that the two natures are in conflict with each other. The Holy Spirit’s presence in their lives shows that are no longer enslaved by law, trying to earn salvation by obeying it. Guided by the Holy Spirit they live neither in subjection to the law (verse 18) nor in licentiousness (verse 16) but, as Ernest De Witt Burton puts it, “a highway above them both, a life of freedom from statutes, of faith and love” (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians in The International Critical Commentary, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1921, page 302).

The Works of the Flesh

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

“The works of the flesh” are actions which fallen humans naturally do unless they are guided by the Holy Spirit. The ones that Paul identifies here fall into four categories: sexual sins (sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality); religious sins (idolatry, sorcery); social sins (enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy); and alcohol-related sins (drunkenness, orgies). Although I won’t comment on them here, I welcome comments on them by readers of this post and will respond to your comments. People who regularly do such things show that they do not have the Holy Spirit within them and thus aren’t part of God’s kingdom.

The Fruit of the Spirit

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit not only keeps Christians from doing the works of the flesh but also produces positive attributes in them, which Paul (followed by us) calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” Commentators often note the use of the use of the singular “fruit” in contrast to the plural “works” and suggest that it emphasizes the unity of the virtues composing the fruit. However Gordon D. Fee observes, “In both Greek and English one would refer to ‘the fruit in the bowl,’ whether ‘they’ are all of one kind or of several” and suggests that Paul may not have intended such a contrast and emphasis (Galatians: A Pentecostal Commentary, Blandford Forum: Deo Publishing, 2007, page 217). Whether he did or not, he certainly chose carefully the words which he used, “fruit” emphasizing divine empowerment in contrast to the human endeavor indicated by “works.”

I’ll comment briefly on each of the virtues that Paul identifies as aspects of the fruit of the Spirit, and I welcome comments on them by readers of this post.

Agape (love) denotes a really undefeatable benevolence and unconquerable goodwill, that always seeks the highest good of the other, no matter what s/he does. It is the self-giving love that gives freely without asking anything in return, and thus does not consider the worth of its object…. Agape describes the unconditional love God has for the world. Paul describes love in 1 Corinthians 13 [the article quotes verses 4-7].” (”Fruit of the Spirit” in Wikipedia).

Love appears first because it is the greatest quality in that it most clearly reflects the character of God. John affirms this in the perennially favorite John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” and even more in 1 John 4:7-21, in which he twice says ”God is love” (verses 8 and 16; see the whole passage). “Love is the cement which binds all the other virtues of the fruit of the Spirit together into a united whole. It is the common denominator of all Christian character. One cannot love and fail to have any of the other virtues.” (Guy P. Duffield and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology, Los Angeles, California: Foursquare Media, 2008 [originally published in 1983], page 303)

“The term chara [joy] is a term we…find frequently in Greek literature. It seems to have meant something like contentment, the ability to find the golden mean between extremes and so be happy, or it could be used to indicate the sort of feeling of exhilaration one got at an exciting religious festival. The term has a somewhat different nuance for Paul. Joy for Paul is not something produced by circumstances, nor ephemeral pleasures, but rather is generated by the indwelling Spirit and so can be manifested often in spite of one’s circumstances or health. Eschatological joy involves a future-looking attitude that is hopeful (cf. Rom. 5:2…) and is of the essence of the Dominion of God.” (Ben Witherington III, Grace in Galatia, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998, page 409)

Paul himself embodied the life of joy in distressing circumstances, “for he was convinced that his sufferings were God’s media for blessings and materials for thanksgiving by many (II Cor. 1:11). He had learned, in whatever state he was, to be content (Phil. 4:11), provided that his Lord was glorified.” (Raymond T. Stamm, “The Epistle to the Galatians” in volume X of The Interpreter’s Bible, Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1953, page 567) He wrote his epistle of joy, Philippians, while a prisoner facing possible execution in Rome.

Eirene, peace, is the universal quest of man.” Paul would certainly be familiar with the Greek (especially Stoic) concept of peace as serenity resulting from an absence of troubles in life. However he also inherited the Hebrew concept of it as “everything that makes for a person’s highest good and promotes the best relationships. So the Jewish greeting Shalom [peace] means not primarily an absence of opposition, difficulties, or pain, but personal wholeness and beneficial relationships.” (Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians in Word Biblical Commentary [volume 41], Dallas, Texas: Word, 1990, page 261)

Longenecker goes on to explain how this peace comes into the Christian’s life and how it should be manifested there. I’ll give just a few excerpts from his explanation: “God is ‘the God of peace’…. Relationship with God ‘in Christ’ means that believers receive something of ‘the peace of God’ in their lives…. Peace, therefore, in the sense of personal wholeness and beneficial relationships, becomes the hallmark of the believer’s life—in the home…in the church…and in the world…. Thus Paul exhorts believers, ‘Let us make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification’ (Rom 14:19).” (page 261)

“Patience (makrothumia) is the quality of putting up with others, even when one is severely tried” (James Montgomery Boice, “Galatians” in volume 10 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976, page 498). Patience is first a quality of God, His showing it towards mankind with the intention of leading them to repentance (Romans 2:4). “God’s long-suffering [patience] toward mankind constitutes the basis and reason for the believer’s patience towards others. To live up to their calling Christians must… ‘be patient, bearing one another in love (Eph 4:1)” (Ronald Y. K. Fung, “The Epistle to the Galatians” in The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988, page 267)

“Kindness[chrestotes] means showing goodness, generosity, and sympathy towards others, which is also an attribute of God (Rom. 2:4)” (”The Letter of Paul to the Galatians” in ESV Study Bible, Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Bibles, 2007, page 2255).

“Goodness [agathosyne] means working for the benefit of others, not oneself; Paul mentions it again in Gal. 6:10” (ESV Study Bible, in the same location as above). It manifests itself in generosity to others.

The Greek word pistis, here translated “faithfulness,” may mean either the act or attitude of believing (faith, trust) or the quality of being worthy of belief (faithfulness, trustworthiness). Here its being part of a list of ethical qualities suggests that it is one too. Thus Stanley M. Horton says, “Here, since it is a complement and constituent of love and since it is contrasted to the works of the flesh, the emphasis is probably on faithfulness.” He continues,”It is a faithfulness shown not merely toward God, but toward others as well. Yet, this does not make it essentially different from saving faith, since saving faith involves both trust and obedience. The fruit of the Spirit must grow. Faith should grown and develop within us.” (What the Bible Says About The Holy Spirit, Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1976, page 179)

Gentleness (praytes) consists of humility toward God and others which manifests itself in submission to God’s will and forbearance of and patience with others. It “is a quality Jesus attributes to himself in Matt. 11:29; it enables people to find rest in him and to encourage and strengthen others” (ESV Study Bible, in the same location as above).

“Self-control (enkrateia) is the quality that gives victory over fleshly desires and which is therefore closely related to chastity both in mind and conduct. As Barclay says (in loc.), ‘Enkrateia is that great quality which comes to a man when Christ is in his heart, that quality which makes him able to live and to walk in the world, and yet to keep his garments unspotted from the world.’” (Boice, in the work by him cited above, page 499).

Paul goes on to assert that “against such there is no law,” implying that those who manifest the fruit of the Spirit are fulfilling the law, which he’d claimed earlier that who insisted on Jewish ceremonies weren’t able to do. He then claims that believers don’t have to respond to the flesh because they “have crucified it”; that is, they were identified with Christ in his death and resurrection. This does not mean that the flesh becomes inactive but that it has been judged and victory over it has been provided by Christ in his death. Paul reminds the Galatians that in addition to the divine judgment of the flesh there is a divine enablement in the person of the Holy Spirit and encourages them keep in step with the Spirit.

When introducing Paul’s account of the fruit of the Spirit, I observed that “fruit” emphasizes divine empowerment in contrast to the human endeavor indicated by “works.” However that divine empowerment is not automatic but requires our cooperation. Stanley M. Horton expresses this well:

This cooperation with the Spirit is necessary for the growth and development of…the fruit of the Spirit. Some suppose that just because we have life in the Spirit or are baptized in the Spirit, the fruit is sure to come. But all that grows automatically in most gardens are weeds. If fruit is desired it must be cultivated. God does some of that (John 15:1 [my Father is the vinedresser]. But we have our part.” (Horton, in the work by him cited above, page 180).