Monthly Archives: November 2016

Saved by Faith (Philippians 3:1-11)

Paul seems to have been about to close his letter when something led him to warn the Philippian Christians to beware of those who taught that circumcision and obedience to the Law of Moses were necessary for salvation.

1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. 2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. (Philippians 3:1-3, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)

Circumcision was a sign of the covenant between God and the Jews (Genesis 17:10-14). Some Jewish Christians, whom we call Judaizers, taught that Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians had to circumcised and obey the law of Moses to be fully saved (Acts 15:1,5). Paul thought that introducing such a requirement was a perversion of the gospel of grace, in another letter telling the Galatian Christians, “Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:2-4).

Here, Paul calls the Judaizers “dogs,…evildoers,…those who mutilate the flesh” and claims that Christians who believe as he does are the true covenant people. He identifies three characteristics that distinguish Christians from the circumcision party:

  • they worship God by the Spirit of God, rather than by participating in some external rite
  • they glory (put their confidence) in Christ Jesus, rather than in their membership in a select group
  • they put no confidence in themselves

4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Philippians 3:4-6)

To show that he has as much reason as anybody to put confidence in himself, Paul lists several positive aspects of his pre-conversion background. The first four concern his pedigree:

  • circumcised on the eighth day in strict conformity with Mosaic law (Leviticus 12:3)
  • of the race of Israel, God’s chosen people
  • of the tribe of Benjamin, which stood high in Jewish estimation
  • a Hebrew of the Hebrews, raised to speak Aramaic and probably Hebrew and in accordance with the Jewish way of life even though he was raised in Greek-speaking Tarsus

The other three concern his personal achievements:

  • regarding the law, a Pharisee, the Pharisees being the strictest Jewish sect (Acts 26:5)
  • regarding zeal, persecuting the church (Acts 8:3)
  • regarding legalistic righteousness, blameless

7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)

Although his background was impressive, Paul felt that it was “loss” and “rubbish” compared to knowing Christ Jesus as his Lord. At one time his overriding goal in life had been to destroy the church, but after meeting the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6) he became as zealous for him as he had once been against him. Paul doesn’t condemn the aspects of his background listed in verses 5-6 as bad in themselves but rather counts them as worthless in comparison to knowing Christ.

Paul goes on to identify three benefits of his knowing Christ:

  • he has been justified or declared by God to be righteous in His sight (verse 9)
  • he is being sanctified or separated from sin and dedicated to service to God (verse 10)
  • he will be glorified or raised to heavenly glory (verse 11)

All three of these benefits are available to us too. However, as Paul made clear to the Philippian Christians, we cannot earn them but must accept them in faith from Jesus Christ on the basis of what he did for us on the cross of Calvary. Our salvation from start to finish rests on our saying, “I believe in you,” to him. And only as we do so will we be able to rejoice in him as Paul encouraged the Philippians in the verse introducing this passage.

As with most of the articles in this series on Philippians, this article is adapted from one which I wrote for when I served as its Pauline Studies editor. Next week I’ll post an article from our family newsletter which elaborates on what I said above on verses 9-11.


Two Examples of Humility (Philippians 2:19-30)

Having considered both his and their situations, Paul turns to his plans regarding the Philippians. He plans to send Epaphroditus back to them immediately and hopes to send Timothy to them and to visit them himself soon.

19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.(ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

Anxious to get news about the Philippians, Paul hopes “in the Lord Jesus” to send Timothy to visit them as soon as he knows the verdict of his trial. Only then would he know what news and instructions to send with Timothy. Whether the news is that he’s going to be freed or that he’s going to be executed, he wants them to “be glad and rejoice” (2:18) with him. He’s hopeful that he “may be cheered” by the news that Timothy brings to him about them.

Timothy is a coworker with the apostle Paul. He became a Christian as a result of Paul’s first visit to his hometown, Lystra, and joined Paul’s missionary group when Paul visited Lystra on his second missionary journey. He continued to accompany and work with him during the rest of Paul’s life, sometimes serving as his special representative. In fact, Paul had sent him to Macedonia, which Philippians was in, on at least two earlier occasions (1 Thessalonians 3:2; Acts 19:22). Near the end of Paul’s life, he wrote two letters to Timothy as the pastor of the church in Ephesus.

Here Paul describes Timothy as having served with Paul in the ministry of the gospel as “a son with a father.” The phrase points to the close relationship between Paul and Timothy and possibly also to Timothy’s being Paul’s spiritual son (his having been converted through Paul) and his submissiveness toward his senior partner. Paul’s respect for Timothy is shown by his telling the Philippians that he had no one else like Timothy for taking a genuine interest in their welfare, looking out for the interests of Jesus Christ, and being able to work with Paul.

25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

The Philippians had sent Epaphroditus, a member of their church, to visit Paul to deliver a gift (money) for Paul and to care for him when Paul was a prisoner in Rome. He fulfilled his mission so conscientiously that he became seriously ill trying to provide for Paul’s needs. Although Paul had been enabled on other occasions to work mighty miracles, he wasn’t able to heal Epaphroditus. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones observes, “Miraculous healing is possible…but [it] is not possible whenever you and I think it should take place. It is under the hand of the Lord Jesus Christ, either he wills it or he does not will it” (The Life of Joy: An Exposition of Philippians 1 and 2, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1989, pages 230-31). Epaphroditus became so homesick for his church and distressed over its hearing that he was ill that Paul decided to send him back to Philippi as soon as he was well enough to travel.

Paul’s appreciation for Epaphroditus and his help is shown by Paul’s referring to him as his “brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier” and requesting the Philippians to “receive him in the Lord with all joy” and to honour him for his ministry among them. Paul feels that Epaphroditus’s return to the Philippians alive and well would make them rejoice. Since Epaphroditus was almost certainly present during Paul’s dictation of the letter, Paul’s description of him and other comments regarding him were likely spoken for his benefit as much as for the Philippians.

Paul gives more than travel plans in Philippians 2:19-30. He provides two examples of fellow workers who display the mind of Christ that he’d just urged the Philippians to have (in Philippians 2:5). In verses 20-21 Paul says that Timothy takes a genuine interest in the Philippians’ welfare and looks out for the interests of Jesus Christ, rather than looking out for his own interests. In verse 30 he says that Epaphroditus had almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to help Paul. Thus, both Timothy and Epaphroditus illustrate what Paul encouraged the Philippians to do in Philippians 2:4, look to the interests of others as well as to their own, and so are good examples of the humility that Paul urged the Philippians to display so that they would have unity (Philippians 2:1-4).

The passage also demonstrates that Paul was an example of such humility. He was in prison and most of his friends had left him. Yet he was going to send the two remaining with him, Timothy and Epaphroditus, to the Philippians for their well-being. James Montgomery Boice observes:

What was Paul thinking about during the dark days before his execution? About himself? About his future? Not at all! He was thinking about the needs of his fellow Christians, and he was willing to sacrifice his own interests for theirs. Are you willing to sacrifice your own interests for the concerns of other Christians? If not, you must remember that this is your calling, for you are called to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus laid aside his glory and became a man, taking to himself all the suffering and weakness that is part of our humanity. Then he died on the cross for your salvation. Jesus lived for others, and he will teach you to live for others also, just as he taught the apostle Paul and his friends—Timothy and Epaphroditus. (Philippians: An Expositional Commentary, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 2000 reprint (first published in 1971), page 161)

Yesterday evening the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host discussed Philippians 2:19-30 guided by the questions given in “The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups.”

Shining Like Lights (Philippians 2:12-18)

Having just appealed to the Philippians to bring about unity by showing the same humility that Jesus Christ did (Philippians 2:1-11), Paul now presents reasons why they should live in unity—that they may be blameless and pure and Paul’s work not in vain.

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Addressing them as ”my beloved” and assuring them that they “have always obeyed” the commands of God passed on to them by him, Paul urges the Philippians to continue to ”work out their own salvation” even though he is not with them to support them. “Therefore” indicates that he is referring specifically to their working for unity by being humble. However his saying elsewhere, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10), suggests that he may have been thinking more generally, wanting the Philippians (and us) to work as hard as possible at being better Christians. He encourages them to do so “with fear and trembling,” reminding them of the awe that we should have in the presence of God.

Some people use “work out your own salvation” to argue that salvation depends on good works as well as on faith in Christ Jesus. Paul would be as upset with such people as he was with those who taught that in his day, his believing strongly that salvation depends entirely on faith. For example, before telling the Ephesians that they were created for good works (see above) he told them, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). And later in Philippians he warned, ”Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh” (Philippians 3:2), referring to those who taught that believers needed to be circumcised and follow the law of Moses to be saved. However, despite attributing our salvation to faith, Paul certainly did think that Christians should conduct themselves in a manner “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27) and so prayed that the Philippians would grow spiritually (Philippians 1:9-11).

Verse 13 gives us both encouragement and warning. The encouragement is that we can work out our salvation, as just explained, because God (in the person of the Holy Spirit) is working in us, both creating in us the desire to do His will and supplying us with the power by which we can do so. The warning is that, since God is working in us so that our desires and actions will be in accordance with His will, we have no excuse for not working out our salvation.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones offers these helpful suggestions on how we can work out our salvation:

Well, first of all I must submit myself entirely to God. The Apostle puts it here in terms of the amazing account that he gives us of the earthly life of our Lord in verses 5-11. … Clearly the next step is that I must avoid everything that is opposed to God, what the New Testament calls ‘the world’: ’Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world (1 John 2:15). … The best way is to consult the textbook on this subject. Here it is perfectly clear: the more I read the Bible and see the picture of the Christian man, the more I understand the nature of sin and life in this world, and what God has done for me in Christ, then I shall desire the things of God and hate the other. … And the other thing, clearly, is prayer: prayer for an increasing knowledge of God, for a greater measure of the Holy Spirit and for a greater understanding of this word; prayer for guidance, for leading and for understanding. (The Life of Joy: An Exposition of Philippians 1 and 2, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1989 reprint, pages 176-78)

14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

Possibly with the disagreement between Euodias and Syntyche in mind (Philippians 4:2), Paul tells the Philippians that they should do everything without complaining and arguing. He says that the result would be their having nothing in their lives that others could justifiably criticize and being pure in the sight of God. Thus they’d “shine as lights” as they held forth (see the next sentence) the gospel in the midst of an evil world, making the unsaved around them want what they have and come to Jesus Christ. The phrase translated “holding fast” in the English Standard Version (and most modern versions of the Bible) is translated “holding forth” in the King James Version and Matthew Henry comments on it, “It is our duty not only to hold fast, but to hold forth the word of life; not only to hold it fast for our own benefit, but to hold it forth for the benefit of others, to hold it forth as the candlestick holds forth the candle, which makes it appear to advantage all around [cf. Matthew 5:14-16], or as the luminaries of the heavens, which shed their influence far and wide [cf. Daniel 12:3]” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Old Tappan, New Jersey, Volume VI, page 735).

The idea of “shine as lights in the world” is well expressed by Tyree in “The Living Epistle”:

Of all modes of inculating Christianity, exemplifying it is the best. The best commentary on the Bible the world has ever seen is a holy life. The most eloquent sermon in behalf of the gospel that the world has ever heard is a uniform, active piety. The best version of the written truth that has ever been made is a consistent religious example. The Christian whose light thus shines not only correctly renders, but beautifies the sacred text…. While the truth is being read from the Bible, and proclaimed from the pulpit, let all the members of our churches second and enforce that truth by the silent eloquence of holy lives, and the world’s conversion will move forward at home and abroad, with primitive speed.” (Quoted in John A. Broadus, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Valley Forge: The Judson Press, 1886), 98)

17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

Paul pictures the Philippians’ service to God as the main sacrifice and his possible martyrdom as the accompanying drink offering in the Jews’ morning and evening sacrifices (Exodus 29:38-41; Numbers 28:6-7). Later, he tells Timothy, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

Paul concludes the passage by using a form of “rejoice” four times— “am glad,” “rejoice with,” “should be glad,” and “rejoice with.” Lynn H. Cohick comments:

The joy Paul experiences is far deeper than happiness, for the latter is based on circumstances. The joy of the Lord is grounded in the sure sufficiency of Christ’s work and the solid hope of our redemption. To rejoice in the midst of suffering, imprisonment, and affliction is to declare boldly that this age does not have the last word. Christ the Savior will return, transform our bodies into conformity to his glorious body, and be declared Lord.(Philippians in The Story of God Bible Commentary, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013, page 147).

Yesterday evening the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host discussed Philippians 2:12-18 guided by the questions given in “The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups.” Our discussion was short but interesting, and as a result of it I added the references to Ephesians 2:8-10 to what I had planned to post.