Category Archives: Paul — Writings of

Thanks! (Philippians 4:10-23)

Having delivered his final exhortations, Paul closes his letter to the Philippian Christians by thanking them for the gifts which they’d sent to him, both now and in the past. Although he makes it clear that he doesn’t expect more gifts, he rejoices over the Philippians’ concern and gifts because their giving pleased God. He also gives final greetings to the Philippians from himself, his co-workers, and the Christians in Rome.

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)

Paul expresses joy over the Philippians’ renewed concern for him as shown by their sending him a gift during his imprisonment. He makes it clear that he isn’t in need, having learned to be content whatever his outward circumstances are—in particular to be content whether he is living in prosperity or in need, and so isn’t asking for more gifts. He says that Christ gives him strength so that he is able to cope with all circumstances. Paul’s sharing this with the Philippians is a good follow-up to what he had just suggested to them about presenting their requests to God and receiving His peace (4:5-6).

I’ve taken verse 13 as meaning that Christ gave Paul the strength to be content living in the circumstances referred to in verses 11-12. However, Paul may have intended a broader meaning. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones takes Paul as meaning that Christ didn’t leave him to live the Christian life on his own but gave him strength so that he could do everything related to it. He observes, “The Christian life is not a life that I live myself and by my own power; neither is it a life in which I am obliterated and Christ does all. No, ‘I can do all things through Christ'” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Life of Peace (Great Britain, 1990; reprint, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1993), 223). Whether or not Paul meant that by verse 13, he certainly believed it; see, for example, 2:12-13.

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

In thanking the Philippians for the gift, Paul mentions their having sent him aid in the period after his first visit to Philippi, while he was in Thessalonica (4:16) and Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:9). Although Paul recognized his right to be supported by the churches that he ministered to, he generally refused to accept such support so that he wouldn’t be a burden to anyone (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9) and so that nobody could accuse him of preaching the gospel for money (1 Corinthians 9:1-18). However, here he rejoices over the Philippians’ helping him because their giving gifts to him pleased God and would be rewarded by Him (the implication of “may abound to your account”), to whom the gifts constituted “an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable,” by His meeting all their needs.

Paul tells the Philippians that just as they had met his needs, so God would meet theirs. In view of the context and of the Philippians’ poverty (2 Corinthians 8:2), “all your needs” would certainly include the Philippians’ material needs. However, it would also include their spiritual needs, especially (in view of what Paul said about his “need” in verses 11-13) the ability to be content in all circumstances. No need was too big because God would meet their needs out of His infinite riches in glory. The sole condition was that His supplying of their needs would be channelled through Christ Jesus and so only Christians could benefit.

21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Paul closes the letter with greetings and a brief benediction, as most New Testament letters end. The greetings are to all the saints and is from his companions and the church in Rome as well as from him. The benediction, like Paul’s opening greeting, focuses on God’s grace. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you.

Yesterday evening the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host discussed Philippians 4:10-23 guided by the questions given in “The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups.”

One of the questions which we had a particularly fruitful discussion of was: “How do you think Paul discovered ‘the secret of contentment’ while in prison: By reading the OT? By writing a lot of the NT? By going to the temple every day? By getting what he wanted? By graduating from the ‘School of Hard Knocks’?” Participants in the discussion argued plausibly for the first, second, and last of the five choices, after which I read what D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says on the matter in “The Life of Peace” (see above). He suggests three causes—experience of the type referred to in the last of the five choices (he refers to 2 Corinthians 12:9-10), a logical argument worked out by Paul why he should find his pleasure and his satisfaction in Christ and always in Christ (”The Life of Peace,” pages 212-14), and the example of Jesus Christ (he refers to Hebrews 12:2).

The last question was, “What one thing from this book do you especially want to apply in your life? In your church?” I answered, “One thing from Philippians that I especially want to apply to my life and in my church is to always rejoice in the Lord,” echoing Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”

The Peace of God (Philippians 4:2-9)

Paul gives some final exhortations to the Philippian Christians. First, he beseeches two women to agree with each other in the Lord and asks a co-worker to help them resolve their disagreement. Next, he encourages the Philippians to pray, rather than worry, about things. Finally, he urges them to think about things that are virtuous and praiseworthy and to follow his teachings and example.

2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)

Euodia and Syntyche, two women who had ministered with Paul and others, disagreed with each other, probably for one of the reasons given in 2:3–strife (rivalry) or vainglory. This harmed the unity and witness of the church, and Paul entreats them to resolve their disagreement by agreeing with each other in the Lord. He also asks an unnamed co-worker to help the women resolve their disagreement.

“To agree” in 4:2 is the same as “being of the same mind” in 2:2, suggesting that Paul’s request to Euodia and Syntyche is an application of his earlier appeal to the Philippians to show humility to bring about unity (2:1-4). Its being followed by “in the Lord” indicates that Paul is asking the two women to set aside their personal interests and end their quarrel because of their common bond in the Lord even if they can’t agree on the matter that they’d quarrelled about. He may have waited until near the end of his letter to make his request to them because he wanted to lead up to it, for example by 2:1-11.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Paul gives the Philippians four commands because of the nearness of the Lord, by which he may mean that the Lord is near the Christian at all times or that he is coming back soon or both:

  • Rejoice in the Lord always.
  • Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.
  • Do not be anxious about anything.
  • Let your requests be made known to God.

Paul says that if the Philippians obey these commands the peace of God will keep their hearts and minds, giving them an inner sense of contentment regardless of the circumstances.

“With thanksgiving” is a reminder that prayer consists of more than requests. Its main aspects are identified in the ACTS prayer model as Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Paul tells the Philippians to think about virtuous and praiseworthy things, which he describes as true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. Since these qualities were extolled by pagan writers and not distinctively Christian, he may have been encouraging the Philippians to accept what was good in their culture rather than automatically rejecting everything in it because it wasn’t Christian.

Paul goes on to tell the Philippians to follow his teachings and example because in them they’d see the qualities listed in verse 8 exemplified by one who, as he observes in 1 Corinthians 11:1, followed Christ’s example. Thus, he may have been cautioning them that acceptance of their culture should be in the light of their Christian faith.

Paul concludes by telling the Philippians that thinking about things that are virtuous and praiseworthy and following his teachings and example would result in their not only having the peace of God but enjoying His presence. May the God of peace also be with you.

Yesterday evening the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host discussed Philippians 4:2-9 guided by the questions given in “The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups.”

Pressing On (Philippians 3:12-4:1)

I introduced “Saved by Faith (Philippians 3:1-11)” by observing that Paul seemed to have been about to close his letter to the Philippian Christians when something led him to warn them to beware of those who taught that circumcision was necessary for salvation. After warning them about the Judaizers, Paul again shared with the Philippians the central place that Christ occupied in his life and identified some benefits of knowing Christ. Now he explains to them that he hasn’t yet attained all that is involved in knowing Christ but is striving to, and he warns them about another, much different, kind of “Christian.”

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Philippians 3:12-16, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

Paul compares his spiritual life with a race in which he presses on toward the goal that he’d described in Philippians 3:10-11 (see below) and encourages the Philippians to take the same view of life. He brings out three resemblances between himself and a runner racing to obtain a prize:

  • A runner strains forward, not allowing himself to be distracted by other things. Paul doesn’t let pride in past successes or regrets over past failures interfere with his pursuit of his goal.
  • A runner has a goal. Paul has a goal, to “know [Christ Jesus] and the power of his resurrection, and … share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” and thus to “attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).
  • A runner gets a prize on reaching his goal. Paul’s reason for running is to obtain a prize—to become completely identified with Christ Jesus, even to having his body transformed (Philippians 3:21).

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. 1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 3:17-4:1)

Paul encourages the Philippians to follow his example and the example of others who take the view of life that he’s described and warns them against the many who live as enemies of the cross, interested only in their belly, their glory, and earthly things. Some biblical scholars think that Paul is still referring to the Judaizing teachers of Philippians 3:2, but I think that it’s more likely that he is referring to antinomians who argue that since they were saved by grace it doesn’t matter what they do (compare Romans 6:15, “Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?”) and so live in self-indulgence. Paul says that their end is destruction. As citizens of heaven, Christians should have their minds focused on heavenly, not earthly, things (compare Colossians 3:2, “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth”) and look forward eagerly to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, when they’ll receive heavenly bodies and become part of the heavenly kingdom.

The closing verse of this section of Paul’s letter to the Philippians epitomizes his relationship with them. They are his friends “my brothers, whom I love and long for” and a reason for him to rejoice “my joy and crown.” Thus, his charge to them is just to “stand firm” in their commitment to Christ Jesus.

Earlier this week the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host discussed Philippians 3:12-4:1 guided by the questions given in “The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups.”

Paul and the Judaizers

In Philippians 3:2 Paul warned his readers, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” He was referring to a group of Jewish Christians, called “Judaizers” by Biblical scholars, who taught that Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians had to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses to be fully saved. Paul’s challenging them in Philippians was not his first encounter with them. In this article I’ll summarize what we know of Paul’s life, highlighting his encounters with Judaizers.

Paul was born in Tarsus, a city in the Roman province of Cilicia in southeast Asia Minor, the peninsula occupied by Turkey. He was raised in either Tarsus or Jerusalem, was both Jewish and a Roman citizen, and was trained as a Pharisee. He was present at the stoning of Stephen and became a persecutor of Christians (Acts 7:58-8:3).

When Paul was on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus to arrest any Christians he found there, Jesus appeared to him and he was converted. Not only did he proclaim Jesus in the synagogues there, but also he visited Arabia. When he returned to Damascus, the Jews plotted to kill him and he returned to Jerusalem. However ones sought to kill him there too and the church took him to Caesarea and sent him to Tarsus, his hometown. For the next several years he ministered in Cilicia (see above) and Syria (the province in which Antioch–see below–was located). These events are described in Acts 9:1-31 and Galatians 1:17-24 and occurred in A.D. 33-46 (conversion 33, return to Jerusalem 36, and ministry in Antioch 45-46; all dates are approximate).

Acts 11:19-26 describes how the gospel came to Antioch in Syria, the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch, Barnabas brought Paul from Tarsus to Antioch, and Barnabas and Paul ministered in Antioch for a year (45-46). Acts 11:27-30 tells how the prophecy of a worldwide famine prompted the church in Antioch to send relief to the church in Jerusalem by the hand of Barnabas and Paul. Paul describes this visit in Galatians 2:1-10, concluding by noting that the leaders of the church in Jerusalem “gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised” (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).

After returning to Antioch, Barnabas and Paul were commissioned by the church there to go on a missionary journey. Generally called Paul’s first missionary journey, it took them to Cyprus and Galatia, is described in Acts 13-14, and occurred in A.D. 46-47. On returning to Antioch they spent “no little time with the disciples.” It was during this time that the confrontation between Paul and Peter described in Galatians 2:11-14 took place and that Paul received news that false teachers were telling the Christians in Galatia that they had to be circumcised and follow the law of Moses to be fully saved. Paul reacted to the news by writing a letter to the Galatians in which he told them, “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).

However Acts 15 records that the conflict continued. Some men came to Antioch from Jerusalem and told the church there, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved,” and were opposed by Paul and Barnabas. Finally the church appointed Paul, Barnabas, and some others to go to Jerusalem and consult the apostles and the elders about the matter. They gathered to consider the matter. After much debate Peter got up and reminded them of how God had shown his acceptance of the Gentiles gathered in the house of Cornelius by giving them the Holy Spirit, concluding, “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” There was no further discussion and the whole assembly listened to Barnabas and Paul tell about the signs and wonders that God had done among the Gentile believers through them.

When they had finished, the leader of the Jerusalem church–James, the brother of Jesus–spoke up. After referring to what Peter had said, he demonstrated that the calling of the Gentiles had been foretold in Amos 9:11-12 and gave as his judgment that they should not trouble Gentiles who were turning to the Lord except to tell them to abstain from a few things especially disturbing to Jews because “Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” The group agreed and decided to send two of their men, Judas Barsabbas and Silas, to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. The two men read the letter given in the next paragraph to the congregation in Antioch and then returned to Jerusalem. The conference in Jerusalem described in Acts 15 and summarized in the last two paragraphs occurred in A.D. 49.

“The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” (Acts 15:23-29)

Subsequently Paul went on two more missionary journeys, was arrested in Jerusalem, and was sent to Rome as a prisoner. Those events are described in the rest of the book of Acts. It was while he was a prisoner in Rome that he wrote the letter which we’re studying in our Life group, Philippians (sometime in A.D. 60-62). The passage with which I opened this article, Philippians 3:2, shows that despite the decision of the apostles and the elders in Jerusalem and the letter which they sent to Gentile Christians, the Judaizers were still spreading their message and that Paul still opposed it.

After being released from his imprisonment in Rome, Paul extended his ministry, possibly to Spain, and was rearrested and executed by beheading.

This article is adapted from a handout which I prepared to aid our Life group in our discussion yesterday evening of one of the questions given on Philippians 3:1-11 in The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups: “If this problem with the circumcision party had gone unchallenged, how would it have hurt the gospel?” We had a good discussion of the question and of the passage.

Three Blessings of the Cross (Philippians 3:7-11)

What do eggs, new clothes, and spring have in common? They all suggest new life. They are also all associated with Easter, and surely that is appropriate because Easter is when we commemorate Jesus’ being lifted up on the Cross, “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:15; see also vs. 16).

Recently, as I was rereading D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s exposition of Philippians, I was struck by how a short passage (Philippians 3:7-11) brings out three aspects of the new life available to us because of what Jesus did on the first Easter—justification, sanctification, and glorification.

This passage brings out Paul’s absorbing passion, not just to know about Jesus Christ, but to know Him intimately. Paul looked upon everything else in his life as of no value compared to knowing Christ, and so he was willing to give up everything else in order to know Him.

Yet, at one time, Paul’s overriding goal in life had been to destroy the Church (“concerning zeal, persecuting the church,” 3:6). Then, while he was on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus to arrest Christians there, he was encountered by the risen Jesus. The result was that he joined the ranks of those whom he’d previously persecuted and became as zealous for Christ as he had once been against Him. In the 25 or so years between then and his writing Philippians, Paul’s relationship with Christ deepened so much that he could even tell his Philippian readers, “To me to live is Christ” (1:21). Nothing else seems to have mattered to him. He even looked upon death as desirable because it would result in his departing to be with Christ—”having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better (1: 23).

The first of the Easter blessings, justification, is referred to these words, “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” Justification is God’s act of declaring a person righteous in His sight. Although before his conversion to the Christian faith Paul had been, “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (3:6), apparently he hadn’t experienced peace when he was relying upon obedience to the Mosaic law to be considered righteous by God (see Romans 7:8-11). But now that he was relying upon “the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ” and “in his blood” (3:22,25)—His sacrificial death on the Cross—he enjoyed “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1) and, as he took his problems to God, an inner peace, “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

The second Easter blessing, sanctification, is suggested by the phrase “the power of his resurrection.” Sanctification involves separation from sin and dedication to service to God. Although the Christian has peace with God, he or she still has to struggle with sin (see Romans 7:13-25). Thus he must “continue to work out [his/her] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12, NIV). However, the believer has help, “for it is God which worketh in [him/her] both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (2:13). This help is given by “the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead” (Romans 8:11), whom Jesus promised His disciples that after His resurrection and ascension He would ask His Father to send to live with and be in them (see John 14:16-17; 16:7). Thus Christians are enabled to “walk in newness of life” just as “Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father” (Romans 6:4).

The next phrase in verse 10, “the fellowship of his sufferings,” is not only connected to “the power of his resurrection” by “and” but also shares the same definite article in the Greek. This suggests that it might refer to another aspect of to the same experience as “the power of his resurrection” refers to, which I’ve suggested is sanctification, rather than to a different experience. Many commentators think that it does and point to Romans 6:1-11 in support of the identification. For example, Gerald F Hawthorne claims that “just as knowing Christ in the power of his resurrection is an inward experience that can be expressed in terms of being resurrected with Christ (cf. Rom 6:4), so knowing Christ in the fellowship of his sufferings is equally an inward experience that can be described in terms of having died with Christ (cf. Rom 6:8)” (Philippians in Word Biblical Commentary, Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1983, page 144).

Personally, I think that by “the fellowship of his sufferings” Paul was referring to external suffering. Strange as it may seem to us, Paul actually viewed suffering for Jesus Christ as a blessing. “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29), an idea that likely originated in his knowing that Jesus had told His disciples, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all matter of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). According to this interpretation of “the fellowship of his sufferings,” the phrase that follows it, “being made conformable unto his death,” refers to Paul’s even being willing to die for Christ, a willingness that he had graphically expressed earlier in the letter, “Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all” (Philippians 2:17).

The third Easter blessing, glorification, is referred to in these words, “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” Glorification refers to the time when Christians will be raised to heavenly glory. I’ve already mentioned that Paul’s desire to know Jesus Christ caused him to look forward to death, when he would go to be with Christ. However, when he wrote this verse, Paul may have been thinking of another aspect of his future death and resurrection, one indicated by something that he says a little further on in the letter, “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (3:20-21). Paul looked forward to his becoming wholly like Christ in heaven, the glory of which “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with” (Romans 8:18).

Thus, in Philippians 3:7-11 Paul referred to at least three blessings that he enjoyed or looked forward to because of what Jesus did on the first Easter—justification, sanctification, and glorification. But what Jesus did on the first Easter, He did for everybody, not just for Paul. Therefore, these are blessings that all of us can enjoy now or look forward to enjoying in the future. The only thing that a person has to do to experience them is to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus on the basis of what He did for us on that first Easter and then to let God bestow upon him/her the blessings that He wants to give everybody because of what His Son did on that first Easter.

This article originally appeared under the title “Easter Blessings” in the Easter 1997 issue of “Hunter Family Holiday Newsletter” and the April 1999 issue of “Good Tidings” (the monthly magazine of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador). Biblical quotations in it are from the KJV unless otherwise specified.

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 Suite101.com 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.”