Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Any Circumstances: Philippians 1

In Summary: Philippians begins, as most New Testament Epistles do, by introducing the authors. In this case, it is Paul and Timothy, introducing themselves as bond-servants of Christ Jesus.

Then we see the destination: the saints of Philippi. Specifically, the saints in Christ Jesus. Notice that repetition. It’s important. Why? Paul and Timothy serve Christ Jesus. The church is in Christ Jesus. Paul uses Christ Jesus to refer to the Lord 2 more times in the opening section, referring to His day and His affection.

This frontloads the theme of Philippians. Unity in Christ Jesus, working together for His glory. Paul and Timothy, mostly Paul we assume, work through how their circumstances have taught them to handle their part of the work, and how the church has been helpful in supporting it all.

In Focus: Paul brings forth a few people who have tried not to be helpful. We are not given their names, but as Paul recounts the success of his imprisonment, these detractors are brought up. Even while imprisoned, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has reached others through Paul’s work, including the very guards holding him for trial.

As this has gone on, apparently some men were working to edge out Paul’s fame in the church. I have yet to grasp why they would want to be the ones stoned and left for dead, or shipwrecked, or anything else Paul went through, but this was the case.

Paul, though, will have nothing of lamenting the preaching of these self-aggrandizing preachers. He sees that his circumstances are bringing forth exactly what he wants: more preaching of the Gospel. If the Gospel is preached, then it’s good. After all, good news is good news—I don’t care if Bill O’Reilly or Rachel Maddow tell me the Braves won or the Hogs beat Bama, it’s good news.

How much greater is the good news of Jesus, that we have the gift of God in eternal life rather than the wages of sin! May we always be grateful that the Good News is proclaiming, that we are free, set free indeed by the Son of God!

In Practice: We do need to note, though, that Paul does not celebrate either the ego-serving preachers or their desire for personal aggrandizement. He does not license their behavior: he celebrates the spread of the Gospel. This distinction is not merely a subtle nuance, it is the very heart of the matter.

Looking throughout this chapter of Philippians, Paul is celebrating the work of spreading the truth, including a call for knowledge and discernment (Philippians 1:9), and a special mention of the local church leaders (Philippians 1:1). He speaks of righteousness, boldness, and progress in the Gospel.

And then concludes the chapter by highlighting that he sees great benefit in remaining and aiding the Philippians. If he were glad for ego-filled preachers, he would leave the Philippians to them—but he does not.

Instead, he celebrates the message but still warns the church away from the bad teachers. They are not, as yet, false teachers. Instead, they are teachers with false motives. Paul is never happy with false teaching, but he accepts what they teach while warning of their heart.

In this we see a couple of important things:

First, we see that we must note the motivations of teachers in the church. Contrary to many modern thoughts, understanding and evaluating motive matters. Paul does not criticize the teaching, he criticizes the motivation. Be on your guard against people who do fair things with a foul intent.

And their own self-aggrandizement is foul intent.

Second, we see that we must make progress in the Gospel. Paul envisions that the church must learn to stand on her own, by understanding the Word of God more and more. Any false teachers, or teachers with false motives, should find it harder and harder to creep into the church.

Because the church is growing in knowledge, discernment, and continues to strive together for the sake of the Gospel.

In Nerdiness: An alternate view on the teachers of Philippians 1 is that they were the Judaizers that show up in other letters. I doubt this, because Paul highlights that they are teaching Christ. The Judaizers did not teach Christ. They taught works.

Notice also Philippians 1:27-29 and how suffering is granted to the church. We see suffering as something to be avoided. Yet here we see that opponents are to be expected, and that suffering is to be embraced through faith.

How do we choose to live?

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