Rejoicing in Righteousness: Philippians 3
In Summary: Paul moves forward with the Philippians, encouraging them to rejoice. Philippians 3:1 makes it clear that he has told them to rejoice before, and that he is glad to do so. He also notes the defensive nature of rejoicing, a though worth considering. After all, what problems come from the grumbling heart! What dangers lurk in discontentment, and how greatly they are defeated by rejoicing!
He also addresses the biggest danger to the church, not only at Philippi but in all the history of Christianity: those who make the grace of God out to be nothing, replacing it with the strength of man. This is the point of his autobiography in 3:4-8, as Paul gives all the reasons why man-made religion should have been enough for him, followed by his declaration that these efforts are rubbish. Clarifying this in the following verses, we are reminded that our righteousness is imputed by God because of faith, and that we then seek to lay hold of living out the righteousness of God.
Paul contrasts for the Philippians the attitude of Christ Jesus, which he expanded on in Philippians 2, and the attitude of the flesh in Philippians 3:18-19. One mind is set on earthly things, while the citizens of heaven rejoice in righteousness.
In Focus: This righteousness, though, is not their own righteousness. Note verse 21 and the emphasis on the coming transformation. Further, we see that Jesus will do this by exerting His power, not that we will exert our own.
In this chapter, we would do well to focus on how the need for the imputed righteousness of Christ interacts with the believer’s responsibility to walk according to the pattern of obedience. The first question? What’s imputed mean? Impute means to ascribe or attribute, often involved in what someone has not done or does not have. Imputed righteousness is the idea that the righteousness of Jesus is attributed to Christians, though it is unearned.
Second, we need to see that God did not save through Jesus statues for His shelf. We were not redeemed and placed in storage, but were made citizens of the heavenly kingdom. I have yet to find a reference in Scripture that describes believers as static displays. Citizens have rights and responsibilities; walking involves effort and progress. There is no stop and sit Christian in Scripture.
In Practice: Practically speaking, then, we need to take on a few behaviors as part of our Christian life:
First, rejoice. If it was worth the Philippians’ time, I do not doubt it is worth our time. Rejoice about what? The Word became flesh and dwelt among us! Christ Jesus, though equal with God, humbled Himself, died for us, and has been, is, and will be exalted with a name above all names! There is plenty in the work of Jesus for us to rejoice in! Let us do so.
Second, rejoice openly. This is not about acting silly-stupid and claiming you are honoring God. It is about living a life that reflects something greater than the troubles and provisions of this world. Rejoice openly!
Third, rejoice openly in righteousness. We serve a Risen Saviour, and He is righteousness in reality. We should openly and joyfully live out the righteousness that He showed. It should not be a dreadful thing to walk after the pattern of Christ. Rejoice openly that you walk away from immorality and deceit rather than weep that you abandon them. Joyfully escape from legalistic religion into following the upward call of Christ Jesus!
In Nerdiness: Here in America, we do not always quite grasp the citizenship contexts of Scripture, because most of the people we encounter are citizens. Even those who are not citizens are extended many of the rights of citizenship: there is no separate Constitution for the non-citizen that denies the right to jury trial or permits extended incarceration without conviction. (I know that, practically speaking, there are concerns about how well this actually happens. I’m speaking of the overall theory of law in this country.) Only a few things are denied the non-citizen: voting and jury service. (I find it interesting that a non-citizen is entitled to a jury trial, but not required/permitted to serve on a jury.)
Yet Roman law was quite different. Many people living in the Empire were not citizens, and for the non-citizen there were few clear paths to citizenship. Further, citizens held more rights and had greater responsibilities than non-citizens. As we consider Paul’s use of citizenship imagery for the Christian, examining the Roman system is helpful.
For example, one could try and try to earn Roman citizenship and be denied, while another could receive citizenship simply by the grant of the Emperor. Once attained, though, citizenship was considered quite valuable. Rome took protection of her citizens seriously.
Paul wanted the church to understand that they had something even greater than citizenship in Rome, they had citizenship in heaven. This would have, though, made them ineligible to be citizens of Rome in the long run. Dual-citizenship was possible only until there is a conflict between the two countries, and a choice will have to be made. The same choice will need to be made by many of us.