Tag Archives: Philippians

Philippians 1:27-30 – What Does an American Christian Look Like?

(Sunday, September 17, 2017) 2:04 PM What does an American Christian look like? We look like any other people outwardly. We don’t normally dress much differently from unbelievers. We don’t wear our hair differently. We don’t have secret handshakes. We don’t all drive the same model car. In the grocery store you’re unlikely to be able to pick out the Christian from the non-Christian. So what’s the difference between those who are born again and those who aren’t?

One again, Paul helps us out. In Phil. 1:27-30, he’s clear that one of the distinguishing characteristics of Christians is they suffer for Christ, or at least are willing to do so. This is a “given,” writes Paul, using a construction sometimes called the divine passive. Thus “it was granted to you to suffer” could be rendered “God has granted this to you.” This has always been the case. In every generation, those with a whole-hearted allegiance to the Gospel can expect to share in the sufferings of Christ.

The idea of suffering for Christ is not an unusual one for Paul. In the book of 2 Corinthians, not once but twice he lists the sufferings and trials that came to him for being a Gospeler. Here’s one of them (2 Cor. 6:4-10). At first blush there seems to be no rhyme or reason to Paul’s list.

But a closer look reveals some interesting patterns.

In the ISV, we tried to indicate the thought units as follows (please note the punctuation):

I see that Eugene Petersen also seemed alert to some of these patterns.

Note especially the following constructions:

  • “in hard times, tough times, bad times”
  • “when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed”
  • “working hard, working late, working without eating”

Brilliant! The point is that Paul didn’t just talk about suffering for Jesus; he experienced it. And because he stood strong in spite of sometimes fanatical opposition, he can exhort the Philippians to do exactly the same thing (“Don’t be intimated by your opponents in any way”).

I once saw a bumper sticker with the words “Things Go Better with Christ” — a takeoff on a Coke commercial. That’s not always true, of course. In fact, if I understand Paul correctly here, God never intended things to “go better with Christ.” Thousands of Christians around the world (yes, in 2017) are undergoing extreme suffering for their faith. You can’t live uncompromisingly for the Gospel and not have some scars to show for it. By saying yes to Christ, we have to comparatively say no to everything else, including our comforts and safety. Paul doesn’t mean that we go out and look for trouble. He’s simply saying that my love for Christ should be infinitely deeper and stronger than my love for my own life.

Once again, in Philippians we see Paul at his very best. He rejoices and give thanks in everything, including his own sufferings and hardships. What a remarkable example he is for us. May God grant us courage as we seek to live and speak the truth in love in our own communities and nations.

Philippians 1:21 – My Life Is Christ

(Friday, September 15, 2017)

10:48 AM It’s another gorgeous day here on the farm, though the temps are gradually creeping back up into the mid-80s. It’s hard to believe that we’ve got less than three and a half months left in the year. The semester seems to be flying by. We’re already in Phil. 1:27-30 and I haven’t said a thing about 1:21! People sometimes ask me if I have any routines in my daily schedule, something I do repeatedly, and actually I do. I suppose you could say I repeat Phil. 1:21 almost like a mantra: “For to me to go on living is Christ, and to die is gain.” I’m ashamed to say it, but I don’t always find my identity in Christ. That’s why this verse is so important to me. It’s a reminder that my life with Christ is what really matters. It loosens my grip on all circumstances and props and frees me from all those things I generally rely on or deem important. When I’m unappreciated, my life is Christ. When someone says or writes something nice about me, my life is Christ. This is a verse that will force your values and fears out of the shadows and into the light. I can’t help but think how different my daily life would be without Christ. Without Christ, life is vanity. Without Christ, love erodes. Without Christ, living is a drudgery. Paul, I think, reached the same conclusion. He wrote a verse that is used today in ways he would have never imagined. The thing is, God wants my whole heart. Not just a part. All of it. I can’t, like Ananias and Sapphira, hold something back. Friends, dwell on Christ’s sole sufficiency today. He wants us to experience the “glorious riches” He has planned for us from the beginning of time (Rom. 9:23). Feel old and useless? God’s saving His best for last. He’s got plans for your life that will amaze you.

Today, let’s kick up our heels in the sunshine of Christ’s presence.

Philippians 1:27 (politeuesthe)

7:55 AM I am very blessed to live in the countryside. This is the view I get to see most every morning from my front porch as I read my Bible.

I love the view. Like, love it. I’m talking about my Bible. Oh yes, the sunrise is nice too. So is nature. There’s so much to love in life. I love the outdoors. I love humor. I love sarcasm and witty people. I love symmetry and precision and balance and saliency. That’s why I was thrilled to be in Phil. 1:27-30 this morning. I felt like I was a 4-year old locked in a candy store. Thank you, Paul, for making your POINT so clearly. You know, folks, Phil. 1:27 contains the most important verb in the entire letter. (I know you’re cynical. Stay with me.)

Let’s set aside, to begin with, all of the standard translations for a moment. Paul is not telling us to “conduct ourselves” or “live” in a manner worthy of the Gospel. Consider his use of the verb politeuesthe (“live as good citizens”). Philippi was a Roman colony, remember? So it only makes sense that Paul would appeal to the Philippians’ sense of civic duty. Which is exactly what he does with this verb —  the letter’s first imperative. (Told you it was important.) Note the following:

And this:

Today most of us don’t live in real communities so we don’t know what Paul is talking about. But for those of us who live in rural settings … bingo! When I first moved to North Carolina 20 years ago, I joined the local volunteer fire department, like this one.

See the words “Our Duty”? If you were a MAN in Granville County, North Carolina, you joined the VFD. It was as simple as that. It was my civic duty. Didn’t matter that I was pretty lousy at operating the fire hoses. I was so bad that, in fact, I was eventually “promoted” to chaplain. Still, I faithfully attended our monthly meetings, turned out in full gear for all training sessions, and was often the first on the scene of a house fire or a car accident. I think I know a little about what it means to belong to a “community.”

Let me pause to remind everybody I’m pretty apolitical on this blog, intentionally so. Politics, for me, is largely a huge distraction from what God’s called me to do. But here, in this passage, politics can’t be avoided, for the simple reason that Paul is using a political metaphor to make his point. The inhabitants of Philippi were, quite simply, proud of the fact that they lived in a Roman colony. Almost half of the population enjoyed Roman citizenship. Hence Paul’s wordplay. It goes something like this:

Now the only thing in life that really matters is that you live out your citizenship in a manner required by the Gospel of Christ, so that, whether or not I’m able to go and see you in person, I will hear that all of you are standing side by side with one common purpose: to work together for the faith of the Gospel.

The use of this political metaphor is, as Fee reminds us, “a brilliant stroke” (p. 78). The “civic” responsibilities Paul has in mind are the duties incumbent upon all of us as citizens of heaven (see 3:20). This helps untangle us from the God and Country narrative that so often entraps us and sets God free to be God instead of just another idol we worship along with Caesar. It lends restraint when declaring our political views as “Christian” because sometimes my political allegiances sound suspiciously like the American Dream rather than like the Gospel Commission. The Gospel for Paul is ultimately about loyalty. Which “god” gets my allegiance? The state or the Gospel? Our allegiance is not to Caesar Kurios (Lord Caesar) but to Iesous Kurios (Lord Jesus), before whom every knee will one day bow, including those of the emperor himself. We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. This is our place. These are our people. This is our life. Paul is asking us to rethink our priorities. Get a handle on who we are. On what we value. On how we want to live. Young Christian, it’s time to live for the Gospel. Retiree, it’s time to place the Gospel first. Greek prof, a worthy life involves living for others as Christ loved them, sharing with them the ridiculous mercy God has poured out on you. This is our high calling as citizens of heaven. God makes us worthy of the Gospel of Christ as we desire His kingdom above everything else. No early citizenship could ever be more important than our heavenly citizenship. And guess what — we have access to this kingdom now: love, kindness, sacrifice, patience in the midst of persecution, joy in the midst of sorrow, self-control.

This was the high calling of every Philippian who claimed the name of Jesus, and it’s my calling too, and yours.

*OF* Learning Greek

[Thursday, September 14]

7:26 PM What does the phrase “the faith of the Gospel” mean in Phil. 1:27?

for the faith, which is the Good News (NLT)

the faith that comes from the gospel (HCSB)

the faith that the Good News brings (God’s Word)

people’s trust in the Message (The Message)

so da odda peopo goin trus da Good Kine Stuff Bout Christ too (Hawai’i Pidgin)

Fee (p. 77) thinks the phrase means either “the faith contained in the gospel” or “the faith, that is, the gospel.” The NLT agrees with the latter:

fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News.

It’s so tempting to translate this literally, to go along with the majority of translations, but this will not do, simply because “the faith of the Gospel” doesn’t mean anything in English. (Yeah, I know, I used that expression in an earlier blog post today, but I’ve since repented.) Unless Paul is intentionally using ambiguity here, he means one thing, and it’s our job as exegetes to determine which meaning he had in mind. As I told my Greek 3 students last Tuesday night when we were going over the Greek cases, the genitive will give you a Charley Horse between the ears if you’re not careful. All due respect to those who render the expression as “the faith of the Gospel,” but pretending that people know what that means isn’t being honest with the text. Caring about the deep structure of the text is a big, big deal. And here — as in so many places — Greek simply will not tell you what Paul means, though (thankfully!) it will limit your options. Genitive of source? Genitive of apposition? There is no secret way around the problem. You guys, this is exactly why we need to learn Greek.

The end.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

Unity and Other-centeredness

[04/14/2017] 7:56 AM Phil. 1:15-18a is a parenthesis. A what? A parenthesis in grammar is a remark or passage that departs from the main theme of the discourse. You can call it a digression if you like (though the latter term has a slightly different connotation). I just made a parenthetical remark, by the way. So, then, in Phil. 15-18a Paul offers his readers an aside. He says in passing that he rejoices that the Gospel is being proclaimed even by people who are opposing him out of personal animosity. Who cares? Ti gar! The only thing that matters is that Christ is being proclaimed, and in this I rejoice!

When you were young, did your parents ever tell you, “Watch the tone of your voice”? Sometimes it’s not what we say that’s wrong. It’s the way we say it. Paul’s is prison. He’s facing possible execution. What’s more, not everybody there likes him. He could have grumped, griped, complained, and made life miserable for himself and for all those around him. Instead, he looked at the bright side of everything. Even when he’s pointing out selfishness and impure motives (as he’s doing here), he does it with a tone of grace and kindness. It doesn’t mean it lessons the seriousness of the problem. It just means we don’t have to add to the problem by the way we speak.

By the way, in case you didn’t see the connection, Paul is again “telegraphing” to his readers (us included) that in this letter he is going to deal directly with the problem of disunity in the church (see 4:2-3). Disunity occurs when we “look out for our own interests rather than the interests of others” and when we “esteem ourselves as being more important than others” (2:2). The antidote for our self-centeredness is, of course, a good dose of tapeinophrosune — “lowliness of mind” (2:3). Today, I can choose to be other-centered. I can choose to forgive that relative who has hurt me. I can choose to be patient rather than fly off the handle. I can choose to pray more and wimp less. I can choose to be like Jesus: generous and loyal. Let’s pinky promise today — you and me — that we’re really going to make an effort to listen to the people in our lives. That we’ll be slow to speak and quick to hear. I pray that the Holy will invade our lives today, that we would see (as Paul did) where God is hiding in plain sight in our lives, that even when we feel taken advantage of we will remember that we are the chief of sinners.

The Gospel is more important than people’s motives. If our inner monologue is constantly negative toward those who don’t act and think the way we do, it’s time to move back to grace. Isn’t that what Paul is saying?

It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I’m out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better—they think—for them.

So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!

It will take me an entire year to fathom the depths of what Paul just said. I absolutely understand why we would criticize people who are hoping to take advantage of our misfortune. But it’s sadly possible to bend the universe too sharply toward our own feelings. I suspect that the real culprit is our failure to unpack the root motives behind our own actions. Love God and serve Him. Really, nothing else matters. If you are ever unsure how to treat other people, just remember how Jesus treated us. He loved us even when we despised Him. This gives me such comfort. It also reminds me that I never — never! — have to compare myself with anyone else. Play the “Gospel competition” game? You can have it!

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

On Philippians 2:16

From Dave Black Online:

Question for you. In Phil. 2:16 did Paul say we are to “hold fast to” or “hold forth” the Word of life? My personal preference is the latter interpretation because I think it better fits the context (“shining as lights in the world”). Plainly, however, Paul could have intended both meanings (thus making the expression a case of intentional ambiguity). His point, then, would be that while it is important, vital even, to hold fast to the Gospel (i.e., preserve and protect it from error), that is never enough. We must protect and proclaim the life-giving Word. This notion is consistent with everything we read in the Pauline epistles. Paul was no mean theologian, but he was every bit as much a great evangelist, perhaps more so. And, since he invites his readers to share his attitude in these matters, he implies that doctrine is never sufficient in itself, unless that doctrine is applied in practical ways. This dual emphasis upon the sanctity of the Gospel and our responsibility to share it with others is present again and again in Paul. To put it another way, a church should never be centered on itself. Every true Bible church is also a missional church.

(Dr. David Alan Black is author of Energion titles The Jesus Paradigm and Christian Archy as well as co-editor of the Areopagus Critical Christian Issues series.  His material is used by permission.)