Phil. 3:17-4:1 Following a Biblical Pattern.

Despite the fact that Paul was aware that he was not yet perfect, acknowledging this reality, but also of the power of God at work in his life, he set himself as an example for his audience to follow. From before he was born, God knew all this, including his conversion and call to the ministry of the word. No man other than Jesus is perfect in this life, but we should be examples for how we deal with this reality – as Peter also concurs, growing “in grace, and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (II Pet. 3:18) The saints have a pattern in Paul for a comparison to their own shepherds as well (17 cf. II Cor. 11:15). We all must show a desire for progress in both doctrine and life. 

His warning of verse 18 still stands. Those who live as enemies of Christ and his church, are evidenced by four things here, even if not exhaustive, they are still high in Paul’s thought in this context. Firstly, and perhaps ironically, is their end (19a). Despite what they say or claim to hope for, their actions betray themselves to be those headed for destruction (cf. Rom. 9:22). These are also those “whose god is their belly.” (19b) These are those who see the ‘ministry’, so called, simply as a means of gaining beyond what one needs, to satisfy wants, like gluttony (cf. I Tim. 6:5). Thirdly, what could have been their glory, will be their shame, in fulfillment of prophecy of their corruption (cf. Hos.4:7; Mal. 2:7-9).

The one thing that separates the elect from the reprobate is the fact that the former have their citizenship in heaven. We are those who know that having Christ as our Saviour, also means that He is our Lord (20). We live as ambassadors of the King of heaven and earth, while the former are unlawful illegal occupiers. We also have the sure hope that when he has put his enemies down completely, he will return to a new heavens and earth, and transfer the kingdom back to the Father (cf. Ps. 110; Is. 51:16, 65:17, 66:22; I Cor. 15; Heb. 1:1-4; II Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21). There will also be a transformation of our current ‘lowly’ bodies, still suffering the effects of the fall, into our new bodies, so that bodily existence will remain part of who we are – without sin.

As noted in the previous passage, we are predestined not only to justification, but also to sanctification, complete in Christ, progressively transforming us in the here and now, and this includes the body and its usage (21). Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit’s presence, being continually cleansed in the blood of the lamb (I Cor. 6:18-20). It is precisely because the Spirit dwells within us that we detest our sins, and are given power to grow in grace. Amazingly, we shall have bodies “conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” (21) One may not go to this verse first, to prove God’s absolute omnipotent sovereignty, but this is exactly what it teaches.

All of the above, Paul makes clear, he intends for the beloved – the Lord’s and thus also his (4:1). Paul’s brethren were longed-for because as he stated in 1:8, it was because of the affection of Christ, which he shared. These direct recipients were Paul’s “joy and crown.” (1) As with the Corinthians, he could boast of their fidelity in doctrine and life, following his own example (cf. II Cor. 1:14). However, one must give such evidence to the end, as perseverance is also a sign of one’s election according to grace. Not also, they were not to stand in themselves, or Paul, but ‘in Christ’ alone. Just as we stand justified in Christ alone, even so we will stand in his image complete when our journey ends, and begins anew.

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