Phil. 3:10-11 Conformed.

In the previous two verses Paul wrote about the idea that the saints are ‘found’ “in Christ.” Salvation is sola Christos – only in the Christ, that we are declared righteous through the righteousness of Christ. However, our salvation does not stop at justification. Regeneration is what brings a change in us that also comes about, so that Paul can add here, that his number one goal is “to know Him.” (10a) It certainly must start with a mind renewed by His word (Rom. 12:1-2), but Paul also knew that he needed the power of God, the very same power that rose Christ from the grave, to be at work in him (10b).

Lest we view power in pagan or secular humanistic terms, he added that he also knew that this relationship comes with suffering, in fact, “the fellowship of His sufferings.” (10c) So what does he mean by “being conformed to His death?” (10D). This is made even more troubling by verse eleven – “if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” This seems somewhat akin to a kind of penance, and not the true repentance and faith consistent with Paul’s, and the whole of the protestant canon’s, doctrines of grace. How do these verses stand with verses like Eph. 2:8-10?

Well, for anyone familiar with Paul, when it comes to being ‘conformed’, Paul believed that it is predestined for the elect (Rom. 8:29). Also, in reference to having our minds renewed (cf. Rom. 12:2), he also warned us to not be “conformed to the world.” Everyone has a worldview which includes both belief and practice, and the biblical one is the only true, coherent, and life transforming one. As to ‘sufferings’ and “being conformed to His death,” Romans 12:1 also helps us. Our “reasonable service” is to “by the mercies of God” to present our bodies as “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God.”

So, we see that the ‘conformed’ hearkens back to the preceding context – the righteousness of Christ. Being ‘conformed’ to His sufferings, and knowing the power that was at work in His resurrection, is why our ‘living sacrifice’, can be living, and “holy, acceptable to God.” Two verses, especially the last, in this chapter, in other words, in the same immediate context, also sheds light on what Paul meant – 20-21. Just as we will have a heavenly body conformed to His, His battered and bruised body became conformed to our sinful bodies by taking our sins upon Himself on the cross.

3:21 also refers to God’s power “by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” God’s will, power, sovereignty, providence, and predestination are all absolute. If we endure suffering, it is because He enables us to persevere. If we are victorious, it is because He gives us the power. So also, if the reprobate is destined for hell for all eternity, it is because God willed it, before creation, just as He willed the fall – a mystery to some. They ask, “How could He do so without sinning? However, the same people say He only willed what He foresaw – so then why didn’t He stop it all from ever happening in the first place?

Either God is absolutely powerfully sovereign, or humans have a more powerful will than His, and we brought ourselves into being – both physically and spiritually. Both cannot be true. For those who are able and willing, this is my answer to this conundrum. We all love stories. Furthermore, any really good story, or movie, always pits good against evil. I cannot, nor do I believe that scripture tells us how the two above truths can be taught in scripture and not seem to us to be contradictory, but I do know that God is a story teller, in a good way, and this is as far as I have gone. Like Calvin, I choose to go as far as scripture takes me, but no further. 

Phil. 3:7-9 Found In The Christ.

Do you want to gain your soul? Then consider all else as “a loss for Christ.” (v. 7) It is simple to read or say, but costly in practice. This is how it should be, for something so valuable. What is it that sticks out the most? “The excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus” as Lord. (v. 8) Two things stand out – first knowledge of Christ Jesus,” with the end of knowing Him as Lord. One cannot have a saved soul by the Saviour without repenting by confessing Him as Lord. Paul understood this costly discipleship. One must indeed ‘suffer’ with the losses. Anyone who says they do not suffer losses is lying to others, and possibly to themselves. 

To gain Christ means to be “found in Him.” (v. 9) Note well, if we find Him, it is only because he first ‘found’ us. What the Father ‘finds’ is the righteousness of Christ in our stead, and this is a declaration that we are justified – ‘just-as-if-I-died’, and rose again. This impacts how we live (II Cor. 5:15). “Likewise, you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:11) There will be a time for the reckoning of every human being conceived – make sure you reckon with Him now. We are “justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” (Gal. 2:16)

Phil. 3:1-6 Rejoice, but be warned.

Phil. 3:1-6 Rejoice, but be warned.

Paul wasn’t shy about writing more than once, in some cases it was to fulfill the law of witness (1 cf. Dt. 19:15; II Cor. 13:1). Firstly, they were to rejoice (cf. I Th. 5:17). Secondly, there is a place for imprecation. A much respected former evangelical OT prof once said that imprecation, that one finds in the OT, is not a part of the NT. Being a Baptist, this had some logic to his repudiation of the one covenant of grace as spanning both testaments, as well as that of works that we all are guilty of the act of Adam, but he didn’t much appreciate my comments about what Paul said concerning false teachers, such as we find in this passage. He sought to warn his audience of the “dogs, evil doers, the mutilation.” (2)

Paul was making a covenantal distinction. He and his audience, the church at Philippi and us, are the true “circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” (3) In what follows it is clear that Paul is referring to unconverted Jews, who think that being a true covenant child consists solely in outward and physical things. These are not insignificant, but mean nothing in comparison to the gospel of grace. It also concerned acts, such as Paul being chief among the persecutors of the church, and scrupulous concerning the law – blameless, at least outwardly (4-6). However, as he states elsewhere, the 10th commandment gets everybody (Rom. 7:8).

Phil. 2:25-30 It Takes The Whole Body.

Phil. 2:25-30 It Takes The Whole Body.

There is a common phrase that refers to the need for community – “it takes a village.” The church is far more important even than this. The church at Philippi had sent Paul a fellow soldier, whom Paul was sending back, one Epaphroditus. It is not clear if he was a minister like Timothy, but certainly was someone whom Paul valued highly. This furthers the point that we need each other in the building of Christ’s church, and extension of his kingdom (25). This man was apparently healed from a sickness, that put him near death, through mercy, which should relieve his audience as it did Paul (26-27, 30). Sending him back would be to their mutual comfort (28). He was to be honoured for his sacrifice (29).

Phil. 2:19-24 Trust.

Faith is trust in the one who is truth itself (19a). It is a personal commitment to revealed scripture borne out in the reality of providential history. Being a Christian is walking with one who has given us revealed truth to govern the whole of life, now and whatever is to come. Paul was careful to commend to the ministry of the word only those whom he knew had this trust and mission (20). Timothy was such a one to have proven himself faithful, and a word from him would be even better than hearing from the people themselves, for he was well equipped to pass on a true report (19b). 

“For all (the rest) seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. There are many seeking to build their own empires, constructed around their own wants and pleasures, taking advantage of the so-called ‘ministry of the word’ to hold many apart from the genuine article. True ministers of the word seek the things of Christ, and not ourselves. Paul also wanted to send Timothy so that the people who were concerned about him might receive a faithful report from one they could trust, all the while he hoped to make another visit himself, Lord willing – which is a trust in God’s sovereign good pleasure in providence.

Phil. 2:12-13 Working Out What He Works In.

Paul wanted his audience to be as diligent in their walk in his absence as much as in his presence (v. 12) – the same obviously holds true as regards the Lord, for he is ever present. Biblical salvation only begins with regeneration, we must carry through to attain that definitive sanctification we have in Christ, through the progressive influence of the word and the Spirit. It is God who is at work in us, so that we can work on ourselves (v. 13). No one can do this on their own. The motivation for God is his own good pleasure, and so it should also be ours.

Phil. 2:5-11 Humbled and Exalted.

We are called to follow Christ in being humble bondservants with him. It is an attitude of mind, a choice of how to live one’s faith in a fallen world. The second person of the trinity humbled himself not only in his death, but in becoming also a man – by creation, one who serves under the LORD as his steward. Yet, because he did shed his blood for his elect ones, the Father exalted him to again sit at his right hand in his current messianic reign, “to the glory of God the Father.” (v. 11) In like fashion he exalts the humble (Pr. 29:23).

Phil. 2:1-4 Unity Through Humility.

The ‘therefore’ of verse 1 shows the arbitrary nature of the current chapter divisions. Here we see the corporate nature of our faith. Why go on living? At least in part, it is to comfort others with the “comfort of love” we receive, as a result of the “consolation in Christ.” Not just the consolation of Christ, but the consolation in Christ, that which comes as a result of our union with him (v. 1a). The salvation from God (1:28), which resulted in our belief and participation in the suffering of Christ specifically, is as a result of the conflict from those who are opposed to him (1:29-30). In other words, it is not any suffering which all people may experience, but that which is unique to being a follower of Christ.

Another word for consolation here may be ‘encouragement’. Paul knew something of the discouragement that can come with trying to minister Christ and his word to a hostile world. Note how important it was to have Barnabas, meaning an encourager, with him at times – Acts 11:19ff. Fellowship in the Spirit, is also a crucial help for each of us in our walk and service, especially “any affection and mercy.” (v. 1bc) Moreover, learning of this cooperative fellowship brought a fullness of joy to Paul – a unity in their diversity, so to speak – “being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” (v. 2) In short, they shared the same attitude toward each other.

The opposing attitude is one of “selfish ambition and conceit.” (v. 3a) There was rather a unity possible through humility. In “lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” (v. 3bc) There is an individual responsibility toward the others members of the body to look out not only for one’s own interests, “but also for the interests of others.” (v. 4) Note that it is not wrong to look after one’s own interests (Mt. 22:39; Mk. 12:31), since no one ever really hates their own body (Eph. 5:29). Paul made this same point in his letter to the Romans, based upon the example of the Christ (15:1-3). One who loves, does not seek their own interests at the expense of others (I Cor. 13:5).

Phil. 1:27-30 Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy.

Paul was clearly interested in doctrine put into practice (v. 27). Only with both can we ‘stand fast’ – in one spirit, one mind, one faith, and one gospel (v. 28a). We are called to fear God alone. The absence of the fear of man is a proof of the perdition of his enemies, and thus ours (v. 29). It is also a proof of our salvation, “and that from God.” (v. 28b) We are called to this kind of suffering, which has been ‘granted’ to us (v. 29). It is the same conflict Paul had, and that all the true saints share (v. 30).

Phil. 1:21-26 To Live is Christ.

Paul’s only reason for remaining in this world was that he might have continued fruit from his labour – in other words, it was profitable for the kingdom, for the church, and good for himself to be productive (vv. 21). The only thing more personally desirable was to be with Christ sooner (vv. 22-23). He would remain as long as there was a need for his services (v. 24), for the “progress and joy” of the saints, and they for his return (vv. 25-26).