As I alluded to yesterday, the greatest temptation I have in posting these entries to assist our church in reading through the bible this year is to avoid writing a running commentary on each passage. There are better resources than me for that, so what I’m trying to do is share a key thought or two for your consideration and application as I read these passages. The Lord may emphasize different parts of these chapters for you during your reading. Good! Go with it! But perhaps, these thoughts will trigger your meditation of the glories of Christ and even give you a pattern to follow on how to deal with the biblical text. That being said, let’s look at Philippians 2 and 3:
Philippians 2 – Paul’s train of thought here goes something like this: “Unity in the church is best maintained as Christians seek to grow in humility. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but rather, thinking of yourself less. Jesus is the perfect and ultimate model of humility, as seen in the condescension of the incarnation.” What a thought – the eternal, almighty, Son of God, humbled himself by becoming and man and living obediently to his Father, even to the point of his crucifixion on behalf of sinners. Amazing! I would truly encourage each of you to read, study, meditate, and even memorize Philippians 2:5-11, and let that launch you into the worship of Christ.
Verses 12-13 have always been two of my favorites, especially in explaining compatibilism (the belief that God’s sovereignty over all things is not opposed to the real choices of human beings). But I want to focus on the phrase, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” I hope that it goes without saying that Paul is not telling us to work for our salvation. Rather, he is telling us to work it out. As Spurgeon explains, the Holy Spirit has implanted a new nature into those who have been born again. That new nature is perfect in kind and degree (meaning that there is nothing lacking or tainted about our new nature) but it is not perfect in development. What Paul is telling us in this passage is that by God’s power (v. 13), we are to work (v. 12) until this new nature, implanted in seed form, grows and permeates every aspect of our lives and reigns supreme. This is how sanctification works (being made more Christ-like). The bible never tells us to “let go and let God.” We have serious work to do; work that is accomplished in God’s strength and according to God’s sovereign will.
Philippians 3 – So rich! Where do you start? I will restrain myself and make only three observations:
1. Jesus is better than anything – Although I use the ESV to teach and preach, this year I have been using the CSB for my devotional times. I love its earthiness. The ESV says that Paul now sees all his former attempts at self-righteousness as rubbish compared to the surpassing greatness of Christ. That word “rubbish” is more accurately (I think) translated by the CSB for what it truly means – dung! Nothing compares to Jesus once you have come face to face with him. Nothing compares to his glory, his beauty, his grace, and his mercy. Nothing is worth serving; nothing is worth doing, if Jesus isn’t the focus. The imagery Paul is giving us here is that of an Olympic athlete, giving absolutely everything he or she has to win the contest. That is how Paul sees living for Christ. He is the pearl of great price! He is the one to be treasured and desired above everything!
2. Our righteousness is imputed to us – Paul again contrasts his attempts at self-righteousness as a Pharisee (v. 4-6) with the only righteousness that will stand before the bar of God – Christ’s righteousness. Look specifically at v. 9: “not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ – the righteousness of God from God based on faith.” (CSB) What Jesus did, what he accomplished, his perfect obedience, is credited to us and received by faith alone when we are united to him. This is what Luther was talking about when he said we needed an alien righteousness (one that comes from outside ourselves). I personally don’t want to stand before a perfectly holy, righteous, and just God on my own merits. Give me the merits of Jesus, please! How about you?
3. We should be more heavenly minded – When we recognize our true identity (citizens of heaven according to v. 20), that will tend to focus our true hope (confident expectation based upon God’s promises) in our glorification which will include our bodies (v. 21). The work that Jesus has begun in us (Philippians 1:6) will not be complete until we are delivered from the corruption of these earthly bodies and have them transformed into a glorious heavenly body like his. We were never meant to be soul/spirits, floating around in some heavenly mist. We were created to be embodied souls, and keeping our eyes on this future hope will keep us living for him and looking for his return.