A Psalm for Old Age – Psalm 71

Many Christians can agree with Isaac (Gen 27.2): “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of may death.” I am old – now what? Albert Barnes puts it this way: “Who would wish to be an old man? Who can look upon a man tottering with years, and broken down with infirmities; a man whose sight and hearing are gone; a man who is alone amidst the graves of all the friends that he had in early life; a man who is burden to himself, and to the world; a man who has reached the ‘Last scene’ of all that ends this strange eventful history?…And who, in view of such infirmities, can fail to see the propriety of seeking favor of God in early years?”

If I had a dollar for every time a seasoned veteran of the faith told me “Don’t get old” I could retire a rich man right now. But the reality is & we all know that growing old is a part of this life. The older we get the more we must rely/depend upon God. How can an older person keep his/her way pure? Let’s take a look at a Psalm written by David when he was an old man – Psalm 71.

The Problems with Old Age – Looking Around

It is not fun to be old, esp. in America. We once honored & respected the older folks, but sadly this no longer seems to be the case. We value youth & vitality, our culture is geared toward that age group. Plus…

9Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.

Lack of Strength (9): See Ecc 12.1-7, Solomon paints the portrait of old age poetically – sight gives out, strength diminishes, your various sense dull, sleep is fleeting, your memory isn’t what it used to be.

10For my enemies speak against me; those who wait to kill me conspire together.

Continuation of Trouble (10): Just because you get older doesn’t mean the many & various troubles you’ve had in life go away. In fact, often it is the same problems just a different day you have to deal with it. Finances, family, health, problems; regret, frustrations, depression – these are all real problems which persist even into old age. So…

4Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel. – Rescue me!

11They say, “God has forsaken him; pursue him and seize him, for no one will rescue him.”

Being Alone (11): If you live long enough, you’ll live so long that you’ve outlived everybody else in your life who is/was dear to you. “Does Jesus care when I’ve said ‘good-by’ to the dearest on earth to me,/ And my sad heart breaks till it nearly breaks is it aught to Him? Does He see?”

The Perspective of Old Age – Looking Back

You still have God!

5For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.

Knowing God (5): Recall God’s faithfulness in your life, all your life. David grew up in Israel learning the faith of his father & forefathers. And as the Psalmist grew, so his trust in God grew. He felt persuaded that the God who had sustained him through his youthful exploits would likewise not forsake him now that he was old.

6Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.

Leaning on God (6): Before our bodies had strength to live, God carried us. He did it then & He continues to do it when strong legs grow weak. God knew us before we knew anything. Before he was able to understand the power that upheld him, he was sustained by it. And now that he is in old age & his feeble legs are giving out, that same power would be what he would lean upon.

7I have been as a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge.

Providence of God (7): “Portent” or a marvel of divine dealings, a prodigy of God’s goodness. It is awe-inspiring how God has worked in David’s life. It is also awe-inspiring how God has worked in your life. Reflect back on where you would have been if not for God providing for you along the way. Protection & blessing, grace & mercy, salvation & sanctification. “All by God’s grace.”

The Potential of Old Age – Looking Forward

You still have a lot to do!

17O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.

18So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.

Proclamation (17-18): God is always concerned about the next generation and the seasoned veterans of the faith likewise should emulate that. “Don’t take me out of this world until I have finished my course and told the next generation about you. Verse 19 is the content of the message: Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you? Even in old age God does great things…

20You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.

21You will increase my greatness and comfort me again.

Promotion (20-21): Two fold – greatness & comfort. Perhaps there is even a little hint prophetically of resurrection – “revive me again.” Hmm…But certainly God comforts the afflicted. The language used here is the language of a man who has fallen into deep water. God would “bring me up again,” my head above the waters of trouble.

Don’t be a Solomon or an Asa or a Lot who are stumbling across the finish line of life. Be a Caleb! “Give me this land!” (Joshua 14.10-12).

The Praise in Old Age – Looking Up

15My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge.

19Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?

24And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long, for they have been put to shame and disappointed who sought to do me hurt.

“You are Righteous” (15, 19, 24): v.15, “righteous acts” are those acts wherein God rewards piety & revenges injury. Everything God does is right & just. Even when He justifies the sinner and causes us to be in right relationship with Him in Christ.

22I will also praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praises to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel.

“You are Faithful” (22): v.15, “their number is past my knowledge.” He just keeps doing it over & over again. So, I’m going to sing praises about how you have been faithful!

23My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed.

“You are My Redeemer” (23): v. 15, “deeds of salvation.” God saved us so that we might be to the praise of His glory. He redeemed from sin, death, & hell. We were like out of tune instruments which just made noise. Now, in Christ, flows harmony & melody fit to magnify the King.

I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.” (Psalm 37:25, ESV)

The godly are given to prayer. In old age there is a cry to pray more. Psalm 71 is a prayer for the grace necessary to stare down the dark corridor of death with your hand firmly in God’s hand.  The more intimate we are with the Lord the firmer our trust will be.

Advertisements

Practical Atheism – Psalm 10

Statisticians have long been forecasting the rise of secularism in America. George Barna in his book The Seven Faith Tribes sets the number of Spiritual Skeptics at 11% – atheists (9%) and agnostics (2%) (99). When one factors in the number of “nons” you end up closer to 1 in 5 or 20% of the American population being somewhat skeptical of God, the Bible, & religion in general. All of these numbers are figures which have nearly doubled in size in the past 25 years. The 24 hour media cycle does not help. Every moment there is more bad news. Turmoil & tumult are the order of the day. It appears that evil is winning. Satan’s kingdom is advancing. What can the righteous do? Enter Psalm 10. The message of this Psalm is simple: Though it seems like evil wins in this world, God ultimately wins. What do we do when evil is winning? Psalm 10 provides insight concerning what we do in troubled times.

The Perplexity of Theism

1Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Why is God Silent? Verse 1, why is God far off and hidden? We are inclined to think that 1) if we are God’s people, He would never allow us to fall into the hands of our enemies or 2) if we are oppressed by evil men, God will be quick to rescue. However, the psalmist’s own experience does not bear this out. Surely you can identify with this to some degree. There is the creeping influence of secularism with the growing acceptance of ungodly practices; there is the threat of radical, militant Islam which largely goes unchecked though they broadcast their violent videos; maybe in your own life you have experienced some kind of oppression from evil people. Where is God in all of this? Why does He tolerate it?

13Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?

Why Be an Atheist? Verse 13, why do the wicked renounce God? And they do! 1) They deny there is a God (v.4); 2) They deny God sees their actions (v.11); 3) They deny God will judge them (13). Even today there are many who a) reject God & Christianity outright or b) claim the name of Christ while living their life as though He does not exist, what one writer calls “Christian Atheism.” Why would anyone exchange the safe shores of sanity which is theism for the roaring waves of insanity which is atheism, practical, Christian, or otherwise? Well, verses 2-11 will serve to explain why many choose this course.

The Practice of Atheism (2-11)

Contained in these vs. is a lengthy picture of human wickedness & as terrify as any found in all the Bible.

2In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.

3For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord.

4In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”

Pride (2-4): One reason people choose atheism is pride. “In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek Him,” i.e. God. Arrogance births & nourishes godlessness. The arrogant, prideful boaster shows contempt for God and for his fellow man, seeking to create & devour the permanent underclass (“pursue the poor”), exploiting & crushing the weak in their greed.

5His ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of his sight; as for all his foes, he puffs at them.

Prosperity (5): Herein lies the rub – the godly might expect God to strike down the practical atheist. Instead, though, “His ways prosper at all times.” In fact, his prosperity makes his continued atheism possible. The practical atheist 1) has no need for God’s moral code (“judgments” or “laws”), they are “out of his sight” & 2) he makes fun of us for upholding God’s standard of conduct (he “makes fun of his enemies”). So worldly wisdom says, “It’s a dog-eat-dog world; survival of the fittest; God won’t help you.”

6He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”

Protection (6): The phrase “he says in his heart” is key – this is the language of self-deception (cf. Psa 14.1). His pride & prosperity have so deceived the practical atheist that he believes he is guaranteed security. He’ll never be moved nor will adversity come his way. Not even God Himself can touch him!

A vivid illustration of this happened during WWII. The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was shot at & nearly killed. He laughed it off: “The bullet has never been made that can kill me.”

7His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.

Profanity (7): This is vile, destructive language; wicked words. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” says the Lord. See Matthew 12.34-37. Our language matters to God. But if you don’t believe in God or believe He will hold you accountable, well, you will say whatever you please.

8He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent. His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;

9he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket; he lurks that he may seize the poor; he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.

10The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might.

11He says in his heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”

Persecution (8-11): Three images are employed to paint the vivid picture of the practical atheist’s violence: an assassin, a lion, & a hunter. The parallel between all three is that all stalk their prey, hiding in wait for their victim.

The practical atheist does all this under the self-deluded idea that “God has forgotten…He will never see.” This is a very bad, wicked person.

The Prayer of Theists (12-18)

As NT Christians, we would expect “Love your enemy” or pray for them. Even under the Law, “Love your neighbor.” However, that is not the chord struck by the Psalmist at all…

12Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted.

Do Something! (12): Don’t just stand there…do something! Do not sit on your hands… “Arise…lift up your hand!” Talk about coming boldly to the throne of grace! Lift up your hand and take vengeance, which is God’s alone.

13Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?

14But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless.

15Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.

Don’t Let Them Get Away With This! (13-15): “The Way of the Wicked Will Perish,” cf. Psa 1.6. Verse 13, they think they are getting away with it. “There’s no judgment, no hell.” This side of Calvary Peter ran into similar thinking, 2 Pet 3.1ff. There’s the New Testament update. There is a God who will judge the world. Verse 14, and God does see & while put to right all wrongs. God sees the schemes of the oppressors and the grief of those oppressed. Verse 15, the arm was the symbol of strength. So break his strength, take away his ability to do evil. Don’t let him get away with it!

16The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land.

17O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear

18to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

YHWH is King (16-18): When evil is winning, and sometimes that happens, always keep in mind that YHWH still rules over all. No one will ever dethrone Him. Further, the weak ones have His ear; He inclines His ear to hear the oppressed. God has had the sovereignty & will always rule.

The bottom line is God is faithful, cf. Habakkuk 3.17-19. It is Habakkuk who also uttered, “The just shall live by faith” which is quoted all over the New Testament. Yes, when surrounded by ungodliness & godlessness, when all the news is of oppression & violence, the just must live by faith; faith in a faithful God who ultimately wins.

The Two Ways – Psalm 1

The Road Not Taken

By Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then too the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.


Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is the poetic idea of what Psalm 1 is depicting. Jesus likewise spoke of two gates, two ways, two trees & two types of fruit, two houses, & two foundations (cf Mt 7.13-27, esp. 13-14). What are the two ways before every person? Psalm 1 is actually the first full expression of this idea in the Bible. It is clear, concise, and yet carefully crafted…

The Godly (1-3)

The blessing of delighting in God & His Word.

1Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

Purity before God (1): Maintaining purity before God is contingent upon the way in which you walk. 1) The Wicked Way: Notice the progression – from walking to standing to sitting. There is even progression in the company – the wicked (or ungodly) are those who have no fear of God before their eyes and are perpetually restless in their self-will; the sinners are those who indulge in open sin; the scoffers are those who ridicule religion and laugh at those who fear God. Said another way, the wicked/ungodly are unconcerned with religion, even apathetic; sinners have a particular way of transgressing (i.e. drunkards, etc.); scoffers have brought an end to all religious & moral impulse in themselves (“he is a believer in all unbelief”). The progression goes from forgetting about God (“wicked”), to habitual violation of God’s commands (“sinners”), to becoming a professor & promoter of sin to others (“scoffers”).  2) The Righteous Way: The righteous person will avoid all this progression down the pathway of wickedness. Instead, a) He will walk in the council of YHWH; b) He will stand in the way of God; c) He will sit at the feet of the Almighty.

2but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

Pleasure in God’s Law (2a): He loves it! Consider also, just how little of God’s word David had when he wrote this: Pentateuch and a few Psalms. Today we have the complete written word of God; how much more should we prize this volume and think deeply on it!

Pondering on God’s Law (2b): He carries the law of God with him in his mind all day & all night; turning it over, ruminating, musing, thinking. He treats Scripture like hard candy, savoring it all day,, not a candy bar quickly devoured.

3He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

Picture (3): Not planted by chance or self; the righteous are “planted” by the Father, rooted in Christ (Col 2.7), by these flowing streams of living water (cf. Jn 7.38-39). He is the One who establishes us so we are fruit-bearing evergreens. “Prospers”: Adversity, yes, however, it is the best life there is.

Not long ago I was visiting with a member who had recently repented and rededicated himself to the Lord. He shared with me that “When I do things His way, life is good.” “How about that?” I replied. How about that indeed!

The Godless (4-6)

The fate of those who neither know God nor follow after His ways.

4The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Worthless: Chaff was the dead, worthless stuff which came off the grain. So the wicked are like chaff, carried away. The contrast is sharp: the righteous are planted firmly by God whereas the wicked are blown away. By the way, these are the novices of evil (wicked), the first phase of spiritual degradation; if this is their fate, how much worse will it be for the sinners and scoffers.

5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

Judgment: “The judgment” here seems to be the final judgment by God on the last day. Of course, no one will be standing because “every knee will bow” but here the inability to stand is connected to their guilt. Sinners will be cast out of the presence of the saints (i.e. heaven, though how much David knew about that is not known). And scoffers…are not mentioned, probably because if the wicked & sinners are not going to make it, there is no need to mention the scoffers.

Charles Spurgeon says, “Every church had one devil in it.” Weeds grow up with the wheat (cf Matt 13.24-30; 37-43). But there is coming a day when the “congregation of the righteous” will be purged, the weeds will be burned, but the wheat goes into the barn. May God grant that we find our place there!

6for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Known: “Knows” carries the idea of constant awareness. No one is going to game God who has marched down the way of the wicked nor will anyone be forgotten who has tread the way of the righteous. God is constantly watching over the way of the righteous; Yea, though we walk thru the shadow of death!

Application

Purity & Pleasure: Some may lay hold of the purity of verse 1 and avoid the path of the wicked, avoid sin. But do you delight in God’s word as verse 2 says? This beatitude (“Blessed,” v.1) is two-fold: purity & pleasure in pondering God’s word. Do you love God’s word? Do you seek to be alone with your Bible to read & study?

Meditate: Mentally chew the cud, like what a cow does. Get the sweetness & virtue out to nourish the soul & grow. This is hard candy, not a candy bar; it is a sucker, not a Snickers. Constant meditation upon God’s word has always characterized God’s people. It should characterize us today!

Fruit-Bearing Evergreens: In seasons of doubt we bear the fruit of faith; in seasons of worry, we bear the fruit of contentment; in seasons of trial, we bear the fruit of patience; in seasons of temptation, we bear the fruit of dependence on God. We bear fruit in its season!

Theme: This Psalm sets the tone for all the Psalms. The theme contained in this Psalm is found through the Psalms. No matter how bad it is, the righteous are known by God and the wicked perish. “Yeah, but it is really bad, Lord!” He says, “I got you!” God defends the Godly & destroys the godless.

The rest of the Psalms serve as exposition of this principle. But we have before us two portraits with the unspoken question looming: Which are we? Are we the righteous one which knows God, knows God’s law, and is known by God? Or are we the wicked, useless, with only impending destruction awaiting?

Grow in the Will of God, part 2

Paul has just defined what the mystery of God is (3.6) and now turns his attention to his role in making known God’s mystery as “a minister.” He will also give special attention to the church’s cosmic role in relation to the mystery as well.

The Propagation of the Mystery (7-13)

The church is steward of the mystery and makes it known in both the physical & spiritual realms.

7Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power.

Of this gospel…gift of God’s graceMinister (Gk diakonos) is the word from which we get “deacon.” It was by grace that Paul was a servant of the mystery of the gospel.

It is still by the grace of God that we 1) have our current work for the kingdom & 2) carry out our ministry to the glory of God. The task to which Paul was called “needed no mere human strength and patience and power of endurance” (Foulkes 103). So too with us we need the power and grace of God in all our labor for the kingdom. Far too often we depend upon our own strength and power. What does that look like? Well, perhaps it shows up when we are grateful we survived another year of VBS without tearing off someone’s head. Is that really what we’ve been called to in the church? To survive? Or to thrive? And to actually enjoy comradery with one another as we rally around a common cause in a spirit of love. When we depend upon our own power, we merely survive thru church functions; when we rely upon the power of God, we thrive together being built up in love.

Which was…His power: “Paul gratefully acknowledged that all the power of his ministry was God’s, not his own” (PC 105). This is true both in the equipping for and the exercise of it (Col 1.29). “By the grace of God he was called and received as a servant of the gospel, and by the power of God he did all that was effective in that service” (Foulkes 103-104).

8To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,

To me…grace was given: Paul makes a similar statement about his unworthiness in 2 Corinthians 12.11. Here Paul emphasizes all the saints, i.e. he is least in the church at large. This attitude is born out of his reflection upon the marvel of God’s grace working in his life.

There are too many Christians who view themselves as the greatest gift God gave His church. Barclay puts it like this, “The tragic fact in churches is that there are so many who are more concerned with their own honour and prestige than with the honour and prestige of Jesus Christ; and who are more concerned that they should be noticed than that Christ should be seen” (147). To which I say, “Please, hear Paul on this.” He calls himself the least which is not false deprecation. I believe he meant it and truly viewed himself as least. But when you really adopt the role of a servant and the mind of Christ, naturally (or supernaturally) you become least.

To preach…riches of Christ: Grace is not merely something to be received but to be shared with others and so Paul evangelized to the Gentiles with the glorious gospel of grace. The riches of God’s grace in Christ are unsearchable or “unfathomable” (NASB). That is, they are beyond comprehension and understanding. Yet Paul sought to search out the unsearchable. Cf. Job 5.9; 9.10.

9and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,

To bring to light…the mystery: In addition to his preaching, Paul was enlightening everyone (Jew & Gentile) to the plan (Gk oikonomia, same word as v.2) of God in the mystery. So Paul’s function is to explain how God has dispersed His grace to both Jews and Gentiles through Christ.

Hidden for ages…all things: The mystery had been kept secret for ages, inaccessible because it was in God. God’s role as Creator is mentioned to not only affirm the existence of God or deny Darwinian evolution, but to indicate God’s purpose was hidden during those past times from creation until the New Testament church age and prepares us for the next verse…

Textual Note: Some mss have “through Christ Jesus” at the end of this verse, however, many of the ancient mss do not have these words, though it is a Biblical concept (see Hebrews 1.2).

10so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

So that through the church: Now Paul addresses the church’s glorious mission and role in the grand scheme of redemption. This is the purpose of the church now established through the gospel.

The manifold wisdom…made known: In the blood bought body of Christ God’s wisdom is manifested in a myriad of differing ways. God is putting His genius & intellect on display not only for men, but for…

To the rulers…in heavenly places:  Every created being is watching what God is doing in the church, being enlightened concerning His work in human redemption. While the church’s responsibility is to evangelize the world, the emphasis of this verse is on the spiritual relam. So God’s “master plan” has unfolded throughout this section: first, it was made known to Paul (v.3); then, it was revealed to the apostles and prophets (v.5); next, everyone was enlightened to the plan (v.9); finally, it was made known to the spiritual forces in the unseen heavenly realms (v.10). So Paul brings us full circle from where he started in 1.10: Christ uniting all things in heaven and on earth.

Some might ask, “Why wait?” Why did God wait until the NT times to reveal His master plan? Simply, to glorify Himself. Everything in heaven and on earth and under the earth has now focused on what God is doing through the church, uniting Jew & Gentile, all of them redeemed by the blood of Christ. But this work continues in history as God unites Sunni & Shiite Muslims, American capitalist & Chinese communist, slave & free, black & white, educated & illiterate, democrat & republican – all men into one holy body, the church. And the angels marvel. And the demons shudder. Because this God is so wise. Romans 11.33.

11This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,

According to the eternal purpose: Literally, this is the “purpose of the ages.” It answers to v.9 “hidden for ages;” though hidden, God was still in history working out His purpose and putting on display his “manifold wisdom.” “Behind all the events of this world’s history there is an eternal purpose being worked out” (Foulkes 106). This is the reason some suggest we call it His-story. All of human history was driving toward the glorious entrance of Christ. Since it is the eternal purpose, it extends from eternity before time began to eternity when time is no more.

In just a few brief words, Paul puts to bed whatever notions premillenialism has concerning the church being merely an afterthought, a Plan B, a parenthesis, an audible called at the line of scrimmage. Christ’s church has always been Plan A in the “eternal purpose” of God. According to Paul in Ephesians, God planned a work and worked His plan; God purposed a purpose and accomplished that purpose in Christ and the church. See Job 42.2. Maybe Left Behind left out that verse!

He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord: Jesus is the agent by which God “accomplished” (NIV) His eternal purpose. From eternity, God purposed that human redemption would be realized in the cross of Christ (cf. Rev 13.8). If the plan is both eternal and Christocentric, then Christ Himself is from eternity. Indeed, the three-fold name speaks to His eternality: Christ indicates his preexistence, Jesus points to His incarnation, & Lord shows His exalted position in the universe. This enhances our understanding of His work.

What an awesome love God has for His people that before He created time, He loved man. Knowing full well man would rupture that perfect relationship in the beginning and turn his back on God and fall helplessly into the hands of Satan, He loved us. And He loved us so much He devised to save us through Christ. However we say it, it is the greatest love story ever told.

12in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

In Whom…with confidence: Here is a practical benefit of the eternal purpose of God: prayer. Lenski calls this the “crowning gift.” We have is indicative of the Christian’s present reality in addressing the Father. Though He is Almighty God whose purpose & plan encompasses time and eternity, heaven and earth, He is not aloof and far off, but we have His ear. Christ is our access to the Father (cf. 2.18). He is the reason we can have boldness (freedom to speak, even in intimidating circumstances) and confidence (the trust of being heard). There is no fear or shame for either Jew or Gentile to approach when they are in Christ.

Note that the word for “access” was a word used of the High Priest when we entered the Holy of Holies. So all Christians have what a scant few had under the Old Covenant: direct access to the holiest of all, even the throne room of God. This is the whole thrust of the epistle to the Hebrews, but see esp. 4.16 & 10.19.

Through our faith in Him: “Obedient trust in Christ is the condition upon which the blessings of boldness and confidence become reality” (Malone 47). In Christ “we have redemption through His blood” (1.7) and experience “the immeasurable riches of His grace” (2.7) which makes possible our access to the Father.

13So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.

So I ask…for you: Implicit in this request of Paul to his readers is that they were becoming or had become discouraged because the apostle to the Gentiles was imprisoned for preaching the gospel to them (cf. 3.1). So Paul makes a heartfelt entreaty to them to realize that his suffering is to their gain. Note: Some see here a prayer of Paul to God for these brethren.

Think of all the brethren the world over who are suffering for the sake of the gospel. Imprisoned, beaten, tortured, etc. for Christ. Like Paul, they are prisoners and yet are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. What can we do? Lobby Washington to urge their release immediately? Sign petitions to be hand delivered to the respective ambassadors of the countries where these brethren are held? Pray for their release? Perhaps Paul could enlighten us: Eph 6.18-19. All Paul wanted from these brethren was that they pray that he would have boldness to speak when opportunity afforded itself.

Which is your glory: Paul’s suffering imprisonment for the Gentiles is the Gentile’s glory inasmuch as it shows 1) God’s immeasurable love for the Gentiles, & 2) enables Paul to rejoice in suffering for Christ (cf. Col 1.24). The Gentiles hear the gospel and Paul preaches Christ. Herein lies a glorious activity.

Rejoicing in Pursuit of Growth

After writing about a couple of brothers who have rendered invaluable service to him (2.19ff), Paul turns his attention toward those Judaizing teachers who threaten the faith of the Philippians (3.1-16).

Rejoice in the Lord (3.1)

Once more Paul exhorts his brothers to celebrate and be glad in the Lord.

1Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Finally, my brother: this phrase can also be translated “furthermore.” Paul is not attempting to wrap up the epistle, but commence a warning. This is distinct from 4.8 where he concludes

Rejoice in [the] Lord: A common theme throughout this epistle (2.18; 4.4; cf. 1.4, 25). The command can only be fulfilled in the Lord—Christians in Him and He in us.

To write…safe for you: To repeat himself concerning Christian joy does not bother Paul and for his brethren it will free them from danger. What kind of danger?

Reprove the Lawbreaker (3.2-4a)

Paul warns his brethren about Judaizing teachers and reminds them they are the true Israel.

2Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.

Look out: Beware! Repeated thrice for emphasis and urgency. Keep an eye on them.

For the dogs…mutilate the flesh: Paul uses three phrases to describe the Judaizing teachers. First, they are dogs. The irony here is that Jews viewed Gentiles as dogs because they were outside of the covenant; now they are excluded from the covenant and are dogs. Second, they are evildoers. They are evildoers because of their opposition to the gospel. Third, they are flesh mutilators. This is hyperbole for circumcision.

3For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—

For we are the circumcision: Believers in Christ are the spiritual circumcision (see Col 2.11-12), the new Israel (cf. Gal 6.16). Paul presents three identifying markers of believers…

Who worship by the Spirit of God: Worship (Gk latreuontes) should read “serving.” It denotes that Christians render religious service. There is a textual variant: some mss read “God in [the] Spirit” (so reads NKJV); however, the best mss have “by/in [the] Spirit of God.” Some commentators suggest this phrase could also be rendered “serving God’s Spirit.”

And glory is Christ Jesus: that is, Christians boast in the Lord (Jer 9.24; 1 Cor 1.31). Christ alone is our ground for confidence.

And put no confidence in the flesh: The Judaizing teachers would trust in circumcision and other religious rites. To put one’s confidence or trust in anything except Jesus Christ is confidence in the flesh.

4though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also.

Though I…also: While Paul may “have reason” to trust in the flesh, he will not use it.

Reasons from Paul’s Life (4b-6)

Paul appeals to his life before Christ in order to compare and contrast with the Judaizers.

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:

If anyone…I have more: “More than anybody else, more than any of the Judaizers themselves, he could have trusted in the flesh and carnal privileges” (Muller 109). Paul will lay out his credentials, not for grounds of boasting, but to show he had every Jewish privilege.

5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;

Circumcised on the eighth day: This was characteristic of all Jewish boys (Lev 12.3). He was a child of the covenant because of his parents’ conformity to the Law.

Of the people of Israel: He was not a proselyte but genetically (Gk genous) of Israel.

Of the tribe of Benjamin: Indeed, he shared his name with Israel’s king who was from the tribe of Benjamin (Saul).

A Hebrew of Hebrews: “The Hebrew son of Hebrew parents” (Moffat). Also, he would have been reared  in the ancient Hebrew languages (Hebrew & Aramaic), a sign of faithfulness.

As to the Law, a Pharisee: In regards to his devotion to the Torah (Law), he claimed the strictest sect of the religion—Pharisee (Cf. Acts 26.5; Gal 1.14).

6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

As to zeal, a persecutor of the church: Zealous for the law and eager to protect the Jewish religion, Saul of Tarsus pursued, persecuted the church with the aim of exterminating it.

As to righteousness under the law, blameless: no charge could be brought against him as pertaining to his obedience and conformity to the Law of God.

Recognize the Lord (3.7-11)

The highest and greatest goal for Paul is to know Christ, His resurrection, and His suffering.

7But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

But whatever gain…the sake of Christ: These “gains” (pl), the seven reasons he could boast in the flesh, were regarded and continue to be regarded (perfect tense) by Paul as one giant loss because of Jesus. Indeed, this statement builds on Jesus’ teaching in the gospels (Matt 16.26; Mark 8.36; Luke 9.25). Paul gained the whole Jewish world but lost his soul for it. “They were loss because confidence in outward things tends to keep the soul from Christ.”

8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

Indeed…Jesus my Lord: any and every possible thing which might somehow be conceived as a merit or advantage acceptable to God by a pious person is invaluable compared to Christ. That is how much better and greater knowing Christ is—everything else in life is worthless. “Knowing (Gk from gnosis) Christ Jesus” is more than head knowledge; it is heart knowledge based upon experience (i.e. fellowship). The worth of knowing Christ—see John 17.3

For his sake…I may gain Christ: Lit. through Him I lost everything. Paul “lost” (aorist) everything at his conversion; they were taken from him (passive). Paul counts everything he lost as garbage (KJV dung). Not only Paul’s Jewish heritage but anything he might claim as valuable religiously are considered a stinking mess. The purpose of this strong renunciation of everything is that Paul understands to lose all means to gain Christ. “Paul was never satisfied with his knowledge of Christ and always craved more fellowship with him” (Robertson). To gain Christ is to rely upon His all-sufficient merit.

9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—

And be found in Him: that is, at the Day of Judgment when Christ returns. “Be found” (Gk eurisko) is the idea of discovered as though by surprise. No one knows when Christ will return so we must be found in Him now, at the last day, and always.

Not having [a] righteousness…from the law: Lit. not having my righteousness. This kind of righteousness is derived by the bootstrap method of self-effort and commandment keeping which condemns “ because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Gal 2.16). Even though Paul was “blameless” under the Law (v.6) he was still under the curse of the law (Gal 3.10).

But that which…depends on faith: “but” (Gk alla) draws a sharp contrast—not my righteousness BUT God’s righteousness through faith in Christ. This is the righteousness a Christian puts on through obedient (active) faith in Christ. Paul speaks of “having” (present tense) this righteousness. While he possesses it, it is not his own but God’s.

10that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

That I may know Him: The ever-constant aim for Paul and all Christians—to experience the righteousness of God enabling us to know Christ and His salvation.

And the power of His resurrection: It was the power of God which raised Jesus (Rom 1.4). “The resurrection of Christ was a glorious manifestation of Divine power” (Caffin 113).

And may share in His sufferings: Lit. fellowship (Gk koinonian) His sufferings. The was an honored prized to Paul (cf. Col 1.24) since He bore all our sufferings (Isa 53.4).

Becoming like Him in His death: present passive participle indicates this is continual and progressive “deep, real, inner conformity” through daily self-death (Luke 9.23; Gal 2.20).

11that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

That by any means…from the dead: Paul’s language here does not denote uncertainty about his destiny. Rather, this is the language of humble expectation. In the struggle of faith, Paul uses language to capture the resurrection as arriving at the end of a journey. Here and now Christians are risen with Christ, but we still look forward to the final consummation.

Reach for What Lies Ahead (3.12-16)

Paul continues his discussion (which is intended to indict the Judaizers among the brethren in Philippi) of pursuing perfection or maturity. He just wrote about trusting only in Christ’s righteousness (not his own); now he exhorts these brethren to press on in righteousness.

12Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Not that I…am already perfect: Paul does not want the church to be mistaken about what he just said in v.11—he is not saying he has “obtained” (aorist) the prize at conversion nor is he saying that he attained perfection in the past and stands perfect presently (perfect tense). In other words, Paul is saying that he has not reached the end of his journey and race.

But I press on to make it my own: Rather, the object is before him and with speed and energy he is moving toward it. The word Paul uses was a hunting term as in the pursuit of game. It was also a term for foot-racing. Paul’s whole life is a pressing on to the future goal that he seeks to make His own or overtake and arrest.

Because Christ Jesus has made me His own: When? At his conversion. When he was immersed for forgiveness of sin, that was the beginning of the chase for Paul, not the end. Further, that was when Christ overtook Paul and made him His own possession. NKJV: “laid hold” that is to grasp or seize.

13Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,

Brothers: fellow Christians of the Philippian church who are in the same course of pursuit.

I do not consider…in my own: There will come a time when Paul will say, “I have obtained it!” Or God will say, “It has been finished!” Or Paul “I have finished” by God’s grace. But it stands to reason that that time is not right now. Not yet.

But one thing I do: Lit. But—one thing. “I am single-minded” (NET).

Forgetting what lies behind: This includes his Jewish pedigree (v.5-6), his life as a church persecutor, and even that part of his life as a Christian with whatever failures and miseries had come to him. By deliberate and continuous “forgetting” Paul further progresses to the prize.

Straining forward to what lies ahead: the image is of a runner leaning forward as they run. So Paul with great energy reaches for those last Day things (v.11).

14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

I press on toward the goal: exact same word as v.12—with all his being and strength Paul is in pursuit of the prize and crown. This pursuit is continuous.

For the prize…in Christ Jesus: The prize for which Paul is striving for he has named in v.11—the resurrection of the dead and that unto eternal blessedness in heaven. Hence, this calling is “upward” to the heavens (cf. Heb 3.1—”heavenly calling”). Notice it is God who calls Paul “in/by Christ Jesus.” In these last days [God] has spoken to us by His Son who is the Word of God (Heb 1.2; Jn 1.1).

15Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.

Let those of us…think this way: “Mature” is a word related to “perfect” in v.12. Some see a wordplay here where the “perfect” ones are those who know perfection is not possible in this life. Others make a distinction between absolute perfectionism (where no further striving is necessary) and relative perfectionism (being full-grown, see Eph 4.15-16).  So maturity is bound up in pursuit of fuller maturity.

And if…you think otherwise: Those among the Philippians who believed perfection in this life was/is attainable or Paul’s general opponents who were just anti-Paul.

God will reveal that also to you: Paul “invokes the aid of God to illuminate the minds and correct the behaviour (sic) of those who do not share his conviction” of the truth he has stated.

16Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

Only let us…attained: “Let there be no falling back; let us, at each point in our Christian course, maintain and walk according to that degree of grace at which we arrived” (Caffin 115).  “Hold true” lit. means to walk in a line. In other words, stay the course.

Rejoicing in Partnership for the Gospel

After explaining how the Philippians can maintain pure conduct before God (Philippians 2.12-18), Paul turns his attention to two brothers in Christ who have meant a great deal to him during his ministry: Timothy and Epaphroditus. These passages are often overlooked by Christians, but they communicate the deep heartfelt affection of Paul for his fellow laborers in the faith.

Timothy’s Service (2.19-24)

Timothy is an example of selfless service in the gospel with Paul pursuing Christ’s interests

19I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you.

I hope…to you soon: His hope was not in himself—his power, intelligence, abilities, etc. Paul’s confident expectation in the Lord Jesus was to send Timothy to the Philippians. Even as he was convinced of his remaining, coming, and helping of the Philippians (1.25-26), so he was expecting to send Timothy.

So that…news of you: Here is the purpose for sending Timothy—Paul wants to hear about how the Philippians are doing. Timothy will help the Philippians by his presence and counsel and will help Paul with his report of their Christian life.

20For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.

For I have no one like him: Lit. like-minded or equal in soul. Paul and Timothy are of the same mind and attitude. Think of all the traveling companions the apostle Paul and then consider this statement. Timothy was a man after Paul’s own heart.

Who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare: Paul’s heart was for the Philippians; so too was Timothy’s. They shared the same concern and interest in the Philippians’ spiritual wellbeing. They faced the daily anxiety for all the churches (cf. 2 Cor 11.28).

21For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

For they all…of Jesus Christ: That is, all those available to him. It seems doubtful that Luke would fall under this category; perhaps he was minister elsewhere and was not with Paul. While those around Paul are “brothers” (4.21), they are apparently not as willing as Timothy to spend and be spent for the sake of others. Another theory: this is a sorrowful statement about the present condition of the world (full of selfishness and self-seeking) and having a brother like Timothy is a rare thing.

22But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.

But you know Timothy’s proved worth: “know” is the kind of knowledge which comes by experience (Gk root ginosko). In fact, he had been to Philippi at least once (Acts 16).

How as a son…in the gospel: It was fitting for Timothy to labor (lit. slave, from Gk douleuo) like this with Paul since he was Paul’s “true child in the faith” (1 Tim 1.2; 2 Tim 1.2; 1 Cor 4.17). The kind of service mentioned here is done in a humble manner at the demands of another, i.e. slave. This is the kind of work Paul and Timothy engaged in as father and son. Timothy “was both a son and servant of St. Paul, and also a fellow-worker with St. Paul, both being slaves of God” (Caffin 63).

23I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me,

I hope therefore to send him: Whenever Paul wanted information about a congregation or wanted to encourage and build-up brethren and he personally could not go, Timothy went.

Just as soon…with me: Whether he will be released from prison or face a martyr’s death. This way Timothy would bring the report of Paul’s fate. This indicates there is no certainty about his future at the time of his writing.

24and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.

And I trust…will come also: This is similar to what he said in 1.25-26. Paul is persuaded that what is needful is for him to continue in the body. He has come to this conclusion and holds to it (perfect tense). Only in the Lord can he look to the future with such confidence. “We do not know certainly what he meant by the term shortly. The uncertainty as to what whim might strike Nero was an uncertain thing to count upon” (Lipscomb 193). Coffman thinks this hope was probably fulfilled, pointing to Titus 3.12 as evidence.

Epaphroditus’ Sickness (2.25-30)

God spared Epaphroditus so that he could render further service to Paul & his brethren

25I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need,

I have thought…Epaphroditus: Epaphroditus is known only by this verse and 4.18. He is a different person that Epaphras, another co-worker of Paul’s—Epaphroditus was from Philippi, Epaphras was from Colossae. This man Paul was compelled to send back home.

My brother…minister to my need: Paul uses five (5) phrases to describe the usefulness of Epaphroditus. First, he is Paul’s (“my”) brother in Christ. Second, he is Paul’s fellow worker (Gk sunergon); he worked with Paul in the furtherance of the cause of Christ. Third, he is Paul’s fellow soldier; they had been through severe trials and tests together. Fourth, he is the Philippians’ (“your”) messenger (Gk apostolon); that is, he had been sent by the church. Fifth, he was Paul’s minister (Gk leitourgon, cf.v.17) on behalf of the Philippians. By conveying their contribution which is “a fragrant offering” (4.18) he renders a sacred service.

26for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.

For he has…he was ill: Barclay gives a reconstruction of the events surrounding this narrative. Epaphroditus was sent to Paul by the Philippians with their gift (see 1.5, 4.17-18) and in Rome he became sick (possibly with fever, which was common then). The sickness is not stated. Epaphroditus is eager to get back (and Paul eager to send him, v.28) to assuage the brethren’s fears. He longs for these Christians as Paul does (1.8); he is distressed as the Savior was (Mt 26.37).

27Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.

Indeed, he was ill, near to death: Whatever Epaphroditus came down with was serious.

But God had mercy on him: “But” draws sharp contrast (Gk alla) – not death, but life from God. Paul recognizes that God is the giver of life and health.

Not only on him…sorrow upon sorrow: There is the sorrow of his brother’s illness and, if he had died, the sorrow of his death which would have affected Paul. God’s mercy spared him these sorrows and made him “unsorrowful” (“less anxious,” v.28).

28I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.

I am the more eager…I may be less anxious: the reunion of the Philippian saints with Epaphroditus would be a time to rejoice. Thus, Paul is sending back his brother to them, wanting them to experience the joy God gives at such reunions. Also, the reunion of the Philippians and Epaphroditus would give occasion for Paul to be “less anxious” (Lit. more un-grief).

29So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men,

So receive him in the Lord: Since Epaphroditus fulfilled his mission, his life spared by God, and he’s coming back home—welcome this broth back with arms wide open as the Lord Jesus welcomes us into His presence (cf. Rom 15.7).

With all joy, and honor such men: With heartfelt, unalloyed joy they are to welcome him. But also they are to esteem Epaphroditus and recognize how invaluable he is. Why? V.30

30for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

For he nearly died for the work of Christ: because when it comes to the work of Christ, Epaphroditus is a man who will risk life and limb to get the job done.

Risking his life: lit. handing life over. He was willing to expose himself to hazard.

To complete…your service to me: Epaphroditus risked his life so act as a ministering priest, presenting the sacred offering of their contribution to Paul. Others point to the presence of Epaphroditus as making up for the lack of presence of the Philippians (cf. 1 Cor 16.17).

Special Study—Why didn’t Paul heal Epaphroditus?

Paul had healed others miraculously (see Acts 28.8). Why not Epaphroditus? First, maybe he did. The text is relatively ambiguous and God could have used Paul as a conduit of his mercy (v.27). But the consensus among scholars is that Paul did not heal Epaphroditus and the why-question remains. Epaphroditus is not the only companion of Paul who was not healed (Trophimus in 2 Tim 4.20). Even though he had miraculous powers, the exercise of those powers were for a specific purpose (Mk 16.20) and were to be used at the discretion of God. That’s why certain companions were not healed and why Paul did not heal himself when afflicted (cf. 2 Cor 12.7-9).

Rejoicing in Purity Before God

After the glorious heights of vs. 5-11 which captures in hymnody the exalted nature of Christ, Paul seeks to encourage his brethren toward continued obedience to the Lord in Philippians 2:12–18.

Working Out, Working In (2.12-13)

As Christians are working out their salvation God is working in them.

12Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,

Therefore: Lit. “So then” and ties directly back to 2.1-4. Paul is continuing his admonition of how they are look to the interests of others.

My beloved: This not a mere military call-to-arms; Paul includes his personal love for these brethren in his appeal. Paul’s commands are not burdensome, nor are God’s (1 John 5.3).

As you have…in my absence: The Philippians have been a marvelous testament to the missionary efforts of Paul. The greatest tribute a newly formed church can offer the missionary who leaves to continue his work elsewhere is to continue to obey God after the departure of the missionary. Paul encourages these brethren to further faithfulness though he is not there and may not be able to come ever again.

Work out your [own] salvation with fear and trembling: the word “own” is supplied in several English translations (KJV, NKJV, ESV). However, in keeping with his continued appeal from 2.1-4, it seems Paul is calling Christians to collectively work out our salvation (which includes not only the act of rescuing but also the state of safety). We are not only working out our own salvation; we are in this struggle for holiness together. Further, that this is a salvation which encompasses the church as a whole is seen in terms of Christ as Savior of His body, the church (see Eph 5.23) and Paul’s mention of “your salvation” (Phil 1.28). As Martin puts it: “After the great passage of 2:5-11 it would be singularly inappropriate to stress personal salvation” (116). The whole congregation, in fearful trembling before the Lord God Jesus Christ, seeks to help one another on the path to ultimate salvation when Christ returns. Not slavish terror but a reverential desire to do right.

13for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

For it is God who works in you: God is ho energon, the Energizer, in you (pl.) or among you, enabling the church’s work at salvation. God began the work; the church seeks to carry on to end what God began. Christ work of atonement is finished; we work from the cross to carry out sanctification by the Holy Spirit. “The grace of God is alleged as a motive for earnest Christian work” (Caffin 62). Not only does God give us the gift, but the means and will to put that gift into practice.

Both to will and to work: God’s inward energy impacts both the decision of the will (volition) and the practical deeds (Gk to energein). “God gives power to will, man wills through that power; God gives power to act, and man acts through that power…The power to will and do comes from God; the use of that power belongs to man” (Clarke). “So divine sovereignty and human responsibility time and again meet each other in the life of the redeemed” (Muller 92). “Paul makes no attempt to reconcile divine sovereignty and human free agency, but boldly proclaims both” (Robertson). God does all, and we do all.

For His good pleasure: Even as the self-emptying of Christ was for the “glory of God the Father” (v.11), so the Christian community cooperating with God, who is working within or among us, and with fellow Christians, who are working at carrying out to full completion salvation with one another, is for God’s good pleasure. This pleasing to God.

Blemishes Out, Blameless In (2.14-18)

Holding fast the word of life promotes a life free from impurity and ready to be a (living) sacrifice to God.

14Do all things without grumbling or disputing,

Do all things without grumbling or disputing: Present imperative. In other words, this is a command. Everything we do must be without complaining (NIV, NKJV) or arguing. We should not murmur (like Israel in the OT) or argue (like apostles in the NT—Mk 9.49).

15that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,

That we may be blameless and innocent: Herein lies the purpose why we do everything without grumbling and arguing—the preservation of holiness.  Blameless means living a life which does not have an accusatory or critical finger pointed at it—to be faultless. Pure carries the idea of unmixed, like a metal which contains no alloys which could weaken it—no evil should be mixed in the Christian’s life. Together, these words provide somewhat of a commentary on living a life “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1.27).

Children of God…twisted generation: They are to be holy children of the Father in the world but not of it (cf. John 17.15-16). Cf. Deut 32.4-5—Paul adopts and adapts a description of apostate Israel to stimulate these brethren on to faithful living. While the generation around them may be dishonest and engages in serious wrongdoing, these Christians are to be morally upright, even following after the Father who is a “God of faithfulness and without iniquity.”

Among whom…in the world: like when God created the stars to give light on the earth and shine in darkness (cf. Genesis 1.15, 18). In similar fashion, Christians are “the light of world” (Mt 5.14) which shine forth our own light (our own goodness, ideas, etc.); ours is borrowed light from “the Light of the world” – Jesus (Jn 8.12). We are “light-bearers” in a dark world; we are the vessel or vehicle through which the true Light shines forth.

16holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

Holding fast to the word of life: Present tense means they are to continue to hold fast what they have. Here is how we “shine as lights” in the “crooked and twisted” world. We are the lamps and God’s word is the flame. Christians are lights because they hold fast and hold forth the word of Life. The world does not have life’s Word and the church fulfills her glorious God-given mission when possessing and presenting God’s word. While the world must hear the word, they must also see the light present in our lives. “Their saintly lives testify to the power of the word of life” (Muller 95).

So that in the day of Christ: Paul’s has skin in the game because they are his fruit prepared for the coming harvest. The phrase “day of Christ” is unique to this epistle. It is more commonly the “day of the Lord” but both phrases appear synonymous.

I may be proud…labor in vain: Paul, looking forward to the final coming of Christ, anticipates glorying in his “joy and crown” (4.1) and in their salvation. He does not want to be disappointed in his brethren because they have not been living a life “worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Two images capture the kind of heart-wrenching disappointment: 1) completing a race only to learn of disqualification & 2) planting crops that never produce. Both imply strenuous exertion.

17Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.

[But] Even if …your faith: “I am poured out as a drink offering” is a single word (Gk spendomai) and appears in only one other place in the NT (2 Tim 4.6) though he captures the same idea elsewhere (2 Cor 12.15). Paul is using highly figurative language to capture the possibility of his martyrdom. Paul would joyfully face a violent, bloody martyr’s death for the Philippians’ faith. If that is what it would take for their faithfulness in “sacrifice and service,” so be it. His life would then be a drink offering poured “upon” their sacrifice and service. Some see here an allusion to the fact that his audience is predominately pagan versus Jewish. Jews would pour a drink offering next to or around the altar and sacrifice; pagan rituals required pouring the drink offering over or upon the sacrifice. Paul will do whatever it takes to stimulate these brethren to faithfulness.

I am glad and rejoice with you: This scene of martyrdom is faced with glad acceptance by Paul for he pleased to have God’s will accomplished in his life. Further, as Paul has already made known, “to die is gain” (1.21). Christ is honored in and through life or death.

18Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

Likewise…rejoice with me: These are actually imperatives. Paul charges his readers to joyfully face future suffering and persecution even as he faces potential martyrdom.

Textual Note

“Glad and rejoice with” are related terms (Gk chairo kai sunchairo) which should both be translated “rejoice.” Joy is here connected with a proper perspective concerning Christian service.