NT344 Paul’s Theology and the Letter to the Philippians
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- NT344 Reflection Post Glenn Martinez As we have been studying the book of Philippians, it has become clear that the main thrust of Paul’s letter is to encourage his Philippian readers to a greater sense of unity in the Church. Up to this point, we have seen exhortation upon exhortation, entreaty upon entreaty of the Apostle Paul’s desire to preserve and increase the unity of this body of believers. 1:27 “let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ … that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel 2:2 “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” 2:3 “do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves 2:4 “let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others” The urgency of church unity in Philippi is revealed in chapter 4 when the Apostle identifies a specific quarrel in the church between Euodia and Synthyche encouraging them to “agree in the Lord” and exhorting a “true companion” to help restore unity. The issue of unity in the local church is no less relevant or pressing today than it was in the Apostle Paul’s day. Strategies and tactics to pursue unity abound in current ecclesiological thinking. Scores of books are published on the topic each year with provocative titles such as Extreme Church Makeover, Church is a Team Sport, The Five Star Church, and The Emotionally Healthy Church. These titles are indicative of the “state of the art” thinking in church unity today. Church unity is pursued through a calling to doctrinal tolerance and flexibility. It is pursued through a multiplication of cell groups that supposedly breed greater intimacy through the bonds of common interests and aspirations. It is pursued through seeker-friendly practices. It is pursued through emotional intelligence training for leaders and laymen alike. Paul’s approach, however, was quite different. For Paul, I believe that the foundation of church unity is nothing less than a full understanding of the Lordship of Jesus Christ and a persistent and collective submission to His authority through the power of God himself. That is why I have titled today’s message The Lordship of Christ in the Fellowship of Believers. I think that a fuller understanding of Paul’s thinking on the subject of unity in the local church and its connection to the Lordship of Jesus Christ is the single most important way to counteract the current spiritual erosion of the local church that is driven by a pervasive consumer and commercialized culture. I think that is also a timely lesson for any church that is pursuing true, Biblical unity. I believe that the central expression of Paul’s view of unity is to be a found in a contextualized interpretation of Philippians 2:12-13. So, I will attempt to demonstrate that interpretation today. Before doing so, however, I would like to stress a few contextual cues and clarify some theological concepts. Contextual Cues The Book of Philippians is one of the Apostle Paul’s most personal letters. It is really a thank you note written in the context of imprisonment and in the moment of awaiting an immanent an uncertain verdict that would result either in Paul’s death or in his ability to continue his ministry. As a personal letter, it contains a series of phrases that we have all come to cherish as expressions of genuine spirituality: 1:21 “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain” 3:20 “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior” 4:13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” In addition to these spiritual gems, the letter to the Philippians contains one of Paul’s most compelling and heartfelt hymns of worship regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ. John Piper calls Philippians 2:5-11 an outburst of praise and he imagines the Apostle Paul lifting up his shackled hands to the sky as he is inspired by the Holy Spirit to lay out in succinct and compelling detail every aspect of the atoning work of Christ: “Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed upon him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the father.” Even though this text included a depth and breadth of Christological truth unequaled anywhere else in the Scripture, it is formulated not in the context of doctrinal teaching but rather in the context of an ethical imperative. In verse 2, the Apostle’s overarching plea is that the Philippians would be “of the same mind, having the same love, and being in full accord.” Notwithstanding its powerful truths about the person and work of Jesus Christ, it is fundamentally meant to enlighten an ethical truth. The text is preceded by an ethical imperative and it is followed by what appears to be a soteriological statement (a statement about salvation) in verses 12-13: "Therefore, 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, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Thus, it seems as if there is a disharmonious progression of thought in these verses moving from the ethical to the Christological to the soteriological and finally in verse 13 back to the ethical. While some commentators and expositors argue that this is the intended progression, I would disagree and instead propose that this text is best described as a fully ethical imperative, a concrete exhortation to address disharmony and dissension in the Philippian church. Some commentators say, for example, that while verses 9-11 indicate God’s response to Christ’s humility, verses 12-13 indicate man’s response to Christ’s humility and that the whole of verses 5-13 are a parenthesis in Paul’s ethical argument which is taken up again in verse 14. As we have studied thus far, however, Christ’s example of humility is intimately connected to the humility to which Paul is calling the Philippians. As I get more into the text of verses 12 and 13, moreover, I intend to show how these verses are also intimately tied to the whole of Paul’s example of Christ’s humility. For now, I would simply like to call your attention to verse 9. “Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed upon him the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” This passage reveals the essence of Christ’s Lordship. It is not that God was so moved and surprised by Christ’s humility that he decided to raise him up. Not at all. It is instead that the foreordained outcome of Christ’s obedience is His taking up the seat that is rightfully His. The term used for “highly exalted” in the Greek is huperupsoo. It means ‘elevated to the highest possible point.’ It is used in prophecy in Isaiah 52:13 in the Septuagint: “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up and shall be exalted.” So, my argument is that this passage is fundamentally about Christ’s Lordship and that any interpretation of verses 12 and 13 must revolve around the central truth that “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Before moving to the exposition of the text itself, however, I would like to briefly clarify some theological concepts. Theological Concepts Philippians 2:12-13 address the theological concept of “salvation.” Although it is common to hear Christians say that they were “saved” at a given age or in a given place or after hearing a specific message, the biblical doctrine of salvation is not constrained to a single, specifiable event. Rather, the biblical doctrine of salvation is a progression that occurs in successive and multiple phases. I think that Arthur W. Pink’s characterization of a Fourfold Salvation is an instructive way to think about the biblical doctrine of salvation. Salvation is, in essence, liberation from sin. First, salvation is liberation from the penalty of sin. We are justified by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Justification is a forensic or legal status. God imputes our sin on Christ and considers us righteous because of Jesus’ righteousness. Second, salvation is liberation from the pleasure and the power of sin. As we come to know Christ through the Word of God and as we grow in our relationship with Him as our Lord, we begin to move further and further away from the pleasure and power of sin. This is called sanctification and it is a process that occurs over the course of a Christian’s sojourn in this world. Finally, salvation is liberation from the presence of sin. There will come a time when “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4). This is called glorification. When are bodies are glorified and we come into the presence of the Lord, we will be liberated once and for all from the presence of sin. So, when we talk about salvation and find it discussed in Scripture, we need to ask ourselves what specific aspect of salvation we are talking about. Secondly, we distinguish not only different aspects of salvation – justification, sanctification, and glorification – but also different scales of salvation. Salvation is individual in the sense that God effectually calls individuals to repentance, effectively atones for their individual sins through the blood of Christ, individually sanctifies them through the inworking of the Holy Spirit, and maintains them secure through glorification. But salvation is also collective in the sense that God not only justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies the individual but he also adopts them into the company of the elect. 1 Peter 2:9 says “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” We are saved individually unto eternal life, but we are saved collectively unto the People of God. Dispensationalists and other so-called “right division” theologians argue that individual salvation is for the church and that common or “national” salvation is for Israel. The New Testament, however, clearly teaches that both individual salvation and common salvation are present realities. Jude 3 says “Beloved, although I was eager to write to you about our common salvation.” As believers we individually experience a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and we collectively submit to His Lordship. How do we achieve and grow in unity in the local church? First, we need to recognize that unity in the local church is grounded in the Lordship of Christ. The text under consideration begins with the word “therefore.” The thought expressed in vv 12-13 is thus explicitly connected to the previous text. It is saying “because God has highly exalted Christ and given him a name above all names” we should “work out our own salvation in fear and trembling.” The Lordship of Christ is thus central to the exhortation that Paul is giving. This connection is made even more explicit in Paul’s use of the phrase “fear and trembling.” Paul uses this same phrase in Ephesians 6:5 saying “slaves obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling with a sincere heart as you would Christ.” The relationship of “fear and trembling” to lordship is clear in this passage both in the earthly lordship of a master over his slave as well as the spiritual lordship of Christ. In colloquial English, we would interpret “fear and trembling” as a sense of terror and panic. That is far from what Paul meant. In fact, Paul borrows the phrase from the Old Testament where it was used with a very definite sense. Consider, for example, Psalm 2:11: “Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.” The phrase is meant to convey the sense of respect, submission and awe. Second, unity in the local church is connected to sanctification The Apostle Paul does not simply repeat the exhortations he gave in verses 2-4, i.e. be of the same mind, have the same love, do nothing from rivalry or conceit, count others as more significant than yourselves, and look to the interests of others. Instead, he gives a different and more all-encompassing exhortation: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” First, we need to specify what aspect of salvation Paul is talking about. We know that Paul himself in Romans 3:24 says that we “are justified by his grace as a gift” so he cannot be talking about salvation from the penalty of sin. This aspect of salvation was worked in us through the spirit and in no way could we work it out. However, salvation from the pleasure and power of sin can and indeed is worked out. Vernon McGee once said that we work out what God works in. God effectually calls us to become his children. Once we are a child of God then we manifest God’s inner working outwardly. As James says, “faith without works is dead.” So, Paul’s exhortation to unity in the local church is connected to sanctification, to the continual and progressive liberation from sin in our lives. Second, we need to understand the common nature of sanctification. Sanctification occurs as we grow more and more like Christ through a personal relationship with him and through continual submission to his Lordship. But we grow more and more like Christ not simply unto ourselves but also unto others. The text says “work out your own salvation” and it would appear that Paul is saying something like concentrate on yourself and don’t worry about others. This would be an erroneous interpretation because it contradicts the exhortation that he gave previously in 2:4 “let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.” My Spanish Bible helped me to understand this text. In Spanish the text reads, “ocupaos de vuestra salvacion.” The word vuestra indicates plural. So when Paul says “work out your own salvation” he is not referring to each individual but he is referring to the collective body that he addresses in 1:1 “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi with the overseers and deacons.” So, rather than saying everyone concentrate on yourself, Paul is exhorting the Philippians to demonstrate or act out their regenerate natures among themselves. A local church that is characterized by unity is a church where the members, the elders and the deacons are all continually and progressively moving towards holiness and away from the pleasure and power of sin. Third, unity in the local church is powered by God “For it is God who works in you.” The Greek word used here is energon where we get our English word “energy.” God is the author of salvation through and through. Every aspect of our salvation is due solely and exclusively to the power of God. At the same time, God uses human instruments through His own power to effect His own purposes. There are two opposing views when it comes to the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. The Quietist view holds that man is nothing more than a passive receptacle for the working of God. Man has no responsibility in sanctification. The Pietist view holds that God is nothing more than a spectator in man’s continual struggle to better himself. Both of these views are unbiblical. As we see in this text, God works through our will – our attitudes, our desires, our aspirations – and upon our actions. There is no good deed that I can do and call it my own. But that does not mean that I do no good deed. We all do good deeds and we do them because God prepared them for us beforehand (Ephesians 2:10). Joe and Sharon example. Unity in the local church is God’s work. God works through our actions and our attitudes to increase and magnify the Lordship of Christ in the body as a whole. Finally, unity in the local church is God’s purpose “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Unity in the local church and an increasing recognition and submission to the Lordship of Christ is God’s purpose not our own. I began this message talking about the current approach to church unity based on marketing techniques, humanistic psychology, organizational communication, and other trends. The fundamental flaw in this view of church unity is that it is being pursued for the wrong reason. If the reason to pursue church unity is to ensure the financial health of the church, biblical unity will never be achieved. If the reason to pursue church unity is to create an emotionally stable environment for all, biblical unity will be forever lost. If the reason to pursue church unity is to become more attractive to “seekers” or any other demographic, biblical unity will remain out of reach. It is only when we pursue church unity as God’s design and desire for the local church that we will approach a measure of true biblical unity. Conclusion God desires unity for His church. In his High Priestly prayer in John 17:20, Jesus prays: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you Father are in me, and I in you that they also may be in us.” I don’t think anything grieves the Holy Spirit more than division and dissension in the local church. In fact, when Paul writes about this he says: “let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” These attitudes and actions are the exact opposite of what Paul is asking of the Philippians. But it is not only that these negative attitudes erode unity in the local church. It is also the case that the increase of unity in the local church produces an unspeakable joy. Remember that Paul’s entreaty to the Philippians is prefaced by the phrase “complete my joy.” Right after identifying the very specific disagreement within the Philippian church and imploring Euodia and Syntyche to agree in the Lord, Paul writes “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say Rejoice!!” There is great joy in unity in the local church and that joy comes from an increasing recognition and a deepening commitment to the Lordship of Christ. Let’s make Jesus Christ the Lord over all we do.
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- Want "Notes document that highlights course readings" Following NT344 Faithlife group: https://faithlife.com/nt344 Apparently no Option to "Join" yet. So far (2 lectures) an excellent course! Rob Wilson, Teaching Elder, Church of the Messiah, Dayton, OHPaul's Theology and the Letter to the PhilippiansA discussion group for people working through Logos Mobile Education's NT344 course.faithlife.com
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- EBC Ephesians - Philemon Philemon 1:1-2 commentary on opening Philemon 1:3-11 Thanksgiving & prayer Philippians 2:1-4 Appeal for Unity & Humility Philippians 3:17-24 The Pattern of Those Who Live Cruciform Lives Versus the Negative Example of the Enemies of the Cross Colossians 2:11-15 What has occurred in Christ Ephesians 2:21 Reflections Ephesians 5:14 Reflections The spreadsheet says six references but I saw seven in the notes file. Some are very short, particularly the reflections I have not worked through this course so I cannot offer any comments Hope this is of some help
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