Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Want to be a Superstar?
We?ve been talking about how a healthy Christian and a healthy church operates?with the goal to have God?s value system flowing out of our lives so that we, like God, exhibit self-sacrificing ? other-centered affection as the norm. The end is that the love of God in Jesus Christ will be communicated and spread to others.
The Philippians, like us, have pressures to not behave that way?pressures on the inside by the ever-present ever-self-centered flesh?and pressures from the outside that they should focus on their own efforts rather than on the power of God flowing through them.
Last time, Paul encouraged them to stop grumbling about one another?which is just another way the self elevates itself above another?and instead be shining stars for the gospel by putting the needs of others above their own needs.
Paul begins this section of his letter with two practical examples of men who were doing it right. The two that we meet today are Timothy and Epaphroditus.
19 ? 21
Timothy was Paul?s prot?g?. Timothy was with Paul and Silas when they founded the church in Philippi (Acts 16). In the days prior to the Internet, if you wanted to know how someone was, you didn?t go on Facebook, you actually had to go to them in person, or write a letter that also had to be carried in person. Paul is doing both. He writes the letter to the Philippians but wants to follow up by a personal visit from Timothy.
Paul is worried about his friends because of the internal squabbles and external pressures that threaten to keep them from continuing to ?hold forth? the gospel. He wants to send him soon?you feel the urgency in his voice. This was often the way with Paul. It happened with the Corinthians?he wrote a letter to them and wanted to make sure it was received and acted upon so he sent a personal emissary. Paul wants to be encouraged that his letter helps the Philippians get back on track.
There is something embedded in here that is really cool. As I mentioned at the beginning, Paul encourages us to adopt the attitude of Jesus??Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others? (Philippians 2:3-4). This is a great description of agape love, which forms the character of God. How can we do this? Well, here is a great description of this lived out in Timothy.
Paul describes Timothy?s attitude: that he ?genuinely? cares about their ?interests.? The word is also translated ?welfare? or ?state?. He compares that attitude to others with him that are only in it for themselves. A lot of Paul?s encouragement to his friends in this letter is to adopt the same attitude of Jesus. As we saw in Phil 2:7 Jesus ?emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave.? The interest of Jesus is as Peter outlined in his second letter: ?not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance? (2 Peter 3:9). People get so caught up in self-promotion that they forget their mission. Timothy hadn?t forgotten.
22 ? 24
Paul says that Timothy has shown his selfless character as he?s ministered with Paul (the word ?slave? is used here) like a son with a father. Paul says he?s going to send Timothy as soon as he finds out the outcome of his trial. But he adds that he feels confident that he will stay alive to come to them himself after Timothy. But before that, Paul is going to send another emissary: Epaphroditus.
25 ? 30
Epaphroditus was the Philippian?s representative with Paul (notice: ?your messenger? in verse 25). But ministering for Paul came with a steep price. This man almost lost his life to sickness. You can just feel the sense of interconnectedness and care here between Paul, Epaphroditus and the church. The Philippians found themselves worried sick over their brother. But God healed him?and Paul is grateful not to have another grief added on top of his imprisonment. Paul is sending him back so they can rejoice and Paul can be relieved that they?ve been re-united.
Another common theme we?ve seen so far is the glory in suffering for the gospel. Paul said back in 2:17 ?But even if I?m poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.? And back in 1:29 ?For it has been given to you on Christ?s behalf not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him.?
Paul here is telling his friends to show honor to those who have suffered even physical illness in pursuit of the gospel. My wife and I know first hand what this is like. When we travelled to Africa a few years ago to share the gospel and help train pastors in how to study and teach the Scriptures?we contracted a very serious illness. Margaret especially suffered grievously. The treatment was worse than chemotherapy our doctor told us. I don?t say that to make you feel sorry for us or make you think we are something special. But like Epaphroditus, we went there as an extension of you?as your messenger. Sometimes that means suffering?but that doesn?t mean we somehow didn?t hear God right. That?s the position of the ?name it and claim it? bunch. They say you should always be in health and that if something goes wrong then it?s your fault.
I strongly disagree with that statement. Sometimes suffering physical illness on behalf of the gospel is the very highest of honor, though it might not feel like it at the time. I?m sure Epaphroditus felt awful and Paul felt awful for him. But he risked his life for the gospel?and that?s a good thing!
So to sum up: Timothy and Epaphroditus exhibited the two characteristics of agape love. Timothy was ?other-centered? and Epaphroditus was ?self-sacrificing.? These are great examples for us to follow.
So now Paul switches gears a bit. He?s hinted at an external pressure that was threatening to move the Philippians off-task. Now we get a clearer idea about that pressure.
What Paul is about to give is a pretty major rebuke for listening to bad doctrine by some bad people. But he couches it in terms of joy. Paul isn?t pacing his cell as a bitter and angry boss?he actually finds joy in once again reminding his friends of an immense and powerful truth: that we are nothing without Christ but everything in Him. He says it?s no bother to him but a protection to them. Indeed?legalism, which was apparently the bad teaching that had come into the church?is one of the biggest dangers for the Christian.
Paul is talking about a group that became known as the Judaizers. This was a group of Jews, or Jewish Christians, that came into churches and basically said that to be a good Christian you also had to be a good Jew?get circumcised and follow the Law of Moses. This was a huge debate in the early church?and Paul was one of its major opponents. This would have surprised anyone who knew Saul (Paul?s former name before he knew Christ) growing up.
Paul describes this group in three derogatory ways: as dogs, evil workers, and flesh mutilators. The Jews hated dogs?now don?t hold that against them. Dogs then were not as dogs are today. We think of them as cute while puppies?okay, maybe I think of them that way. But today we have dogs as pets that live in our houses and even sleep in our beds. In those days dogs were wild opportunists?much more wolf-like than today. They were scavengers?and that seems to be the behavior Paul says the Judaizers imitated: scavenging the church for anyone they could scoop up into their orbit. They are also described as ?evil workers? and it?s a true description: trying to perfect yourself with the flesh is evil and returns us to an attitude that is counter to the agape love value that Paul?s been teaching through this entire book. It?s evil because it doesn?t work. Your pedigree and your actions cannot earn you favor with God.
He finally describes them as flesh mutilators. This is a play on the idea of the circumcision. Circumcision was a sign of having a covenant relationship with Yahweh by the Jews. But since Jesus it amounts to mutilation because it does no good. There is a new covenant now. It is the covenant of love through Jesus with the sign of that covenant the cross, not obedience through the Law with the sign of circumcision. Legalism just makes things worse for the Christian?it makes us feel like we can earn God?s good graces by how good we are and what we?ve sacrificed.
He goes on to describe what the real circumcision is all about:
Since Jesus, our covenant relationship with Yahweh has changed. Isaiah 43:19 says ?Look, I am about to do something new.? The new circumcision is not of the flesh but of the heart and by the Spirit (Romans 2:25-29). Paul gives us three ways that the new circumcision, the new covenant, works:
1. ??serve the Spirit of God? The word there can also mean ?worship?. Jesus said: ?The Spirit is the One who gives life. The flesh doesn?t help at all.?
(John 6:63 HCSB). We have a relationship with God because God has sent His Spirit into our hearts crying ?Abba, Father? (Galatians 4:6). So our relationship comes with something God has given us: adoption into His family, not something you?ve earned by obedience.
2. ??boast in Jesus Christ.? To me this means that the righteousness, the goodness that we have, comes from the work Jesus did for us, and not our attaining something by our own merits. Under the old circumcision you boasted in your obedience to the Law. In the new circumcision you boast in Jesus? obedience of the Law and then His giving the credit for that obedience to you!
3. ?? do not put confidence in the flesh.? The word ?confidence? can also mean ?trust.? In the old circumcision it was all about ?can I do it?? In the new it is all about ?He did it for me and I?m trusting in Him rather than myself?.
So we allow God to ?cut? our hearts ? show us our weaknesses and sins ? so that we will cling to Him and His righteousness, rather than earning His favor on our own.
This was a big problem for the Philippians and is a big problem for us. Even though we don?t have people telling us to get circumcised, we do have lots of voices saying ?you?ve got to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.? It?s natural for us to earn favor by our own merits, and so the message of the Judaizers was as natural then as it is today.
For the Philippians, they were being pulled into Judaism to help them be better Christians?and to be better people. Paul says that if you want to play that game of relying on your own efforts to make God love you more, look to the one who was at the top of that game?which happens to be the Apostle Paul himself. Paul was the Lebron James of being good by legalism. He lists his stats in the next part of the verse and following.
3b ? 6
Paul lists his pedigree for being a good Jew:
- Circumcised the eight day means his parents were extra careful to follow the Jewish Law, which called for boys to be circumcised and named on the 8th day after birth. So he came from good law abiding Jewish parents.
- Of the nation Israel. He was born a Jew (though he was born in a Greek city). He was not a convert (like the Philippians would be)
- Of the tribe of Benjamin. Not all Jews could trace their lineage, but Paul could. Benjamin was known as a small but feisty tribe.
- A Hebrew of Hebrews meant he came from a solid Jewish stock which could not be questioned
- Regarding the law, a Pharisee. The Pharisees were a political party that scrupulously followed the Law to a ridiculous end. In that day if you were to ask a Jewish person who the superstars of their faith were, they?d say the Pharisees.
- Regarding zeal, persecuting the church. Though this wasn?t called for, it showed Paul?s (then Saul) loyalty to Judaism.
- Regarding the righteousness that is in the Law, blameless. So Paul had gotten everything the Law could give him. By Jewish standards, he was perfect.
As we?ll find out next time?that perfection in the Law, by his own efforts, now meant absolutely nothing to Paul, and shouldn?t to the Philippians, or to us either.
So I guess the bottom line here is: watch out for the tendency to start relying on your own efforts to win God?s love and acceptance. Stop it! It pulls you back into focusing on yourself, it stops you from trusting Jesus, and it?s not going to get you anything. If you have questions about that, check out our recent study in Galatians.
Instead, do as Timothy and Epaphroditus did and focus your efforts outward to the needs of others in a self-sacrificing manner, even if that means you get hurt in the process.
Notes to follow