Friday, March 21, 2014

To all the saints in Christ Jesus

Why does Paul address his letter to ‘all the saints in Christ Jesus’?  Considering he just finished calling himself a slave, it seems quite a jump to then refer to his audience as saints.

The greek word used here is ‘hagiois’, which means ‘holy ones’.  Its root word is ‘hagios’.  Doing a search for other uses of this root it is interesting to see how it is used.  In Rom 1:2 Paul writes “the holy scriptures”, in Rom 5:5 Paul writes “the Holy Sprit”, in Rom 7:12 he writes “the law is holy” and in Rom 12:1 he writes “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God”.

It seems to me that when Paul calls the members of the Philippian church saints he is really saying that they are holy.  Just as the scriptures and the law are holy and just as the very Spirit of God is holy, so too Christians are holy.

But on what basis does Paul say this.  What evidence does he have to say this?  Is it because of how well the church in Philippi is doing?  If you have read the entire letter, you know that there weren’t many problems with this church.  Compared to Paul’s other letters, this letter reveals that this church is probably the closest of all the churches to Paul’s ideal church.

Having a quick look at the other letters of Paul, we discover that this can’t be the case since he uses the term ‘saints’ frequently in those letters too.  In fact the name ‘saint’ is Paul’s favourite word to use when describing believers.  He uses it 39 times in his letters.

So why does Paul use the term?  And is it a term that I should identify with?

The answer is in verse 11,  “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.”

So the righteousness that is the basis for me being holy comes through Jesus.

Again in Philippians 3:9 Paul states, “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”.

What an amazing truth, it is not on any basis of what I have done, but it is based on the righteousness of Christ that I am called a saint.

Being an engineer though, I like to understand more fully how these things work.  Let’s look at some more scriptures.

In Jeremiah 23:5-6, the prophet writes the following:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’

It is that last part that I want to highlight.  Jeremiah is referring to the future days of the new covenant that was inaugurated by Jesus.  And under that new covenant he says we will refer to God as “The LORD is our righteousness”

Next let’s travel to the Jordon river and jump forward to the baptism of Christ.  In Matthew 3, we have Jesus coming to John to be baptised and initially John refuses, saying that Jesus should be baptizing him.  How does Jesus respond?  He says, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

Why was Christ baptised?  Remember the baptism of John was a baptism of repentance and Christ didn’t need to repent of anything.

According to his own words Christ was baptised so that he might fulfill all righteousness.  Said another way he was baptised so that he might identify fully with the people whom he had come to save and to obey the law completely on their behalf.

Jesus addresses this again in Matthew 5:17 where he says something similar.  He says "do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Jesus lived a life of 33 years in complete obedience to the law of God, without sin.  He fulfilled the law.  So completely that when he died, he died as the perfect lamb of God.  Jesus’ work on the cross was only possible because Jesus had first lived a perfect, sinless existence.

And what does that have to do with me?  Everything!

2 Corinthians 5:21 - For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Romans 5:19 - For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.

Because of Christ’s fulfilling of the law on my behalf, when I put my faith in Christ two things take place.  One, my sin's are put on Christ, who takes my punishment, and two, Christ’s righteousness is put on me.

This is why I can call myself a saint.  Because I have the righteousness of Christ applied to me.  My sin debt has been paid, my slate has been wiped clean, but equally amazing is that my slate has been filled by Christ’s righteous works and I truly am holy.  God sees me though the lens of Christ’s righteousness.

This is the incredible work of Christ on my behalf, and to him be all glory and honour and praise!

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus

And so begins the letter to the Philippians.  One of the questions that I had early on, was how Timothy participated in the writing of the letter. 

Digging deeper there are three clues to indicate that he did not participate in the writing of the letter. 

First there are 69 references to the word ‘I’ in the letter, while there are only 3 references to the word ‘we’ and 3 references to the word ‘us’ in the letter.  Of those 6 instances, 5 of them clearly are inclusive of the entire Philippian church and don’t mean Paul and Timothy in particular.  The verses where these instances are found are 3:3, 3:15, 3:16 and 3:20.  The only verse where ‘us’ is used and seems to particularly mean Paul and Timothy is 3:17, where Paul states:

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

Paul seems to include Timothy here as an example to keep your eyes on, but there is no indication that Timothy participated in writing the letter.

Secondly we have the section from 2:19-2:24.  In this passage Paul is commending Timothy to them and describes how Timothy has been like a son to him.

Third is the passage 3:2-3:16.  Here Paul argues based on his own life that we should put no confidence in the flesh.  He provides a ‘resume’ of sorts to back up his claim that if anyone could put confidence in the flesh it was him.

Overall the tone of Philippians is very personal.  Paul clearly loves this church and he pours himself into this letter.  He includes Timothy in his opening salutation perhaps because he happens to be with him and Timothy shares deeply the love for this church.  In addition this is not the only time Paul does this, in several of his letters Paul includes others in the salutation.  In 1 Corinthians we have Sosthenes, in 2 Corinthians and Colossians we have Timothy again, and in 1 and 2 Thessalonians we have Silas and Timothy mentioned.

Moving on in verse 1 we read that Paul calls himself a ‘servant’ of Christ Jesus.  The Greek word used here is ‘doulos’ which is the same word used for ‘slave’.  Other translations use ‘bondservant’ or ‘slave’ here instead of servant. 

John Piper makes a couple of good points on this term.  In his first session he said that it is right for Christians to view themselves as a slave in the following two ways.

1 – we are owned by God
2 – God as our Master gives the orders and we obey

However there is a danger in taking this too far and viewing our relationship to the Father and our identity in Christ as that of a slave.  This is wrong, considering the following verses.

John 15:15 – No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

Galations 4:7 – So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Interestingly within Philippians there is only one other place this word is used and it is used in reference to Christ.

(Philippians 2:5-7, ESV)  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 emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Ultimately the reason we serve Christ is because he first served us.

Finally one last observation on this first verse.  Paul does not call himself an apostle.  Most of his other letters he starts out by identifying himself as an apostle.  A possible reason, is that it is another indication of the warm relationship that he had with the church in Philippi.  Paul didn’t need to appeal to his apostolic authority, this church had partnered with him time and time again and looked up to him as their own.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Another great resource

It never ceases to amaze me how God brings things into our lives at the perfect time.  I have now been reading and studying the book of Philippians for two months and honestly I feel like I am just getting started.

Last Friday I read a tweet from John Piper that he was about to teach the book of Philippians at a conference starting that evening.  I checked out the link and it turns out that he was planning on teaching through the entire book of Philippians verse by verse over the course of 5 sessions.  So this past weekend I watched some of the sessions and they fired up my desire to stay in this book. 

In the first session John Piper starts off the evening by quoting the entire book from memory, and the passion and emotion in his voice, inspired me to really double up my efforts at memorization.  So far I have half of the verses I had planned to memorize committed to memory, so I still have a ways to go in this regard.

Here is the link to the conference audio, it is well worth the time to take a listen.