Thursday, March 31, 2011
We are now in the main section of the book and Paul’s main argument. I want to spend a while looking at these verses, because they introduce so much of that center section.
Paul starts with an ethical exhortation clearly concerned with the life that the Philippian Christians are going to live, and the witness to the culture around them, and the unity that that life is going to bring to the experience of that local congregation. In fact, it’s very clear throughout this passage that Paul is concerned about the Philippians’ humility.
As we study this large section of the letter there are two great themes that are going to be coming back over and over again throughout. I want to briefly introduce those two things this week, and then look briefly at the two verses that we’ll study over the next several weeks.
I. Two Great Themes
The first, gospel humility creates a united front in a local congregation. It is a huge truth that he is wanting the Philippians to imbibe by everything he says in this passage. That is not humility from emulating really fine, godly, sweet, wonderful parents, but humility that comes from the gospel coming to bear on your own life in such a way that you know what it is to have received the utterly undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus Christ personally, and that reality radiates everywhere in your life.
The Apostle Paul just keeps hammering home on this is because of the second theme in this middle section of Philippians: Unity does not just happen. You cannot have unity in any organization, and especially in the local church, simply by abstaining from doing anything outrageously destructive of it. Paul in this whole section is going to say the fundamental thing that has to happen for unity to reign in a congregation of Christians is gospel humility. There can be no unity in the church without gospel humility.
Paul himself was an example of this. Paul was on what you might call the ‘progressive’ side of early Christianity, and James was on what we might call the more ‘conservative’ side of Christianity. There have always been groups in the church. But notice, Paul, the leader of this so-called progressive side of Christianity, is deeply desirous that people in Philippi - who were the product of his ministry - give an offering to help Christians back in Jerusalem under the leadership of James, under this “more conservative” Jewish side of Christianity. Paul wants those Gentiles to be giving to those Jewish Christians in Palestine because Paul could think of no better way to express the reality that there is neither Jew nor Greek because of the gospel work of Jesus Christ than for these Greek Christians, who are held in a little bit of suspicion by those Jewish Christians, to give to the Jewish Christians in their need.
Paul is all about that. He will travel land and sea in order to go back and bless those Christians who are most suspicious of his work. Oh, boy, does that have ramifications for us! If we would learn something of that lesson, it would be dramatically fellowship-transforming.
II. Worthy of the Gospel
Now, let us briefly look at Philippians 1:27 and 28 and I will outline the significance of what Paul says in the first clause. In the coming weeks, we’ll work out what it means to live a life worthy of the gospel.
Paul is giving the Philippians an exhortation in this passage, and that exhortation crumples me to my knees. Before he’s got the last syllable of it out, I’m going, “Lord, could you give me some help on this? You’re asking me to conduct myself, to live my life, in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ? I would like to volunteer. I would like to get in the line right now and ask for some help.” But Paul is giving help and encouragement to you before he finishes the verse, and he’s especially giving it by way of pointing you to your motivation, even in the short first clause of Philippians 1:27: “Conduct yourselves….”
The motivation comes in these words: Paul says that we are to conduct ourselves in light of the gospel of Christ; and as imposing as that is at first glance, there’s some and very real encouragement in that phrase. And so in both the exhortation and the verb used – conduct yourselves, live this way, walk this way – there’s encouragement; and in the phrase the gospel of Christ there is encouragement.
Paul says fairly directly three things in this passage. He tells you that you need to realize your new citizenship, and that’s going to be one of the encouragements, one of the motivations to living in a manner worthy of the gospel – realizing your citizenship. Secondly, he’s going to tell you to live in light of the gospel. And when you realize what that means, what the gospel was for you, that’s a real encouragement. And then, thirdly, and implicitly, he’s reminding you that you need to know the gospel and its implications. Studying the gospel is a life-long pursuit. Knowing the gospel and seeing it worked out in all of the ramifications that it has into every area of our life is a life-long pursuit. It’s something that we are always seeing deeper implications of. It’s something that we’re always seeing new applications of in our life.
We will explore those three things next week.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 2:54 PM