Friday, April 29, 2011

Looking toward the future through the words of Philippians 3& 4

Because I have been and will be among groups of Presbyterians, who are orthodox in their faith, are now in the midst of momentous change, talking about, writing about and attempting to find their place in the will of God in the midst of denominational disobedience, I am looking at some texts in Philippians. As I work through my thoughts using Philippians chapter three and some of four, I will post the thoughts on my blog.

Knowing who we are is an important beginning. The apostle Paul, in verses 1-6 of chapter three lays out the identity of those who are followers of Jesus, they are those who “worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh…” Looking at what seems to be three marks of identity they are basically one and have to do with the believer’s relationship to her Lord.

As to the words “worship God in the Spirit, John Calvin in his commentary refers the reader to John 4:23, the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman at the well. “But an hour is coming, and now is, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be his worshipers.” Those who belong to Jesus are united to him by the Holy Spirit, and it is in Christ that true worship is found. Through the Spirit, united to Christ, the believer presents to the Father what only Christ can give, acceptable worship.

Paul was writing against the rituals, including circumcision, continued by some Jewish Christians as a means of worship. That placed externals beside Jesus Christ. While the rituals pointed to Christ for Old Testament people, Christ was and is now here. Only in Jesus Christ is access to the Father possible. And so, only Christ may be gloried in-nothing else counts. “Putting no confidence in the flesh,” is the negative side of this affirmation about Christ. The believer’s confidence is only in Jesus Christ. So we glory in Christ; he is our whole joy and purpose.

In the next several verses Paul lays out what he has left behind, his past identity. I have in the past thought of this as Paul’s renunciation of his strict Jewish beliefs, but it is so much more than that. He is renouncing his ethnicity and culture, (of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews); he is renouncing his past religious views (a Pharisee); he is renouncing his sinful life (a persecutor of the Church); and finally he is renouncing his own righteousness (righteous because he was blameless in the law).

Paul will no longer glory in his past. And neither should we as believers facing an uncertain future. We must glory in Christ. Whatever we were in the PCUSA, we will no longer be that. But, without leaving, neither do we face the future as the minority, or those who are considered behind the times, out of step with the culture or even homophobic. No, we are those who glory in Christ Jesus and nothing else.

And remember, Paul stated that to the Jew he became a Jew and to the Gentile a Gentile that he might win them for Christ. (1 Cor. 9:19-23). We cannot be for any culture, for the sake of Christ, unless we have first laid our own culture aside and taken up only Jesus Christ. We cannot present Christ to any other religion until we have renounced all false religion. We cannot proclaim the saving, transforming death of Jesus Christ to sinners until we have renounced our own sin.

I will look at Philippians 3:7-16 for my next posting.

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