Monday, May 2, 2011

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

In the past two postings, Looking toward the future though the words of Philippians 3& 4 and Looking toward the future through the words of Philippians 3 & 4 #2 the focus is always the believer's relationship and dependence on Jesus Christ. Looking at the text I have tried to stress Paul’s insistence that Christians have no other hope, no other resource, no other sufficiency; Jesus Christ is everything.

Thus, the orthodox in the PCUSA, in the midst of denominational disobedience must possess this identity. They are those who only have confidence in Jesus Christ. Furthermore they are called into a deepening fellowship with Jesus that includes the fellowship of his suffering. They are called to attain the resurrection which means they are being conformed to Christ’s death. God is molding his people, forming them to the image of his Son.

Going on in the text the next few verses simply shouted at me as I prayed about writing this series. That is: “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet [the resurrection from the dead and perfection]; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ (13-14).

There is an upward call, a goal for those who are in Jesus Christ. We need to be reminded here that our ultimate goal is not church renewal but as the Larger Catechism puts it, “loving God and enjoying him forever.” We are pressing on toward perfection which only comes in the resurrection and has to do with being remade in the image of our Lord. Nonetheless the believer in the midst of spiritual warfare, which does involves in some cases working for renewal, is on that road toward perfection.

With Paul, we press on. And here the Christian is involved in moral standards. Our righteousness is only Christ’s as we are united by the Holy Spirit to the resurrected Lord. And yet in the midst of God’s work of conforming believers to be like the eternal Son, there is a battle against sin. And here Paul sets himself as an example to follow. He writes, “Join in following my example. And observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” This is for us an apostolic witness to follow scripture.

And then Paul calls for discernment. He writes:

“For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite [belly], and whose glory is their shame.”

Scholar Ralph Martin believes those who Paul calls enemies of the cross of Christ” are church members who are attempting to use grace as a means of living a habitual sinful life. They are antinomians. Martin seeing such false teachers as those who would destroy both Paul’s emphasis on grace and his call for biblical moral standards writes:
If such ideas [that the body and morality doesn’t matter if one is redeemed] are here condemned it is easy to fit in the references to the enemies of the cross … their god is their stomach (koilia, used of sexual organs as in 1Cor. 6:13, Bruce), their glory is in their shame (i.e. immoral practices), their mind is on earthly things (i.e. sensual pursuits).
So here is a contemporary situation. And Paul’s command, in the face of a heretical movement that has divorced morality from grace, is to follow his example as he lays aside the past and presses toward a deeper relationship with Christ that includes fellowship with the sufferings of Christ. But Paul writes encouragement.

Paul reminds the reader that unlike those who are only mindful of earthly things (sensual pursuits) their citizenship is in heaven from where Jesus will return. He will transform their earthly bodies so that they conform to the body of Jesus’ glory. This is an amazing contrast. The heretical group seeks sinful bodily pleasure that can only end in judgment. The faithful Philippians seek conformity to the Lord sharing in his sufferings but end reflecting the glory of Christ.

There is one more thing to consider. Paul, when he writes of those who have made their sexuality their god, weeps as he writes. He has a desperate compassion for those who are so destructive to the church. However he undoubtedly weeps for the church they are destroying. And it must always be so. A continued future in a disobedient denomination includes weeping for the disobedient, refusing to acknowledge the disobedient in their disobedience and encouraging one another with the promises of Christ. It includes following the apostolic witness of the scriptures and a suffering that conforms to Christ’s suffering. It is and will be a deepening fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

I will write on chapter four with my next posting.

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