Thursday, May 5, 2011

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

The fourth chapter of Philippians begins with a strong insistence to “stand firm.” From a negative point of view, because you are in the midst of a decadent society, because you are among others in a religious community who despise the cross and worship their own sexuality, do not follow them, “stand firm.” But better still from the positive side, because you are called into a deeper fellowship, because you are called into his sufferings, because you are called to participate in Christ’s death and resurrection, because Christ will return, “stand firm.”

Much of what follows consists of what it means to live, in Christ, while living in hard circumstances. Here there is concern about the temptations Christians constantly struggle against, as well as their need to be completely dependent on the Lord. Temptation in this particular text has a very post-modern ring to it- its easier to give in; the cross is hard.

Paul addresses a problem which is seemingly an aside but not really. Two faithful workers are in disagreement. Paul calls on leaders in the church to help them and he urges the women to “live in harmony” in the Lord. And that phrase “in the Lord” is important. John Calvin writes, “We must take notice, however, that, whenever he speaks of agreement, he adds also the bond of it—in the Lord. For every combination will inevitably be accursed, if apart from the Lord, and, on the other hand, nothing is so disjoined, but that it ought to be reunited in Christ.”

Unity has failed in the PCUSA because too much that is recommended is not in Christ, and too many are asking for agreement over issues that deny Christ and his word. Paul is undoubtedly addressing the kind of disagreement that he and Barnabas had about taking John Mark on another missionary journey. (Acts 15:36-40)

Theirs was the kind of disagreement that could and does hurt the church but it was not about essentials of the faith such as Christology or even Christian morality. It was the kind of disagreement where eventually there would be agreement. (2 timothy 4:11) Compromise between the two people would not lead the church into apostasy. In the midst of moral divisiveness it is important to make that distinction.

Next is Paul’s beautiful exhortation which flows like a benediction;

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension will guard you and your minds in Christ Jesus.

John Calvin has some interesting thoughts on the above text. His translation of gentle (NASB) is moderate. And he sees Paul encouraging the Philippians to persevere in the midst of hostility without retaliating but notes that because of their gentleness their enemies will become “more emboldened to inflict injuries.” The thought is valid through all ages of the church including this one.

But Paul has an answer, “The Lord is near.” Calvin’s thoughts, “He [Paul] replies, I say, that the Lord is at hand, whose power can overcome their audacity, and whose goodness can conquer their malice. He promises that he will aid us, provided we obey his commandment. Now, who would not rather be protected by the hand of God alone, than have all the resources of the world at his command? Calvin goes on to write about the providence of God. He writes:
… we learn that this [God's providence] is the only remedy for tranquillizing our minds — when we repose unreservedly in his providential care, as knowing that we are not exposed either to the rashness of fortune, or to the caprice of the wicked, but are under the regulation of God’s fatherly care. In fine, the man that is in possession of this truth, that God is present with him, has what he may rest upon with security.
The beautiful end of this particular text is the privilege of believers to lay all their needs before the Lord. And the prayers and promise of God’s peace are both connected to the cross of Christ so that it is a full circle. We come before the Lord with our request with confidence because Jesus opened God’s ears to us on the cross. At the same time we have that peace because we have been reconciled because of the cross of Christ. As Ralph Martin puts it:
In New Testament terms we can only know his peace as we first receive his grace in reconciliation … The peace of God follows directly from peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1) who made that peace by the blood of his cross (Col. 1:20).
So, still again, looking at the text and thinking of the orthodox who reside in the midst of a denomination which is moving further and further into disobedience to her Lord, there is one place of security and safety. That is in Jesus Christ the sufficient one.

In Jesus Christ we are called to prayer, given God’s peace which is a guard against all that would lure us away from the Lord. In Jesus Christ we are called to gentleness in the face of opposition. We are sometimes called to suffering but always to joy with rejoicing in the Lord. And wonderfully called to an expectation of the Lord's return and our resurrection.

In my next and final posting on the future and Philippians I will look at 4:8-9 and then attempt to make some practical suggestions.

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