Live Up to the Gospel
Explore the Bible Series
March 20, 2011
Lesson Passage: Philippians 1:27-2:11
Some time ago I enjoyed an warm conversation with a dear friend and colleague. My friend is a devout Roman Catholic, and, despite out theological differences, I benefit from our conversations. In this particular visit, he expressed amazement at “Baptist” doctrine concerning the security of the believer. Like many, he misunderstood the historical position of Baptists on this important theme, and his legitimate concern centered on practical holiness. How, he questioned, could Baptists place such importance on free grace, through repentance and faith, yet hold such low views of personal conduct? He feared that the Baptist position on grace might devalue the critical importance of growth in holiness. Put succinctly, doesn’t salvation by grace through faith foster devaluation of personal righteousness?
I understand his concern, a concern, no doubt, fostered by poor theology and lax moral conduct among nominal Baptists. Truthfully, many of our co-religionists hold to inadequate views on this matter, and recent studies seem to indicate very low patterns of conduct among Baptists (I think here of research done by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons in, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity… and Why It Matters). A careful study of the Bible and the history of Baptist theology alleviates this problem.
Baptists do affirm the free pardon of sin, through the finished work of Christ, appropriated through repentance and faith. Furthermore, Baptists celebrate the New Birth, wrought by the Holy Spirit, through the ministry of the word of God. However, our forefathers also upheld the importance and essential nature of sanctification. According to the New Testament, growth in holiness is the fruit of regeneration and the evidence of a true and living faith. The indwelling Spirit enables the believer to righteous behavior, and he works effectually to promote Christian assurance and holiness. We are not saved by good works, but we are saved to good works. Sanctification is not optional. Stated another way, Baptists believe that sanctification always grows from justification. The two are separate operations, but they remain vitally in God’s economy of salvation-- No sanctification, no justification.
Paul, of course, understood this essential theological principle, and, in our lesson text, he made his position unmistakably clear. Philippians 1:27 states,
Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel… (emphasis mine)
The apostle, in this introductory verse, asserted several critical points.
I. An Exhortation to Steadfastness (1:28-30)
A. The crisis in Philippi (v. 28): Acts 16:22f indicate Gentile opposition to the gospel labors of Paul and Silas, and our lesson passage implied the Roman hostilities had continued, focused on the followers of the apostle. Perhaps these believers endured imprisonment and beatings, just as Paul and Silas. This aggression produced a kind of skittishness in these faithful folk, and Paul concentrated on calming their agitation. Their hardships affirmed their godliness and authenticated the perdition of those who oppressed God’s people. The verse also indicates God’s sovereignty in these sufferings.
B. The privilege of Christian suffering (vv. 29-30): This principle seems alien to modern American Christians, including me. Great mystery attends this assertion by Paul, and, as I write these words, I feel great unworthiness in these comments. The passage, however, seems clear. Suffering for Christ fosters the believer’s unity with Christ. We must take up the cross and follow the Savior, even to the travail of affliction for the gospel. Paul knew the bitterness of persecution, and he affirmed the universal nature of suffering for the sake of Christ. Belief and suffering go hand in hand.
II. An Exhortation to Unity (2:1-4)
A. The Four-Fold Ground of Christian Unity (v. 1): Paul states his point against the background of four conditional clauses (“if” clauses that assume the truthfulness of the statements).
1. “if there is any consolation in Christ”: “Consolation” might better be rendered “exhortation.” Unity with Christ calls believers to certain attitudes, attitudes that cultivate harmony.
2. “if any comfort of love”: Love for the Lord compels believers to holy conduct.
3. “if any fellowship in the Spirit”: The ministry of the Holy Spirit precludes disharmony in the church; that is, his work promotes unity.
4. “if any affection and mercy”: Literally, “bowels of sympathy”, this phrase describes the deepest inner impulses of a godly life, sympathy born of profound tenderness of heart.
B. Paul’s hope of joy (v. 2): Despite their hardships, Paul longed to hear of harmony among the Philippians: likeminded, having the same love, of one accord, of one mind.
C. Several precautions (vv. 3-4) “Let nothing be done…”
1. “through selfish ambition”: This term translates a word that denotes a factious, party spirit—divisiveness that divides believers into ungodly groups.
2. “conceit”: “Vain self-absorption” translates well this descriptive Greek word. It reflects arrogant preoccupation with one’s own opinion.
3. “look each of you look not only for his own interests”: Again, Christian ethics requires sympathy with the interests and concerns of others.
III. The Example of Jesus (2:5-11): Interestingly, in this section on ethics, Paul buttressed his exhortations with a noble synopsis of Christology. The Bible contains few rival statements that match the wonder of this summary of the mystery of the incarnation. Howard Vos observes well, “Those who say they are not interested in theology but stick to the simple truths of Christian living taught in Scripture over look the fact that the Bible itself makes doctrine foundational to all Christian action.” In short, Paul calls Christians to think like Jesus. A precautionary word seems fitting here. I do not pretend any special insight into the exact nature of the incarnation, and, for me, philosophical speculation has not always served a good purpose. Handle these verses with appropriate humility.
A. “who, being in the form of God” (v. 6): This verse signals the essential deity of Christ. He existed, before he emptied himself, as the essence of godhood. The next phrase proves a bit difficult, but it seems to describe Christ’s full possession of the attributes of deity; thus, he did not grasp for those things already in his possession. He had no need to steal glory from God, a glory already his as the essence of his being.
B. “but made himself of no reputation” (vv. 7-8): Better translated “emptied himself” (several commentators emphasize the voluntary nature of the Lord’s empting himself, unconstrained by anything but his own character), this expression has caused a great deal of speculative debate. The verse does not imply that Christ laid aside his essential deity, thus becoming less than God. God is irreducible, and the incarnation did not diminish Christ’s divine essence. Nevertheless, he humbled himself beyond our comprehension—becoming man (in the form, essence of humanity). This matchless condescension included the Savior’s servanthood and shameful death of the cross. This unrivaled act of humility resulted from the Lord’s perfect obedience to the will of the Godhead. Again, the text calls to careful reading. These verses do not imply that Jesus merely appeared as a man, and they do not set the will of the Father against the impulses of the Son. Christ’s humility and death served the cause of the divine receptive plan, a plan carefully orchestrated by the obedience of the Son.
C. “God has highly exalted him” (vv. 9-11): Jesus’ humiliation is not the end of the story; rather, it served as an essential step in the ultimate exaltation of the Son. This exaltation consists of these elements.
1. The approbation of the Father: The Lord’s obedience issued in the approval of the Father. Even during his earthly work, Jesus received, on more than one occasion, heavenly affirmation, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” In fact, the resurrection served as the decisive pronouncement of the Son’s proven faithfulness and impeccable character resulting in the giving of a glorious name—a splendid and unimpeachable honor given to the faithful and obedient Son. He bears the family crest and enjoys the dignity of sole heir to the splendor of the Kingdom.
2. “every knee should bow… every tongue confess”: This verse has eschatological implications. Paul predicts that some day all of creation will share the Father’s assessment of the splendor of Christ. The overall thrust of Paul’s argument implies that humble, obedient Christians will share in the exaltation of their Master, the Lord whose path they follow.