Thursday, June 08, 2006

New Testament Reflections: Phil 1:7-11

Philippians 1:7-11

Prayers and Thanksgiving (continued)

Text and Translation

Just as it is right/just for me to think this concerning all of you
καθως εστιν δικαιον εμοι τουτο φρονειν υπερ παντων υμων

because I have you in my heart, in my bonds/chains
δια το εχειν με εν τη καρδια υμας, εν τε τοις δεσμοις μου

and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel
και εν τη απολογια και βεβαιωσει του ευαγγελιου

[you are all] fellow partakers with me of the grace
συνκοινωνους μου της χαριστος παντας υμας οντας

For God is my witness how I long for all you
μαρτυς γαρ μου ο θεος ως επιποθω παντας υμας

with [the] affection of Christ Jesus
εν σπλαγχνοις Χριστου Ιησου

And this I pray, that your love yet more
και τουτο προσευχομαι, ινα η αγαπη υμων ετι μαλλον

and more may abound in full knowledge and all insight
και μαλλον περισσευη εν επιγνωσει και παση αισθησει

with the result that you discern the superior things
εις το δοκιμαζειν υμας τα διαφεροντα

in order that you might be pure and blameless for [the] Day of Christ
ινα ητε ειλικρινεις και απροσκοποι εις ημεραν Χριστου

filled with [the] fruit of righteousness, that which is through Jesus Christ,
πεπληρωμενοι καρπον δικαιοσυνης τον δια Ιησου Χριστου,

into glory and praise of God.
εις δοξαν και επαινιν θεου

1:7 Paul’s confidence that the Philippian church is a genuine work of God stems from (“because I have you in my heart”), and is in direct proportion to (“just as it is right for me to think this”) his love for them. It is right for Paul to think the way he does because, after all, he has them in his heart. And what is the content of these thoughts? Namely, that they are fellow partakers of grace. The definite article here (lit., “the grace”) is likely intended to refer back to his mention of their “participation in the gospel” in v. 5. Here it becomes clear that this is no idle “inclusion,” but a “participation” that is active in helping Paul both in [his] chains, and in his defense and confirmation of the gospel. What the Philippians have done to help Paul in his chains, not stated explicitly until 4:10-19 (though alluded to in 2:25), is to provide for his physical needs. Unlike modern times, when one was imprisoned in a Roman jail he was still responsible for arranging his own means of sustenance, typically through family and friends. The Philippians proved to be such friends, and (as Paul will reveal in 4:15-16) not only in this circumstance.

Although the New Testament writers know nothing about a “church tithe,” they do speak in detail about the virtues of monetary giving. There are two main purposes for giving in the New Testament. The first, providing for the needs of the saints, is not only our responsibility before God (2 Corinthians 8—9), but in many respects is definitional of what it means to know Christ. In the context of distinguishing between a dead faith and a saving faith, James writes:

If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? (Jas 2:14-17).
John makes a similar point when he writes:

But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth (1 Jn 3:17-18).
Yet in the case of Paul and the Philippians there is more at stake than meeting the material needs of the saints. Paul is a minister of the gospel, and as such is “entitled” to support (1 Cor 9:1-14; “the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel”). In a world such as first-century Rome where itinerate Christian evangelists carried the gospel from city to city with little prospect of obtaining employment, it was absolutely necessary that the church support such efforts. Little has changed in that regard. Missionaries (the modern-day equivalent of evangelists and apostles) still need support, and the church is still obligated to provide it. Yet to contribute to such a cause is not merely passively to support another’s ministry; it is tantamount rather to becoming a coworker in the gospel. John himself indicates as much when commending Gaius for supporting such as these:
For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers with the truth (3 John 7-8).
1:8 In v. 7 Paul had mentioned that he holds the Philippians “in [his] heart.” He now wants to make clear this was no idle thought or throw-away phrase: God himself is Paul’s witness of his intense love for the Philippians. Indeed, he longs for them with an affection (the Greek lacks the definite article) that has its very source in Christ Jesus. The heart of a true pastor or overseer could scarcely be expressed better. To “long for” the church with an affection that springs from one’s relationship to Christ is what characterizes every true leader in the church. The heart of the leader is fixed on the church’s well being and spiritual growth. That much is directly implied by what Paul says next.

1:9 And this I pray. Paul’s affection for the Philippian church wells up into a prayer for them. Whether this is a prayer commonly prayed by Paul for the Philippians, or one that he is composing in the moment, is not entirely certain, though the former idea is probably in mind. Paul’s prayers are characteristically “lofty” in comparison to our modern-day counterparts. With the exception of the necessities of life (food, shelter, clothing), mundane requests are nearly entirely absent from the host of Paul’s prayers in the New Testament. It is not Pauline to pray for Aunt Betsy’s broken leg, or the Johnson family’s cat, or the local sports team. Even the most cursory perusal of his letters will reveal that Paul’s prayers are far more ambitious and daring. The content of this particular prayer? that your love may abound yet more and more in full knowledge and all insight. Love must abound in the Christian; yet it must be tempered by “full knowledge” (epignoskei; the preposition in compound intensifies “knowledge”; cp. NASB’s “real knowledge”), and by “all insight” (or “discernment”). In other words, love can never ultimately stand on its own. Without “knowledge” love lacks direction; without “insight/discernment” it is unwise.

1:10 The intended result of this “abounding” is the ability to discern the superior things. The NIV’s “to discern what is best” does not quite capture Paul’s intent, inasmuch as that translation suggests something limited to the immediate context (in which case the “best” is never finally identified). What Paul has in mind, rather, is a theme that he will repeat time and again in the ensuing chapters of this letter. The “superior things,” we will discover, is a way of thinking that elevates the believer to a higher place; a place where personal ambition is excluded, where the prevailing exercise is to “know Christ,” where the manner of living is as a bright star in an otherwise dark universe, where personal status is exchanged for suffering, where the gospel is all encompassing, and where one views himself as a mere vessel to be used up and disposed of at Christ’s good pleasure.

Achieving the goal of this mindset (as lofty a pursuit that doubtless is) is not an end to itself. The overarching goal is that you might be pure and blameless, and that for [the] Day of Christ. The theme of becoming “pure and blameless” occurs often in the New Testament, and is usually associated with an eschatological reality more so than a current one. Hence, Paul informs the Corinthians, who are far from “blameless” in any practical sense, that when Christ is revealed from heaven, he will “confirm [them] to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:8). Paul tells the Ephesians that we were chosen for that very purpose, “that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph 1:4). He also informs them that the church collectively will, in the end, be presented to Christ as a “radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph 5:27; NIV). The very reason Christ has reconciled us through his death is so that he might “present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (Col 1:22). Indeed, our final status before Christ is described in just those terms: “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 24).

Yet, what is said to be true of us at Christ’s coming is nevertheless presented to us as something to strive for even in the present age. It is because of our eschatological hope of the “new heavens and a new earth” that Peter finds opportunity to exhort his readers: “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (2 Pet 3:14). Paul likely has something similar in mind here (and in 2:15). In our adoption of a Christ-centered mindset (“the superior things”) is the ability to live in the present what we will become at the coming of Christ: pure and blameless.

1:11 Striving for such a goal is accompanied by (or perhaps tantamount to) being filled with [the] fruit of righteousness. A question arises here as to whether the word “righteousness” is to be taken in its forensic sense or its practical sense. The issue is compounded by the inclusion of the modifying phrase “through Jesus Christ.” Does this modify “righteousness” or “fruit”? The Greek makes it clear that it is the “fruit” that is through Jesus Christ, not the “righteousness” as such. On the other hand, the phrase “fruit of righteousness” may be epexegetic, or explanatory (“the fruit that is righteousness”); in which case the “righteousness” may be forensic (see 3:9 where "righteousness" is indeed Christ’s, and ours forensically). It seems best in this context, however, to view righteousness in its practical sense, and the “fruit” (i.e., good deeds) as that which flows from one who has “discerned the superior things” and who has adopted the Christ-centered mindset. All of this is, of course, to the glory and praise of God, who is the ultimate source of any good deeds in the Christian life.