We’re currently in a series by guest writer Marc Rader, in the book of Philippians. It’s written as a dialogue between Paul and Clement (an imaginary member of the Philippian church.)
Paul adds his own example to those of Jesus, Timothy, and Epaphroditus as one that the Philippians should follow. In today’s section the apostle urges the Philippians onward and upward in their discipleship.
Clement – What a challenge Paul had thrown down! Honour, status, importance and suffering, shame and want are transformed in a relationship with Christ. So much of my life seems spent trying to cling to life – or my idea of what life ought to be – and Jesus stands waiting for us to embrace death, waiting for us to put our own desires and dreams to death. Then, he is able to resurrect us from the dead; to bring life out of what seems hopeless.
We are partners with Paul and with Christ; and in our dying a little every day we are closer to understanding the fullness of his resurrection!
But I am so far from achieving this! And I must admit to being more than a bit discouraged after what Paul said next.
Read Philippians 3:12-14
If Paul hasn’t arrived what chance do I have!?
Paul – The longer I am a follower of Jesus the further I see I have yet to travel. There is always so much to learn, so much to put into practice, so much to see converted in my life! But, it’s not actually about perfection. We won’t be perfect this side of eternity and while the Lord desires us to be holy – emphatically so – the real issue is perseverance. To continue to strive; that’s the secret. I didn’t want the Philippians to be discouraged with how far they might have yet to go to attain Christ; I wanted them to keep running with me.
Read Philippians 3:15-16
Clement – The running analogy was really helpful. It shifted the discussion from being perfect to persevering. I may not be perfect, but I can keep striving!
Paul – There are some things that I hope the Philippians will yet attain in Christ, but for now, I will leave them in the hands of God. He will make these things clear to them in his timing. I am content to let him do his work rather than rush in.
Besides, these are my friends; those who know and live the gospel!
There are others, however, who do not.
Read Philippians 3:17-19
Clement – Paul’s warning was familiar to us. Those who walk as enemies of the cross was one of the ways he spoke about those who claimed to follow Christ but didn’t take the implications of the cross seriously. Those Jewish Christians who advocated circumcision and the full adherence to the Law, who saw their pedigree as important, were one such group. But there were others too!
Paul – Those who do not live out the implications of the cross – in their relationships, in their finances, in their decisions – in every area – are living, essentially, as enemies of the cross. They are not like-minded but earthly minded!
Clement – It’s such a temptation to try to find a way to be faithful to Christ while at the same time remain unchanged; to have our daily lives and routines baptized! To find a way to live in such a way that we can keep all the good things of our lives without compromising. And that’s just not possible. To do so, to seek easy street in faith is to hate the cross of Christ.
The cross isn’t only a problem for those outside of The Way, but for those within too!
Paul – The reality for my friends in Philippi is that they are not only citizens of a Roman colony in Macedonia but are, more fundamentally, citizens of heaven. I wanted to draw these things together!
Read Philippians 3:20-21
Clement – What a reminder. We are, fundamentally, citizens of heaven. Just as we seek to live as Romans here in Philippi, to avoid those things that are shameful for Romans and to do that which is honourable, we are to seek those same things in relation to Jesus.
Ultimately, Augustus is not our Lord and Master – only Jesus. Only Jesus.
Paul – Peter is fond of saying that we who follow Jesus are “strangers and aliens” in this world; citizens of another home. We live as semi-permanent residents someplace else. This is particularly apt for my friends in Philippi.
Clement – I couldn’t help but think again of the hymn to Christ that Paul had included earlier. Our present humiliation is not the end but we will be transformed by the one to whom every knee shall bow and tongue confess as Lord.
Part of the difficulty is that I’ve seen the imperial processions when they’ve passed through. The emperor has, so to speak, all the visible power and authority. I remember, when I was a boy, seeing Emperor Tiberius come through town. What a scene! There were choirs singing his praise – he was worthy to receive honour and power and wealth and esteem. It was a holiday when he came. And everywhere you go there are inscriptions to the imperial family – on new civic buildings, on fountains, and other memorials. It’s everywhere. It is so hard to keep in mind that all that the emperor seems to be able to deliver is really only a house of cards.
His promises are ultimately blasphemous – he cannot provide peace or bring wealth or security – these are things I believe now to only be found in Jesus! Jesus the crucified one who doesn’t have much to show for it yet! Only a rag tag group of followers!
Paul – I remember speaking to John, the beloved disciple, on one of my trips to Jerusalem (he’s in Ephesus these days) and his own take on the dilemma facing believers. On the one hand are all the claims of the emperors to provide all that people need, on condition that they be good citizens of the empire. On the other hand are all the things to come in Jesus. Between them are the followers of Christ – “Christians” as we were called in Antioch (a name I quite like, I hope it sticks) – people who can only put their hope in the promise.
John would often go on to say that the Roman claims, like those of Babylon in the Scriptures, were actually the spirit of anti-Christ and that followers of Jesus would need to see the heavenly reality in order to be able to live faithfully.
We are like Abraham – our father in the faith – who acted on the basis of a promise whose fulfilment was long after his death and yet, who believed!
Clement – Citizens of heaven. That’s who we are. This is what we hope for. It is this reality that drives our decisions – when we keep our eyes fixed on him rather than the emperor!
To think about
Paul urges the Philippians to persevere in their discipleship. How are you going? Are you still putting one foot in front of the other?
Pray that you would be able to keep moving towards the goal that Christ has called you to.