Fifth Sunday in Lent – Epistle

by Bear Wade

“Law Tanks, Faith Floats”
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Philippians 3:4b-14
Analysis by Marcus Felde

Philippians 3:4b If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained this, or have already reached the goal, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Author’s note: The newspaper headline the day I start writing this was “Dow Tanks.” I don’t know the etymology of the phrase, but it seems appropriate to borrow Wall Street lingo to analyze this passage, in which Paul discusses how his (in)vestment portfolio was transformed when he put on Christ.


Diagnosis: “What Lies Behind”

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) – Bluenose
Advocating a rigorous moral code (the definition of “bluenose”) paid good dividends to Paul in the old days. The biggest gain: reason to be confident in the flesh (v. 4b). Beyond this, he is vague; he mentions only “whatever gains I had” (v. 7). We may suppose that “whatever” human gains he possessed were blue chip. The term “persecutor” tells us that his self-advancement profited him (but was most likely costly to others).

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) – Blue Blood
Paul only wanted to be found righteous, and he reckoned he knew how. He was “confident in the flesh” because he thought his blue blood [being a member of a prominent family] would avail. He was confident that flesh like his–circumcised on the eighth-day, Israelite, Benjamite, Hebrew, Pharisee, zealous, blameless flesh–could keep the law (v. 6).

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) – Blew It
However, looking back at “what lies behind” (v. 13), Paul realizes that his former investments were worth less than he thought. In the light of the resurrection, Paul acknowledges his earlier confidence in the flesh was misplaced–futile. In fact, once he knows a value that surpasses (better, “leaves in the dust”) those fleshly gains, Paul can hardly believe he ever invested in that “rubbish” (3:8). Color his blue chips buffalo chips. Jesus Christ spoils all those other gains by outdoing them. And Paul realizes that if he had stuck with his first portfolio (the law), he would have missed the resurrection! Soteriologically speaking, the bottom would have dropped out on him. The law may sell righteousness in the futures market, but good luck getting it delivered.

Prognosis: “What Lies Ahead”

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) – Because Christ
Two phrases (and a few other variations) jump out of the text as gospel promise: “because of Christ” (v. 7) and “because Christ” (v. 12). Most decisively in verse 12, Paul declares: “because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Christ is the cause of all reliable gains, because his sufferings + death + resurrection = life. Because of Christ the believer has resurrection from the dead, and righteousness from God (vv. 9, 11).

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) – Shares In Christ
The feverishness of Paul in this text-the wanting and straining and pressing on and “if somehow”-ing — makes me think of those guys in vests on the floor of the stock exchange, who frantically gesture for someone else to lay down shares so they can pick them up. Truly Paul has been converted. That’s clearly reflected in his “because Christ” phrases, which stand in sharp contrast to all his earlier “because I” talk (vv. 4b-6). His whole heart, mind, and soul desire Christ. He longs for Christ’s benefits: “If only I may gain Christ, and be found in him, having a righteousness that comes through faith,” (paraphrase, v. 9).

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) – Blue Sky
Reading this text out loud, I would stress the word “somehow” in verse 11 to emphasize Paul’s yearning for what he calls the “heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s hope in Christ is so great that even the idea of sharing Christ’s sufferings (as he loves and ministers to others), or sharing his death, is not repulsive. [Time is confused in this passage. Does he already have salvation? Does Christ already have him? Is he already in Christ? What has he already attained and what does he still hope for?] Sum it up by saying that the “blue sky” overhead already makes everything below look more vibrant. Before, losses meant he was done. Now losses are a way to participate in Christ. Hooray!

Author

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