Second Sunday in Advent – Epistle

by Crossings

The Measurement Of Success
Philippians 1:3-11
Second Sunday in Advent
Analysis by Carolyn Schneider

3 I thank my God every time I remember you, 4constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 7It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. 9And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.


DIAGNOSIS: NO RESULTS

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) – The Situation Looks Bad
Paul first came to Philippi around the year 49, on his second missionary journey. The story is told in Acts 16: Philippi was a privileged city for Roman military veterans, and the church there was mostly gentile and quite well off. Grateful for Paul’s message to them about life in Christ, they had formed a partnership with Paul as an investment in his ministry to others-particularly to other Gentiles. He preached; they paid. When Paul was in Philippi the Philippians had seen him imprisoned for interfering with business there, yet they supported him. Now he is separated from them and in prison again as he writes to them from another city.

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) – Maybe It’s Hopeless
The reality of Paul’s ministry is not matching up to the promise. It looks like Paul’s and the Philippians’ mutual goal will not be accomplished. With Paul in prison, the truth of Paul’s preaching was debatable. Maybe Paul was not right when he said that God welcomed the Gentiles and that they now shared in Jesus’ life-Jesus, who has done all things for them. Perhaps this was not God’s Word. Wouldn’t God’s Word be more successful-more effective? Some new preachers have arrived in the Philippian community, and they seem to be pointing out that this jailbird is no image of perfection, nor will the Philippians see such great results from Paul’s gospel if they look at their own lives. Even as a community, they are not free from quarrels (cf. 4:2-3). They might want to start looking for some other, more successful, gospel to support, one with more immediate and obvious results. Maybe it was time to break off their partnership with Paul.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) – What Is the Alternative?
After all, (these new preachers may have suggested), don’t you yourself have to do all things right before God can bless your efforts with fruit? As Paul’s letter continues, he argues against the alternatives to his gospel. Paul warns that those who focus on themselves in order to become better and better can relate to the neighbor only as competitors. This is not to share the mind of Christ, who did not focus on his own righteousness, but on lifting up the neighbor. Malachi has harsh words for those who work to rise above their neighbors and think that they are pleasing God: You will not be able to stand in God’s presence. God will “purify” you by fire (Malachi 3:1-4). This other gospel will not make the Philippians pure, blameless and fruitful with the glory and commendation of God. Instead, their pursuit of perfection will condemn them as competitors and frauds.

PROGNOSIS: INVESTOR CONFIDENCE

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) – Everything Is Completed in Christ
Paul assures the Philippians that they are saints (literally: “holy people”) in Christ Jesus (1:1), and that their righteousness comes through Jesus Christ (1:11). Jesus acted with single-minded purpose to help and save others, so that “all flesh [could] see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6; Isaiah 40:5). “All flesh” includes the flesh living under Roman rule (Luke 3:1). Paul is so sure of this that he calls his own longing to see the Philippians the “compassion of Christ Jesus” toward them (1:8). Here is a partner (Jesus first and then Paul) who does not let go when the results are not immediately and satisfactorily apparent. This is a partnership that will “produce the harvest of righteousness” (1:11), because God has praised and commended the crucified Christ by raising him from death to complete all his work in us.

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) – It Is Being Completed in Us
Just as Paul’s work among the Philippians has not been in vain-and instead they are now his “partners of grace” (1:7)-so their “sharing in the gospel from the first day until now” (1:5) will not be in vain. God will bring Christ’s work to completion so that all the Gentiles may be included. [In the next section of his letter (1:12-14), Paul gives an example of how even his imprisonment cannot prevent this from happening.] For the Philippians to despair about their own lack of righteousness, or about Paul’s lack of righteousness, would be premature. Paul doesn’t dwell on his own situation; he looks forward to the promise of Jesus’ resurrection for him, and presses on to make it his own “because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (3:12). The Philippians, too, will be conformed, even bodily, to Jesus’ glory (3:21). Paul prays that their love will increase in knowledge and insight, so that they come to understand any deterrents (such as imprisonment, struggles with alternative gospels, and sadness about their own sin) as participation in Christ’s death. Such participation in Christ’s death ultimately will lead to resurrection, not to defeat. Paul is confident that “the one who began a good work in you will be completing it until the days of Christ Jesus” (1:6).

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) – Hold on!
Paul is not letting go of his commitment to the Philippians and to all the Gentiles. Some manuscripts at verse 7 say that Paul holds all the Philippians in his heart. Other manuscripts say that the Philippians all hold Paul in their heart, whatever his circumstances. Either way, the picture is drawn of people who are tempted to despair, but who are given hope in the good news that “all flesh” is the recipients of God’s promises. We in North America, much like the Philippian church, have power and resources to dedicate to partnering with those who may be facing formidable deterrents (whether imprisonment, a struggle with alternative gospels, or despair). [One organization that has close ties to “Crossings, Inc.” is “Christians Linked in Mission,” whose very name was inspired by the relationship between Paul and the Philippians. You can see their website at www.clmission.org. Or look up another partnering organization that you may know and support its work of spreading the Gospel.] And the result of this partnership? Someone will be thanking God every time they remember you, they will pray with joy for you, they will be confident that you know what is worthwhile, and that you will “be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, having been filled with the fruit of righteousness that is through Jesus Christ in the glory and commendation of God” (1:10-11).

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  • Crossings

    Crossings is a community of welcoming, inquisitive people who want to explore how what we hear at church is useful and beneficial in our daily lives.

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