Friday 27 March 2015

Bible Book:

“Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (vv. 7-8)

Philippians 3:4b-14 Friday 27 March 2015

Psalm: Psalm 132


It is difficult for me to read this passage from Paul's letterto the Philippians without thinking of the great Isaac Watts hymn,'When I survey the wondrous cross':

When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died,
my richest gains I count but loss
and pour contempt on all my pride.

Hymns often evoke emotion as they set biblical texts to music.In some respects the English translation of Paul's Greek restrainsthe depth of the emotion and the urgency in both his words and theway he frames them. It is likely that Paul wrote this letter whileunder house arrest in Rome. In the third chapter he reflects on allthat he lost or surrendered for a share in the suffering andresurrection of Christ.

The Philippian congregation resulted from Paul's firstmissionary endeavours in Europe. The majority of the people in thePhilippian church were likely from a gentile, rather than Jewish,background. Such an assumption fits with the history of the city inMacedonia, north of Greece. Macedonia was a province of the RomanEmpire. In the half century before Christ's birth, the RomanEmperor gave the city special legal status that privileged itscitizens with many of the rights of Roman citizens. It was on themain route that brought together travelers from the west and theeast. The Philippians had a variety of religious options, Romanimperial worship, Roman gods, Judaism, and a host of otherreligions, from which to choose.

Scholars suspect that Jewish missionaries visited the Philippiancongregation in Paul's absence. These missionaries conveyed themessage that circumcision and the practice of Jewish purity lawswere necessary. Their preaching caused confusion among the smallChristian congregation. Paul discusses his own achievements inlight of his Jewish heritage, but then emphasises his loss orvoluntary surrender of all things in light of his encounter withChrist. Paul writes, "For his sake I have suffered the loss of allthings, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gainChrist." The wording here indicates that the "loss" is real. Theimprisoned Paul has genuinely lost or surrendered what he hadpreviously worked hard to obtain. The English word "rubbish" doesnot convey the sharpness of Paul's language. He views hisaccomplishments as having the value of excrement, rotten food, orfilth.

Paul, who is no stranger to suffering, discusses his goal ofsharing in the suffering of Christ. Although he is willing to facephysical suffering, that is not quite what the text means when Paulwrites in verses 10-11: "I want to know Christ and the power of hisresurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like himin his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from thedead". Instead, Paul is reiterating his belief that Christians are,through faith, drawn into the events of Christ's life, death, andresurrection. Paul is claiming his share in Christ's suffering andall the implications that has for his present life.

To Ponder

  • What is distinctive about the 'good news' of Christianity in asociety where one has so much religious choice, including rejectionof religious beliefs?
  • To what extent do you think about faith as 'sharing in Christ'ssuffering'? 
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