Philippians

The letter to the church at Philippi is written from Paul and Timothy, while the apostle is in prison. Paul is concerned that some "proclaim Christ in a jealous and quarrelsome spirit" because they "are moved by selfish ambition and present Christ from mixed motives." Who are these "dogs" who are causing the apostle such distress? Once again, they are Jewish Christians who insist on circumcision, which Paul scathingly refers to as "mutilation." The vehemence of Paul's attack on these Jewish Christians is reprehensible and should not be confused with the word of God.

Paul reminds the Christians at Philippi that he has as much right as any Jew to assert his authority on the basis of keeping the Jewish law. "If anyone makes claims of that kind, I can make a stronger case for myself: circumcised on my eighth day, Israelite by race, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born and bred; in my practice of the law a Pharisee, in zeal for religion a persecutor of the church, by the law's standard of righteousness without fault." But Paul renounces any such claim as "so much rubbish, for the sake of gaining Christ and finding myself in union with him, with no righteousness of my own based on the law, nothing but the righteousness which comes from faith in Christ, given by God in response to faith."

Clearly, Jewish Christians are pressing the churches to keep the Jewish law as a way of becoming holy and perfect in the sight of God. This is, after all, what the scriptures say, for the only scriptures in the church during Paul's ministry are the Jewish scriptures. Furthermore, it would seem that the Jewish Christians have the teaching of Jesus on their side, as Paul never counters their arguments by referring to any statement made by Jesus. This might explain why the efforts of the Jewish Christians to undermine Paul's leadership among the largely Gentile congregations were nearly successful. These teachers from Jerusalem spoke with the authority of the disciples (now apostles) who had known Jesus and taken up his ministry after Jesus' crucifixion. Paul, on the other hand, did not know Jesus, but can only claim the authority for his liberating gospel from the risen Christ who "once took hold of me."

We see in the letter to the Philippians another contrast between Paul's teachings and the message of the Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem. Paul emphasizes that he has not "yet reached perfection." It seems that those who oppose him claim to have perfected their lives. When we read the gospel of Matthew, we will see that this appeal to "be perfect" is powerfully presented as the teaching of Jesus. For Paul, the kingdom of God has not yet come but will come soon. For the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, however, it seems the kingdom of God has already come, as the manifestations of the Spirit attest. Therefore, they no longer work as they once did for their living, but survive on the contributions of others. They are not anxious about the future but spend their time in prayer and fellowship with one another, as they wait for the day of the LORD.

 Bob@rtraer.com © Robert Traer 2016