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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Notes on Philippians 3

On Phillipians 3:1-4:1

            As I may have mentioned in one of the Simple Church Minute commentaries (and I say may in that this is really a minor point), verses were added to the New Testament by a printer named Robert Stephanaus in 1551 (a).  This chapter shows the randomness of how chapters were made, as 4:1 belongs in chapter 3, and these notes treat it as such.

            This chapter is referred to as a digression; Paul, before and afterword, is writing on another theme, but inserts this extended idea.  This was not an uncommon way of writing in Paul’s time.  Some unbelieving scholars build all kinds of ideas off this structure, but it is not an example of anyone playing with the text over the centuries.
            In verse 1, Paul states that he is repeating himself.  This is a principle of all education—we learn by repetition.  “Finally” while normally used a synonym for “in conclusion” as in TEV, can also, and here is, marking the beginning of a digression (b).
            In verse 2, “dogs, evil doers, mutilation”.  Cynic philosophers, of whom there were many, particularly in Tarsus, where Paul grew up, were called dogs.  Here, Paul uses it as a general derisive word.  There were “Beware of Dog” signs in Rome in his day.  “Mutilation (or “amputation”)” can refer to circumcision or castration, and in the Greek the word is a word that sound similar to the word for circumcision, thereby being a parody in sound (d).  “Cutting oneself off”, as appears in Galatians 5:12, can refer to castration or cutting oneself off of community.
            In verse 3, Paul builds on this point: “We are the circumcision” refers to being God’s Chosen People, and ties to OT verses Dt. 10:16, 30:6, Lev. 26:41, Jer. 4:4, 9:25,26. Worshipping God in the Spirit, in the Old Covenant, was connected to prophesying with musical instruments, 1 Chron. 25:1-6.  Jews of that day would have maintained that didn’t happen anymore (an ironic comparison to what many of the 20th century said about spiritual gifts).  Paul elsewhere compares worshipping in the Spirit to spiritual gifts.  We must remember that the people of surrounding beliefs thought of worship as a ritual in a building, but Jesus and the apostles taught that worship was how a believer lived one’s life.
            Verses 4-11 are biographical of Paul’s journey from Jewish zealot against believers in Jesus to apostle of Jesus.
            Verses 5 and 6 tells of Paul’s qualifications (before Jesus) as far as obeying the Law.  What we might miss is that this was the Diaspora Jew’s confession of faith.  “Zeal” in that day did not imply violence, but the main examples in Jewish history, Phineas in Num. 25:7-13, the Maccabees in the 160’s B.C., and the Zealots contemporary to Paul’s time all exhibited violence as part of the story.
            In Verse 7, Paul differentiates between what a person holding to the Law counted as important verses a person of the Spirit.  Watchman Nee, in Release of the Spirit, notes that, as, in the Greek, “pneuma” is always lower case, it is oftentimes unclear whether a statement in the New Testament is referring to a believer’s spirit or the Holy Spirit, and as we grow in faith, it should be unclear as a practical manner. (c)  “Gain” and “loss” were marketplace, not spiritual, terms.
            In verse 8, Paul mentions “rubbish” or “dung” (KJV), which is something dogs eat, referring back to the “dogs” comment in verse 2. “My” is a confession of faith—Jesus Christ my Lord. (d)
            In 9, the conclusion is that the righteousness of Jesus is sufficient, the righteousness of the Law is not.
            In 10, “know” implies intimacy, although obviously not sexually, as the word is sometimes used in the Old Testament, and that spiritual intimacy is prerequisite to accepting the “fellowship” of his sufferings.  This is not a stretch, as Ex. 33:13 shows that the desire of the Old Covenant believer was “to know Him”.  That reflected both the corporate covenant and personal longing, which is analogous to the relationship to Jesus being both personal salvation and to the spiritual group, the Bride of Christ.
            11:  Suffering preceding resurrection was part of Old Covenant belief, and was an analogy to Jesus’ completion of that covenant.
            13-14:  “prize of the upward call”.  In the ancient Olympics, the winner received a palm branch, a symbolic prize of minimal earthly value.  We are called to salvation, striving for the goal, which he phrased previously as a) that I might win Christ (v. 8), be found in Him (v. 9),  that I may know Him (v. 10), and I might attain the resurrection of the dead (v. 11).  Athletic competition terms were often used as an analogy by ancient moralists.  “Reaching forward to those things which are ahead” is analogous to growing in faith and spiritual maturity, which is what the believer is called to once one answers the call to faith in Jesus.
            15: Corollary A:  If we are wrong, the Spirit will reveal this to you.
            17: Corollary B: Mature believers live as an example to younger believers.  Paul probably was dealing with the idea that some were prematurely thinking they were perfect/mature already.
            18-19:  Many who would distract a believer walk in the opposite of God’s way.  Paul wrote that their glory is their shame (an opposite).  “God is their belly” is a reference to “dogs” in verse 2, and then “rubbish/dung” in verse 8.  “Mind is on earthly things”—Paul throughout this chapter uses words that to some degree relate to each other, but also are different, to tie thoughts together.  This is interesting when we note how Paul discusses in _ how some in _ complained that he wasn’t a good speaker.  “Weeping” shows love, but the description shows outrage.
            20: “Our citizenship is in heaven”—that’s now, not, as Marx wrote in our age, “pie in the sky by and by.”  Unbelievers think we are hoping in the future or have been socially persuaded, but the believer knows how God changed things in out spirit at salvation.  “Citizenship” is a correct translation, and “conversation” (KJV) is not.  Keener notes that, unlike in Israel, most persons in the church in Philippi were Roman citizens, and assuredly those who were the homeowners of where the church met, and, therefore, had a greater degree of social acceptance than did the church in many other places.  “Savior”—in Phillipi, the deities and the emperor were referred to by this term.  Paul is making the contrast by stating what Jesus will do.
            21:  The Greeks considered the bodily resurrection of the dead to be vulgar.
            4:1: “Crown”:  to the Greeks, a reward for athletes (Paul is making a tie in to what he said previously, again) and heroes; in Jewish culture, a reward in heaven. 

(a)    Barna and Viola, Pagan Christianity, 228-229, referring to Geisler and Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible: Revised and Expanded, 340-341, 451,  Metzger and Coogan, The Oxford Companion to the Bible, 79.

(b)   Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary—New Testament.  This work contributes to a comment on almost every verse in this writing.

(c)    Watchman Nee, Release of the Spirit, 20. 

(d)   Davidson, Stibbs, and Nevan, The New Bible Commentary, 1039.  I am not quoting this because I believe this to be an exceptional commentary, but because it is one I happen to own.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

On Cyber-apologetics

"We all want something; its the essential truth of who we are."

--a man in the commercial for ABC's upcoming series, 666 Park Avenue

In the commercial, the video in the commercial gives you the feeling that this phrase is to be taken sexually, and I almost assuredly will not be tuning in to actually find out, mainly because one of my personal weirdnesses is rarely watching dramas or movies. I meant to watch Ben Stein's "Expelled", but wouldn't pay the price to go to the theater, and never ran into a dvd, although once or twice I actually looked for it. Maybe someday. If you write and tell me that it isn't worth seeing, I won't be surprised.

One thing I don't want is trouble, but to be a believer in Jesus sometimes brings it. Earlier this week, I received an email from someone I didn't know. It came through an internet prayer site, which somehow connected with me via Facebook. I open it up, and find someone sent me a link to an American Indian religion site that maintained that Christian "conversion" is a mind control and persuation technique created in the 1800's. Since this was supposed to be a Christian site, I posted a short rebuttal in part based on my own testimony, in which the Holy Spirit spoke into me while I was mowing the lawn and thinking about what I saw on the news. I later wrote a person whom I thought was the site moderator. Shortly, I found out she wasn't the moderator, and was in agreement with the posting being highly inappropriate. This morning, I was told the person with the posting just was attempting to post the weirdest thing she could without getting kicked off the site.

A little more serious was something I ran into just a short bit later this week. Facebook has this interesting feature of emailing one of all your "friends" who have birthdays this week. One person is a man who was a youth pastor at a church I went to about a decade ago. He was a bar band drummer for about 20 years when, one evening after work, i.e. about 3 or 4 in the morning, he turned on tv, saw a tv evangelist who, at the end of the program, offered a Bible training course. For some reason, he had an urge to order it, and when it came, he studied it, and eventually came to faith in Jesus. He started going to a certain denominational church (which one doesn't matter), ran into their particular odd interpretation, moved to the church I would later be at, and after a few weeks, told the pastor he was called to ministry. The pastor began giving him something, then later something greater to do, until he eventually became youth pastor. My wife and I assisted him with the youth group. Sometimes, he did and said things that I wouldn't have, but we are all unique individuals. He sometimes showed a lack of training, but I also recognized that the head guy didn't have formal training, either. Actually, the leadership was sufficiently weak that I would have left, but I thought my wife liked being there. I later learned my wife wasn't happy there, but thought I was.

Over time, something happened sufficient that we left, and lost track of the person whom this is actually about. We moved to another state, and after a few years, I started playing with Facebook--the game: "Who can I find that I remember?" This man's name came up, and he was there. The notation was that he now pastored a church in that town. I have no clue how big, and it is in the normal for western culture form of a building, titles, and I imagine he speaks every week. Anyway, Facebook let me know that, earlier this week, his birthday was this week, so I figured to type in "Happy Birthday." Since I really haven't spoken to him in years, there wasn't much more to say. That is, until I see a posting that his church was celebrating one year of having moved their services to Saturday, which is an idea he got after reading in the Old Testament about the Sabbath. I thought for a couple of days about whether to respond, and how. This morning, I decided to ask him how he would explain Acts 15:28-29, where the elders of Jerusalem state what of the Old Testament Law should carry over to New Covenant believers, which is to refrain from sexual immorality and some things about eating meat offered to idols. I typed in my response, which immediately wiped out (whether that was my incorrectly using Facebook's functions or how he has things set up, I don't know). Then I see another person asking him, "Are you now KJV only?" to which he replied "Come to our service and find out." Somehow, this rings quite similar to the Joseph Prince comment that I wrote about two weeks or so ago.

On Sunday, at my church, Andrew Sullivan's Newsweek article from last April got brought up. I had not read it, but I was more familiar with Andrew Sullivan's previous work than the two persons who had read it. If you have not, on the April 9, 2012 issue, the cover picture is of a man who looks like the typical picture of Jesus, long hair, beard, mustach, crown of thorns, looking upward, but wearing modern American casual clothing--jean jacket, blue checked casual collared shirt, with the title, "Forget the Church, Follow Jesus." While those of us in the SC/HC flavor of following Jesus would agree with the title sentiment, that it is followed by "by Andrew Sullivan" might give rise to going in a different direction. For those who don't know, Andrew Sullivan, who has done political commentary for a number of different sources, is the prototypical "gay Republican", extremely liberal on social issues, conservative on money issue, and popular to quote in that his perspective is, might we say, catchy and unique. To summarize in a way Sullivan might consider unfair, he starts with Thomas Jefferson cutting up the Bible down to just the phrases he liked, and taking off with a "Jesus" of his own sociopolitical creation. The article doesn't give any reason to use Jefferson as an authority, and is Sullivan opinion from there. I'm not sending Sullivan an email, and, by now, I am certain he has received some from Christians who have put together well thought responses, and some less so.

I really never wanted to take a stand of faith via writing on the net, as their is no way to indicate by tone of voice, inflection, and other methods of communication other than words whether I am speaking in a loving, or on the opposite, accusitory, mean manner. That such a thing come up twice in the same week is unfortunate and slightly unnerving. Now, I have never met Andrew Sullivan, but I could sit down and speak in private, that might be a different story.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Passing along a good word

Today, my friend Don Davis posted a good posting about finding a house church if one is new to an area. Find it at
One could argue that, in the end, it doesn't answer the question for everyone, but Don's dealing with reality, not just trying to sound good, a foible many of us have tired of.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Humor and a little investment advice

I believe that in the near future, I will finally get some of the five minute Simple Church Minute programs on a radio station in my area. Since I've been working on this project on and off for a couple of years now, it begins to feel like an end and a beginning, similar to when I was at a community radio station about 30 years ago, when it was finally to go on air. Even if very few hear, it is something.
As I've said in previous blogs, I collect quotes. As a collection, it doesn't cost hardly anything. They tend to be humorous, and shows how I follow sports, to a degree. This will finish up with a piece of information on money I heard just about a year ago, and I just found the scrap of paper.
(to the tune of the Scooby Doo theme)
Scooby Dooby Do, where are you?/Can't you afford a G P S?/If you had a better a-a-agent/Maybe the answer would be "Yes". --me
Pro football is the only field where you have to overcome the stigma of having gone to Harvard. ---Mike Greenberg
What differentiates me from my colleuges is--I'm a Mexican, ... not a Mexican't. ---Aaron Sanchez
If a basketball team took the nickname Bitter Buzzards, then, when they finally won a game by making a shot at the final horn, it would be a Bitter Buzzards buzzer beater.
I was sent to the grocery store to get some celery. I couldn't find celery, so I bought a hammer. I was not sent to the grocery store again.
If one had a team called the Auks, then one could say that on their home games, the opposition always comes to the game auk-wardly.
Holding a grudge is like letting someone live rent free in your head. --anonymous
Gold tends to go up in September because tradition in India is that that is the time to get married, increasing demand for gold in that part of the world, and therefore, the whole world. ---Jim Kramer, Mad Money, 8/23/2011

Friday, August 10, 2012

A thought on everyday leadership

I was just watching tv, where former football coach Herman Edwards, speaking of his coaching days, said that he didn't set rules, he set expectations. A few days ago, I re-read the idea that leadership is nothing more than influence. I further think of my days in large national chain retailers, where, as a general rule, the persons holding supervisory positions were not persons who motivated loyalty, or even were even average leaders, but persons willing to volunteer for a position which brought a lot of grief to them for a very slight amount of extra money, and the carrot, usually never reached, of more money later.
In following Jesus, I desire to live as God would have me to by the guidance of the Holy Spirit inside me. I cannot prove that to the unbeliever. God has put inside me His expectations. Occassionally, I fail to live up to those, and I feel sorrow for those times. Its not a point of breaking a rule. In a sense, a feel anger for all the times I was taught man-made rules, sometimes by well-meaning fellow believers, sometimes by persons with other purposes. I don't even know who fits into which category, because, as Aslan the Lion says to the kids at the end of the Chronicles of Narnia, "It's not your story." Paul never referred to himself as the Apostle Paul, but as Paul, and used the word apostle to describe what he did. May dad was a farmer. He never stuck "Farmer" in front of his name. Conversely, Farmer Jack isn't a farmer, but a chain of groceries in the Detroit area.
I think of this because, later this morning, I will go to a traditional church where the sign on the road has, not only the name Pastor Joe XYZ, but Pastor Joe "Nickname" XYZ, where the nickname, if I said it, brings to mind one internationally famous person, and it isn't him. I'm not meeting him, I've never met him, and don't know what he looks like. I will guess that the reason I will go to this building is a reason he likes, but if not, at least allows. I will guess that he has some level of influence on my meeting with whomever, but it isn't direct. I will guess that he expects meetings such as mine to go smoothly. Its difficult to think of such things as leadership, but if it isn't truly more than influence, then, to some degree, it is.