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Persevere Because We Await One Greater Than Timothy

August 22, 2011 2 comments

It’s been nearly nine months since my last post in the Philippians Weblog Commentary. Today, though, I resume my online commentary on Philippians with a post covering Philippians 2:19-24. The textual outline of this passage is below.

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon,

so that I too may be cheered by news of you.

For I have no one like him,

who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.

For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.

I hope therefore to send him

just as soon as I see how it will go with me,

and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.

Paul’s Plans to Send Timothy

Paul has received the Philippians’ gift (Phil. 4:18). Now he plans to send this letter to the Philippians by Epaphroditus, their emissary to Paul (2:25). But Paul also plans to send Timothy behind Epaphroditus “soon.” Paul’s reason for doing this is twofold:

  1. so that he may be cheered by news of the Philippians upon Timothy’s return to him (v. 19) and
  2. because Timothy is the only trustworthy messenger Paul can send back and forth (v. 20).

“So That”

Paul “hope[s] in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that [he] too may be cheered by news of you [the Philippians]” (v. 19). This begs the question, “How could Paul be cheered by news of the Philippians?” Paul answers this question for us earlier in chapter 2, just before the passage we examine today. Paul commands the Philippians in 2:16 to hold fast to the word of life (persevere in the faith) “so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” As we saw in the last post, “Paul rejoices with the Philippians even in the midst of his hardship—which could lead to death. Paul’s joy does not rest in his own present circumstances; it rests in the Lord, in what the Lord is doing in the lives of the Philippian believers.” Timothy would note whether the Philippian church is implementing all of Paul’s varied instructions in this letter. Timothy would note whether the Philippians are

  • united for the defense and propagation of the gospel (1:27)
  • acting with humility toward other believers (2:3)
  • looking to the interests of others (2:4)
  • working out their salvation (2:12)
  • doing all things without grumbling or questioning (2:14)
  • holding fast to the word of life (2:16)
  • joyfully welcoming Epaphroditus home (2:29)
  • rejoicing in the Lord (3:1; 4:4)
  • guarding against “Jesus-plus-what you do” theology (3:2)
  • thinking maturely (3:15)
  • holding true to what they have attained (3:16)
  • imitating Paul’s and other leaders’ examples (3:17; 4:9)
  • standing firm in the Lord (4:1)
  • overcoming strife in the church (4:2-3)
  • letting their reasonableness be known to everyone (4:5)
  • praying with thanksgiving (4:6)
  • thinking on things that are worthy of praise (4:8)
  • greeting every saint in Christ Jesus (4:21)

and Timothy would report back to Paul whether they were doing these things. Of course, Timothy’s report would result in Paul’s cheerfulness; Paul has already noted that God will “bring to completion” the “good work he began” in the Philippians “at the day of Jesus Christ” (1:6) and that the Philippians will work out their own salvation with fear and trembling because God is at work in them (2:12-13). Paul is assured that the Philippians will persevere in the faith; hearing this report from Timothy would only cheer him more (cf. 1 Thess. 2:6-7).

“For” (meaning because)

The reason that Paul plans to send Timothy is also because “no one like him will be genuinely concerned for [the Philippians’] welfare” (Phil. 2:20). No one else around Paul at the time of his letter writing would care for the Philippians as Timothy would. Other messengers around Paul were “seek[ing] their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (v. 21). These would have included the envious preachers who “proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment” (1:17). Also, Timothy had been with Paul at the church’s inception (Acts 16:1-4, 13-15, 40). Therefore, the Philippians “know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel” (Phil. 2:22). Paul thus hopes to send Timothy to the Philippians “just as soon” as Paul knows what will happen to himself (v. 23), but he trusts “in the Lord” that he will come “shortly … also” (v. 24).

Persevere Because We Await One Greater Than Timothy

If, as Martin suggests, Philippians 2:6-11 is the key passage of Hebrews; if he is also right that the main message of Hebrews is to live under Christ’s lordship (I would maintain that we do this, in part, by rejoicing in the Lord), then the application of this text, according to Philippians when taken as a whole, is to persevere in our faith because we await One greater than Timothy. I say we are to persevere because of what Paul has already said in Phil. 2:12-13, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” I say that we are to persevere because we await One greater than Timothy because Paul will later command in Phil. 4:1 to “stand firm thus in the Lord” on the basis of 3:20-21, “Our citizenship [recalling the central command of 1:27] is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

Epaphroditus has long since delivered the letter to the Philippians. Scripture does not record whether Timothy ever visited the Philippians, nor if he did, whether he reported their conduct back to Paul. Scripture is clear, however, that “we await a Savior” from our heavenly country. “Stand firm” in your faith, persevere, because we await One greater than Timothy who won’t be reporting back to Paul … Jesus will be judging the living and the dead.

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. -Hebrews 9:27-28

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Categories: Bible Commentary

Reviews of Commentaries on Philippians

August 15, 2011 Leave a comment

 

Philippians, Fee NICNT

Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, NICNT (Eerdmans: 1995).

Gordon Fee’s commentary on Philippians is excellent. Fee argues for Pauline authorship and for the traditional view that Rome was his place of writing. He is thorough and scholarly, but not unreadable. If you are looking for a single commentary on Philippians to read, this is your commentary! It is hefty and sometimes wordy, but Fee’s depth of insight is superb. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Moisés Silva,Philippians (2nd Edition), BECNT (Baker Academic: 2005).

Moisés Silva’s commentary on Philippians is roughly half the size of Fee’s commentary, but Silva’s commentary is much more reader-friendly. Silva also argues for Pauline authorship and Roman provenance. Silva provides his own translation, and although perhaps a handful of his conclusions are far-fetched, his scholarship leads him to many valuable insights of which Fee does not write. Silva’s own excellent translation and highly readable commentary make his work a must-have for those who preach through Philippians. 4 out of 5 stars.

Gerald F. Hawthorne, revised and expanded by Ralph P. Martin, Philippians, WBC (Thomas Nelson: 2004).

Of other WBC New Testament commentaries I have read, Philippians is my least favorite. Like Silva, Hawthorne/Martin offer their own translation. Unlike Silva, Hawthorne/Martin often depart from traditional translations, which in most instances produces far-fetched conclusions. Particularly in the first two chapters of Philippians, Hawthorne/Martin regularly offer differing translations than those given in most English Bibles. Furthermore, Hawthorne/Martin seem to be more amenable to secular scholasticism; they regularly nod to rhetorical criticism, and unlike other conservative commentators who, even hesitatingly, adopt the theory of Rome as being the place of Paul’s writing, Hawthorne/Martin adopt the provenance theories of Caesarea and Ephesus, respectively. Furthermore, Hawthorne/Martin speculate (not edifyingly) as to Paul’s psychological state. Commenting on 2:6, they write of the phrase “form of God”:

This somewhat enigmatic expression, then, appears to be a cautious, hidden way for the author to say that Christ was God, possessed of the very nature of God, without employing these exact words. It appears to be a statement made by one [Paul] who perhaps, althrough reared as a strict monotheist and thus unable to bring himself to say “Christ is God,” was compelled nevertheless by the sheer force of personal encounter with the resurrected and living Christ to bear witness as best he could to the reality of Christ’s “divinity,” to use the language of later creedal formulations. (114; cf. lxii-lxiii)

Coupled with this psychological speculation, Hawthorne/Martin’s speculative translations greatly detract from their commentary’s hermeneutical value. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Nothing New Under the Sun

August 6, 2011 1 comment

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. –Ecclesiastes 1:9

According to the CDC, exactly 1 out of every 2 marriages in the United States will end not at death, when brides and grooms vow they will part, but with divorce. Even for first-time brides and grooms, they have a nearly 40% chance of divorcing. Numerous books, some movies, and at least one theatrical production is devoted to the idea that the American culture has fallen from its supposed godly roots in its distant past, and they cite this high divorce rate as proof. But no culture, let alone America’s, has started with a godly culture. Even Israel, God’s chosen nation, as soon as it received God’s law in Exodus 24:3, had committed idolatry with their golden calf in Exodus 32 before Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the tablets of the law. Even those who had seen God’s judgment on the Egyptians, who had seen God’s salvation through the Red Sea, chose idolatry, both in this incident at Mt. Sinai, and later at the edge of the promised land (Numbers 14:1-4). Their latter idolatry proved final and fully fatal; for this rebellion God refused to let them enter the promised land (vv. 28-30). The writer of Hebrews attests that the first generation of Israelites was eternally lost in Hebrews 3:18-19; 4:9-11.

And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. … So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

These verses indicate that the Israelites were unable to enter not only the physical rest of Canaan but also the eternal rest of heaven. If God’s own chosen nation was sinful from the beginning, how can we claim that our nation, born out of a non-biblical rebellion (Romans 13:1-7), has been righteous even for a moment?

The point I am getting at is this: sexual sin is nothing new. Divorce rates may be higher, but spouses have been cheating on each other since biblical times. The Greek poet Horace, writing mere decades before the First Coming of Christ, writes in his Odes, Book III Poem 6, “Moral Decadence” (trans. A. S. Kline):

Our age, fertile in its wickedness, has first
defiled the marriage bed, our offspring, and homes:
disaster’s stream has flowed from this source
through the people and the fatherland.

The young girl early takes delight in learning
Greek dances, in being dressed with all the arts,
and soon meditates sinful affairs,
with every fibre of her new being:

later at her husband’s dinners she searches
for younger lovers, doesn’t mind to whom she
grants all her swift illicit pleasures
when the lights are far removed, but she rises,

openly, when ordered to do so, and not
without her husband’s knowledge, whether it’s for
some peddler, or Spanish ship’s captain,
an extravagant buyer of her shame.

What do the harmful days not render less?
Worse than our grandparents’ generation, our
parents’ then produced us, even worse,
and soon to bear still more sinful children.

Well could his culture as well as ours heed the warning in Hebrews 13:4—”Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” In his commentary on Hebrews, William L. Lane quotes this same poem before provding his own insightful comments:

The awesome prospect of the final judgment throws into high relief the ultimate importance of respect for marriage and for sexual integrity. They represent aspects of the pursuit of holiness that are foundational to the worship of God. (p. 517)

And Jesus details how we are to show “respect for marriage and for sexual integrity” in Matthew 5:27-32. There, Jesus equates respect for marriage and for sexual integrity with abstaining from lust and divorce, for lust is adultery, and divorce results in adultery if one lies with a divorced man or woman.

Past cultures sidestepped Jesus’ teachings on marriage and sexual integrity by hiding their sexual sins with secret affairs and clandestine meetings under the cover of night. Our culture is not doing anything new; it is merely doing these sexually immoral acts in broad daylight and without any sense of shame. Paul’s words in Romans 1:28-32 about sinful society was applicable just as much in his day as it is in ours:

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Sexual sin is nothing new. Sexual immorality has been around since before the Flood in Genesis 6. Homosexuality, fornication, and adultery have all been present for millennia. The only difference is that these things are now done openly and in broad daylight. We ought not beseech our country to come back to God; communist and socialist ideas have been too-readily adopted (if unwillingly) by the American church. We cannot change a country corporally before we can change it individually. Our country’s moral decadence, while a problem, is not our country’s biggest problem. Our country’s biggest problem is the lostness of its citizens individually. God does not command societal reform; God commands evangelism and discipleship (Matthew 28:18-20). By his grace, let’s be about his work of spreading the gospel and tending to its growth … one individual at a time.

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