From Shame to Glory

Shame is not an option for Christians in the final analysis. That behind us, Paul moves on from shame to the honor of Christ (Philippians 1:20). There is even a pronoun change. He says Christ will be honored, not “I will honor Christ”. Christ is the focus, not Paul. It’s not about his ability to glorify, but Christ’s worthiness to be glorified. Paul is the instrument of praise. If every minister had this attitude, churches would be very different. It was for the glory of Christ that Paul was content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities (2 Corinthians 12:10). This is where his courage comes from. He has boldness to honor Christ ‘in his body’ no matter what. His body is just a tool that serves the tradesman (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). In fact, he can sit in jail with full courage that no matter what happens, Christ will be honored in his body. Christ is honored if Paul is released from prison, but on the other hand, he may be killed. Either way his flesh successfully accomplishes God’s goal. It takes divine perspective to see success in human failure (Hebrews 11:36-38; 1 Corinthians 4:11-13).

No Shame

When Paul was imprisoned in Rome, he lived with the elevating guarantee that he would never ultimately be put to shame (Philippians 1:20). He had to mean ultimately because at the time he wrote it, he was enduring considerable shame. Being a Christian has never received high levels of respect in the eyes of the world. The Apostles lived with that and encouraged the church to see it from God’s perspective, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (1 Peter 4:16). Bearing the name of Christ means shame on earth. So freedom from shame is not the result of circumstances changing; but redefining existing circumstances in light of eternity. There is no logical alternative. Let’s be honest, given the situation Paul would be a liar or delusional to suggest his condition was anything but shameful. His point is that trial and imprisonment don’t really matter. The glory of God matters, and it is exhibited through Paul’s life or through his death. There is no shame in giving up your life for the glory of Christ.

High Expectations

I read somewhere that if your expectations are low enough, you’ll never be disappointed. In Paul’s case he had both high expectations and zero tolerance for disappointment. His expectations were pounded in to the hardpan reality of inevitable vindication. He anchored his expectations to the one who could never fail. Therefore he could accept imprisonment. The outcome of his trial on earth had no bearing on the distribution of his reward in heaven. God’s court has already spoken. Looking past Caesar, Paul fixes “eager anticipation” (Philippians 1:20) to the purpose of Christ. Romans 8:18-21 says creation longs for the return of Christ and the fulfillment of all things. Paul lived every day with the knowledge that Christ could appear at any moment, and with him the vindication he sought. However he didn’t himself become idle with the expectation that Christ would appear at any moment, and give up the zealous drive to advance the Gospel. There was a long road ahead and he didn’t get sidetracked with the fear of being left behind. Paul’s imprisonment is a predetermined event in the unfolding of redemptive history. He is playing the part God cast him in, and in that he rejoices.

…this will turn out for my deliverance.

Even when Paul was in prison, he knew there was plan (Philippians 1:19). All things work together for good; even imprisonment. In fact everything in the wretched swag bag that came with imprisonment was paving the way to a blessed outcome. He declares that this will work out for his deliverance. The this equals deliverance. This = imprisonment. How can imprisonment = deliverance? We tend to think our earthly deliverance is secure, and God will work everything out for good despite the this. We see no reason for joy in the this. Paul does. Imprisonment, slander, furlough, isolation and injustice construct the vehicle that will bring him to glory. The issue is not how well he does in front of Caesar. His present situation is the bridge to bring the gospel to unreached people. Caesars household, Onesimus, and everyone reached by his messengers were the beneficiaries of Paul’s suffering. Therefore the this is really a glorious thing that will end in deliverance even if it ends in death. He can hold his head high if it means leaving it in the execution chamber, or walking out a free man.

How joy works

Joy is often cited as the dominant tone of Philippians. But the joy is not purely an emotional feeling. It is a reasonable response tethered to a profound truth. Joy is anchored to ultimate vindication. Christians will not escape assessment. Real joy doesn’t come from the thought of being let off, or never being called to give an account. Joy comes the fixed hope of future deliverance. Righteous ambition comes from the impending verdict. The two work together. One thing Paul didn’t want was to be shamed. There were two factors that protected him from that. In Philippians 2:19 Paul says deliverance stems from “your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ”. Prayer was the direct participation of the church. God used those prayers to affect the outcome of Paul’s life. The help of the Spirit means the immediate and present source of support (used in ancient writing for a ligament). Here the Spirit is sent by Christ to aid those who testify about him. True joy in the Christian life comes from the knowledge that we work with the help of the Spirit when we live, and are vindicated by the righteousness of Christ when we die.

Adopted by God

Most Christians are Gentiles. The Gospel has come a long way in achieving its purpose of touching the ends of the earth. If there was anything second rate about Gentile conversion we would have reason for concern. It might even prompt some Gentiles to adopt a Jewish lifestyle, call themselves Messianic Jews, and adopt a Kosher diet. Paul was battling something similar (but infinitely more serious) with the Jews in Philippi. Heretics wanted the Gentiles to be circumcised, but failed to realize those Gentiles already had equal standing through Adoption. In reality, a Christian Gentile is more a child of God then a non-Christian Jew. They possess all the rights and priviledges (1 Peter 2:9). The only thing most Gentiles will miss out on is living in the Millennial Kingdom as the Lord fulfills prophesy related to the nation of Israel. Then again, Gentiles return with Christ in glorified bodies to rule with him, so it’s not a bad deal. At this time in redemptive history, Jewish Christians are incorporated into the church. Ethnic distinction is irrelevant. Customs are meaningless. Galatians 3:28 says we are all one in Christ Jesus, and the Father gives his Jewish and Gentile children equal attention (Romans 11:17-24).

Children of the Promise

Paul says in Philippians 3:5 that he was “of the people of Israel”, or “posterity of Israel”. The word “people” means genetics. He was pure Jew. Notice he goes further and qualifies his Jewish roots by saying people of Israel. This means he was a true believer in what God promised the decedents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel). He took the promises literally. There were many Jews in Palestine that didn’t. Some had sold out to Rome, Hellenistic culture, or secularism. They were not true Israel (Romans 9:6-8). If posterity did matter, it would doom the Gentiles. They could never be Jewish children of the flesh. They could convert and receive limited covenant blessings (just try entering the Temple), but never be fully Jewish. Paul encourages the church in Philippi, and all Gentiles, by saying genetics plays no part in your standing before God. He favors no race. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is what saves. For now that means adoption and equal standing for all people in the true church. In the future it will mean a literal fulfillment of the promises made to Israel with all children of the promise enjoying their inheritance.

Free to be Gentile

The New Testament does not require circumcision. Silence on the subject argues loudly in favor of Gentiles retaining their distinctly non-Jewish way of life. Eat bacon and work on Saturday. Sanctification does not include assimilation into Jewish culture. So was Paul inconsistent when he circumcised Timothy, but left Titus the way he found him? The answer is no. Timothy was raised Jewish. His mother and grandmother taught him the Hebrew Scriptures. He was known as a Christian, and circumcision would have been reasonable. It was a missionary strategy. Paul knew Timothy would occupy Jewish territory and needed him to look the part so the Gospel could get the widest hearing (1 Corinthians 9:20). For Titus on the other hand, circumcision would appear to appease the Jews (Gal 2:1-5). Paul, a respected Jew, who also understood the true Gospel, protected Titus from the unnecessary procedure. This was an experiment among the Jewish Christians. He went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus to see how they would respond. The true believers didn’t care if he was circumcised or not. This is an important lesson. Gentile believers do not need to adopt Jewish customs, or be charmed by Jewish culture.

Gentile Grace

I know a guy who worked at the Pentagon. It’s a high security place. You don’t just cruise in with you camera for some sightseeing. You need credentials. The closer you get the most important stuff, the more credentials. Imagine heaven. Who has the credentials to get in there? Paul used to think he was close. In Philippians 3:5-6 he gives a list. Why? Why to a Gentile audience? He argues superior credentials were not superior. Circumcised Christians mattered to Jews, but not God. Converted Gentiles are not Jewish. They were being pressured into the procedure under the pretense it would improve standing with God. Even if they tried to earn credit with circumcision, the end result would be meaningless. Circumcision would just result in second-class convert status. The lesson to the Philippians is to remember they’re Gentiles living under grace. Roll with it. In the end Jewish tradition only makes them a trophy for Jews who still despised them. Don’t assume any external religion is the goal of the Gospel. Holiness is. It results from the sanctifying work of the Spirit that happens by grace through faith. Works prove the existence of genuine faith. Religion doesn’t place.