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23 August 2019

Perfection - Resurrection Hope in Philippi

SynopsisPaul expresses his goal of going on to perfection, a process that culminates in the physical resurrection at the coming of Jesus Christ. 

Photo by Zen zeee on Unsplash
Photo by Zen zeee on Unsplash
In the opening thanksgiving of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the Apostle prepares his readers for a key theme of his letter – going on to “perfection” or “completion” in Jesus. The promised bodily resurrection of believers is necessary for their “completion,” it is not optional but a vital part of the salvation hope. What God began in the Philippians He will continue to perform until the day that Jesus arrives in glory.

(Philippians 1:3-10) – “I am giving thanks unto my God on occasion of all my remembrance of you, At all times, in every supplication of mine, in behalf of you all, with joy my supplication making,— On account of your contribution unto the glad-message from the first day until the present: 6 Being persuaded of this very thing—that, he who hath begun in you a good work, will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ…And this I pray—that your love may be yet more and more pre-eminent in personal knowledge and all perception, To the end, ye may be putting to the test the things that differ, in order that ye may be incorrupt and may give no occasion of stumbling, unto the day of Christ.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The “day of Jesus” refers to his future “coming” or Parousia, the time when he will appear in glory and gather his elect. That day will be a time of both judgment and salvation (Romans 2:16, 1 Corinthians 1:8, 2 Corinthians 6:2, Ephesians 4:30).

In his letters to the Thessalonians, Paul equated this same day with the Old Testament expectation of the “day of the Lord”; once again, an event that results in a judgment for some, and salvation for others. On that day, the “Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing” the Man of Lawlessness (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-9).

Paul presents himself as an example of what it means to go on to perfection. In his life, He put his Jewish heritage aside, the one that he previously valued highly, in order to pursue completion in Jesus - “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ…I have suffered the loss of all things and do count them dung that I may win Christ.” Of far more value to the Apostle is the knowledge of Christ:

(Philippians 3:7-21) – “But whatever things unto me were gain, the same, have I accounted for the Christ’s sake loss; Yea, doubtless! and I account all things to be loss because of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for the sake of whom the loss of all things have I suffered, and do account them refuse, in order that Christ I may win, And be found in him—not having a righteousness of my own, that which is by law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God upon my faith,— To get to know him, and the power of his resurrection and fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed unto his death,— If by any means I may advance to the earlier resurrection, which is from among the dead: Not that I have already received, or have already reached perfection, but I am pressing on…Nevertheless, whereunto we have advanced, in the same rank stepping along. Imitators together of me become ye, brethren, and keep an eye on them who, thus, are walking,—even as ye have us for an ensample. For many are walking—of whom I have often been telling you, and, now, even weeping, am telling,—the enemies of the cross of the Christ; Whose end is destruction, whose God is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who upon the earthly things are resolved. For our citizenship, in the heavens, hath its rise; wherefore, a Saviour, also, do we ardently await,—The Lord Jesus Christ,—Who will transfigure our humbled body into conformity with his glorified body, according to the energy wherewith he is able even to subdue unto himself all things.” (The Emphasized Bible).

Unfortunately, some believers in Philippi chose a different path and, thereby, made themselves “enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” Paul was referring to certain Jewish Christians, perhaps from a group like the one that disrupted the churches of Galatia:

(Philippians 3:1-3) – “For the rest, my brethren—rejoice in the Lord. To be writing the same things unto you to me is not irksome, while for you is safe:— Beware of the dogs, beware of mischievous workers, beware of the mutilation; For we are the circumcision, who in the Spirit of God are doing divine service, and are boasting in Christ Jesus, and not in flesh having confidence.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

Whose glory is their shame.” This clause refers, euphemistically, to the circumcision on the Jewish opponents of Paul placed so much value. In contrast, they who “worship God in the Spirit and rejoice in Jesus” have their citizenship in heaven, “from whence we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our lowly body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body.”

In this letter, the future resurrection of believers is necessary for their “completion”; it is not optional, it is a vital part of their salvation hope. That resurrection will impart to them a new body of the same type as the glorious one that Jesus received at his resurrection. Completion does not mean abandoning the body for a disembodied state but, instead, exchanging the mortal state for an immortal and glorified body.

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