Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Justification In Philippians (part 1 of 2)

Though it is rarely the case that one makes reference to Philippians when considering the issue of justification, once the proper basis for the subject is understood (the inclusion of all peoples under the covenant of the Creator God of Israel, without regard for covenant markers, but only with regard for a confession of loyalty to Jesus the Christ as king and Lord of all), its presence in the letter to Philippi becomes apparent. 

Thus, turning to the third chapter, we see Paul alluding to justification, to Judaizers (Gentiles that adopted the primary covenant markers of Israel – circumcision, Sabbath keeping, dietary laws), and to the freedom by which Gentiles enter into and remain under the covenant through their belief in Jesus as Lord rather than through outward markers, as he writes “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh!” (3:2)  Having offered that rhetorical volley, Paul then identifies himself with the Gentile congregants of Philippi, with “For we are the circumcision,” a term normally reserved for circumcised Israel, “the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, exult in Christ Jesus, and do not rely on human credentials---though mine too are significant” (3:3-4a).  It is not difficult to hear Paul saying “We, the ones who, by the movement of the Spirit of God and as evidence of the new creation begun in Christ, worship Jesus as Lord and Messiah, are the covenant people of God, rather than those that rely on the old marks of the covenant that used to convey that status.” 

Paul moves along, writing “If someone thinks he has good reasons to put confidence in human credentials,” that being the traditional badges of righteousness/covenant standing, “I have more.  I was circumcised on the eighth day, from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin” (3:4b-5a).  In the original allocation of the promised land, Jerusalem, thence the place where the Temple was located, was within the tribal allotment of Benjamin.  Thus, being of Benjamin, for this and other reasons, could be a special source of honor.  This is important, as we consider that all public interactions, in those days, took the form of an honor competition.  Here, Paul is referencing his own credentials, which takes the form of competing for honor, but it becomes a paradoxical assertion, as we shall soon see. 

Continuing, Paul claims to be “a Hebrew of Hebrews,” adding, “I lived according to the law as a Pharisee.  In my zeal for God I persecuted the church” (3:5b-6a).  Significantly, “According to the righteousness stipulated in the law I was blameless” (3:6b).  Paul, he of the un-tortured conscience in this matter of right standing before God, upheld every bit of the law concerning righteousness/covenant standing, solidly ensconced, in terms of Israel’s understanding of these things prior to Christ, within the covenant.  Paul was fully expecting to participate in the resurrection at the eschaton and in all of the blessings that were understood to be coming to Israel because of its special privilege.    

After making reference to his circumcision, his lineage, his manner of living, and his zeal, all of which would certainly have led to an accrual of an honor, not to mention serving him well to validate any claim to be a covenant member in good standing in accordance with the works of the law (covenant markers) and the traditions of His people (blameless in regard to means of demonstrating righteousness/covenant standing as stipulated in the law), Paul offers what would be heard as a surprising reversal in the ears of his hearers.  Having provided this litany of items, Paul then writes “But these assets” in the pursuit of honor and in regards to covenant participation “I have come to regard as liabilities” (3:7a).  Why?  He says that it is “because of Christ” (3:7b). 

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