Philippians 3:17-4:1 NRSV
17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
4 1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
Philippians is a letter from Paul to the Church at Philippi. The passage reads a bit more personal than other letters from Paul. In the second chapter of this letter, Paul names Epaphroditus, who sends a monetary gift from the Philippian church to Paul while he was in prison. Epaphroditus was a faithful man who “nearly died” after a debilitating sickness. After he recovers, he is the method by which Paul sends this letter. Paul does not send this mail FedEx or UPS, but through a trusted person.
In your own devotional period, read this entire chapter. Why do you think Paul would want a dedicated person to handle this piece of mail?
Today’s lesson will focus on following Christ’s true example.
Read the scripture aloud together. What’s happening in this passage?
Paul writes to the Church at Philippi that they (his siblings) should join in following the example. There are many people who are unhappy with the “cause of Christ” and therefore “enemies.” Paul is moved to “tears” about this consistent fact. But Paul believes that “their mind is set on earthly things.”
As encouragement, Paul tells the people “our citizenship is in heaven,” and from there we are expecting Jesus Christ. Jesus will “transform the body of our humiliation” and use the very power that he uses himself. Above all, Paul tells the people to stay encouraged.
What does Paul mean about citizenship in heaven?
Paul wrote these words while he was in Roman state custody. A good number of his letters are written while either in prison or under house arrest. He was not a free man while writing these words. You will find the words “joy” and “peace” often, which makes sense. He doesn’t have freedom or autonomy, so he returns to that which sustains him through his time under house arrest. To claim “citizenship in heaven” is a direct snub to the Roman forces keeping his body in physical bondage. He is not their citizen, but a citizen of Jesus’ way of life.
On the other hand, the “enemies of Christ” are headed for destruction because they are greedy, and they can only think of “earthly things”.” They have no shame about their actions because they do not think about the impact it will have on human beings. The guards who stand to watch Paul do not care that Paul needs fellowship with his siblings in Christ. All they care about are the orders they have to squash the Jesus movement.
Jesus often spoke about the kingdom of heaven, so Paul’s language is not necessarily unique. Instead, he is repeating the ideas of Christ.
Why end the passage this way?
Even though Paul is writing about such serious and life-changing ideas, he still wants his readers at the Philippian church to know they are loved and missed. He still wants his readers to know that they are his “crown and joy” and that they should stand firm in the Lord.
In ending the passage this way, Paul highlights the relationship he has with the people who will read his words. It is an intimate, friendly, and loving way to reach out to people. Even though we are surrounded by evil, it is nice to know that someone is thinking of you and your well-being.
What questions do you still have of this scripture? How will you commit to journeying with this text this week?
Connection to Today’s World
In a now viral video, a new parent DJ Pryor speaks gibberish to his baby Kingston on the couch. The child garbles some sounds, and then every so often the parent says things like “yea, I’m waiting on next season” or “exactly what I was thinking,” or “that’s what I’m saying!” or “really? We think a lot alike, huh?” The video had gone so viral that companies like Denny’s booked the pair for a commercial.
Speech pathologists and child psychologists chimed in to say that this kind of interaction is healthy for the speech development of a child. Talking to children and helping them see the natural course of conversation flows can be a generative exercise.
Even as adults, it’s important for us to learn from other people. We might start out babbling, but one day we will be able to teach others. In this context, Paul can be seen with a little more nuance. He is on a journey to teach others how to follow Christ and will go through great odds to do so!
Journal: When you say you want to be “Christ-like,” what are some attributes that come to mind?
Closing: Listen to “Keep Your Hand on the Plow,” Mahalia Jackson
We are thankful for every opportunity we get to study your word in community. We don’t take it for granted. We remember our ancestors who had to study your full word in secret.
You never leave us without an example or a model. You care for us and think about our well-being like a long-distance friend or family member does. You send love and compassion to our doorstep like a care package.
God, help us to be ambassadors of your generosity. We ask for the resources and stability to help us do your work in the world. Above all, keep us focused on the task at hand. May our eyes be set on heaven as we work for peace, justice, delight, and joy right here on Earth.
From Dr. Tony McNeill
From Joseph Reaves