A Life Worthy of the Gospel (Philippians 1:27–30)

CrossPaul begins the next section of the letter to the Philippians by calling on the church to live a life worthy of the Gospel.

By living a worthy life, the church will stand firm in one spirit (v. 27-28).  One’s “manner of life” (πολιτεύομαι) refers to being a good citizen. If someone was a Roman citizen, there were a number of expectations for proper behavior in the public forum. This refers to both a legal responsibility as well as conduct in public. By analogy, a “good citizen” in America pays their taxes and votes in elections, properly registers and insures their car, etc. You cannot call a person who refuses to pay taxes, breaks the Law regularly, or runs around burning American flags a “good citizen.”

“Manner of life” can be used as a metaphor for living in accordance with the Law. 3 Macc 3:4, for example, describes the way of those Jews who had kept themselves separate with respect to foods, but had gained a good reputation for various good works. But these differences were so significant that they fell under suspicion as “hostile and greatly opposed to the government” (3 Macc 3:7) and eventually the government oppressions the Jews because their “manner of life” was so different than the Greeks in Egypt (3:11-30).  The same sense of the word appears in 4 Macc 2:8 where one whose “manner of life” conforms to the Law stands in contrast to a number of typical vices. Josephus refers to keeping the Law, but also paying the Temple tax and other civic duties (Ant. 12.142). The word appears in other Jewish literature to describe proper conduct of life with respect to the Law. It is not insignificant that the Jews in 3 and 4 Maccabees were perceived as hostile to their culture and were persecuted for their “manner of life”

To have a manner of life “worthy” of some ideal is a common way of expressing the goal of spiritual life in the New Testament. Perhaps this might be thought of as “live up to an expectation.” For Roman citizen, the expectation is to live like a Roman citizen should; for the one who is “in Christ,” they are to live worthy of the Gospel!  Paul begins the second half of Ephesians with similar words (“walk in a manner worthy of the calling”); in 2 Thess 2:12 he encourages his readers to “walk worthy of God” (cf. 3 John 6); in Col 1:10, it is “walk worthy of the Lord;” in Rom 16:2, it is “walk worthy of the saints.” Deissmann reports this word was used on inscriptions in Pergamum (Biblical Studies, 248). Athenaios, a priest of Dionysus and Sabazius, is extolled as “worthy of god.” Whatever these priests did, they were considered good examples for other worshipers.

The goal in Philippians 1:27 is the Gospel of Christ. The one who is “in Christ” is not a citizen of Rome. Nor should they conform their lives to the Law quite like the martyrs in 3 and 4 Maccabees. Their loyalty is to the Gospel of Christ only. Everything the individual Christian or local church does ought to be viewed through the grid of the Gospel.

 

Citizenship and Philippians

It is remarkable that the issue of Paul’s citizenship first arises in Philippi in Acts 16. Citizenship was not common in the first century, not everyone was guaranteed the privilege of being a citizen of the Empire. In 28 B.C. there were approximately 4.9 million citizens, by the time of Claudius there were 5.9 million. Most of these lived in Italy or were serving in the army. That Paul was a Roman citizen was significant, but even more so in the city of Philippi.

Belushi TogaThe city of Philippi was a re-founded as a Roman colony in 42 B.C. after supporting Octavian in the Roman civil wars. Rome settled a number of retired soldiers there in 42 and again after the battle of Actium in 31 B.C. As Polhill observes, the city was an impressive Roman city when Paul visited it (P&HL, 161).

One of the most striking features of the city of Philippi was civic pride. Joe Hellerman summarizes this “the Romanness of Philippi,” citing the catalog of inscriptions now available to scholars. He comments that compared to other cities in the Greek world, Philippi had a “preoccupation with honorific titles and offices which characterized the social priorities of both elite and non-elite persons in the colony.” Titles mattered to this colony of retired soldiers, since titles were a sign of social significance. To be a citizen of Rome was to have a higher social standing than the non-citizen.

Paul’s use of citizenship terminology in the letter suggests “that Paul sought intentionally to mimic the honor inscriptions that confronted his readers on a daily basis throughout the colony” (Hellerman, 783). In fact, Paul uses citizenship as a metaphor only in Philippians. In 3:20 he describes the believer as a “citizen of heaven” (πολίτευμα). In 1:27 Paul states that one’s “way of life” ought to be worth of the Gospel. The word translated “way of life” is πολιτεύομαι, to “be a citizen” (BDAG).

Paul’s point in using this language in Philippians is to show his readers that being “in Christ” is far superior to being “in Rome.” You may be a citizen of Rome, but that does not matter at all if you are a “citizen of Heaven.” I imagine that someone in Philippi might have judged a person who was merely a “citizen of Philippi” as socially inferior. The members of the church, according to Acts 16, included a business woman (Lydia), a retired soldier (the jailer) and perhaps a slave girl (formerly possessed). That “mix” of social strata is radical in the world of first century Philippi, yet Paul describes them as all citizens of a kingdom far superior to Rome.

If this reading of the citizenship metaphor is correct, then it will change the way we read Paul’s boasting in chapter 3, but also how we read the “Christ Hymn” in 2:5-11.

Bibliography: Joseph H. Hellerman, “Μορφη Θεου As A Signifier Of Social Status In Philippians 2:6,” JETS 52 (2009): 778-797. This article draws out the implications in the Christ Hymn in detail.

A Living Sacrifice (Romans 12:1)

Paul uses a metaphor for the Christian life in this verse: the “in Christ” people are to be like “living sacrifices” to God. This is a metaphor that a Roman, Greek, or Jew would fully understand. Typically a sacrifice is killed on the altar, but here Paul says that the sacrifice acceptable to God in the present age is to remain alive.

Living SacrificeNobuyoshi Kiuchi suggested that the background for this living sacrifice that is holy and acceptable to the Lord is the Hebrew Bible, specifically the Azazel-goat in Leviticus 16:10-22. As a part of the Day of Atonement ritual, two goats were selected. One would be sacrificed, the other was “presented alive.”

As the high Priest laid his hands on the goat he confessed the sins of the people and the goat was released “into the wilderness” or “for Azazel.”  The Mishnah reports he would say to the goat: “Bear our sins and be gone!” (Yoma 6.4).  As Kiuchi points out, this is the only sacrifice for sin in the Hebrew Bible that is a “living sacrifice.” The tradition that the goat was pushed over a cliff and killed comes from the Mishnah and is not found in Leviticus.

A potential problem for Kiuchi is that the Azazel-goat is never called a living sacrifice in Second Temple literature. In the Mishnah and other texts it is the “sent-away goat” since it represents the sin of the people being carried away into the wilderness. While Kiuchi suggests that Paul’s allusion to the Azazel-goat is intended to draw attention to Leviticus rather that contemporary practice (p. 259), it is hard to see how this is helpful for unpacking the metaphor since it is Jesus that bears away the sin of the believers. Jesus is the “living sacrifice” who solved the problem of sin and human estrangement from God. In this view of the metaphor, the sacrificed goat would be Jesus and the believer is the “living sacrifice.”

Perhaps I am forcing the metaphor more than Paul intended,

The solution is to see the sacrifice in Romans 12:1 as a reference to the new life of the believer in Christ. From a Gentile perspective, living a morally virtuous life is of more value than the worthless dead sacrifices happening in the temples. Even if the Jewish sacrifices are in mind, a life that is lived as a “spiritual form of worship” is better than the daily sacrifice in the Temple.

One aspect of this metaphor of a living sacrifice that is rarely mentioned is the fact that the early Church had virtually no ritual elements compared to other ancient religious movements. Christians did not go to a temple to sacrifice to their god like virtually everyone else in the world at that time. Paul says here that the acceptable sacrifices are not animals, but the worshipers themselves.

How would person living in the first generation of the Church actually go about being a “living sacrifice”? How radical is this calling that Paul describes here?

Bibliography:  Kiuchi, Nobuyoshi. “Living like the Azazel-goat in Romans 12:1B,” Tyndale Bulletin 57 (2006): 251-61.

God’s Sovereign Choice of Israel (Romans 11)

In 11:1-10, Paul picks up on a common theme in the Hebrew Bible: there always a remnant of righteous within the unbelieving Israel. At the time of Elijah there was a remnant of faithful Jews who refused to worship Baal. When Isaiah is called to announce the coming exile he was told there will always be a “root in the stump of Jesse” which remains faithful. This remnant does not deserve to be preserved since they are as guilty of rejection as the rest of Israel, but they receive God’s grace nevertheless.

Paul says something like this on Cyprus, in Acts 13, when he blinds the Jewish sorcerer Elymas (blindness lasts for a short time)  The belief that there is a righteous remnant within Israel must have been an encouragement for Paul to continue his preaching to the Jews even until Acts 28.

Olive TreeIsrael’s stumbling is salvation for the Gentiles (Romans 11:11-24). Salvation came to the Gentiles in order to make Israel jealous and their sin makes possible riches for the Gentiles. The Gentiles therefore have no right to boast to the Jews because they are like branches grafted into a tree. If God did not spare the natural branches (Israel) he will certainly not spare the grafted-in branches (the Gentiles).

The falling away of Israel and the subsequent offer of salvation to the Gentiles demonstrates two attributes of God that might be thought of as contradictory, justice and mercy. By judging his people he has made room for the Gentiles, who by the mercy of God are allowed to participate in God’s grace through faith.

But Paul also indicates Israel will yet be saved in the future (11:25-32). Paul calls this future restoration of Israel a “mystery,” something not previously revealed. The specific content of the mystery is that Israel is experiencing hardening until the full number of Gentiles has come in. (11:25-27). How this salvation happens is a dividing point between premillenialists, who anticipate some kind of real restoration of Israel, and amillenialists, who would see the restoration only through the Church.

The reason for this restoration is that God’s promise to them is irrevocable (11:28-32).  The Promise made to Abraham was unconditional, God was going to make a people for himself, and no amount of unfaithfulness on the part of the nation of Israel would prevent that plan from happening.

The main point of all of this for Paul is God’s glory. (11:33-36). Paul say God will receive all the praise and glory for restoring his people Israel, despite their rejection of the Covenant and the Messiah.

The Faithfulness of God (Romans 9-11)

Romans 9-11 deal with the “problem” of the Jewish people in the present age. If God has begun a new program to deal with all peoples equally without giving a special advantage to Israel, one might ask if Israel is completely cut off from God’s blessing.  What about the promises that God made to Abraham and David?  Would he fulfill those promises at some point in the future?  Or has God completely cut off Israel’s special place in his plan due to their unfaithfulness.

AbrahamPaul’s intention in Romans 9-11 is not to give a complete exposition of predestination and election, he restricts his comments to God’s choice of Israel as a favored nation, and within Israel those who believe, the true Israel (Dunn, Romans, 546). A few general comments about God’s choice of Israel as his people are possible.

The election of Israel was not based upon works.  Paul makes this point by using the election of Jacob as an illustration in verse 12.  Before the children were born and could do deeds of merit or sinful deeds, the choice was made.  Even the choice of Isaac is made before he is born.  Paul cites Genesis 18:10-14 to show Isaac was the son of promise, not Ishmael. It was not Sarah’s faith that was the basis of the choice since she laughed at the idea of having a child.  One cannot even say it was through Abraham’s faith his son was chosen since the promise of a child was made in the initial promise in Genesis 12, before Abraham had believed.

In the first paragraph of Romans 9 Paul lists the advantages of Israel’s election, including their adoption as sons, the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship, the promises, and patriarchs.  Even the Messiah is a blessing given to Israel.  Yet the fact they have all of these things and preform the Works of the Law and Temple worship does not guarantee them salvation.

If the election of Israel is not based on works, on what is it based?  The key phrase in this section is in verse 11: God’s electing purpose. The “purpose” of God is rooted in the Old Testament idea of an eternal God whose will transcends human will. Israel is God’s people because of God’s free decision. This decision not based upon any conditions. For Paul, there is not a need to explain the reasons for God’s choice, they are summed up by the phrase “electing purpose of God.”

Paul argues that because Israel has been elected by God to be his people, the nation still has advantages even in unbelief.  In in 9:4-5 these advantages are outlined in very brief straightforward statements. These advantages are not in the past, but in language suggesting the benefits are Israel’s at the present time.  Paul vividly describes his sadness of Israel’s rejection of Christ. But it also serves to show that the election of Israel has some meaning in the present time.

Paul is therefore arguing God is faithful to his promises despite the current state of Israel’s unbelief. But does Will God be faithful to the promise to Abraham and restore Israel in the future? Does their present state of unbelief mean they will not receive a promised restoration in the future?

Shall we Sin, so Grace May Abound? (Romans 6)

After arguing from scripture that the one who is in Christ has been declared righteous by faith apart from works of Law, Paul must responding to a potential objection.  Someone might ask, “If we are saved by God’s grace alone and not by our works, why live a moral life?” If you already have all the righteousness of Jesus and there is no question that you are “right with God,” why not live our lives as sinfully as possible so that God’s grace is even greater?

License to SinPaul’s response is to state that this is not a possibility. Paul used the phrase μὴ γένοιτο, “may it never be,” in Romans to deny as strongly as possible a rhetorical question. Paul’s logical answer to a possible object to his view of justification is to demonstrate that the one who is “in Christ” has been identified in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in such a way as to be considered dead to sin.  Three statements follow to make this point.

First, the believer is identified with Christ in his death through baptism. In his excellent commentary on Romans, C. E. B. Cranfield (Romans 2:299) lists four possible interpretations of this idea of being “baptized in Christ’s death.” 

  • A Juridical Sense. Believer’s dies to sin in God’s sight.  By this it is meant that God makes a decision not to consider sins against a believer in the light of Christ’s sacrifice.
  • A Baptismal Sense. The believer dies and is raised at the believer’s baptism into Christ.  Murray is one of the few modern commentaries to take this view, although he denies that there is any “mode of baptism” in view” (Murray, Romans, 215).
  • A Moral Sense. The believer is given his freedom to die to sin daily, and be raised to new life daily as he struggles with the sin in his life.  Cranfield 300 says “The man who has learned through the gospel message the truth of God’s gracious decision on his behalf is now to strive with all his heart to approximate more and more in his actual concrete daily living to that which in God’s decision of justification he already is.”
  • An Eschatological Sense. The death to sin occurs when the believer finally dies and is raised again to life.

Paul may move between these four senses in chapter 6, but based on the courtroom metaphor of justification from Romans 5, he primarily has the first option in mind. The believer was not literally nailed to the cross, but on a metaphoric level that is exactly what happened.  Jesus Christ was a substitute for every man, and after than substitutionary death took place, God is now able to justly declare all men righteous who believe, those that accept the free gift of salvation.

 Second, since the connection to Christ’s death has been very clearly made, it is quite logical for Paul to extend the argument to include Christ’s resurrection in verses 5-8.  To be “united” is to be assimilated into something. Paul’s point is simple: our association with Christ in his death (the means of our justification) implies our association with him in his resurrection to new life. If you are in Christ, you are dead to the old life and naturally live a new life.

Third, in verses 9-14 Paul makes an additional logical inference from the idea that we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection.  If it is true that our justification and sanctification are implied in the death and resurrection of Christ, then our glorification is implied by his own glorification. This observation points to the eschatological aspect of salvation when the one who is “in Christ” is resurrected to eternal life.

In summary, Paul considers it impossible that anyone that is truly “in Christ” to “sin that grace may abound.”  The fact of our justification implies we are being sanctified, and will eventually be glorified.  To live in sin is not consistent with new life in Christ.

 

Last Call for Biblical Studies Carnival Links for October 2015

bs-carnival1The October Biblioblog Carnival will be hosted right here at Reading Acts. A “blog carnival” is a collection of links on a particular topic for a given period. I think the idea of a blog carnival first developed out of psychology or sociology blogs, but the first BiblioBlog carnival was Joel Ng at Ebla Logs in March 2005. That blog is not long gone, but you can read an archive of it at Peter Kirby’s Biblioblog Top 50.

I invite you to email me suggested links (plong42 at gmail.com) or a direct message via twitter (@plong42).  What have you read this month that was challenging, simulating, or maybe even a bit strange? This is a good time to promote a less well-known blog you enjoy, or you can send a link to your own work. Sometimes you just need to flog your own blog to get it noticed.

I may or may not use every link sent to me, but I am always grateful for your help. I will try to finish up the carnival while hiding in my office on Halloween, hording all the candy to myself.