Bible Studies for Life Sunday School Lesson for February 12, 2017

Bible Studies for Life Sunday School Lesson for February 12, 2017

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Bible Studies for Life By Jim Barnette, Ph.D.

Samford University and Brookwood Baptist Church, Mountain Brook

Growing with Joy

Philippians 3:12–21

Spiritual maturity is a continual journey toward Christlikeness. (12–14)

The word “perfect” in this passage is often misunderstood, if not mistranslated. The Greek uses a verb that can mean “complete” or “fulfilled.” The word is used in relation to initiation in the mystery cults that might have influenced the thought and expression of the Philippian Christians. Paul is likely drawing a distinction between the two: the mystery cults believed one could attain a level of perfection in this life whereas Paul speaks of a goal he has not attained but for which he will strive until he reaches spiritual fullness when he departs this life. Paul is using “perfect” in the sense of maturing in faith and love just as he does in other writings (see 1 Cor. 2:6–3:3, 13:11). Indeed when Jesus in His great sermon speaks of being “perfect” He has just been speaking of loving everyone unconditionally. Jesus is instructing us to be complete, or all-encompassing, in our love for others.

Rather than assume he has obtained the goal of Christlikeness, Paul shows a single-mindedness toward one goal. The “one thing” that helps him press forward is to forget what lies behind and strain forward for what lies ahead. “Forgetting” involves turning from both triumphs and losses. He is neither elated by victory nor cast down by failure. Instead he looks forward and resolves to “press on.” The word means literally “pursue” and has been used in verse 6 for Paul’s persecuting the Christians. Now his pursuit has been transformed completely.

Spiritual maturity comes as we follow the example of mature believers. (15–19)

“Let us live up to” can be translated “let us walk in the same path.” The Greek word means literally “to be drawn up in line,” or shoulder to shoulder. In the race toward Christlikeness there is no individualism. No one wins at another’s expense or at another’s loss. To use a Civil War term fellow believers are to “dress the line” and strive shoulder to shoulder. Paul urges his readers to run with him to receive the garland of victory.

Paul calls on the Philippians to “join” in imitating him. Out of context this might sound quite arrogant. However, Paul is referring to the endeavors he has been describing in verses 7–16 which are rooted in Christ’s hold on him (v. 12). The apostle’s task is to be a role model whose example can be imitated. It is possible that Paul’s words should be understood as meaning “be imitators with me” rather than “be imitators of me.” In this case Paul would be appealing to the Philippians to join him in imitating Christ.

Spiritual growth is not complete until our glorious transformation in heaven. (20–21) 

Paul declares to the Philippian believers that “our citizenship is in heaven.” This phrase would be especially appreciated by the Philippians in view of their city’s status as a Roman colony, hence John Moffatt’s rendering, “we are a colony of heaven.” The inhabitants of Philippi looked to Rome and thought of Rome constantly — so as Christians they are to regard themselves as citizens of an alternative commonwealth.

The term “Savior” is an unusual one for Paul to use. It occurs only once in Ephesians and 10 times in the pastoral letters. Perhaps it has a particular nuance within this theme of the church’s being an alternative colony to Rome. The Roman emperor was commonly given the title “Savior” and he was venerated as a god. The Philippians would have been aware of this practice as would Paul, who had appealed to Caesar but who expected salvation from another Source.