Don’t Miss It Just Because It’s Familiar
If one turns away his ear from hearing the law,
even his prayer is an abomination.
Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool,
but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered
Every time I hit the first of these two proverbs, it reminds me of the profound importance of submitting to the Word of God as our final standard. Combine it with the second, and a two-by-four to the head might be less clear. Tempting as it is at times to turn to our own wisdom, doing so is folly of the highest magnitude. The person who will not listen to God’s ways—the ways he has gone to great lengths to reveal to us—will not even be heard when he prays. This should lead Christians to shudder at the thought of willful disobedience to God’s word. Our own wisdom will lead us nowhere good. Wisdom is found only with God. This is a good encouragement to me to press on in this habit of daily devotional study.
I have been reading and rereading Philippians as Jaimie and I start working on memorizing it together this week. I find that reading books as a whole makes their meaning much clearer to me,1 and especially having a sense of the flow of the book is especially helpful for memorization. A number of points stood out to me as I worked through Philippians as a whole, instead of focusing on the few verses usually emphasized (whether by pastors or simply by my own interests and focuses in previous study).
First, Paul really delights to see the gospel advance. This is obvious, of course: he built his life around proclaiming the life, death, resurrection, and reign of Jesus the Jewish Messiah to the Gentiles. Still, nothing brings it home like his declaration that he is even happy to see the gospel proclaimed by others out of envy and rivalry (1:17)—just so long as the result is that “in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed…” (1:18) That is Paul’s final grounds for rejoicing. Likewise, Paul points out that his imprisonment has really served to advance the gospel, and therefore is a cause for joy. I’m not sure most of us—myself certainly included—would be equally happy under the circumstances. May I ever grow to be more like that!
Second, it is easy to simply skip over or fail to grasp the enormity of Paul’s Christ-hymn in chapter 2. We have heard it preached so often that it is easy to miss the depths in his exploration of how much Jesus humbled himself. The eternal second person of the Trinity, the divine Son, the everlasting Logos, put on mortal humanity and embraced mortality in the most agonizing, humiliating way possible. He was publicly shamed in death that he might put our shame to death.
When Paul enjoins the Philippians to continue in their obedience, and to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, it is on this basis. His argument: Christ has done these things, and so God exalted him—now you obey, for you God is working in you, giving you both the will and the ability to obey him.
Third, I was struck again by how central the resurrection was to the way Paul thought about his life, and about the Christian life in general. Paul embraced suffering—great suffering—and counted everything this life offers and all his former credentials as nothing, as rubbish2. Why? So that he might know Christ and the power of his resurrection and share in his sufferings. We might understand why Paul would want to know Jesus and the power of his resurrection, but why would he want to share in his sufferings? He answers: “so that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” He staked his whole life on the belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and offered the same to any who would pick up their cross and follow him.
That let Paul have the perspective that all this life has to offer is as nothing compared to the surpassing value of knowing Jesus. It enabled him to keep in mind that we are not citizens of this world, but of heaven—the heaven from which our Savior will come again and “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (3:21).
Finally, a brief note that deserves considerable expansion. In 3:18–19, Paul describes those who walk as “enemies of the cross”—people who are ruled by their desires, who glory in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. From Paul we might expect biting anger towards such bad examples. Instead, Paul writes that he tells the Philippians of these men and women with tears. No doubt Paul was angered at times by those who led others astray; we see that clear enough at other places in his letters. But here, he is moved to sorrow that there are some who would lead others astray and are so led astray themselves. All of us would do well to see our lives more characterized by this kind of sorrow.