In our fall series in Philippians, the idea of partnership keeps coming up every week. In chapter one, it’s about partnership in the gospel (1:5) and in the grace of God (1:7) In chapter 2 we are partners together in the Spirit (2:1). The operative word is koinonia and its variations (participation, partnership, fellowship, sharing, partaking). Toward the end of chapter 2 Paul brings up exhibit A and B of what it means to share in this grace of the Gospel together. Of Exhibit A, Timothy, Paul says: “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare” (2:20). Paul calls Epaphroditus, Exhibit B, “my brother.” With a name like that (from the greek goddess Aphrodite), Paul as a Jew obviously doesn’t mean that Epaphroditus is a blood brother. But he is true brother in Christ, “a fellow worker and fellow soldier” (2:25) who “has been longing for you all” (2:26).
So when we come to chapter 3, Paul turns the spotlight on himself and explains partnership from his own life journey. He itemizes his CV which reflects an impeccable pedigree along with superlative credentials. But these are a mere house of cards when they are considered in contrast to the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord [emphasis added]” (3:8). In fact Paul uses a crude term (skubalon, ‘crap’ would be our equivalent) to describe what these credentials represent in comparison to gaining Jesus (3:7 see 1:21): “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share [from koinonia] in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (3:11). Here Paul takes the partnership to its ultimate and logical end as a follower of Christ: He too will empty himself, humbled unto death, in order to “attain to the resurrection from the dead.” The death-ordeal that Jesus went through, forsaking the credentials of Heaven to become a servant unto death, is now Paul’s experience. As he imitates Christ in this descent into self-denial, he too will rise up from the dead, as Jesus did.
Sanctification ≠ Recycling
We are used to recycling in our households and at the grocery store. Some of us may be slow in our ability to sort out what is trash and what is compost and what is recyclable, but in the way Paul views this process, he’s saying: my credentials, as valuable and worthy as they are (see Romans 9:4-5 for a positive assessment of his heritage) are nothing but trash in comparison. No recycling possible here.
Another powerful image is the high priest in Zechariah 3:1-5 whose gorgeous garments are now filthy, soiled by his own iniquities (= whatever is contrary to God’s will in our lives). But then something extraordinary happens. A command comes from the “angel of the Lord” about the High Priest: “Remove the filthy garments from him. Look, I have taken your iniquity from you and I will clothe you with festal garments.” Instead of soiled clothed, he is given a brand new outfit ready for the biggest party in town.
With these images of no recycling allowed and a divine bespoke outfit, we are articulating the essence of the Gospel: We were sinners, soiled and derelict, but by putting our faith in Jesus, we’ve been given a brand new identity with the most precious and expensive set of clothes one can get: garments of righteousness. Even the splendor of the high priestly garments cannot compare with the righteousness we have been given in Christ.
Reflections for the Week:
This trip to the ‘dump’ is not a one-time event but needs to occur regularly since the temptation is always going to be to trust in our credentials before God and before others. In the end, as valuable and beneficial our credentials can be, in comparison to our identity in Christ, they are of no value at all, un-recyclable garbage.
Paul is teaching us a hard lesson of identification with Jesus (sharing/koininia in his sufferings). Jesus said it too: “take up your cross and follow me.” Are we willing to follow him all the way as His disciples? Do we model true discipleship with the same zeal we have to do well in our job and to be model citizens? What about our children? Are we projecting the proper image of what it means to have success in life? The measure of our lives cannot be how successful we are professionally (even as that happens as a gift from God). No, the true measure is: how well do we know Jesus, in His righteousness, in His suffering and His glory.
Take a moment this week to pray and reflect on your own CV. Maybe it’s time to ‘shred it’ as pastor Kyle said two weeks ago. This could actually lead to the biggest promotion you’ll ever receive with the highest ranking title one can hope for on earth: “servant of the Lord.”