Saturday, February 23, 2008

The 'heavies' post on 'Love for Truth'

Tired of being outdone, I've brought in a few friends of my own to blog on Love for Truth. I may not have the likes of Robert Thomson contributing, but I'll enlist the best I've got! So William Barclay, Warren Wiersbe, Gordon Fee, Markus Bockmuehl, and N.T. Wright, go to it! [Of course, this is all meant in fun. Seriously.]

William Barclay on Philippians 1.12-18
Paul was a prisoner but so far from his imprisonment ending his missionary activity it actually expanded it for himself and for others. In fact, the bonds destroyed the barriers. The word Paul uses for the advancement of the gospel is a vivid word. It is prokopÄ“; the word which is specially used for the progress of an army or an expedition. It is the noun from the verb prokoptein, which means to cut down in advance. It is the verb which is used for cutting away the trees and he undergrowth, and removing the barriers which would hinder the progress of an army. Paul’s imprisonment, so far from shutting the door, opened the door to new spheres of work and activity, into which he would never otherwise have penetrated.

His imprisonment had opened the way for preaching the gospel to the finest regiment in the Roman army. No wonder he declared that his imprisonment had actually been for the furtherance of the gospel. All the Praetorian Guard knew why Paul was in prison; many of them were touched for Christ; and the very sight of this gave to the brethren at Philippi fresh courage to preach the gospel and to witness for Christ.

Paul’s bonds had removed the barriers and given him access to the flower of the Roman army, and his bonds had been the medicine of courage to the brethren at Philippi.

There is a lesson for us here. Paul knew nothing of personal jealousy or of personal resentment. So long as Jesus Christ was preached, he did not care who received the credit and the prestige. He did not care what other preachers said about him, or how unfriendly they were to him, or how contemptuous they were of him, or how they tried to steal a march upon him. All that mattered was that Christ was preached. All too often we resent it when someone else gains a prominence or a credit which we do not. All too often we regard a man as an enemy because he has expressed some criticism of us or of our methods. All too often we think a man can do no good because he does not do things in our way. All too often the intellectuals have no truck with the evangelicals, and the evangelicals impugn the faith of the intellectuals. All too often those who believe in the evangelism of education have no use for the evangelism of decision, and those who practise the evangelism of decision have no use for those who feel that some other approach will have more lasting effects. Paul is the great example. He lifted the matter beyond all personalities; all that mattered was that Christ was preached. (The letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians)

Gordon Fee on Philippians 1.12-18
Quoting J.L. Houlden:
In getting himself put in prison, in Rome above all, he has acted the Trojan horse, entering into the very heart of the Gentile world to which Christ had dispatched him as an apostle.
Short quotes:
…and his lordship over Caesar is already making itself felt through the penetration of the gospel into the heart of Roman political life. Here is one [Paul] for whom the gospel is bigger than his personal role in making it known.
Application of the passage:

It would be easy to dismiss this passage (vv. 12-18) as Paul's simply putting the best possible face on a bad situation. But that would be to miss too much. Paul can write things like this because, first, his theology is in good order. He has learned by the grace of God to see everything from the divine perspective. This is not wishful thinking but deep conviction--that God has worked out his own divine intentions through the death and resurrection of Christ, and that by his Spirit he is carrying them out in the world through the church, and therefore through both Paul and others. It is not that Paul is too heavenly minded to be in touch with reality or that he sees things through rose-tinted glasses. Rather, he sees everything in light of the bigger picture; and in that bigger picture, fully emblazoned on our screen at Calvary, there is nothing that does not fit, even if it means suffering and death on the way to resurrection. Such theology dominates this letter in every part; we should not be surprised that it surfaces at the outset, even in this brief narrative.

Second, and related to the first, Paul is a man of a single passion: Christ and the gospel. Everything is to be seen and done in light of Christ. For him both life and death mean Christ. His is the passion of the single-minded person who has been apprehended by Christ, as he will tell the Philippians in 3:12-14.

Third, Paul's passion for Christ has led him to an understanding of discipleship in which the disciple takes up a cross to follow his Lord. Discipleship, therefore, means to participate in the sufferings of Christ (3:10-11), to be ready to be poured out as a drink offering in ministry for the sake of others (2:17). Paul's imprisonment belongs to those trials for which "we were destined" (1 Thess 3:3) and thus come as no surprise.

Interestingly, these three theological realities are what also make for Paul's largeness of heart. True, he lacks the kind of "largeness" for which religious pluralists contend. Is that because such pluralists have not been apprehended by Christ and the gospel, as God's thing--his only thing--on behalf of our fallen world? Unfortunately, and ironically, such pluralism often has very little tolerance for the Pauls of this world! But in Paul's case it is his theological convictions that lead both to his theological narrowness, on the one hand, and to his large-heartedness within those convictions, on the other--precisely because he recognizes the gospel for what it is: God's thing, not his own. And that, it should be added, also stands quite over against many others who think of themselves as in Paul's train but whose passion for the gospel seems all too often a passion for their own "correct" view of things.

At stake for the Philippians--and for us, I would venture--is the admonition finally made explicit in 4:9: to put into practice for ourselves what we hear and see in Paul, as well as what we have learned and received by way of his teaching. (Paul's Letter to the Philippians, last quote copied from the IVP edition

Markus Bockmuehl on Philippians 1.12-18
Quoting Karl Barth:
To the question how it is with him an apostle must react with information as to how it is with the Gospel.
On verse 17:
Certain others, however, are driven by the poisonous fantasies of jealousy and selfish ambition: in contrast to verse 16, their actions arise not from what they 'know' but what they (wrongly) imagine. They also proclaim Christ, but theirs is a petty, territorial vision; their aim is naked self-advancement. The robe of 'Christian ministry' cloaks many a shameless idolatry. (The Epistle to the Philippians)

N.T. (Tom) Wright on Philippians 1.12-18
The first problem is, of course, that he's in prison. For a travelling apostle to be put in prison must have seemed like a concert pianist having his hands tied behind his back.

The soldiers were used, of course, to the 'gospel' of Caesar—the supposed 'good news' that a new emperor had taken the throne, bringing (so he claimed) peace and justice to the world. Now here was someone out of the blue announcing that there was a different 'gospel': that Jesus of Nazareth had taken the throne of the world, and was summoning every man, woman and child to bow the knee to him. Having Paul in custody meant they couldn't ignore this new message. They were having their noses rubbed into it. And Paul can see that already the other Christians...(the 'family', his brothers and sisters in the Messiah) are taking courage from his example. They can see the impact he's having even on hardened soldiers. Why shouldn't they seize the moment and speak about King Jesus to their friends and neighbours as well? (Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters)

Warren Wiersbe on Philippians 1.12-18

The secret is this: when you have the single mind, you look upon your circumstances as God-given opportunities for the furtherance of the Gospel, and you rejoice at what God is going to do instead of complaining about what God did not do....Paul's chains not only gave contact with the lost, but they also gave courage to the saved. (Be Joyful)

This post is part of the "Fridays in Philippians" synchroblog.


Joe Blackmon said...

You know, it's pretty amazing to think how different our lives would be if we, like Fee said, looked at everything from God's perspective (to the extent that we are able) as an opportunity rather than being frustrated. I mean, if we really believe Romans 8:28, we know that all things are going to work for good. I know when things get hard for me I don't always have the attitude that Paul has in these verses.

Robert said...

Well Mike,the bathroom scales tell me I have never been heavier! You are doing fine without me. Its great to see younger men getting down to the study of the word.

Be careful with William Barclay. Although a fellow Glaswegian, he lost the plot on a number of vital issues:

MJK said...

Hi Robert - hmm, may I never become a "heavy"! Thanks for the encouragement, and for the heads-up on Barclay. I understand that he has problems with the biblical miracles too. Nevertheless, I recall Don Carson writing that "Barclay is eminently quotable and could not be dull if he tried"!