“But to each one of us was given the grace according to the measurement of what is given freely by Christ.”
Paul has just been speaking about the unity of the body in the unity of our faith and then puts an exclamation point on what he is saying by reminding the people that the gift that they have been given is based fully and entirely on the work of Christ — that gift that Christ gives freely to God’s elect. It is nothing we have earned, it has been given. It is nothing to which we contribute; Jesus has given it freely.
The notion of unity in here is a subtle one, but an important one to bring forth. Given that none of us has done anything to be made a part of Christ’s glorious body — it is a work of God’s grace — we all are on the same humble footing before the Lord. There are not kings and princes amongst us in this Kingdom. There is one King — King Jesus. There is one Prince — the Prince of Peace. There are no High Priests amongst us — we are all priests and we have a High Priest in Jesus Christ. And, there are no prophets in our midst — we have one Prophet in Christ Jesus who is greater and fuller than all of the human prophets that came before Him. We are all on equally humble footing and there is no place for arrogance or boasting in our midst.
You see, unity naturally flows out of right doctrine, but so often we humans become rather arrogant in the doctrines we hold — especially amongst those who are leading the church astray. Over the years, people have often opposed things that I have sought to teach and while that can be frustrating at times, I have sought to make it my practice simply to point to the text and say, “But what does the Bible say?” I may be well-read (and Christians — especially pastors — must be!), but ultimately, I don’t care what men have said unless it aligns with what God has said. I have also often said, “If you don’t like this teaching, please don’t get upset with me, take it up with God because He is the one that said it.” These statements are not meant to be snarky or to avoid the debate, but simply to remind all that it is God’s Word that we are called to be stewards of — I confess that I don’t know all things and I don’t always get everything right, but don’t try and convince me by personal preferences; convince me by the Word of God.
There are many in our culture who puff themselves up for their own ends. There is no place for this in the church. There are many who pursue and cherish titles and degrees and status. There is no place for that in Christ’s church. There are indeed, different gifts and those gifts are given in different proportions. Yet, none of these gifts are for the building up of man; they are for the glorification of Christ and the building up of Christ’s body as a unified whole. These words of Paul’s reinforces the notion that there is no room for boasting in Christ’s kingdom…none whatsoever…unless we are boasting in Christ. We are fellow servants, united not just in the knowledge of God, but also united in a position of humble worship before Christ’s throne.
“I also know how to be humbled and I know how to excel. In anything and in everything I have been initiated. Either food or hunger, excellence or failure, I can do all things in the one who strengthens me.”
I expect that it is a fair statement to say that Philippians 4:13 is one of the most misquoted verses of the Bible. This passage is not stating that I can win an NFL contract just because I have faith (truly, I don’t have the skills!) nor is it even stating that Paul can be content in all things, though that statement is closer; the difference being that contentment often implies a degree of acceptance toward one’s situation.
In context, Paul has been stating that there is no circumstance that he fears — whether hunger or an abundance of food — whether success at what he does or failure (at least by human standards) — that he can face all of these things in the power of the one who strengthens him…namely, Jesus Christ.
How often we are tempted to judge success and failure solely on human terms. I recall when I began doing homeless ministry while in seminary, we initially envisioned that we would see revival on the streets of Jackson, MS. We didn’t and the temptation was to be discouraged. At the same time, God used this experience along with our initial setbacks and failures, to teach us an important lesson. My success or failure is not found in numbers nor is it found in terms of one’s fame or reputation; my success is found in whether or not I am being faithful to what God is calling me to do. Regardless of the fruit I see around me, the fruit that is most important is the fruit of my own obedience.
And that, loved ones, is the heart of Paul’s message in these words. The important thing is obedience. And if we face hunger or abundance, human success or failure, whether we are humbled or lifted up…the question that we must ask ourselves is whether we are being faithful to God’s call upon our lives. If we are being faithful, we can face all of these things that the world might throw at us in the strength of the Spirit. If we are not faithful, these things (even human success) will crush us under their weight.
A note should be made in terms of the word “initiated” as Paul uses it. This is the Greek word mue/w (mueo), which is understood to refer to being initiated into or made part of a group of people. The term is only found here in the New Testament, but is also found in 3 Maccabees 2:30 where it is used to refer to one who has learned the rules for living within a particular community. Today, we often use the term “initiate” to refer to one’s entrance into a secret fraternity or organization, but that is not so much the way the term was used in Paul’s era. In Paul’s era it referred to one who was not new to a given lifestyle…Paul was no amateur at ministry and in doing so, had faced plenty and hunger and he had faced successes and failures. Yet, Paul persevered in the strength of the Spirit. That is what it means to say that he had been initiated. Indeed, we should not forget that our Lord, too, endured both good times and bad times, successes and times of great humiliation and suffering, yet was infinitely faithful to the task for which he had been sent — and praise the Lord for that success!
“who, though he was God in essence, did not regard it as something to be grasped — to be equal to God — ”
This is one of those verses, when taken in isolation of the teachings of scripture and not with an understanding of the Greek language, has led people down the road to heresy, for some will read this verse as saying that Jesus gave up his divinity to become human and such could not be further from the truth. In addition, there are also some who will read this verse in a way that implies that God the Son and God the Father are separable. Similarly, this is not the testimony of scripture as a whole.
Paul’s words in this verse begin with, “though he was God in essence.” Some of our English translations render this: “though he was in the form of God,” which is good Greek, but can be misleading in English. For us, something that takes the form of something else is a doppelgänger of sorts — a mimic or a copy, but not one with the original. The term that Paul uses here is morfh/ (morphe), which refers to the basic essence of something. Essentially what Paul is writing here is that all of the essential attributes of the Godhead were and are fully present in Jesus. In fact, given that the verb in this clause is in the imperfect state, the implication is that these divine attributes continue even into his dual nature. Jesus is God…he is the second person in the Triune Godhead, and he did not consider, reason, or think that his rightfully revealed glory was something to be clung to but he came to this world in the essence of a servant…a slave even.
Interestingly, Jesus’ behavior is just the opposite of Satan who was willing to sacrifice everything in the hopes of becoming equal in status with God yet was thrown down because of his rebellion. Satan demonstrates the results of pride; Jesus demonstrates a life of humility. How often, in life, even professing Christians pursue a life that looks more like Satan’s than Jesus’. And what is this language of equality at the end of the verse? It speaks not to ontological equality (equality in essence, something that has already been established) but to equality in status or glory…such would be the contrast that Paul is establishing in the following verse. There is an exchange not in essential Godhead but instead a willingness to veil his glory in the flesh of humanity for a season and for the purpose of saving humanity. What a mighty and great God we serve!
“Nothing from selfish ambition — nothing from vanity — but in humility, think of others as more significant than yourself.”
There you have it, loved ones, the heart of this section of Philippians and the core principle behind living out the Christian life. As a pastor, it is my conviction that if professing Christians would strive toward this basic principle, then 90% of the problems in the church would go away; 90% of the problems in our families would go away; and 90% of all relational challenges would vanish. These words are just that significant…and sadly, as significant as they are, they are equally ignored by people in the church. Sad, so sad, when we see members of the body bickering over things that have no eternal value and neglecting to apply the words of Paul to their own lives before they go trying to gain influence by tearing down another.
As profound as this verse is, it is equally simple. There are no major difficulties that present themselves in translation. Paul begins by speaking of selfish ambition…the Greek word here is ejriqei/a (eritheia), which refers to selfish contention or strife that gains one standing at the expense of others. Vanity, which is captured by the word kenodoxi/a (kenodoxia), which literally means, “vainglory” or “empty glory” — vanity — ambition that has no moral substance to it…these things divide the body, they do not unite the body. In contrast, tapeinofrosu/nh (tapeinophrosune), modesty or humility, gives substance to what we do and how we live. For when we do in humility, we honor and glorify someone other than ourselves.
The question then is not definition, it is application. Will you seek to live this out in all you do? Will you seek to apply this to times of disagreement in your home or in your church? If you do so, I am convinced that you will see your relationships transformed to the glory of Christ.
“And he went out and wept bitterly.”
Though it has already been mentioned, Peter’s reaction to his sin is worth dwelling on for a moment longer. How great the contrast is between Peter and Judas. Both committed great sins against their master and both grieved deeply as a result of their sins. Yet, there was a profound difference — Judas gave up hope, which led to his own suicide. Though Peter was captured within the miry bog of despair, it seems that he never gave up hope and he never totally separated himself from the other disciples — those who would show him forgiveness.
How often, when people fall into very deep sin, one of three things happen. First, they seek to hide their sin, neglecting that no one can hide from the eyes of God. Second, they isolate themselves from the body of believers wherein healing can take place. Or third, and worst of all, the body of believers shuns the repentant brother and refuses to forgive them of the sin they committed.
Yet, what we find in Peter’s experience is wholly different and a good testimony of how repentance ought to be approached in the life of the believer and the church. Peter grieved his sin and grieved deeply. He had betrayed his Lord. Yet, he did not hide his sin — indeed, it became part of the testimony of God’s forgiveness within the Gospel accounts. Secondly, he did not flee from the presence of the other disciples — the church. Surely there must have been some frustration at Peter’s confession, but then again, they had fled as well so also stood guilty of abandoning their Lord. Perhaps the only one with a right to condemn would have been John, who did not flee nor deny, but we never see such taking place. And clearly, as we move into the book of Acts, this group of men and women never held Peter’s denial against him. It never got brought up again in a way that would compromise the message of the Gospel of Reconciliation. What a wonderful model for us as the church. It would require honesty, humility, and grace, but is that not what we have also received from Christ himself?
“The man bowed low and worshipped Yahweh.”
The right and appropriate response of one who has seen God’s hand at work in his life is worship. Can one say much more than that other than that we are woefully deficient in our response? How often our focus is merely to say “thanks” to God as if his providences are but mere trinkets in our lives. How often our prayers sound more like wish lists given by eager children to Santa Claus than of humble petitions given by those redeemed by grace to the God of that redemption. How often our hearts are ungrateful for the things that God has seen fit to teach us through the difficulties of life. How often we approach the public gathering of worship only in terms of what I might receive rather than what I might give to a God who has already given me far more than I deserve in my own right. How often we simply fail to worship with a whole heart — how often we simply fail to worship; lifting up self above God. Beloved, at the words of this simple verse, how we need to repent and turn to pouring our our hearts in worship before the throne of our almighty God. Eliezer sets the model for us — bow low and give God praise.
“And Abimelek went early in the morning and called to all of his servants and he spoke of all the these things in their ears. The men were very afraid.”
Abimelek is appropriately afraid of the threat that is given and rushes to tell his servants what has taken place during the night. The Hebrew verb that describes Abimelek telling the servants is in what is called the Piel stem, which typically indicates an intense, repeated action. One can almost imagine Abimelek, agitated and fearful, rushing down to tell his servants that they needed to get Sarah back to Abraham. There is almost a comical element to the picture in question as the king sheds all of his royal stateliness and rushes to tell his servants of what took place. The language of telling it to them “in their ears” is an idiom that reflects his making sure that everyone in his household was aware of what had taken place. Here is a man of power that has been rattled in a way that he likely has never been rattled before.
Our God indeed knows how to raise up kings but also to lay them low, humbling them into the dust (Ezekiel 17:24). Such is the way in this world that he governs by his providence. And such is still the way of God in this world. How often, both in ancient and in modern times that God has brought down kings to humble them as well as raised up peasants to positions of great influence. He is God and it is His right to do so. How pompous we get sometimes, though, thinking we are of great power and influence in this world of His.
Loved ones, take this message to heart, for none of us are free from the temptation toward pride and presumption. It matters not whether we are the pastor or president, a committee chairman in church or Chairman of the Board of a Fortune 500 company; God will drop us to our knees if we allow pride to swell in our breasts. God is not only preserving Sarah in this event, but he is also putting the powerful in their place before him. God continues to humble the proud and to lift up the humble so that His hand can be seen in the history of mankind. The key for us is to submit to that hand of providence and to the word he has given us as a guide. Then indeed, we may live faithfully before our almighty God.