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Following Paul Following Christ

July 31, 2011

The Text

17Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 20But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:17; 20-21)

A Closer Look at the Text

Paul invites us to actively imitate him as he imitates Christ (verse 17), and also reminds us that we are citizens of another kingdom (and that our King transforms us) (verses 20 and 21). Taken together, these two passages are typical of the Biblical paradox of “already/not-yet” (followers of Christ have the assurance of being identified with and in relationship with Christ forever, but must continue to work at imitating Him and following Him during this lifetime). In other words, believers have the assurance of salvation (John 10:28; Hebrews 3:14; 2 Timothy 1:12) but are still working out their salvation (Philippians 2:12).

Some Observations about the Text

More than 270 years ago, Jonathan Edwards did an extensive study on the character of Paul as an example to Christians. Here is a very cursory outline of some of the points made about Philippians 3:17 in that sermon:

 

Gospel Apologetics

When a follower of Christ witnesses to a non-believer about the Gospel, it is a cross-cultural experience. Even if the proselytizer and the prospective proselyte are of the same culture on the surface, when it comes to the Gospel, they have different world-views, different presuppositions, and different spiritual resources.

So when David J. Hesselgrave talks about Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally (Zondervan, 2nd, 1991), much of what he has to say applies to any form of evangelism, not just to missionary evangelism. In particular, he is correct when when he observes that even though Christians are commanded to preach the Gospel (Matthew 28:16-20), they “cannot command a hearing. They must win a hearing by demonstrating that they are people of integrity, credibility and goodwill.” (p. 147-148)

This is at least in part what Jonathan Edwards is driving at in his compendium of Paul’s virtues. To win a hearing, we must be so radically sold out to Jesus Christ, that we are like a perfume or fragrance that reminds people of Him. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17) That’s how we not only win a hearing, but that gives immeasurably more credibility than the quality of our apologetics arguments or scholarly credentials.

Audio MP3 Discussion of this post is available here.

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