The term “evangelical” is used for a whole host of people these days – but what does it really mean? It refers to those who believe the Gospel is the center of the Christian faith, and the core of our message, right? Since we live in such a sound byte culture, it really behooves us to ask – both ourselves, and those we come in contact with, what they mean when they say “evangelical.” Which, of course, brings us to the subject of our post.
It’s all well and good to say “I’m an Evangelical!” It’s another thing altogether to prove it. To be an evangelical, one has to 1) Know the Gospel 2) Preach the Gospel.
Rome, obviously, does not have the Gospel. With their additions of a propitiatory Mass, the treasury of merit, the Marian dogmas, “sacred tradition”, and the Papal dogmas, they make the anathematized Judaizers look like pikers. Rank amateurs, they. We can look at the health and wealth preachers as well – and again recognize that they too do not have the Gospel. Of course, to do so, we have to have a consistent standard, do we not? As Evangelical, Reformed Protestants, we have a standard of truth – an unchanging, objective, and certain standard – the Word of God.
So, here’s a question for you.
Phl 1:7 For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.
What is the task in view here? The defense and confirmation of what? Instead of just leaving it there, let’s do something you don’t see very often from “evangelical” apologists.
Let’s look at this chapter – because, in my opinion, it’s one of the apologetic jewels of the NT, but is rarely mentioned when the description of the apologetic task is outlined. Why this is so unfortunate will be explained shortly.
Paul begins his epistle, which is sent by both he and Timothy, to the church at Philippi – a church dear to his heart, and to whom he had just returned their own pastor, Epahroditus, who had taken sick while there with Paul, and about whom they were much concerned, along with Paul himself. He thanks God for them, in view of their κοινωνίᾳ in the Gospel (vs. 5)- the first of 3 usages of this word in this letter. Note something – what do they share in? Just fellowship? No – κοινωνίᾳ ὑμῶν εἰς τὸ εὐαγγέλιον – fellowship in the Gospel. Now, this one is slightly tricky.
in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.
Gill considers κοινωνίᾳ ὑμῶν εἰς τὸ εὐαγγέλιον as “for your communication unto the Gospel” – in the sense of their financial support -but also notes the Arabic rendering of “participation in the Gospel.” Calvin considers that it “may be viewed as referring to the common society of the saints”, while Henry says it seems to “be taken more generally for the fellowship which they had, in faith, and hope, and holy love, with all good Christians—a fellowship in gospel promises, ordinances, privileges, and hopes.” When reading the letter as a whole, which I did before writing this, it seems to be referring not only to their financial generosity, but their personal concern, their willingness to send their own to be with him in his imprisonment, and their faithfulness in all the areas of church life. He commends their financial generosity in Ch. 4, their personal care in Ch. 3, but also note this, later in chapter 1- he is confident that he will find them “with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” In this, I believe, is found the strongest contextual evidence that he is speaking of not only financial fellowship, but of spiritual and doctrinal fellowship. Also note that immediately following, in Ch. 2, he mentions “make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” This isn’t to suggest that he doesn’t believe they are doing so, either – notice in vs 12 – “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence” – and in ch. 3 he writes “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” He considers this all a reminder for them, not a rebuke! This is the faithful fellowship, who has always been there for him – the congregation to whom he is to send his beloved Timothy.
Directly following the statement we’ve discussed so far – this fellowship in the Gospel, he says something curious; “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” “For I am” is in italics – it’s placed there for ease of reading, but it refers back to the preceding context. In light of this fellowship of the Gospel – a fellowship which, from the very first day until now had consistently been seen, and demonstrated, he is confident of something – a specific something. That He who had begun this good work in them, would be faithful to perfect that work until the day of Christ Jesus. What is in view is the perseverance of these saints – and this tested faithfulness, being seen and appreciated, renders Paul confident that it will be completed and perfected.
It is to these faithful ones that he says what I am most interested to address. Again, in vs. 7, he says this; “For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.”
As the NET notes, “For” likely refers back to vs. 3, in the sense of “Just as” – so it could be read “Just as it is right…” – and explains the following subject. Since he and the Philippians are closely knit, and have invested much in him, as he has in them, he is undertaking to give them an account of his imprisonment, since they are in a very real sense, partakers of this selfsame gift along with him. This work of his, and theirs, is the defense and confirmation of the Gospel – τῇ ἀπολογίᾳ καὶ βεβαιώσει τοῦ εὐαγγελίου. Defense is repeated in vs. 16 yet again, where he reiterates that he was appointed for that defense. Confirmation is an interesting term. It carries the sense of a production of confidence – to make firm, to establish, things of that nature. It brings out a point we’ve often spoken of here. It is not enough to simply tear down the strongholds of the unbeliever, while manning the walls to keep out invaders. It also involves shoring up the defenses as necessary.
As I hope to do in further posts, I want to show that none of our favorite “apologetic texts” are meant to convey any sense of a factual defense devoid of, of with a reduction of, theological content. Every discussion made of the defense of the faith is both necessarily and deeply theological. Note how the passage continues; “For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Moreover, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment” – is this “defense and confirmation of which they are partakers” something of a merely factual basis? Recall Paul’s discussion of “real” knowledge elsewhere. This is not merely a factual enterprise; see what he says next. “so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.” As I noted in my exegesis of Romans 1, there is a moral correlation with all knowledge; you know things rightly, or wrongly. This is intrinsic to knowledge itself. It is approval of things that are excellent, discernment concerning what is presented, that demonstrates true knowledge of it. This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive look at this passage – but take a quick look down at vs. 19ff – note that Paul’s earnest expectation and hope is that he not be put to shame in anything, but that he might, by life or by death, exalt Christ with his body. Again, look at vs. 27 – his hope and expectation for the Philippians is that they would be “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”
Think about the apologetic passages you commonly read. Now, read the verses that surround them. Should they be divorced from their theological surroundings? What follows directly after this expression of confidence and hope? The magnificent Carmen Christi of Philippians 2! Which is a wonderful encapsulation of the Gospel, isn’t it? Look in Philippians 3, as he brings out another facet of the apologetic task, and contrasts the false circumcision with the true. Where he talks about his alien, imputed righteousness vs. the righteousness from the law. About self-idolaters vs. the self-glorification of the Savior in transforming us by His sovereign power.
So, in closing brothers; are you evangelical apologists? Are you defending the Gospel, or are you defending a minimal set of facts? Are you defending the Gospel, or the greater probability of a god? What is the Gospel? What are you defending? If you preach the Gospel, but are not defending the Gospel; are you being consistent? Are you being true to Paul’s exhortation? Can you confirm and defend the exact same Gospel?
Be an Evangelical apologist.