Going Deeper

In our last post, we examined Philippians 1 as a bit of a survey, and covered some high points and contextual issues. Now I want to dig a little more into the text and bring out some points in higher relief. We started the post with the observation that neither Rome nor the health and wealth preachers are possessors of the Biblical Gospel. Rome, in particular, makes enough additions and subtractions to make the Judaizers look like amateur heretics. We then made the connection with the term “Evangelical” – which essentially means “those who are about the Gospel”. We hear much talk about being “Gospel centered,” but the proof is in the pudding, as it were.

1:1 Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons: 1:2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1:3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 1:4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 1:5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. 1:6 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. 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.

In Philippians 1, Paul opens his letter with his typical salutation – but this time, he includes Timothy, who he promises to send to them later in the letter[1]. Unlike many letters, this letter to the church at Philippi is full of praise. It includes reminders to continue, of course, but has very little to say in a negative light.

In verse 3, he begins the text by informing them that he thanks God every time he thinks of them. He also tells them that he prays joyfully for them, as well. The reason he does so, verse 5 tells us, is because of their participation in the Gospel together with him from start to finish. We discussed the meaning of the term “participation” sufficiently in the previous post. In vs.6, he tells them why he is so joyful in his prayers for them[2] – it is due to his confidence that 1) The Spirit began a good work in them – he can see the evidence of that work in them, in their perseverance 2) That the Spirit will be faithful to perfect, or complete that work. He can, therefore, in vs. 7, affirm this confidence. Why? Because of their participation with him – Paul states that they are close to his heart, and are partakers of grace, or partners in grace, with him. The word there is συγκοινωνός – a compound of συγ and κοινωνός, the term for fellowship; also the same term used earlier in vs. 5. However, what are they partakers of grace together with him in? In the text, there are two linked terms, also discussed in the last post. Let us expand that discussion somewhat.

The terms, of course, are τῇ ἀπολογίᾳ καὶ βεβαιώσει; the defense and confirmation. Further note that these are not “of themselves” – they are of something in particular – the Gospel. By “defense”, in Paul, we see a “vindication” of what it is the Gospel conveys. It is the God-centered Gospel – the monergistic work of the Triune God in uniting a particular people to Himself. This defense is directed outward in response to attacks upon it. In “confirmation:, we see the “building up” or “production of” confidence in this Gospel. This is the inwardly directed fostering of the faith once for all delivered, and meant for the church. The term ἀπολογίᾳ is a response to – an answer for – objections or questions directed toward Christianity from outside it. The term βεβαιώσει is inwardly considered – a building up, improvement of, or production of confidence.

Again, recall, however. This is a defense of what? The Gospel. This is a production of confidence in what? The Gospel. Not a minimalist Gospel. Not a merely philosophical Gospel. Not merely a historiographical resurrection account, either. In Paul, the Gospel is full-orbed, unedited, and is the power of God for salvation. We like to quote Romans 1:18 – we like to say “I am not ashamed of the Gospel” – but do we prove it? If we aren’t ashamed of the Gospel; why instead of defending it in its full-orbed glory, do we defend selected, mimimal facts about the resurrection? Why, instead of defending the Gospel itself, do we argue for the greater probability of the existence of a God? Is that the fullness of the Gospel? Do we, and can we, defend Colossians 1:13-23? Do we, can we confirm Philippians 2:1-18? Do we, can we defend Romans 4 and 5? Do we, can we, confirm Romans 8 and 9?

This calling is ever so high, and ever so lofty. It is not something to which we may lightly skip merrily toward without care; but something concerning which we are to strive to the point of bloodshed. The calling of the believer – because ever believer is called to defend and confirm the faith, and called to be partners together with those specifically appointed to it as well[3] – is a call to be steeped in the Word of God. We must know and believe the Gospel in order to defend and confirm it. Additionally, however, we must know and defend the Gospel of Scripture, not something we find it more palatable to defend. We must, further, defend it in the way Scripture demands that we do so.

1:8 For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 1:9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, 1:10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; 1:11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

It is an act of love, according to Paul – abounding love, in fact – for the believer to grow in real knowledge[4] and discernment. Notice what follows – so that they might approve that which is excellent. This approval, in turn, is so that they might be sincere (pure) and blameless. What brings this about? Well, this is the Gospel of God, after all. The source of this purity and blamelessness is sanctification – the fruit of righteousness which comes along with Christ – which the Spirit works in His people conforming them to the image of the Son. What does this bring about? The chief end of man; the praise and glory of God.

The believer’s growth in real knowledge and discernment follows the Scriptural pattern – the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and is brought about through regeneration. It is the Spirit’s work which brings growth, and conforms us to the image of the Son. This growth is accomplished by the ministry of the Word, and the believer’s response is a confirmation as well as an evidence of he Spirit’s work in them.

This brings us to the focal point I’d like to concentrate on. This might seem like an almost throwaway statement that Paul makes – that the Philippians are his partners in the defense and confirmation of the Gospel. However, along with many of the things that Paul says, almost in passing, there is great depth to be found in his nearly doxological introductions. If what we are to defend is indeed the Gospel – how is this defined? Well, the first thing we need to realize is that the same Gospel that we are to preach is that which we are to defend. Do you preach the Gospel of minimal facts concerning the resurrection? Obviously not. If this is the case, why do so many defend this, rather than the Gospel? Do you preach the Gospel of bare theism? Obviously not. If this is the case, why is this what is defended, rather than the Gospel? It is both absurdly easy and unbelievably hard to define the Gospel. Absurdly easy, because it’s given for us so many times in the Scripture. Acts 2, 3, 4, 10, 17 – the list goes on and on. Peter, Paul, and others present the Gospel almost continuously in the book of Acts. There are 4 Gospels we can refer to, as well. It’s absurdly hard for precisely the same reason. There is so MUCH said in the Scripture that is called “the Gospel.” What this should tell us is that there is a center to this proclamation. A particular center, a particular someone, who is central to every instance the Gospel is proclaimed. The particular person of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God.

If I might suggest something else to you, there is a very good reason that the first 4 books in your New Testament are called “Gospels.” It isn’t the reason that a Bart Ehrman or Robert Funk might offer, but there is a very good reason for calling them “Gospels.” They are precisely what the subject of our preaching is to be, as well as that which is to be both defended and confirmed. Another good place to go is the book of Romans – what many call “The Gospel According to Paul.” A summary read through this book should give you that notion – however, a thorough read of it will not by any means disabuse you of it. In my own estimation, it might be the clearest and most detailed exposition found in the NT of what is to be preached to an unbelieving world. In layout, order, and detail, it covers everything concerning the Gospel.

So, what then are we to do? A sea-change, for many in today’s post-evangelical world, seems to be in order. Postmodernism’s encroachments have done absolutely nothing for the church. Its attempts to “sell” the message, make it “relevant” and other such nonsensical ideas have done precisely what you would expect such things to do. Fall flat on their face. On the other hand, the vibrancy of Gospel-centric churches, and their preaching has shone ever more clearly against the backdrop of this spectacular failure – as it always does. What remains for us, as heirs of the Reformation, is to match our apologetic to our preaching. If you shouldn’t preach it in the pulpit, you shouldn’t defend it. If you wouldn’t confirm it to your flock with a “thus saith the Lord,” it would stand to reason that you shouldn’t confirm it apologetically, would it not? For a very good overview of the subject “what is the Gospel”, let me commend to you an article by the inimitable D.A. Carson. In this article, he lays out several principles to be found in his selected text. What I’d like you to pay special attention to is this paragraph, although the entire body leads to this conclusion.

“One of the striking results of this summary of the gospel—eight defining words and five clarifying sentences, all emerging from one New Testament chapter—is how cognitive the gospel is. Here is what is to be understood, believed, obeyed; here is what is promised, taught, explained. All of this must be said, loudly and repeatedly, in a generation that feels slightly embarrassed when it has to deal with the cognitive and the propositional. Yet something else must also be said. This chapter comes at the end of a book that repeatedly shows how the gospel rightly works out in the massive transformation of attitudes, morals, relationships, and cultural interactions. As everyone knows, Calvin insists that justification is by faith alone, but genuine faith is never alone; we might add that the gospel focuses on a message of what God has done and is doing, and must be cast in cognitive truths to be believed and obeyed, but this gospel never properly remains exclusively cognitive.”

The context in which we find this statement concerning “the defense and confirmation of the Gospel” is in the midst of the introduction to what might be the premier example of instruction to mature believers of how they are to *live* the Christian life. It is no accident that the famous apologetic injunction we all adopt as our watchword says first, that we are to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” This is not an option, incidentally, it is a directive. Much of what I see to be wrong with the modern apologetic landscape has to do with a catastrophic failure of Lordship, and of a focus on personal sanctification of Christ as Lord over us. Not in the sense of “insufficiently moral” – but in the sense of “insufficiently focused on Christ’s Lordship, so that His Lordship informs and inhabits everything we do in His service, and as His service.” How many of the popular apologists in today’s world will actually defend the Gospel that your pastor would preach, as that Gospel, and to an unbeliever? Think about that for a moment, in all of its implications, and ask yourself something. Is that who I want to emulate? That is the glory, and power of Scripture. It is a timeless communicator of the truths of God. Neither modernity nor postmodernity changes that which it conveys. It cannot do so, nor will it do so. What has changed, brethren, is us. May God have mercy on us. What then shall we do? Repent and obey the dictates of God to His people, by the power of God. Defend and confirm the Gospel. That’s precisely what it says.

  1. [1]Phil 2:19
  2. [2]It’s hard to see what other referent this could have. The “for” which begins vs. 6 refers back to a previous element. The preceding is all one sentence. His thanks with joy is obviously due the subject of the “for” – and the participation in the Gospel is the ‘bearing out’ of what will follow.
  3. [3]Phil 1:16
  4. [4]cf. 1 Cor 1:18-31

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