Guest Blogger - Mac McCully
At the time of the New Testament, the church was primarily made up of Jews being led and instructed by Jews. Paul was a Jew and in Philippians 3 he confesses, a Hebrew of Hebrews. As we have studied there is a large dispersion of Christian Jews as a result of the exile and the subsequent events of the beginning of the church in the book of Acts. As we know, the Philippians were gentiles but the Gospel had been brought to them by a Jew about a Jew claiming to be God the atoning redeemer of their souls. Therefore it would be no small jump for them to believe they needed to be a Jew to be a Christian. May I say, to the Philippian hearer, originally, Christianity was a Jewish religion.
From a different angle, local converted Jews may have reinforced this belief because the Jews were the chosen ones of God. They had been told a redeemer would rise up and deliver them and re-establish the Kingdom. This redeemer would be their Messiah and would reestablish the Jewish nation. In the Gospels Christ addresses their misinterpretation at just about every opportunity He got. In Acts, the newly formed church and leader of the church, Peter, still had not got it right. Their first hurdle was that the Gospel was for all people, Jew and Gentile but their second hurdle was becoming a Christian without being a Jew.
This was huge. Historically, God had sent them into exile because they had abandoned their relationship with God and the Mosaic covenant. By the time we get to Ezra, Israel is severely chastised because they had mingled and married with non-Jewish women. So it is not a stretch for this new entity, the church, to come to the conclusion, they must be a Jew first, to become a follower of Christ.
The point is, the meaning of this text has great historical and geographical meaning. It is not just a matter of circumcision and works salvation but it is a drawing out of who is God, His revealed will and the power of Grace. Paul is trying to make this distinction in this text.
In the second half of this paragraph Paul turns to the value of knowing Christ and walking in faith. To the Philippians, idol worshippers, the knowing of God and doing relationship with the living God was unthinkable. Not only was he the only living God but He was a God of Grace. He wasn’t vindictive but was a personal sovereign God. He was a God of forgiveness and steadfast love. This was a huge paradigm shift. It would only be logical for them to wonder what must we do to stay on the good side of this new God we have acknowledged?
Even though Paul confesses He wants to know Christ, God addresses Paul directly in 2 Corinthians and says, “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness, therefore I boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses so the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Grace is at the very core of the Gospel but it is difficult for us to get our minds, feelings and actions around. The Philippians doubted it, Paul doubted it and we doubt it at conversion and during sanctification. We focus too much on how we will fight the battle instead acknowledging the battle is of the Lord’s. Every day God calls us to turn away from our presuppositions and walk in faith trusting in God the great Shepard. “No one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”