Philippians 1:12-14, 19-30: Chrestos to Christos to Kerdos

Under house arrest in Rome, Paul can no longer travel. In earlier days, he twice journeyed to Philippi, disembarking at the port of Neapolis. Now, trekking overland, the closer he approaches the city, the more Latin signposts speckle the landscape. Upon entering, wherever Paul turns, Roman Temples and Latin inscriptions fill the eye.

The city’s elite are all Roman citizens. More than taking pride in speaking Latin and dominating the local institutions, they also own most of the property. Its eminent, sacred structures rise skyward, all constructed to worship Caesar. Though people spoke Greek, Philippi didn’t pride itself in Greek culture, but in Roman thought, tongue, and worldview. To belong to the “In” group required you to be a Roman citizen and revel in its ways. Though many desired this, few realized these yearnings.

Almost to the individual, the Philippian Christians are Gentiles. From Paul’s previous visits, affection for them blossomed—as they, too, grew to love Paul. Once aware of his imprisonment, they collected an offering and dispatched Epaphroditus to present their gift. On his return trip, this gift-bearer brings the Apostle’s letter back home.

How can Paul not say thank you? With such fondness for them, he laments their absence (2:12), calling them his loved ones—three different times. Alas, how he longs for their well-being, thinking of their safety (3:1), and writing words of encouragement (2:19). These cherished Christians also face suffering, yet Paul’s words still ring with a light and joyous tone. Indeed, this is a love letter, as well.

Stuck, pending prosecution, Paul writes, “I want you to realize, brothers.” Well, if you’re in custody, you’re more apt to describe the difficulties you are experiencing. Not Paul. No, he leaps past this to provide a much-needed perspective on suffering.

Contrary to expectation, Paul’s detention doesn’t impede his Lord’s Gospel. No, the opposite, somehow aiding in its advance. Imperial guards are with him 24 hours a day. Of course, they change shifts every four hours. So, the reason for his arrest becomes “manifest,” which Paul denotes. Not only to these guards, but “all the rest” also learn that Paul isn’t awaiting trial for being a common criminal, but for believing in Christ.

Through the guards, the enlivening Word of Jesus expands further afield. The influence of their conversations swells beyond the circle of Pretorian guards into the broader population. Informed of this, Christians around Paul now speak the Word without worry (1:14). So, Paul’s imprisonment isn’t some failure obstructing the Gospel, but assists in its success. Such are God’s ways, who can take what we may deem a disaster to accomplish something else, in this case, “salvation.”

Now, Paul continues, “I will rejoice” (meaning in the future). The people pray, the Spirit is at work, and Paul is confident his confinement won’t become his doom, but his deliverance. To communicate this, Paul quotes Job, verbatim, from the Greek-language Old Testament, “This will turn out for my deliverance.” These thoughts from Job become Paul’s own, not because he can relate to them. No, like Job, Paul is convinced that God will save him. Like God turned Job’s catastrophes into salvation’s fullness, so will He do for Paul, the Christians at Philippi, and you.

Nevertheless, why is Paul so confident? Don’t imagine this came about by some mental calculation. “Well, with their prayers and provision, both of which came from the Spirit’s working, everything has to work out well.” Oh, our prayers should focus on a specific end, “Thy kingdom come.” So, too, does the Spirit seek such an ending.

To clarify, Paul expounds on this in the next verse. “My eager expectation and hope,” Paul begins, is what enables him to understand he won’t suffer shame in the end. Again, he speaks of a future time. Such eager expectation with hope only appears one other time in Scripture. In Romans 8, Paul used both terms to direct us to “the redemption of our bodies” (vs. 23).

So, this dovetails into Paul’s declaration, “Christ will be honored in my body, whether in life or death” (1:20). Though “magnified” communicates this idea a bit better. The resurrection of the body is the pinnacle of salvation. Earlier, God used Paul’s incarceration to “manifest” the Gospel. Now, the text centers on God magnifying Christ in Paul’s body, most of all, at the resurrection. Both emphasize God’s capacity to turn a terror into something worthwhile. In this instance, eternal life, both ours and others! Does this not reflect the Psalm we recited after the Old-Testament reading?

For his beloved Philippians, Paul needs them to understand—if they live, they win. With more yet to give, he drops this zinger—even if death intrudes, they also win. Well, Paul intends to deliver this truth with a memorable turn of phrase, which will remain with them in their suffering. Artful in wit and deep of intellect, Paul seizes upon a well-worn expression but makes one minor move. To zen chrestos, meaning something like “life is good!” emerges into, To zen Christos, “to live is Christ.”

Oh, they’ll now remember this inventive catchphrase, but what about dying? Oh, death is a grim outcome since God never created us to perish. So, when evil’s destruction strikes its final blow to our fallen flesh, we recoil from this all-too-normal abnormality.

Though Christ does change the dynamic, dying our death to grant us His life. So, if you die as a Christian, you inherit everlasting life. True, but how will Paul convey this? Now, the second half of his new phrase springs forth, “to die is gain.” To make this noteworthy, Paul turns this into a rhyme. “To live is Christos, to die is kerdos.”

Now, regardless of what comes, Paul will be all right. So, he discovers himself caught, not between some rock and a hard place, but between two options. For him, living here means productive labor. To depart and be with Christ, however, is far better, for all his anguish will fade away. Still, a reprieve from his distress is less important than what is best for these Christians, whom he loves so much!

Tired of talking about himself, Paul switches to issues dealing with them. No longer do the discussions involve his presence or absence but their behavior, whether he is present or not. Come what may, Paul desires them to stand firm in one spirit.

Well, if chrestos to Christos to kerdos didn’t make you think Paul soared to new rhetorical heights, listen in. “Oh, one more item,” as his writing quill quivers on the page. “Let your manner of life be,” our translation reads. So empty of imagery, considering Paul searched out a rare verb relating to citizenship. Only twice, in the entire Old Testament, can you find this word. The first involved a distant ruler, attempting to force the Jews not “to live by God’s Law.” The other spoke of life after rebuilding the Temple when the people lived “according to their customs” (2 Maccabees 6:1, 11:25).

The intent is to conduct yourselves as citizens of God’s kingdom. Remember, many Philippians ached for Roman citizenship. So, Paul directs them to live, not like every other citizen of Rome, but as those belonging to God.

To residents obsessed with being Roman, Paul next trumpets a military term. A verb born of ancient skirmishes, with Roman warriors forming their shield walls to repulse a foreign foe. In nations, close or distant, residents trembled at Rome’s armies, whose soldiers refused to breach ranks and retreat, defying all opposition. So, too, does Paul instruct the Christian community to stand fast, undaunted by a withering attack.

Still, more must be said, for Christians to contend for the faith, as Paul conscripts a term for “contending in battle.” In an attack, Roman forces fought as an organized unity to focus their assault and overwhelm an adversary. Like an elite battalion, so is the Church to be, not bearing the blade, but engaged side-by-side, for the Gospel.

Always recall this—you are citizens and soldiers of Christ’s Church. Don’t cower from the challenges against you. Otherwise, how can your actions serve as a signpost? For opponents, to tell of their coming demise, but for us, Christians, our “salvation.”

This day’s Epistle is not a call for bloodshed. No, but to proclaim Christ Jesus by your lips and life, whether the conflict is fierce or the struggle long. To strive by faith means your efforts inform and announce what will be, one day, on the Last Day.

Ponder the implications—God granted to you in Christ, not only to trust Him but suffer if need be. Consider this, for this is what Paul hammers home. To you, God grants the privilege, not only of believing but also suffering for Him. So much so, the Apostle assures the Philippians their afflictions can function as a visible marker of faithfulness.

Though strange-sounding to our ears, call to mind Christ’s passion. Did His death on the cross not serve as a prelude to glory, His resurrection? So, too, for you. Whatever your adversities may be, they are never meaningless. Neither do they signify failure, for God can even turn such wicked things to serve His saving purpose.

Understand suffering and death through faith, not fear. Only Christ transforms everything, which is why how we live matters, something “worthy of the Gospel.” In a bent and wayward world, all becomes a combat zone, with life and death contending. So, every adversity we endure for Christ’s life-giving Word becomes an occasion for another to experience God at work (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Didn’t God disclose His power over death in His Son’s dying, rising, and ascension to heaven (Philippians 2:6-11)? On the stony slope of death, Jesus earned our life for us. So, when we perceive our sufferings become those of our Savior’s, we recognize we too will rise from death’s gloom, without sin, with an incorruptible, immortal body.

In the supreme battle of all, Jesus remained steadfast, working through everything for your eternal well-being. Despite the dark roads you may traverse, Jesus is still your strength and your source of life when dying. So, how can you not rejoice? Amen.

Comments

  1. The Epistle of Joy. Rejoice, again I say rejoice. Good article.

Speak Your Mind

*