Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lesson 40: “I Can Do All Things through Christ” - Philippians, Colossians, Philemon

Lesson 40: “I Can Do All Things through Christ”
Philippians, Colossians, Philemon

The Epistle to the Philippians

It is generally agreed that Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians around 62 AD, while he was imprisoned  in Rome.  Philippi was an early Christian strong hold that truly endeared Paul, and was loved by him.  While much of the membership there was poor, they were still at the forefront of Christian communities that gave alms to Paul to take care of the poor in Jerusalem. Due to internal concepts that change, it is possible that Philippians is actually portions of up to three letters written by Paul.

A very key part of Paul’s writing may have been a hymn already used by Christians, but definitely used later.  This is the Kenosis Hymn of Philippians 2:5-11.  Kenosis means an “emptying”.  We can see a major difference in translation comparing the KJV version to other translations.

“5. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6. Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7. But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
9. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10. That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11. And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (KJV, Phil 2:5-11).

“5. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
6. who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7. but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
8. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
9. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
10. so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11. and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (NASV, Phil 2:5-11)

Not robbery to be like God
Phil 2:6

.A couple major differences can be seen here.  First, in verse 6 the translations seem to contradict each other. KJV says Christ did not think it robbery to be like God, while the NASV suggests that equality with God cannot be grasped.  Such is the disagreement of translation.

Other English translations render the phrase like this:

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage” (NIV).

“who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped” (ASV).

The general interpretation is that while Christ was God or equal with God the Father, as a mortal, he did not use this to his own advantage.  Instead of exalting himself, Christ humbled himself below all mankind, and in debasing himself, he allowed God to exalt him above all.  It is important to note that we are to have this same concept in mind: if we are humble servants, God will lift us above all others as well, making us equals with Christ.

Of no reputation
Phil 2:7

The other phrase that stands out as different, we see that Christ would be “emptied out” (NASV) or of “no reputation” (KJV).  In other Bible versions, we read:

“he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (NIV).

“but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (ASV).

“but he lowed himself [but he meeked himself]” (Wycliffe Bible).

There is a early Christian concept that when Jesus came down to his mortal life, he literally emptied himself of his glory, in order to appear as a normal mortal, and so he would experience all things a mortal would.  Such would leave Jesus vulnerable to all the frailties, weaknesses, temptations, fears and trials of any mortal.  In the end, he would descend below all things as the greatest of all servants. In doing this, he lifts us up as the Father lifts him up.  We are glorified in Christ as Christ is glorified in the Father.

In the Apocalypse of Isaiah, an early Jewish writing that was modified by early Christians, Isaiah has ascended through the levels of heaven to the highest level. There he sees God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost, and worships them with the angels.  Jesus then descends through the levels of heaven on his way to earth.  As he descends, he empties himself of glory, so that those angels on that particular level of heaven see him as they are.  As he reaches earth, he is emptied of his glory.  Because of several similarities, Lehi’s vision of Christ’s descent may have been just like Isaiah’s account (see 1 Nephi 1).

Because of such concepts, Philippians is considered by some scholars as the beginning of Christology, or the study of Christ’s life and atonement.  The focus on love, peace, and knowledge of God fits perfectly for those of us who seek to be true disciples, or followers, of the Messiah; who emptied himself of glory, became a servant of all mankind, and was then exalted by God the Father for bringing knowledge and love of God to all mankind.

Epistle to the Colossians

The epistle to the Colossians is a disputed letter of Paul written in Rome or Ephesus. Many scholars think it was written by one of Paul’s followers, perhaps Onesimus.  Other scholars insist that it is an authentic Pauline letter.  If Paul is the author, it was written while he was imprisoned in the late 50s AD.  If written by a follower, it could be as late as 85 AD. He provided his own residence, but his right arm chained to the left arm of a Roman soldier day and night, the soldiers being relieved daily.

Being only a few miles from Laodicea, one of the cities mentioned by the Lord in Revelation, it seems the people of Colosse suffered from some of the same problems the Lord found against Laodicea:

“14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev 3:14-19).

A variety of false teachers infected the city.  Some were teaching the members to worship angels as the equal or superior of Jesus Christ. Some Colossians may also have been introducing concepts of pagan worship into Christian worship.  This included the worship of other gods in addition to God and Christ.  Paul explained in the letter that Jesus was not just another Greek or Roman god, but that Jesus,

“15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Col 1:15-17).

The “invisible God” was one that had no statue nor likeness to worship.  In stating that Jesus created all things in heaven (meaning the objects in the sky) and earth,  Paul is making him greater than the angels, or Zeus and the other gods of the ancient world.  Each Greek/Roman god was a specialist.  Venus was the goddess of love.  Athena was the goddess of wisdom. Apollo was the god of the arts.  Paul established that Jesus was the God of all these specialties and so much more.
There was no reason, therefore, to worship any angel or the pagan gods.  The Colossians did not need to be lukewarm regarding their faith.  They needed to wholly dedicate their worship to Christ, rather than dawdling in worshiping pantheons or attempting to cover all the bases (just in case). They did not need to worry about angering angels, Zeus or other gods, as Jesus trumped them all.

The Epistle to Philemon

The epistle to Philemon is considered an undisputed letter of Paul. It is the shortest letter written by Paul, written from Ephesus or Rome.   If the letter to the Colossians is authentic, then Philemon probably dwelt there. Being wealthy, his home was large enough to house Church meetings for the poor Christian group there.  

Paul wrote to Philemon on behalf of Philemon’s slave Onesimus (“useful”), who was described as not so useful at times. While the exact division between Philemon and Onesimus is unknown, various scholars believe Onesimus was a runaway slave.  Onesimus probably escaped with his pockets full of Philemon’s wealth. Paul sent Onesimus back, accompanied by this letter not only to make things right, but also to achieve a reconciliation between the two Christians.

This is a very personal letter to Philemon.  Martin Luther described Paul’s letter as “holy flattery.”  Philemon should follow the forgiving attitude of a good Christian, while also reminded that Paul is his apostolic leader.  Because of Onesimus’ conversion, he should be considered not just a slave, but a brother to Philemon.  Paul basically asks Philemon to not only forgive Onesimus, but to redeem him by freeing him.

From this, we can learn that just as Paul had sinned grievously and still was reconciled to Christ, Philemon should be Christ-like in forgiving and embracing Onesimus.  And so we do for those who are indebted to us, for regardless of the size of debt, ours to Christ is still vastly larger.  


Epistle to Philippians - Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_to_the_Philippians

Epistle to Philippians - Early Christian Writings: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/philippians.html

Kenosis - Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenosis

Ascension of Isaiah - Early Christian Writings: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/ascension.html

Epistle to Colossians - Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_to_the_Colossians

Epistle to Colossians - Early Christian Writings: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/colossians.html

Colossians - Catholic Encyclopedia New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04131b.htm

Colossians - Bible.org: http://bible.org/seriespage/colossians-introduction-argument-outline

Philemon - Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_to_Philemon

Philemon - Catholic Encyclopedia New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11797b.htm

Philemon - Bible.org:  http://bible.org/seriespage/philemon-introduction-argument-and-outline

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