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LESSON 7: THE NEED FOR PERSISTENCE IN DEVOTION
by Dr. Fred Wittman
The Philippian church had experienced some differences in their fellowship. When sides are taken, unity is disrupted and godly devotion is affected. So there is a need to stress unity. But in early A.D. 63 there were devout Judaizers circulating throughout the various churches insisting that the law must be obeyed and the Gentile male converts must be circumcised as well as believe on Christ. These are zealously devoted, but it is false and ungodly devotion. It is just as evident today that there are two extremes of devotion: godly and ungodly. Paul wrote in order to deal with conflict between these extremes of devotion. He exhibited deep concern for the great damage and havoc that such zealous ungodly devotion could wreak in the church. Young converts are ready prey for such false teaching. They may be drawn away from the local church. They must be guarded from attacks. What could Paul write that would counter such enemy attacks?
I. TWO EXTREMES OF DEVOTION (vs. 1-3).
“Furthermore[the remaining], O my brothers, continually rejoice in 0Lord! To write the same~ things to you&, on the one hand for me |is| not tedious[dull] but on the other hand for you& |it is| surety. Constantly beware[to look] of the dogs! Constantly beware[to look] of the evil workers! Constantly beware[to look] of the mutilation! For we ourselves are the circumcision, |namely| the+ ones continually sacredly serving God in 0Spirit and continually jubilating in Christ Jesus and not standing persuaded in 0flesh” (Phil. 3:1-3 APT).
A. Guiding Declaration (v. l).
The Greek words so often translated ‘finally’ in most versions do not always mean ‘at last’ or ‘in the last point.’ But a study of the Greek reveals that they are often used to mean ‘furthermore’ (adverbially). Just as adversatives can be used in a continuative sense, so these words can be used in a continuative sense adverbially. In this case, Paul has previously exhorted his readers to develop attitudes of humility, usefulness, and responsibility in service. He desired to add to those essential attitudes. He used ‘furthermore’ to indicate more exhortation is coming. He exhorted them to continually rejoice in The Lord. Because, if they are rejoicing in The Lord then they will be able to understand and take the repeated warning that is restated. He has often written the same things over and over again encouraging his readers to do what ought to be done. Now he repeats a guiding declaration. Therefore, “To write the same things is not troublesome or tedious to me but for you it is surety or safe.” By repetition forgetfulness and inattention is overcome.
B. Ungodly Devotion (v. 2).
Paul urged them to discern between godly and ungodly devotion. He wrote of ungodly devotion first, “Constantly beware of the dogs! Constantly beware of the evil workers! Constantly beware of the mutilation!” He began his warning with a metaphor, ‘dogs.’ After using figurative language, he immediately used a phrase which clarifies the metaphor. “Beware of evil workers!” ‘Evil’ is ‘morally base.’ He urged them to be on the alert, to watch out for those vicious dogs that pursue and snap at the heels of those who are walking in their territory. Paul experienced those evil workers who ‘dogged’ his way and ministry. These are ungodly people with ungodly devotion.
“Beware of the mutilation!” Here is a play on words. These Judaizers which insist upon circumcision are referred to as concision or mutilation--those who mutilate or make cuttings in the flesh. In the Septuagint the phrase is used in Leviticus 21:5, “cuttings in their flesh.” It is used again in 1 Kings 18:28 when Elijah confronted the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of the groves on Mount Carmel. “They cried aloud, to their god for fire to consume the sacrifice and cut (mutilated) themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.” They did this out of a religious service to Baal. There are those who would mutilate and insist upon cuttings of the flesh, which they call circumcision. These Judaizers taught, “Now that you Gentiles have come into a relationship with God through the Messiah you must be circumcised.” These Judaizers are devoted to the law but it is ungodly devotion. It opposes godliness. Paul exhorted his readers to beware of those who wrongfully persist in devotion to a cause that opposes The Truth of The God and the work of The Lord Jesus Christ.
C. Godly Devotion (v. 3).
“For we ourselves are the circumcision, |namely| the+ ones continually serving God in 0Spirit and continually jubilating in Christ Jesus and are not standing persuaded in 0flesh.” (v. 3 APT).
The reference to circumcision is that circumcision of the heart - “by The Christ” (Col. 2:11). The word ‘serving’ means sacredly serve in fulfilling ritualistic duties (see Heb. 12:28; Rom. 9:4). Paul uses ‘we’ in an inclusive sense, meaning you true saints, Timothy, and myself. We righteously persist in godly devotion by continually serving The God in The Spirit and by continually glorying in Christ. We have put no confidence in the flesh. Our confidence is in The Lord Jesus Christ to Whom we are persistently devoted.
II. TWO EXAMPLES OF DEVOTION (vs. 4-12).
Paul contrasted the two extremes of devotion in his own experience. Firstly, he described his youth and former life as an example of persistent ungodly devotion.
A. Wrongfully Persistent Devotion (vs. 4-6).
“. . .even though I[myself] am having persuasion also in 0flesh. If (and it is true) any other+[same kind] one supposes to stand persuaded in 0flesh, myself more: an eighth-day circumcision; of[source] Israel’s race; of Benjamin’s tribe; a Hebrew of[source] Hebrews; according to the law, a Pharisee; with reference to zeal, persecuting the Church, with reference to righteousness, |namely| the one by means of 0law, one become blameless+” (Phil. 3:4-6 APT).
Paul’s parents retained their Hebrew culture rather than conform to Hellenistic culture, even though they were living in and citizens of the Hellenistic city of Tarsus. As a babe Paul was properly circumcised. He could trace his genealogy to the tribe of Benjamin, the favored son of Israel. As a young lad he was sent off to Jerusalem to maintain and retain his Hebrew heritage rather than become Hellenistic. He trained at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), thus a Hebrew of the Hebrews. With reference to the law Paul was a Pharisee. He lived as a Pharisee after the strictest sect of their religion (Acts 26:5). His zeal for the law and Pharisaic Judaism motivated him to persecute the church. He went all out to haul into prison men, women, and children who were converted to The Christ Way. With reference to righteousness which is by means of law, one who achieved such level of esteem to be counted blameless could not be accused of breaking the law of Moses. He was an excellent example of ungodly devotion. He wrongly persisted in ungodly devotion and attacked those who displayed godly devotion.
B. Righteously Persistent Devotion (vs. 7-14).
After describing his former life before coming to Christ, which illustrated ungodly, wrongfully persistent devotion, he cited his new life as an example of persistent godly devotion.
1. Profit and loss (vs. 7-9).
“But[on the contrary] whatever~ things were gains to me, I have deemed these~ loss for the sake of The Christ. On the contrary, yes indeed rather I also continually deem all things to be loss for the sake of the continual surpassingness of the knowledge[from experience] of Christ Jesus The Lord of mine, for the sake of Whom I forfeited[suffered the loss] all~ things and I continue deeming |them| to be dung& in order that I gain Christ and I continually be found in Him, not having my own righteousness^, |namely| the^ one by means of 0law, but on the contrary, the^ one through Christ’s faith, the righteousness out of[source] God on the basis of the faith” (Phil 3.7-9 APT).
Paul counted all the things that he gained under the law as loss in order to gain greater profit.
a. Profit in the knowledge of The Christ.
In all of his Judaic religious devotion that he could boast as gains (the noun is plural here, singular in 1:21), those things he accomplished in his zeal and ungodly devotion, he counted as loss. But since his conversion and new life, he is devoted to The Lord Jesus Christ. The same eager zeal in ungodly devotion has now focused attention on The Christ in godly devotion. He determined to continually count those once considered gains to be reckoned as loss because of the surpassing excellence he gained through the knowledge of The Lord Jesus Christ Jesus.
b. Loss in the religion of the Jews.
The word for ‘loss’ in verses 7 and 8 is the word for harm or damage (Acts 27:10,21) and is used in the accounting system on the debit side of the ledger, thus an expense to make profit. The same word damage, hurt, harm, or loss is used by Paul in our text. It was because of The Lord Jesus Christ that he suffered the loss of all things and continued considering them to be dung in order that he gain Christ. The word ‘dung’ is of uncertain etymology and can either mean dung as translated (i.e. manure) or ‘to fling to the dogs’ thus refuse of any kind.
c. Profit in the righteousness of God.
Not only did Paul intend to continue gaining The Christ but also “being found in Him not having mine own righteousness which is out of (as a source) the law, but the righteousness which is of The God on the basis of faith through the faith of Christ or specifically Christ’s own faith (v. 9). This righteousness of God is based upon His faith that in going to the cross, shedding His blood, dying in darkness under the wrath of The God, rising again, ascending and applying His blood on the mercy seat would result in the Salvation of every one who would repent, turn from their sin and persistently commit trust in Him. This faith that motivated Christ is the faith by which Paul acted and the basis for his persistent devotion to The Lord Jesus Christ. He was willing to continually suffer the loss of all things in order that he profit by continually gaining The Christ and the righteousness which is of The God.
2. Purpose and goal (vs. 10-14).
“. . . in order to know[from experience] Him and the miraculous power of His /resurrection and the fellowship of His /sufferings, being persistently conformed to His /death if (and assume it is true) by any means I attain unto the better resurrection out of the dead ones. Not that I already received or already have been perfectly completed, but I persistently pursue if (and it is true) I appropriate also on the basis of which I also was appropriated by The Christ, Jesus. O brothers, I myself do not reckon myself to have appropriated. But one~ thing: on the one hand the~ things in back of |me|, are being forgotten; but on the other hand extending myself farther toward the~ things in front[the face of] of |me|. According to 0goal, I keep on pursuing upon the prize[award for victory] of the vocation above from The God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:10-14 APT).
a. Paul’s purpose.
In all of this Paul purposed, “in order to know[from experience] Him and the miraculous power of His /resurrection(see Rom. 6:4; Eph. 1:19,20; 2:5), and the fellowship of His /sufferings (2 Cor. 6;5-10; 11:23-28), and be continually conformed to His death (Gal. 2:20; 5:24; 6:14)” (v.10). Paul’s godly devotion motivated him to die to self in order to live like and live unto Christ (2 Cor. 5:4,15). “If in some way I might attain unto the resurrection out of the dead.” Some manuscripts have a double ek which lays emphasis upon the resurrection of the saints. This is not just the resurrection in general, but the resurrection of saints out of the dead. His purpose was to know The Christ by experience and live his life in demonstration of the power that raised The Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.
“Not that I already received or already have been perfectly completed, but I persistently pursue if (and it is true) I appropriate also on the basis of which I also was appropriated by The Christ, Jesus” (v. 12 APT).
It wasn’t as though he had already come to that place, but he was still continually pursuing or following after completion in order that he might grasp completely that for which he has been fully grasped by The Lord Jesus Christ.
b. Paul’s goal.
“O brothers, I myself do not reckon myself to have appropriated. But one~ thing: on the one hand the~ things in back of |me|, are being forgotten; but on the other hand extending myself farther toward the~ things in front[the face of] of |me|. According to 0goal, I keep on pursuing upon the prize[award for victory] of the vocation above from The God in Christ Jesus” (vs. 13,14 APT).
Paul pressed onward as a runner that is stretching out onwards toward the goal straining every muscle, leaning forward so he moves ahead easier in his running to reach the goal. His goal in the race of life which he was running was to reach or apprehend the prize of the high calling of The God in Christ Jesus. Concentration on The Lord Jesus Christ is vitally important. Unless you forget the things behind (in the past) your concentration will be broken. Paul concentrated on the goal that was before him. He put out of his mind the past and focused on the goal. He pursued to obtain the prize even as The Lord Jesus Christ wanted him to have it.
III. TWO EXHORTATIONS TO DEVOTION (vs. 15,16).
The life of Paul before he was regenerated was devoted to Judaism to the extent that he even persecuted those who had left Judaism for The Christ to bring them back bound into prison. His life after his conversion and regeneration was of godly devotion focused upon The Christ. Every effort and ounce of strength was expended to obtain the prize. He exhorted the Philippians to persist in the same godly devotion.
A. Keep Your Mind Focused! (v. 15).
“Therefore let[hortatory subjunctive] us, as many as are completely mature ones, continually mind this~! And if (and it is true) you& are anything otherwise minded, The God will reveal even this~ to you& ” (Phil. 3: 15 APT).
All you that are mature, keep your mind focused on this devotion! Keep pursuing the goal to earn the prize! Forget the past! Concentrate on The Lord Jesus Christ! Keep your focus on Him! Paul encouraged them again to be sound in unity—the unity of mind which will result in unity of spirit and unity in Christ evidenced in the local church.
B. Keep Walking Straight! (v. 16).
“Nevertheless unto what we advanced, continually walk orderly in file in the sphere of the same rule of conduct! Continually mind the same~ thing!” (Phil. 3: 16 APT).
Follow in line or walk by the same rule (cf. Gal. 6:16). Stay in line with the pattern Paul set. Keep walking straight in this kind of devotion. Persist in godly devotion to Christ! You have come this far. Now keep on going according to the same pattern! Keep minding the same thing!
There are two extremes of devotion: ungodly devotion which opposes the work of Christ and wreaks havoc of the local church, and godly devotion which is totally committed to The Lord Jesus Christ and the local church. Those who persist in ungodly devotion seek to draw away young converts from their position in The Christ and away from participation in fellowship in the local church.
The life of the apostle Paul is an example of both extremes of devotion. Before he came to The Lord Jesus Christ he was a persecutor of the church. But when he was regenerated his zeal and devotion was as much or more toward The Lord Jesus Christ as it was against Him before conversion and regeneration. Paul’s thinking and reckoning changed radically so that what he formerly considered gains were now counted loss for Christ. He forgot the past and concentrated on pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus. Because of his example and demonstration of godly devotion he was free to exhort the church at Philippi. Yes! and he exhorts our church to persist in the same degree of godly devotion so that unity will result. Those who oppose the work of The Lord with ungodly devotion will be foiled and the young converts will be preserved as they are persistently discipled.
You need to be persistent in your devotion to The Lord Jesus Christ. The question is, Which kind of devotion will you have? When there is the right kind of devotion, what will be the results? If all in the local church keep their minds focused on The Lord Jesus Christ in godly devotion, unity will be the result. If you all keep walking straight following in line with the pattern Paul set in godly devotion to Christ, those who oppose the work of The Lord with ungodly devotion will be thwarted. Their efforts to draw away young converts will fail. Others too will see your godly devotion like that which Paul demonstrated. They will learn from it and will follow the example. Who will righteously persist in godly devotion? Will you?
Now consider the practical aspects of our lesson.
1. Why is there a need for persistence in devotion?
2. How would you describe wrongfully persistent ungodly devotion?
3. How would you describe righteously persistent godly devotion?
4. What three things will result by your persisting in godly devotion?
5. How will the local church be affected by failure on the part of her members to persist in godly devotion?
6. How can you successfully persist in godly devotion?
7. How can you overcome distraction that will disrupt persistent godly devotion?
What will you do to successfully persist in godly devotion and maintain it?
What will you do to overcome distraction that will disrupt your persistent godly devotion?
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