Friday, November 6, 2015

The Twenty-Third Sunday After Trinity

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:17-end)

Paul exhorts the Phlippians, and us, to join in imitating him and other disciples.  What does this look like?  Let's look at 1 Corinthians 4:14-17:

I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.

It appears that Paul is telling his congregations to be imitators of him like a child would be an imitator of a father.  As a priest, one of my titles is "Father", but it's a heavy burden being in a Pauline role to my congregation, because there are many things that I wouldn't want my fellow Christians to imitate in my life.  But Paul has given me--and all believers--a qualification.  It can be found in that last sentence.  He has sent Timothy to remind the Corinthians of Paul's ways in Christ, as he teaches them everywhere in the church.  We know from Romans 7 that Paul still sins, so what are these ways of Christ that Paul sent Timothy to remind them--and us--of?  If we look ahead to 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, we see this:

God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? ... Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. ... Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

The immediate issue at hand is what do we do when we become a Christian and our spouse remains an unbeliever?  Our immediate reaction is to separate from the unbeliever, but Paul exhorts us to remain in our condition, for we might bring that unbelieving spouse to Christ.  He then extends this exhortation to all ways of life.  We desire to change our outward condition to reflect the inward regeneration.  We want to up and move, we want to detach ourselves from all remnants of our "old" life, but Paul is saying that the people in your old life are the very people that God wants to reach, and now God has an agent in those people's midst--you. This is the difference between the outward call and the inward call.  When we become Christians, our inward call changes--radically.  However, instead of altering our outward call to fit our inward, Paul exhorts us to keep our outward call unchanged.  Remember, God gave us this outward call, too.  He placed us in time and space exactly where he wants us to be.  We had no choice on where or when we were born, and we have no choice on the people we meet in our lives. We are right where God wants us.  Now with the inward call different, we are to share the gospel with the people of our outward call, no matter where that happens to be.

What about Paul himself?  If we are to imitate him, and he exhorts us to maintain our outward call, is this what he himself did?  Let's look at the first part of Philippians 3 and see:

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

Notice that Paul is talking about the change in his inward call.  He did have to alter his outward call, because his whole lifestyle, as a Pharisee, was wrapped up in his inward call.  Likewise, the parts of our outward call that are wrapped up in our inward call--once that inward call gets oriented toward Christ--should be abandoned for the new inward call.  If we are ensnared in a cult, hear the gospel, and are regenerated, we should break free from that part of our outward lives.  But this does not mean to change jobs or change spouses or change friends.

In our passage, Paul tells us about false apostles.  They are those who did not receive an inward call, but they altered their outward call regardless.  Look at 2 Corinthians 11:12-15:

And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

Notice the word "disguise" being used over and over.  This is an alteration of the outward call, people moving from the place God called them to be in life in order to insinuate themselves among a different group of people.  The inward call isn't there, so all they are doing is leading people astray.  Paul actually weeps over this situation--and so should we, for this predicament is happening today, too--but he knows their end: destruction.  Their God is their belly--the flesh. They glory in shame--doing shameful acts, like the people described in Romans 1.  Finally, their minds are set on earthly things, as those without an inward call would so set their minds.

How important is it not only to strive after our inward call but to maintain our outward call as well.  So often we give up our God-given vocations to seek something "better" that God has in store for us, like a hidden treasure.  The result is we no longer are among the people God wanted us to share our faith with.  Likewise, there are those who haven't been regenerated who insinuate themselves among the brethren in order to deceive them.

This sounds like a hard task to maintain, but fortunately both calls have been purchased by Christ as well.  Hear what Paul says: Our Citizenship is in heaven.  He didn't say, "strive to become a citizen of heaven." No, God has already made us citizens of heaven.  From heaven our savior comes to transform our lowly bodies--our outward-call bodies, so to speak--into new glorious bodies like the one Christ had after his resurrection.  This power to transform our bodies is the same power that Christ will use to subject all things to himself.  At the end of the age, not only will our bodies be transformed, but all of creation, heaven and earth itself.  Look at 1 Corinthians 15:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.”

Our hope lies in the resurrection of the dead, just as Paul claimed when he said, "that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead."  Christ's resurrection is the sign of hope for us.  We were dead in our trespasses, but Christ has made us alive again, and he conquers all of his enemies--including death--and puts all things in subjection under him.  Our obedience to the inward call and the outward call are also part of this subjection. Our wills, our souls and bodies, are all subject to Christ, who won all through his death and resurrection.  What a marvelous peace we have, knowing that Christ not only will subject all things but that we are the firstfruits.  We have been subjected already.  Our sin has been forgiven.  Our wills have been conquered.  Christ obeys for us, through us.