Paul takes a turn in this chapter and has a somewhat angry voice, calling false teachers dogs and evil-workers. These teachers were Jewish, and Paul felt they were undoing his work. We may love dogs, but the connotation was a bad one in Paul’s day. Nothing could be lower. And it was by this name that many Jews called Gentiles. So Paul is throwing this right back at them. They would be the last to call themselves evil-workers; they kept all the laws well. But Paul defines righteousness as casting oneself freely upon the grace of God (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 54). How do you identify with this? Have you ever declared yourself right, and then eaten those words? What is it to cast yourself freely before God?
Paul’s meeting the risen Christ had a profound impact on him (Who wouldn’t have been!). He counts everything as rubbish before that. Have you had profound God moments? Did they change the course of your life? Would you count what happened before as garbage?
Reflect on where you are in your spiritual journey, whether you are at the beginning of the race or have reached personal maturity. James Fowler PhD came up with 6 Stages of Faith. These are not necessarily linear but one can hop from one to another throughout their life:
- Intuitive-Projective Faith (3-7): Imagination runs wild, uninhibited by logic. It is the first step in self-awareness and learning about social taboos. No filter.
- Mythic-Literal Faith (school age): Interpretations of myth and symbol are literal and one-dimensional. Everything is black or white.
- Sythetic-Conventional Faith (majority of people): One finds one’s identity by aligning oneself with a certain perspective, and lives directly through this perception with little opportunity to reflect on it critically. Go with the flow.
- Individuative-Reflective Faith (30s-40s): A stage of angst and struggle regarding identity and belief. A person looks at him/herself and finds own way in it. Myths are debunked. Life is choice.
- Conjunctive Faith: It is okay to have paradox and transcendence. Make room for mystery and the unconscious in order to work through cultural and psychological baggage. Be open to possibility and wonder.
- Universalizing Faith: This is devotion to universalizing compassion despite the cost. They look beyond themselves and act upon their convictions without seeking self-preservation.
Paul stresses Christian fellowship (koinonia) in this letter, not only what he feels for the Philippians but what he hopes they feel for each other. He uses the prefix “syn-“, which means “together with” when attached to a verb. For example, 4:3 could be translated, “I urge you, my co-companion, to co-assist these women, for they have co-struggled with me in the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers.” So the emphasis is that we are all in this together, (Powell, Introducing the New Testament, p. 354). Doesn’t that give us hope? Doesn’t it make the hard times easier? It makes the journey a gentler one.
Paul makes us want for better. He lives in gratitude, which seem to make all the difference. Despite hardship, there can be a peace because of striving for all that is good and right. How can we apply this to our life now?