How Are We to Be the Same Imitators of Paul?

TODAY’S READING: PHILIPPIANS

“Brothers, join in imitating me.” (Philippians 3.17)

What does Paul mean that we should join in imitating him?

“Join in imitating” is two words – a noun and a verb – in the Greek.

The verb is ginomai, which basically means be or become. The verb is in the imperative mood. It is a command or instruction from Paul. Paul is not asking the Philippians to join in him in something. Rather, Paul is commanding the Philippians to be or become something.

The noun is symmimetes. Mimetes means a mimic or imitator. The Greek prefix sym means same or together. As we will see, Paul is not instructing the Philippians to become imitators together. Rather, Paul is telling them to become the same imitators.

The Greek word me is in the genitive case. This is the case of possession. Therefore, we would say “of me.”

What is Paul commanding or instructing the Philippians?

“Brothers, become the same imitators of me.”

To do this, we have to know what Paul imitated. Only then can we know how to become the same imitators of Paul.

Paul gives an incredible description of Jesus in Philippians 2.5-9.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.”

Jesus was in the form of God. But, he took seven steps “down.”

  1. He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.
  2. He made himself nothing.
  3. He took the form of a servant.
  4. He was born in the likeness of men.
  5. He was found in human form.
  6. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.
  7. He died on a cross.

Jesus was God. He was life. But, he didn’t count, or regard, that as something he had to hold on to.

So, Jesus gave up being life and died. But, Jesus didn’t just die. He died the most shameful death the world has ever devised. Jesus died on a cross. He was crucified.

In other words, Jesus suffered and died.

But, God highly exalted him. This is another way of saying that Jesus rose from the dead.

In Luke 24.46, Jesus said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.” Jesus said that his was everything that the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms were about.

In Philippians 3.4-11, Paul tells us how he imitated Christ.

“Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. 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 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 ad be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ [literally, faith of Christ], the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Do you see how Paul imitated Jesus?

Paul was a Jew. But, like Jesus, he took his own seven steps “down.”

  1. He gave up being circumcised on the eighth day.
  2. He gave up being of the people of Israel.
  3. He gave up being of the tribe of Benjamin.
  4. He gave up being a Hebrew of the Hebrews.
  5. He gave up being a Pharisee.
  6. He gave up his zeal for God as a persecutor of the church.
  7. He gave up his righteousness under the law in which he was blameless.

All of these things were points of gain or pride for Paul. But, he counted them all as loss for the sake of Christ. He counted everything as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. This word count is the same Greek word Paul used of Christ not counting equality with God as something to be grasped.

Jesus was God and became a man. Paul was a Jew through and through but gave it all up to take the form of a Greek, to become a Greek. This was Paul suffering the loss of all things. Not because Greeks were something less than Jews, but because the pride Paul had in being a Jew was being put to death, even death on a cross. Paul’s Jewishness and his pride in that was being crucified, dying a shameful death.

Why would Paul willingly go through such a death to everything that made him who he was?

“That I may know him and the power of his resurrection.”

Paul was imitating Jesus in his suffering and dying so that he could also imitate Jesus in his being exalted by God and rising from the dead.

Remember Acts 18.5, “Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.” Once Paul was literally knocked off his high horse on the way to Damascus to persecute the church, which was actually persecuting Christ, Paul’s entire life was about one thing – knowing the necessity of Jesus suffering, dying, and rising from the dead.

Paul said he did this that he “may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3.10-11)

“Share in his sufferings.”

The Greek word share is koinonia. That is the Greek word for fellowship. Christians have such warm, fuzzy feelings of fellowship. Eat together, Hang out. Talk. Have coffee. Have fun. That’s generally what fellowship has become to us.

Literally, Paul says, “That I may know…fellowship of his sufferings.”

Why?

“Becoming like him in his death.”

Literally, this says “being the same form of him by death.”

Paul wants to share, fellowship, of Jesus’ sufferings so that he can be the same form, or be conformed, by death so that he can be resurrected from the dead.

Do you, do I, really consider that this is everything Jesus taught?

Do you, do I, desire to be occupied with this one thing – suffering like Jesus, dying like Jesus, to be raise like Jesus – like Paul?

Just the thought is humbling.

“Brothers, become the same imitators of me.”

Follow Jesus.

How Did Paul Commend His Ministry?

TODAY’S READING: 2 CORINTHIANS 5-9

“But as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left, through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” – 2 Corinthians 6:4-10

On the surface, this passage appears as a long laundry list of things that Paul gives to commend the ministry of himself and his co-workers. But, the English translation misses out on a deeper, richer meaning because it fails to translate all the prepositions and conjunctions in the same way throughout the passage. For, if the prepositions  and conjunctions were translated the same way, then we would see that seemingly random laundry list of things that commend Paul’s ministry are actually presented in a very thoughtful and meaningful way.

Let me show you.

“But as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in calamities, in beatings, in imprisonments, in riots, in labors, in sleepless nights, in hungers, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in truthful speech, in the power of God, by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left, by honor and dishonor, by slander and praise, as impostors and true ones, as being unknown and being well known, as dying and behold we live, as being punished and not being killed, as being grieved but always rejoicing, as poor but making many rich, as having nothing and possessing everything.”

Let’s make of list for each preposition and conjunction.

IN
  1. great endurance
  2. afflictions
  3. hardships
  4. calamities
  5. beatings
  6. imprisonments
  7. riots
  8. labors
  9. sleepless nights
  10. hungers
  11. purity
  12. knowledge
  13. paitence
  14. kindness
  15. the Holy Spirit
  16. genuine love
  17. truthful speech
  18. the power of God
BY
  1. weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left
  2. honor and dishonor
  3. slander and praise
AS
  1. impostors and true ones
  2. being unknown and being well known
  3. dying and behold we live
  4. being punished and not being killed
  5. being grieved but always rejoicing
  6. poor but making many rich
  7. having nothing and possessing everything

In total, Paul lists 28 separate things that commend his ministry. But, he lists them in three separate groups – one of 18, one of three, and one of seven. These numbers are important and specific meanings.

Further, we should note that each list has negative things and positive things that commend Paul’s ministry of salvation. This is very important to notice.

For, what was the one thing Paul was occupied with?

That it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead so that repentance and the forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed to all nations.

Each of the three lists has suffering, death, and rising from the dead, new life, contained within it. Therefore, each of the lists is able to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

Let’s start with the list of ins. There are eighteen ins. The number 18 is most often thought to symbolize bondage. Eighteen is first used in Judges 3:14, which says, “And the people of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.” So too “the woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years.” (Luke 13:11)

But, the number 18 has another meaning as well. The Hebrew word for life is chai. Its numerical value is 18. In Luke 13:16, Jesus said, “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” Satan may have been bound this woman for 18 years, but in the 18th year Jesus was setting her free, giving her life.

The Hebrew word for life, chai, is spelled with two letters – chet and yod. Chet has a numerical value of 8, and yod has a numerical value of 10.

Did you notice Paul’s list of 18 is broken up into a list of 10 and a list of 8?

Paul lists ten types of suffering.

  1. great endurance
  2. afflictions
  3. hardships
  4. calamities
  5. beatings
  6. imprisonments
  7. riots
  8. labors
  9. sleepless nights
  10. hungers

Then Paul lists eight types of life.

  1. purity
  2. knowledge
  3. paitence
  4. kindness
  5. the Holy Spirit
  6. genuine love
  7. truthful speech
  8. the power of God

The number ten symbolizes orderly perfection or completion. The number eight symbolizes new life. Paul’s sufferings bring orderly perfection or completion that lead to new life just as Jesus suffered and rose from the dead.

Could this be related to what Paul said in Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up [completing] what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church”?

Now let’s look at the list of bys. There are three.

  1. weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left
  2. honor and dishonor
  3. slander and praise

Notice that the last two have a positive thing (honor and praise) and a negative thing (dishonor and slander) listed. What is not as obvious is the first one does too. For, in ancient cultures the left hand was associated with evil and death while the right hand was associated with good and life.

Therefore, in each case, on the hand Paul is suffering while on the other hand he has life. So, once agains we see that this list of three demonstrates the one thing Paul was occupied with – that the Christ must suffer and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

The number three symbolizes from death to life. The time between Jesus completed his suffering on the cross and his rising from the dead to life was three days. Throughout the Bible, an incredible number of things happen in three days or on the third day. This is to always remind us that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer but three days later he rose from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

Three is also the number of divine perfection. For us, divine perfection is being conformed to the image of Jesus, who is the image of God.

How are we conformed to the image of Jesus?

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) We are conformed to the image of Jesus as God takes everything, particularly the things we suffer, and works them together for good, for his purpose, to give us life.

Finally, let’s look at the as list. There are seven comparisons in the list.

  1. impostors and true ones
  2. being unknown and being well known
  3. dying and behold we live
  4. being punished and not being killed
  5. being grieved but always rejoicing
  6. poor but making many rich
  7. having nothing and possessing everything

Notice that all seven start with something negative that Paul is seen as.

  1. impostor
  2. being unknown
  3. dying
  4. being punished
  5. being grieved
  6. poor
  7. having nothing

But, while Paul may be seen as those seven negative things, his reality is the even positive things.

  1. true one
  2. being well known
  3. I live
  4. not being killed
  5. always rejoicing
  6. making many rich
  7. possessing everything

Here again we see the thing that Paul was occupied with – that the Christ must suffer and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Paul may be seen as suffering, but the reality for him is life. On the one hand death, but on the other hand life.

Paul has already touched on this very theme twice in 2 Corinthians.

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-17)

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

The number seven symbolizes spiritual perfection or completion. Though Paul was perceived by others as suffering these things or his reputation suffering these things, Paul moved through each of them to the reality of life. In this way, Paul was spiritually perfected or completed.

There’s one last thing we should note about these three lists of suffering that leads to life that commend Paul’s ministry. In total, Paul lists 28 (18+3+7) things that commend his ministry.

What is significant about the number 28?

According to some, it symbolizes the leading of the Spirit. According to others, it symbolizes eternal life.

We could also think of the number 28 as 7 x 4. Seven is the the number of spiritual completion or perfection as i said above. Four is the number that symbolizes the whole world, all of creation. Therefore, the number 28 could be seen as the spiritual completion or perfection of the world. That was Paul’s hope. That was the reason for his ministry.

Once again, Paul already touched on this theme in 2 Corinthians.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

Paul’s ministry was commendable because he suffered for others to bring life to them, which is exactly what Jesus did. Therefore, Paul could truly say, “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way.”

What Was Paul Occupied With?

TODAY’S READING: ACTS 18-19

“When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.” – Acts 18:5

Paul was occupied with the word.

A simple statement.

But, it is a statement with a depth of meaning that belies the simple declaration of it.

What is the word Paul was occupied with?

In “Why Were the Bereans Examining the Scriptures Daily?“, I wrote that the word is that Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. Acts 17:2-3 says, “And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.'”

Jesus, the man who was crucified, is the Christ, the Messiah, the long awaited king. He had to suffer. It was absolutely necessary for Jesus to suffer. Jesus died, but he rose from the dead.

It cannot be stressed enough that the Christ had to suffer. God had to suffer.

God suffers.

He does not cause suffering.

It cannot be stressed enough that the Christ died. God had to die.

God dies.

He does not cause dying.

But, the Christ rose from the dead. “I am the resurrection and the life.” God is the living God.

God resurrects and gives life.

He does not condemn to death.

This is the word, the essential word, the only word, for Paul. This is the word that Paul testified to the Jews, “that the Christ was Jesus.” Paul was testifying to the Jews that their long awaited king was a king that suffered and died but was resurrected.

That’s quite a word for a people who were being oppressed and afflicted by the Roman empire, one of the greatest empires the world has ever known.

Yet, Paul was occupied with this word – it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead.

To say that Paul was “occupied” with the word almost sounds to soft for the Greek word used here. Occupied is the Greek word synecho. Synecho has a range of meanings all tied to the same idea. This is evidenced in that the synecho is used 12 times in the New Testament and the ESV translates it with 12 different English words.

Eleven of the uses are:

  • “oppressed” by demons
  • the greatness of Jesus’ “distress” until the baptism of the cross was complete
  • “hemmed” in on every side by enemies
  • Jesus being “held” in custody waiting to be crucified
  • Simon’s mother-in-law was “ill”
  • “seized” by fear
  • “surrounded” by crowds
  • “occupied” with the word
  • sick “with” fever and dysentery
  • ears that were “stopped”
  • “pressed” between two choices

Synecho literally means to hold together, to compress, to arrest. Figuratively, it means to compel, perplex, afflict, or preoccupy. These figuratively meanings lead to 12th use of synecho.

“For the love of Christ controls [synecho] us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” – 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

Paul says that he is controlled, seized, compelled by the love of Christ. We could even say that Paul was preoccupied, afflicted, or oppressed by the love of Christ.

We could even say that Paul was perplexed by the love of Christ. To be perplexed is to be made unable to grasp something clearly or to think logically and decisively about something. Paul was perplexed, or occupied, with the word – that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead – that it was the only thing he could think about.

So, we have the word that Paul was occupied with linked with the love of Christ that controlled Paul.

The word – that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead – is the same thing as the love of Christ.

Because this word was how the love of Christ, the love of God, was manifested to us.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” – 1 John 4:7-11

Love was made manifest in that Christ suffered, died, and rose from the dead.

For the forgiveness of sins.

So that we live through Jesus, through God.

That Paul was occupied with this word, which is the love of Christ, should give new meaning to 2 Corinthians 4:7-12.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”

When we read Paul say he was afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, our minds immediately turn to his enemies doing these things to him.

But, is Paul talking about his enemies?

Perhaps.

Or, is it possible that Paul is saying the word, the love of Christ, that occupied and controlled him was in some spiritual sense afflicting, perplexing, persecuting, and striking him down?

Was Paul perplexed by his enemies?

I doubt it. He was once that enemy. He understand the thinking of his enemy.

Or, was Paul perplexed by the word, the love of Christ?

The word – that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead – is the love of Christ.

The love of Christ “afflicts” us but does not crush us.

The love of Christ “perplexes” us but does not drive us to despair.

The love of Christ “persecutes” us but does not forsake us.

The love of Christ “strikes us down” but does not destroy us.

Therefore, Paul links afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down with “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” But, this is none other than the word – it was necessary for the Christ to suffer (the death of Jesus) and to rise from the dead (the life of Jesus) – that compelled Paul to testify, or be a channel of witness, that Jesus was the Christ.

What a word that Paul was occupied with. What a word that Paul testified to the Jews in Corinth.

But, the Jews opposed and reviled Paul because of this word. They rejected that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead. And, this helps to explain Paul’s answer to the Jews.

Paul said, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent.”

To preach the word that the Christ suffered and died but rose from the dead is to say that the way to life is suffering and dying, picking up your cross. The way to life is not taking vengeance. The way to life is not violence.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

The Jews rejected this word. They wanted to reach life through a Messiah that was violent and took vengeance upon their enemies not one that suffered and died.

However, as Jesus said, “All who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)

Paul is telling the Jews that by rejecting the suffering and dying Christ they are rejecting the non-violent way to life that God has revealed. Therefore, their own violence is going to come back on their own heads. As Psalm 7:14-16 says, “Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends.”

While the Jews rejected the word, many of the Corinthians believed that Paul that Jesus was the Christ who had to suffer and rise from the dead so that their sins might be forgiven and that they might live through him.

“But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal [the bema, the judgment seat – see “What is the Judgment Seat?“], saying, ‘This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.'”

What did the Jews mean that Paul was persuading people to worship God contrary to the law?

The Jews’ view of God in the law was that God was good and evil. God did both. God would save the Jew but destroy their enemies. God took Israel into the promised land, saving them, but told them devote to destruction the men, women, and children of the nations already in the land. On the other hand God gave and protected life, but on the other hand God took and destroyed life. This was how the Jews read the Old Testament, the law.

But, Paul did not teach that God did these things. He taught that instead causing suffering, God suffered. Instead of causing death, God died. This was not how the Jews interpreted the law or the prophets, the Old Testament. And, this was why the Jews said that Paul was teaching contrary to the law.

However, Paul did teach the Old Testament, the law and the prophets, just as Jesus himself taught it.

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'” – Luke 24:44-47

This is the word that occupied Paul.

This is the word that should occupy us.