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.”
- He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.
- He made himself nothing.
- He took the form of a servant.
- He was born in the likeness of men.
- He was found in human form.
- He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.
- 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.”
- He gave up being circumcised on the eighth day.
- He gave up being of the people of Israel.
- He gave up being of the tribe of Benjamin.
- He gave up being a Hebrew of the Hebrews.
- He gave up being a Pharisee.
- He gave up his zeal for God as a persecutor of the church.
- 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.”
“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.”