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Message Supplement 5 October 2014

Today’s Philippians excerpt focuses on Paul, who shares autobiographical highlights. In summary, Paul was taught as a rigorous, conservative Jew. He had it all: education, ethnic pride, great deeds, and an admirable personal morality. As for a wife, we don’t know why he didn’t mention that major aspect of his life. It would be nigh impossible that a person of his background would be single (at least before he converted to Christianity). Nowhere can we discern when or if Paul was married. This disturbing situation remains one of Paul’s enduring mysteries.

It’s also notable that Paul didn’t fill himself with pride about his privileged heritage. He said that all his qualities were no more than rubbish when compared to the spiritual riches he gained from his relationship with Jesus. Paul confessed “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith” (Philippians 3: 9).

Paul’s words are inspiring because he has shown the futility of relying on religious tradition—a spiritual pedigree if you will—for salvation. Paul was a model Jew before his conversion to Christianity. So much so that the texts suggests that no fellow Jew could argue successfully against his ethnic credentials. But after he found Jesus, Paul placed his qualifications in a new context while his critics derided him as a traitor against his Jewish heritage.

The ongoing power of Paul’s words teaches us that obeying the Old Testament Law does not in itself please God. Paul revealed to us that there is no merit in becoming a fundamentalist of the Jewish legal code. History has taught us that those who live in slavish obedience to rule-based religion do so at great spiritual peril (and they end up destroying themselves and others). Our collective human experiences demonstrate the futility and foolishness of those who think they are pleasing God by eating or dressing according to a strict, harsh regimen.

The great freedom of conscience and spiritual awakening that comes from our faith in Christ can guide us, as it did Paul. Sadly, for two-thousand years after Jesus’ message, there are still sects attempting to poison the conscience with reliance on heritage and tradition rather than upon a liberating faith in God. People continue to make poor choices, which is why we must be on guard against the pervasive tendency to substitute folly for faith. Paul recognized the hopelessness of relying on his grand, institutional past. But after Paul’s revival, his faith transcended the smug isolation practiced by his unenlightened critics.

Let us celebrate our faith and not enter disputes about the purity of peoples’ ethnicity, heritage, culture or theology. Apart from God none of this can save us. No, not even an obsessive personal morality that sucks the joy out of life can transform us like God’s love and truth. So shall we express thanks that Paul’s words continue to inspire us to live the best possible life.

 

–Reverend Larry Hoxey