Posts Tagged ‘Righteousness’

I was recently challenged by Cobus to write a more quotidian (just kidding) mundane (oops, did it again, sorry – I’m failing this challenge, it seems) – anyway, to write a more understandable conclusion to a previous post. Apparently, not everyone is really into the inner workings of Greek grammar. How strange.  So, here goes.

Ever thought of the saving power of Christ as a detergent / washing powder? Oh, come on! It’s in Revelation (7:14).  With a little bit of imagination, one could easily imagine the whole process as an advert – how it dissolves all the little dirty cookie-jar sins and roll-in-the-mud stains we’ve had from childhood on. Close up on the fabric – whoops, there it goes! Up, up and away! This is a SUPERpowder!

So, what now? Guess we can chill! We have received ab-so-lution! In fact, this SUPERpowder is so effective, it might have just dissolved our response-ability.

Guess again.

Paul writes in Philippians 3 about absolution – by talking about righteousness. Almost as if it was a court case, and God, the Judge, has to deliver the verdict. And He simply declares us righteous (i.e. we have no sins) because we believe in Christ.

Guess again.

Rather, for reasons I have set out in my previous post, Paul thinks that righteousness means

to know Christ,
to share in the power of his resurrection and
to share in his suffering.

Paul has just upheld Jesus as the ultimate example (Phil 2:5-11) – and he wants to follow Christ’s way even if this means that he, too, must die.  In fact, Paul is not saying: “I am free of sin, thanks to what Jesus did for me!” but rather: “I wish I could be like Jesus – and put other people’s needs before my own!” (Phil 2:1-5).

Paul is not really into chilling on a sofa with his new sparkly white clothes. Or a synagogue, for that matter. He wants to live a life of sacrifice – which means that he needs to put other people’s needs before his own. That is how he will have the right relationship with God.

OK, so what crappy SUPERpowder is this, then? (If you are affronted by my use of the word “crappy” – well, Paul used it too –  in Phil 3:8). Is … Revelation … wrong … or lying? Definitely not. Paul still views Christ’s death (and life) as the way through which we get righteousness. Especially the faithfulness of Christ (3:9). Through Christ’s faithfulness – and his obedience (2:8) – the way has been opened so we can live a life of righteousness – that is, consider other people as more important than ourselves.

Bottom line: belief in Jesus Christ is not the point at which we receive righteousness, but rather the starting point of a righteous life. Which means, incidentally, daily sacrifice (3:7ff).

I live in South Africa. We have one of the greatest divides between rich and poor – with reference to money AND power – and many of the rich consider themselves to be Christians (and therefore, of course, absolved of sin and righteous). Why? Because they believe in Jesus and confess Him as Lord. Methinks Paul would hotly disagree with them. Methinks Paul would rather say that if they do not step away from their riches – or help other people with these riches, they would be failing in living a righteous life!


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Sermon preparation can lead to some interesting stuff!

In this case, it got me wondering about Philippians 3:10 – and whether Paul could possibly consider “righteousness” (δικαιοσύνη) to be equal to sharing in Christ’s resurrection and suffering. (If you’re not the geeky Greek-for-breakfast type of person that I assume you are, you may skip the technical stuff by reading only the translations in quotes and the last paragraph. I’ll forgive you. The second translation, of course, is my preference.)

The hinge, in this matter, is Philippians 3:10 – and especially the Greek phrase “τοῦ γνῶναι” (the translation of which depends on the arguments below). Sumney (2007:81) gives three possibilities for understanding this infinitive: One possibility would be to connect this with the “so that” of verse 8 (the ἵνα clause) – it would then read as follows (my translation):

… so that I might gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness out of the law, but that through the faith of Christ, the righteousness from God on account of (that) faith, (that I might) know Him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering, …

In short, then, I might (a) gain Christ, (b) be found in Him, and (c) know Him, etc.

A second possibility would be to understand it as connected to “the knowledge of Christ Jesus” (τῆς γνώσεως Χριστοῦ Ἰησου) in verse 8, which it obviously echoes, but together with Sumney, I think this might be a bit too far removed.

The third possibility Sumney mentions, and opts for, is also the one given by Blass / Debrunner (1984:331 = paragraph 400, note 10). This is an epexegetical infinitive – meaning, in essence, it more closely describes something else. BD, however, is not quite clear on exactly what it describes – and in their example, the infinitive is governed by a verb. Sumney takes this as referring to “what immediately precedes it” – would this be “on account of (that) faith” (ἐπὶ τῇ πίστει)? Rather, in my view, this epexegetical infinitive is linked to the whole clause describing the concept righteousness” (δικαιοσύνη). This makes sense as it is exactly this concept that Paul has been discussing. (Note, however, that the article is not feminine, but neuter – could it be possible that Paul uses a neuter as some kind of stock phrase, and simply wants to refer to the single term, “righteousness”?) The “righeousness” Paul receives, instead of that being from the law, is to know Him, etc. In translation, this would read as follows:

... so that I might gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness out of the law, but that (righteousness) through the faith of Christ, the righteousness from God on account of (that) faith, namely to know Him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering, …

Why is this important? Because it links the concepts Paul is speaking about together. This is how Paul receives righteousness – Paul receives righteousness from God by knowing Christ, sharing in the power of his resurrection and also by knowing (i.e. experiencing) fellowship with his suffering. This continues into the next part – “being conformed to his death” (συμμορφιζόμενος τῷ θανάτῳ αὐτοῦ). Notice how this is an echo of the hymn in Philippians 2:6-11! Paul holds himself as an example to the Philippians (see 3:17) – and in turn, he is following the example of Christ!


Blass, F., Debrunner, A. & Rehkopf, F. 1984. Grammatik des neutestamentlichen Griechisch. (16. Aufl.) Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Sumney, J. L. 2007. Philippians: A Greek Student’s Intermediate Reader. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers.

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