Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Philippians 1:29 And The Gift Of Faith (Part One)

After my dialog on Calvin, the gift of faith, and Ephesians 2:8-9, I thought it would be interesting to look at another proof text Calvinists use establishing faith as the gift of God.

Here are two translations of Philippians 1:29-

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” (NIV)

For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,” (NASB)

These two examples represent two different methods of translation. Both say basically the same thing. Two things are “granted” the believer: suffering and belief.

Context:
Paul earlier tells the Philippians that he is “in chains for Christ” (1:13). Paul wants Christ to be exalted, whether by his life or death (1:20). Paul utters the famous words, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21). By the example of his own life, Paul encourages the Philippians to stand strong when facing persecution and difficult circumstances: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”(1:27). “Stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you” (1:27-28). Paul says, “This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved- and that by God”(1:28). What is the sign? The opposition by persecutors to the gospel is a sign of their destruction, and that persecution is a sign to the persecuted that they are in Christ and will be saved. Paul then concludes: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.”

Interpretation
The word “granted” used in this verse, is from the Greek term charizomai. It means “to grant as a favor, that is, gratuitously, in kindness”. In other words, it means: “gift”, or "to give as a gift". It does not mean "opportunity" or "privilige". It implies God is giving or "gifting" something to the Philippians: faith and suffering.

There really isn’t any dispute that this text is saying God “grants” or "gifts" suffering to His people. A Christian has God’s promise that all things work for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Of course, psychologically we have a hard time swallowing the idea that suffering is a gift from God. How can this be? God is love- He would never want me to suffer! But, the gift of suffering doesn’t show itself until we start going through some difficult circumstance and we realize that that it is causing us to be conformed to the image of Christ. I have been through some very difficult situations. I asked for none of them. They simply happened to me. I did not "choose" them when faced with an opportunity. They were thrust into my life, beyond my control. Suffering has much to do with being confomed to the image of Christ. In other words, it has much to do with sanctification.

But here Paul tells us that believing in Christ is also a gift given by God. This is also psychologically untenable. Didn’t I by my own free will choose to believe in Christ? Sure He helps me believe now, but initially I “believed” and became “born again”. Paul tells the Philippians in no uncertain terms that they are Christians because of God. The word used for “believe” is the word “pisteuo” which means “to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing).” The faith that the Philippians have is a gift. Later Paul tells the Phillipians: "...it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (2:13).

God is not giving the Philippians a choice to suffer. He’s giving them suffering. In the same way, God is not giving the Philippians a choice to believe, He’s giving them belief. He’s not giving them "opportunities" or "privleges" to suffer or believe- this simply isn’t in the text.

Some may respond, “Isn’t this verse simply speaking about the daily faith God gives us to get by? Paul isn’t speaking about initial saving faith.” The text makes no such distinction. It simply says what it says. If this is your response to Philippians 1:29, you need to stop and ask yourself whom is reading their theology into the text. One has to ask- why is daily faith a faith a gift, but not initial faith? It simply doesn't follow. Paul is telling the Philippians: God gave you faith in Him, god is now going to give you suffering. As you trust Him in His gift of faith, trust Him also in his gift of suffering. All things work together for His glory.

Look back on Philippians 1:28, "This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved- and that by God”(1:28). What is the sign? The opposition by persecutors to the gospel is a sign of their destruction, and that persecution is a sign to the persecuted that they are in Christ and will be saved. Paul then concludes: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” Contrast this with 1 Timothy 1:13-14. Paul says,

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

Here again the parallel of persecutor and believer is shown. What was poured out on Paul to change him from persecutor to persecuted? Grace, faith, and love.

Next blog(s) (hopefully): A look at those who insist Philippians 1:29 does not teach faith is a gift from God. I plan on going through the interpretations of Laurence Vance, Dave Hunt, Norman Geisler, and C. Gordon Olson.

4 comments:

FM483 said...

The object of biblical faith is Jesus Christ. This is the centerpiece of Christian doctrine. John 20:30-31 summarizes the purpose of biblical faith:

John 20:30-31
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; [31] but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

FM483 said...

James - another thought occured to me about biblical faith: it is supernatural. No human being can call Jesus Christ LORD except by the Holy Spirit:
1 Cor. 12:3
Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus is accursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except in the Holy Spirit.

Martin Luther, in his explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles' Creed, said:

"I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true."

Ray said...

Hi Jim,

The following is an alternative view of the context and its interpretation for you and others to consider.

Context:

Paul is addressing believers on the topic of their participation in the gospel (vs.5) for the sake of Christ. In vs. 6, he begins a long discussion of their roles and responsibilities concluding in vs. 29 that their role includes not only believing, but suffering. Paul notes that the Lord began a good work in you, and will complete it. He prays that their love may abound in full knowledge & discernment (vs. 9) so that they may approve excellent things and be above reproach ( vs. 10) having been filled with the fruit of righteousness (vs.11). In vs. 12 Paul begins to relate suffering toward the goal he just describe, i.e., their love abounding as a fruit of the righteousness they possess by virtue of being a believer, noting that the end objective is that Christ be proclaimed. He particularly notes that suffering is used by the Lord as a bonefide way to spread the gospel. In vs. 25, Paul notes that his particular situation (which will likely include much suffering) if he remains in this life will be for their benefit as they move forward in their spiritual growth. Then, in vs. 27, anticipating that they can be distracted from this path of progress, offers a warning that they must conduct themselves in a worthy manner so that Paul may hear that they are standing firm for the gospel in spite of opposition which incidentally is a sign of their opponents future destruction and is also a sign of the Phillipian's salvation which is from God. Finally in vs. 29, he puts the entire passage in perspective by stating that it is their function now (roles & responsibilities) as believers to not only believe, but also to suffer for the plan of God (the on-behalf-of-Christ thing – to uper christou).

Interpretation

The literal definition of charizomai provided by Mr. Swan is absolutely correct. All the lexicons agree. However, what's important to realize here is that many words can be used firguratively. Their employment is generally recognized by looking at the context of the passage in which they are used.

In Phil 1:29 we have several clues that charizomai is being used figuratively. The first, of course is the context. The first chapter of Phillipians is not addressing systematic theology, but rather roles and responsiblities of believers as they progress in their spiritual lives. There is no soteriological development going on here such as the nature and source of faith or the respective roles of God and man therein. Instead, Paul is addressing the spiritual growth of the Phillipians and their role in supporting the "on-behalf-of-Christ things" such as suffering. In fact, because suffering clearly is used by the Lord as a bonefide way to spread the gospel, he specifically tells the Phillipians that suffering is one of their roles just as it is for Paul. Viewed this way, vs. 29's meaning not only makes sense but has a clear relation to the previous 28 verses (contextual conguity). Look at it again framed within the roles and responsibilities paradigm: "For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake." This might be paraphased as "For Christ's sake there are to you (given to you) other roles than just believing. It is also your role (given to you) to suffer for the spread of the gospel."

By the way, "believing" is not only the beginning of salvation, but it is also an ongoing responsibility of the Christian essential for spiritual growth and the spread of the Gospel. That the latter role of believing (daily faith – trusting the Lord for daily provisions) is in view in this context should not be ruled out.

Mr. Swan's discussion of this verse and its interpretation may be correct, but it seems to lack contextual congruity. The context as well as the 2nd half of vs. 29 seem to be talking about the role of suffering and how it is used by God to spread the gospel. No where in the previous context is there a discussion of whether faith or suffering is a gift? How does interjection in this context of the debatable maxim that "faith is the gift of God" help communcate the theme of this passage? Readers must judge for themselves. The point that I would like to make is that the interpretation offered by Mr. Swan is only one of at least two. When one considers such a passage in support of a theological system such as Calvinism, it's important to be aware of alternative interpretations and whether or not they support that position clearly or weakly. I believe Mr. Swan's (and other Calvinist's) interpretation of this passage is weak. If one wants to prove that faith is a gift provided wholly by God, then go to those sections of the Bible (verses as well as context) where it's discussed. Interestingly, you find none. Instead, what you find is passages like Phil 1:29 where at best you find only indirect (and debatable) linkage and there other equally if not better interpretations are available. This is one of the weaknesses of Calvinism, i..e., lack of direct proof of its important maxims such as total depravity.

James Swan said...

Hi Ray-

I will be working through these comments after I finish up the others-

Thanks for your continued interest.