Friday, March 25, 2011

Philippians 2:1-4

Read the Text

2:1For this reason I make the following appeal based on the qualities of your relationship with each other: You have mutual encouragement as Christ followers; you have loving support; you have spiritual friendship; you have a deep emotional commitment to each other. 2You’ll make me the happiest person in the world if you think alike, love each other in the same way, act as friends who share the same soul, have a singular purpose. 3Without any sense of competitiveness or hogging the limelight, lead the way by humbly putting one another’s needs above each one’s concerns. 4Don’t just keep looking out for number one, but focus on what matters in each other’s lives.

Think about the Text

Paul lists those things that are real experiences of the Philippians and based on which he is able to exhort them to a deep sense of unity and singularity of purpose. Within the social structure of their friendship and their spiritual fellowship, Paul wants their behavior to be an outgrowth of their practical wisdom or prudence (phronesis). Paul uses the verb form ten times in the letter to the Philippians. One of the four cardinal virtues is prudence. Paul's language is about prudential thinking, making moral choices by doing what is good and avoiding what is bad. This is not just about individual progress but about the formation and transformation of people within a community of friendship.
Paul’s language is similar to the way in which philosophers described friendship.
“One loves himself, not in order to exact from himself any wages for such love, but because he is in himself dear to himself. Now, unless this same property be transferred to friendship, a true friend will never be found; for such a friend is, as it were, another self.”
“For he, indeed, who looks into the face of a friend beholds, as it were, a copy of himself.”
“How could you have full enjoyment of prosperity, unless with one whose pleasure in it was equal to your own ? Nor would it be easy to bear adversity, unless with the sympathy of one on whom it rested more heavily than on your own soul.”
The context has been taken to be one of conflict in which the people are encouraged to get along with each other. There really is no mention of conflict among the Philippians. Even Phil 4:2 might not be about discord. Instead, what Paul wants is for the Philippians to mature at a similar pace so they are able to form the same moral judgments. Each person, then, is able to show an equal amount of confraternity and care for each other.

Meditate on the Text

What do you need to have in order to become the best person possible? What do you have going for you?
Imagine what it would mean to share the same soul with someone. See yourself talking with a friend on a deep level. How would you imagine the two souls becoming one? What would it be like to be so in sync with another person that it's liking looking into a mirror?

Live the Text

Who can you find this week that provides you support and friendship, bringing out the best in you?
After thinking about your To Do’s for the week, think about the To Do’s for other people. What do they need from you this week? How many of the To Do’s for others can you put before your own To Do’s?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Philippians 1:25-30

Read the Text

25Since I am persuaded that my life in flesh is better for you, I realize that I will stay alive and stick with you all for your progress and joy resulting from a faithful life. 26The reason is that your basis for honor is increased in Christ Jesus through my actions when I am present with you again. 27I only ask of you Philippians to conduct yourselves appropriately in relation to the gospel message of Christ, so that, whether I arrive and see you or am absent and hear about you, you hold your ground with singular purpose, resolutely cooperating in commitment to the gospel mission.
28Do not be intimidated in any way by the rabble-rousers. Their conduct is indicative of their degeneracy. Your conduct proves your moral progress. This is God’s way. 29You have been given the privilege for the sake of Christ, not only to give your allegiance to him, but also to endure suffering for his sake. 30You are experiencing the same struggle which I am still having.

Think about the Text

“progress and joy resulting from a faithful life” (progress and joy in faith) – Christians through the centuries have too easily made the assumption that faith in the New Testament refers to belief in doctrine. The way in which Paul uses the word in his letters suggests he has in mind a concept closer to our word faithfulness. The grammatical construction suggests something more like my translation than “in faith.” Our progress or development as well as our joy comes from a consistency and constancy of life. This term progress (prokopÄ“) was a key word among the Stoics. Joy was among the positive emotions, a "rational elation" (Brennan, p. 97).
“your basis for honor is increased in Christ Jesus through my actions “ (I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus) - Verse 26 needs to be understand within the ancient cultural context of the honor/shame society. Boasting is not a negative concept but a basis for honor rather than shame.
“conduct yourselves appropriately” (live your life in a manner worthy) – The term used here implies the way someone lives life as a citizen. In Phil 3:20 Paul uses a similar word to say “our citizenship is in heaven.” Here Paul means act like you are a citizen of heaven.
“you hold your ground with singular purpose, resolutely cooperating in commitment to the gospel mission” – The people of the community of faith are to be so closely aligned in purpose and action that they are literally “one spirit” and “one soul.” These were characteristics of those who were friends, friendship being an important relationship within the social fabric. The cooperation they exhibit is like an athletic team, not in the sense of our team against their team but as our team working together to accomplish the goal.
The opposing force consists of those who represent different values. The vice they demonstrate in their lives indicates that they are failing to live up to the best standards. In contrast, the virtue exhibited in the lives of Paul’s audience indicates they are receiving the therapeutic benefits of the moral life. This salvation and destruction dichotomy within Greek moral contexts refers to this type of moral progress or regress. In contexts of moral progress, salvation refers to the progression of the soul’s health toward the goal, while destruction refers to the soul’s digression (see Fitzgerald, Passions and Moral Progress in Greco-Roman Thought). This concept is portrayed in the Stoic allegory "The Tablet of Cebes." The language of progress in becoming a virtuous person and the outcome being salvation rather than destruction is unmistakeable.
“endure suffering” – Paul is not glorying in suffering for the sake of suffering. The enduring of suffering is what produces moral strength of character. The Philippians have the same competition in the marketplace of ideas as Paul is having where he is at. To switch metaphors, the Philippians are engaged in an athletic struggle, wrestling with the hardships that come about by engaging with the conventional wisdom about how people should lead their lives.

Meditate on the Text

Reflect on your own spiritual autobiography and on the development of the main character–you. Are there ups and downs in your spiritual experience? Even so, is there a steady progression toward a fully developed character?
If you were to have an annual check-up for your soul, would your soul-doctor say you’re doing better or worse than the year before?
When you think of your Christian life and the way your express your faith around others, do you have a sense of honor about Jesus or do you feel shame?
Imagine you have been transported to heaven, where you experienced an induction ceremony as a citizen of heaven. You wake up back in your human life on this planet as a resident alien. How does that affect the way you think and behave?
What kind of a team player are you as a Christian? Whose team are you on? Are you on the same team as the people at your church? What’s the goal of the “game?” Is there an opposing team?

Live the Text

For each person you encounter during the week, whether in person or not, think about whether you think you and that person are on the same team. If not, what team does the other person represent? If so, are you and that person being good teammates?
In the game of life, determine that you are going to move forward in becoming all that God created you to be and not allow yourself to experience a setback.
Just as countries have a special holiday to celebrate their culture, pretend today is Heaven Day. Celebrate the day as a citizen of heaven by how you speak and act.
When you face hardships, mentally suit-up as a wrestler and overcome the obstacle.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Philippians 1:20-24

Read the Text

20I firmly expect and hope that at my trial I will not act shamefully, but in all frankness with consistency I will magnify Christ through my actions, whether I am allowed to live or be given the death penalty. 21As far as I am concerned, to remain living is for the benefit of Christ and to be put to death is an advantage for me. 22If I remain living in this flesh, this means producing fruit; yet which to pick I can’t decide. 23I’m pressed between a rock and a hard place. I have a desire to be released from this mortal coil and be with Christ—a much better option. 24Yet, to remain in flesh is a greater necessity for your sake.

Think about the Text

Paul lets his readers hear him deliberate about his upcoming trial. He characterizes it as a life or death decision. Will he stand up for his beliefs or will he shamefully recant just to save his life? If he is allowed to live, other people will benefit from his continuing to preach the gospel message. But Paul considers a martyr’s death to be for his own advantage (kerdos).

Plato relates the speech of Socrates:

I was convicted because I lacked not words but boldness and shamelessness and the willingness to say to you what you would most gladly have heard from me, lamentations and tears and my saying and doing many things that I say are unworthy of me but that you are accustomed to hear from others. ... What has happened to me may well be a good thing, and those of us who believe death to be an evil are certainly mistaken. If it [death] is a complete lack of perception, like a dreamless sleep, then death would be a great advantage (kerdos).

Paul’s attitude toward death is similar to the Stoics but for different reasons. Paul does not fear death because he believes death is not an end but a beginning. For the Stoics death is out of our control and will result in a cessation of consciousness. Paul would have agreed with the following excerpt from Letter IV of Seneca, who at this time was serving as the tutor of young Nero.

No man can have a peaceful life who thinks too much about lengthening it, or believes that living through many consulships is a great blessing. Rehearse this thought every day, that you may be able to depart from life contentedly; for many men clutch and cling to life, even as those who are carried down a rushing stream clutch and cling to briars and sharp rocks. Most men ebb and flow in wretchedness between the fear of death and the hardships of life; they are unwilling to live, and yet they do not know how to die. For this reason, make life as a whole agreeable to yourself by banishing all worry about it. No good thing renders its possessor happy, unless his mind is reconciled to the possibility of loss; nothing, however, is lost with less discomfort than that which, when lost, cannot be missed. Therefore, encourage and toughen your spirit against the mishaps that afflict even the most powerful.

Meditate on the Text

Can you recall an incident in which you acted in a way for which you later felt ashamed? What could you have done differently?

Every day young and old people alike live their last day. What regrets would you have if this were your last? Can you be thankful for the life you’ve had and face your life without a fear of your own demise? Do you understand that, since what will happen in the future is largely out of your control, to worry about death does not profit you anything?

Imagine standing at the moment between life and death. What do you see when you look back? What do you see when you look forward?

Live the Text

Look for those moments in your day when you have to make a choice. Which choice is for the good of others and which choice is the selfish one?

What are you doing this week that is an advantage to someone else?

Imagine you are George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” You’ve awakened from a nightmare world in which you did not exist. See everything in a fresh way, not just what you get from others, but more importantly what impact you have in other people’s lives just because you’re there.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Philippians 1:12-19

Read the Text

12I want you to be aware that my current predicament has resulted in the progress of the gospel mission. 13Even though I am in prison, it’s clear to all the people working in the provincial headquarters and to everyone else in the city that I am being held because of my commitment to Christ. 14Also, many of our friends in the Lord have been emboldened and encouraged to be more vocal because of my detention.
15Compare the two: on the one side, some are responding because of envy and rivalry; on the other side, others are in fact declaring Christ because of good intentions. 16The latter act out of love, realizing that the reason for my situation is the defense of the gospel message. 17The former declare Christ contentiously, not sincerely, expecting to make my incarceration more difficult. 18What do I care? The only thing that matters is that in any case, whether pretentiously or honestly, Christ is declared, and this makes me happy. You bet I’m glad. 19For I realize that what has happened to me will result in my release because of your petition and the assistance of Jesus Christ’s spirit.

Think about the Text

For Paul to have been arrested and jailed could have appeared to his followers as a major setback. Instead, Paul considers it to have propelled the spread of his message and made other people more willing to speak out.
“people working in the provincial headquarters” (in the whole praetorium) – This language sounds like a setting in Rome is required. The language is often taken to refer to the imperial guard. I take it to mean the place we would call the provincial headquarters. If Paul is located in Ephesus, it would have had a provincial headquarters.
Verses 15-17 use the language of comparison (synkrisis). The Greek construction contains words that signal the two sides of the comparison. Paul’s positive and negative comments are based in ethical judgments about motivations for actions.
For Paul the message about Jesus is tantamount and people’s motivations or differences of opinions aren’t as important.
“because of your petition” (through your prayers) – Although Paul has used this term previously in connection with prayer, this instance in the singular may be a reference to the Roman custom of petition in which a petition is written to an official requesting a release from imprisonment.
“result in my release” (turn out for my deliverance) – Here the same word is used that is commonly translated “salvation,” the context suggests Paul is expecting that he might be released. This initial optimism turns to more reflection by Paul on what the best outcome might be. Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher born around this time, wrote about Socrates’ imprisonment with similar language.
Then, when he [Socrates] was obliged to speak in defense of his life, did he behave like a man who had children, who had a wife? No, but he behaved like a man who has neither. And what did he do when he was to drink the poison, and when he had the power of escaping from prison, and when Crito said to him, "Escape for the sake of your children," what did Socrates say? Did he consider the power of escape as an unexpected gain? By no means: he considered what was fit and proper; but the rest he did not even look at or take into the reckoning. For he did not choose, he said, to save his poor body, but to save that which is increased and saved by doing what is just, and is impaired and destroyed by doing what is unjust. Socrates will not save his life by a base act; ... he who discoursed in such a manner about virtue and right behavior. It is not possible to save such a man's life by base acts, but he is saved by dying, not by running away.

Meditate on the Text

Rather than seeing his arrest as being a misfortune, Paul focuses on the positive effects of his predicament. Is there a difficulty in your life that seems like bad luck but for which you can see how it might have positive effects on others and maybe even you?
Does your example cause other people to be stronger?
Is your criticism of people based on how or why they do things instead of whether their efforts are resulting in good for others?
What is your motivation? To make yourself look better by making others look bad? To resist others’ good work because you’re jealous?

Live the Text

What in your life this week results in the progress of God’s work in the world?
When you come across people during the week, think about whether your actions influence them positively.
Monitor your critique of others. Ask yourself if you’re doing it for their good or for yours.
Whenever you notice the good others are doing, be happy for them.