Friday, May 27, 2011

Philippians 3:20-21

Read the Text

20For us, instead, there exists a celestial citizenship. It is from there we anticipate also a Savior, the Sovereign One, Jesus Christ. 21He will reconfigure our debased body to be conformed to his magnificent body by his energy, empowering him even to subjugate to himself all things.

Think about the Text

Those whose lives are filled with vice, Paul indicates in 4:19, are ones whose values are earthly. Paul now contrasts this with a political metaphor. He tells his audience their allegiance is to a political entity in the heavens, whose values transcend the customs and opinions of humans. The world to which they belong is larger than the local way of life. It is common knowledge that the Stoics believed in the “brotherhood of man,” in being a cosmopolitan or “citizen of the world.” As Epictetus describes it, that concept goes far beyond the humanistic and altruistic way of thinking.
“He then who has observed with intelligence the administration of the world, and has learned that the greatest and supreme and the most comprehensive community is that which is composed of men and God for these only are by their nature formed to have communion with God, being by means of reason conjoined with Him- why should not such a man call himself a citizen of the world, why not a son of God, and why should he be afraid of anything which happens among men” (Epictetus, Discourses, 1.9.3)?
Verse 21 describes the reconfiguring or “reschematization” (metaschēmatizō) that Paul believes will occur at the resurrection. The language depicts nothing less than the apotheosis of humans to a divine state. This idea is already present in the Hellenistic Jewish text 4th Maccabees. The eldest son, who is bound and scourged, then tied to the rack, refuses to eat pork as a demonstration of his virtue. The gruesome scene of torture in which he is both stretched on the wheel and being burned alive culminates in the description of his fortitude, “but as though transformed (metaschēmatizō) by fire into immortality he nobly endured the rackings” (4th Macc 9:22). He then announces, “’Imitate me, brothers,’ he said. ‘Do not leave your post in my struggle or renounce our courageous brotherhood. Fight the sacred and noble battle for piety’” (4th Macc 9:23-24).
“to subjugate to himself all things” (make all things subject to himself) – Paul’s Jewish view of the events of the end of the age come out here. The messianic prophecy of Ps 8:6 makes the messiah responsible to subjugate all things, ostensibly becoming the ruler of all. Paul refers to this elsewhere and other texts apply the same messianic prophecy (1 Cor 15:27-28; cf. Eph 1:22; Heb 2:8; 1 Pet 3:22).

Meditate on the Text

Imagine what it would look like to blast off in a rocket from your backyard as you look back at your home. You see your neighborhood, your city, your state, your country, your hemisphere, your planet, your solar system, your galaxy, and so on. What is the spiritual equivalent of seeing yourself in relation to God’s universe?
Think of the movie The Fly. At death you enter into a disintegrator-integrator. Unknown to you the Risen Christ enters with you. When you rematerialize, your body is now like the immortal and incorruptible body of Christ.

Live the Text

Take a small piece of paper and write “Passport” at the top. The write, “Citizenship: Heaven.” What else can you think to write? How about, “Family: Everyone.” Carry this with you. You’re a resident alien but you’re related to everyone you meet.
When you see yourself in the mirror, think about what you will become, what you are becoming.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Philippians 3:17-19

Read the Text

17Imitate my example together, friends, and watch those who conduct themselves in this way, since you have an example in us. 18There are many people who conduct their lives – I’ve told you about them often, and now say this with tears in my eyes – as moral enemies of what Christ’s death on a cross has achieved. 19Their outcome is moral degradation; their god is their bodily appetites; their basis for honor is their shameful behavior. Their moral judgment favors what is terrestrial.

Think about the Text

Paul’s exhortation to imitation is not a prideful act of putting himself on a pedestal. It is the fundamental concept in what scholars of Hellenistic moral philosophy refer to as psychagogy, the leading of the soul. The act of telling stories at dinner parties, giving praise speeches at festivals, and displaying art depicting historic figures in the home were largely about holding up great examples for imitation. Along with reading great literature, they were ways of reminding oneself to live life patterned after the best examples.
Verse 18 may sound to us like language of doctrinal warfare, as though Paul considered those who disagreed with his theology to be enemies to be fought. Here again, the language within the context shows us something different. For example, Diogenes Laertius writes about the famous Stoic philosopher Zeno, who considered "all who were not virtuous, [to be] adversaries, and enemies, and slaves, and unfriendly to one another" (Book 7). Epictetus concurs, "Now this is the nature of every man to seek the good, to avoid the bad; to consider him who deprives us of the one and involves us in the other an enemy (polemion) and treacherous, even if he be a brother, or a son or a father" (Discourses 4.5.30).
"Their outcome is moral degradation" (their end is destruction) – When we read the word "destruction," we probably assume Paul is talking about damnation. The Greek words for salvation (sōtēria) and for destruction (apōleia) can be found as early as Plato and among later moral philosophers to talk about the progress and regress of the soul. This concept appears in the following quotation from Epictetus along with the theme of imitating an example.
You are no longer a youth, but already a full grown (teleios) man. If then you are negligent and slothful, and are continually making procrastination after procrastination, and proposal (intention) after proposal, and fixing day after day, after which you will attend to yourself, you will not know that you are not making improvement, but you will continue ignorant (uninstructed) both while you live and till you die. Immediately then think it right to live as a full-grown man, and one who is making proficiency, and let every thing which appears to you to be the best be to you a law which must not be transgressed. And if anything laborious, or pleasant or glorious or inglorious be presented to you, remember that now is the contest, now are the Olympic games, and they cannot be deferred; and that it depends on one defeat and one giving way that progress is either lost (apōleia) or maintained (sōtēria). Socrates in this way became perfect (apoteleō), on all things improving himself, attending to nothing except to reason. But you, though you are not yet Socrates, ought to live as one who wishes to be a Socrates" (Enchiridion 51.1-2).
"their god is their bodily appetites" (their god is the belly) – Paul again uses typical language to talk about those people who reject a course of life devoted to following good examples and progressing in the development of the soul. The reference to the "belly" or "stomach" is not about eating food but is a metaphor referring to the bodily appetites. Epictetus compares Socrates to the way humans normally think of themselves, "Socrates speaks like a man who is really a kinsman of the gods. But we think about ourselves as if we were only stomachs, and intestines, and shameful parts" (Discourses 1.9.26). Likewise, Seneca depicts the person who lives in seclusion and in selfishness out of fear as "not living for himself; he is living for his belly, his sleep, and his lust -- and that is the most shameful thing in the world" (Letter 55).
The last phrase of verse 19 continues the phronetic language regarding how to think or apply practical wisdom. Paul uses similar expressions elsewhere (Rom 8:5-7; cf. Col 3:2). The distinction is between a lower form of thinking that is associated with the earth or flesh and a higher form of thinking that is spiritual and heavenly, a divine way of living. This is the goal of the Christian life, according to Paul, as it was the goal of the philosophical life. Epicurus writes to a disciple, Menoeceus, "Do you then study these precepts, and those which are akin to them, by all means day and night, pondering on them by yourself, and discussing them with any one like yourself, and then you will never be disturbed by either sleeping or waking fancies, but you will live like a god among men; for a man living amid immortal gods, is in no respect like a mortal being" (Letter to Menoeceus, 135.5).

Meditate on the Text

Who are your best examples to follow? What reminds you of your values? Do you read biographies? Do you have artwork that reminds you of people you admire? Think of someone you respect, whose life you would want to imitate, and make a mental note of those characteristics.
If you had an enemies list, who would be on it? Whom do you consider to be a competitor in the marketplace of ideas, whose ideas are harmful and destructive to people? Whom do you fight in the battle for the minds of people in our society? Are they people you disagree with or people whose values and practices lead people to destroy their lives?
Where is your impulse coming from? Are you thinking through your moral choices or are you quickly giving in to baser motivations?

Live the Text

Keep an eye out for people who have lost their way in life. Can you say to them, "Follow me"?
Check your thoughts and actions. Would you be ashamed to have people know what you think and do? Pretend like people can read your mind.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Philippians 3:15-16

Read the Text

15So then, those of you who are spiritually mature, let us be thinking along these lines (and if anyone takes a different point of view, God will show them this is the right way to think): 16In any case, whatever level we’ve achieved, let’s maintain the same standard of life.

Think about the Text

“spiritually mature” (mature, perfect) – This term is a goal-oriented word. These people are ones who have reached the goal. Developmentally, these are older people, adults, who have reached this stage in life. Jesus calls on his followers to be mature/perfect (Matt 5:48; 19:21). Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom” (1 Cor 2:6). He chides them, “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; be babes in evil, but in thinking be mature” (1 Cor 14:20).
Some philosophers like Aristotle and Cicero have thought of human development along a hierarchical scale of nature. Each form of being shares attributes with those below it and also with those above. Plants are similar to inanimate objects but have such things as growth and nutrition. Animals share similarities with plants but also have appetite, power of motion, and some limited capacity for perception and sensation. Humans have these characteristics but also have rationality and the will to choose. The Greeks considered reason to be a divine gift given to humans. At the top of this ladder of nature is the divine or heavenly realm. To be god is to exist in tranquility, be self-sufficient, be undisturbed by desire or passions, be complete in virtue. To be completed as a human means to experience what it means to be divine. The Christian monk, John Climacus, put this into Christian language in his famous work, The Ladder of Ascent.
In verse 16 Paul uses the philosophical language to describe following a way of life. Paul uses this word in Galatians within the expression “they follow this rule” (Gal 6:16). The word “rule” here is used like the name “Benedictine rule.” It is a code of conduct for living a certain way of life.

Meditate on the Text

Are the people we consider leaders in the church those who are the spiritually mature. Is leadership in the church considered to be a responsibility for people with business experience? Is it the out-going, charismatic people who gain a following and should be our leaders? How do we have leadership in the business of the church while also having spiritual leaders or guides? Which is more important?
Imagine a board game called “The Game of Spiritual Life.” What causes your game piece to go forward as you make progress. What experiences cause your game piece to go backwards? How do you make sure at least to maintain your progress without experiencing regress in the spiritual life?

Live the Text

When faced with moral choices, remind yourself to “Act your age!” This includes occasions of fear, worry, envy, anger, pride, etc.
Think about how to quantify the quality of your spiritual development. Each hour gets a mark between 1-10. What would your average be at the end of the day? Is this week better than last week? Is this year better than previous years?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Philippians 3:10-14

Read the Text

10My goal is to understand experientially what Christ went through—the impact of his revivification and the participation of his painful experiences. 11When I die, I want to handle death in the same way as Jesus, if somehow I might reach my destination at the raising up and out from among the corpses. 12It’s not as though I have already reached this point or have been made spiritually mature. Instead, I make chase on the possibility I might overtake that for which I also have been overtaken by Christ Jesus.
13Friends, I do not consider myself to have crossed the finish line. Yet, I focus myself on one thing: by leaving in the dust the advantages I gained previously and stretching myself toward the benefits before me, 14I sprint toward the goal for the prize, the ascension invitation of God in participation with Christ Jesus.

Think about the Text

Paul’s desire to imitate Christ reaches a deep and profound level of experiencing what Christ experienced. Rather than knowing about Christ intellectually, Paul wants to get inside Jesus’ experience of reaching the stage in life in which the person can endure suffering, die as a martyr for the benefit of others, then be raised up from the grave (or Hades), and taken up through apotheosis to heaven. This language needs to be understood within the context of Hellenistic tradition as found in the Jewish text of 4th Maccabees. This text relates the story of a Jewish mother and her seven sons, who, along with Eleazer, the priest, withstood the tortures of Antioches Epiphanes and were martyred one by one. It is said of them in the language of an epitaph, “They vindicated their nation, looking to God and enduring torture even to death" (4th Macc 17:10). The expression “even to death” is the exact idiom used by Paul in Phil 2:8,30. The epitaph continues, “Truly the contest in which they were engaged was divine, for on that day virtue gave the awards and tested them for their endurance. The prize was immortality in endless life” (4th Macc 17:11-12). The reward for their endurance is that “they now stand before the divine throne and live the life of eternal blessedness” (4th Macc 17:18).
The metaphor of resurrection is foremost one of waking up from sleep. A dead person looks like a sleeping person, except that a living person wakes from sleep and stands up. Resurrection is simply the act of standing up or rising up. The image may be that of the cemetery, which the Greeks thought of as a dormitory for the sleeping dead. Resurrection from the dead is not resurrection from the state of death but from the location of the “dead ones,” the corpses. Although we think of our loved ones lying prone in the ground, this was not the experience in Paul’s day. All that was left of the dead was either bones or ashes, depending on the funeral custom. Therefore, Paul might also have in mind that these “dead ones” are in a sleepy, underworld existence from which they will be awakened and be brought back up. The prize is an “upward” or “heavenly” call, an expression I’ve translated as an “ascension invitation.”
Cicero, the politician, rhetorician, and philosopher, wrote over a hundred years earlier, about the destiny of the soul. He disagreed with Stoics, who considered the soul to dissipate into the universal soul, and the Epicureans, who believed the soul to be extinguished at death. In his work On Friendship, he wrote in praise of Scipio about his own more Platonic concept of the soul’s destiny after death. Cicero has Laelius espouse the view, “that human souls were of God; that upon their departure from the body a return to heaven lay open to them, and that in proportion as each soul was virtuous and just would the return be easy and direct.” He goes on to say, “If the truth really is that the souls of all good men after death make the easiest escape from what may be termed the imprisonment and fetters of the flesh, whom can we think of as having had an easier journey to the gods than Scipio?” (De Amicitia, 1.4).
Another metaphor here is the athletic race in which the runner seeks to reach the goal. Paul’s words “pursue, press on” (diōkō, my trans. “sprint”) and “mark, goal” (skopos) in verse 14 are the same words used by Epictetus in a similar context. Those things that are indifferent to the pursuit of virtue are external to us or outside of our control. Epictetus says, “We ought to keep the soul directed to this mark (skopos), to pursue (diōkō) nothing external, and nothing which belongs to others, but to do as [god] as appointed who has the power” (Discourses, 4.12.15).
Paul’s criticism about the advantages of ancestry, nationality, and accomplishments, as we saw in the previous section, is not that these were part of a Jewish religion he is now abandoning. They are simply the advantages of life that do not make a difference in the progress of the soul toward virtue. Paul discards them in order to pursue that which enables him to achieve the goal.

Meditate on the Text

Think about what it’s like to wake up in the morning. If you’ve slept soundly, you are not aware of the passing of time. You fell asleep and now you are awake. Perhaps the alarm clock announced to you it was time to wake up to a new and glorious day. How might you compare this to death and resurrection?
Can you picture a runner at the starting line, who is wearing the medals and ribbons he/she has won and carrying a few trophies? This person’s a college graduate and is wearing a robe and a mortar board hat. Under one arm are a stack of newspapers with press reports showing how famous this athlete is. What does this runner need to do in order to run a good race and make it to the finish line?

Live the Text

Every time you stand up this week, think resurrection. Every time you walk up stairs (or ride up), think of your invitation from God to come up to God’s presence.
Think of your little goals this week. While you’re reaching the small goals you set for yourself, remember the ultimate goal you are working toward: the life well-lived, being all God intended for humans to be.