Category Archives: Bible Study

Penultimate Rendering of Philippians 1:27-30

(September 18, 2017) 9:56 AM So here’s my penultimate rendering of Phil. 1:27-30.

Now the only thing that really matters is that you make it your habit to live as good citizens of heaven in a manner required by the Good News about Christ, so that, whether or not I’m able to go and see you in person or remain absent, I will be hearing that all of you, like soldiers on a battlefield, are standing shoulder to shoulder and working as one team to help people put their trust in the Good News. Don’t allow your enemies to terrify you in any way. Your boldness in the midst of opposition will be a clear sign to them that they will be destroyed and that you will be saved, because it’s God who gives you salvation. For God has granted you the privilege on behalf of Christ of not only believing in Him but also suffering for Him. Now it’s your turn to take part with me in the life-or-death battle I’m fighting — the same battle you saw me fighting in Philippi and, as you hear, the one I’m fighting now.

For a long time I struggled with what to do with Paul’s “striving together [Greek sunathlountes] in one soul for the faith of the Gospel.” Many commentators insisted that Paul was using an athletic metaphor here, one dealing especially with teamwork. But did the ancient Greeks have what we know as “team sports” similar to our basketball, volleyball, and football? Indeed they did. One such team sport was akin to our modern-day rugby. Another resembled field hockey. The Greeks loved sports. They felt that it distinguished them from non-Greeks.

Verbal aspect … civic, military, and athletic metaphors … objective genitives … all make for an interest paragraph, don’t you think? Please understand that Paul is not a military hawk, even though he uses military metaphors. We overcome evil not with evil but with good. We “love our enemies to death” says Fee, and he’s right. We are literally offering the “life-giving message” (2:16) to those who are dying.

Next up: Perhaps the greatest description of Christian unity in the New Testament (2:1-4).

Meditating on Philippians 1:1

(August 16, 2017) 3:38 PM What starts as a few light snow flakes soon becomes a blizzard. That’s how I feel whenever I read and meditate on a passage of Scripture. More and more I am hearing the Lord saying to His church, “Come back to original Christianity.” Friends, we’ve elevated how we do church to such a degree that it takes a professional — in many cases, a professional team — to pull it off. If we’re really going to change the world, the process has to become a whole lot simpler. Everyone has to become a servant.

This thought came to mind as I read Phil. 1:1 this morning. Just as a reminder: My habit is to turn to a passage and read it straight through. Then I go back and work through each clause word by word. After this, I spend time pondering, praying, and journaling. Writing my thoughts down helps focus my attention and allows me time to process. You don’t have to be a C. S. Lewis to do this either. (Thankfully.)

First off, here’s another way of rendering the opening verse of the letter. You’ll notice it differs a bit from the rendering I gave you yesterday. That’s perfectly acceptable. Rarely, if ever, is there only one way to render the Greek into English. The only translation I wouldn’t accept from my students is one that would be impossible in English. “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus in Philippi ….” would not past muster if only because we would never begin a letter like that. That’s simply not “English.” We either have to write “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, write this letter to …” or something like this:

This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. It is for all God’s people in Philippi who are in union with Christ Jesus, including those who oversee and serve.

You may have noticed that my “including those who oversee and serve” is ambiguous, and intentionally so. Paul may be referring to two groups of people here (overseers and servers) or, by employing a figure of speech called hendiadys (Greek for “one-through-two,” that is, one idea expressed through two words) he’s referring to a single group: overseers who serve. In New Testament times, an overseer was someone who “looked after” or “cared for” someone else. Another sense was that of “visiting” someone to check to see how they were doing. The term always carried with it an overtone of love and affection. My daughter, for example, acted like an overseer today when she brought me some homemade soup. This was an act of “overseeing” (episkope) on her part: “oversight that naturally goes on to provide the care and attention appropriate to the ‘personal visitation'” (Strong’s Concordance).

Here Paul seems to be using the term “overseers” more narrowly, that is, as a reference to church leaders, and indeed, “leaders” would also be an acceptable rendering. Who, then, are the servers? In one sense, all Christians alike are servers (diakonoi). In fact, from reading the book of Ephesians, we know that one of the main responsibilities of overseers is to “equip God’s people for works of service” (Eph. 4:11-12). The term “servers” itself takes its name from those in the secular world who were responsible for such functions as the distribution of food and gifts. When Paul uses the term here, he’s probably referring to people in the church who were especially gifted in ministering to the physical and material needs of the congregation or were involved in supervising such ministries.

When, then, of our old friend Mr. Hendiadys? I think he’s still in play here. The Greek allows it, and so does the context. We’ve already noted that Paul and Timothy are explicitly referred to as men who serve Christ Jesus. Likewise, overseers/leaders in the church don’t simply possess a status in the body of Christ. They are those who serve others by attending to their needs. They “care for God’s flock with all the diligence of a shepherd” (1 Pet. 5:2, The Message).

So this was the text I meditated on this morning. In the silence, God spoke to me as clearly as if He were sitting next me. “Dave, are you a genuine servant of Christ Jesus? Is that what people know you for? Or do you just talk about performing the duties of a slave in the service of God and His people? Could you write, ‘Dave, a slave of Christ Jesus’?” We all need to become saints who serve. I do. You do. The church and the world desperately need this. The only person we can orient our life around is Jesus and His example of utter self-abnegation. Under His leadership, we are freed from self. We are free to recede into the group. We are free to serve others, no matter if it’s on a job site or if it’s in delivering soup to a sick and home-bound loved one. We are free to live with intention and purpose. To serve the Lord is our calling. It is our work. It is our vocation, all of us helping out in our preaching, our teaching, our labor, our play, in all the zillions of small ways our imperfect candles can shine. Let’s make a transition to the model of Christianity Paul is setting forth for us in Philippians. This is the heart message of the letter: allowing God to develop the selfless mind of Christ in us so that we can bear God’s image in our attitudes and actions both in the church and in the world.

This side of heaven there is nothing sweeter than communing with our Creator, whether in nature or in His word. Let’s become the careful listeners He seeks. Paul’s overriding concern in Philippians is the advance of the Gospel. Since this is the case, it seems obvious that we should read the letter — including its opening salutation — as explicitly paradigmatic. It’s all well and good to point out a “nominative absolute” or a “dative of address” or a “genitive of possession” here and there, but such observations simply don’t go far enough. In fact, I’d say that stopping there without considering the paradigmatic force of such constructions is to do a grave disservice to the Greek student since it implies that Greek exists for itself and not as a foundation for life-changing truth. What is being modeled in Philippians, even in the very first paragraph, is the need to live a “cruciform” life — a mind in keeping with the Gospel. “Don’t do anything out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (2:3). By elevating Timothy’s name to the same level as his own, Paul is doing exactly that. And what united Paul and Timothy was nothing less than their mutual participation in the Gospel. This is what makes Paul’s admonition to Euodia and Syntyche in 4:2 all the more poignant. These women had at one time contended side by side with Paul in the cause of the Gospel, but now they needed to be entreated to agree with each other in the Lord. Paul seems to be saying that every one of us in the church needs to have the same mindset, despite our many differences. The propagation of the Gospel ever and always hangs on a unified church. But for this to happen we must sacrificially give ourselves for the sake of others, because this is what the Gospel is all about. To miss this central message in Phil. 1:1 is to miss the letter altogether and to miss the very heart of what it means to be a Christian. The Spirit never sows division and pride. The best, most joyful, and most genuine Christians I know are those who gladly serve others as slaves of Christ Jesus. Seeing this great truth being played out in the opening verse of Philippians makes the study of the Greek text all the more beautiful for me.

William Varner on Philippians 1:2

(August 18, 2017) 8:18 AM William Varner’s vlog on Phil. 1:2 has been posted. It’s an excellent overview of the Greek text. A few additional observations, for what they’re worth.

1) This greeting is more than mere phatic communication. “(By “phatic” I mean communication that seeks to reach out and engage someone. A handshake is such a gesture. It’s more than a polite social convention but indicates an attempt to “contact” another person in a warm and personal  fashion.) The greeting here in Phil 1:1 is like every other greeting in the Pauline letters in that it points to the blessings of grace and peace, not in a general sense, but as needed by the readers.

2) Grace is mentioned first. Thus at the very beginning of his letter, Paul subtly reminds the Philippian Christians that their life in Christ is a gift of God’s grace they’ve received through simple faith, not through obedience to the ceremonies of the Jewish law. This is key to understanding later portions of the letter in which Paul issues an invective against (apparently) Jewish Christians who promote circumcision and law-keeping among Gentile Christians (see 3:2 ff.).

3) Few seem to remark on the position of the “peace” blessing. Paul could have written “Grace and peace to you.” Instead, he wrote “Grace to you, and peace.” Here “peace” is set off in the Greek text, quite possibly for emphasis. There’s little question that the issue of disharmony is one of Paul’s major concerns in writing this brief letter. Peace is (at least) the cessation of hostilities (again, see 4:2, where Euodia and Syntyche are singled out). But peace involves much than that. If the background of Paul’s use of the word here is Hebraic in nature (shalom), as Will suggests, then the idea would also include concepts of wholeness, spiritual health, vitality, and well-being. As Paul will state in 2:12, “You are, as a congregation, in your relationships with one another, to live out the salvation [Gerald Hawthorne: spiritual health] Christ has brought you.” As Fee points out (p. 104), “This is therefore not a text dealing with individual salvation but an ethical text dealing with the outworking of salvation in the believing community for the sake of the world.” Once again, the letter’s theme is evident: Harmonious relationships in the church for the sake of the Gospel. This implication of “peace” in 1:2 should not be overlooked.

4) Finally, as Will points out, this passage is loaded with theology, and, I might add, theology that foreshadows some of the main subthemes of the letter. A rich example is Paul’s use of “Lord” (kurios) to refer to Jesus. Without doubt, in a city like Philippi, which was a Roman colony where citizens took their civic duties very seriously indeed, the term “Lord” would have been a reminder for the believers there that their ultimate allegiance is not to Caesar (who loved to use the title kurios with reference to himself) but to another kurios, whose coming from heaven is now awaited with eager anticipation (3:20). It is to this Lord, who died the death of a common criminal but was raised from the dead, God gave the name that is above all names, the name of the Lord God Himself. One can scarcely miss the theological connotations.

How, then, are we to render verse 2? Wycliffe’s SSA (Semantic Structural Analysis) of Philippians suggests something like this (I’ve modified it a bit):

We pray that God, who is our Father, and Jesus Christ, who is our Lord, will continue to act graciously toward you and will, in addition, continue to cause you to have peace/be peaceful.

Let’s not forget, though, that “peace” seems to be set apart for special emphasis.

Gordon Fee on Philippians

(August 18, 2017) 10:58 AM Hey again, one and all. From my home to yours: Happy Friday! Let’s see…what’s first up. Well, still got Philippians on my brain. Ya gotta love Fee. On p. 44 of his IVP commentary on Philippians, he writes:

Those in roles of primary leadership too easily slip into a self-understanding which pays lip service to their being slaves/servants of Christ Jesus but prefer the more honorable sense of this term found in the Old Testament to the paradigm of either Christ (in 2:6-8) or of Paul (2:17).

Lip service? Yep! Then he adds this:

Not only so, but the emphasis on all of God’s holy people, together with their leaders, could use some regular dusting off so as to minimize the distance between clergy and people that too frequently exists in the church.

Ready to get out the old feather duster? Finally, note this:

All of us are in Christ Jesus, and all are in Christ Jesus in whatever “Philippi” God has placed us, since contemporary Western and westernized cultures are no more friends to grace than theirs was to these earliest believers.

Fee’s message is a powerful reminder that the plurality and the cooperation of pastors is desperately needed in our churches today. This stands in stark contrast to situations — all too common, I’m afraid —  where Christian leaders are in sole charge and are often highly individualistic. Last year I had the privilege of teaching in a church in Denver that does, I think, a very good job of modeling this pattern of leadership. They have a multiplicity of elders (some paid by the church, some not) who work as a team of equals to foster a Great Commission and Great Commandment mindset among their flock. Now, I realize that this is a very tender issue, to be handled with great care. But healthy leadership is a powerful indicator of spiritual life. It is astonishing that time after time in the New Testament the leaders are referred to in the plural, and it is just as astounding that Paul in Phil. 1:1 would use a term of horrific opprobrium to refer to himself and his faithful co-worker Timothy: slaves. Well did Jesus say, “Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That’s what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served — and then give His life away to redeem many people by ransom.”

Second, I’m getting really excited about the St. George (Utah) Marathon coming up in October. My ultimate goal, of course, is to finish the race. But I would really like to come in under 6 hours again. It’s an ambitious goal and I’m not sure if it’s attainable. Everything will have to go right. Still, I feel compelled to go for it. My flights are already booked into the St. George airport via Atlanta, and I’m staying in an Airbnb close by. My health is the big wildcard. I need to pull back a bit, I think, from my mileage and train more for quality than quantity. Interestingly, even though I’ve been sick this week I’ve still managed to put 45 miles on Map My Run app for the month of August. Most of my training henceforth will be focused on St. George. This will be my “A” race. Since I’ll be doing as much walking as running, I’ll need to train for both activities. Running puts demands mostly on your upper legs, whereas walking puts more demands on your calves and shins. Meanwhile, I’m still chillaxing here on the farm.

Finally, I recently found a website that I’d highly recommend. It’s called Best Commentaries and it ranks the best commentaries on every book of the Bible. I see that Grant Osborne has a new commentary on Philippians coming out. Eager to read it.

Lunch time!

Philippians 1:1

(August 19, 2017) 8:28 AM Here’s yet another takeaway from Phil. 1:1. (Yes, Dave’s beating a dead horse.)

Paul greets the church and then its leaders.

Please don’t overlook this, friends. Let’s be real. You and I would have greeted the pastor and then the people. Not so Paul.

Often doctrine elevates the “pastorate” as the highest calling in life. This isn’t true, because it omits Christian engineers and school teachers and housewives and janitors and every other “calling” in life you can think of. If non-pastors are second-class citizens in the kingdom, then you’ve just excluded millions from Gospel work. You know, the Gospel is proclaimed as clearly through a mother changing her baby’s diaper as through the labor of preparing and delivering a sermon. But, you say, there’s “the call.” Yes there is. And this call, in the New Testament, is not what you might think it is. In the New Testament, one’s calling encompasses far more than one’s vocation (or avocation for that matter). Just read Eph. 4:1 or 2 Thess. 1:11. We can all lived called lives, Gospel lives, in every imaginable context. This includes, of course, the calling to serve your church as a loving, caring, overseer/elder/pastor/shepherd — faithfully leading, teaching, admonishing, and loving the flock. (See John 10 for what a loving shepherd looks like.) That may involve a career/profession or it may not. We need you, pastors! But you may also serve the Lord as a teacher (as I try to do). Maybe this morning you punched a time clock. It really doesn’t matter that much. The manner in which I treat my students, the way in which I prepare and deliver my lectures, the dignity with which I regard my pupils, the courtesy I extend to them by answering their emails in a timely manner, the effort I put into developing them as teachers in their own right, the example I set before them as a Christ-minded man, the way I treat my faculty colleagues — this is the called life I am asked to pursue as a professional Greek teacher. This might not seem like much, but it is. Friend, live out your calling today. If you’re one of my dear students, please remember that you don’t have to wait until you graduate to begin serving King Jesus. To become a fulltime missionary you don’t have to wait until you deputize and deploy. A missional life most often shows up quietly in our work places and neighborhoods (even during 5K races). My dream for you is to be exactly who you were created to be by God. My dream is to see all of us in fulltime Christian ministry. My dream is for all God’s people (the “saints” of Phil. 1:1) to be smitten with Jesus, so much so that there’s nothing they’d rather do than serve Him like a selfless slave, as Paul and Timothy did. But at no point should you ever think of yourself as somehow less than “called” because you are not employed by a local church. We are all God’s servants, sheep and shepherds alike. Yours might seem like small work. In fact, you might not think it’s Christian service at all. Let God surprise you.

May God make us all worthy of our high calling today.

Philippians – The Whole Book

(August 19, 2017) 12:02 PM I’ve just read through Philippians in its entirety — again. I thought of marriage as I did so. Ah, marriage. Two flawed people trying to make a go of it. Till death do us part. And when it does separate us, the grief that ensues. Ever tried to counsel someone who’s lost a spouse? That’s where Phil. 2:1 comes into play. In fact, it comes into play in a way I never noticed before. Here Paul makes four assumptions about Christians. (I call them assumptions because the first class condition is used in Greek.) Here they are:

1) Because of our union with Christ, we have great encouragement.

2) His love comforts us.

3) Because of His Spirit, we are brought into fellowship with other believers. (Or, conversely, we have fellowship with the Spirit — a less likely meaning in this context.)

4) We experience kindness and compassion from one another.

As everyone knows who’s ever experienced loss, it’s not the loss that becomes the defining moment in our lives. It’s how we respond to that loss. Our response will, to a great extent, determine how we live the rest of our lives. Of course, we will never resume the life we lived before our loss. But we can be enlarged by that loss, even enriched by it as we reflect on what that loss has meant to us and how we have changed in its aftermath. Nothing can undo the pain of separation. You cannot avoid the grief or escape it. Loss changes your life — forever. At the moment of loss, you begin the test of a lifetime. How will I respond?

I don’t want my life to be defined by Becky’s loss. I want to focus more on God than on the tragedy itself. It’s also important to me, however, to be real with myself. I believe that we who have suffered the loss of a loved one have a story to tell — a story of pain and suffering to be sure, but also a story of redemption. Here’s my story today:

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for speaking to me through Paul’s words in Phil. 2:1. Thank You, yes thank You, for the way You daily encourage me to carry on in the wake of that event. Thank you, oh thank You, for the comfort You give me to bear up under the sorrow. Thank You so much for the people in my life who truly care about me. Their kindness and compassion have meant everything to me.

Grief counselor, here’s a verse you can use. It can be summed up in a single phrase: In Christ we have everything we need to cope with loss. And to my fellow grief-sufferers: If you are comfortable doing so, why not share on your blog or Facebook page what has been especially meaningful to you during your journey? What are the things that have kept you from embracing your suffering? What are some of the choices sufferers need to make in order to receive the comfort of Christ? Do you ever find that suffering isolates you from the believing community?

This morning, this verse from Philippians was a pure gift to me. It reminded me of the privilege and opportunity I have to be a father and grandfather who shows his family that we don’t have to become emotionally distant and inaccessible just because of our loss. We overcome evil by doing good. I have had wonderful encounters with many people over the past three and a half years. With some of you I have forged deep friendships because of the losses we both have experienced. It’s very moving to me to be able to hear your story — and to share my own. This is the kind of koinoniathat, I think, God has called all of us to.

Philippians 1:3-11 – The Body Opening

(August 24, 2017) 11:25 AM Next week in Greek 3 we’re in Phil. 1:3-11.

Εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ μνείᾳ ὑμῶν, πάντοτε ἐν πάσῃ δεήσει μου ὑπὲρ πάντων ὑμῶν, μετὰ χαρᾶς τὴν δέησιν ποιούμενος, ἐπὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ ὑμῶν εἰς τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἀπὸ τῆς πρώτης ἡμέρας ἄχρι τοῦ νῦν, πεποιθὼς αὐτὸ τοῦτο, ὅτι ὁ ἐναρξάμενος ἐν ὑμῖν ἔργον ἀγαθὸν ἐπιτελέσει ἄχρι ἡμέρας Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ· Καθώς ἐστιν δίκαιον ἐμοὶ τοῦτο φρονεῖν ὑπὲρ πάντων ὑμῶν διὰ τὸ ἔχειν με ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμᾶς, ἔν τε τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου καὶ ἐν τῇ ἀπολογίᾳ καὶ βεβαιώσει τοῦ εὐαγγελίου συγκοινωνούς μου τῆς χάριτος πάντας ὑμᾶς ὄντας.

μάρτυς γάρ μου ὁ θεὸς ὡς ἐπιποθῶ πάντας ὑμᾶς ἐν σπλάγχνοις Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ.

Καὶ τοῦτο προσεύχομαι, ἵνα ἡ ἀγάπη ὑμῶν ἔτι μᾶλλον καὶ μᾶλλον περισσεύῃ ἐν ἐπιγνώσει καὶ πάσῃ αἰσθήσει, εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τὰ διαφέροντα, ἵνα ἦτε εἰλικρινεῖς καὶ ἀπρόσκοποι εἰς ἡμέραν Χριστοῦ, πεπληρωμένοι καρπὸν δικαιοσύνης τὸν διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς δόξαν καὶ ἔπαινον θεοῦ.

What amazing words. This section of the letter comprises the body opening. To listen to these verses being read aloud, gohere and scroll down to “Philippians Audio.” Perhaps I could summarize the linguistic macrostructure of these verses as follows:

I joyfully thank God because of the way you have helped me in the work of the Gospel from the first day until now, and I pray that God will enable you to know how to love one another appropriately and be able to choose what is best in life.

For Paul, there was no greater joy in the world than helping someone to come, as he puts it elsewhere, “from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God.” We have much to learn in this passage about courage and taking initiative in evangelism. When I was in seminary, evangelism was often reduced to methods. Today there is (thankfully) much less emphasis on technique and a lot more emphasis on relationship-building. Evangelism is now recognized as being far too important to leave to the professionals. The Gospel is truly the world’s greatest love story. It’s a story that’s not only written and told about, but seen. This week I’ll be re-immersing myself in these verses. I’m hoping it will be a time to listen to the text, to get my bearings, and to again draw near to God. Folks, the opportunities for us to do this are pretty common. They’re before us every day. Being alone with God forces us to confront ourselves. Is the Gospel really my life’s priority? Am I really able to discern what’s of greatest importance as a Christian? Am I truly a loving partner with others in the kingdom work Jesus is doing all over this planet? This is the message of Phil. 1:3-11, and it’s one well worth remembering.

Hawthorne on Philippians 1:9

(August 25, 2017) 8:18 AM In his outstanding commentary on Philippians, Gerald Hawthorne calls our attention to the textual variants in the Greek text of Phil. 1:9.

πεπληρωμένοι καρπὸν δικαιοσύνης τὸν διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς δόξαν καὶ ἔπαινον θεοῦ.

Most manuscripts read “to the glory and praise of God.” Some, however, have “to the glory and praise of me,” while one papyrus manuscript (p46) reads “to the glory of God and to the praise of me.” When I first saw these variants years ago, I felt a twinge of sadness in my heart. Self-praise is uniquely unbecoming to the Christian. Yet that’s the same question we face every day in a myriad of ways. It’s so easy for us to “esteem ourselves as better than others” (to paraphrase Paul’s words in Phil. 2:3). But when we drag our pride kicking and screaming into the glorious light of the Gospel, we can see it for what it is. It is possible to bend the universe too sharply toward our own agendas and accomplishments. That’s why in Pauline theology, in New Testament theology, and I dare say in biblical theology in general, there’s little or no place for human pride, human accomplishment, or human achievement, apart from the sheer grace of God. Even when we work “harder than the rest,” we are still what we are “by the grace of God” (1 Cor. 15:10). I suspect we very much underestimate the sin of pride in our evangelical circles. But without humility of mind, says Paul, there can be no unity (Phil. 2:3). I worry sometimes that we consider “success” to be the product of our own diligence more than God’s working in our lives. “Humility” is a slippery concept. It is so tempting to go along with the crowd, to bend, to make believe our accomplishments are really ours. The truth is, “We have this treasure in jars of clay so that the surpassing greatness of the power might be of God, and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:7).

To the scribe of p46: You are so funny, dude. And to my Greek students who think that the art and science of New Testament textual criticism is, well, overkill: Sorry about that. We Greek profs try not to put unreasonable “shoulds” and “should nots” on you guys. But when it comes to textual variants, we have no choice. (You can sort this out with your therapist one day.) Let me pause to acknowledge the fear button I may have just pushed. The last thing I want to do is to terrify my beloved students. But we can’t decide between variants if we don’t know what we’re dealing with. I know this is hard stuff, but it’s not impossible stuff. Just as loving parents tell their kids, “Get out of bed and do your chores,” so loving Greek profs are preparing their docents to accurately handle the word of truth. Better to read a primer on New Testament textual criticism than to be entirely apathetic and blatantly hypocritical.

Philippians 1:3-11 – Notes

(August 25, 2017) Phil. 1:3-11 raises a host of vitally important (and interesting!) questions of interpretation, including:

  • The use of the middle voice with certain verbs
  • The use of eis for en
  • Ambiguity (for example, is touto in v. 3 anaphoric or cataphoric?)
  • The post-positioning of adjectives
  • The debate over the grammatical subject of echein in 1:7
  • The first use in the letter of sun– as a prepositional prefix morpheme (13 total occurrences)
  • Why does the Majority Text supply estin after mou in 1:8?
  • Why is a perfect participle used in 1:11?

I had to smile when I read Paul’s words in 1:10: ” … so that you may choose what is best.” I was on a “Christian Agrarianism” website the other day where the author actually stated that Christian Agrarianism is the “only answer to America’s problems.” Hmm …. I’m a Christian. And I’m an agrarian. But I’ll leave “Christian Agrarianism” solutions to others. This morning I was also perusing websites whose authors enjoy commenting on the virtues and ills of everything from Donald Trump to the alt right to Black Lives Matter to Confederate statues. They, too, seem to think that involvement in politics will provide the solution to what ails us as a nation. The problem is that the movement Jesus came to establish — the kingdom of God — can’t be identified with Christianity as a religion. In fact, any religion, Christian or otherwise, that doesn’t look like Jesus, who taught us to love our enemies and even die for them, contrasts with the kingdom of heaven. As the Anabaptists have shown us, politics and religion simply don’t mix. How important is this? Read Paul’s words in Phil. 1:10 again. We have to “chose what is best” in life — and this “best,” Paul says, is nothing other than living as citizens of heaven in a manner required by the Gospel (please read 1:27). This includes the Matthews (conservatives) and the Simon the Zealots (liberals) in our midst. The problem is, once you invite politics into the kingdom realm, you introduce polarizing claims, and one thing we don’t need any more of today in our fellowships is division. Maybe if we stopped blaming government for our ills and began looking to the Gospel as the only solution to our problems, we’d see some genuine change. I don’t mind if you express your political beliefs on your blog. Have at it. Each of us is trying to make sense of the current political condition of our nation the best we can. But as followers of King Jesus, and as disciples in His upside-down kingdom, I don’t believe that’s where our time and energy is to be spent. That’s aiming at the wrong bull’s-eye. “I believe it’s time to stop seeking God in the misguided and erroneous teachings of do-goodism, whether the source is liberalism or conservatism,” I wrote in the Welcome page to my website. “Jesus Christ is the only answer to the malaise plaguing our families, our churches, and our society.” If we as Christians would start doing what we’re called to do, then maybe we would stop telling Caesar what he ought to do and just begin doing it ourselves.

Philippians 1 – There Are No Holy Places

(September 1, 2017) 8:18 AM Yo folks!

So September is almost upon us. Huzzah! The kiddos are finally back in school. The weather is turning cooler. Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Those of us who teach are back into teaching mode. This week’s classes were phenomenal. I asked, “So what must we do to follow our Father’s footsteps into the kingdom?” For starters ….

  • Reject manmade status symbols (like titles).
  • Embrace the flat kingdom.
  • Affirm, remember, and proclaim: THERE ARE NO HOLY PLACES.

Oooh, that last one.

Religions have their shrines, temples, mosques, and churches. Not so Christianity. We worship “in Spirit” — that is, worship is spiritual, not material — and “in truth” — that is, according to what the Bible teaches and not our human traditions. Moreover, the church is a missional church. Missions is an active word. We pursue the path of the kingdom precisely because the Way of Jesus is a path of shalom for all people. Christianity is an insurgency. We throw off all those things we once considered so important and now consider them to be no more than skubala. We put our minds and energies into the service of the daily, grinding, upstream-swimming, frustrating, impossible work of overturning injustice. Why, we’re even willing to put aside our legitimate rights (as Jesus did) if the time to exercise them isn’t right. We do not grow weary in well doing. We show up when others need us. We set apart our days for the work of proclaiming with our hands and feet the kingdom of God. It doesn’t matter if we live in India or Indiana. Together, we’ll keep up the holy work, keep laying down our lives, keep worshiping, loving, making space for others. We refuse to let the lies of churchianity hold us back.

There’s something exhilarating about living this way. There’s something wondrous, fantastical even, about flinging open the door of simple church and exclaiming, “Bring it on, Jesus!” This was my view this morning on my front porch as I meditated on the word.

My text was Phil. 1:12-14.

Since my Bible is so messy, the text reads as follows:

Γινώσκειν δὲ ὑμᾶς βούλομαι, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι τὰ κατ’ ἐμὲ μᾶλλον εἰς προκοπὴν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου ἐλήλυθεν, ὥστε τοὺς δεσμούς μου φανεροὺς ἐν Χριστῷ γενέσθαι ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ πραιτωρίῳ καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς πᾶσιν, καὶ τοὺς πλείονας τῶν ἀδελφῶν ἐν κυρίῳ πεποιθότας τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου περισσοτέρως τολμᾶν ἀφόβως τὸν λόγον λαλεῖν.

As I thought about how Paul made the cause of the Gospel his number one priority, I wondered aloud: “How can I do that this day?” It’s a lovely thing to watch men and women living kingdom lives. Their whole beings are an act of worship (not just what they do during “worship” on Sunday — oh, how I wish we could rid ourselves of that concept!). As Paul shows us, there’s no single way to be a Christian. Sometimes even in our prisons we can do life together and make our circumstances count for the Gospel. Isn’t that it? We are the smell and touch of Jesus, wherever we are. God in the flesh, Word made man — surely it matters. “One can scarcely miss the focus of Paul’s concern, here and always: Christ and the gospel,” writes Gordon Fee on Phil. 1:12-26 (p. 56). Paul “…intends much of this to serve as paradigm” (p. 57). As always, Paul turns the attention away from himself and his circumstances to the Gospel. I like that. I like to think that everything from my recent bouts with bronchitis to my teaching Greek to my giving to disaster relief in Houston — all of it is a sacrament of community. Sometimes the best way for me to properly celebrate the kingdom is to answer my students’ emails in a timely fashion. We can embody the kingdom by going to the nations (as we ought), but we can also embody the kingdom by an unhurried family meal or a visit to a homebound relative. I want to live out my faith, not just talk about it. I want to live it out as an embodiment of the Gospel in real places, in real contexts, and with real people.

Paul’s point in Phil. 1:12-14 is a simple one: The Gospel is not bound (pardon the silly pun). It’s advancing both inside and outside prison. It survives despite jerks who preach it with false motives (1:15-18). And it will survive even if God takes Paul home to heaven (1:19-26). I live in a Christian subculture that elevates the Bible to the fourth member of the Godhead. We celebrate the cult of the speaker. (Apparently you can type that sentence and not be struck by lightening.) But the real question is: Have our lives been molded by this Spirit-inspired word? The purpose of the Scriptures is to equip us and then send us out into the world. And guess what? Everyone gets to play. Seminary students do. Mothers folding diapers do. We all do. Despite our “issues.” Paul’s teaching us in Phil. 1:12-14 to focus simply on the Gospel. Don’t let your daily problems drive you to panic. Let them drive you joyfully to leverage your circumstances for Jesus. Don’t give up or give in. Patience in the midst of trials is the trademark of God’s Holy Spirit in your life. And that’s a good word in this aspirin age of ours.

Blessings,

Dave