Category Archives: Bible Study

Philippians 4:5 – EPIEIKES

(September 8, 2017) 11:32 AM I am a word guy, fully right-brained (unless I’m being left-brained). Carved into the temple at Delphi are these words:

I wonder if Paul might be alluding to them in Phil. 4:5, where he uses the Greek term epieikes, often translated “gentleness.” The temple carving means something like “Nothing in excess.” Hawthorne prefers “big-heartedness,” but then adds, “For big-heartedness one may substitute any of the following: forbearance, yieldedness, geniality, kindliness, gentleness, sweet reasonableness, considerateness, charitableness, mildness, magnanimity, generosity” (p. 193). The goal is to “meet people halfway,” to “not insist on one’s own rights all the time.” Forgive me for beating a dead horse, but, again, don’t we see this in Paul’s discussion of the Roman “preachers” in 1:15-17? Paul could have gotten on their case because of their false motives. The fact is, they are advancing the Gospel, and for Paul that’s the main thing. Yet isn’t it also possible that Paul has chosen to highlight these ill-willed evangelists because they are causing strife and division in Rome, much like the Philippians themselves were possibly polarizing around two women whom Paul actually names in 4:2? I think the point is this: Paul is being tactful. He wants to address the issue of division (or at least disharmony) among the Philippians, but he’s willing to bide his time. First he has to set the backdrop: the life and ministry of Jesus. This tactfulness on the part of Paul is whispering to me, “Not so fast in becoming argumentative when you disagree with people, Dave.” I’ve got a dozen emails I still haven’t answered, and one of them is, let’s just say, a bit uncharitable. Epieikes doesn’t apply to me, does it? Surely not.

Ahem.

“The Christian is the man who reasons that it is far better to suffer wrong than to inflict wrong (I Cor. 6:7)” — so writes Hendriksen on the word epieikes (p. 193). Who am I in this scenario? A man who needs to heed Paul’s injunction. How about you? Try practicing the presence of the One who is meek and gentle amid the noise and confusion you’ll be facing today. Rest assured. You can be big-hearted. So can I. Such simple things matter to God — and make a Christian stand out in a crowd.

Translating Philippians 1:27-30

(September 16, 2017) 5:12 AM Still working on my translation of Phil. 1:27-30. Here’s the latest iteration:

Now the only thing in life that really matters is that you live out your Kingdom citizenship in a manner required by the Gospel of Christ, so that, whether or not I’m able to go and see you in person, I will hear that all of you are standing side by side with one common purpose: to work together as one team to see people put their trust in the Gospel. Don’t allow your enemies to intimidate you in any way. Your boldness in the midst of such persecution will prove to them that they will lose and that you will win, because it is God who gives you the victory. For God has granted you the privilege, for the sake of Christ, of not only believing in Him but also suffering for Him. It’s your turn to take part with me in the battle I’m fighting — the same battle you saw me fighting in the past and, as you hear, the one I’m fighting now.

There are 3 themes here:

1) The church must act corporately and cooperatively (with one common purpose and goal) if others are to come to faith in Christ.

2) Since unbelievers are devoted to another “lord,” persecution and opposition will be inevitable. Hence boldness is required — a kind of uncommon courage that will prove to one’s enemies that they are headed for certain destruction.

3) The Christian life is a struggle, all of it, from beginning to end. If our Lord was crucified, should we expect any less? The path to heaven always leads through a cross.

What does this say to a 65-year old Greek prof? Today’s news is frightening. There are wars (Afghanistan) and rumors of wars (North Korea). International tensions abound. Increasing numbers of the elderly are putting an almost overwhelming strain on Social Security. I realize I am growing older. Some day my children will have to become parents to me. They should understand my joy is found in serving Jesus. Even though I feel nostalgia for the days gone by, I am living in the “now.” Yes, I need time for renewal and reflection, but I also want to be active. I want to remind my students (and blog readers) that partnership in the Gospel includes mutual suffering. Discipleship is always costly. If it isn’t costing us anything, then it isn’t discipleship. Christ is our only paradigm. By living the “cruciform” life, He showed us the way forward. It’s the path of downward mobility. It means having a genuine interest in others’ welfare. It means putting aside our own selfish interests. It means adopting Jesus’ definition of “rich.” (Farewell keeping up with the Joneses.) It may mean risking one’s life for the sake of Christ. It is not enough to be citizens of America. The Gospel proclaims only one Lord, who is the incarnate Savior. Nothing is more important today than living out a Christlike vision of the kingdom. The United States can never be the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom looks just like Jesus, and no amount of pom-pom waving will ever lead one person to salvation. To miss this central focus on the Lord Jesus is to miss the focus of the entire book of Philippians. Christ is the focus of everything God has done and everything He will yet do in this world.

Dear reader, may we “join together” this very day in “imitating” Paul by “walking” as he walked (Phil. 3:17). For, you see, “the only thing in life that really matters” is truly the only thing in life that really matters.

Same When I’m Here and When I’m Away

(September 17, 2017) 6:40 AM One year I taught Greek in a foreign setting and asked the principal of the college where I was teaching if I could use closed-book take-home exams. He looked at me like I had ten heads, “You can’t do that,” he said. “Why not?” I asked. “I use them at home all the time.” His reply shocked me: “Because the students will cheat. They will use their textbooks while taking the exam. It’s happened before. I’m sorry, but I just can’t allow that.”

This incident came back to me yesterday as I read Paul’s words in Phil. 1:27: ” … whether or not I’m able to go and see you….” He says basically the same thing in 2:12: “So then, my dear friends, just as you always obeyed me when I was with you, it’s even more important that you obey me while I’m away from you.”

I think Paul’s point is pretty clear. Obedience to the Lord’s commands should not be dependent on Paul’s personal presence. There’s an unhealthy tendency for us to lean too heavily on our teachers. Is this not true? The Philippians must learn to rely more on God than on the presence of any teacher of theirs. Every parent knows exactly what Paul is saying. The purpose of parenting is to give our children roots and then to give them wings, to live out God’s plan for their lives without our supervision and advice. Moreover, every parent knows their own weaknesses and shortcomings. As hard as we may try to lead our children and guide them into maturity, we realize that, in the end, this is a God thing. And so, conscious of our own imperfections, we give our children to God. We don’t know where they will live or what careers they will choose or how many children they will have, but if there’s one thing we do know it’s that long before they belonged to us, they belonged to God. They can trust Him wherever they live and whatever they do and regardless of how many kids they have.

This gives me such comfort. I can entrust my children — and my students — to the care of Jesus. If they follow Him, everything else will fall into place. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy teaching Greek so much. Greek is a tool that (hopefully) equips and empowers our students to think for themselves, to wean themselves from what can often become a slavish dependence on others to understand “what the Bible means.” In so many of our churches, the staff is expected to take full spiritual responsibility for people. Folks, that’s asking too much of them. I wonder if a “Come to us and we’ll tell you what the Bible means” approach is workable let alone biblical. I think what Paul’s doing with the Philippians is essential. He’s transferring spiritual responsibility from leaders to Christ-followers. This is a philosophy of ministry that can be profoundly good for our congregations. Yes, let’s go ahead and teach one another. All well and good. But let’s also be sure that we, as individuals, are in the word ourselves.

The bottom line? People will fail us. Even people we trust. But Jesus is ever faithful. In essence, Paul is saying to the Philippians: Jesus is all you need. No one loves you more. No one will teach you better. He is enough. I may not be able to be with you, but you are never alone.

Philippians 1:27-30 – What Does an American Christian Look Like?

(Sunday, September 17, 2017) 2:04 PM What does an American Christian look like? We look like any other people outwardly. We don’t normally dress much differently from unbelievers. We don’t wear our hair differently. We don’t have secret handshakes. We don’t all drive the same model car. In the grocery store you’re unlikely to be able to pick out the Christian from the non-Christian. So what’s the difference between those who are born again and those who aren’t?

One again, Paul helps us out. In Phil. 1:27-30, he’s clear that one of the distinguishing characteristics of Christians is they suffer for Christ, or at least are willing to do so. This is a “given,” writes Paul, using a construction sometimes called the divine passive. Thus “it was granted to you to suffer” could be rendered “God has granted this to you.” This has always been the case. In every generation, those with a whole-hearted allegiance to the Gospel can expect to share in the sufferings of Christ.

The idea of suffering for Christ is not an unusual one for Paul. In the book of 2 Corinthians, not once but twice he lists the sufferings and trials that came to him for being a Gospeler. Here’s one of them (2 Cor. 6:4-10). At first blush there seems to be no rhyme or reason to Paul’s list.

But a closer look reveals some interesting patterns.

In the ISV, we tried to indicate the thought units as follows (please note the punctuation):

I see that Eugene Petersen also seemed alert to some of these patterns.

Note especially the following constructions:

  • “in hard times, tough times, bad times”
  • “when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed”
  • “working hard, working late, working without eating”

Brilliant! The point is that Paul didn’t just talk about suffering for Jesus; he experienced it. And because he stood strong in spite of sometimes fanatical opposition, he can exhort the Philippians to do exactly the same thing (“Don’t be intimated by your opponents in any way”).

I once saw a bumper sticker with the words “Things Go Better with Christ” — a takeoff on a Coke commercial. That’s not always true, of course. In fact, if I understand Paul correctly here, God never intended things to “go better with Christ.” Thousands of Christians around the world (yes, in 2017) are undergoing extreme suffering for their faith. You can’t live uncompromisingly for the Gospel and not have some scars to show for it. By saying yes to Christ, we have to comparatively say no to everything else, including our comforts and safety. Paul doesn’t mean that we go out and look for trouble. He’s simply saying that my love for Christ should be infinitely deeper and stronger than my love for my own life.

Once again, in Philippians we see Paul at his very best. He rejoices and give thanks in everything, including his own sufferings and hardships. What a remarkable example he is for us. May God grant us courage as we seek to live and speak the truth in love in our own communities and nations.

Philippians 1:21 – My Life Is Christ

(Friday, September 15, 2017)

10:48 AM It’s another gorgeous day here on the farm, though the temps are gradually creeping back up into the mid-80s. It’s hard to believe that we’ve got less than three and a half months left in the year. The semester seems to be flying by. We’re already in Phil. 1:27-30 and I haven’t said a thing about 1:21! People sometimes ask me if I have any routines in my daily schedule, something I do repeatedly, and actually I do. I suppose you could say I repeat Phil. 1:21 almost like a mantra: “For to me to go on living is Christ, and to die is gain.” I’m ashamed to say it, but I don’t always find my identity in Christ. That’s why this verse is so important to me. It’s a reminder that my life with Christ is what really matters. It loosens my grip on all circumstances and props and frees me from all those things I generally rely on or deem important. When I’m unappreciated, my life is Christ. When someone says or writes something nice about me, my life is Christ. This is a verse that will force your values and fears out of the shadows and into the light. I can’t help but think how different my daily life would be without Christ. Without Christ, life is vanity. Without Christ, love erodes. Without Christ, living is a drudgery. Paul, I think, reached the same conclusion. He wrote a verse that is used today in ways he would have never imagined. The thing is, God wants my whole heart. Not just a part. All of it. I can’t, like Ananias and Sapphira, hold something back. Friends, dwell on Christ’s sole sufficiency today. He wants us to experience the “glorious riches” He has planned for us from the beginning of time (Rom. 9:23). Feel old and useless? God’s saving His best for last. He’s got plans for your life that will amaze you.

Today, let’s kick up our heels in the sunshine of Christ’s presence.

Philippians 1:27 (politeuesthe)

7:55 AM I am very blessed to live in the countryside. This is the view I get to see most every morning from my front porch as I read my Bible.

I love the view. Like, love it. I’m talking about my Bible. Oh yes, the sunrise is nice too. So is nature. There’s so much to love in life. I love the outdoors. I love humor. I love sarcasm and witty people. I love symmetry and precision and balance and saliency. That’s why I was thrilled to be in Phil. 1:27-30 this morning. I felt like I was a 4-year old locked in a candy store. Thank you, Paul, for making your POINT so clearly. You know, folks, Phil. 1:27 contains the most important verb in the entire letter. (I know you’re cynical. Stay with me.)

Let’s set aside, to begin with, all of the standard translations for a moment. Paul is not telling us to “conduct ourselves” or “live” in a manner worthy of the Gospel. Consider his use of the verb politeuesthe (“live as good citizens”). Philippi was a Roman colony, remember? So it only makes sense that Paul would appeal to the Philippians’ sense of civic duty. Which is exactly what he does with this verb —  the letter’s first imperative. (Told you it was important.) Note the following:

And this:

Today most of us don’t live in real communities so we don’t know what Paul is talking about. But for those of us who live in rural settings … bingo! When I first moved to North Carolina 20 years ago, I joined the local volunteer fire department, like this one.

See the words “Our Duty”? If you were a MAN in Granville County, North Carolina, you joined the VFD. It was as simple as that. It was my civic duty. Didn’t matter that I was pretty lousy at operating the fire hoses. I was so bad that, in fact, I was eventually “promoted” to chaplain. Still, I faithfully attended our monthly meetings, turned out in full gear for all training sessions, and was often the first on the scene of a house fire or a car accident. I think I know a little about what it means to belong to a “community.”

Let me pause to remind everybody I’m pretty apolitical on this blog, intentionally so. Politics, for me, is largely a huge distraction from what God’s called me to do. But here, in this passage, politics can’t be avoided, for the simple reason that Paul is using a political metaphor to make his point. The inhabitants of Philippi were, quite simply, proud of the fact that they lived in a Roman colony. Almost half of the population enjoyed Roman citizenship. Hence Paul’s wordplay. It goes something like this:

Now the only thing in life that really matters is that you live out your citizenship in a manner required by the Gospel of Christ, so that, whether or not I’m able to go and see you in person, I will hear that all of you are standing side by side with one common purpose: to work together for the faith of the Gospel.

The use of this political metaphor is, as Fee reminds us, “a brilliant stroke” (p. 78). The “civic” responsibilities Paul has in mind are the duties incumbent upon all of us as citizens of heaven (see 3:20). This helps untangle us from the God and Country narrative that so often entraps us and sets God free to be God instead of just another idol we worship along with Caesar. It lends restraint when declaring our political views as “Christian” because sometimes my political allegiances sound suspiciously like the American Dream rather than like the Gospel Commission. The Gospel for Paul is ultimately about loyalty. Which “god” gets my allegiance? The state or the Gospel? Our allegiance is not to Caesar Kurios (Lord Caesar) but to Iesous Kurios (Lord Jesus), before whom every knee will one day bow, including those of the emperor himself. We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. This is our place. These are our people. This is our life. Paul is asking us to rethink our priorities. Get a handle on who we are. On what we value. On how we want to live. Young Christian, it’s time to live for the Gospel. Retiree, it’s time to place the Gospel first. Greek prof, a worthy life involves living for others as Christ loved them, sharing with them the ridiculous mercy God has poured out on you. This is our high calling as citizens of heaven. God makes us worthy of the Gospel of Christ as we desire His kingdom above everything else. No early citizenship could ever be more important than our heavenly citizenship. And guess what — we have access to this kingdom now: love, kindness, sacrifice, patience in the midst of persecution, joy in the midst of sorrow, self-control.

This was the high calling of every Philippian who claimed the name of Jesus, and it’s my calling too, and yours.