(September 1, 2017) 9:40 AM As everyone knows, William Varner of the Masters University in California is going through the entire book of Philippians verse by verse. I just checked out his latest vlog on Phil. 1:16. It’s excellent. I especially enjoyed how he calls our attention to a rhetorical device called chiasmus that Paul seems to use in Phil. 1:15-16. Now that’s the kind of exegesis I enjoy. To those who know Paul, they know how much he enjoyed using rhetorical devices, not for their own sake, of course, but to draw his audience into the text. That’s why, when I was in seminary, I began to reorient my life around not only the denotative meaning of Scripture but around its connotative meaning as well. As Will notes, poetry is not prose. I know that some students get discouraged when they see just how demanding exegesis can be. But I sort of like how deep the New Testament is. It gives me chills when I read such exquisite poetry as the Christ hymn in Phil. 2 or the ode to love in 1 Cor. 13. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how much poetic language permeates the New Testament writings. Nowadays, when I read my Greek New Testament, I try to slow down. I watch. I listen. My hunger for the overtones of the text increases. I’ve witnessed rhetoric at work in Paul in so many places it’s mind-blowing. I am a man of detail. It sounds boldfaced to say that, but there it is. I pray for eyes to see what the Holy Spirit put into the text. I feel like a small child wading on the shore of a limitless ocean. But I still want to go out into the deep, like I used to do at Sunset Beach even when I knew the waves were breaking surfboards in half. My prayer for my students (and all of us) is that the Holy Spirit would sweep into our lives with holy disruption. That He would show us things in the text that would upend our assumptions. I’d like to see a great awakening, for sure, but I’ll settle for a few more of us to simply become more careful readers of Scripture.
8:58 AM Through Scripture, God speaks to us. Through it, Jesus speaks life to millions of believers every day. That’s probably the reason I just can’t get past Phil. 1:3-11 in my study of God’s word. Because what if there are truths He’s still trying to impress on me? Such as …
1) Gratitude is not gratitude unless it’s expressed. Paul didn’t just think thoughts of gratitude. He expressed gratitude. Is there someone I need to say “Thank you” to today?
2) Interestingly (Paul is always interesting!), Paul expresses his gratitude for the Philippians, not to them, but to God: “I thank my God for you….” It’s easy for us to thank others and then forget to thank God. I know I’ve been guilty of this. I’ve been so preoccupied with my horizontal relationships that I’ve disengaged my mind from the God I really need to express my thanks to more than anyone else.
3) Prayer focuses on specific needs. The word Paul uses here (Greek deesis) can imply “that which is asked with urgency based on personal need” (Louw-Nida). The needs of others should drive us to prayer. One of Becky’s sisters lives in Houston. God spoke to me instantly to be praying for her. We need to balance thanksgiving with petition. Jesus demonstrated this balance in His famous Disciples’ Prayer. It wasn’t a one-sided prayer that focused on needs. Nor did it ignore those needs. I love that.
4) Paul prayed habitually. So did our Lord. His life was a living prayer — unhindered communication with the Father. Both Jesus and Paul set an example for us.
5) Paul excluded no one from his prayers. Note the repetition of “all of you” in this passage. It’s like a constant drum beat. Paul’s love was not selective, and neither should ours be.
6) But where did Paul get his love for the Philippians? It wasn’t self-derived. Not at all. Paul makes it very clear that he loved them “with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Do our prayers exhibit the Lord’s compassion? They can and they must.
7) Above all, Paul prays for the Philippians’ love to abound. That seemed to be their greatest need at the moment. The term Paul uses for love (agape) does not necessarily refer to divine love. After all, when Demas deserted Paul, it was because he had agapoed the world (2 Tim. 4:10). There are good reasons to look to Paul himself for his definition of love, and a place to start might be Phil. 2:2-4. Here Paul contrasts love with selfish ambition. To love is to serve others humbly. It’s to esteem others as more important than ourselves. It’s being plain, everyday kind to one another. It’s when daily courtesies become a habit. It’s being “big-hearted” (Phil. 4:5). Love means going the second mile, opening your home to strangers, “doing good to each other and to all people” (1 Thess. 5:15), being willing to give your best effort even when it’s inconvenient. Men, it’s opening the door for ladies. It’s refusing to repeat lewd jokes. It means drawing her bath. Go back to your first love in your marriage. Gentleness is not something to be ashamed about.
Friends, sometimes I wonder why we go so fast through the Bible. I still struggle with Paul’s teaching in Phil. 1:1-11. I’m not ready for any more truth! I hope we all wrestle with the truth we know. I hope we look deep into our hearts and sift through our ecclesiology and our missiology and our praxis and all of it. I hope we can learn to change. I hope we can all become a bit more inclined to slow down and listen to what Jesus is saying to His church. He can speak to us anywhere — in cathedrals and living rooms and offices and, yes, even in church buildings. But we’ve got to be willing to play second fiddle and embrace His plan. Remember: Anyone can pray for anyone else. So go ahead and pray for me. Go ahead. Pray that God would allow me to be a disciple of the Way and to remember whose I am and why I live this life. And I’ll pray the same for all of you.
Grace and peace,