For our last meeting of 2013, we finished the book of Phillipians, reading the verses starting in chapter 4 verse 10 to the end of the chapter. Verses 11 and 12 provoked much comment. Do we reach a point in our lives where we are more content with our lot in life and have less anxiety over the future and things that bother us? Some say that we achieve more wisdom as we age, but maybe there are just fewer opportunities to upset us. I guess it remains an open question. On our recent vacation, I remember getting upset over a number of little things like people coming in late for performances and disrupting those behind them, or administrative details of the vacation being handled poorly in some cases, and in general the rudeness and thoughtlessness that some people exhibit. I suppose that I should learn to be less concerned and more accepting of the foibles of others. Paul was facing some large problems as he was writing from prison and could be fearing for his life. The Romans had killed others who followed ‘The Way’ at that time. But he said earlier in chapter 1:21-26, specifically verses 23-24, that he might prefer to take on the body like that of the transfigured body of Jesus, but that if God had more planned for him in his present life, specifically to continue his work with people like those at Philippi, he could accept that as well.
We then discussed the issues surrounding end of life for us. Frank posed some very interesting questions that prompted some interesting discussion. .
Frank says there is dual intent in death in that sedation can ease pain but
also accelerate death. What is difference between physician assisted death and
staying off tube and having morphine. Is determining time and
place of death and suicide different. Chuck asks what is the right time
for death. Verse 11, can we be happy with our terminal event? In 3:21, Paul
wants a glorious body like Jesus had. What is the difference between going to
heaven immediately and being raised at Jesus second coming? Mark says there is
no time after death, so there is no difference. Jesus resurrected body didn’t stay on earth, but is with God. Think about it as the redemption of the physical body. Doctors are instruments of God says Tom. John says why should you says it is a sin to say you shouldn’t take your life in any way. Humility is a tough thing to
obtain and if we think we have it we may be sinning on our assumption. Sin is
pervasive in us. But the church should not abandon an individual no matter
Next time I Thessalonians.
This is such a beautiful section of the book. It is marked by his requests for encouragement for the women that have worked side by side with him. It is as if he knows these people so well and wants them to get along with each other. He urges Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences. They must have had a problem and he urges everyone there to help them, because their names are written in the book of Life. Then he urges them to Celebrate God all day, every day and he even says to revel in God. That is more than mere celebration of your love and respect and willingness to follow God and to do his will. Then he says to help them to live as if the Master could show up at any time indicating as many believed at that time that the second coming was coming soon. At least within their lifetimes. I think of how long the Jewish people had longed for a Messiah and then when one came, they didn’t recognize Him. Then Paul finishes off the section with a beautiful verse 8 that emphasizes all the wonderful things that come because of God and then gives a little benediction that the God of peace will be with you.
Here Paul urges the people to walk as he and others in the way of Christ and he urges them to resist walking as enemies of the cross of Christ. He says that their end is destruction, their god is their belly and they glory in their shame with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and we want our present lowly body to like his glorious body in heaven. Paul talks many times about wanting to be with Christ and is of two minds, knowing that he has work to do here to help people find the Way of Christ and yet wanting to be with Christ. Remembering that he was in prison all this time, it must have been difficult to keep up his work. One thinks of Nelson Mandala who spent so much time in prison but kept encouraging the people to fight against the apartheid of South Africa. He must have wanted to give up as well, but continued to be a witness towards what he believed.
Straining towards the Goal: This is the title of this section in The Lutheran Study Bible. And that is what Paul is pushing towards. His goal is the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. He is pressing forward doing what he can to achieve this prize, but says he can’t do it on his own, but only because Christ Jesus has made Paul his own. And then he urges the people to hold true to what we have attained. Don’t be a back slider. The Lutheran Study Bible says the goal is the promise of our transformation in the resurrection. It says that we often focus on earthly comforts worldly examples of success, and maintaining a beautiful youthful appearance. All of these things are nothing compared to citizenship in heaven. He urges us to turn away from the destructive ways of human nature and towards the heavenly calling the promises that contains.
The heading of this section in the Lutheran Study Bible is “Lights in the World.” Paul says, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” The note in the Lutheran Study Bible is that we live with our fallen human nature, but God works in us by subduing our sinful nature regenerating our souls, and giving us his Spirit of grace. “The preaching and hearing of God’s Word are the Holy Spirit’s instruments.” God uses these tools of the Holy Spirit to to convert people to God and to work in them both to will and to do God’s will to meet His potential and live life to the fullest in the way God intended. A phrase that we worked on was when Paul says “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Taking the first part of this without the second it sounds like James. But here Paul is saying that we live here on earth in God’s will and that is how we can achieve God’s will. Starting at verse 14, Paul writes, “Do all things without grumbling or questioning.” It is as if he is trying to speak to the people almost as children, but it applies to so many of us in our daily life. These it seems to me are lessons in what God expects. of us. He closes by saying that he wants to send Timothy and Epaphroditus to them as well. He wants them to be a witness to these people of Philippi.
This letter was written to a small group of Jewish Christians in the town of Philippi. Lydia was one of the believers and seemed to be one of the leaders. There was some discussion here about this being a pep talk for the people of Philippi. They were being persecuted by the Romans who thought of Philippi as being one of their star cities. Leroy Huizenga writes about the process of de-Christianization of the church in the USA and says it is similar to what was happening at the time of this letter in Philippi. The letter was written in the 60’s. The Christians of that time suffered from persecution because of their faith in God through Jesus, they had to reject their prior identity as Roman citizens and they could not honor or worship the pagan gods and no longer could they worship the image of the emperor. Therefore, the Romans regarded them as atheists, since they rejected the Roman gods, and thus as traitors, as the Roman gods guaranteed the health of the empire. A reference to the whole article is http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2013/01/the-new-philippians The de-Christianization of the USA means that kids don’t know the Bible, and the stories therein. Some confirmation age children don’t know that Jesus died on the cross. School activities make it difficult for students to have time for church. Is faith truer in times of persecution. Mark made the comment that Romans 5:3 was trying to raise hope among the people. They needed encouragement, and that is why I think that Paul was not pointing out their flaws because that might just make it difficult for them. Sometimes we want things to be too well defined and that can make it difficult for us. It is important for us to see what Paul was doing with and for the people of Philippi.
Our discussion today seemed to focus on the differences between the way churches interpret what a church should focus on and what beliefs the people in that church should have. Mark discussed an interaction that his daughter had had with someone from the Open Bible church where they were aghast that a woman could be in a position of authority in the church, in this case church council membership, and could be taught by a female pastor. So why would a church take this seemingly anti-women approach, or at least one that seems to put women in the background of the church. This seems to be a broader issue in many churches, not the least of which are the Muslims. I have often wondered why women are relegated to the background of so many churches and that is thought in these churches that only men can have substantial impact on the church. It seems that while growing up there my church had such a focus on being opposed to alcohol and dancing and social activities of that nature, while the Catholic church in my home town seemed to embrace those activities. So where do our beliefs get formed? Who sets the rules of how we should lead our lives in the church? Is it pastors? synod bishops? the ELCA bishop? or do individuals have an important role in deciding this question.
However, the more interesting question here is that posed in verse 1:21 where Paul says “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” It seems to pose the question about what life is all about and if there is no value to life we should all just end it as soon as possible to be with Jesus in heaven. But Paul says that to live is Christ, so that Christ provides meaning to our lives and that preaching, writing, and talking about Jesus makes life worthwhile and gives us purpose makes us to live in Christ and make it worthwhile to continue our task on this earth. Is living in this mode more like a heaven on earth? Is Paul saying that we should aspire to a life like this in order to fully realize a worthwhile life? Does this not say that everyone both women and men can realize a life in Christ and not be limited to artificial diminution of these roles by arbitrary rules of the church? And then Paul seems to make his choice in verse 25, saying that he will abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith. In the message, Peterson writes, that Paul is saying, “I plan to be around awhile, companion to you as your growth and joy in this life of trusting God continues.” Thus, I think he is saying that trusting in God and carrying out the commands of God makes for a worthwhile life and one to be desired by all. Possibly even better than the act of being with Jesus in heaven. It is important to know that Paul was probably either in prison at the time he wrote this or had been in prison and I am sure that being in prison in those days was not a bed of luxury. So Paul was going through a lot of persecution for his faith and actions and yet he still thinks it is worthwhile to continue and to be like Christ.
I also found it interesting that Paul seems to have by this time in about 62-63 AD have moved away from the belief that the return of Jesus was imminent and therefore was looking more towards being with Jesus in heaven.
The selection in Acts set the stage for Paul’s letter to the Philippians some 2 years later. In Acts, we read about the first visit to Asia by representatives, namely Paul and probably Luke and others in their entourage. They had been traveling along the coast of Asia, but the Holy Spirit at that time had forbidden them to speak the word there. Then Paul had a vision that a man from Macedonia asked that Paul come to Philippi and Paul received the Holy Spirit’s word to go there. We spent some time discussing the woman who proclaimed that Paul and his people were the servants of the most high God who declare to us a way of salvation. She was employed as a soothsayer and had a spirit of Python. Paul told the spirit to come out of the woman and it did, thus ruining her employment because it was because of the spirit that she was a soothsayer. We discussed why this woman was judged to have a spirit when she was proclaiming that the men were from God. Possibly she was making a nuisance of herself and Paul felt she was mocking them. Her employers were so upset that they roused a mob against Paul and his followers and ultimately had them beaten and jailed. The jail was destroyed by an earthquake or God, and Paul did not escape but stayed and converted the jailer. Then we got into a discussion about what it means in verse 31 when Paul said to the jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Some translation used in instead. The Greek would be translated as On. This led to a discussion about whether we go to heaven upon dying or if that happens when Jesus comes in his second time when it says that the dead will be raised up from their graves. We have become like the Jews waiting for their messiah for a long time as we wait for Jesus to come while the early Christians were expecting Jesus imminently. Does this mean that for us the expectation is better than the actual? I don’t think so, but it might mean that we live our lives as if we have realized the second coming and have communion with Christ in our lives. Here is a map of Paul’s journey.