Tag Archives: Philippians

Appreciating What We Do Well

English: Gold Medal of vancouver2010
Gold Medal of Vancouver 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stories about Olympic athletes show two key attributes: an ability that they consistently develop and a vision of what they might accomplish.

I believe that God also gives congregations specific abilities and that congregations flourish by focusing on what they might accomplish together. By focusing on experiences of excellence and holy we can re-frame past difficulties and recognize God leading us into ministry together. By focusing on our strengths, we can achieve excellence.

Over the next month or so I hope we will listen to each other’s stories of when we have experienced our congregation excel and our hopes for the future. Then collect all of our stories and look for correlations, times when several people experienced the same ability or expressed the same hope for what God is calling us to accomplish together.

From now on, brothers and sisters,
if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable,
focus your thoughts on these things:
all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure,
all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.

– Philippians 4:8 (CEB)

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Where Is God in All This?

Each time I contemplate a topic for this post, I ask myself: “Where is God in all this?” Then I read the news, comic strips, Facebook posts, the weather, … I take our dog for a walk and consider the stars, the grass, and everything in between. Always asking: “Where is God in all this?”

This practice has started change my prayers. Instead of listing concerns, I have begun listing where God has begun providing answers. Instead of a concern about a particular disease, I have a praise for medical technology through which God is providing healing. Instead of grief of someone’s passing, praise that pain and suffering are past and entrance into God’s presence. Instead of distress about those who are hungry or homelessness, praise for those who provide food and shelter.

Natchez Trace Parkway (R. Shaw photo)
Natchez Trace Parkway (R. Shaw photo)

My Navy experience taught me that providing a list of places to avoid made people dangerously curious. Now I wonder if a list of sailor friendly establishments, might have drastically reduced problems.

Similarly, when driving focusing on the lines separating lanes leads to drifting from one side of the lane to the other. But by focusing on the center of the lane, on a spot where I want my car to go, yields a straight and smooth ride.

By asking, “Where is God in all this?” I tend to look further in to the future recognizing where God is preparing the way for me.

From now on, brothers and sisters,
if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable,
focus your thoughts on these things:
all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure,
all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.
– Philippians 4:8 (CEB)

 

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October 2nd: “Confidence”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Second Reading Philippians 3:4b-14

C. Other texts for Year A for World Communion Sunday, October 2nd in Ordinary Time

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

4b Today, our salaries and prestige are signs of attainment.

5-6 What would we list as outward signs of status? Citizenship, academic degrees, professional titles, salary, residence location, … Deacon, Elder, Minister, Missionary, …

7-8 Accolades in other areas become losses/dung due to frittering time that could have been used deepening a relationship with Christ.

9 Material success by one’s own hands is inferior to anything Christ might enfold upon the recipients.

10-11 Salvation is attained within the fellowship of Christ’s suffering, not by suffering alongside Christ.

12-14 Conversion is not a brief prayer, but a continual daily striving.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Should this passage be shortened/extended?
  • Will the hearers need an introduction before it is read?

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

  • When scribes hand copied the Bible, various errors crept in or were ‘corrected’ by later editors.
  • This boast is given as a response to “evil workers” who espoused a false theology.
  • Followed by applying this theological declaration by seeking a heavenly citizenship.

II. Literary Study.

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: Religious trappings are a detriment to fellowship in the sufferings of Christ.
  • Emotional Center: Paul rejected the accolades that many had striven for and failed to attain so that he might attain resurrection from the dead.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Paul listed persecution o f the Church among his achievements.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Gerald F. Hawthorne (Word Biblical Commentary: Philippians, Word Inc., 1983) does not split verse 4. He notes the rhetoric form Paul used was designed to praise/blame; thus by praising his own accomplishments, Paul implicitly diminished his opponents for their not being his equal. Hawthorne unpacks Paul’s belonging to the tribe of Benjamin: a tribe although small, was esteemed; Benjamin was Rachael’s second son, the only one of the 12 born in the promised land; Jerusalem was within the lands assigned to Benjamin; Israel’s first legitimate king, Saul, was from Benjamin; When the kingdom split, only Benjamin remained loyal to Judah, the tribe of David; famously faithful Mordecai was a Benjaminite. Examining the Greek word for “loss,” Hawthorne concludes that Paul not merely counted these accolades as loss, but actually lost the benefit of them by claiming Christ. Hawthorne’s explanation links this passage to Paul’s Damascus Road experience, when Paul experienced a “radical transvaluation of values.” … “To this end, Paul, although dead to sin by the virtue of Christ’s death for him, nevertheless, bu his own continuous, conscious choice was prepared to take this fact seriously, to take sides with Christ against himself, to bring his practice in the world in line with his position in Christ, to renounce his own selfish desires, and say “yes” to Christ who was calling him to conform himself to his death by daily taking up his cross in self-sacrificing service to others.”

Morna D. Hooker (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “Letter to Philippians,” Abingdon, 2000) concurs with Hawthorne that Paul may have been forcibly stripped of the privileges associated with his Jewish achievements as a result of his conversion to Christianity.

Ernest W. Saunders (Knox Preaching Guides: 1 Thessalonians | 2 Thessalonians | Philippians | Philemon, John Knox Press, 1981): “Them movement of the discussion is surprising and significant – he first mentions the power of the resurrection, then fellowship of the suffering. … [W]e cannot enter into Christ’s suffering and death apart from the assurance of resurrection-life.”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

April 17th: “Christ Mindfulness”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Philippians 2:5-11

C. Other texts for Year A for 6th Sunday in Lent, Palm Sunday

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

5 How do we block out having the mind of Christ? Consider being full of Christ-like mind set, i.e. Christian mindfulness.

6 Since Christ “was in the form of God,” then are we too in the form of God? Consider Psalm 8: “You made [mortals] a little lower than [gods (Massoretic) | angels (LXX, Targum, Syriac)]. Would other organisms consider us as gods (Genesis 1:28)?

7 How then are we, finding ourselves in human form, to take on the form of a slave? Consider Adam’s servitude to the earth (Genesis 3:23).

8 We are to be obedient to God. Not to the church nor to any other human institution, not even to ourselves.

9-11 We hope not to be exalted for our actions or faith, but that God would be exalted through our actions!

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Paul is urging the Philippians to do for Christ as they would do for him, even more so.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

  • None noted.
  • Some interpreters suggest that present form of the hymn includes words not found in the original hymn to yield a poetic meter.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

  • The letter was written by Paul, but the hymn may have existed independently of the letter, either composed by Paul, or incorporated by Paul to make a point.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

  • John 13 (Jesus washing the disciples’ feet) has a similar structure and descent followed by exaltation.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

  • Verse 5 is especially difficult. Various English translations add helping words to avoid unintended English nuances. The Message offers: “Think of yourself the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.” The operative verb is in the second person present imperative.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • Verses 6 – 11 are poetic. Although the surrounding sentences are rhetorical.
  • The hymn, if considered apart from the letter, has a clear Christological message: Christ is God. But the letter uses the hymn to make a strong ethical command: Humbly obey God, like Christ. Combined they say: Obey like Christ, for God is in you. Hence in verse 13 Paul wrote: “for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity:  What would Jesus Do?
  • Emotional Center:  Slave-like obedience to God.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • How are we, as mere mortals, to adopt a Christ-like form of thinking?

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • This is the most important part of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and the most difficult to interpret. Verses 6 – 11 summarize the Gospels. But verse 5 demands that we must confess Jesus Christ is Lord and demonstrate Christ-like servant-hood by our actions.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Gerald F Hawthorne (Word Biblical Commentary: Philippians, Word Books, 1983) notes that since 1899 there has been broad agreement that these verse contain an ancient hymn, but there is much disagreement as to the structure of that hymn with regard to strophes and which if any words would have been omitted in the original Greek hymn to yield the particular meter. He also notes diverse scholarly opinions if Paul composed the hymn, if Paul adopted or adapted it from some other writer, and if John 13 (Jesus washing the disciples’ feet) guided the writer of the hymn. The hymn makes a clear Christological case for Christ as God, but Paul uses it to make an ethical statement. He recommends translating verse five to retain implied parallels as:
This way of thinking must be adopted by you,
Which also was the way of thinking adopted by Christ.
He discusses the use of /morfh/; discarding translating it as form, glory, image, mode of being, or condition/status, as each being partially correct and problematic. In considering verse 7, he summarizes interpretations of what the author intended by “he emptied himself”. And of what Christ emptied or poured out from himself. He interprets the obedient death of Christ, incorporating vicarious atonement, as obedient to God and serving people.He described the second half of the hymn, vv. 9 – 11, as shifting from Christ acting in humble obedience, to God acting to exalt Christ.