Monday, August 6, 2012

Day 67: Epistle of Joy, Apostle in Prison

These four short chapters Paul writes to the Philippians while he is in prison somewhere.  Some people think he is in prison in Rome, others suspect an earlier imprisonment.  The church in Philippi, which is not a wealthy community, has sacrificed several times in order to send Paul help, and this letter is a thank you note.

For a man in prison, Paul is in incredibly good spirits.  He puts a good construction even on those who oppose him (those who are preaching Christ, but not from good motives), saying to the Philippians that it matters not what the motives are, only that people are preaching and hearing the gospel.  While he is imprisoned, he also encourages them, for he considers that they too live in difficult circumstances (their poverty), and he tells them to look to Christ as they live together in community.  So they are to serve each other, become slaves to one another, as Christ became a slave to us, in order to set us free.

Philippians 2:6-11 is often called "The Christ hymn", is could possibly be a quote from an early Christian hymn.  It expresses the downward ascent of Jesus, who gave up equality with God to walk with us, even to each, and whose name is now exalted above every other name.  This downward ascent Paul also notes is a mark of the Christian life.

Chapter three is memorable to me for a weird reason:  because my uncle (amateur theologian) used to use it as an example of the colorful, earthy language in the Bible.  In chapter three Paul is trying to describe that it is really true, he is really willing to give up everything, everything, for the sake of knowing Jesus and being found in him.  He's not just willing to give up his sins and the things that weigh him down, but even the things thought valuable, his birthright as a Jew, his righteousness by the law.  All these, Paul says, he counts as "loss", or "rubbish", compared to Christ.  Except that he doesn't use the word "rubbish."  He uses the Greek equivalent of the word "shit."  At least, that's what my uncle told me, when I was an impressionable age.  "We try to make Paul and Luther too genteel," he would say to me.

There's a tantalizing little detail here about a couple of women named Syntyche and Euodia.  They are (um) having a fight (even in the early church, there were fights).  Paul takes a little time to tell them to find a way to agree in the Lord.  For there is important work to do, and they are an important part of it (no mere women's work for Euodia and Syntyche).  

Finally, Paul closes this letter with memorable words of Joy.  We are tempted to consider Paul a Pollyanna, saying that he has learned how to be content with plenty, and with scarcity, that they should rejoice in the Lord always, that they should not worry about anything.  He seems a sort of Pollyanna, telling them to "Accentuate the Positive, and Eliminate the Negative", until you remember that he is in prison.  He is not telling them to put on a happy face.  He's telling them to look all the reality of this life in the face, and still believe that God is with them, that God is blessing them, that God is near them.

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