Category: Michael Smith

Philippians 1:21-30

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on September 24, 2017.

When I deal with Paul’s letter to the Philippians, I try and keep several matters in mind.

First, though situated in Macedonian, Philippi was a Roman colony town. Its citizens enjoyed the rights of Romans and tended to view life from a Roman perspective. Second, Paul partnered with Lydia—who was a God-fearer and a business woman—to found the church at Philippi. Third, while small and under pressure from the surrounding society, the church consistently supported Paul’s missionary work.

Fourth, Paul wrote them while imprisoned, most likely in Rome, where he would have lived under a form of house arrest. Fifth, he sought to encourage them to remain faithful, thank them for their support, and deal with tensions and division in the congregation.

Keeping such factors in mind, let’s unpack Philippians 1:21-30.

Paul has already assured the Philippians that his imprisonment has helped spread the gospel and encouraged others to share Christ with boldness (Philippians 1:12-14). His primary concern is that his own conduct will continue to exalt Christ, whether he is set free or condemned to execution (Philippians 1:20).

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Romans 14:1-12

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on September 17, 2017.

At first read, Romans 14:1-12 seems to deal with matters which no longer concern us: cultural and religion driven divisions over food laws and calendars. Once we dig into the text, though, its potential application to tensions among Christians of any era become apparent. I’ve found it useful to keep the following matters in mind, as I work with the text.

First, the situation may be more complex than we sometimes think. No doubt gentile Christians made up the majority of the Roman congregation, while Jewish Christ followers comprised a minority. It’s tempting to assume a simple division between two groups in which gentiles believe Kosher laws and the Jewish religious calendar obsolete and Jewish adherents insist on the necessity of observance.

My hunch is any number of the Gentile Christians in the Roman church had been God-fearers before becoming Christians. If so, many of them may have been inclined to take food laws and the Jewish calendar seriously. As for the Jewish component of the church, perhaps a number of them took the same tack as Paul with regard to such matters and felt free to observe or not observe the food laws and calendar.

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Romans 13:8-14

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on September 10, 2017.

Paul’s vision for how to live like a citizen of heaven in the world of the Roman Empire blends theology and ethics. He is concerned with what Christians are to do in the world and why they are to do it. Romans 13:8-14 deals with personal conduct in such a manner.

From Paul’s perspective, the ideal Christian life leaves us with only one ongoing debt: that we love others. Paul, of course, has agape, self-giving love for the sake of the other, in mind.

Such love builds and protects genuine community, whether between God and humanity or among humans. Paul points to some of the injunctions found in the second table of the Ten Commandments as negative examples of community building agape in action. When we love one another, we do not break relationships by committing adultery, taking lives, coveting others’ possessions and the like. Instead, we consciously and vigorously treat others as we might wish them to treat us.

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Romans 12:9-21

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on September 3, 2017.

Paul dealt with Christians who lived in a complicated world and church. The church at Rome may well have been the most complex of them all. What might Paul, who had not yet visited Rome, say to such Christ followers via a long letter?

At first reading, we can be excused for thinking Paul overloads the letter, attempts to deal piecemeal with a wide range of concerns, and in the process loses our attention (and, perhaps, the attention of the Roman Christians!). Repeated readings, though, reveal Paul focuses on only a few matters, which he then illustrates profusely.

Romans 12:9-21 is a classic example. The first phrase sets the theme of the passage: Christians must choose to allow love (agape) to govern all their interactions with others.

Paul sets a high bar with regard to love. Christian love must be genuine, something which defines us and finds ongoing expression in the world as the world is. Keep in mind Roman life was often defined by a patronage system. Powerful individuals or families measured their status by how many people looked to them. In turn, one’s place in Roman society was often determined by the status of one’s patron. Romans, in essence, treated life as a competitive game.

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