This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on October 15, 2017.
In church life, we often shy away from naming names. Our general practice is to discuss church problems in vague sometimes passive-aggressive terms and hope that the offending parties recognize themselves in the critique. However, there are times when we must name names for the good of the church body, to motivate change and promote unity and peace. In the lectionary passage for this week, Paul decides it is time to name names.
Paul very rarely mentions individuals in his letters unless he is using them as examples and/or including them in his travel plans (as we see in the case of Timothy and Epaphroditus in this letter). Yet here, in 4:2-3, Paul directly addresses the situation of two women, Euodia and Syntyche with an exhortative plea. We can conclude several things from this rarity: first, the problem that Paul refers to must have the potential to affect the entire church at Philippi; second, the problem will soon become destructive for the church, probably because it undermines what he has focused on in this letter—unity in the body; and third, the women he mentions must be important in the Philippian community of believers.
Considering these conclusions, the most likely background to this passage is that Euodia and Syntyche are leaders in the church having a quarrel that is threatening the peace and unity of the entire church at Philippi. Internal and external details support this view. Internal to the letter is the detail that Paul has already singled out the leaders of the church; the beginning of Philippians includes the unique address in 1:1, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and the deacons…” (emphasis mine). In no other Pauline epistle do we see this type of address and it likely points to the fact that Paul wants the leaders in the church to take special notice of his message because he will address them later. He also describes Euodia and Syntyche as his co-workers, who struggled beside him in the work of the Gospel (4:3).
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on October 1, 2017.
In this section of the epistle, we find the beating heart of Paul’s message to the Philippian church, which also happens to be the heart of the gospel of Christ. Although this is a letter of friendship and encouragement for the persecuted Philippians, the focus of Paul’s exhortation is the concept of humility. Yes, the diverse group of Christians in Philippi were probably suffering for their faith in their loyalist and patriotic Roman city. But this persecution serves as the backdrop for the real problem Paul is addressing here…a lack of unity in the church. The house churches in Philippi had begun to feel the pressure of hostile pagan (or possibly Jewish) opposition around them, and in response individuals in the churches were devolving into attitudes of partisanship and self-interest. These attitudes manifested in squabbling and self-seeking leadership, problems that were as destructive to the ancient churches as they are to our churches today. Paul, in these verses, tries to help the Philippians understand that the key to unity in the church, the key to understanding the gospel, and the key to the salvation process is the posture and practice of humility.
Philippians 2:1 comes on the heels of Paul’s challenge to his readers to live their lives in “a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind” (1:27). This section bleeds into the second chapter with Paul’s poetic plea to make his joy complete by being “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (2:2) Like a good pastor, Paul does not issue a challenge without explaining and equipping the people to achieve it; he goes on to explain how a church can function in one spirit and one mind. Paul’s description in the rest of chapter two makes it clear that he is not encouraging uniformity among churches or individuals but that he is setting believers on the same path to unity, a path that follows in step behind Christ Jesus in his humility and sacrifice.
Paul’s clever use of Christological hymn from the early Church in 2:5-11 sends a message of unity even as it calls readers to humble servanthood. Hymns serve to unite the church in theology, practice, and in the Spirit. Paul’s use of a hymn as a vehicle for his message is an emphatic way to communicate, in literary form, that unity is contingent upon humility.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on May 28, 2017.
Like any good work of prose, the book of 1 Peter returns to its major themes as it approaches its conclusion. In 4:12-14, 5:6-11 the text points the reader to what has been asserted from the beginning, that suffering is part of the Christian experience. The closing, however, is not mere recapitulation. It gives fresh insight into the purposes of suffering and direction about how to endure suffering.
The believer is not to be surprised by suffering. On Palm Sunday 2017 terrorists attacked two Coptic Christian congregations in Egypt killing 44 and wounding over 100. Christians in the Middle East and other parts of the world routinely face suffering in the form of persecution. The persecution of believers has become so widespread and frequent that seeing reports of it on the news is almost normal. If this text were to be read by Christians in Egypt, the application would be straightforward. Do no be surprised that suffering and persecution is part of your experience. Jesus suffered, and believers are not above their Master.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on April 9, 2017.
Philippians 2:5-11 is one of the most familiar and discussed texts of Scripture. These seven verses entertain theological issues such as the hypostatic union of Jesus, the kenotic formula, and the ontological and functional realities of the Trinity. Though these issues have their place, these are not really the matters Paul is addressing. The milieu of this passage is one of believers learning to live their life as a community. It is a text ethical in nature in which Paul stimulates the practice of humility and unity among the believers exhibiting Jesus as the supreme example. The preacher needs to be careful not to get entangled in doctrinal issues that could detract from the greater message.
Following his greeting to the community of Philippi (1:1–2), Paul prays for them to reach unity (1:3–11). Next, he presents his own life as an example (1:12–26; 4:9) and exhorts the church to live lives of humility and unity without (1:27–30) and within the congregation (2:1–4). To illustrate, Paul draws from what is most likely an early Christian hymn-poem that praises Christ’s story of incarnation, crucifixion, and exaltation (2:5–11), and urges the Philippians to pattern Christ’s life story to address their particular situation (2:12-18).
Paul exhorts them to have “the mind of Christ” (2:5). In their mutual relations, they should adopt the same attitude of love and humility that marked the Lord (2:5). But, isn’t it true that one thing is to be called to have “the mind of Christ,” and another to nurture such habit of mind individually and collectively? So, how can the Philippians be a people characterized by unity and humility? Paul intimates that the first step is to know well Christ’s story. This is the Gospel story of Christ leaving the glories of his preexistent, eternal state to undertake humanity through cross death.