Tagged: Suffering

Philippians 3:4b-14

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on October  8, 2017.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is also an effective method of discipleship. Throughout Philippians, Paul sets examples before his Philippian disciples for them to emulate. In chapter one, Paul models an attitude of thankfulness in the midst of suffering. He rejoices that his imprisonment has inspired others to proclaim Christ more boldly (1:12-14) and he sets a paradigm for Christ-focused sacrificial living as he announces that for him, “Living is Christ and dying is gain.” (1:21). Then, in chapter two, Paul encourages the Philippians to imitate Christ’s humility when he poetically describes Jesus as one who emptied himself and gave up his divine status to live as a human servant and die a criminal’s death. Chapter two ends with Paul’s desire to send two examples of servanthood to the church, Timothy, and Epaphroditus, disciples who would model sacrifice among the Philippian churches. In chapter three, Paul seems to take a detour in subjects, but his emphasis on imitation continues. Once again, Paul is going to use himself as an example of faithful discipleship so that the believers might find a firm foundation in the face of a looming threat to the community.

On the whole, Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi is one of encouragement and serves as an intimate picture of Paul’s affection for the Philippian Christians. However, Paul does not shy away from addressing the persisting problems plaguing the church, including the squabbling among church leaders, the lack of unity in the body, and the temptations and persecution these Christians experienced on a daily basis in their strongly pagan city. In this section of the letter, which begins in 3:1, Paul does not attack a problem that the Philippians are currently facing but shows deeper insight, warning the Philippians about a challenge that could be just around the corner for them. In 3:2, Paul’s three-part command to be aware (Beware the dogs! Beware of the evil workers! Beware the mutilators of the flesh!) implies that the offenders in question are not yet in Philippi but may be coming soon and could be damaging for the church. Paul had probably already had dealings with these “evil workers” and had witnessed the consequences of their false teaching (perhaps in Galatia). The opponents he describes here could be Jews trying to win converts among the Gentiles or Jewish Christians, perhaps Judaizers, who tried to convince Gentile Christians to adhere to the whole Jewish law. In either case, Paul’s use of the insult “dogs” is sharply ironic. Jews commonly called Gentiles “dogs, ” but here Paul uses the slur against Jews who posed a threat to the Gentile Christian population in Philippi. His passionate language throughout this passage demonstrates how destructive he believed this potential problem could be to the unity and security of the Philippian house churches.

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1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

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.

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1 Peter 3:13-22

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on May 21, 2017.

This passage is full of difficulties, allusions to apocryphal literature, and obscure references that make it easy to get lost in the process of interpretation. In fact, if the minister is not very careful, he or she will be found trying to find out who are the spirits in prison, why Jesus preached to them, and how His preaching affected them, among other difficulties. Rather than get lost in these obvious difficulties, it would be better for the minister to focus on what can be readily understood in the passage. By looking at the book as a whole and the context of the passage, the meaning of the passage can be discerned.

In 1 Peter suffering is a very common theme. In the very beginning of the book, believers are encouraged to endure trials and suffering just as the prophets had endured them. Not only does the concept of suffering appear in the opening of the book, but it is also found throughout the text. The word suffering appears twenty times in the book. Further, the author goes out of his way to use the term suffering when it is not necessary. For example, the author uses “suffering” instead of “death” in 4:1 when referring to the crucifixion of Jesus. In 3:18 there is good reason to believe “suffered” is the correct word instead of “died” as some translations use.

Now I Peter’s emphasis on suffering does not necessarily mean that this passage is about suffering, but the context leans heavily in that direction. Verse 13 begins by talking about the harm that could come to the believer and discusses suffering immediately. Not only that, the passage mentions Christ’s suffering repeatedly; and it is followed by another section on suffering beginning in 4:1. If one is to get to the heart of the passage’s meaning one must look at it in the context of suffering.

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1 Peter 2:19-25

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on May 7, 2017.

We live in a society that questions authority figures. We consider it a badge of honor when someone successfully challenges “the powers that be.” Although 1 Peter would not encourage us to ignore unethical behavior in organizations, the writer values endurance through difficulty over retaliation toward oppressors. To endure pain is to resist it. First Peter challenges exiles to behave like sheep in a flock under the authority of a shepherd. The book instructs them to maintain respect for human authority figures, especially those with whom they disagree and to endure opposition as a form of Christian mission.

Verses 19-25 are included as part of the instructions for persons who work together in a family business where the authority figure is not a follower of Jesus. Most ancient households were businesses in miniature. In 1 Peter 2-3, there are instructions for all persons (2:13-17; 3:8-22), slaves (2:18), wives (3:1-6), and husbands (3:7), depending on their position in the home workplace. Presumably, Christians will work for someone who does not share a belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Just as we learned in chapter 1 that Christians are not to live segregated lives, so in chapters 2 and 3 believers are encouraged to work in environments where they will encounter nonbelievers.

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