Tagged: unity

Philippians 4:1-9

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).

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Philippians 2:1-13

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.

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2 Corinthians 13:11-13

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 11, 2017.

The benediction in 2 Corinthians comes after Paul’s passionate defense of his ministry in chapters 10-13.  Though he had visited the church in Corinth numerous times, in his absence super-apostles moved in claiming Paul’s teachings were inferior to their own.  The work of this rival group had proven divisive in the church.  The congregation was fractioned and fractured. Thus, Paul was considering a return visit in light of a likely schism in the church.

Congregational conflict is not new to churches in the twenty-first century.  The first-century church knew all about it.  There was sexual immorality, idolatry, cliques, false teachers, and disunity in the Corinthian church. It was a mess. And God met the congregation in their mess.  Likewise, struggles in ministry aren’t new either.  Paul loved the church in Corinth so much that their unhealth caused him physical grief.  “For I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” (2 Corinthians 2:4) Pastor, has your love for your congregation ever brought you to literal tears? Have you ever gone to great lengths to help your congregation grasp God’s dreams for them, only to be met with blank stares and indifference- or worse, criticism and rejection?  You are walking in Paul’s shoes. Ministry can be a real struggle. And God meets pastors in their struggle.

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Acts 2:1-21

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 4, 2017.

The Lord Jesus always keeps his promises in his time and in his ways.  He promised after he went away, the Holy Spirit would come to his disciples as a Helper to comfort, empower, and guide them in their gospel witness and work (John 16:5-15; Acts 1:1-8).  On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1), the timing was right for the fulfillment of this eternity-altering promise to unfold.  The symbolism intertwined with the fulfillment of this promise is worth noticing while watching this holy moment initiated “from heaven” and instituted “on earth” take place (cf. Matthew 6:10).

Luke tells his readers the effects surrounding the Holy Spirit’s entrance came “from heaven” that included sounds like “a mighty rushing wind,” sights of “divided tongues as of fire” and results of those in the room who “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:2-4).  This promise was fulfilled after Jesus had ascended to heaven.  Once Jesus was present in heaven, the creative power of God’s Spirit came down “from heaven” to enable the next phase of God’s redemptive work to be done “on earth.”  The presence of God could begin in a new way on this historically significant day “on earth as it is in heaven.”

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