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Posts Tagged ‘Philippians’

The person whose life has become saturated by grace notices that God has gone before every good thing. And from after every good moment, the grace-saturated Christian credits only God.

Paul is accustomed to the sweat-soaked believer. To be a follower of Jesus it to work one’s fingers to the bone, to collapse happily weary after a long day of beating back the jungles of one’s own soul and serving those who surround. The implicit commitment to a story much bigger than one’s own short path draws out of the disciple of Jesus exertions of which she would not have considered herself capable. (more…)

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When the apostle Paul urges his readers to practice joy, he is not mixing categories. On the surface, one might expect the opposite. How can joy be commanded? How does one pursue and practice what is widely regarded as an epiphenomenon of fortunate circumstance? Or, to put things in more adversarial terms, who does this man think he is to be urging psychological tricks upon his befuddled followers?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Yet Paul is hardly pollyanish. Indeed, he can be quite frontal about his own quota of suffering.

Far from opting out of reality in favor of a convenient construction that resides only in his mind, Paul is ever the realist. He truly believes that reality—seen for what it is most deeply, most unalterably—is cause for joy. It is the frailty of human perception and the vagaries of the human heart that cloud our view. This, for Paul, is not some inherent deficiency of the soul that can be cured by the right set of enlightenment techniques. On the contrary, Paul believes that darkest evil has too long had its way with the world. The nature of things is badly torn. Human rebellion has shat upon the Creator’s most generous gifts and then loudly proclaimed its false victory. (more…)

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Apart from the fresh angle of view that faith in Christ provides, it is almost impossible adequately to discount human achievement and—more importantly—to abandon self-evaluation that employs such ‘success’.

The apostle Paul could, for the sake of his argument, step back into the arena of conventional mathematics. Writing to his friends at Philippi, he could add up the receipts that genealogy and long enterprise had scattered on the floor around his feet and acknowledge his own formidable ranking according to that now alien system of measurement. (more…)

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Simplicity is the path to the deepest treasures.

Religious technique is brushed to the margins when essential virtues are in play. Take peace, for example. Though we blunder about in search of it at many levels, Paul directs words of iconic simplicity to that peace which places the individual human heart at rest:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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A strong habit of mind suggests that you cannot command love and you cannot command joy. One enjoys no mandate over one’s feelings. What one feels, according to this usually unquestioned view, simply is what it is.

To attempt control over the nature and course of one’s emotions is to spit into the wind. Worse, it is a genuine betrayal of the self-evident authenticity of feeling. (more…)

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It is at least curious and more likely significant that the apostle Paul lodges such a pragmatic exhortation in the framework of a theological reflection upon Christ’s intelligent, self-aware humiliation:

Do all things without murmuring and arguing.

Paul’s argument is rich with counter-cultural nuance. It stands on its head the accepted, prudent, self-evident consensus about getting one’s way, getting ahead. It asks out loud whether life as strife is really the truth it claims to be or, rather, the most self-limiting of lies. (more…)

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When the apostle Paul turns to address his much-loved friends in Philippi, the warmth of his rhetoric flows like the melting waters of Springtime. Gone is the parental indignation of Galatians, the costly renegotiation of wounded relationships that is never far away in his correspondence with the Corinthians.

In his letter to the Philippian Christians, Paul writes like a man who has come home. The sweet absence of drama flavors the exchange. (more…)

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