Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Philippians 2:5-11 Humility & the Incarnation

5. Paul has been discussing unity through humility. In order to more fully demonstrate the humility that he is discussing, he presents Christ as the ultimate expression of humility. As we see in the verses below, he does not present specific actions and teachings in Christ’s life that point to humility. He holds up the totality of the Incarnation as the height of humility.
He encourages the church to have this same mind or attitude that Christ had. The word “mind” comes from the Greek word phronema which means mindset. As someone in class mentioned, it is the state of mind that controls and results in your normal action. Whatever your phronema will determine how you act.

6. This passage begins to show the depths of humility that came with the Incarnation. First, He did not “regard equality a thing to be grasped”. Paul is not suggesting that Christ is not equal to Father. In fact, the opposite is being suggested. The word “grasped” means to have or hold onto something that is not originally your own. It could have been acquired by legitimate or illegitimate means. This is why some versions use the term “robbery”. Fr. Farley says that Christ did not clutch onto the power and status of the Godhead like a treasure that He could lose. As a classmate stated, Christ while continuing to be God was willing to relinquish the prestige of Divinity and become man.

7. This further explains what Paul means by Christ relinquishing the status and prestige of Deity. He came in the form of a slave. As God, Christ could have come in any form He desired. In fact, I think most people would have imagined God to come as royalty, yet Christ did the opposite. He was the one person who could choose his parents or situation in life, yet he chose the most humble of circumstances. He was born in a cave used for animals and his first crib was a feeding trough. This alone suggests the level of humility that is present in Christ. It also suggests something that essential to the nature of God. Christ is the face of God for us. He reveals to us the Father. Therefore humility was not something that He “put on” for His time on earth, but it is part of who God is.

8. If Christ demonstrated humility by birth and position in life, His death was the ultimate expression. He was obedient to the Father to the point of crucifixion. Crucifixion was the worst possible death that could have been conceived at the time. Rome reserved it for their worst criminals. The Jews considered it to be a curse on someone’s soul (Deut. 21:23). Yet Christ embraced this most humiliating death out of obedience to the Father.
In class, we discuss the relationship of humility and obedience. We agreed that one could be obedient without humility at least outwardly, but one could never be humble without obedience. True obedience the act of surrender your will to someone else. This not only applies to our relationship with God but all of those in authority.
Another point can be made about this verse especially in relation to Heb. 5:7-10. How did Christ who was God become obedient and learn obedience? First, Christ as God has eternally submitted His will to Father. In fact, their wills are indistinguishable and completely united. But in what way did Christ learn obedience? The Fathers discussed this passage continually because of their struggle with Arianism and other heresies that threatened the belief in Christ’s deity. Christ is two natures in one person. It is His human nature that learned obedience. One aspect of the Incarnation is that Christ took on human flesh in order to deify or sanctify it. Human nature was unruly and wild and separated from God. The Incarnation sanctified man’s nature so that man could participate in the life of the Trinity. The Passion was the pinnacle of obedience and was part of the transformation of human nature so that now it was able to commune with God and ultimately become the dwelling place of God.
One final note concerning this passage will be mentioned. As mentioned above the early Fathers had to contend with this passage to defeat Arianism. The ironic fact is that the Arians used this passage as well to prove that Jesus was not God. Ultimately, the Orthodox position of Christ won the day. The winning argument although was not convincing Biblical exegesis but the argument from liturgy. The Fathers eventually proclaimed that their view was right because that the Church had always worshipped Christ as God and to follow Arius would require a change in the Church’s worship.

9-11. When Jesus assumed our nature His obedience sanctified and deified human nature so that it could share in communion with God. Within one person Jesus united divine nature with human nature. Now our nature can unite itself with God. So even when Paul is talking about exaltation, it is the raising of human nature to the throne of God.

Additional Notes:

The relation of this passage to Mary. Within Orthodoxy, this passage is the epistle reading for two Marian feasts (Nativity & Dormition). Why did the Church choose these readings? I think for two reasons. First it reminds us that Christ is the center of our faith. Mary ultimately points to Christ. In all our iconography of Mary, she is always holding Christ pointing people to him. In fact any veneration we have of Mary is ultimately an expression of that acknowledgement that her son is God. Secondly, Mary is the perfect example of this Christ-like humility. In fact, that is another reason we honor Mary. She is the paradigm for the Christian life. She heard the voice of God, humbly accepted God’s Word, and God was born in her body as a result, then she told those around her what God was going to do. This is the example that we are all commanded to follow.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Philippians 1:12-16

Phil 1:12-26 Paul's Confidence

12 &13. Paul adds more words of comfort. Even though Paul has endured the shipwrecks, imprisonment, beatings and unfair accusations, he proclaims to them that this is done for the advance of the Gospel. This is reminiscent of the Old Testament story of Joseph. Joseph has been sold into slavery by his brothers, only to find imprisonment due to unfair accusations. However, through his prison experience he was released and became a leader in the Egyptian government. It was through his leadership he saved the nation and his family from famine. After it was all said and done he proclaimed, “What they meant for evil, God meant for God.” What a testimony?
In what way did the gospel advance? Fr. Farley mentions that “advance” is a military term that imagines an army advancing through uncharted territory in order to take more land. Therefore, this imprisonment is not a setback but is taking more “land” for the gospel. One Father states, “the chains that bind him have become the instruments of salvation.” The whole of elite Roman guard was able to hear the gospel and the believers within the city of Rome.

14. The gospel advance in spite of Paul’s imprisonment led to confidence among the Christians to spread the gospel. Christianity was considered treasonous because they did not honor Caesar as god. Yet, it was becoming apparent because of Paul’s witness they the Christians did not want an overthrow on an earthly kingdom, but the spread of a heavenly kingdom that was rooted in the heart of man.

15-17. Not all believers were thrilled at Paul’s success. These verses begin to explain why. Paul himself states that some were preaching out of envy, rivalry, and partisanship. This has been seen before in Paul’s ministry. See 1 Cor. 1:10-15. Chrysostom said that some of the “Christians” were trying to incite persecution from the emperor in order to discredit or damage Paul’s witness. There were many that did not like Paul’s embrace of the Gentiles and this created discord. Also some of the preaching was done out of opportunism (Farley). These men were seeking power within the Christian church, and Paul appeared to stand in their way.

18. The irony of the situation is that Paul rejoices regardless of the motive of those who are preaching Christ. He is unconcerned about his own reputation and status within the Christian community as long as the gospel is preached.

19. This verse further explains why Paul is rejoicing. His misfortune is causing the church to pray. This gives him confidence, and displays the way that God works through His church. God works in synergy with those who are consecrated to Him. The outcome that Paul rejoices about will happen as a result of the prayers of the Church along with the power of the Holy Spirit. This is giving high praise to prayer and the power and responsibility of the Church in accomplishing God’s work in the world. God never forces Himself, but waits for a willing participant to accomplish His will.
This is also another example of Paul’s humility as the great Apostle asks those he loves to pray for him. A lesser man may be confident in his own prayer life to accomplish such as task (Chrysostom).

20. Paul first states here that he will not be ashamed. This means that he is confident that he nor the Philippians will not deny Christ or compromise the gospel regardless of the sufferings they may encounter. He is confident because Christ has already been glorified regardless of the circumstances, and will continue to be glorified whether he lives or dies.

21. To live is to glorify Christ, and to die for Paul is to be present with Christ for eternity. One father states, “It is not death itself that is gain but to die in Christ. Life is Christ. The one who has hope in Him is always alive, both now and forever

22-23. This expands on vs. 21. To live is fruitful labor in expanding the frontiers of the gospel. Yet Paul struggles here in where he desires to be in the future. To live is to proclaim the gospel, but to die is to be with Christ. Another Father says, “Labor is the gospel I preach. Fruit is to bring many to the hope of life and salvation.”

24-26. Paul is convinced that he will remain with the people for a while longer. He rejoices in this because it for spiritual benefit of others and the communal joy in the faith. It did happen that he was release and continued to minister for a brief time before his martyrdom. Church tradition even suggests that he even took the gospel to Spain. His ultimate release will be another cause of joy among the Christians because the power of prayer and the Holy Spirit will be evident once more.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Book Review: Beginning to Pray

Beginning to Pray is a wonderful little book that is simple to read and opens up a world of prayer that is a beautiful encounter with God. Met. Bloom writes very complex ideas into truly simple and wonderful language. There is a sense that Met. Bloom truly knows what it means to pray. The following link will give more info about Met. Bloom.

It is difficult to summarize so much that the book presents. In fact, there are so many nuggets of truth, I imagine multiple readings over time would enhance its value. Here are several things that were especially meaningful to me as I read the book.

1. Prayer is not formulaic or ritualistic. By this I mean, that prayer is not some magic incantation that forces God to behave for us. It is an encounter and a relationship (26). Bloom makes this clear by saying that it can not be forced by us for there is nothing that we can do to make God interact with us. We want God to react and respond to our cries but he has much more justification to complain at our lack of response to Him.
2. Prayer is a relationship of love. This becomes true for us through the beatitude of poverty. All that we possess is a gift from God, and we possess nothing that we can keep. Every gift is a sign of God’s love; holding onto possession takes us out of the realm of love (39-42).
3. Prayer turns inward. The inward journey of prayer is not a journey into myself but through myself toward God (46). It is a risk to go inward, because you strip away those things that you thought were real, this throws one into a crisis that only God can fill.
4. Stirrings of the heart teach us to pray. The prayers of the church teach us to pray, and Bloom gives excellent guidance in applying these to our lives. Whenever a prayer of the Church touches us deeply and stirs us, we should grab hold of this, learn it, pray it and live it.
5. Prayer must be lived. Words of prayer are words of commitment to God. Bloom makes an interesting statement that Christ is not going to be crucified for us every day, there is a moment that we must take up our own cross. When we speak to God we must be willing to live and commit to what we say.

This text is so simple but has the power to transform your prayer life. In the words of the Fathers: "A Theologian is one who truly prays."

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Book Review: Partakers of the Divine Nature

The heart of Orthodox theology is the notion of theosis. This is the ability to participate in the life of God and be transformed by this communion. It is a deep communion that allows man to truly touch God and be changed into God’s likeness. The book Partakers of the Divine Nature summarizes the Orthodox theology of theosis. Coming from Evangelical Protestantism there are a multitude of book on living the Christian life. This is the definitive Orthodox version and draws each individual into the life of God. This review summarizes the contents of the book and provides an understanding for partaking of God’s life.

Theosis is a term that describes the process of the Christian life. It is a Greek term that describes becoming like God. This is not a novel idea rooted in late Orthodox theology, but has been part of the teaching of the people of God since the beginning. In the first chapters of Genesis, God creates man in the image and likeness of God. The image is an unbreakable stamp of God upon human nature that can not be eradicated. This is man’s purpose as pointed out in Mt. 5:44, “That you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Gal 4:4-7 calls man to become sons and heirs of the Father. However, through the fall man lost this likeness of God, and the story of redemption and the purpose of the Incarnation was God restoring man once again to become like God and journey this path of theosis. St. Athanasius makes the oft repeated statement that “God became man, so the we might be made gods.”

Through the Incarnation Christ restored human nature and the power of the Incarnation according to the author is “realized in the Holy Spirit” (29). It is a process that begins now and will ultimately be fully realized in the future age, as the author states: “our nature becomes adapted in this life to eternal life.” The important concern is how this can be accomplished in the life of man. It is through the Church that the answer is found. In fact the Church has given us all the objective means to achieve theosis (30). Yet this is not a passive operation in the life of the individual; it requires co-operation by man with the grace of God. Because man is free, God allows him to freely accept or reject His grace which would transform him into God-likeness. The author quotes St. Gregory of Nyssa: “when the righteousness of works and the grace of the Spirit come together at the same time in the same soul, together they are able to fill it with blessed life.”

The Church leads man into ways of receiving God’s grace. Often this is referred to as receiving God’s grace, acquiring the Holy Spirit, participating in the life of the Holy Trinity. All are the same act. Those things that the Church prescribes such as fastings, vigils, alms, etc are not ends or disciplines in themselves. The goal of the Christian is not to become a better faster or chanter but to allow those things to open the heart to God’s grace in order to be transformed. The Christian must be attentive to this place of the heart because it in the heart that the work of theosis is accomplished. The disciplines and sacraments of the Church facilitate this process.

The sacraments are a necessary part of this process. The Sacraments “actualize” the grace of God in the life of the Christian (36). Baptism opens the heart and frees it from the control of the devil allowing God’s grace to penetrate and transform. Baptism teaches us that the Christian life is being oriented to God and thereofre a denial of the world. Life is a continuous turning back to God when we are seduced by the world. This turning back to God is repentance and is often called the second baptism. The act of repentance culminates in the sacrament of confession as the believer expressing contrition and receives freedom from those sins which have enslaved him. Confession then as the author states is not “only the beginning of repentance but the fruit (55).” The Eucharist then is the pinnacle of the sacraments. Both Baptism and confession prepare one for the reception of the body and blood of Christ. In the Eucharist we are united with the body of Christ and enter into a physical communion of God.

The author spends much of the book discussing what he considers the “divinizing virtue”. This virtue is prayer and in many ways it is the common theme that runs through each of the other actions—sacraments and disciplines—that the Christian will experience in the life of the Church. Prayer is communion with God. It is the act of placing oneself in the stream of God’s life in order for it to transform and change. In prayer the Christian learns to appropriate everything given in the other disciplines and sacraments. The author is serious about its role and states “if you can not turn to God willingly or with desire than you can not be healed.” Therefore to accomplish theosis in the life of the Christian, the Christian must learn to pray.

He gives beautiful expressions to prayer. True prayer begins with contrition and ends in freedom from the passions. It elevates man to God not bringing man down to God. St Isaac of Syria says that prayer ultimately births love for both God and man. It is love which will be the ultimate fruit of prayer and the ultimate expression of theosis itself. In fact to transformed into God’s likeness means to become what God is which is an eternal life of love.

Advice is given concerning prayer in that prayer may begin with requests but this is merely preparatory for later stages. This will lead to awe of God and the stripping away of all images of God and will be a clear vision of God Himself. The Jesus Prayer is held up as method whereby man’s life can become a permanent expression of prayer. For by letting this penetrate every aspect of life, man gradually becomes prayer.

It must never be forgotten that the fruit of prayer is love, just as the goal of all the disciplines is theosis As magnificent as the virtue of prayer, it is not the end but the beginning of love for God and man. As the Christian becomes like God he will embrace all mankind in love just as God has done for all eternity. If there is a indicator that theosis is being accomplished in the life of the believer, it is evident in love. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, that you love one another (John 13:35).”

you can check this out at Light and Life here.

and you can post comments below.

Friday, October 06, 2006

New Commenting system

commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

This should make it easier to make comments on the posts.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Philippians 1:1-11

Philippians 1:1-11

I. Introduction:

Vs. 1 Paul opens this letter differently than most of his letters. He usual opens with an assertion of his apostolic authority. Here he opens by describing himself as a slave. The bond between Philippi was deep and unlike many of the churches, no one there was challenging his authority. They loved and cared for him deeply, and Paul shares this love by using a term that would suggest their common vocation—that of slaves of Christ.

Vs. 2. Grace to you is a common secular greeting among the Roman world. Paul transforms this phrase. Now the phrase is blessing from God and an acknowledgment that all grace and peace comes from God above. Fr. Lawrence notes that linking Christ and the Father in this blessing is also a tacit belief in the full deity of Christ.

II. Thanks for the Philippians

Vs. 3&4. This portion of the letter begins by Paul giving thanks for the Philippians. It is interesting that Paul say that they give him joy, and that he prays for them at every remembrance. Memory and prayer work together. Often God will bring those to our memory who need prayer. Also, prayer is holding up someone before the memory of God. We are asking that God remember that person. This is a powerful request. The request of the thief on the cross to Jesus was that Jesus would remember him. Jesus affirms his request, and the fulfillment is that the thief would be with him in Paradise. Holding someone before the eternal memory of God is an integral part of intercessory prayer .

Vs. 5 Paul begins here describing the things about the Philippians that give him joy. He is joyful because they are participants in his work of the gospel. How were they participants? They held in common life in Christ. This bond was stronger than all others. They shared in proclaiming the gospel in their daily lives just as he did throughout the Mediterannean. They also shared in his work by providing their prayers and financial support. Chrysostom has an excellent passage that encourages us to participate with those who are doing works that we can not do:
“Thou canst not fast, nor be alone, nor lie on the ground, nor watch all night? Yet mayest thou gain the reward of all these things, if thou go about the matter another way, by attending on him that laboreth in them, and refreshing and anointing him constantly, and lightening the pains of these works. He, for his part, stands fighting and taking blows. Do thou wait on him when he returns from the combat, receive him in thy arms, wipe off the sweat, and refresh him; comfort, soothe, restore his wearied soul. If we will but minister to the saints with such readiness, we shall be partakers of their rewards.”

Vs. 6. He gives another reason for joy in this passage. He is confident that God will continue His work in their lives until the day of judgment. The joy is two-fold. He is joyful that God will not abandon them but continue his work. He is also joyful that he sees within them God’s action which confirms God’s work in them.
Fr. Lawrence points out that “began” and “perform” are both technical terms that describe the beginning of sacrifical ritual. God is making them living sacrifices (Rom 12:1). He says, “offering ourselves to the Lord, however, we are not left to rely solely on our own strength. Rather, God Himself aids us, for He is at work w/in our hearts..." This is the synergy of salvation. Augustine: “God can work in our acts without our help. But when we will the deed, He cooperates with us.”

Vs. 7. This verse gives reasons for Paul’s confidence in them. He once again goes back to this idea of being in communion together for the Gospel. They shared Paul’s bonds, his defense and the confirmation. They shared his bonds and defense through their prayers and financial support. Also their lives were open to the same treatment as Paul, by living as a Christian openly and supporting an enemy of the state such as Paul they were willing to share in the same fate. What does Paul mean by confirmation? The very fact that he would be willing to risk death confirms that he is serious about this Gospel. Chrysostom says that the bonds themselves are a confirmation of the Gospel. They display what is taught. Christ promised persecution, and the bonds are confirmation of that. They are also a witness to the overwhelming truth of the gospel—out of the cross comes resurrection. Out of Paul’s cross, came forth fruits of the resurrection that still affect us today.

Vs. 8 Paul reaffirms his love of the Philippians. He loves them deeply. The word “affections” is literally bowels. This is a strange phrase to an American ear; but the phrase is similar to “from the bottom of my heart”. It has much the same meaning. In fact, we discovered in class that Ethiopians use much the same expression. However, this was not just deep affection on the part of Paul but was characterized Christlikeness. Whenever the gospels speak of Jesus having compassion, it is the same word. This love is unconditional and sacrificial.

III. Request for the Philippians.

Vs. 9. The preceding verses are Paul’s thanks to God for the Philippians. The next three contain requests that he is asking God concerning the Philippians. Paul qualifies this abounding love, by saying that it should be characterized by knowledge and discernment. The word for discernment suggests moral discernment. It is the ability to recognize good from bad and even good from best. This is the same word used in the book Proverbs translated as “knowledge” (Pr 1:4,7,22; 2:4,10; 3:20; 5:2; 10:14; 11:9; 12:1,23; 14:6,7,18; 15:7,14; 18:15;19:25;22:12;23:12;24:4). Love will expressed differently from person to person. Certain ideas and thoughts will be discerned before committing to them passionately.
Chrysostom says :“There is a danger lest anyone be spoiled by the love of the heretics [and] that ye receive no spurious doctrine under the pretense of love.”
Ambrose also says that Paul wants them to be able to distinguish what is useful from what is useless.

Vs 10. Discerning love will give them the ability to prove what is truly excellent. To prove means to recognize the things which are morally excellent and are pleasing to God. To do those things will make them pure and without blemish before God on the day of Christ. Once again the theme of sacrifice is present. The Christian is a living sacrifice and will make the offering of his life to Christ on the day of judgment. Like the unblemished lamb of the OT sacrifice, Paul prays that their life offering will be blameless as well.

Vs.11. Another result of discerning love are the fruits of righteousness. This is a consistent image in Paul. In Gal 5:22, he lists the fruits of the Spirit. In fact, in that passage the word is “fruit” singular, not plural. One can say from that list that the fruit is love and the rests are expression of true Christ-like love. These fruits reflect the live of Christ and express the ultimate person of the sacrificial life which is the glory and praise of God. The offering of our lives will be presented to God in praise to Him. This reflects Christ’s own life and the ultimate sacrifice He made to the Father on the cross. It was a sacrifice not to appease a wrathful God, but a sacrifice of praise—the ultimate act of worship.

note to the class: Thanks for the input this past Sunday. I used your comments when I compiled the above summary notes. I tried to make the class more discussion oriented. Let me know what you thought. Did you like the interaction? Did it move to slow or fast?


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