The Good News of Christmas

After reading The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited by Scot McKnight, who makes the claim that the gospel is the saving story of Jesus as Messiah, King, and Lord as the completion to the story of Israel, I started to notice some profound gospel messages in the Christmas carols we often sing during this season.

I have found that several of these carols go much deeper (much more biblical) than the personal salvation “gospel” of sin-management that we often preach and sing about. What’s tragic is that, even though these carols are quite possibly the best-known Christian songs, their familiarity (and the fact that we only break them out for 1/12th of the year), makes it quite easy to ignore their substance.

Christians, my brothers and sisters,

instead of allowing Fox News to persuade us that the “War on Christmas” is being fought in the stores when people say “Happy Holidays,”

instead of thinking that our Messiah’s main “sorrow” in December is that more people are not saying “Merry Christmas” more often…

…let us examine ourselves. How guilty are we of reducing our “King,” “everlasting Lord,” “Prince of Peace,” “Sun of Righteousness,” and our Messiah into an individual savior whose birth, life, death, and resurrection accomplishes nothing more than getting us into heaven when we die and helping us to manage our personal sins in the meantime?

Perhaps we should be more concerned with our emaciated versions of the gospel than with how we are greeted when entering and exiting our society’s temples to consumerism and greed. 

Please join me in attempting to look through the unfortunately and undeservedly trite familiarity of this song to see its portrayal of the gospel:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest Heav’n adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display Thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all Thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart.

May your hearts and minds be set upon Jesus the Messiah, King, Lord, Savior, and Prince of Peace.

And may you all, in doing so, have a very Merry Christmas.

~Josh

Christianity for Dummies (4): Applications and Paraphrase.

by Katie N. and Josh S.

APPLICATIONS:

1. Rejoice in the Lord:

In what do you find your greatest delight and value? Your beauty? Your grades? Skill in exegesis? Ability to live a moral life? Your friendships and relationships? We need to look for and enjoy the goodness of God’s creation, but if our greatest delight is found in anything else but the Lord Jesus Christ, we will worship created things instead of the Creator, and in doing so, will destroy our relationships with both. Examine, if you will, your “assets/liabilities” chart for your life. If it looks no different than the rest of the world’s, then delve into the gospel, seek to see Jesus more clearly as the exalted Messiah of Philippians 2:5-11, and seriously question whether the things we all commonly value are really that valuable in comparison to knowing Christ.

2. Be Reasonable:

How often do we allow circumstances to influence our behavior and attitude toward others? How often have we “apologized” for anger or sarcasm to a friend by merely attributing it to having a bad day? As we approach finals, do you find yourself abandoning gentleness and instead demanding your “rights” for silence, for sleep, for relaxation? The stronger the link between our attitude and our circumstances, the weaker our unity with other broken human beings. When other people fail to meet your expectations, examine your expectations. If you expect others to be gracious with you, which we all do, you should also be willing to be gracious with them when they don’t perfectly meet the high standards you set for them.

3. Avoid Anxiety Through Prayer:

Anxiety and failing to be reasonable usually go hand-in-hand. When others fail to meet your expectations or when you are placed in a difficult situation, do you find yourself overcome with anxiety that your own personal needs will not be met, whether it’s for peace and quiet, validation and approval, or comfort and agreement? This runs antithetical to a spirit of taking delight in the Lord who abandoned the benefits of equality with God to take on human form and die alone on a cross. The truth is that all the things we think we ‘need’ and the things we expect from others are often left unfulfilled, and we don’t deal with it very well. If we would relinquish our selfish requests and expectations to the Lord through prayer in every situation, I think we would be amazed at our growth in trust in His provision and our decreasing anxiety in response to life’s unmet expectations.

4. Spot Grace Everywhere and in Everyone:

Delighting in the Lord should lead us to delight in the evidences of his redemptive work throughout creation, especially in other human beings, and perhaps most especially in our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. Examine how you treat your friends: does it bug you exponentially more when they wrong or disappoint you than it delights you when they exhibit manifestations of God’s grace and that which is excellent and worthy of praise? Do you find yourself dwelling on those little things that bug you about your roommate or parents rather than choosing to focus on the things that make you glad they are in your life? Spotting God’s grace helps us to rejoice in the Lord more and more. Spotting God’s grace in other people makes it that much easier to be reasonable toward them and to avoid anxiety even when they don’t meet our “needs.” Failing to do so makes it much more difficult to rejoice in the Lord, to be reasonable, and to avoid anxiety. Instead of turning upward and outward, we go inward. Our personal “needs” take first priority, severing our unity with God and others, and the gospel cause stagnates in our life. This is where vertical and horizontal harmony is made or broken. Spot the grace of God, leading you to rejoice in the Lord and allowing you to be reasonable and avoid anxiety with other people, and the peace you will experience will allow you to advance the gospel that much more effectively.

5. One further note:

Do not take lightly those who have exemplified these principles and qualities in their lives. Whether you study the character of biblical characters like Paul or observe someone in your own life who is living out these principles, do not neglect the resource of mature and godly people that are before you to use as an example and springboard for your own growth in godliness. Be intentional about watching them, and follow their example.

MODERN DAY PARAPHRASE:

I’m pleading with both Euodia and Syntyche to set aside their differences, to love one another as sisters in Christ Jesus, so that the gospel can be better proclaimed through your church.

Please, dear friend, help these two women to be unified in whatever ways you can, for they are very dear to me and to God; they have fought for the gospel by my side along with everyone else I’ve ever worked with for God’s kingdom. 
Everyone now, for this is not just the key to Euodia and Syntyche’s conflict, but to all of you: 
Find your deepest delight in Jesus Christ, and in nothing and no one else. 
Value him above all else, and it’s amazing the harmony and the unity (with God and with others) that it will bring to your life. And as you are rejoicing in Jesus, allow that to influence your attitude and actions towards the people you know! It should make you more reasonable and gentle towards them, instead of selfish and abrasive. Why? Because we must all remember that the same God we are delighting in is present with us now and is coming back quickly, when He will right every wrong and meet every need perfectly. Speaking of needs, stop worrying so much that your needs will not be met! Trust God! And if you worry about anything, don’t waste time taking it out on others, but go straight to God in prayer and ask him for his grace and wisdom in every area of your life, big and small. As you do these things, you will become whole, unified with God and with other humans, just like you were originally meant to live!

Finally, my dear brothers and sisters, spot evidences of God’s grace everywhere around you, and especially in other human beings. Focus and dwell on the things that are true, respectable, just, pure, lovely, and admirable — basically everything excellent and praiseworthy, in the truest and most God-honoring sense of those words. To help in this process, please make sure to follow my example and the examples of other godly men and women. After all, you can’t follow Christ in a vacuum! You need your older brothers and sisters in the Lord, like me, to help you along in these things. The result? Brace yourselves. In addition to being made whole and truly alive, as I said earlier, the God who authored that wholeness and life will actually be present with you.

==============================================

Bibliography

Arndt, W., Gingrich, F.W., Danker, F.W., & Bauer, W. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature : A translation and adaptation of the fourth revised and augmented edition of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schrift en des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996, c1979.

Brown, C. The new international dictionary of New Testament theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.

Fee, Gordon D. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1995.

Hawthorne, Gerald F. Philippians. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1983.

Louw, J.P., & Nida, E.A. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament : Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.). New York: United Bible Soci
eties, 1996, c1989.

O’Brien, Peter T. The epistle to the Philippians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.

Wright, N.T. Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.

Christianity for Dummies (3): Philippians 4:8-9

by Katie N. and Josh S.

Second Conditional Sentence: Excellence and Imitation (4:8-9)

Protasis (4:8-9a)

In v. 8-9, Paul continues and concludes his list of exhortations to the Philippians about living the Christian life. In the Greek, these two verses are actually one sentence, which suggests that they do not stand alone, but relate to the other in some way. It is evident in English translations, and even more so in the Greek, the grammatical and structural parallelism of these verses. V. 8 contains 6 parallel clauses combined with the use of anaphora and asyndeton, and v. 9 contains 4 aorist active indicative verbs listed with the use of polysyndeton. Structurally, both verses give their respective ‘list’ followed by the verb clause, which stands in contrast to the previous exhortations, which all begin with the verb.

1. Dwell on These Things (4:8)

8 Τὸ λοιπόν, ἀδελφοί, ὅσα ἐστὶν ἀληθῆ, ὅσα σεμνά, ὅσα δίκαια, ὅσα ἁγνά, ὅσα προσφιλῆ, ὅσα εὔφημα, εἴ τις ἀρετὴ καὶ εἴ τις ἔπαινος, ταῦτα λογίζεσθε·

8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, dwell on these things.

The ‘Finally’ that begins v. 8 signifies not the end of the book but the last in Paul’s list of imperatives. As previously mentioned, v. 8 consists of a list of virtues given in six parallel clauses of two words each, except for the first, which includes the copula or “is”. Read accurately with the asyndeton, it reads: Whatever is true, whatever noble, whatever right, whatever pure, whatever lovely, whatever admirable… You can hear the obvious beauty and parallelism in this verse that sets it apart from the preceding exhortations. In the Christian culture of today, you would be hard pressed to find a Christian that did not know or had not heard this verse. It has for some become a Christian ‘cliché’ because its memorable and structurally very dense. Paul’s use of anaphora here, as opposed to simply listing the virtues one after the other, emphasizes and gives individual attention to each one. However, the greatest emphasis is given to those things that are ‘excellent’ and ‘praiseworthy’, which are set apart in the principal conditional clause and serve as a sort of summary of the preceding qualities. Those things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable are categories of those things that are excellent and praiseworthy, as these two comprehensive qualities are the object of the verb that follows. Giving this list of virtues, Paul then tells them to ‘think on these things’. The verb Paul uses for ‘think’ (Greek: “logidzomai” λογιζομαι) means not just to think about but to ‘take into account’ or ‘consider’, conveying a sense of deliberate reflection that shapes one’s conduct.

We don’t necessarily see Paul develop these specific virtues throughout the book, nor are many of them used elsewhere by him, so we should assume that the Philippians were familiar with what each of these virtues entailed. Paul’s list is actually a list of virtues that the Philippians would have been familiar with in their Greco-Roman world as things spoken of and written about by the Stoic and moral philosophers in their context. They were not everyday terms in Christian vocabulary, so the question arises why Paul would include such a list here. Some commentators hold that Paul wanted the Philippians to keep in mind the virtues and the good things of pagan ethics and their surrounding world because perhaps they had become blinded to these things in the midst of the persecution they had suffered from those outside the church. Others believe that Paul borrowed these terms as the Philippians would have understood them but used v. 9 as a corrective– basically that these things are the minimum standards that should be conformed to Christianity and Paul’s example. And still others point out where these terms have been developed in a religious sense in the Old Testament and claim that Paul was using them in the same sense here. But based on our study, we believe that the best explanation is that Paul is really exhorting the Philippians to consider and dwell on those things that they have known since their youth to be true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable, whatever they may be. They are good things and don’t need to be corrected or ‘Christianized’. O’Brien says, “He wants his Philippian friends to develop those qualities which are good in themselves and beneficial to others, and so he has pressed these terms into service. His appeal is not to some pagan religious ideal, nor to an acceptance of Stoic presuppositions lying behind the ideas, much less to some wholesale acceptance of the norms and values of the world. Paul is saying that any excellent quality is to be the focus of the Philippians’ minds. They are to reflect carefully on these characteristics in order that they may shape their conduct.”[1] Further, the placement of this list in the ‘case study’ of Euodia and Syntyche exhorts the Philippians to consider and take into account the outworking of these virtues that they see in others. Paul’s emphasis on unity throughout the book is not put aside here; rather, it is emphasized. If they choose to deliberately think and reflect on the exhibition of these characteristics in others, and see them as manifestations of God’s grace on their life, what more reason they will have to rejoice in the Lord.

With that understanding, let’s look at what Paul meant by these virtues and what the Philippians would have understood them to be.

True (alethe ἀληθῆ): all that is true in thought, disposition, or deed, or anything that is free of lie or deceit

Noble (semna σεμνά): that which is worthy of respect and of moral worth; contrasted to that which is ignoble, or vulgar

Right/ Just  (dikaia δίκαια): what is just in relation to others and to God; in other words, giving to God and men what is due them, or satisfying obligations

Pure (hagna ἁγνά): Contrasted to the impure motives of those in 1:17, thoughts of the wicked (Prov. 15:26), and the way of the guilty (Prov. 21:8) whatever is not tainted by evil, whether it be motives, actions, ethics, etc.

Lovely (prosphile προσφιλῆ): nowhere else in the NT, but describes that which is love-able, or those things that ‘give pleasure to all and distaste to none, like a welcome fragrance’[2]

Admirable (euphema εὔφημα): also nowhere else in the NT; that which is well spoken of in general, or ‘what is kind and likely to win people; avoiding what is likely to give offense’[3]

Then we come to the comprehensive virtues of ‘excellent’ and ‘praiseworthy’, which encompass the other six:

Excellent (arete ἀρετὴ) can be understood as “virtue, moral excellence, or goodness”. It is only seen elsewhere in the NT in 1 Peter 2:9 and 2 Peter 1:3 and 5. However it is only attributed to human excellence in 2 Peter 1:5, which says, “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness…” The other two references reference the goodness of God. However, given the thrust of this passage as Paul’s desire to see a change in the life of the Philippians and a deep unity and appreciation of others, we found it
best to assume that Paul is speaking of human excellence here.

Praiseworthy (epainos ἔπαινος): Elsewhere in Paul’s writings, this term has been used to describe both praise from God (1 Cor. 4:5; Rom. 2:29) and praise from man (2 Cor. 8:18; Rom. 13:3). Because of its connection and parallelism to excellence, and considering the thrust of this passage, most commentators hold that Paul is talking in this verse about that which merits men’s praise. The Philippians are to be looking for and dwelling on those things that are ‘excellent’ and ‘praiseworthy’ in others, rather than those things that are not so appealing.

We have concluded that the best way that these virtues can be interpreted is as evidences of God’s goodness and grace in all of creation, but more specifically for this book and passage, in other human beings. This interpretation most directly applies to the issue at hand in v. 2-3 between Euodia and Syntyche and makes sense in light of Paul’s emphasis on unity in the rest of the book (1:27; 2:1-4; 3:17). Being able to do this, appreciate the beauty and goodness of God in others despite their many weaknesses, would also make the Philippians more gentle or reasonable people, which reflects Paul’s exhortation in 4:5 to let their gentleness be known to all.

Now, these excellent and praiseworthy virtues that the Philippians are supposed to dwell on and spot in others are not just mentioned and left completely to their discretion. Paul probably assumed that the Philippians might still wonder exactly what these virtues look like in themselves and in others, so he reminds them in v.9 that they have been given valuable resources with which to understand these apart from only what they have known since their youth. V. 9 is there to remind the Philippians that they had them exemplified by Paul through his spoken word and living example. He simply has “taken into account their environment in order to obtain every possible support and understanding for what he wants to say in v.9.”[4]

2. Call to Imitation (4:9a)

The amazing truth is that there was such a close connection between the word Paul preached and the life he lived that he could confidently use himself as an example. So in v. 9 Paul ends this section of exhortations with a call to imitation, which is not surprising given his previous urgings towards imitation: explicitly in 3:17 but also as he has depicted his own response to suffering in 1:12-16, the humility of Christ in 2:6-11, the examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus in 2:19-30, and again his own story in 3:4-14. [5] More specifically, Paul has already exemplified his urgings in v.8 to spot the virtues and God’s grace in others multiple times throughout the letter:

1:3-4; in his prayer of thanksgiving and joy for their partnership in the gospel, attributing it to God’s grace in v. 7 – ‘all of you share in God’s grace with me

1:14-18a; rather than harping on their impure motives, he chooses to focus on and rejoice in the fact that brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord to share the gospel

2:16-18; Paul talks about boasting and rejoicing in the Philippians’ sacrifice and service coming from their faith, for ‘it is God who works in them’ (2:13)

2:19-30; Paul dotes on Timothy and Epaphroditus and the grace that God has had on their life and how He has cultivated exemplary characteristics in each of them

With these illustrations in mind, Paul is now calling them to DO what they have seen embodied, and so in a way, this final exhortation summarizes much of the letter.

9 ἃ καὶ ἐμάθετε καὶ παρελάβετε καὶ ἠκούσατε καὶ εἴδετε ἐν ἐμοί, ταῦτα πράσσετε·

9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things,

All four of these verbs are aorist active indicative verbs so as to remind the Philippians what exactly has taken place and the resources that have been given to them thus far in their relationship with Paul. To understand what Paul is calling them to practice, it would do us well to look deeper into each one of these verbs.

Learned (emathete ἐμάθετε): ‘To learn through instruction’, so here Paul is referring to those things that the Philippians have learned from his teaching and instruction.

Received (parelabete παρελάβετε): This denotes a receiving of something delivered by tradition for the purpose of passing onto others. Some commentators believe that this refers to the elements of the Christian message that had first been carefully passed on to Paul by others[6], while some think that it refers to ethical and procedural rules that Paul passed down to them[7]. We weren’t able to settle on one, but we believe that the Philippians would have known. Nonetheless, I think Paul is reminding them that they are a link in the chain of tradition and is calling them to be faithful by carefully passing on to others what they have received from him.

Heard (ākousate ἠκούσατε): This may sound like a simple repetition of ‘learned’, but it actually refers to those things that the Philippians have heard about Paul and the impression that has been left on them about his Christian character. They surely would have heard a lot of things when he was with them, but they also would have heard many positive accounts about him during his absence. [8]Since he is obviously not with them at the time of his writing, he is calling them to remember, pay attention, and do the things that they have heard about his character and example.

Seen in me (eidete en emoi εἴδετε ἐν ἐμοί): Finally, Paul reminds them of those things they have ‘seen in him’ and that the things they have learned and received from him are not given without an example of how to live them. Everything they have learned, received, and heard, as well as all the virtues in v. 8, were embodied in Paul’s life.

It is important to note that in the verses immediately following this exhortation, 4:10-20, Paul gives yet another example of what he is calling the Philippians to do as he thanks them for their gift. He says, “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord (going back to 4:4) that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.” (4:10) He takes consideration to note how they “sent [him] aid more than once when [he] was in need”. Paul takes no time to practice what he is preaching. His joy in the Lord is fueled by his deliberate choice to point out and be thankful for how God’s grace has affected the Philippians and how it is flowing into their actions. He has spotted the virtues of v. 8 in the lives of the Philippians and purposefully offers another example for them to imitate.

So you could say that Paul has pretty much covered all his bases here. With these things in mind, Paul calls them to imitation, telling them to ‘put them into practice’ or ‘do’ them. The verb for ‘do’ is present imperative, telling the Philippians that they should keep putting these things into practice and accomplishing them consistently, making them a lifestyle.

Apodosis: The God of Peace (4:9b)

καὶ ὁ θεὸς τῆς εἰρήνης ἔσται μεθ’ ὑμῶν.

and the God of peace will be with you.

Paul ends this section by giving the result of the Philippians’ obedience to his instruction: “And the God of peace will be with you’. It’s easy to see the reversal of the words in the promise of ‘the peace of God’ in v. 7. This is no mistake or simple thing, but rather serves as an advance in thought from v. 7 and an encouragement to heed the exhortations in v. 8-9. In v. 7 it was said that God’s peace would be with the Philippians if they followed Paul’s instruction. Here, Paul is encouraging them to heed his instructions by saying that God Himself, who is the Giver of all blessings- grace, peace, and final salvation- will be with them. O’Brien notes: “The two promises are similar, with only a slight difference of emphasis: in the former, the focus is upon God’s salvation guarding them; in the latter, it is upon his presence to bless and to save them. Since the gift of His peace cannot be separated from his presence as the Giver, these two assurances are closely related in meaning.”[9] The promise in v. 9 also gives deeper meaning to Paul’s exhortations to ‘rejoice in the Lord’ (3:1; 4:4), and his reminder that ‘the Lord is near’ (4:5). 


[1] O’Brien, 503.

[2] O’Brien, 505.

[3] Ibid, 505.

[4] Hawthorne, 189.

[5] Fee, 419.

[6] Hawthorne, 189.

[7] O’Brien, 510.

[8] Ibid, 510.

[9] O’Brien 512.

Christianity for Dummies (2): Philippians 4:4-7

by Katie N. and Josh S.

Broadening his scope from the specific means,

Paul proceeds to give general Exhortations to Vertical and Horizontal Harmony (in 4:4-9)

After the intriguing case study of Euodia and Syntyche is presented in 4:2-3, Paul exhorts the entire Philippian community. Specifically and immediately, this is done in order to help “solve” the problem alluded to in 4:2-3. However, the themes addressed here flow directly from Paul’s teaching throughout the entire epistle up to this point, and the following passage in 4:10-20 can be seen as putting flesh on the principles in this passage. Therefore, we interpret these verses as both a proposed “solution” to Euodia and Syntyche’s conflict, and a synthesized summary of Paul’s major teachings in this book. These two elements are the crucial keys to how we interpret this section of our passage. If the immediate context of 4:2-3 and the overarching context of the rest of the book are ignored, then every element of the next six verses can be interpreted in many different ways. This breadth of interpretive choices is made easier by the scarcity of explanatory conjunctions in 4:4-7 and the lack of explicit explanation of what is said in 4:8-9. However, we firmly believe that if 4:2-3 is kept in mind as the case study which Paul had in mind when writing vv. 4-9, and if every interpretive conclusion is evaluated contextually with the rest of the book, then we can arrive on some solid ground of truth on which to stand. Nevertheless, we humbly acknowledge that this is merely our best effort at arriving at a correct interpretation. Although we think that this is interpretively the best fit, our finiteness and brokenness force us to admit that much work could still be done to improve our “conclusions.”

Syntactically, this section is comprised of two implicit conditional sentences. The first is in verses 4:4-7, and the second in vv. 8-9. Every conditional sentence is composed of a conditional subordinate clause called the protasis (the “if”) and a consequential main clause called the apodosis (the “then”). While there are several different types of conditional sentences (primarily dependent on the nature of the protasis), we believe that it is best to take these two sentences as promising the sure results (“the peace of God” in 4:7 and “the God of peace” in 4:9b) that will happen as the exhortations (in 4:4-6 and 4:8-9a) are followed.

Let us begin with the First Conditional Sentence: Rejoice in the Lord (in 4:4-7)

, the Protasis of which is in 4:4-6.

The protasis to the first conditional sentence is composed of four[1] imperatives (4:4, 5a, 6a, and 6b), interrupted by one indicative statement (4:5b). The lack of conjunctions in this section (save for one at the beginning of 4:6b) makes things complicated, because it is unclear how the five elements of this protasis relate to each other. Making sense of this section therefore requires careful conceptual analysis. We will endeavor to show that, while each of these five elements can be interpreted in several different ways conceptually, we believe that our thoroughly relational interpretive framework contextually makes the most sense, especially when the case study of 4:2-3 is considered.

First, Paul urges the Philippians to Rejoice in the Lord (in 4:4)

..Addressing his entire audience as he repeats his exhortation of 3:1 to “rejoice in the Lord.”

Many commentators pass over the asyndeton (lack of conjunctions) in this passage to make the case that 4:5-7 serves to explain the injunction in 4:4 to rejoice in the Lord. However, O’Brien makes a strong and cogent argument that, while there are links elsewhere between the concepts of joy, gentleness, prayer, and peace, that Paul is not here linking these commands. He emphasizes the fact that the exhortations to rejoice and to be gentle are grammatically independent, and claims that the commands of 4:5-6 do not spell out the practical consequences of rejoicing, citing Galatians 5:22 in its mention of joy, peace, and gentleness without a precise relationship between the three being described. O’Brien’s final conclusion, (to which Hawthorne would agree), is that “here at Phil. 4:4-7, through the use of asyndeton, the apostle’s commands take on an individual importance; each is isolated and so made emphatic.” [2]

However, with due respect to O’Brien, we disagree and see conceptual links between the exhortation to rejoice in 4:4 and the exhortations in 4:5-6. However, as mentioned above, the asyndeton of this section complicates things. Ours is only a speculative conclusion, and O’Brien and others may indeed be correct. Nevertheless, we side with N.T. Wright when he claims that everything in 4:4-6 falls under “the great heading in verse 4: celebrate in the Lord!”[3]

Asyndeton makes seeing a hard causal connection, as some do, between rejoicing and the other exhortations an untenable interpretive position. If Paul wanted to make such a connection, then it would seem worth his while to use the needed conjunctions to do so.

However, the fact that he repeats the command to rejoice twice in the same verse, coupled with the fact that “joy” is such a predominant theme throughout the book of Philippians, leads us to believe that this exhortation clearly gets the emphasis in this section. Instead of functioning as a direct cause, however, we see the exhortation to rejoice as the “headline” exhortation to which the others are in some way related. It is the gateway to the gentleness and prayerful avoidance of anxiety urged in the following verses, for 4:5-6 is impossible to follow if 4:4 is neglected. Rejoicing in the Lord makes the following exhortations possible.

The word for “rejoice” here is χαίρετε, a second person plural present active imperative from χαιρω, which has a lexical range including “rejoice, be glad; and hail, a form of greeting or farewell.” Although some commentators have suggested translating this as “farewell in the Lord,” “rejoice, be glad” is the better choice because it contextually makes more sense regarding the modifier πάντοτε “always.” This also makes it clear that the rejoicing is to be independent of circumstances, whether favorable or unfavorable. But what kind of rejoicing is being commanded?

The answer to this question lies in the phrase “in the Lord,” meaning, according to O’Brien, that “the Lord is either the object of their rejoicing or the ground and the one in whom their joy thrives.” We see no reason to create a dichotomy between the two. John Piper’s familiar thesis rings true: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Taking delight in the Lord does not mean having a superficial sense of happiness even when the skies of your life darken with unfavorable circumstances. It means grounding your life’s deepest joy, delight, and satisfaction in the unshakable nature and presence of almighty God.

For the clearest picture of what this looks like, we turn back to chapter 3, which begins with “finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord…” What follows is what we believe to be an extended description of what it means to rejoice in the Lord, and at the center of it is a look into the Christ-centered value system of the apostle Paul (in 3:4-14), surrounded by examples of what it looks like to NOT rejoice in the Lord (3:2-3; 18-21)

Paul rejoices in the Lord as he values Christ above all other things, even those things which he used to regard as his most cherished assets (see Paul’s “impressive” list in 3:4-6). For Paul, finding joy in Jesus meant hav
ing his former way of accounting assets and liabilities completely turned on its head. Knowing Christ, being found in him, knowing the power of his resurrection, sharing in his sufferings, shaping his life around the pattern of the cross, and attaining to the resurrection from the dead…these things became Paul’s ultimate concerns and primary assets.

When we rejoice in the Lord, we are truly able to say with Paul that “living is Christ and dying is gain” (1:21), because we find our greatest joy in the Lord Jesus himself, and all other things pale in comparison. When we grasp this reversal of values, many of the confusing things in the book of Philippians begin to make more sense. Rejoicing in the Lord obviously deepens our relationship with God and Christ, but we must not forget the horizontal implications of this principle on our relationships with other human beings.

Secondly, Paul urges them to Be Reasonable (in 4:5a)

Having just finished the headline exhortation to rejoice in the Lord, Paul urges the Philippians to let their gentleness be evident to everyone, believer and outsider alike

τὸ ἐπιεικὲς ὑμῶν: “Gentleness.” The first thing that pops into our mind is perhaps that Paul is commanding Euodia, Syntyche, and the Philippians to “just play nice” as a means of overcoming conflict and achieving unity. However, our current conceptions of what it means to be “gentle” do not match what Paul is getting after through this Greek term. ἐπιεικὲς here stands for the abstract noun ἐπιείκεια, which denoted equity and leniency when applied to authorities and meant “a balanced, intelligent, decent outlook in contrast to licentiousness.”[4] Here, ἐπιείκεια most likely means “a humble, patient steadfastness, which is able to submit to injustice, disgrace and maltreatment without hatred or malice, trusting God in spite of it all.”[5] Therefore, we have chosen the term “reasonableness” to better reflect the meaning of ἐπιεικὲς.

This quality shows up throughout the letter in several places. In 1:15-18, we see Paul being reasonable towards those who are preaching the gospel from envy and rivalry. This passage is significant because we see reasonableness and joy linked. Instead of responding in anger towards these envious preachers, Paul responds with joy (see 1:18). Why? Because Paul’s joy is in the Lord, as we see in 1:20-21. Again, in 2:17-18, where Paul “reasonably/gently” expresses his willingness to be poured out like a drink offering on the sacrificial offering of the Philippians’ faith, we see ἐπιείκεια and joy linked together: “…I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.” Why on earth would Paul rejoice at the prospect of being poured out like a drink offering? Because his joy is not in his circumstances, it is in the Lord, as seen by his eschatological view towards Christ in 2:16.

Yet again in 4:10-13 we find joy and reasonableness linked together. Paul rejoiced in the Lord greatly that the Philippians had revived their concern for his welfare. Yet instead of griping about how difficult his circumstances were before their concern for him was rekindled, we find Paul being quite reasonable despite the difficult circumstances he endured. Why? You guessed it: because Paul’s joy is in the Lord, and not in his circumstances. In both abundance and poverty, Paul joyfully endures because his focus is on Christ, who strengthens him (see 4:12-13).

This link between joy and reasonableness is crucial when we consider the case study of 4:2-3. Euodia and Syntyche will never be able to live in harmony as those who have submitted to Christ’s lordship unless they show reasonableness to one another as they move beyond their differences. However, shooting for this reasonableness is a fruitless affair unless their joy is first firmly grounded in the Lord Jesus himself. Otherwise, they will only be able to be as reasonable as their circumstances dictate. This is where rejoicing in the Lord profoundly affects our interpersonal relationships.

Paul then encourages the Philippians that The Lord is Near (in 4:5b)

After two imperatives, Paul breaks form with a very short indicative statement of the Lord’s nearness.

κύριος ἐγγύς: Three short words should be simple enough to understand, right? The interpretive difficulties surrounding this statement are due to the lack of any conjunctions to link this statement with what precedes and what follows after it. In addition, ἐγγύς, an adverb meaning “near,” can either be taken spatially (as in “the Lord is present with us”) or temporally (as in “the Lord will soon return”). Most recent commentators have taken this statement eschatologically, referring to the Lord’s soon return, and this has a quite firm textual basis (consider the eschatological focus of 1:6, 10; 2:16; 3:20-21). However, the brevity and ambiguity of this phrase suggests that Paul is purposefully using it in a multifaceted way to encourage his readers here in their obedience to his exhortations in 4:4-7. For the Philippians to know that their Lord was both at hand and coming quickly would be a powerful incentive for them to rejoice, be reasonable, avoid anxiety, and present their requests to God.

In light of this, the Philippians are to Avoid Anxiety (in 4:6a)

The readers, having just been encouraged of the Lord’s nearness, are now commanded to stop having undue anxiety.

μηδὲν μεριμνᾶτε: O’Brien, citing A.T. Robertson and M. Zerwick, claims that “the negative μηδὲν with the present imperative, μεριμνᾶτε, assumes that the Philippians had been anxious, and they are now urged to stop being so.”[6] Μεριμνάω is only used twice in this epistle: positively to convey Timothy’s genuine concern for the Philippians in 2:20, and negatively here to convey “anxious harassing care” or “unreasonable anxiety.”[7]

Many commentators focus on this anxiety as due to the unpredictability of first century life in. For example, Paul had ample occasions to be anxious as he was in prison at the time. However, consider his gospel-centered and quite calm explanation of his circumstances in 1:12-18, and his previously-mentioned contentment which transcended his circumstances in 4:10-13. In addition, the Philippians may have been facing the prospect of persecution (see 1:28). However, as previously mentioned, we believe that the case study of 4:2-3 must be kept in mind as we interpret this command.

Anxiety would have fueled the fire of the interpersonal conflict between Euodia and Syntyche. We can see this in 2:3-4 “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” This runs against the grain of anxiety, which selfishly becomes quite fearful and angry when one’s own “needs” go unmet. This also runs against the previous command toward reasonableness, which anxiety makes impossible to obey. And all of this looks back toward the injunction of 4:4 to “rejoice in the Lord,” which makes being reasonable and avoiding anxiety possible. Otherwise, our focus turns away from God and toward our circumstances and anxious personal desires. However, in addition to rejoicing in
the Lord to avoid anxiety, Paul offers another solution.

Instead, the Philippians are to Present Their Requests to God (4:6b)

Instead of having undue anxiety, the Philippians are to thankfully make their requests known to God through prayer in every situation.

R. Rainy said rightly that “the way to be anxious about nothing is to be prayerful about everything.”[8]

Paul tells the Philippians to let their requests be made known to God “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving.” The first two terms, τῇ προσευχῇ καὶ τῇ δεήσει, are best taken synonymously to refer to prayer/petition, instead of trying to ascertain the minute differences in nuance between the two terms. μετ’ εὐχαριστίας (with thanksgiving) describes the spirit in which this is to be done. As the Philippians present their requests to god in petitionary prayer, they are to be cognizant of and thankful for that which God has already given to them, most notably their salvation in Jesus the Messiah.

For an example of what this looks like, we should turn back to Paul’s introductory prayer in 1:3-11, where he presents his requests to God regarding the Philippians with an unmistakable attitude of joyful thanksgiving.

In order to avoid undue anxiety, the Philippians need to lay all their present cares and requests before God with a joyful and thankful spirit, acknowledging their utter dependence upon him in the confidence that he knows their deepest needs, that he is present with them, and that he is soon to return (see 4:5b).

This brings us to the first Apodosis: The Peace of God (in 4:7)

The sure result of following the previous exhortations toward joy, reasonableness, and a prayerful avoidance of anxiety, is God’s own peace, more wonderful than anything the Philippians can comprehend.

The καὶ that introduces this verse is consecutive.[9] This means that it introduces the results of what precedes. O’Brien refutes the notion of some that this is nothing more than a concluding wish of Paul, based on the future tense of the verb φρουρήσει (will guard). He also denies that this is designed to conclude the previous exhortations as a whole at the end of the paragraph, instead seeing this verse as “a specific and certain promise about God’s peace that is attached to the encouraging admonition of v. 6.[10] While not wanting to deny the obvious tie between the exhortation to avoid anxiety and the promise of God’s amazing peace, we disagree with O’Brien and see the promise of 4:7 as being tied into this paragraph as a whole. This is due to the fact that everything in this section is so closely linked conceptually when viewed through a relational interpretive lens (keeping in mind the case study of 4:2-3). The kind of peace being described here is more than a simple antonym to the undue anxiety mentioned in 4:6. As we will see, “peace” is an incredibly rich term that can be seen in what it means to rejoice in the Lord (4:4), in the redemption of interpersonal relationships manifested in a reasonable spirit toward all (4:5a), and in the Lord’s nearness (4:5b). Therefore, we see this apodosis in 4:7 as linked with all of 4:4-6. This sure result applies to the exhortations in the previous three verses.

εἰρήνη τοῦ θεοῦ: Much as our modern notions of “gentleness” fall short of the richness of the Greek term επιεικεια, our modern conceptions of “peace” fall short of the richness of the Greek term εἰρήνη and its foundation in the incredibly rich Hebrew term shalom. As if this were not enough, the modifying genitive phrase τοῦ θεοῦ (of God) makes this phrase even richer and more unique. Indeed, this is the only time in the New Testament that the specific phrase “peace of God” occurs.[11] For a discussion on how to interpret this genitive, we turn to Hawthorne, who says:

Paul is not now referring to the peace with God (τοῦ θεοῦ viewed as an objective genitive) that the Philippians had as a result of their being justified by faith in Jesus Christ: such peace is presupposed. Nor is he exclusively referring to that “inward peace of soul that come from God” (τοῦ θεοῦ viewed as subjective genitive), a peace that “is grounded in God’s presence and promise,” the result of believing prayer (Vincent; cf. Rom. 14:17; 15:13; Col. 3:15). Paul seems here to be referring to the tranquility of God’s own eternal being (Caird), the peace which God himself has (Barth), the calm serenity that characterizes his very nature (τοῦ θεοῦ viewed as a descriptive genitive; cf. 4:9; Sipre 42 on Num. 6:26: Gnilka) and which grateful, trusting Christians are welcome to share (cf. Foerster, TDNT 2,411-17). If they do, then not only will inner strife resulting from worrying cease, but external strife, resulting from disagreements among Christians has the potential of coming to an end as well.[12]

However, even though it is perhaps best to take τοῦ θεοῦ as a descriptive genitive, this does not exclude the phrase “peace of God” from referring to the peace that God himself can give.[13] This is semantically possible, because εἰρήνη (cf. BAGD) has a lexical range which includes “a state of concord: peace, harmony,” but also “a state of well-being: peace.” It is here that BAGD adds that this semantic facet of εἰρήνη corresponds to the Hebrew term shalom, meaning “welfare, health,” and that “since, according to the prophets, peace will be an essential characteristic of the messianic kingdom. Christian though also frequently regards εἰρήνη as nearly synonymous with messianic salvation.” O’Brien is quick to make this connection, and says that ἡ εἰρήνη τοῦ θεοῦ “is thus equivalent to the eschatological salvation that has been effected in Christ Jesus” and “is parallel to [the peace of Christ], which designates the peace that Christ both embodies and brings (cf. Jn. 14:27).”[14]

A full discussion of εἰρήνη and shalom far exceeds the scope of this presentation. However, some analysis of what the peace of God is said to accomplish in this verse will help to clarify what Paul is saying here about this sure result to the exhortations of 4:4-6.

The peace of God will guard the Philippians’ hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (φρουρήσει τὰς καρδίας ὑμῶν καὶ τὰ νοήματα ὑμῶν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ). But what does this mean? Φρουρήσει is the third person singular future active indicative form of φρουρέω, meaning “guard, keep in custody, preserve…a vivid military term used of a detachment of soldiers who stand guard over a city and protect it from attack.”[15] According to Hawthorne, Philippi would have been guarded by a Roman garrison at this time, ensuring that this metaphor would have been readily understood by Paul’s audience.[16]

The object of the verb is “your hearts and your minds.” O’Brien regards “heart” as “describing the whole person from an emotional and volitional angle” and “mind” as focusing on the mental aspects.[17] The sphere in which this takes place is “in Christ Jesus,” and most commentators readily agree on this: the peace of God will guard and protect the hearts and minds of those who have been united with Christ Jesus by submitting to his lordship.

What will they be guarded against? Surely the sense includes that they will be guarded against the undue anxiety of 4:6, a lack of reasonableness toward others (4:5), and a failure to rejoice in the Lord (4:4). Taking a relational view of this passage seems to indicate that the peace of God, as the previous exhortations are followed, will guard the Philippians against that which would wreck their unity with each other and with God himself. It will act as a familiar garrison of soldiers, protecting them on all sides as they stand “firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (see 1:27).


[1] Since 4:6a and 6b conceptually combine as one command unit, it is possible to list either three or four commands in this section.

[2] O’Brien, 485.

[3] Wright, 130.

[4] O’Brien, 487.

[5] Ibid., 487.

[6] O’Brien, 491.

[7] Hawthorne, 183.

[8] Cited by J.H. Michael, who is cited by O’Brien, 492.

[9] Cf. BAGD, in O’Brien, 495.

[10] Ibid., 495.

[11] Hawthorne, 184. O’Brien, 496.

[12] Hawthorne, 184.

[13] O’Brien, 496.

[14] Ibid., 496.

[15] Ibid., 498.

[16] Hawthorne, 184-5.

[17] O’Brien, 498.

Christianity for Dummies: Philippians 4:2-3

by Katie N. and Josh S.

In many spheres of life, unity is a key to excellence. This is readily apparent in the world of sports. For example, if the Cedarville men’s soccer team, due to a terrible argument among the athletes, was to suddenly turn into eleven solo players who refused to cooperate and pass during the match, a team of much lesser talent and ability would be able to soundly defeat them. Even though the eleven players on the field would still be quite talented individually, their refusal to pursue a common goal together would make them no match for the eleven opponents.

However, the same exact thing can and, all too often, does happen in the body of Christ. Relationships between otherwise “talented” Christians too often strain and break over the pettiest of issues, and whether we realize it or not, this damages the body just as much as any individual sin, impeding the advance of the gospel through the Church. Perhaps our focus on individual and private piety has led us to neglect the importance of unity when it comes to following Christ.

This is exactly the kind of issue that Paul seeks to address in Philippians 4:2-9, to which we now turn.

The following is a translation of our passage,

based on the NASB with minor revisions to reflect our interpretive decisions.

2 I beg Euodia and I beg Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. 3 Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women [because] they have struggled together with me in [the cause of] the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names [are in] the book of life.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

The “big idea” of our passage is this:

In order to experience vertical and horizontal peace for the advance of the gospel,

Euodia, Syntyche, and the Philippian saints

are to rejoice in the Lord,

leading to reasonableness and thankfully avoiding anxiety through prayer,

and to dwell on that which is excellent and praiseworthy,

imitating Paul’s Christ-following instruction and example.

With that “big idea” in mind, we now turn to the exegetical outline of our passage,
which begins with a Case Study: Euodia and Syntyche (in 4:2-3)

At first glance, the first two verses of our passage stick out like a sore thumb from that which precedes and that which follows. Having concluded a positive vs. negative analysis of what it means to “rejoice in the Lord” in 3:1-21, Paul then uses some of the richest terms of endearment for the Philippian saints in 4:1, calling them “my beloved brothers whom I long to see, my joy and crown…my beloved.” This verse functions as a transition from the exposition of 3:1-21 to the case study and exhortations found here in 4:2-9. Paul urges his beloved brothers and sisters to “stand firm in the Lord” in the ways he has just finished describing.

However, a jarring transition comes with the very first word of 4:2. In most English translations, it is the word “I,” referring to Paul. However, in the Greek text this passage begins with the proper name Euodia, mentioned nowhere else in this epistle or in any of Paul’s extant writings, for that matter. Another proper name, Syntyche, appears a mere two words later, and it is clear that Paul is now discussing a unique situation. It is our labor today to show how this “sore thumb” passage, with its strange placement in the thought-flow of the book and odd use of proper names, actually serves as a case study which transcends the specific parties involved, synthesizing Paul’s teaching throughout the entire book of Philippians.

Paul begins by stating The Problem and The Desired Solution (in 4:2)

Addressing two women in the Philippian community, Paul even-handedly urges them both towards unity and harmony in their common bond in the Lord Jesus.

Who were Euodia and Syntyche? What was their conflict?

Although these names were common in that day, these women are mentioned nowhere else in the New Testament, and their exact identity remains unknown.

Furthermore, it is surprising that Paul here specifically names the two people involved in the conflict he is trying to resolve, as this was not his common practice. According to Fee, Paul rarely mentions anyone by name unless it is in the context of greetings and the mention of coworkers or envoys (for example, “Clement” in 4:3). [1] When combined with the enlisting of a third party’s help in 4:3, this seems to reveal the urgency of Paul’s request for unity. However, it might be illegitimate to read this in terms of Paul calling two people out in a direct and somewhat harsh pastoral confrontation, as some commentators have done. Fee sees Paul naming these two as an evidence of their close friendship. [2] That is, the fact that Paul actually does call them by name reveals his intimate knowledge of them and their situation, and that he is confident that his intervention will solve the problem.

However, this does not mitigate the urgency of the request. Paul obviously views the unity between these women, who were probably influential members of the Philippian church (according to Hawthorne, [3] Fee, [4] O’Brien,[5] and others), to have a weighty influence on the advancement of the gospel by the Philippian church.

That being said, Paul refuses to take sides in his appeal, which can be seen in the very even-handed syntax: Εὐοδίαν παρακαλῶ καὶ Συντύχην παρακαλῶ, using the verb παρακαλέω, which can here be rendered “appeal to, urge, exhort, or encourage.” He addresses them both directly in turn, which reinforces his request for them to abandon their differences and live in harmony in the Lord. This is a very personal appeal. To read it in any other way goes against the terms of affection Paul uses for the Philippians throughout the letter, especially in 4:1. In an attempt to capture this sense, we have chosen to render παρακαλῶ as “beg.”

In order to get a better idea of what their conflict was, however, we must continue to look at the rest of this “case study.”

What was Paul’s Desired Solution? τὸ αὐτὸ φρονεῖν ἐν κυρίῳ:

Paul desires that these two women abandon their differences and live in harmony in the Lord, touching on a main theme of the letter up to this point.

τ
αὐτὸ φρονεῖν: This present active infinitive form of φρονέω has a semantic range which includes (according to BAGD): “to think, form/hold an opinion, judge; set one’s mind on, be intent on; and have thoughts/attitudes, be minded or disposed.” Literally, this entire phrase means “to think the same thing.” But what does this mean?

Contextually, the most important occurrences of φρονέω are in 2:2, where Paul says: “make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” This use of φρονέω in an appeal for unity parallels the use in 4:2. Euodia and Syntyche are being urged toward the same humility-based unity described in chapter 2. Although this most literally means having the same mindset, this mindset was supposed to influence both their inward dispositions and their outward actions, so that the church might remain unified and that the gospel might be effectively advanced. Therefore, we have translated this phrase “live in harmony.”

ἐν κυρίῳ: Euodia and Syntyche are not only to live in harmony with one another, but to do so in the Lord, that is, Christ Jesus. Euodia and Syntyche are to live in harmony because doing so is fitting and proper for those who have submitted themselves to Christ’s lordship. This points us back to 2:6-11, which spells out the kind of Lord they are called to submit to, and to 3:4-14, which gives us a real-life example of this submission.

Paul then address The Specific Means to the Desired Solution (in 4:3)

Having urged both Euodia and Syntyche toward the desired goal, Paul now enlists an unnamed “true companion” to help these women live in harmony, revealing the urgency of his exhortation in the previous verse. The “true companion” is to help these women because they have contended in the gospel’s cause along with Paul and other fellow gospel workers, who all have the promised inheritance of eternal life.

Who is this “True Companion”? – (γνήσιε σύζυγε)

Many different answers have been proposed to answer this question. Clement of Alexandria conjectured that this was Paul’s wife, whom Renan suggested was Lydia of Acts 16. Chrysostom said that this was the husband or brother of either Euodia or Syntyche. Some say Epaphroditus, others say Timothy. Others suggest Silas, Luke, the chief bishop at Philippi, Christ himself, or a person with the proper name Syzygus.[6]

However, according to O’Brien, the only tenable conclusion that we can presently come to is that this “true companion” was a well-known member of the Philippian church who partnered with Paul in the gospel’s cause, and who most likely possessed both tact and influence.[7]

But why should he help these women?

The reason why the “true companion” needs to help these women resolve their conflict is that they “have struggled together with [Paul] in [the cause of] the gospel,” revealing the link between their unity and the church’s effectiveness in advancing the gospel. This clause hearkens back to 1:27, where Paul urges the Philippians to “conduct [themselves] in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” by “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” The verb used for “striving together” is the third person plural aorist active indicative form of συναθλέω, originally an athletic/gladiatorial metaphor meaning “to contend, struggle along with.” The sphere in which Euodia and Syntyche have struggled along with Paul is “in the gospel,” and the clear prediction of suffering in the gospel’s cause found in 1:30 explains why participation in it is described as such a battle.

In answer to our previous question, it is impossible today to know for sure what the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche entailed. However, we can ascertain that the main issue for Paul was the advance of the gospel through the Philippian church. Euodia and Syntyche’s important participation with Paul in the gospel mission is the basis for the urgency of his request for harmony. The problem needed to be resolved because a failure to do so would have impeded the gospel’s progress.


[1] Fee, 389.

[2] Ibid., 389-92.

[3] Hawthorne, 179.

[4] Fee, 390-91.

[5] O’Brien, 477-83.

[6] Hawthorne, 179-80.

[7] O’Brien, 481.

Church and State

I just read an article by Kevin DeYoung at The Gospel Coalition: “Thinking Theologically About Memorial Day”. Listen to his intro:

This post probably has something to make everyone unhappy. But here goes.

With Memorial Day on Monday (in the U.S.) and, no doubt, a number of patriotic services scheduled for this Sunday, I want to offer a few theses on patriotism and the church. Each of these points could be substantially expanded and beg more detailed defense and explanation, but since this is a blog and not a term paper, I’ll try to keep this under 1500 words.

DeYoung goes on to cover five main points:

  1. Being a Christian does not remove national and ethnic identities.
  2. Patriotism, like other earthly “prides,” can be a virtue or vice.
  3. Allegiance to God and allegiance to your country are not inherently incompatible.
  4. God’s people are not tied to any one nation.
  5. All this leads to one final point: while patriotism can be good, the church is not a good place for patriotism.

Overall, I really appreciate this attempt to arrive at a balance between those who simply baptize their American patriotism and call it Christianity and those who view every instance of patriotism as damnable idolatry. I loved DeYoung’s last paragraph: 

In some parts of the church, every hint of patriotism makes you a jingoistic idolater. You are allowed to love every country except your own. But in other parts of the church, true religion blends too comfortably into civil religion. You are allowed to worship in our services as long as you love America as much as we do. I don’t claim to have arrived at the golden mean, but I imagine many churches could stand to think more carefully about their theology of God and country. Churches should be glad to have their members celebrate Memorial Day with gusto this Monday. We should be less sanguine about celebrating it with pomp and circumstance on Sunday.

In the end, while I want to avoid the extreme position of viewing every form of patriotism as idolatry, I think that American Christians too often give unthinking allegiance and support to the country in which we live. Without demonizing the country in which we live, the amazing freedoms which we are able to enjoy, and the men and women who have sacrificed to secure and preserve those freedoms for us, we need to always remember that we, if we belong to Christ, are ultimately citizens of a greater Kingdom than the United States of America. DeYoung has this to say about the compatibility of allegiance to God and allegiance to one’s country:

If you read all that the New Testament says about governing authorities in places like Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2, you see that the normal situation is one of compatible loyalties. The church is not the state and the state is not God, but this does not mean the church must always be against the state. In general, then, it’s possible to be a good Christian and a good American, or a good Ghanaian or a good Korean. Patriotism is not bad. Singing your national anthem and getting choked up is not bad. Allegiance to God and allegiance to your country do not have to be at odds.

Correct, allegiance to God and allegiance to country do not have to be diametrically opposed. Christians should live as respectful citizens of their respective nations. However, do we really believe that Ghanaian and Korean Christians are every bit as good as American ones? I know everyone’s going to say “yes,” but do we really believe this? What if those Ghanaian and/or Korean Christians don’t like the United States of America? Are they still as pleasing to God in our eyes, or does their righteousness depend on their support of the Red, White, and Blue? Because a lot of what I have seen/heard/experienced in the American church seems to subtly teach that our country is the best and most deserving of God’s favor. I retweeted the following recently:

I’m waiting for the Iranian and N. Korean editions of the Patriot’s Bible. http://www.americanpatriotsbible.com.

Why does something like this have the potential to upset so many American Christians? “Iran and North Korea are clearly more morally evil than the United States,” some will say. Maybe so, but since when does our country get to claim the right of being God-approved? Can Christians in Ghana sing “God bless Ghana”? Perhaps our reactions to tweets/messages/statements like the one above only prove the problem.

Before someone calls me a heretic or an anti-American, please know that simply questioning the American church’s commitment to the USA does NOT immediately make me into someone who burns flags and pickets soldiers funerals. That would be swinging to the other end of the spectrum, and I do not believe that such a dichotomy exists. If someone does not give unquestioning allegiance to the USA, it does not mean that they automatically align themselves with the crazies over at Westboro Baptist Church.

I am a Christian.

I am also an American citizen. I obey the law, salute the flag, am respectful of the men and women in the armed forces, grateful for their sacrifices, and thankful for the fact that I live in a country where I can enjoy unparalleled freedoms (such as writing blog posts like this without having to fear for my life).

…but I do not give my ultimate allegiance to the American flag, or any other national standard for that matter. I pledge my ultimate allegiance to Jesus the Messiah. And while most Christians in the United States of America would nod their heads and agree with that previous statement, I think that we all need to consider whether we are living it out or not. Will our church services on Memorial Day reflect this?

May our eternal and infinite God bless his global bride, his global people, his global Church as Christians from every tribe, tongue, nation, and language follow their true King, Jesus the Messiah.

~Josh.

Christians and Wealth

The following is my essay on wealth and possessions submitted for Christian Worldview Integration:

Christians and Wealth

  1. Main Claim: American Christians should reduce their standards of living to what is necessary for human flourishing and give their excess resources beyond this standard to the poor and oppressed.
    1. God is the firmest advocate for human flourishing.
    2. The pursuit of wealth is spiritually dangerous and crippling.
    3. Our culture’s inclinations toward upward financial mobility go against the message of the New Testament and the life of Christ.
    4. God is revealed in Scripture to have a special concern for the poor and the oppressed.
    5. Christians will be held accountable for how they treat the poor and the oppressed.
  2. Objections:
    1. This line of reasoning is advocating asceticism and is unbiblical.
    2. Christians have every right to keep what they have earned and to do what they wish with their excess funds.
    3. Because the poor are lazy, Christians should not feel pressured to give, in case their generosity is taken advantage of.
  3. Warrant:
    1. Christians want to remain true to Scripture and submit to God’s way of life in order to find satisfaction.

In our current context of wealth and poverty existing side by side in a milieu of materialistic consumerism, the Christian gospel of denying ourselves and making much of God is being abandoned for the American gospel of denying others and making much of ourselves. American Christians have become content to live a baptized version of the American dream, a hollow faith that is about maximizing your earthly portfolio once your salvation is secured. My main contention is that Christians in the United States should lower their standards of living to what is necessary for human flourishing and give their excess resources beyond this standard to the poor. In doing so, they will remain faithful to Scripture and discover a more satisfactory way of life.

At this point some may claim that I am trying to advocate for a form of asceticism. While my claim might appear that way when viewed through our culture’s thick lens of materialistic consumerism, I believe that I am actually advocating for a more satisfactory way of life. God is revealed in Scripture to be the firmest advocate for human flourishing. That is, he desires what is truly best for his creation and his people. He created everything to be structurally good, and is currently in the process of redeeming the universe from its directional digression away from its intended God-exalting purposes. Things like hunger and poverty are on the chopping block in this redemptive mission. The standard to which everything is being drawn is not an eternally unsatisfying state of Spartan living and ascetic suffering. It is the eternally satisfying and rich state of glorifying God like creation was intended to. I am advocating for a return to standards of living necessary for human flourishing, realizing that this standard will vary greatly from person to person and culture to culture.[1] The problem is that what appears to be the standard of human flourishing to us is often quite damaging.

The Bible pulls no punches in describing the dangers of a materialistic pursuit of wealth. While money is nowhere declared to be intrinsically evil, Scripture makes it clear that we are all sin-stained creatures prone to greed and self-justification, and that an abundance of wealth and possessions makes it very hard to rise above our idolatrous inclinations and serve God well.[2] In addition, although it exceeds the scope of this essay, a strong argument can be made that our society’s pragmatic commitment to “getting ahead” is destroying our ability to experience genuine delight in the small things in life which do not increase our bottom line.[3] Despite our initial reactions, it appears as though what our culture is encouraging us to pursue is actually quite destructive to our ability to serve God well and genuinely enjoy life.

While the culture around us is calling us towards a lifestyle of upward financial mobility, “the emphasis of the New Testament lies not on the acquisition side of things…but on sacrifice and divestiture”.[4] The incarnation of Jesus is a clear example of the kind of God we serve, one who emptied himself of the riches of heaven in order to take on human flesh and demonstrate a fiercely sacrificial obedience that took him all the way to the cross. Although there is a big gap between kenosis and a Christian’s obligation to give to the poor, it nonetheless serves as an example of the kind of living we are called to by the gospel.  At the very least, it is reasonable to say that the life of Jesus the Messiah was an atrocious failure when judged by our society’s standards of materialistic consumerism, and yet as Christians we would all (presumably) confess that we are called to follow his example. Again, keep in mind that we are not all called to live ascetically and to spurn the legitimate pleasures of this life. However, one would be hard pressed to find biblical support for our culture’s view of wealth and success.

At this point we are all tempted to rebuff and claim that we have every right to keep all of what we have “earned” and do as we wish with our excess funds. However, the Bible presents us with the uncomfortable truth that everything we “own” is in fact owned by God and has been given to us to steward well.[5] A prosperous Christian is not an intrinsic oxymoron, and there are examples in Scripture of wealthy people who seem to have genuinely loved God and served him well. However, there is no example of person who selfishly viewed their possessions as their own, lived a lifestyle of extravagant wealth, and honored God by doing so. Even more uncomfortable is the fact that, if God expects us to follow his example in our stewardship of his resources, then we are faced with a strong biblical mandate to give generously to the poor and fight for their justice.

In my own experience, our culture’s stereotype of the poor consigns their condition to laziness. Evangelical Christians seem to use this stereotype to effectively avoid giving generously to the poor under the pretense of good stewardship and not wanting their giving to be taken advantage of by lazy individuals. With regards to being taken advantage of, Christians should perhaps be the most willing people to be taken advantage of in their giving. After all, we frequently take advantage of God’s grace in our own lives, and if he modeled the same attitude to us that we display to the poor, we would be in a sorry state of affairs.[6]

However, the biblical picture of the poor emphasizes their destitution, need, lack of resources, and suffering under oppression.[7] In contrast to our frequently apathetic response, God seems to have a bias to the poor. Karl Barth claimed that “God always takes his stand unconditionally and passionately on this side and this side alone: against the lofty and on behalf of the lowly; against those who enjoy right and privilege and on behalf of those who are denied it and deprived of it”.[8] Consider the biblical account. God intervened to save his people from the oppression and poverty they suffered in at the hands of the Egyptians.[9] He made his frustration at his people’s improper treatment of the impoverished known through the prophets.[10] Jesus the Messiah cited his own mission as one that was inextricably tied to the poor and oppressed.[11] The final judgment will be executed (at least partially so) with regards to the treatment (or mistreatment) of the poor.[12] Scripture makes it abundantly clear that God’s heart is for the impoverished, destitute, and oppressed.

As Christians, we must take seriously the words of our Savior that how we treat “the least of these” has serious import on how we treat and serve Christ himself. We must take the whole witness of Scripture into account and realize that the God we serve and whose resources we steward shows special concern for the poor and oppressed. We must be willing to acknowledge that our culture’s values of materialistic consumerism run against the grain of the gospel of “sacrifice and divestiture,” opening our eyes to the spiritual dangers of pursuing wealth and possessions. Above all, perhaps, we must be willing to eschew the idolatry in our hearts and trust that our Heavenly Father knows what is best for us and desires to see us truly flourish in our sacrifice and generosity. Then, and only then, will we be able to reduce our extravagant standards of living, give to the poor from our excess resources out of genuine generosity, and flourish as human beings by fulfilling our primary purpose: exalting and making much of our Maker.

Bibliography

Sider, Ronald. “God and the Poor.” Sider, Ronald. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. Word Publishing, 1997.

—. “Toward a Simpler Lifestyle: The Graduated Tithe and Other Modest Proposals.” Sider, Ronald. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. Word Publishing, 1997.

Wirzba, Norman. “The Decline of Delight.” Wirzba, Norman. Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight. Brazos, 2006. 64-75.

Witherington, Ben. “Deprogramming Ourselves from a Lifestyle of Conspicuous Consumption and Self-Gratification.” Witherington, Ben. Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis. Brazos, 2010. 153-169.

—. “Ten Christian Myths about Money.” Witherington, Ben. Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis. Brazos, 2010. 165-169.

—. “Towards a New Testament Theology of Money, Stewardship, and Giving.” Witherington, Ben. Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis. Brazos, 2010. 141-152.


[1] Providing a calculus for ascertaining where this standard lies on an individual basis exceeds the scope of this essay. In general terms, I am advocating for a standard of living that allows people to enjoy life with dignity within their particular context while avoiding extravagant excesses that come at the expense of others.

[2] Witherington, Towards a New Testament Theology of Money, Stewardship, and Giving

[3] Wirzba, The Decline of Delight

[4] Witherington, Deprogramming Ourselves from a Lifestyle of Conspicuous Consumption and Self-Gratification

[5] Witherington, Ten Christian Myths about Money

[6] This same point was said better and more emphatically by Professor John White (Cedarville University) in BEGE-3760 Christian Worldview Integration.

[7] Cf. personal research done from The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament and Wealth and Poverty in Proverbs (R.N. Whybray) for a separate paper.

[8] Barth, Church Dogmatics II/1 (T.&T. Clark, 1957), p. 387

[9] cf. Exodus 3:7-9

[10] cf. Isaiah 10:1-3; Jeremiah 5:26-29; 7:5-7; Amos 2:7; 4:1; 5:10-15; 6:4-7; Micah 2:2

[11] cf. Luke 4:16-21

[12] cf. Matthew 25:31-46

What Does the Bible Say about Poverty? – The Book of Proverbs

In contrast to the affluence of mainstream American culture, poverty is a harsh and painful reality. It can be found in abundance in the urban centers of this country, and in countless other places around the globe.

Modern day slavery “more cruel than any beast of prey” (Wright 2005, 136), it traps human beings created in the image of God in a lifestyle of hunger, sickness, anger, and darkness.

However, one can effortlessly go through daily life in middle class America without giving much thought or care to the billions of people living in poverty worldwide. Furthermore, one can even profess faith in Jesus Christ and regularly attend an average evangelical church in the United States without being prompted to pay the poor, underprivileged, and oppressed of this world any mind.

In this milieu of wealth and poverty existing side by side in an atmosphere of confusion and apathy, the book of Proverbs provides relevant insights into the nature of poverty, the nature of Yahweh, and how his people should respond to it.

Descriptions of Poverty: Effects and Causes

Many proverbs are devoted to describing the harsh realities of poverty, showing that the Hebrew sages were well aware of its existence and characteristics.

Effects

These proverbs frequently describe the poor in direct contrast to the wealthy. Consider Proverbs 10:15:

“A rich man’s wealth is in his strong city; the poverty of the poor is their ruin.”

The force of the antithetical parallelism of this verse is hard to overlook. Whybray explains that the main point “is that wealth protects the rich from the vicissitudes of life, while the poor, having no resources to fall back on, are easily vulnerable to total disaster” (1994, 165).

The word used for “poor” here is dal. While Whybray states that this word is synonymous with the other Hebrew terms for “poor” (˓ānı̂, ˒ebyôn, and rāš)in Proverbs (1994, 165), The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) differentiates dal from the other three, saying that “unlike ˓ānı̂, dal does not emphasize pain or oppression; unlike ˒ebyôn, it does not primarily emphasize need, and unlike rāš, it represents those who lack rather than the destitute.” Dal refers to the lack of both material and social resources (Harris, et al. 1999).

This lack of social resources can be seen in the proverbs that describe how poverty affects relationships. Proverbs 14:20 says that

“The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends.”

This same theme is reiterated in chapter 19:

“Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend” (19:4).

Expanded across two verses, it reads:

“Many seek the favor of a generous man, and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts. All a poor man’s brothers hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him!” (19:6-7a).

These three proverbs contrast the social standings of the wealthy and the impoverished. Alden’s comment on 14:20 is apt when he says that “the unfortunate truth [is] that greed is a more compelling trait than generosity; people are more eager to have rich friends than poor ones” (1983, 114).

Proverbs 19:6-7a expands upon this, describing how people are naturally drawn to relationships that give them material benefit. It is rare, however, to find people who are drawn to relationships that would cost them materially. Even a poor man’s family members “hate him”!

Bridges says it well:

“As the winter brooks, filled from the opening springs and the torrents from heaven, are dried up and vanish before the summer heat; so these friends of the poor go far from him, cold, distant, and vanishing in the day of his calamity” (1987, cf. 1846, 312).

Materially and socially, poverty wreaks havoc on the lives of those it entraps.

Causes

Given the terrible effects and characteristics of poverty, Proverbs naturally contains many admonitions to avoid its causes.

Causes of poverty listed in Proverbs include (but are not limited to):

  • a “slack hand” (laziness) (10:4),
  • ignorance of instruction (13:18),
  • endless talk (without toil/labor) (14:23),
  • hastiness (21:15),
  • the love of pleasure (21:17),
  • drunkenness and gluttony (23:21),
  • worthless pursuits (28:19),
  • and stinginess (28:22).

Of particular interest is the repetition of the warning against excessive slumber if one is to avoid poverty (6:10-11; 20:13; 23:21; 24:33-34).

Proverbs 6:10-11 and 24:33-34 include the almost verbatim admonition:

“A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.”

Sleep (as compared with labor) might give the initial benefits of rest and relaxation, but when developed into an excessive habit, it can have disastrous consequences.

John Chrysostom comments upon 6:11:

“Is work at first difficult? Then look to its results. Is idleness sweet? Then consider what comes out of it in the end. So let us look not at the beginning of things, but let us also see where they end up” (Wright 2005, 50).

This approach perhaps summarizes most of the practical warnings in Proverbs about avoiding poverty. What initially seems like the easiest and most comfortable choice will rarely, if ever, lead to success.

Set apart from the practical warnings of avoiding poverty, however, is Proverbs 22:16:

“Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.”

The verb “oppress” here is the term ˓ā∙šǎq, meaning “mistreat, i.e., treat a disadvantaged member of society unjustly with the effect of causing one to suffer ill-treatment” (Swanson 1997).

Although the Hebrew of this verse is quite difficult and there is little concurrence among commentators as to its proper interpretation (Whybray 1994, 322-323), the sense of it seems to be that the end result of oppressing the impoverished for material gain is only further poverty.

Proverbs 30:14 comes to mind:

“There are those whose teeth are swords, whose fangs are knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, the needy from among mankind.”

These verses make the transition from descriptions of poverty to responses to its existence, highlighting the uncomfortable truth that improper treatment of the poor can bring disaster.

Responses to Poverty: Yahweh and the Poor

It is clear that Proverbs gives its readers a thorough understanding of the dreadfulness of poverty and the importance of avoiding it.

However, this understanding does little to inform the audience of how we should respond to the existence of poverty.

The surest foundation for a proper response to poverty is undoubtedly the character of Yahweh with regards to the oppressed and impoverished.

Consider Proverbs 14:31:

“Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.”

The first line of this proverb is echoed in 17:5a, and the second (seemingly unrelated) line of 17:5, “he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished,” has been taken by some commentators to refer to those who rejoice over not just calamity in general, but specifically the ruin of the poor (Whybray 1994, 255 and Clifford 1999, 164).

If this is the case, then these two proverbs taken together make the same point with both a positive promise and a negative warning. Clifford states the main point particularly well:

“The dignity of each human being comes from being created by God. Contempt towards anyone insults the person’s maker. The example of the poor person, the type perhaps least likely to gain respect, is used to dramatize the point. Every human being, irrespective of wealth, is worthy of respect” (1999, 164).

The same point is made in Proverbs 22:2, which states:

“The rich and the poor meet together; the Lord is the maker of them all,”

and also in 29:13:

“The poor man and the oppressor meet together; the Lord gives light to the eyes of both.”

Our treatment of the poor needs to be based upon the fact that they have been made in the image of Yahweh and are therefore worthy of dignity and respect. To deny them the treatment that each and every human being deserves is not just stinginess, it is an insult and an offense to the Creator.

However, Proverbs goes further than appeals to imago Dei in its teachings about our treatment of the poor.

Atkinson says it well:

“The oppression of the poor is both a violation of someone who should be respected because he or she bears the image of the Creator, and also an attitude which does not reflect the character of the Creator, who is himself on the side of the poor” (1996, 111).

Proverbs 22:22-23 delivers a stunningly vivid warning:

“Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, for the LORD will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them.”

The reader is told to not take justice from the poor because they have the LORD as their defender at the gate (the site of legal proceedings). “The poor, by not having human protectors, have Yahweh as their protector. Paradoxically, their poverty gives them a more powerful protector than the rich could afford” (Clifford 1999, 207).

This gives a glimpse into a thematic truth of Scripture that has been called God’s “bias to the poor.” Atkinson quotes Karl Barth to further explain:

“The human righteousness required by God and established in obedience – the righteousness which according to Amos 5:24 should pour down as a mighty stream – has necessarily the character of a vindication of right in favour of the threatened innocent, the oppressed poor, widows, orphans, and aliens.

For this reason, in the relations and events in the life of his people, God always takes his stand unconditionally and passionately on this side and this side alone: against the lofty and on behalf of the lowly; against those who enjoy right and privilege and on behalf of those who are denied it and deprived of it” (1996, 111-112, cf. Barth, Church Dogmatics II/1 [T.&T. Clark, 1957], p. 387)

God’s heart for and even bias toward the poor extends well beyond the book of Proverbs. If one pays close attention, it is readily apparent that Scripture is saturated with it.

  • Yahweh intervened to save his people from the oppression and poverty they suffered in at the hands of the Egyptians (cf. Exodus 3:7-9).
  • He made his frustration at his people’s improper treatment and distortion of the impoverished and the needy known through the prophets (cf. Isaiah 10:1-3; Jeremiah 5:26-29; 7:5-7; Amos 2:7; 4:1; 5:10-15; 6:4-7; Micah 2:2).
  • Jesus the Messiah cited his own mission as one that was inextricably tied to the poor and oppressed (cf. Luke 4:16-21).
  • The final judgment will be executed (at least partially so) with regards to the treatment (or mistreatment) of the poor and the needy (cf. Matthew 25:31-46).

Scripture makes it abundantly clear that God’s heart is for the impoverished, destitute, and oppressed.

It is important to establish this truth well in order to rightly proceed in our actions and attitudes toward the poor and the oppressed. This is because it is entirely too easy to think of God’s actions and attitudes as being most closely aligned with people who are just like us.

However, for the vast majority of Christians in the United States who live life in relatively extravagant comfort and ease, it comes as somewhat of a shock that God’s bias might actually be against us if we do not take this issue seriously!

Proverbs reflects that what is at stake here is much more than just our consciences, the minor twangs of guilt or moments of self-righteousness we too often experience in our infrequent interactions with the poor.

Responses to Poverty: Consequences and Rewards

The teachings in Proverbs regarding the treatment of the poor can be divided into three categories:

  1. those that display negative consequences for improper treatment,
  2. those that display positive rewards for proper treatment,
  3. and those that juxtapose the two.

Negative Consequences

Proverbs 21:13 states:

“Whoever closes his ears to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.”

The frightening reciprocity of this verse hits hard when, in our culture, we are too often distracted by other things which are “more important” than attending to the needs of the poor. When we find ourselves in a moment of dire need, how can we expect to be answered if we have not answered the needy when we were able to do so?

Another warning against mistreating the poor that includes a form of retribution against the offender is Proverbs 28:8:

“Whoever multiplies his wealth by interest and profit gathers is for him who is generous to the poor.”

Whybray claims that the word for “interest” refers to “interest which was levied by deduction from the original loan but which had to be repaid in full,” and that “profit” refers to “an additional charge levied on repayment” (1994, 391).

The point is that money taken from the poor will not do its wicked owner any good, and has the potential to end up in the hands of righteous men which will in turn help to meet the needs of the poor.

Positive  Rewards

In addition, Proverbs contains several verses that positively portray, and thereby encourage, generosity towards the poor and preservation of their justice.

Consider Proverbs 19:17:

“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”

This proverb promises a reward to those who treat the poor with generosity. However, the main point is not to treat them with benevolence out of desire for a reward.

Whybray captures the point well:

“there is no idea here of a quid pro quo: no intention to encourage generosity simply for the reward which it will bring. The underlying thought is that generosity is characteristic of a person who is righteous; and the proverb reflects the basic belief that righteousness is, and ought to be, materially rewarded” (1994, 282).

A virtually identical point is made in Proverbs 22:9:

“Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.”

Furthermore, the well-known wise woman discussed in chapter 31 “opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy” (31:20). Giving generously to the poor is a mark of a righteous person, one whose life will be blessed by Yahweh.

Combinations

Finally, some proverbs combine the negative and positive aspects of the previously mentioned verses through antithetical parallelism.

A prime example is Proverbs 14:21:

“Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.”

This verse highlights the benefits of generosity against the backdrop of the consequences of scorning one’s neighbor.

In a similar fashion, Proverbs 28:27 says that

“whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.”

Whether or not the curses come from the poor who have been denied assistance, or from Yahweh himself, the point remains that there are rewards in caring for the impoverished and consequences for not doing so.

In addition to generosity, however, the Hebrew sages also expressed concern for the justice of the poor.

Proverbs 29:7 makes it clear that

“a righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.”

The importance of justice for the poor is also stated later in the chapter in verse 14:

“If a king faithfully judges the poor, his throne will be established forever.”

Given Yahweh’s “bias” toward the poor and their status as his image bearers, it would do one well to be concerned with their legal rights.

It is not enough to simply not oppress the poor. Proverbs, along with the rest of Scripture, seems to mandate advocating for their justice.

Conclusion

In our current context of extravagant wealth and abject poverty existing side by side in a realm of confusion, apathy, and even malice towards the impoverished, Proverbs contains some timely and powerful teaching.

The Hebrew sages had a firm grasp on both the tempting causes and terrible effects of poverty. They therefore put a strong emphasis on avoiding it at all costs through diligence and hard work.

However, this did not lead them to abandon a proper view towards the poor, and they grounded all of their teachings about the proper treatment of the poor in the unchanging and perfect character of Yahweh, who is firmly committed to their protection and justice.

The modern readers of this ancient book would do well to heed its teachings regarding poverty, and to proceed with attitudes and actions in imitation of Yahweh in their interactions with and opinions of the poor, destitute, and oppressed of this world.

Bibliography

Alden, Robert L. Proverbs: A Commentary on an Ancient Book of Timeless Advice. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983.

Atkinson, David. The Message of Proverbs: Wisdom for life. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Bridges, Charles. A Commentary on Proverbs. Southampton: The Camelot Press Ltd., 1987, cf. 1846.

Clifford, Richard J. Proverbs: A Commentary. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999.

Estes, Daniel J. Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Harris, R. Laird, Robert Laird Harris, Gleason Leonard Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. (electronic ed.). Chicago: Moody Press, 1999.

Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament). (electronic ed.). Logos Research Systems, Inc. . Oak Harbor, 1997.

Whybray, R. N. New Century Bible Commentary: Proverbs. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. , 1994.

Wright, J. Robert, ed. Ancient Commentary on Scripture: Proverbs, Ecclesiates, Song of Solomon. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2005.

"A Valediction…"

Pastor Crawford, Mr. Flamm, Mr. Luring,
Members of the School Committee,
Mr. Barrows, Faculty,
Parents, Guests,
and Members of the Class of 2009…

GRADUATION!
Such a mix of emotions comes with this simple word…

Students are exhilarated to finally be done with yet another chapter of their lives.
Parents are also excited, yet saddened perhaps by the fact that their little babies are now about to embark into the real world.
Faculty are relieved to get such a motley group of troublemakers out of their school!
Guests are happy to watch it all come together in one orchestrated ceremony,
which is customarily concluded by a farewell address from the graduating valedictorian,
A poor individual who must say goodbye
while also addressing all parties and emotions involved,
all within the space of a short speech.

Fortunately, Mrs. Covrett, my English teacher, taught me that poetry is the language of both emotion and economy.

Earlier this year, amidst the trials and tribulations of AP English Literature and Composition, we read a poem entitled “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning.”
This poem, written by John Donne about a love that transcends physical separation between him and his beloved, inspired me to compose my own work in the interests of avoiding both triteness and plagiarism on this most auspicious occasion.

John Donne forbade his beloved from openly mourning his departure. While I do not think it fitting for me to forbid anyone anything, please indulge me a few moments of your time as we look both back at the past and ahead into the future by way of my poem, entitled:

“A VALEDICTION”
by: Joshua P. Steele

The years, a road before us
This school, the path behind
And who can know what lies ahead?
The twists and turns we’ll find

Our time, it passes swiftly,
This life will soon be gone
When we look back upon our days,
What is it we’ll have done?

The world has many pleasures
its riches and its fame
Yet none of these are lasting treasures
for all face death the same

We’ve all one life to use now,
Our time will soon be past
And though this world will pass away,
What’s done for Christ will last.

For years, we’ve learned and grown here,
a foundation has been laid.
The future looms before us now,
a choice has to be made:

To waste our lives upon ourselves?
To build on sinking sand?
Or found ourselves upon the Rock,
Who holds us in His hands?

The choice may seem quite simple now,
as though the battle’s won,
but day by day, the world cries out
“Don’t fret! Go play! Have fun!”

Our lives will have their share of joy,
Good gifts from God each day.
But don’t be fooled, there’s pain as well
There’s bumps along our way.
Should we be scared? Can we succeed?
Is there hope amidst the fear?
Will we press on? or stop to heed
those voices in our ear:

“Turn back! This way is difficult!
It’s much too hard for you!
Too frightening, there’s no comfort there,
You’ll never make it through!”

Don’t stop! Press on! For don’t we know?
and have not we been told?
It’s only through the fire
You obtain the purest gold.

We have a God in Heaven
A Father and a Guide
He gives the strength to carry on
To those who would reside

in Him. we find our purpose
In Him we find the way
to live our lives unwasted
,to boldly face each day.

For He alone knows how much time
we have to walk the road
And He alone knows every trial,
The weight of each our loads

Though high school is now over
We’ve so much more to do!
The door has been flung-open,
and now we must walk through–

We’ll miss the loving people here
Who’ve helped us on our way.
Though time and distance come between,
Our thankfulness won’t fade.

So, Mom and Dad, we thank you for
The time and love you give.
You’ve been there through our best and worst
To show us how to live.

Our teachers, better mentors
We would be hard-pressed to find.
They’ve taught us both to seek the Truth
And always guard our minds.

So many more deserve our thanks,
Yet words cannot convey
The boundless debt of gratitude
That we should rightly pay.

And now we say “farewell”
“Goodbye,” as we depart.
One journey ends, another’s here
on which we must embark.

"Letter from a Grateful Son"

by:  me 🙂

Thank you, Mom, for having me
that day so long ago.
Thank you, then, for holding me
and now for letting go.
Thank you, Mom for giving me
your patience, time, and care.
And thank you, Mom, for loving me
for always being there –

Thanks so much for teaching me
both how to read and write.
For every single grueling day
and every sleepless night.
Thank you, Mom, for aiming high,
for helping me succeed.
For never letting me forget
that you believe in me.

Mom, you mean so much to me.
My words cannot convey
The debt of love, of care-filled work
That I should rightly pay.
Though distance, time, and life itself
may take me far away,
I’ll always be your little boy
with these three words to say –

“I love you.”