Monday, September 06, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Philippians 2-4 and Colossians 1-2

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through Philippians, chapters 2-4 and Colossians, chapters 1-2.

Chapter 2

  • Verses 1-11 - I sometimes wonder if some Christians feel that they have to make a choice between serving God and doing things that help other people.  As I understand this passage, Paul is trying to say that Christians serve God by doing things that help other people!
  • Verse 12: "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling" - I've never been entirely sure what Paul intends for Christians to understand from this passage.  What are we "working out"?  Why is it to be "with fear and trembling"?  In any event, I think it's safe to say that Paul  understands that this won't be (and shouldn't be!) easy.1
  • Verses 19-30 - This passage reads like the end of a letter, which is odd given that there are still two chapters to go.  What's going on here?
Chapter 3
  • Verse 8 - Many pastors have noted that the word translated here as "garbage" is a Greek swear word.2  I can't speak to how ancient Greeks responded to this word, and whether or not they indeed would responded as Christians of today often do to such terms, but it bears noting that such language is part of the inspired word of God.  Paul makes his point, and he makes it strongly.
  • Verse 15 - On one hand, I find myself annoyed that Paul uses the language of "maturity" in this way, as he tells his audience (in essence) that anyone who disagrees with him is less than "mature."  I am continually annoyed with Christians who talk about those with disagree with them in this manner, and thus bristle at the fact that an inspired writer of Scripture does so, as it gives them that much more license to continue doing so.  On the other hand, Paul does note that, for those who think differently, that God will "make it clear to (them)," and I'm more than content to agree on that point.  Where Christians do have disagreements, to the extent that they are indeed important (as this matter certainly was), God will correct us when necessary.
Chapter 4
  • Verses 2-3 - Obviously, there's little here that would support the idea of women in church office for those who don't already have such a view of Scripture (as I do), but I nonetheless feel that it's important to point out such instances where God speaks of women who have worked with him in such favorable terms.
  • Verse 8 - Good advice for anyone, I should think.
Chapter 1
  • Verse 21: "enemies in your minds" - This phrase confused me.  O'Brien (who translates the passage differently: "hostile in mind") suggests that the phrase is meant to convey that the Colossians had "open enmity toward (God) with reference to to their thinking."3
  • Verse 23: "if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel." - For those of us believe that Christians are saved purely by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, and not at all from our own actions, this passage is obviously difficult to reconcile.  O'Brien suggests that "if it is true that the saints will persevere to the end, then it is equally true that the saints must persevere to the end."4  If the perseverance doesn't follow, then the person must not be numbered among the elect to begin with.5
  • Verse 24 - How is it that Christ's afflictions are "lacking," and how can Paul's (or any other human's) sufferings do anything to compensate for them?
Chapter 2
  • Verse 8 - It seems that some believers use this passage to assert that philosophy is, by its own nature, "hollow and deceptive."  I am confident that this was not Paul's intention.  Rather, Paul wants to argue against any philosophy that is not in accordance with Christ as "hollow and deceptive," but any philosophy that is in accordance with Christ would obviously be fine.

1Frank Thielman, Philippians (The NIV Application Commentary), Zondervan, 1995, p. 136, notes that "it is often said that Paul never uses the phrase 'fear and trembling' of the relationship between God and people but always of human relationships."  Whether or not one accepts this interpretation (and Thielman doesn't), the point that the Christian life can be a difficult one stands.
2Ralph P. Martin, Philippians (The New Century Bible Commentary), Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1976, p. 131: "refuse (Gr. skybala) is a vulgar term, meaning either human excrement or waste foods consigned to the garbage heap." (bold and italics as in original)
3Peter T. O'Brien, Colossians, Philemon (Word Biblical Commentary), Word, 1982, p. 66.
4O'Brien, p. 69.
5Of course, for those who don't hold to such a theology of Election, this passage is much less problematic. Either way, it is certainly an arguement that Paul didn't hold to a Universalist theory of salvation.

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