Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Simon Says, Part 2

Philippians 3:17-4:1: Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

4:1Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

I think it would be helpful to our understanding of the passage to have some background information.  Paul is writing this letter from prison – persecuted by non-Christian authorities.  The church at Philippi faced some of these same struggles.  He is writing to a church that is tempted at times to follow heretical teachings.  They struggle against those who would have them believe that in order to be Christian, they must first follow all Jewish laws.  Perhaps they are tempted to believe the Gnostics, who tell them that they can do anything they want – they can be free from moral restraint, because the world of the flesh doesn’t matter.  On top of all of this, Philippi was the urban center of a Roman colony and was located on a major east-west road linking Rome with the East.  So Paul is writing to them from prison, urging them to not be swayed by the culture around them or those who would lead them astray, but instead to imitate him.

I think we live in a world that is very much like the world the Philippians lived in – except ours is even bigger.   While Philippi was on a road connecting Rome to the east, we live, metaphorically, on a road that connects every part of the globe to where we stand.  We could leave today and be in Rome tomorrow.  We can turn on the TV and see any part of the world in seconds.  We live in a global culture, and we are impacted and seduced by that culture in ways too numerous to count.  The culture tempts us to value ourselves above anyone else.  Me, mine.  We are taught that might makes right, that success is defined by our accomplishments and possessions and that whatever we can get away with is our best option.   The culture lifts up heroes for us to emulate, but those heroes have reached that status because they have been successful as the culture defines it – through accomplishments in the sports arena or through the accumulation of wealth or star-power.

We are tempted to live a life of self-centered interest, where our own lives become the entire focus of our attention.  A life where our needs and even our wants are translated into rights.   When we follow the ways of the culture, we place ourselves at the center of our lives.  That kind of self-centeredness leads to lifelessness.  Martin Luther said, “Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God.”  Is that the kind of life we want to lead?  A life where we are trapped by our own fears and insecurities, left lifeless in our pursuit of what the culture tells us to value?

Paul stands in prison and says, “Join in imitating me.”

When Paul uses the word imitate, he isn’t talking about duplication.  He isn’t claiming to be a hero we should follow.  He’s not even suggesting that he is the ultimate Christian.  One commentary I read said the word imitate, in this context, means “an incarnation of a living example.”  In other words, Paul is seeking to imitate Christ, and he is inviting the Philippians to do the same – imitate Christ.  Paul is urging his readers to pick up their crosses, as Christ did, and as he is doing, and follow.

Cruciform living – following Christ – is countercultural.  It means emptying ourselves, instead of living only for ourselves.  It means success is defined as servanthood and our greatest need becomes offering love to the world. 



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