Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Concerned Rejoicing: Philippians 4

In Summary: Paul wraps up his rejoicing letter by speaking of a few concerns alongside his celebratory remarks. There is a minor feud in the church between Eudoia and Syntyche, and there is perhaps a concern about where the focus of the church is drifting to, and he seeks to focus them back on true, honorable, right, pure, lovely things.

Additionally, Paul expresses his gratitude for the support he has received from the Philippians. Let us not kid ourselves about what he means, either, as he speaks of their “revived concern.” We are seeing his appreciation for their provision for his material needs. Paul, as an itinerant teacher, made his living (fed himself) sometimes by finding other work (tent, anyone?) and sometimes by the support of those he taught. The Philippians had enabled Paul to focus on the teaching, and he is grateful for that.

In Focus: One cannot meander through Philippians 4 without taking a moment to focus on Philippians 4:13. This verse, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (NASB), “πάντα ἰσχύω ἐν τῷ ἐνδυναμοῦντί με,” if you prefer Greek. This verse has been the most out-of-context cited verse in recent years, though “Judge not, let ye be judged” is gaining on it quickly.

Understanding this verse requires not only looking at the individual words, but looking into the context. First, the words: these are pretty straightforward. We’re not in a hard verse to translate—the word order is a little different because that’s how Greek works. “All (things) I can do through the (One) that strengthens me.” When you work through this and see personal agency, as you should, then phrasing becomes “the One who strengthens me.” Since the term “one” is a masculine pronoun, you would use “Him” instead, because it’s clearer. “All” becomes “All things” because it’s an adjective used as a noun, and that’s common. It’s not referring to “all people,” either, because it’s neuter and so is used to refer to “things.”

Our clarity, then, comes from context. Paul is not talking about becoming a great writer or actor, nor is he discussing athletic competition or even church growth. Throughout this passage, Paul is speaking of dealing with trials and material shortages, of facing famines and feasts. He can both have too little, and make it, and have too much and not get arrogant—all through Christ, because He knows that only Jesus brings Paul to anything of value.

In Practice: What do we do with this, then?

First, we stop misusing Philippians 4:13. You can give God the glory for your successes and His benefits without misapplying Scripture. Stop it.

Second, we apply this to our lives by trusting Christ for all things. How often do we violate the Word of God and our Spirit-driven, Scripture-informed consciences for the sake of stuff? Too often. Rather, we should take the same stand as Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms: let the trouble come, but here I stand.

This applies to both our dealings with the world and our dealings within the church. I think it’s even money where it matters the most: inside the church, we need to get right before God, even if we have to give up our creature comforts. Outside, we must recognize that trouble is coming on us from a wicked world.

Either way, we must get to the point that we don’t see a perfect ACT or a great pass as the all things we can do through Christ. It’s the surviving taunts and rejections, dealing with poverty or even fame, that we are up against.

In Nerdiness: Syzygus? Loyal yokefellow? True Companion? Who is this person mentioned in Philippians 4:3? Unlike the feuding sisters Euodia and Syntyche, we’re uncertain if this is a name, a title, or just a call-out to anyone who fits the description. (I’ve looked and don’t think there’s a case to be made that Eudoia and Syntyche are anything but personal names.)

So, what’s the debate? Some translations render this as a personal name. Others footnote the name and render the term, like “true companion.” It appears that Paul is asking for an individual’s help in defusing the issues between Eudoia and Syntyche. It would help, of course, if we knew what the feud was about in the first place! That might enable us to know what type of help Paul was looking for.

Yet having been in churches all my life, I have a suggestion. First, my resources are about evenly split about the possibility that the term “syzygus” could refer to the church as a single unit. This is questionable based on the Greek grammar surrounding the term (a singular verb), but let’s take that possibility and then extrapolate a possibility. On, then, to the argument from experience:

Many church feuds begin between people who are growing believers who address issues differently. A modern example is the strain between the kitchen committee who tries to keep everything organized and the various church groups that use the kitchen…and then don’t put things back exactly. Both are trying to mind the resources of the church, and use them, but they disagree about how. Or the people who want to know what’s happening, so they want bulletins…and the people who think it’s a waste of money because they throw out dozens of bulletins a week.

These two sides, usually starting with two individuals, then entrench and find supporters within the church body. While I am clearly reading this backwards on to this passage, this is my suggestion, given that human nature doesn’t change much. Eudoia and Syntyche had a minor disagreement. Both are believers, both are valuable parts of the church (this is absolutely clear in the text). Paul then appeals that the church not sort out whose side they are on, but to instead defuse the disagreement.

The same way one defuses a spat between the choir director who wants the choir to wear robes and the maintenance committee who accidentally put heat lamps over the choir loft—by listening, praying, and finding more important things to focus on. That’s my suggestion, for whatever it’s worth.

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