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Philippians 2:1-11, Romans 12, and the Nature of Christian Community

Philippians 2:1-11, Romans 12, and the Nature of Christian Community

That’s a fairly ambitious title I gave myself, but the content is a bit less ambitious.

When I found that I’d be teaching from Philippians 2 in Sunday School, I commented that if someone couldn’t teach a class from Philippians 2:5-11, they should just give up teaching. That’s probably a bit harsh, but the passage is certainly teachable.

One key element, that we sometimes don’t emphasize in all the theology, is the fact that the expression of the mission of Jesus is made in the context of a call to Christian community.

Each one shouldn’t look after his or her own interests, but for one another’s interests.

Philippians 2:4 (my translation)

This is tied to the giving of/by Christ through verse 5, which tells us that our minds are to work like his, as we give for others. This is interesting as we see that he has given up much more than we could possibly possess in order to take action for our salvation.

It’s impossible for us to conceive of giving that much; certainly never to actually give it.

A similar call comes in John 15:12 “love one another as I have loved you.” This may sound easy to some, but only if you allow some weak definition of love to replace the one Jesus is using. This is on the way to the cross. “As I have loved you” is not simple.

Yet we find ourselves constantly unable to love those who are different from us in any way whatsoever.

One way to look at and classify a community is to look at the purpose of it’s ties, those things that make it a community that can be identified. A community can gather together and love (or care for, or commit themselves to) one another because they are afraid of the outside world and want to keep it out, or they can commit themselves to the same sorts of values in order to reach out and include the rest of the world.

“Circling the wagons,” is common in westerns. Heaven help the person inside the circle who thought that those outside might be open to peace! Such a person is a traitor, even if they don’t intend to act on their own, because they question the very basis for the circled wagons. They question the reason for this temporary community’s existence.

A medical or dental mission team displays quite the opposite reason. Far from desiring to protect themselves against those they meet in a foreign country, they want to serve. They are bound together by the intent to serve and through the mission they wish to carry out. In this case, the one who wants to reach out to more people is welcomed. The traitor would be one who harms the ability of the team (temporary community) to carry out their mission.

Real communities function between those two poles. One needs identity in order to be of any sort of service. In the command of Jesus, the disciples are to be identified by the way in which they love one another. That makes it clear who is in the community and what the community does.

Then we have the community reaching out to others. Is this love inside the community the mission of that community? Do they bring in more people to love?

If they are to follow the example of Jesus, that must be what they do, because that is what Jesus did. He came to people (all humanity) who did not find him all that attractive. They’d rather have revenge on their enemies than love them. They weren’t ready for Jesus. We aren’t ready for Jesus.

If the community that forms around his principles becomes inward looking, and spends its time defending itself as a privileged community of people who are more right in a theological or even an ethical sense, they will fail to actually emulate their Lord.

Romans 12 points to this when Paul calls for application of these principles to enemies (12:20), to persecutors (12:14), to those who do evil (12:17).

There is another side, the side where we lose our identity. If we become the enemy in order to love the enemy we may lose our ability to help. This is why Christian love is so hard and so rarely attained.

I read a comment recently that we can’t expect our children to love other people if we constantly tell them those other people are wrong. Perhaps. But Christian love calls on us to love the people even when they’re wrong, because we know that God loves us, even when we’re wrong.

This is our identity and our witness, defined by the one we call Lord.

Morgan Guyton Reviews a Review

Morgan Guyton Reviews a Review

I will definitely be reading Rachel Held Evans’ new book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, but I haven’t done so yet, so I’m not commenting on that book. It’s always interesting to me, however, to see reviews of reviews before I’ve gotten my hands on a book.

In this case the review getting reviewed is by Kathy Keller at The Gospel Coalition, and Morgan Guyton is doing the reviewing of the review. The whole thing is interesting, but I’m particularly interested in one aspect that comes near the end:

Kathy Keller responds to this with a very presumptuous and uncharitable indictment: “If you say, ‘Parts of the Bible express love, and other parts express power interests,’ you’ve clearly gotten your standard and definition of love from outside the Bible—specifically, from contemporary sensibilities—and these are your ultimate authority and norm.” Beyond the breathtaking unfairness of leveling such a strong accusation with so little supporting evidence, the palpable irony here is that Rachel, without naming (or perhaps realizing) it, has articulated the hermeneutical principle of the spiritual godfather of the Reformation, Augustine, who says in his opus De Doctrina Christiana: “If it seems to you that you have understood the divine scriptures, or any part of them, in such a way that by this understanding you do not build up this twin love of God and neighbor, then you have not understood them” (De Doctrina 1:36:40). Augustine is calling upon us to do precisely what Rachel tells us to do: read the Bible with the prejudice of love. This is similar to the hermeneutical standard of the famous 18th century British evangelical John Wesley who said, “No scripture can mean that God is not love or that his mercy is not over all his works.”

I’ve tagged this the “hanging rule” and of course it goes back to Jesus–“on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40). You can see my KJV background by the fact I remember it that way and the name I use comes from that particular passage. And as Guyton notes it couldn’t be farther from original.

I consider this one of the best rules the non-expert can use in applying scripture. I’m not talking about writing scholarly papers on exegesis, unless one is doing theology, but rather about how one understands and applies scripture in one’s life.

What amazes me is how many people think that love is such a dangerous principle. Yes, one might improperly define the word “love” but that is true of any word. The problem I often see is that by letting scripture define “love” (or claiming to do so), people often rob the word “love” of any meaning. If you take any interpretation of any violent passage and claim that must somehow be part of God’s love, then you can easily make love meaningless, and thus statements in scripture such as “God is love” are robbed of any force.

“God is love” should be permitted to stand against our theology and correct it.