Monday 29 March 2010

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (50/50) – To the Glory of God

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the final one of the fifty emails.

In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a human being,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:5-11

The lordship of Christ and the glory of God – there could hardly be a more appropriate place to end our tour through Scripture.

Actually, it’s where we began too – with Jesus as Lord of all in Colossians 1:15-20. Here as there, the biblical story of salvation – never far below the surface of Paul’s letters – rises to the top. Here as there, we are taken from the beginning of all things to the end of all things, an account in which Jesus is central. Here as there, it is this story of this one that shapes us – providing a pattern of thinking and living that is ours by dint of being ‘in Christ’.

And at the centre of the story stands the cross, Paul’s words here evoking the horror and shame associated with the public execution of criminals. And yet, it is the scandal of the cross that was central to Christ’s own determination to press on to Jerusalem, showing the true nature of God’s self-giving love. And it is the cross that is central to understanding what it means to be a disciple, to follow in his footsteps in serving others – his death not only bringing about redemption but providing a model for our lives.

Even then, the cross is not the end of the story, for God raised Jesus to a place of highest status and assigned him a name that reflects his vindication, with the result that all will confess him ‘Lord’ – Paul’s language here deliberately echoing Isaiah 45:22-23, with Christ receiving the glory God says is reserved for him alone. Beyond this, the confession would have carried political overtones, perhaps especially in Philippi, a colony of the Roman empire in which emperors were proclaimed as ‘Lord’. The church’s worship of Jesus as Lord not only qualifies the empire’s rule, but anticipates the confession that will be offered by the whole universe – the sovereignty of Christ over all things.

All of which has profound implications for the daily life of Christians in Philippi, and of Christians everywhere since, as we ‘work out’ our salvation, with God himself working in us ‘according to his good purpose’ (2:12-13), concretely applied in our relations with each other and our integrity of witness in the world, where confessing him as Lord means committing to a way of life marked by his lordship.

And all for the glory of God.

For further reflection and action:

1. Some scholars think this passage in Philippians might be an early hymn, perhaps even pre-dating the letter itself, and thus one of the oldest parts of the New Testament – a poetic celebration and confession of Jesus as Lord sung by groups of Christians, putting us in touch with very early expressions of faith in Christ. Reflect on the significance of this possibility, and turn it into an opportunity for praise.

2. Read Philippians 2:5-11 again, thinking about some of the suggestions for the background of the passage: (1) personified divine wisdom who leaves her dwelling-place with God to come into the world to be with humankind (Proverbs 8:22-31); (2) a contrast between Jesus and the first human beings in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3; cf. Romans 5:12-21) and the different choice made by Jesus, where equality with God was not something to be exploited for his own personal advantage; (3) parallels with the suffering servant of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, who humbled himself (53:4, 8), was obedient (53:7), and poured himself out to death (53:12). Which, if any, provides the best ‘fit’ with the passage, and why?

3. Even though there are political implications in calling Jesus ‘Lord’, the early Christians still submitted to Roman authority, understanding that the Emperor had lawful authority delegated by God (e.g., Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). If Jesus, not Caesar, was Lord, why did they act this way? If it is more fitting to describe the early Christians’ approach as ‘subversive’ rather than directly ‘counter-political’, how appropriate is it to follow their lead in our own context?

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