Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Paul and the Philippians - Week 2

. . . When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.
Letter of Paul to the Corinthians

. . . be filled with the Spirit as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Letter of Paul to the Ephesians

. . . they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before sunrise and reciting an antiphonal hymn to Christ as to God, . . .
Letter of Pliny to the Emperor Trajan

Welcome back. I hope you found the first lesson in this series helpful, challenging, and fun. And for those just joining us, take a look at the previous post to see the initial study activities.

This week's format is similar to last time, beginning with a few aids to help prepare for the study. Following the preparation section, we'll look at the next two sections of Paul's letter, and we'll interact with a key passage in the study of Christian origins, Philippians 2:6-11, sometimes know as the Hymn of Christ. Pay close attention to these verses as you study this week's text.



The Christian Life/Hymn of Christ - Philippians 1:27 - 2:18
1. In the face of opposition, what would be the evidence of the Philippians’ salvation and the destruction of their enemies?
2. What two privileges has God given the Christians at Philippi?
3. What do these Christians need to do to make Paul’s joy complete? What situation in the church might have precipitated Paul’s request?
4. What does Paul see as the role of humility in this church? How realistic is his advice?
5. If Philippians 2:6-11 is a hymn, what is the story line of the hymn?
6. What examples of Christ devotion do you find in the hymn?
7. What do you understand Paul to mean when he tells the Philippians to “work out their salvation”?
8. What does Paul believe he can boast in on the day of Christ?

Travel Plans - Philippians 2:19 - 2:30
9. How does Paul describe his relationship with Timothy? What is his plan for Timothy?
10. What can you discover about Epaphroditus and his relationship with Paul and with the Philippians?

Comment Question
Consider the role the hymn plays in Paul's letter? What do you think the Philippians would have understood Paul to be saying for their life together? What do you understand him saying to you, his modern reader?

As a springboard for your thoughts, consider the following two charts. Which one best represents the conceptual background of the hymn - Pre-existence (compare with John 1:1-18) or Second Adam (compare with Paul's thinking in Romans 5:12-21).

Other Resources
  • To listen to a performance of the earliest Christian hymn with musical notations, click here.
  • Here is a brief article on the mission and message of Paul by New Testament scholar James Tabor.


Judy H. said...

Okay, so, about those diagrams. . . .

If these are our only choices, I would choose the first one from the gospel of John because it illustrates a "pre-existent" Christ rather than a purely human Jesus. That seems to "best represent the conceptual background of the hymn." It's difficult for me to make sense of verses 6-7 without acknowledging that it was a pre-existent Christ who was "in the form of God," and who "emptied himself" to be "born in human likeness." Why would the hymn describe Christ as having "the form of God" and "becoming" a man if his existence was already only that of a man? Not only does the gospel of John describe Jesus as pre-existent with God, but Paul also describes Jesus in this way (Rom. 8:3, Gal. 4:4-7, 2 Cor.8:9, etc.) It would seem odd for Paul to include a hymn in his letter to the Philippians that portrayed Jesus as merely human (as illustrated in diagram 2). Instead, he quotes (?) a probably familiar hymn that wholly embodies the doctrine of incarnation and the "descent/ascent" theme of the gospel story. I read that some New Testament scholars believe this hymn to be one of the earliest examples of the teaching concerning the three states of Christ's existence: 1) pre-existence, 2) incarnation/humiliation, 3) triumph/exaltation.

The thing that threw me off when I first started analyzing the two diagrams is that there is an obvious parallel between Adam and Christ, which Paul refers to several times in his letters. But diagram 2 contrasts Jesus and Adam as if both were human and
Christ was never pre-existent with God. To better illustrate the Jesus/Second Adam comparison, I would keep the first diagram that illustrates a pre-existent Christ, but add Adam into the picture. Where Adam is self-seeking and grasping at equality with God, Christ enjoys equality with God, but chooses to humble himself and take on the role of servant. Whereas Adam's disobedience results in a fallen humanity, Christ's obedience results not only in his exaltation but also in a redeemed humanity who may be exalted through him.

I found this lesson challenging and very interesting because it forced me think through each step of the hymn as compared to the diagrams. . . and then draw a diagram of my own! But I'm like TV's Dr. House; I need other folks to bounce these ideas off of and to challenge my largely non-scholarly thinking. Come on, guys, fire away. . .

Judy H. said...

Regarding the "brief article" by James Tabor:

Hel-lo! This article is 42 pages long!

revJohn said...

Thanks, Judy H, for your comment and the critical thinking that went into your response. I would echo your call for others to share their thoughts on the hymn. I have a thought or two that I'll post when everyone has had a chance to respond.

Also a quick comment on the concluding Other Resources section, which, as Judy H points out, may not be as all that brief. I list these resources with no expectation that they be read for the lesson. I list them simply as resources for your studies beyond this course.

Judy H. said...

Just kidding about the length of the article. All the resources are great. I always bookmark them for future reference.

Judy H. said...

I got so wrapped up in the diagrams that I forgot to consider the actual comment question for this lesson:
"What do you think the Philippians would have understood Paul to be saying for their life together?"

What I hear is Paul urging the Philippians to follow the example of Christ. The fact that they are "in Christ" means that they are called to have the same attitude as Christ. That means taking on the role of servant and humbling themselves, putting the interests of others above their own. Just as Christ was obedient, their obedience will bring healing (salvation?) to their community. The hymn more or less lays the ground work for Paul's challenge to maintain unity through the same self-giving attitude as Christ, their Lord.

I don't think the message is any different for the modern reader. Perhaps it's even more pertinent in a world where the prevailing attitude is "look out for number one." We typically think of God as being omnipotent and all powerful (which I believe he is). But it's also true that the nature of God is revealed by what God/Christ does. In this hymn, Christ refuses to exploit his "rights." He is willing to empty himself and humble himself by giving up his equality with God and becoming a servant of others. He is obedient in self-sacrifice even though it means his death. And as Paul reminds the Philippians, the only appropriate response from those who are "in Christ:" is to
do the same. As difficult as it seems, we are enabled to make that response precisely because we are "in him." The result of this kind of behavior can only be a faith community rooted in love, selflessness, and concern for one another. And that means unity.

Sadly, this attitude is often missing in our churches. People are often more concerned with preserving the power structure than with hearing and including and loving their brothers and sisters. Sometimes they are so concerned with defending their personal belief-systems that they no longer see or hear the heart of the gospel message. They put their faith in rules and traditions rather than the example of Christ. The result is a break in fellowship and the very loss of unity that Paul warned the Philippians about. Maybe this hymn ought to be required reading at every Sunday service.