The New Perspective on Philippians 4:4

Well, not really. But anything attached to N.T. Wright these days is defined as new. In reality, it isn’t. It simply is unique in our individualistic culture. In Philippians 4, Wright offers a fresh way to avoid a look at Philippians 4:4 that has become a clear case of the internalizing cliche of modern Christians.

Paul tells the Philippians that in the middle of their conflicts they are to rejoice in the Lord, and again to rejoice. Now, context is everything. In Paul’s world and culture this rejoicing “would have meant (what we would call) public celebration. The world all around, Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth and elsewhere used to organize great festivals, games, and shows to celebrate their gods and their cities, not least the new ‘god,’ Caesar himself.”[1] Why shouldn’t the followers of King Jesus celebrate exuberantly? N.T. Wright says that the “celebration of Jesus as Lord encourages and strengthens loyalty and obedience to him.”[2]

Paul places this command as top priority. We begin the process of healing from or dealing with conflicts by celebrating the Lordship of Jesus! The word “chairo” has been translated as “celebrate.” Our first act in the midst of conflict, no matter how complex or devastating it may appear is to simply celebrate the fact that Christ is Lord. Why is this important? It’s important because the pagan cultures understood that their gods did not intervene in such trivial affairs among the people. Their gods were too high and too distant to deal with his mere creation. Paul says emphatically, “not our God!” Our God is so near that he became man. The reason he is a sympathetic high-priest is because he became like us. In conflict, we can trust in Jesus as the Lord who is over all our church affairs and who desires to see conflicts turned into opportunities for renewal and refreshment in the body. Jesus was Lord over Euodia and Syntyche’s affairs and our affairs. We are then to celebrate that all our relationships in the Church are guided and watched by a faithful and just King.

Celebrate in the Lord in the middle of conflict!

R.C. Sproul, in his famous Holiness of God series, references the idea that when something is repeated in the Bible, it is there for emphasis. The Spirit knows that we have a natural tendency to think that God is not interested in our day-to-day affairs. We keep his Lordship over only a few issues of tremendous importance like a new job, or whom to marry, etc. But a conflict with a fellow, redeemed parishioner, why would God care about that? Paul says, I command you to celebrate his Lordship over all things, including the dispute between two sisters in the Church, and again celebrate. This is true joy!

 

[1] Wright. Philippians commentary

[2] Ibid.

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