rejoice

The New Perspective on Philippians 4:4

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.

What is the Ascension of our Lord?

What is the Ascension of our Lord?

The Church celebrates the Ascension of our Lord today. Since most churches are not able to have Thursday services, traditionally many of them celebrate Ascension on Sunday. The Ascension of Jesus is barely mentioned in the evangelical vocabulary. We make room for his birth, death, and resurrection, but we tend to put a period where God puts a comma.

If the resurrection was the beginning of Jesus’ enthronement, then the ascension is the establishment of his enthronement. The Ascension activates Christ’s victory in history. The Great Commission is only relevant because of the Ascension. Without the Ascension, the call to baptize and disciple the nations would be meaningless. It is on the basis of Jesus’ enthronement at the right-hand of the Father that we image-bearers can de-throne rulers through the power and authority of our Great Ruler, Jesus Christ.

The Ascension then is a joyful event, because it is the genesis of the Church’s triumph over the world. Further, it defines us as a people of glory and power, not of weakness and shame. As Jesus is ascended, we too enter into his ascension glory (Col. 3:1) This glory exhorts us to embrace full joy. As Alexander Schmemann once wrote:

“The Church was victorious over the world through joy…and she will lose the world when she loses its joy… Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.”

A joy-less Christian faith is a faith that has not ascended. Where Christ is we are.

And we know that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father. He is ruling and reigning from his heavenly throne. The Father has given him the kingdom (Psalm 2), and now he is preserving, progressing, and perfecting his kingdom. He is bringing all things under subjection (I Cor. 15:24-26).

We know that when he was raised from the dead, Jesus was raised bodily. But Gnostic thinking would have us assume that since Jesus is in heaven he longer needs a physical body. But the same Father who raised Jesus physically, also has his Son sitting beside him in a physical body.  As one author observed:

Jesus has gone before us in a way we may follow through the Holy Spirit whom he has sent, because the way is in his flesh, in his humanity. a

Our Lord is in his incarnation body at the right hand of the Father. This has all sorts of implications for us in worship. We are worshipping a God/Man; one who descended in human flesh and who ascended in human flesh. He is not a disembodied spirit. He is truly God and truly man.

As we consider and celebrate the Ascension of our blessed Lord, remember that you are worshiping the One who understands your needs, because he has a body just like you and he rejoices with you because he has a body just like you.

  1. Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World. Paraphrased  (back)