Life is like a …

On one of the Society of Evangelical Arminian (SEA) forums, we were exploring illustrations on how we might describe the world, specifically how can we describe the interactions between God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom and responsibility.

In one view life is like an improv show. Think of the show Whose Line is it Anyway? In that show several comedians would get up on stage and do what comedians are supposed to do – try to make people laugh. They would do this by acting out various scenes, making up songs, and throwing out various zingers.
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What really made the show entertaining was the fact that it was unscripted. The actors had to come up with their material on the fly.

But the show was not a free for all. The actors were free to do just about anything to get a laugh but had to work within certain constraints. The moderator Drew Carey would guide the comedians on stage influencing what was happening by setting up the theme and making available different props. Sometimes Drew would even interact with them as they performed playing off of what they were doing.

In another view, life is like a comedic movie. Well maybe not necessarily comedic but I was keeping with the theme above. The movie tells a story which is written out ahead of time in a script. office-space-miltonThe script describes everything that will happen in that movie, scene by scene. The lines that are said, the responses that people have, and actions they take, are all written out ahead of time. The script is there to make sure that the story is told in just the right way and ends up just they way it is supposed to.

The actors in the movie are each playing a part. They (usually) are not free to change what is going to happen. They must act in the ways that the script has predetermined they should, with the director, who oversees the whole project, making sure that the script is followed.

Walk according to the example you have in us (Philippians in a nutshell)

Our church has just completed preaching through the Epistle to the Philippians, so I have been reading through this letter recently. While reading through this book an interesting pattern, known as a chiasm, began to emerge in the first two chapters. A chiasm is a literary device used by the writer to draw attention to an idea or point that they want to emphasize. It relies on repeating an idea or ideas in a sequence and then reversing their order. The pattern for a simple chiasm might be drawn as

A
B
C
B
A

In this structure A and B represent two ideas. We can see that as one reads the reader is first introduced to the idea A, followed by the idea B. As they keep reading they are presented with the idea B again, followed by A. The idea or statement in the center of this literary device, represented here by C, is the point that the author wishes to emphasize.

In the Epistle to the Philippians the first two chapters give us a possible chiasm as follows:

A – the example of Paul in being obedient and willing to die (1:12-18)
B – the example of Paul putting others first (1:19-26)
C – the example of Christ putting others first (2:1-5)
C – the example of Christ being obedient and willing to die (2:6-11)
B – the example of Timothy putting others first (2:19-24)
A – the example of Epaphroditus being obedient and willing to die (2:25-30)

While I find this structure in the letter compelling, it would not be prudent to push this observation too far because we cannot know for certain that Paul intended to use this literary device in the letter. But as we read the letter with this structure in mind we do find that all of the examples (Paul, Christ, Timothy, and Epaphroditus) emphasize the same  two characteristics. As Christians we are to (1) put others ahead of oursPaulelves and (2) we are to be obedient and willing to die for the sake of Christ. Also in its favor is the fact that this structure draws the readers’ attention to Jesus as the primary example of these characteristics.

What is the main point that Paul wants to emphasize with this literary device? The same one that is accentuated throughout the letter.

In addition to thanking the Philippians for their gifts, Paul is urging the readers to “let [their] manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27) by avoiding apostasy and remaining faithful to Christ. We can see this through the repeated need to stand firm/hold fast throughout the letter (1:27-28; 2:16; 3:16; 4:1).  And, it is, after all, because of the gospel of Christ that both Paul (1:13) and the Philippians (1:29) are suffering which makes the need to endure “in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation” a pressing reality.  If this is the main point of the letter, we find the same theme is underscored by the use of the chiasm, drawing our attention to the need to remain faithful (or obedient) to the “point of death” just like Christ.

In order to encourage the readers to stand firm, Paul will call on the readers to “walk according to the example you have in us” (3:17). In tough times looking to the example of others can be helpful. Especially people we know well. And the Philippians personally know Paul who is willing to endure death to advance the gospel (1:19-26; 2:17; also Acts 16:11-40).  They also know Timothy, a proven servant in advancing the gospel (2:22). And Epaphroditus, who is one of their own, is willing to risk his life for the work of Christ (2:30).  All of these people are held up as examples to be imitated. But, the reason Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus are worthy of being copied is because they are following after Christ. The chiasm emphasizes this, highlighting our best example Christ, just as Paul wrote in another letter – “be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).

Through this literary device, Paul is able to draw his attention to Christ, encouraging the readers to remain faithful and be willing to die for the sake of Christ when confronted with persecution. He is worth suffering for (3:8) and is our primary example of how we are to act when times are tough so that we may “shine as lights in the world.”

The problem with “If Only” thinking (a devotion from King’s Cross)

Reading, actually listening during my commute, to Tim Keller’s King’s Cross, one chapter at a time has provided lots of time to reflect on Jesus and our response to Him. The book presents Jesus as seen through Mark (the Gospel writer) and Keller. The purpose, much like the works of C.S. Lewis, is to show the reader how Jesus’ “life makes sense of ours.”
It is an extended meditation on the historical Christian premise that Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection form the central event of cosmic and human history as well as the central organizing principle of our own lives.
In chapter 3, Keller explores the scene where the paralytic, carried by four men, is brought to Jesus, through the roof.

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

As Keller unpacks this passage, and what Jesus has done, he explores what might have gone through the head of the paralytic as he heard these words. As he does he presents us with the problem of “if only” thinking, which goes something like this:

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