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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Screwtape takes on a new student & tackles science

My budding student RotRing,

You may be wondering how I am still employed in the field of educating young tempters after that dismal failure Wormwood. It is with some relish that I can report that the failures of a nephew are not visited upon the uncle. At least not too harshly. You may further find yourself thinking that you are in the very unfortunate position of having someone like myself as your guide, as you seek to become more proficient at keeping patients away from our Enemy. Just remember that the student does not surpass his teacher and that the gap between you and myself is quite vast. I have, as I am sure you have heard, enjoyed a fair bit of success in the realm of tempting. You’ll have plenty of room to learn and grow.

Now RotRing, I note from your latest report that you are wondering about some advice I gave some time ago, to that dreadful nephew of mine, regarding the use of science. At that time I wrote that tempters should ‘not attempt to use science as a defence against Christianity’ as it would ‘encourage patients to think about realities they can’t touch and see’.  Each age has a distinctive set of characteristics -as you, I am sure, remember from your studies – and we must be mindful of them so that we can better craft strategies for dealing with your patient.

In this age, in which your patient is living, there is a great deal of thinking about science. This could have been a disaster for us, but without much effort on our part things have  managed to turn in our favor on this matter. When I gave Wormwood the advice about science, I also reminded him that they ‘find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes’. This is still true. Science has now made many ‘unfamiliar’ things far more ‘familiar’ to your patient. Continue reading