Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Paul, Philippians, Being a Real Man, Being a Pastor

One dimension I absolutely adore in Philippians is the love Paul expresses for his converts. Some people think Paul is a hard man, that he is anti-woman, that he had an anger problem etc. Look more closely and you see that is not the case. The only time Paul really gets aggressive is with false teachers who are plundering his flock. Take 2 Cor 10-12, Galatians and Phil 3:2, 18 and you will see these examples. He becomes a shepherd defending his flock, and calls people angels of Satan, dogs, evil workers, mutilators etc., and even tells them to emasculate themselves. Tis true in 2 Corinthians he gets quite sarcastic with his opponents, and that there are texts that appear anti-women; yet, on closer analysis one finds Paul to be utterly counter cultural in regards to his language.

Leaving aside the issue of women and Paul, look at Philippians his language. We see Paul the shepherd, Paul the pastor.

In 1:2 he does what he always does one way or another, and prays a blessing of peace and grace on his readers. In 1:3-8 he is so loving it is almost mushy. He thanks God every time he remembers them. He prays with joy over them. He assures them of God's providential concern for them. He says 'I have you in my heart' (see Wallace, Grammar on this translation). He calls God as witness as to how he longs for them(epipotheo) all with the affection of Christ Jesus. The word for affection is a deep word, splagchnon. Literally, it means the guts, the viscera (cf. Acts 1:18). Figuratively, it means in the depths of the being, the heart. He longs in his guts for them. An associated term is repeatedly used in the Gospels of Jesus' compassion for people (e.g. Matt 14:14). He longs for them and loves them. This is non-manly language in the ancient world. It is counter-cultural. It is insanely pastoral. It shows that Paul loves them. Remember too that in Philippians the church is divided to some extent; Paul says he loves them all, despite their division. The calling of God as witness is not unique, but radical.

Tracking through the letter we see more of this love-language. He wants them to love more and more in knowledge and depth of insight (1:9-10). He favourably speaks of Roman Christians who preach out of love (1:16). He uses 'brother' meaning 'brother and sister' (1:12; 3:1, 13, 17; 4:1, 8, 21) repeatedly to assure them of their oneness in the family of God the father (1:2). Phil 2:1 is cool! In this verse he lays the foundation for the appeal that will follow giving 4 'if any' constructs, speaking of the Trinity, God's love, the foundation of all love. 'If any encouragement in Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any koinonia in the Spirit, if any affection and compassion' (note affection here is the same term as in 1:8). This all combines to speak of a God who loves us! If any... yeah baby, heaps! An eternal load of love!

He then appeals for them to love each other, find unity, emulate Christ, stop scrapping, live out the gospel so people are saved (2:2-18). The Christ pattern in 2:6-11 is the heart of the letter, Jesus through love coming to earth to give himself for us! It is his affection with which Paul loves them in 1:8. It is Christ's love and comfort that sustains them in 2:1. Every example in the letter relates to Christ. He is the pattern for living, for loving. He redefines masculinity away from Greco-Roman notions of being 'above' such things, of renouncing emotion as non-manly etc. He embodies the fullness of both heart and mind... no dualism in Paul, none in Christ. It's ok to cry men, to express emotion. It's ok to sing Jesus is my boyfriend songs and sit and weep with those who suffer. It's ok to love your people pastors. In fact, its the guts of ministry.

Then he gives two glorious examples of selflessness, Timothy and Epaphroditus. Lovingly he speaks of Timothy as his son serving at his side in the gospel, a beautiful image of father and son working together in harmony (2:22). He lovingly describes Epaphroditus in an OTT five-fold way: 'my brother, co-worker, fellow-soldier; your apostle, minister to my needs', Then in Phil 3 he speaks of false examples, the Judaisers, and other pagan-influenced enemies (3:18) who embody a false gospel of legalism and libertinism. Note in 3:1 where he reminds them of constant warning, and more importantly, in 3:18 where speaks of being in tears for them as he warns them. That is not manly. But it is the heart of pastoral ministry!

Then in 4:1 he gets unbelievably intimate. In one verse he lays together five words of intimacy: the Philippians are his 'brothers and sisters, my beloved (agapetos; ah, that makes me tear up), my longed-for ones (epipothetos; same family of words as in 1:8), my joy and crown, beloved (again).' It is like he is saying, 'you complete me!' They are his crowning glory. This precedes what will then follow, a direct appeal to the conflicting women to be one again. It makes sure that they know that, despite their conflict, he loves them! Like God's love for us which is inextinguishable (Rom 8:35-39), his love for them is undiminished, despite their scrap.

Then he goes OTT again as he talks of their gifts to him, waxing lyrical about how he is amply supplied and that they are a 'fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God' (4:10-19). Finally he gives another blessing of grace (4:23).

In Philippians Paul redefines masculinity (actually Jesus had already done so and Paul imitates him cf. 1 Cor 11:1) and shows us who lead God's people what it means to love. It means to love, be a shepherd. As the old song goes, 'the King of love my shepherd is', and we should be so. Yes, there is a time to rebuke. But love is the foundaton. All rebuke and critique MUST come out of love. We need to remember this when we look at others, the church, the world and want to give it heaps for its failure. Love must be the basis of all that is said and done. Indeed, all is vanity without it. Check out 1 Cor 13. Read it as the centre of 1 Cor 12-14, what matters is not superb charisma and spiritual giftedness, what matters is love; it is the heart of Christian character. It is the missing dimension in today's church. What is needed is a new charismatic renewal, this time a karpotic renewal (fruit = karpos in Greek), the outpouring of spiritual fruit on the people of God, flowing to one another, and out to the world. Then we will see the church and world transformed. It begins with pastors and leaders. Come Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mark's Gospel and a Call to War

I have been re-reading Mark's Gospel against the backdrop of Jewish expectations of the Messiah. There was at the time a range of expectations. Some did not have a theology of a Messiah (e.g. Sadducees). Some believed in two Messiahs (Essenes: priestly, royal). The dominant view was of a Messianic deliverer, a descendent of David, spiritually powerful, born in Bethlehem, who would lead the overthrow of the Gentiles (Rome!), would establish God's reign on a renewed or new earth centred on Jerusalem, Zion, temple and law. All would submit to the Torah, and tribute would flow to Jerusalem. The Messiah then would be a military man, a spiritually empowered David like figure.

So when you think of this, the whole of Mark comes to light in fresh ways. When Jesus calls out 'the kingdom of God is near' many perceived that the physical overthrow of Rome was coming. When he began to gather disciples, did miracles, fed the crowds, etc., he was doing the stuff of a prophet, but one who could be Messiah.

The disciples finally get it in Mark 8, a Caesarea Philippi (which is ironical, Ceasar!). Once they acknowledge him, Jesus quickly recasts what the Messiah is. He tells them that the Son of Man (linking Messiah with Daniel's figure in Dan 7:12-13). He tells them that he must suffer and die. Peter can't handle this. Messiah's don't suffer and die (although in Jubilees the Messiah dies after 400 years). They lead an army to inflict suffering and subdue the enemies of God, killing those who reject his rule. Jesus in turn rebukes Satan, because Peter had become the Devil's spokesman (remembering that Jesus had already defeated him and rejected his plan of world domination through evil means).

So then Jesus tells them to take up their crosses and follow him. I have always puzzled what this would have meant to the disciples before the crucifixion. I now believe that they would heave heard it as a call to war. They were to go and fight the Romans, and some would be crucified in the conflict. Remember that crucifixion was highly favoured among the Romans as a means of humiliating their opposition. They were called not to save their own lives, but to give them up for the cause of the gospel. I am sure that they were excited to fight with Jesus and bring God's reign.

From there Jesus does it all wrong. He twice more repeats that he will suffer and die. He inverts the world's view of power through status, force and wealth saying that greatness is being a child, welcoming a child, giving it all away, serving others as the path to greatness. There are crazy moments when James and John want to be nos 1, and he rejects their claim calling them to serve and give their lives.

Then he enters Jerusalem. He fulfills Zech 9:9. Yet he comes on a donkey, not a warhorse. When he gets there he does not go to the Fortress Antonia to smite the Romans. He instead clears the temple of money changers who were doing a good job on behalf of the sacrifice system. He antagonises his own people! The chosen people! He goes into continuous debate with the Jewish leaders. What?! He should be calling them to his side for the war on Rome. He then gets arrested and gives no response of defense. He should have attacked Pilate, killed him and his soldiers, and then armed with their weapons, began the cleansing of Israel. He should have gathered an army and then moved north to Rome to overthrow Caesar.

When he was beaten by the soldiers, he did not retaliate, despite their mockery of his kingship. On the cross, when they taunted him 'if you are the king of the Jews come down' i.e. come and lead us as a real Messiah should and would. Rather, he allowed the Romans to kill him, proving conclusively that he was not Messiah. He was killed in the most humiliating way, on a cross, for 'cursed is anyone who is hung on a tree.' He then died. Pathetic loser!

So the people went away certain he was not Messiah. Another sad prophet killed. The disciples went away desolate and despairing. They still did not get it. Even after he rose and his tomb was empty, the Emmaus Rd disciples spoke of him as a prophet, not as the King he really is.

Then he rose from the dead and appeared numerous times. He had overcome death! What did he do? Shouldn't he have taken up a sword and called the disciples to arms. Shouldn't he, the transcendent unkillable Son of God, indestructable, immortal, imperishable, omnipotent ruler of the world gone and confronted Caesar and all other rulers. Shouldn't he have taken them on! They would have stood no chance. Every knee would have been forced to bow, every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the father. It could have been over in a few years, the world subdued under the glorious lordship of this Jesus, the resurrected and glorified Son of God.

No! Rather, he gathered his disciples. He promised them the Spirit, the very power that had empowered his ministry of love, mercy, compassion and grace. He gave them the commission to go and preach this gospel, to make disciples of all nations, to be his witnessess, in the power of the Spirit. He left. 40 days later, true to his word, the Spirit came. His disciples searched his word, prayed and finally clicked.

The world was not to be won through military force and coercion. Such ways are evil, of Satan. The world is to be won through service and witness. The pattern laid down by Jesus was the way. It would be a long and slow mission. Many will fall on the way as the empire strikes back. Every human was to be invited to recognise that Jesus is Messiah, Son of God, Lord; to renounce the ways of the world, and to follow him. Every person was to turn from the patterns of a world of power, wealth, lust and greed; for the pattern of sacrifice. The cross was not a symbol of war, but of service, suffering and death. It is a war, but one not won through the sword or nuclear holocaust, but through the greatest power of all, love ('for the greatest of these is love').

Now the people of God would not be subdued through force and bring tribute to Jerusalem. No. The Kingdom would be cosmic, in the human heart, and in God's people fused together in the Spirit. They would gather, worship, love each other, and witness. They would remember Jesus with bread and wine. This meal would remind them of how to live, to take up their crosses. They would be empowered to work for the restoration of all the world. No, the temple would be the people, and from them, love would flow.

So Mark's Gospel is utterly ironical. It is written from Rome to Romans who are caught up in the great Empire based on all that stands in opposition to God and his ways. Jews got it wrong, expected a Jewish mighty warrior like the Judges of old, David etc. Rather, they got a servant king who would win the world through love. Mark's Gospel is cool. I love it. Thanks Jesus. No longer do I have to try and win the world through force and power. I have to love. Problem is Jesus, I need to learn how to love. Set me free from the ego, the false motives, the desire to have a name, to make a splash, to be significant, to get my way... fill me with the breath of God that will consume all of that skubalon, and set me free to be what I was created to be; to walk in the pattern of Messiah. Amen.