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A Retake On Philippians 3:17 through 4:1

Some thoughts on Sunday next's epistle.

17 Brothers, become imitators of me, and carefully observe those who conduct themselves in accordance with the pattern you have from us. 18 For many walk, as I have often said and now say again with tears, as enemies of the cross of Christ; 19 whose end is destruction! whose god is their belly and who glory in their shame -- who set their minds on earthly things! 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, from where we also eagerly await a Savior, "Lord Jesus Christ," who will transform our frail body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subdue all things unto himself.

(4:1)


Therefore Beloved Brothers ...
     stand firm this way in the Lord, Beloved!

"Brothers" (3:17 and 4:1) is a patently Eucharistic term in Paul. "Beloved" (4:1) is as well. St. Paul is addressing the eucharistic assembly of the baptized, that is: the church. The church is not the membership list, or the body politic, but the baptized in Holy Communion with their Lord.

What is Paul's point in v. 17? Is he admonishing them to imitate his sanctified behavior? To live like Christians? If so he is doing his job. Such admonition is an important part of the Christian message. Without it we wither and die. But is there more? I think so. The Philippian church is also to imitate Paul's doctrine and way of worship; and that of those who also follow in St. Paul's train. Who learned their pattern of worship from him. This becomes especially clear in 4:4-9 which is Eucharistic in my reading. Eucharist IS Christian Worship. This cup IS the new testament. But there is a wrong way and a right way to engage in Communion-With-The-Holy-One. There is true doctrine and false. True practice and false. Both are in view here.

This raises the question of the referent in v. 19. Is Paul thinking of the lost world, those who have not heard the gospel, not been baptized, and thus have no place at the Lord's altar? Possibly. Or does he mean those heretics, in particular his Jewish opponents, against whom he solemnly warns the church in 3:2. (I love the Vulgate here: "videte canes videte malos operarios videte concisionem") One cannot know for sure, but I lean towards the latter.

Also note in v. 20 "Lord Jesus Christ." There is no definite article there, and so it makes good sense that Paul is referencing a portion of an early Christian Creed, or a portion of Philippian liturgy. (We find several regional patterns of liturgy in the N.T.). "Lord Jesus Christ" is the one upon whom the church calls in holy worship. The one who died, rose again, and will both raise up, and transform, our mortal bodies to be like his glorious body. It is not lightly that we say "I believe in ... the resurrection of the body." We are speaking there of our own. Ponder the meaning of that change!

The last verse of our epistle, 4:1 reads to me like actual liturgy that Paul himself taught them and that he now accesses as part of his epistle (sermon). To me it reads suspiciously like a Preface. Think of our own: "The Lord be with you. Lift up your hearts. Let us give Eucharistia to the Lord our God," etc. But again, this all becomes obvious beginning in 4:4ff if we read Scripture liturgically and sacramentally, and not merely notionally like Fundamentalists do.

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