Bible Experiment Philippians

Greetings and salutations. (Said in my best J.D. voice impersonation from Heathers. What? Nothing. Nothing. Carry on. Nothing to see here.)

I know that I say this every time… but the odds of someone reading these front to back are nigh on impossible. So for you unwary, random individuals, that just stumbled into this post, here’s the low  down on what you just accidentally found. I have been reading every book of the Bible… and after each book, I discuss it. I grumble about the confusing bits. I explain the upside down bits. I talk about the overarching themes, etc. I started this exercise 4 years ago now, as a response to an atheist that was doing the same thing. I figured, heck… if he can do it, I might as well be able to do it too. (I happen to be a Christian, if you didn’t know. Hi. Nice to meet you. Yes, you can put away that – I just sucked on a lemon – face. Because c’mon. Seriously? I’m not that weird. Ok, I’m really really weird, but that has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with my being a Christian. (Ok, maybe a little.)

Anyway, last time, in Ephesians, I discussed, in detail, Saul/Paul and his different journeys throughout the Mediterranean, and his efforts to setup Churches throughout. I also discussed two of my favorite characters in the Bible, who I’d like to talk about even more today, but alas, I cannot. But Priscilla and Aquila deserve tons of air time. But today, in order to explain some of these letters from Paul in a little more detail, I think I’ll need to dive some on Paul, his Roman citizenship, and his prison epistles, of which, this is one.

Paul’s Time in the Tank

So, let’s recap. Saul hated “Christians”, or the little-christs, that were running around, detracting from the real testament, which was Judaism. Or so he thought. Hated them so much that he got authorization from the Sanhedrin to persecute, and kill, these disciples of the Way. We even have a detailed account of one of these encounters, where Saul held the jackets of everyone hucking stones at Stephen’s head. Saul was a fire breathing murderer, hell-bent on shutting these frauds down. Until, one day, God spoke to Saul and said, dude, seriously? Cut it out. And Saul responded with, CUT WHAT OUT?!? By the way I can’t see. And God said, stop harassing me. Saul’s responses? WHAT?! I love you. You are the only one true God. I’d never persecute you!! And God’s response? I am Jesus, and yes, yes you are persecuting me. Cut it out. And Paul had the most significant, instantaneous life change the world has ever witnessed.

Now, instead of persecuting Christ and His followers anymore, Paul becomes Christ’s biggest advocate and ardent fan. But in his excitement and vigor for proclaiming this amazing new good news to anyone that would listen, he found himself in prison. Wait, WHAT? How? Well, Acts 16 tells us that he was accused by the people of Philippi for “disturbing our city, and advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” Better yet? Acts 24:5 says that the Jewish leaders had “found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the inhabited earth, the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” So Paul got busted by both the Romans, as well as the Jews. He was now on the receiving end of what he had been doing to Christians before his little encounter with God.

But why? What is that all about? Doesn’t the Bible say something about God working everything together for His good? Or some such business? Here, let’s read this bit first – this is Paul talking about his circumstances at this period of his life… in prison and I’m sure, completely baffled. But trusting regardless.

“Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole governor’s palace, praetorian guard, and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.”

And that is basically how Philippians opens. Paul was so annoying, and was such an advocate for Christ that the Romans were like. No. Off to prison with you. And how did Paul feel about that? Basically he saw it as an amazing thing! Paul gloated in the knowledge that he was able to preach to the praetorian guard, throughout the palace, and through the region as a result of his imprisonment. Which, is the tone and purpose of the entire book. He just keeps rolling with that optimism. Let me shotgun a few key scriptures that follow this vein, and this is from the Taylor Translation (yes, I’ve looked at the Greek, but this is all my own voice):

Philippians 1:6 – Hey! Brothers! Sisters! Our God who started amazing in you? HE’LL FINISH IT! He’ll finish that amazing, completely, and totally…  in the day Christ Jesus returns.

Philippians 1:21 – Please understand this everyone – by living it’s all Christ, 100%. And dying? Oh my, what marvelous gain.

Philippians 4:13 – Guess what? I can do anything… all things… everything… through Him who strengthens me.

And even though Paul is imprisoned during his writing of this letter to the Philippian church, he definitely is filled with joy while talking to them. I don’t know about you, but if I don’t get quite enough sleep at night… I grump all over everyone I meet. If I stub my toe I get angry with anyone within splash damage radius. But Paul? He was imprisoned for his religious beliefs and his love for God. You do that to me, I may go hire Johnny Cochran to get me out… or the A-Team. Somebody. But Paul sees the good things that are happening as a result of his imprisonment. He sees the larger picture of how his imprisonment and the work of the Philippians are spreading the gospel and sharing the good news to those that so desperately need it.

But to pull back and speak to the Atheists wandering through here, and the unspoken question I hear coming from your direction… “But Christians are jerks. They are smarmy. They are annoying. And idiots all… the lot of them.” I will not disagree with you even for a moment. I’m an idiot myself. Let alone the rest of us Christians out there. I will tell you this, just because God is real to me, and He has saved me both from myself, and also from my sin, that doesn’t mean I’m perfect, or even close. I’ve never once attempted to claim perfection. (I mean, heck, even Paul says in chapter 2 “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on “) Heck, read this blog for more than 5 minutes and you’ll realize very very quickly just how imperfect I am. But if you want to know what I, as a Christ Follower, aspire to… what I desire more than anything else, with every fiber of my being? It’d be all about this quote from Philippians 2:

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but laid aside His privileges, emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

My hearts desire is to live humbly and to regard you as way more important than myself. My hearts desire is to put aside my personal interests in order that the interests of others would come first. That the God who created things like this:

… chose to become man, live and walk the planet, then get murdered by His own creation, in order that we might be reconciled back to our creator? Could I possibly be that selfless? No way. Maybe on a good day, I’ll let you borrow my car. But I’m definitely not going to let you even touch my phone. Right? But my goal? My desire? Die to self. And to live a life of radical selflessness, similar to how Christ lived, died, and rose again on our behalf. And that is the kind of life that I want to live. That is the kind of radical deprioritizationing that has to happen in order to be more like Christ.

So on behalf of all Christian losers everywhere, that have yet to figure this bit out… I apologize to you for flipping you off in traffic with my He>I bumper sticker on. I apologize for traffic jamming the city on Sunday mornings as we collectively all head to church en masse. I apologize for filling the booths of all the restaurants across your town with non-tipping patrons. I am so sorry for all of the imperfection we have spewed your direction. But I for one, want nothing more than to treat you as more important than myself. To let you know that God loves you more than you will ever know. And to let you know that you are more than welcome amongst our imperfect ranks as we clog the city on Sundays, fail to tip and even flip various people off in road rage failure after failure. Please know, that you matter to us, and though you may not matter more than my iPhone, I’m working on that… and I’d prefer to value you more than anything else. I’m working on it. You are loved.

And that is the message of Paul to the Philippians. Sure, we aren’t perfect. But love those nearby with the love that Christ loved us. Love unrelentingly, in spite of the circumstances. Whether imprisoned, or in 401k’d… it doesn’t matter. Love others always, with the love God has loved us with. And there you have it. Philippians.

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4 Responses

  1. zeph

    There are those who say that Saul never stopped persecuting Christians, he just learned that you can do far more lasting damage from the inside (the attitudes he injected into nascent Christianity, which some feel has caused much difficulty for the last couple of millenia).

  2. Zeph

    (And I’m not commenting in the previous snippet about YOUR attitude, which is refreshingly reflective, humble, clever, and interesting. It’s probable best that you and your attitude don’t have to answer to Paul/Saul’s direct authority.)

  3. Taylor Holmes

    Hey there Zeph,
    I absolutely love inside out thinking like this. Such a fascinating idea. So the argument as I hear you saying that others are making is that Paul infiltrated the early church to subvert it from the inside out. Right? That is so fascinating. So Paul was stoning Christians, he had permits from the Leaders of Israel to go and kill little-christs, as they were known then – in order to shut them up. BUT! In a flash, he realized he would be more effective if he became a double agent. A saboteur if you will. Right?

    Back in the day I was a huge Anne Rice, interview with a vampire fan… and like in book 27 or whatever, deep in the Vampire L’Estat space, she argued something in that vein as well. I wish I could remember which book that was. But one of the vampires was around then and saw for himself Paul subverting the church.

    But let’s dive in on that a second. Because that is so fascinating to me. This guy Paul? Who was a Pharisee’s Pharisee. A Jew’s Jew… opened up the mind of the Christian Jews to whom? To the Gentile. That logic makes zero sense to me in that it was Paul among all other disciples that realized that Grace was extended to everyone. If he was a saboteur, then I would have thought he would have been the bing proponent against that migration to the whole world. Right? (Which, actually was Peter’s stance for a while until he realized he was wrong.)

    But to understand that argument, you would have understood what his purposes were. Maybe the argument is that Paul was trying to destroy the church by including Gentiles? And he accidentally, in so doing, made it the single most influential religion the world has ever seen? Seems a little far fetched.

    “But the thing for me that clenches his legitimacy and his fervency to the gospel was his own verbiage in the letters he wrote:

    2 Corinthians 11 “Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”

    Now, I don’t know about you… but if I was punking you and your club in order to derail it completely, I’d have stopped with the ‘going without food’ let alone the ‘Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one’!! Right? I mean, he is human after all. But not only did he suffer food deprivation, and whippings, but beatings and shipwrecks and craziness upon craziness. Just seems like a serious stretch to me… you know?

    Chuck Colson, one of the men convicted as a part of Watergate always said that if the Disciples weren’t legit, they would have also unraveled after Jesus’ death… like watergate unraveled. But he argued that the Disciples ability to stay the course in spite of the beatings, the whippings, the terror, the threats, proved just how committed they were to this vision that Christ painted for them. I mean, they all died violently (minus John, but that is a different topic for a different day). Peter crucified upside down. Andrew was scourged, and then tied rather than nailed to a cross, so that he would suffer for a longer time before dying. Acts 12:1-19 says that James was killed with a sword via beheading. Philip was scourged and crucified in Heliopolis. Some say Bartholomew was skinned alive and then beheaded. Thomas impaled on a spear in Greece. Matthew was stabbed in the back by a swordsman sent by King Hertacus. Simon and Jude crucified.

    I think you get my point. But yeah, really cool thought. Do you think that Paul was trying to subvert the fledgling church?

  4. Del

    It’s not about Jesus or God. Jews were persecuted in those times. Saul did horrific things to his own people. His conscience manifested an excuse tantamount to the culture of those times: a delusional, anecdotal vision.

    Bible thumpers, exclusively male since the Bible’s inception, dismiss history because like the primitive men who made up a male god or gods, they desired a way to control, to exert power over people.

    Jesus existed. He died in a horrible way history describes as the ultimate Roman way of death by disrespect. However, Jesus really thought his God was going to come and reconcile the earth within his disciples’ lifetimes.

    That’s why the Bible and New Testament are not relevant now or in future times to come. Jesus was in accord with God, his “father” about slavery, homosexuality, etc. Jesus was written about many years after his death by the New Christians who wanted to exalt his death by creating scriptures which do more to separate people than any other cultural practice.

    It especially makes no sense women or people of color would follow religions which undermine their existence based on the New Christians’ fervent desire to create power and control based on narrow, primitive, uneducated viewpoints of those times. I dare not say “ancient” because too many people today give its meaning the false equivalence as “wise” or “a kind of wisdom which is above reproach”.

    Saul of Tarsus persecuted his own Jewish tribe of people—-and other tribes of people who did not follow Roman law—in the brutal common ways done in those days. Women, too, were crucified facing the tree or cross. But nary a woman’s death by crucifixion is mentioned in the Bible or New Testament yet hundreds—perhaps thousands—occurred.

    It’s time to leave male god myths perpetuated by primitive men behind. It’s time to focus on how to become a better human being by reading up, studying, humanistic behavior.

    Humanist understanding is the only way to heal this world fucked up by religious lopsided male dogma created by delusional fearful men of the past.

    Consider this my final post on this side of your movie discussion site. Taylor, I am not your enemy nor am I a friend who will ever pay you lipservice. You’re a complex person like everybody else and I may vehemently disagree with a few of your movie ratings but value your creativity and willingness to post opinion which you do not agree.


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