Sunday, May 10
In describing her work on 1 Peter and the notion of being “resident aliens” in society (so as Christians we should not feel quite so at home in the normal values and ways of the world), Janette describes the experience of Asian Americans in the midst of the pandemic. They always struggle with never quite belonging, or being allowed to belong, and with stereotyping, but recently there have been over a thousand cases of discrimination against Asian Americans. In one case a man was sprayed with Febreez. The use of such attitudes and descriptions used seem to show a sense of superiority in stark contrast to Paul’s emphasis on Christ’s humility, Christ emptying himself, and becoming a servant of others. What do you think about Janette’s experience in our culture?
In vs 27 Paul says “Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” but the Greek seems to point not to just normal daily life, but to our sense of citizenship. The verse could be read as “live your life as a Gospel citizen (or Citizen of God’s Kingdom) in contrast to a citizen of Rome.” But this plays out in community, in how we treat other people, in how we handle our affairs, in what are our values and priorities, etc. To be a “Citizen of Rome” means being patriotic, proud of being a good Roman and a good Roman city. There’s a preoccupation with status, privilege, and honor. And it is problematic to equate being a good Roman citizen with being a good citizen of God’s kingdom. Where do you think our following of Jesus helps us to be good and helpful members of society and good citizens? Where do you think our following of Jesus puts us in conflict with some of the ways and values of our society and with Caesar?
In many of his letters, Paul often uses language that subtly challenges the Roman/imperial values and ways. 1st Century readers would have read about the “Good news (Gospel) of Jesus” and immediately compared it to the “Good news” of the Roman Empire and Caesar (Rome even used the same term). Readers would have read Paul’s description of Jesus as Kyrios (Lord) and immediately compared it to the worship of the Emperor. Readers would have read about Paul’s focus on humility and equality in Christ (In Christ there is now Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female) and immediately compared it to their experience of the values of Rome. But Paul’s readers would have also been torn between the two, and lived with mixed allegiances, as do we. Where are the ways of Jesus the biggest challenge to you as you live your life in modern day America?
As an aside, Chris mentions the likelihood that Phi 2:6-11 is a Christian hymn that predates Paul. It is good to remember that there were Christians and churches and Christian worship services before Paul even arrived on the scene. Even Paul was instructed by these early Christians as he prepared for the role that the risen Christ had for him to play in his own way.
We are using a Bible study called “Office Hours”, co-taught by Brennan Breed at Columbia Theological Seminary and Chris Holmes at First Presbyterian Atlanta. The four week study will discuss Paul’s letter to the Philippians.