Friday, February 03, 2006

Wright on Philippians 3:20

I'm preparing a sermon on Philippians 3 and I came across this interesting quote from Tom Wright:

At once many modern Christians misunderstand what he means. We naturally suppose he means "and so we're waiting until we can go and live I heaven where we belong." But that's not what he says, and it's certainly not what he means. If someone in Philippi said, "We are citizens of Rome," they certainly wouldn't mean "so we're looking forward to going to live there." Being a colony works the other way round. The last thing the emperors wanted was a whole lot of colonists coming back to Rome. The capital was already overcrowded and underemployed. No: the task of the Roman citizen in a place like Philippi was to bring Roman culture and rule to northern Greece, to expand Roman influence there.

But supposing things got difficult for the Roman colonists in Philippi. Supposing there was a local rebellion, or an attack by the 'barbarian' tribes to the north. How would they cope? Their best hope would be that the emperor himself, who after all was called "saviour," "rescuer," would come from Rome to Philippi to change their present somewhat defenceless situation, defeat their enemies, and establish them as firmly and gloriously as Rome itself. The emperor, of course, was the ruler of the whole world, so he had the power to make all this happen under his authority.

That is the picture Paul has in mind in verses 20 and 21. The church is at present a colony of heaven, with the responsibility (as we say in the Lord's Prayer) for bringing the life and rule of heaven to bear on earth. We are not, of course, very good at doing this; we often find ourselves weak and helpless, and our physical bodies themselves are growing old and tired, decaying and ready to die. But our hope is that the true saviour, the true Lord, King Jesus himself will come from heaven and change all that. He is going to transform the entire world so that it is full of his glory, full of the life and power of heaven. And, as part of that, he is going to transform our bodies so that they are like his glorious body, the body which was itself transformed after his cruel death so that it became wonderfully alive again with a life that death and decay could never touch again.

Knowing this will enable Christians to "stand firm in the Lord" (4:1); and now we can see more clearly what that means. It doesn't just mean remaining constant in faith. It means giving allegiance to Jesus, rather than to Caesar, as the true Lord. Paul has described the church, and its Lord, in such a way that the Philippians could hardly miss the allusion to Rome and Caesar. This is the greatest challenge of the letter: that the Christians in Philippi, whether or not they were themselves Roman citizens (some probably were, many probably weren't), would think out what it means to give their primary allegiance not to Rome but to heaven, not to Caesar but to Jesus — and to trust that Jesus would in due time bring the life and rule of heaven to bear on the whole world, themselves included

Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: Philippians, 126-127.

Cited from Kata John

1 comment:

Alex said...

Hey Michael,

I just found your blog a few days ago and noticed this particular post. The passage sounded familiar and I noticed that this page is also from The Ressurection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright which I am reading right now. It's worded a bit differently in RSG than in the "for everyone" commentary that you cite. I guess he popular level books are just condensed versions of his larger project.

I am reading N.T. Wright now and have a blog that discusses what I'm reading in him and others. Check it out at Great blog! Keep it up.