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A Retake On Philippians Chapter One

Once again I assert that we should read Scripture, especially Paul's sermons, liturgically and sacramentally. What does such reading look like?

Below is my own translation of vss 1 through 11, this Sunday's epistle for the 1 year series.

1 Paul and Timothy worshipers of Christ Jesus to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus, who are in Philippi with (their) bishops and deacons.

Commentary: The epistle (sermon in my opinion) is addressed to the "hagioi", the "holy ones" in Christ Jesus. The word "in" points us to baptism. For to be "in Christ" is not simply a talking point, but a factual reality. (Cf John 17:21). In his letter Paul is preaching to the assembly of the baptized, which is by definition Eucharistic.

It is baptism, the Word, and the Eucharist (i.e. liturgy) that make us "sanctified" or "holy ones." Not only because they exist in us, but more to the point because the church exists in them. We are, in fact, "in" Christ Jesus, and through him "in" God. That is where we are located, and will always be located, thanks to baptism. Again, see John 17:21.

And don't skip over "with their bishops and deacons." These are ecclesiastical and sacramental offices. These are the men who lead God's people in worship; who consecrate the elements; and who distribute the body and blood of Christ to his Bride! This is the chief duty and job description of the pastoral Office, then as now.

This is a liturgical and sacramental reading of the text.

2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and Lord Jesus Christ.

Commentary: Many think of this and similar Pauline sentences to be nothing more than pious greetings for church people. But I think it is much more. I think it is a the formal liturgical greeting of the Eucharistic assembly to which Paul writes. He taught them how to worship, and now uses these same liturgical elements as he inserts himself, as it were, into their Divine Service, as its "virtual" preacher.

It's no accident that we traditionally begin our sermons this way even today. It's not just pro forma, but the factual and actual giving to the hearers what is stated. Both the blessing itself spoken over God's people by God's priest. And in what is to follow. It is called a sermon, i.e. a Word. One that is addressed to the baptized, as well as to the catechumens, penitents, and "seekers" that attend the Liturgy of the Word.

This is a liturgical and sacramental reading of the text.

3 I offer thanksgiving (eucharistia) to my God upon ever remembrance of you 4 always in every prayer of mine on your behalf, making my prayer with joy 5 because of your communion in the gospel from the very first until now.

Commentary: Notice the freighted sacramental language: eucharist, remembrance, communion. From earliest times, prayers for the church, the world, and individual needs of people were offered at, and in connection with, the Eucharist. Specifically they are part of the Eucharistic Prayer(EP). And, rember that properly speaking all prayer is Eucharistic, even our private prayers, because they proceed from, and lead to the Eucharist, from which all blessings flow.

Paul was not only a Eucharistic minister himself, but he ordained ministers, and taught them how to lead God's people in worship, and how, when and where to pray. The EP is the way the church has prayed from the beginning. Indeed I feel very strongly that John chapter 17 is Jesus' EP. (The Lutheran liturgy needs some work in this regard. But that is a separate discussion. One that we will be having in our current Sunday morning study of the History, Theology and Practice of Christian Worship.)

Because of this I can't accept the ESV translation of v. 5 "partnership" in the gospel, when the Greek has "koinonia." "Communion". That is, the Eucharist. Paul has factual and literal "communion" with the Philippians in the gospel. 

How is this possible since he is so far away? Keep in mind that this sermon of Paul was being read on a Sunday morning in Philippi, and that Paul, in his locale, was participating in Eucharistic worship at the same time as the Philippians were. And so they are fellow communicants. Not just theologically, but in time and space, sanctifying the created reality thereby. "Redeeming the time," in the words of St. Paul. (Ephesians 5:16)

This is how I read the text.

6 I am certain of this, that he who began a good work among you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ.

Commentary: The Day of Christ should not be thought of as his 2nd Coming - at least not at first blush. But as "the Lord's Day." That is to say Sunday. "Christ's Day." The Day when the Lord Jesus appears in glory in his church, intervening in the affairs of men with both judgment and salvation. For the Eucharist is the visible coming of Christ in judgment and salvation. Judgment against sin, death and the devil. It destroys them. And it is salvation for the sinner delivered and separated from these in baptism.

This is how I recommend reading the text: liturgically and sacramentally.

7 It is right for me to think this way about you all because I hold you all in my heart; for you are all fellow communicants of grace with me in my chains, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

Commentary: Note "fellow communicants" in my translation here also, instead of the ESV's bland, "partakers." Also think of what the word "gospel" means. Gospel is not just a story, or a certain chain of events. It is a "kerygma" (proclamation) consisting of both Word and Sacrament. Divine words, that is, combined with liturgical speech, gestures, actions, movements and intents. Worship, in other words, is not simply a mental exercise. It is not colorless, tasteless and ordorless as Puritans even today would have us believe. Something that exists chiefly between our ears. But it is incarnational, palpable, visible, kinesthetic and beautiful to all five of our senses. If it's not that, it's deficient.

8 For God is my witness how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and understanding, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be blameless in the day of Christ, 11 full of the fruits of righteousness, through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.

Commentary: Again we see liturgical terminology here. Affection, love, prayer, righteousness, glory and praise. None of these are abstract notions, but are the elements that comprise Divine Service.

Thanks for reading. 
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