Just back from a church weekend away and about to leave for a ministers' conference. Ah, flaming June!
Over the weekend I was leading fifty people from a church in West London on an exploration of how we do church in McWorld (post-modern, post-Christendom, globalised, all-embracing conumer society, etc) by working through themes in Philippians. I've been reading Philippians through these spectales for a year or more and am finding myself diving ever deeper into the mind of the apostle and the heart of God.
This week I'm at the Baptist Union's Newly Acredited Ministers' Conference. I always enjoy this gathering. It's a chance to meet old mates and help ministers in the early stages of their of first pastorates reflect on what's happening in and through them.
I shall be continuing to read Philippians. Having led five sessions on this letter over the weekend, I am more and more aware of the fact that I have only scratched the surface of Paul's argument.
In my own study of this letter I have been particularly helped by Peter Oakes' monograph Philippians: From people to letter - a truly inspiring PhD thesis examining the social and economic context of the letter and Paul's theological response to it. There have also been a raft of helpful articles exploring the relationship between Philippians (and other Pauline letters) and the power structures of the Roman empire (particularly in JSNT but also in three collections edited by Richard Horsley).
What has struck me afresh over recent days is how Paul has based his whole argument on the life of Jesus. A pattern emerges where Paul talks about Jesus as the exemplary servant in chapter 2, shows how he has modelled his life on that of Jesus in chapter 3, and calls his readers to do the same. His use of the language of 'thinking' and 'serving', in particular, leads us to ask profound questions about what we are living for, who we are trusting and whether our Christian faith has any relevance for our lives outside church.
It is this last thought that I have been particularly wrestling with over the past few weeks. It seems to me that Paul sees no distinction between our lives 'in church' and our lives in 'the world'. Wherever we are, we are to live lives of humble of service, looking out for the interests of others, doing nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, considering others better than ourselves, not complaining, grumbling or arguing but shining the light of kindness, grace and care into our workplaces, homes and sports clubs, as much as into the church.
At the same time, he is certain that will only be possible of churches are places where we learn these values and live them as examples of what happens when Jesus truly takes hold of a group of human beings and they begin to embody the values of the coming Kingdom, God's agenda for the whole of creation.
This is exciting and scary in equal measure. Can you imagine what would happen to our communities if Christians actually lived this way? Paul says that we should have the same attitude as Jesus (2:5). How about it?