Philippians 1:19-20 Confident of Victory

It seems that the date of Paul’s trial is near.  Paul will be led from his rented home where he is serving house arrest and taken to the tribunal to be heard by Caesar himself, where Paul will defend the Gospel and his role as an ambassador for Christ.  At the end of the trial either Paul will be allowed to leave a free man, vindicated by Caesar’s court, or he will be led away to the place of execution.

Paul has no human way of knowing the outcome, and he claims no explicit revelation from God: no vision, no clear inner voice, no word of prophecy.  He does, however, have the confidence of faith.  His faith gives him the confidence that God still has a purpose for his life on earth, in particular encouraging his faith family and especially those who are both friends and brothers and sisters from Philippi.  His hopes will not be realized automatically but through the prayers of his friends and the workings of the Spirit.

Regardless of the outcome of his trial before Caesar, Paul has the hope of final vindication before the throne of Jesus; but his faith is also inspired by the examples in the Psalms of those who expressed their hope for God’s deliverance in this life and on this earth.

Paul’s situation is ambiguous and his hope is ambivalent.  We should expect some ambiguity in his language, and it is present throughout this passage (Phil 1:15-26).  Paul confidently expects his trial to result in his salvation.  Normally he uses the word to express the ultimate consummation of a believer’s faith, which will happen when Christ reveals himself to the world as both Savior and Judge.  You could say Paul is hedging his bets, because he is assured of salvation in that sense.  But he is also using the word in the context of God’s deliverance of the faithful from their temporal and earthly enemies, a context seen so frequently in the Psalms.

If David’s faith could give him the hope of triumphing over his enemies, was Paul not entitled to expect the same result?  He is not seeking personal revenge over his enemies—but he does trust that God will grant him a personal victory.  Paul will emerge from the ordeal as a conquering hero.  Paul uses the language and imagery of a military victory parade.  In fact—here’s where some of the linguistic ambiguity comes in—he uses the terms that otherwise normally refer to the Second Coming to describe his anticipated return to the Philippians, in verse 26.  He speaks of his parousia palin.  Apart from reference Christ’s triumphant return, the expression was used in military and political circles to describe the glorious arrival of Caesar, accompanied by his retinue, to a Roman city.

The word parousia is a compound from a prefix meaning “with, beside” and a the verb eimi, which is a homonymn/homograph meaning either “I am” or “I arrive”.  So parousia can mean either “being with” or “presence” or else “coming to (someone’s presence)” or “arrival.”  It is used in the second sense here, and in the context of a victorious appearance.

Since we sometimes fail to appreciate literary subtlety, irony, and imagery, I should point out that Paul’s militant, triumphal imagery is metaphorical and paradoxical language.  The battle from which he hopes to emerge victorious is a spiritual battle, and the weapons that lead to triumph are faith, love, and prayer.  And the defeat of his enemies may well be that they are brought to their knees in homage to Paul’s Lord and become willing captives to him as Paul himself is.

If Paul’s greatest hopes were realized, and if we were able to see the event, we would not see a conquering hero–except through the eyes of faith.  We would see a little old man with scars on his body, dressed in well warn clothing, being unceremoniously released onto a dirty Roman street, perhaps to be greeted by a handful of friends.  But they would have the eyes of faith and would be quietly rejoicing in Paul’s triumph.

What is Salvation?

I’m working my way backwards through Romans chapter one.  Paul says the Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.  I remember a song from back in the 90’s–when her career was just taking off and before Lance Armstrong broke her heart, Sheryl Crow sang,

I took the I-95 down to Pensacola,

All I found was a bunch of holy rollers,

They don’t know nothing ’bout saving me.

I think she was referring to a revival going on down there where people were getting slain in the Spirit–falling down backwards during the services.  This was about the same time people up north in Toronto were receiving the Toronto Blessing of uncontrolled laughter.

If you look on the map you’ll find that I-95 doesn’t go to Pensacola.  But maybe Sheryl had a point–you can’t get there from here.

What is salvation all about anyway?  It doesn’t matter whether you are a holy roller, a stone-cold Lake Wobegon Lutheran, a frozen and chosen Presbyterian–or something in between.  Christians often speak glibly about salvation, but what does it mean?

Very simply it means, in the first place peace with God.  There is a peace that comes simply from the confidence that there is a God.  Everything fits together; there is a purpose for the universe, and I have a place in it.  What we do on earth matters; there will at least be someone who will remember it.

Of course Christian faith is more than that.  It means believing that God loves me and that God accepts me.  It may be a cliche, but it is still true–God loves me just the way I am–but he loves me too much to leave me the way I am.

Second, salvation means I will have a place in what Judaism calls “the world to come.”  Salvation is bigger than me.  It is what God has planned for all of creation.  One of my colleagues says God’s eternal purpose has always been to have a people for himself, a people who will receive and respond to his love in praise and obedience.

I think God’s purpose is bigger than that.  In the short term, God is content to have a remnant, a few people who will faithful serve him and receive his blessings.  But a remnant is not the ultimate goal.  The ultimate goal is the redemption of the whole world.  The world to come is a world where peace reigns, where all of creation is perfected, where we share in and reflect God’s glory.  Salvation means that we have the hope of participating in that world.

The third aspect of salvation is that God is getting us ready to participate in the world to come.  That means he is renovating us from the inside out.

My son just bought a house at a great bargain.  It was a renovation project that someone else gave up on.  It was too much work.

But Eric knows how to do the work, and he has friends to help him.  I was there with him this past weekend, along with his son and my grandson Elijah.  All three of us can see the work left to be done–but we can also visualize the results.

Those of us who are now experiencing God’s salvation know that we are a major renovation project.  But God can visualize the results and he is not going to give up.

What is Black Liberation Theology?

Liberation theology comes from the realization that salvation includes more than saving individual souls for eternal life after death (though it does include that).  A study of the word “salvation” and related concepts in the Old Testament reveals that salvation usually has a concrete setting in this life.  An individual prays for salvation from enemies or from sickness and praises God when the rescue comes.  The nation prays for salvation from enemies or for a return from exile.

The exodus or escape of a group of slaves from Egypt is the central historical event of the Old Testament.  It is the founding event of the nation of Israel and Israel’s covenant with God.  The story begin when God hears the cries of the oppressed and intervenes in history to save them from bondage.  Then God forms them  into a community of people with a special relationship to himself and to each other.

The theme of liberation continues in the ministry of Jesus, who announced his ministry by quoting these words from the prophet Isaiah,

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind,
To release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Salvation in the New Testament includes the forgiveness of personal sins for a new relationship with God and with one’s fellow pilgrims on earth through Jesus Christ.  It includes the hope of full deliverance in the future from all forms of bondage, sickness, suffering, and selfishness.  It also includes at least occasionally signs of that future deliverance–sometimes prayers for healing, prosperity, and freedom are answered in this life.  Salvation in the New Testament also includes the indwelling presence of Christ in the life of believers through the Holy Spirit.  The presence of Christ enables a follower of Christ to continue his ministry of compassion, justice, and liberation.

Liberation theology takes many forms.  Some are clearly wrong, depending on the failed economic theory of socialism and hoping to transform society through violent revolution.  But liberation theology does not have to be like that, and many forms are not.

Black liberation theology assumes that the experiences of black people gives them a unique vantage point for understanding the message of the Bible.  White people have more in common with Pharaoh and Caesar, black people have more in common with the liberated Hebrew slaves and the poor people who followed Jesus.

Black liberation theology in North America is heavily indebted to the ministry of Martin Luther King, who proved that change can come through nonviolent action coupled with prayer and faith.

Black liberation theology teaches that all people are sinful and need repentance, forgiveness, and the presence of the Spirit to overcome the effects of sin.  It also realizes that sin takes different forms in different people.  In Pharaoh and his followers sin manifests itself in a stubborn refusal to hear the cries of the oppressed and to submit to the message of judgment.  In the victims of Pharaoh’s oppression, sin often takes the form of a failure of courage, a lack of faith, an identification with the oppressors rather than heeding God’s message of liberation.

In addition to the reconciling message of Jesus as proclaimed by Dr. King, liberation theologians and preachers also listen to the words (and sometimes mimic the fiery rhetoric) of the biblical prophets like Amos and Jeremiah, or even James the Just, who grew up in the same house with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus:

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.  Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.  Your gold and sliver are corroded.  Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire.  You have hoarded wealth in the last days.  Look!  The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you.  The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.  You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence.  You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.  You have condemend and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.