How Then Shall We Live? (part 2)

In Part 1 I asked why Paul, whose life was in terrible crisis, should rejoice, and urge the Philippians to rejoice in their own crisis. The answer is the gospel—the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. This story is so crucial that any time it gets told—even by bad people for bad motives—we should rejoice. It has a power of its own, and Paul rejoices because he sees his life, and the Philippians’ lives, bound to that power. The crisis not only can’t stop it, the crisis becomes part of the story.

The gospel, as Paul narrates it in the famous passage from chapter 2, is a story of Jesus with four movements. They are: humility, obedience, death, resurrection. He urges the Philippians to take on Jesus’ attitude of mind and live out the same story. (2:5) He tells them to “live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27), or as I would put it, “live up to the gospel!”

Paul evidently sees the gospel story as a universal pattern, applicable to anyone. It is universal because Jesus is the creator of the universe, and the pattern of his life is a foundation for whatever happens in the universe.

So we see Paul mapping his own life onto the story. He is on trial for his life; Jesus was on trial for his life. Jesus saw his friends desert him; Paul is seeing his friends desert him. Jesus suffered; Paul suffers. Jesus humbled himself for the glory yet to come; Paul “forgets what is behind and strains toward… the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (3:13-14) Paul knows exactly where he is on the map of the gospel story. He is at the humble obedience part, on the cusp of the death part—and he anticipates the resurrection part.

He urges the Philippians to follow the same map, not only as they see it in Jesus, but as they see it in him. “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.” “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.”

From a practical point of view this means that in dealing with crisis we need to understand our lives as part of a much bigger story. It is God’s story. And God’s story inevitably and universally involves humiliation and suffering, death and… resurrection. This is what the Philippians can see in Paul, and in those who follow his footsteps. Of course the Philippians cannot yet see the resurrection in Paul or his followers. They see that only in Jesus.

Tomorrow, part 3: the crucial role of community.

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