Exclusively published to the Touchstone website each week, these Daily Reflections are brief commentaries on the lectionary readings contained in the St. James Daily Devotional Guide. The reflections are penned by Patrick Henry Reardon, editor of the Daily Devotional Guide and a senior editor of Touchstone. Father Reardon provides here a very brief directional clue for one of the texts each day. Long-time readers of the Daily Devotional Guide will find these reflections an additional help to their reading of Holy Scripture which they can print and keep with their Guide.
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2 Peter 2:1-11: Like the apostle Paul taking leave of the Asian churches for the last time (Acts 20:29-30), part of Peter's final legacy here consists in a warning against false teachers who will arise from within the congregation after his departure. These will carry on the deceptive work of the false prophets, begun already in Old Testament times and frequently spoken of in Holy Writ (for example, Deuteronomy 13, Jeremiah 28).
Peter proceeds to provide biblical illustrations of this road to perdition. He cites, first of all, the fallen angels, those original tempters of our race (verse 4; Jude 6), and then goes on to speak of the destruction of sinners in the Deluge and the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah. Just as God spared Noah in the former instance, He spared Lot in the latter.
Peter's picture of Noah as a “preacher of righteousness” is paralleled in his contemporary, Josephus (Antiquities 1.3.1) and in Clement of Rome's letter to the Corinthians a generation later (7.6).
Likewise, Peter's very positive attitude toward Lot, which contrasts somewhat with the less flattering image in Genesis 19, reflects the picture of Lot in Wisdom 10:6 (“When the ungodly perished, [Wisdom] delivered the righteous man, who fled from the fire which fell down on the five cities”) and will likewise appear again in Clement of Rome (11.1).
The false teachers, by way of contrast, are said to introduce “heresies of damnation” (haireseis apoleias - verse 1), driven by fleshly lust (verses 2,10,13,14, 18) and rebellion (verses 1,10). Peter appreciates the moral “underground” of heresy. It is not simply false and unsound teaching, but a teaching prompted by lust and sustained by rebellion. If a person “loses the faith,” he has usually lost something else first, such as chastity, or patience, or sobriety. Heresy, that is to say, is normally a cover for some deeper vice. This is one of the reasons that the Bible takes such a dim view of false teachers.
Monday, August 8
2 Peter 2:12-22: Of the two Old Testament accounts given of Balaam (Numbers 22-24 [cf. Joshua 24:9-10; Micah 6:5; Deuteronomy 23:3-6] and Numbers 31, which we read last week), only the second portrays him in a truly bad light, as responsible for tempting the Israelites into lust and apostasy in their encounter with the Midianites. For this sin he is killed in Israel's war with Midian (cf. Numbers 31:8; Joshua 13:22).
Peter's negative comments on Balaam in the present text are similar to those found in rabbinical sources and in the Jewish philosopher Philo. His foul counsel to the Midianites, whereby young Israelite men were brought to their spiritual peril, was taken by early Christian writers as symbolic of the deceptions of false teachers. One finds this perspective, not only here in Peter, but also in Jude 11 and Revelation 2:14. Balaam is the very image of the deceitful teacher, and hardly any other group is criticized more often or more severely in Holy Scripture than the false teacher. One finds this condemnation in Peter, Jude, James, Paul, and John.
In the present chapter the false teachers are singled out for deceiving the newly converted (verses 2,14,20-22), an especially vulnerable group of believers, who are not yet mature in solid doctrine. These latter, in the very fervor of their conversion, are often seduced by unreliable teachers who prey on their inexperience. In the mouths of false teachers, little distinction is made between liberty and libertinism (verse 19; 1 Peter 2:16; Romans 6:16; John 8:34), and they use the enthusiasm of the newcomer to change conversion to subversion.
Tuesday, August 9
2 Peter 3:1-9: Peter begins this chapter with an oblique reference to his earlier epistle. In verse 2, read “your apostles” instead of “us apostles.” The singular significance of this verse is its juxtaposition of the New Testament apostles with the Old Testament prophets, which was an important step in recognizing the apostolic writings as inspired Holy Scripture.
In 3:16, indeed, Peter does give such recognition to the letters of the apostle Paul. Both groups of men, Peter says, are being disregarded by those who scoff at the doctrine of the Lord's return (verse 4). Since so many of the earliest Christians were of the opinion that the Lord would return during their own lifetime, His not doing so became for some an excuse for unbelief. It was only an excuse, however, not a justification, and Peter judged such unbelief to be prompted, not by what are called “sincere intellectual difficulties,” but by the lustful desires of those who wanted an excuse for unbelief (verse 3).
Later in the century, Clement of Rome would address that same problem when he wrote to the Corinthians (23.3). That heresy, which asserted that the “integrity” of the natural order precluded its being invaded from without by divine influences, rather curiously resembled the modern ideology of Naturalism, with which contemporary apologists must contend.
Such a misinterpretation of the world, Peter wrote, is willful (verse 5); it is deliberately chosen, not on the basis of evidence, but in order to loose those who hold it from accounting to a final judgment by God. That misinterpretation was also based, Peter went on to say, on a misunderstanding of what is meant by “last times.”
This designation “last” is qualitative, not quantitative. It is not concerned with “how much,” but “of what sort.” The “last times” are not quantified; their limit is not known to us, and that limit is irrelevant to their quality. The last times are always the last times, no matter how long they last. Since the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are always within the eleventh hour, and this designation means only that it is the hour before the twelfth; it can last as long as God wants it to.
Wednesday, August 10
2 Peter 3:10-18: Since only God knows the length of the eleventh hour, the Lord's return will confound all human calculations of its timing. The simile of the thief in the night, for instance, must not be taken literally, because it is never nighttime everywhere at the same time, and the Bible contains no hint that the Lord will return to the earth by following the sequence of its appointed time zones!
This comparison with the thief's nocturnal entrance was doubtless common among the early Christians (Matthew 24:43; Luke 12:39; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; Revelation 3:3; 16:5). It will all happen with a “rush,” this onomatopoeia corresponding to the Greek verb rhoizedon in verse 10. Watchfulness, therefore, and a holy life are the proper responses to our true situation in this world (verse 11; Matthew 24:42-51; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).
Both heaven and earth will be renewed (verse 13; Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; Revelation 21:1; cf. Romans 8:19-22). The expression “without spot and without blame” in verse 14 (aspiloi kai amometoi) contains the negative forms of the adjectives describing the false teachers in 2: 13 (spiloi kai momoi).
Peter's reference to Paul indicates his familiarity with more than one Pauline epistle and probably suggests that Paul's letters were already being gathered into collections and copied. Peter likewise testifies to the difficulties attendant on the understanding of Paul's message. Christian history bears a similar witness, alas, in the modern divisions that have arisen among Christians over their differing interpretations of Paul. Paul himself was aware, even then, that some Christians were distorting his thought (Romans 3:8).
Thursday, August 11
Philippians 1:1-18: There are good reasons for thinking that Paul wrote this epistle from Ephesus. Even though it was clearly sent from prison, that is to say, Philippians is not properly to be grouped among the Captivity Epistles written from Rome and/or Ephesus toward the end of his ministry. Two considerations seem especially in order.
First, there is the geographical distance between Philippi and the place from which this epistle was sent. From internal evidence in this epistle, we discern that there had to be no fewer than five “trips” made by various individuals between the city of Philippi and the place where Paul was imprisoned when he wrote this epistle: First, a message went from Paul's prison to Philippi, informing the congregation that he was in prison. Second, in response to this news, the congregation at Philippi sent Epaphroditus to Paul, bringing a gift (4:18). Third, someone went to Philippi, bringing news that Epaphroditus had fallen ill while visiting Paul (2:27). Fourth, someone came from Philippi to Paul, informing him that the congregation knew that Epaphroditus was sick (2:26). Five, now recovered, Epaphroditus returned to Philippi, bearing this epistle (2:28-30).
This high concentration of travels, all apparently within a fairly short time, is another strong argument that the distance between Philippi and Paul's place of imprisonment was fairly close. This consideration would rule out Rome or Caesarea as the place of the imprisonment, even though we know that Paul was imprisoned or confined in both places.
We begin with Rome. Philippi and Rome are about 800 miles apart, involving a trip by both land and sea. The land trip from Rome to Brindisi was 360 miles, followed by a sea trip of 70 miles (two days in the most favorable weather) from Brindisi to Durazzo, and another land trip of 370 miles along the Egnatian Way from Durazzo to Philippi. At 15 miles per day, without rest or other intervals, each trip would require a minimum of 7 weeks. Even if these trips were made back-to-back, we are talking about 7 months for the first four trips outlined above. On the basis of this reasonable calculation, therefore, the least we can say is that Rome does not suggest itself as the place where Philippians was written.
Next, Caesarea. The distance between Philippi and Caesarea is about 1200 miles, and the difficulties of travel are proportionately greater. For example, we know that Paul, leaving Philippi just after Passover in the year 57, was very hard pressed to reach Caesarea by Pentecost of that year (Acts 20:5,16). Caesarea, then, does not recommend itself as the place where Philippians was written.
Ephesus, on the other hand, was reasonably close to Philippi, about 250 miles and mere days apart by sea, and there was a constant movement of ships between Asia Minor (Ephesus being the chief coastal city) and Neapolis, the port city of Philippi (Acts 16:11-12). Five journeys between Ephesus and Philippi would require no more than six weeks.
Second, Paul's companions at the time of the composition of Philippians are not the same companions as at the time of the writing of the Captivity Epistles sent from Caesarea and/or Rome. These latter included Tychicus, Aristarchus, Luke, Demas, Epaphras, Jesus Justus, Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, Claudia, and Mark (cf. Colossians 4:7-11, 14; Philemon 23-24; Second Timothy 4:11,21), none of whom are mentioned in Philippians. Likewise, Epaproditus, so prominent in Philippians, does not appear in Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon, or Second Timothy. All of this suggests a set of circumstances very different from those in which Paul wrote the Captivity Epistles from near the end of his ministry.
Friday, August 12
Philippians 1:19-30: In his earlier epistles, it appears, Paul expected still to be alive on this earth when the Lord returned (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:15,17). Now however, for what appears to be the first time in his letters, he refers to thee possibility of his death (verse 20). Things look pretty dangerous at Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32).
The doctrine most clearly taught in these verses is that of an immediate “afterlife” of the believer with Christ, and this is the source of Paul's own comfort and strength as he faces the possible prospect of death at Ephesus. We may contrast this perspective with that of Paul's earliest epistle, First Thessalonians (4:13-18), where the source of Christian comfort is not an immediate afterlife but rather the final resurrection.
This is not to say that in Philippians Paul is no longer concerned with the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. On the contrary, he explicitly speaks of it (1:6; 2:16; 3:20). There is no sense in which we can say that Paul, in Philippians, discards the doctrine of the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead.
Here in Philippians, however, the expression “with Christ”-syn Christo (verse 23)- refers to an immediate afterlife, whereas in 1 Thessalonians 4:14,17 it had referred to the time of the final resurrection. The emphasis is on union with Christ in the here and now (verse 21; 3:7-12). The believer is already united with Christ, a truth that Paul would also stress in his next epistle, Galatians (2:20; 3:27; 4:19).
Paul's hope for an immediate afterlife with Christ, therefore, is based on the experience of his union with Christ already in this world.
Because Christ is already his life, death will be for Paul an advantage, a step forward, a kerdos. “For Paul to live is Christ, and this is a life which by death will be set in full communion with the One who lives in him,” writes one commentator (in TDNT 9.547). There are similar sentiments throughout early Christian literature, especially in the context of martyrdom (cf. Ignatius of Antioch, Romans 5.3; 6.1-2; 7.2). In Christ Paul is possessed of a life that he cannot lose by death (cf. Romans 6:11; Colossians 3:3; John 11:23-26; Ignatius of Antioch, Ephesians 3.2; Magnesians 1.2).
Unlike the Platonic tradition, Paul does not call death a “release” or “escape,” but a “gain.”
When he wrote Philippians, then, Paul had come to the persuasion that an immediate afterlife with Christ follows the death of those who have died in Christ.
It is important, however, that we do not misinterpret this observation. Individual union with Christ after death never becomes the goal of Paul's ultimate striving. Jesus dies to save the whole man, not just man's soul. Until the body itself is raised in Christ, the Christian hope remains unfulfilled. Paul never wavers in this affirmation, not even in the present epistle (3:10,11,21; cf. Romans 8:11,23; 1 Corinthians 15:51-55). Death in Christ, then, is not our goal; it is only a step towards that goal, a “gain.”
Saturday, August 13
Philippians 2:1-11: There were forces of disunity active in the Philippians congregation. These seem to have been based on differences of personality and temperament (cf. 4:2), rather than doctrine, but they were nonetheless disruptive and painful. Paul was especially sensitive to these Philippian problems, because he was suffering from similar difficulties, such as jealousies and rivalries, at Ephesus (1:15-17,29-30).
In the present chapter, therefore, Paul exhorts the Philippians to unity. This unity, based on “communion of the Spirit” (koinonia Pnevmatos), is expressed in “the comfort of love,” with “affection and mercy” (literally “heart and mercies”-splanchna kai oiktirmoi, words that the early Christians liked to join. See verse 1; Colossians 3:12; James 5:11). Paul is asking the Philippians to consult their experience of God in comfort, consolation, communion, and mercy, and then to live accordingly.
All the Philippians must cultivate the same set of mind (to avto phronete, have the same love (ten avten agapen), be of one soul (sympsychoi), and “think the same thing” (to hen phronountes). It has long been recognized that all four of these expressions mean the same thing. Thus, in the fourth century St. John Chrysostom commented, posakis to avto legei, “he several times says the same thing.”
Twice in the list Paul uses the verb phroneo, meaning “to think,” or perhaps better “to have in mind,” “to dwell on in thought.” The verb has as much to do with attitude and sentiment as it does with thought or reason. In this epistle uses this verb ten times (cf. also 1:7; 2:5; 3:15,19; 4:2,10), more than in any other of Paul's epistles.
The attitude encouraged by Paul is opposed to all forms of “selfish ambition or conceit” (verse 3). The first of these words, eritheia, is perhaps better translated as “factiousness” or “party spirit.” In the first chapter Paul had used this same word to describe the problems at Ephesus (1:17), and he writes of the same evil elsewhere (Romans 2:8; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:19-20). Other early Christians warned about this evil as well (cf. James 3:14,16; Ignatius of Antioch, Philadelphians 8.2). It refers to partisan attempts to gain power and control in the Church. The presence of this word (which before Christian times is found in only one pagan Greek writer, Aristotle [Politics 5,1302b4 and 1303a14) in so much earlier Christian literature suggests that this was an ongoing problem.
The opposite of this vice is tapeinophrosyne (recognize here the root we just looked at?), which means lowliness, the internal sense of humility, personal modesty, humbling oneself (thus Jesus, in verse 8, “humbled Himself”-etapeinosen heavton).
It is instructive to note that this word is never found in pagan Greek literature. It conveys an ideal and state of mind alien to pagan culture. It is a distinctly biblical word. Indeed, the word had to be made up by the first Greek translators of the Hebrew Scriptures to express the sense of Proverbs 29:23 and Psalms 130 (131):2.
This humility means self-abnegation in the sight of God, the chief example of which is God's Son, who emptied Himself and took the form of a servant and then humbled in obedience unto death. This is the model that Paul holds out to the Philippians (verses 5-11).
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