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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Sunday, August 14
Philippians 2:12-30: Paul now returns to the theme of Christian obedience, the very theme that had prompted him to quote the hymn recorded in 5:5-11. He want the Philippians (“Therefore”) to be obedient according to the model of Christ Himself (verse 12).
However, having just recalled that hymn about salvation, Paul's mind is full of this latter theme as well. In just two verses (12-13), then, he goes from speaking about obedience to speaking about salvation.
In verses 12-18 we discern a ringing resemblance to the farewell discourse of Moses in Deuteronomy 31-32. In that passage, where Moses reprimanded the Chosen People for their disobedience, we note an emphasis on “rebellion” (erethismon in the Septuagint of Deuteronomy 31:27), an idea very close to Paul's warnings against “partisanship” (eritheia; cf. 1:17; 2:3).
Moses feared for what those Israelites would do in his absence (for he was about to die), if they have been so consistently disobedient while he was present. Paul, by contrast, does not worry about the Philippians will do in his absence (verse 12). Moses, likewise, had called the Israelites “wicked children . . . a crooked and perverse generation” (Deuteronomy32:5), whereas Paul calls the Philippians “blameless and harmless children of God . . . in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (verse 15).
It is possible that Paul, as he waited in prison for a death that seemed perhaps imminent (1:20-23), perceived some parallel between himself and Moses as the latter awaited death east of the Jordan. Both were, it appeared, taking leave of the people they had pastured. Whereas Moses, however, was filled with misgivings about those whom he was leaving, Paul felt nothing but confidence in his Philippians.
These latter, after all, had always been obedient (verse 12), and Paul believed that obedience was an essential component of the Christian life (cf. Romans 1:5; 6:16; 16:18; 16:19,26; 2 Corinthians 7:17; 10:5-6; 2 Thessalonians 1:8). Such obedience was a quality of Christ in the accomplishing of our redemption (verse 8).
In obedience the Philippians are together to work out their salvation. The verb is plural and denotes a common effort. Clearly Paul has in mind here more than the salvation of the individual; he is concerned, rather, with the salvation of the whole congregation. This salvation is “worked out” in the Church, as the Church “works out” its problems. This is why Paul warns the Philippians against rivalries and squabbling. Those tings in which salvation consists-freedom from sin and communion with God-are maters of joint and shared striving.
Monday, August 15
Joshua 10: This chapter, in which attention is directed to the southern campaign of Joshua's invasion, begins with an alliance formed to resist that invasion. This alliance, alarmed at the capitulation of the Gibeonites, recorded in the previous chapter, determines to attack Gibeon itself rather than Joshua's invading force (verse 4). This procedure made military sense. If the alliance could punish the Gibeonites for their treaty with Joshua, it was reasoned, other Canaanite cities would think twice about following suit. If the attack on Gibeon proved successful, other cities would be disposed, rather, to join the coalition against Joshua.
This alliance of five Canaanite city-states, under the leadership of Jerusalem, had another reason for conquering Gibeon as a way of resistance to Joshua's advance. In fact, this second reason rendered the control of Gibeon imperative to the resistance-namely, Gibeon's strategic position guarding the route through the Ajalon Valley, a route that would enable Joshua to divide and isolate the southern cities. In the event, of course, after Joshua's defeat of the alliance, his campaign pursued its remnant forces southward through that valley (verses 10-13).
Understanding the political situation throughout Canaan, Joshua resolves to make an example of the five kings involved in the alliance (verses 16-27). His very ruthless tactics were extended to the citizens of Makkedah (verse 28), Libnah (verse 30), Lachish (verse 32), and elsewhere (verse 39). We may want to bear in mind that these descriptions are common in the language of battle, where they bear what we may call a “poetic sense.” That is to say, if ALL the citizens of all of these cities really did perish under Joshua's sword, we readers of Holy Scripture will be hard pressed to explain why continue to pose problems for Israel in the very near future.
Tuesday, August 16
Philippians 3:1-14: I have argued that Philippians was written relatively early in Paul's ministry, sometime during his three years (52-55) in Ephesus. This dating would put it close to the composition of Galatians.
In the present section of Philippians, in fact, the reader is much reminded of the double principal theme of Galatians, salvation by faith and freedom from the works of the Mosaic Law. For example, in Paul's comments about his communion with Christ, one can hardly fail to observe the resemblance between verses 8 to 10 and Galatians 2:20.
There is a difference between Philippians and Galatians in this respect, however, and the difference is this: Whereas Galatians was written for a congregation that had already begun to succumb to the teachings of the Judaizers (namely, that the Gentiles were obliged to be circumcised and to observe the Mosaic Law), in Philippians this teaching is regarded as a danger only, not an immediate and critical danger. The Judaizing errors that had already reached Galatia had not yet found their way to Philippi.
Hence, there is a difference in tone between these two epistles, nor do we find in Philippians the shock and harshness of reprimand characteristic of Galatians. One thinks of Paul's “foolish Galatians” (Galatians 3:1) in contrast to the Philippians, whom he calls “my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and my crown” (Philippians 4:1).
In discussing the Judaizers in each of these epistles, Paul waxes autobiographical, but here too there is a difference between the two works. In Galatians Paul narrates the circumstances of his conversion, particularly his relationships to the other apostles (Galatians 1:17-2:17), a motif rendered necessary that the way in which the Judaizers in Galatia claimed the authority of those apostles. It is not necessary for Paul to go into these particulars at Philippi, where he was the only apostle known to the congregation. Instead, Paul concentrates his biographical comments on a contrast of “before” and “after” his conversion. The tone is accordingly more serene in Philippians than in Galatians, though he does use some pretty tough language to describe the Judaizers themselves (verse 2).
Wednesday, August 17
Philippians 3:15-21: Especially among converts from paganism (which was by and large the case at Philippi, where there was not even a synagogue), there was a great need for types and models of behavior. More than for Jews who accepted the Gospel, conversion for the gentiles was bound to entail a more radical, even dramatic change in personal behavior. Whereas good Jews already lived lives in conformity with God's Law, especially in the areas of sex and economics, this was often not true of gentile converts (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Hence the need for role models in this latter group.
The elaboration of a Christian lifestyle, after all, cannot be accomplished from scratch. It is largely put together by the imitation of other Christians. (Indeed, it is imperative that all Christians live in such a way as to serve as models for one another. What we do as Christians we do not do for ourselves. How we speak, how we conduct ourselves, the moral choices we make - all of these things have to do with the spiritual benefit of our brothers and sisters.) Christians learn how to be Christians by observing other Christians whom they believe to be better at it.
Paul especially plays this theme when writing to his converts in Macedonia (verse 17; 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7; 2:14; 3:12; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9), tough he touches it elsewhere as well (Galatians 4:12; 1 Corinthians 4:14-16; Acts 20:18-21,31-35).
Paul's exhortation that the Philippians imitate him means more than choosing him as a model because he happens to be available. We should bear in mind that this was something Paul had taught the Philippians long before he sent them epistles (2 Thessalonians 2:17). Paul emphasized that, not only had the congregations learned from watching him, but that he had intentionally given them an example (2 Thessalonians 2:19). His example was part of the “tradition” that he had bequeathed to them (2 Thessalonians 3:6).
This is also the point here in Philippians. It is not that Paul happened to be a good Christian worthy of imitation. His role as a model is part of his authority. He is a “type” by reason of his ministry. The congregation's imitation of him pertains to their recognition of his authority over them. The imitation is based on paternity (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:14-15). In the sense that Paul speaks of it here, Christian imitation is not simply the replication of a model; it is the enactment of obedience to a standard.
Thursday, August 18
Philippians 4:1-9: From the beginning of this epistle we have suspected that there was some sort of problem at Philippi. Nothing in this epistle has indicated that the problem was doctrinal. In fact, when the Apostle condemned the heretics, there was nothing to suggest that they were Philippian heretics. On the contrary, Paul was obliged to tell the Philippians about those heretics (3:18).
No, we have suspected that the underlying problem at Philippi, if there was a problem, had to do with what we may call “conflicting personalities.” This would explain Paul's emphasis on respect, humility, and mutual forbearance (2:2-4).
The present chapter proves our suspicions to have been correct, because it finally identifies the two “conflicting personalities” as Evodia and Syntyche, Philippian women who are exhorted to settle their differences and “be of one mind in the Lord.” Three things may be noted of this exhortation to Evodia and Syntyche.
First, even though the conflict between them apparently provided the impulse that prompted Paul to write this epistle, it is a fact that he left the matter aside until this closing chapter. To prepare for it, he laid the groundwork by asserting more general and universally applicable principles about humility, obedience, and mutual service, such as we have seen. That is to say, Paul did not address the particular problem directly until he established the basis on which it could be addressed and settled.
Second, it may have been the case that Paul was reluctant to name these two women in public. His explicit exhortation to them, after all, would be terribly embarrassing. Paul's words would leave them no cover, no room for equivocation or retreat, and perhaps Paul felt reluctant to take such measures. No pastor enjoys singling people out by a public reprimand, and pastors who do so will often enough have to pay a price for it.
Third, when Paul finally does name Evodia and Syntyche in this fourth chapter, he makes clear, by example, a useful pastoral rule-namely, that public sins, such as give scandal to a congregation, are not private matters of the sort covered by Matthew 18:15-20. On the contrary, public sins are subject to public censure and may require public repentance. In the end, Paul decides to call Evodia and Syntyche to public account. They are reprimanded even as they offended-in the sight of the church.
Friday, August 19
Joshua 14: This chapter begins the section in which the land of Canaan is divided by allotment, in accord with the command that Joshua received in the previous chapter (13:1,7).
We already know from Numbers 36:16-29 that Eleazar, Aaron son and heir in the priesthood (Numbers 3:32; Deuteronomy 10:6), is to assist Joshua in this allotment.
Prior to this allotment, however, the reader is again reminded that territory has already been set aside, east of the Jordan, for two and a half of these tribes (verse 3). The writer likewise mentions once again that special provision is to be made for the tribe of Levi (verse 4).
In addition, before any allotment to the remaining tribes can be made, provision must be made for Caleb, the other of the only two spies who had remained loyal, decades earlier, when Moses had dispatched them for an initial inventory of the Promised Land (Numbers 13-14; Deuteronomy 1:35-36). Caleb officially belonged to the tribe of Judah (Numbers 13:6; 34:19), and his inheritance will fall within that tribe.
Forty-five years have elapsed since Caleb, a mere lad of forty at the time, had received Moses' promise that he would inherit property in the land of Canaan (verses 6-10). Except for Joshua, he was the only surviving adult of the multitude that had marched out of Egypt, so it was entirely fitting he should be the first to inherit real estate in the land that he had inspected nearly half a century earlier. Caleb stands forever in the Bible as the model of such perseverance as leads to a great reward.
Saturday, August 20
Philippians 4:10-23: Right from the beginning Paul had experienced the generosity of the Macedonian Christians (verses 15-16; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5), and now once again, a further opportunity being provided, they have not failed him (verses 10,18).
For his part, Paul has learned to be content with whatever circumstances the Lord sees fit to provide for him (verses 11-12), confident that he can do all things in Christ who strengthens him (verse 13; 2 Corinthians 12:10; 2 Timothy 4:17; Acts 18:9-10). This is not self-sufficiency but an ongoing dependence on Christ, a difference that separates Christian contentment from Stoic contentment.
We observe that Paul employs the language of sacrifice to describe the generous gift of the Philippians (verse 18; Ephesians 5:28; Romans 12:1).
Following the doxology that could form an appropriate ending to the epistle (verse 20), there is added a series of personal salutations, which we are probably correct in suspecting to have been written in Paul's own hand (verses 21-23). This interpretation corresponds to what we know to have been Paul's practice (cf. 2 Thessalonians3:17; Galatians 6:11; 1 Corinthians 16:21; Philemon 9).
The reference to “Caesar's house” (Kaisaros oikia-verse 22) means those who work for the Roman government. (The expression “house of” with the name of a king normally carries this meaning in Holy Scripture, as it does throughout the ancient literature of the Middle East.) Ephesus, as the regional capital of Asia, was the site of a great deal of Roman officialdom (Acts 19:38), and Paul's mention of “saints” inside it shows that some Christians were already finding their place in the Roman government. This is ironical, of course, for this was the same government that was keeping Paul imprisoned. Indeed, it may have been Paul's own example that led to the conversion of these people (1:13).
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