Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, including the “poem” in chapter 2:6-11 – a masterpiece of compressed biblical theology that in all probability pre-dates his letter – less than 30 years after Jesus’ execution; somewhere in the mid-50’s of the 1century. (Shortly after his initial visit there around 49-50 A.D.)
In its brevity of style and conciseness, it is similar to what he passed on “as of first importance” in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8; which again was possibly recited as part of the early church’s oral tradition – an easily remembered, bare-bones version of the “gospel.” Their importance for early believers is hard to over-state and equally hard to understand for modern society awash in Bibles and related material. Similarly important were the soon-to-follow depictions of both Testaments through statuary, murals, creeds and wood-cuts; the greater part of the population at that time – and for years to come – being illiterate and needing easily retained versions of the essentials of their faith that they could carry in their hearts and minds rather than in their hands.
Gutenberg’s invention and subsequent utilization of the first movable type printing press in the 1400’s heightened the Protestant movements drive to provide Bibles in native languages, which necessitated the education of those “natives” so they could read, interpret and comprehend for themselves what was made available to them. (A movement largely spear-headed across Europe through the work of Sunday Schools.) Gutenberg’s revolutionary printing press unleashing a wave of material accessible to the common people on a scale unheard of before, not only aiding the dissemination and preservation of the gospel but likewise promoting the collection and dissemination of medical/scientific writings, the Greek Classics and literature in general.
The principles Paul characterized as being of “first importance” included the foundational “elementary truths/teachings” of Hebrews 5:12,6:1-3; illustrating how at the earliest stage of church development, a core belief was that Jesus’ death was essential for our literal salvation and that through him God’s “Kingdom” was established on earth. (Even if some fail – or refuse to recognize it.) First by redeeming individuals through his self-less act of love on the cross, and then reclaiming the “world” through them. Jesus service-oriented identification with sinful man (Matthew 20:28 & Romans 5:8) leading him to bear their sin in a shared death; which wasn’t seen by the church as something he did despite the fact that he was co-equal with God (Philippians 2:6 See also Colossians 15:5), but having the power to do so specifically because he was “…in very nature God,…” (See also 1 Corinthians 1:23 & 2:2) Paul continually emphasized how even when we were “dead in our sins,” under the thrall of our sin-nature “…God made you alive with Christ.” Colossians 2:13 Going so far as ,”…cancel(ing) the written code, with its regulations…” by which we were accused as no one could keep them all. (See Matthew 5:19 & James 2:10) Figuratively and literally, “…nailing it to the cross.” Colossians 2:14 Thus disarming the “powers and authorities” that work against us, “…(making) a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Colossians 2:15 (Those powers and authorities variously identified as both the visible rulers of the world – the Herods and Caesars etc. – as well as the invisible rulers of this age, the dark powers that stand behind and operate through them. See Ephesians 2:2)
Leading Paul to ask, (IF) “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32 Sustaining us in the here-and-now as well as providing for our future. (John 14:1-3)
Author N.T. Wright summarizing, “The first Christians saw the message and accomplishment of Jesus as the long-awaited arrival of God’s kingdom, the final dealing-with-sin that would undo the power of darkness and break through to the “age to come.”1 An age where Christians are not merely rescued from sin and the world – with all its faults and troubles – but rescued for its benefit. As we have a purpose to fulfill between salvation and heaven, an expectation of duty while still on earth. Which is to be, “…a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that (we) may declare the praises of him who called (us) out of darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9 (See also 1 Corinthians 3:9, Ephesians 2:10 & 2 Timothy 2:15)
1From, The Day The Revolution Began, Harper One Publishing. Mr. Wright rather stridently making his point through ‘Reconsidering the meaning of the crucifixion’ that salvation isn’t merely about escaping the trials and tribulations of the world but being Christ’s Ambassadors to it, helping shepherd in the new age and its restoration to rightness with God. His liberal bent allowing him to at times get carried away, but his point none-the-less is well made – get busy, stay busy in Christ. (2 Thessalonians 3:6 & 11-13)
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