…Whose God Is Their Belly…

 I’ve been using volume VIII of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ed. by Mark Edwards) as I teach/preach through Philippians.  There are a bunch more in this IVP set (Thomas Oden is the general editor), and I do recommend them for OT/NT studies.  So far, I’m quite impressed with this commentary.  It contains excerpts of Basil of Caesarea, Chrysostom, Marius Victorinus, Ambrosiaster, and a few more.  I do often want to read more than a paragraph from these early fathers as they comment on Philippians, but I realize the nature of this commentary series is simply to give the reader a taste of the patristic method and content of exegesis and textual application.  Here’s a short and excellenty commentary (from this volume) by Chrysostom on Philippians 3.19 (…whose god is their belly…).

“Your belly is given to you so that you may nourish it, not so that it may burst.  Your body is given you that you may rule it, not so that you may have it as a mistress.  It is given that it may serve you for the nourishment of the other members, not so that you may serve it.  Do not exceed these bounds.  The sea in flood does not so much harm to the boundaries as our belly does to our bodies and our souls.  The flood overwhelms only part of the land.  The god of the belly overwhelms the whole body.  Set self-constraint as a bound to it as God sets the sand to the sea.”

Here’s the link if you want to check out the other commentaries in this fine series.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

The Extreme (Barthian) Home Makeover

Still (as with a few days ago) reading Barth’s commentary on Philippians (specifically 3.7-9), I’ve had my furniture tossed around.  I don’t wholeheartedly yet accept this whole bit, but it is amazing.  And it makes those who say “justifying faith is obedient faith” look like school children fussing around on the playground. 

“The best way to understand the word faith, which bears the emphasis here (3.9b), is to notice that in the explanation of ‘righteousness by faith’ Paul presently sets parallel to it the expression ‘righteousness from God’ – that is, to make faith as little as possible a definition of human action by man himself and place the whole emphasis on the Object that is the ground of faith…

“If we operate too much here with trust, confidence, faithfulness, and so forth, on man’s part towards God, then we almost inevitably come imminently near to the very thing that Paul wanted his concept to abrogate and replace – man’s own ‘righteousness from the Law’ – and fail to understand the sharpness of the opposition he maintains towards it.”

“The decisive thing in the concept of faith is of all things, not the variously colored psychological capacities that the believer discovers in himself and whose subject he himself is, neither the animation nor the ardor of faith, neither its rapture nor its repose – although in fact faith will always have something of these and similar characteristics.”

“[In faith] …man knows himself for lost and can know himself for righteous only as lost – gives himself up, and can take comfort in the righteousness of God only in this his self-surrender.”  [Here Barth quotes Calvin – perieram, nisi periissem and fides offert nudum hominem deo – see translation below]”

“From man’s point of view, faith in its decisive act is the collapse of every effort of his own capacity and will, in the recognition of the absolute necessity of that collapse.  In it he is truly lost.  If man sees the other aspect: that as lost he is righteous, that in giving himself up he can take comfort in God’s righteousness, then he sees himself – but it is from God – that this vision comes from God’s point of view.  That happens in faith.”

[I’ve made the above easier to read by translating the Greek; the above Latin from Calvin reads like this: “I would have perished, if I had not ‘perished’ and “Man is completely naked when faith offers him to God”.]  Barth here is like a wrecking ball.  Barth does the damage, throws my furniture around, and Bavinck puts it back in place:

“If faith justified on account of itself, the object of that faith (that is, Christ), would totally lose its value.  But the faith that justifies is precisely the faith that has Christ as its object and content.  Therefore, if righteousness came through the law, and if faith were a work that had merit and value as such and made a person acceptable to God, then Christ died for nothing. …Faith is therefore not a work, but a relinquishment of all work” (Dogmatics, IV.211-212).

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Barth on Horrified Repentance

Commenting on Philippians 3.7 (Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ [NRSV]), Karl Barth writes well.

“To repent – one surely turns here involuntarily to this concept – does not mean to be liberalized, to become indifferent to what we formerly were, to the former objects of our devotion and the former conduct of our lives, but to be horrified by it all.  Not realizing that it means nothing but that it means evil.  Spinoza does not become a Reformer, but Luther does.  The Pharisee Gamaliel does not become an apostle, but the Pharisee Saul does.”

This repentance means realizing that

“The heights on which I stood are abysmal.  The assurance in which I lived is lostness; the light I had, darkness.  It is not that nil takes the place of the plus, but the plus itself changes to a minus.”

Quoted from Barth’s Epistle to the Philippians (Louisville: WJK, 2002), 97.

shane lems

sunnyside wa