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Lessons from a Semester in Philippians: I am scared to death (Part 1)

May 12, 2009

This semester we translated Philippians in my Greek Syntax and Exegesis class. This post is a reflection on some lessons that I learned from a semester in the Greek text.

Pick up most commentaries on Philippians and chances are that it will say something to the effect that the letter is all about joy. Yikes. The problem with that is that the commentator probably made this assertion because he counted how many times the word “joy” is used by Paul. Joy is a consistent theme in the letter, but is a byproduct of the real theme of the letter: unity for the sake of the gospel.

The reason I said “I’m scared to death” in my post title is because if I had not translated the letter for myself and examined the macro-structure, I would be one more voice parroting what I heard or read, trying to read every portion of the letter through the lens of joy. This is frightening because it makes me wonder 1) how many times in the past have I communicated something wrong about God just because I heard it from someone else and 2) am I doing this now without realizing it?

I intentionally exaggerate my reaction – I don’t believe pastors should go around being frightened to preach because they don’t have PhD’s in New Testament, Hermeneutics, and Theology. However, I have learned an important lesson: do the work yourself, and don’t just take other people’s word for it. I believe it was Jerry Vines who said, “the lazy preacher is inexcusable.” The preacher must wrestle with the text himself, come to his own conclusions, and not let the “experts” determine the meaning for him.

Will that require more work? Yes.

Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Am I really scared to death? No, not entirely.

But I have learned my lesson that I need to work hard, and take it with the utmost seriousness that people are going to form opinions about what God is like from what we teach.

Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards.

– James 3:1

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