Monday, 30 April 2007

Philippians and the City of God

In the Autumn and Winter of 2006 I preached my first series of expository sermons in the evenings at Rock Baptist. There was a definite improvement in terms of time management, delivery and relevance of application as the series progressed! Quite a lot of that was due to the very useful practical parts of the TEAM course, which I started on the mid-series break.

I chose Philippians because I love it, because it is considered relatively 'easy', because I hadn't heard anyone preach on it at Rock and because of a few things I read in Leithart's Against Christianity. He argues that Philippians is actually a very political letter - not only on the basis of the uses of polis cognates (our citizenship is in heaven 3:20; live as a citizen worthy of the gospel 1:27, unfortunately obscured by NIV, ESV, etc) at critical points in the argument but because of the character of the city of Philippi.

Philippi was a Roman Colony, keenly aware of its political and legal privileges. Land was generously given to trusted army veterans when the city was constituted as such, and these citizens were treated as if they lived in Rome itself. But for Paul, all of this is dung, just as all the privileges of Jewish citizenship are dung without membership in Christ.

One day I may get round to posting more thoughts on Philippians, but a juicy morsel worthy of immediate publication was passed to me the other week by Patrick James (not to be confused with our mutual friend James Patrick). He found this in Tacitus (Annals 12.32.2)...

id quo promptius veniret, colonia Camulodunum valida veteranorum manu deducitur in agros captivos, subsidium adversus rebellis et imbuendis sociis ad officia legum

...and kindly translated it, to spare me embarrassment and hours of frustration:

in order that this ['pacifying' the tribe of the Silures] might come about sooner, a colony - Colchester - was founded on captured land with a strong company of veterans - a garrison against rebellions and to imbue allies with obedience to the laws.

So, colonies were not merely outposts of the great city, but were there to encourage the adoption of the great city's laws. Does anyone else think that there might be a fruitful analogy to be drawn with the position of the church (individual congregations? city-clusters of congregations?) in the world...?