December 3, 2020

Ordinary Time Bible Study: Philippians — Friends in the Gospel (11)

Bridge across the Canal, Indianapolis (2015)

Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians: Friends in the Gospel
Study Eleven: Tom Wright on Phil. 2:12-18

• • •


What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.

Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.

Even if I am executed here and now, I’ll rejoice in being an element in the offering of your faith that you make on Christ’s altar, a part of your rejoicing. But turnabout’s fair play—you must join me in my rejoicing. Whatever you do, don’t feel sorry for me.

It was an ugly city. The fine old buildings had been pulled down over the years, and they had been replaced by huge square concrete monstrosities. They were designed for function, not good looks — though by the time I went there they were getting tatty and ragged at the edges, and I wondered just how functional they were now. It was a depressing place.

But then, just a few years ago, an architect was appointed by the city council to design a new civic centre right at the heart of the city, in the middle of all that ugliness. They couldn’t afford to pull everything down again, but they could just afford, they reckoned, to begin the process of making the city once more the beautiful place the old pictures showed it to have been.

The architect was not a young man, but he had cherished this sort of opportunity all his life. He went to work on the design, and some while later, when the preparations were complete, he saw the foundations laid. He was then taken ill, and unable to carry on his work on the project. But he still cared passionately about it and gave detailed instructions to his colleagues as to how it was all to proceed.

“After all,” he said to them, “when people think of me, I want them to think of this beautiful building! You’ve got to make it so that it stands like a lighthouse in a dark storm, showing people that there is such a thing as beauty even if everything else around is ugliness. That will be my reward.”

Paul, in this passage, is like that architect. He is looking forward once more to the “Day of the Messiah” — the day when God will bring the whole cosmos to justice and peace, through the return of Jesus as Lord (see 3:20-21). He doesn’t know whether he will live to see that day. But he has designed a building that, if the builders keep working at it the way he’s showed them, will stand out as the one thing of beauty in a world of ugliness, the sign of what God will eventually do to the whole city.

• Tom Wright
Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters (pp. 105ff)

• • •

Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians – Friends in the Gospel


  1. Susan Dumbrell says

    frayed edges bound up
    new ribbons adorn the flag
    beware false prophets

  2. …showing people that there is such a thing as beauty even if everything else around is ugliness…

    …as so often occurs after a disaster, I am seeing this in the greater Houston area as we work together as a community in an effort to overcome this past week’s weather catastrophe. Pity this won’t be sustainable. But at least it gives me a glimmer of what we could be….

  3. This is the rare instance where Peterson’s “Message” paraphrase doesn’t work for me. I find it a little too “rah-rah” and overly dramatic as compared to other translations (NIV, NASB).

    For example: “You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.”

    That just hits me poorly. I know that’s kinda the feel of what Paul says in other translations, but Peterson’s wording here just seems a bit off.

    • That said, Tom Wright’s architect/building analogy is a good one.

    • is this a modern translation of sacred Scripture?

      I guess I’m too Catholic, and too old to warm up to it, but if it helps someone younger than me, more power to it.

      it’s more like some sort of ‘reflection’ than a translation, isn’t it ??


      • I’m not opposed to the Message at all. In fact, there are times I prefer the paraphrase to the “literal” translation. But this is one (rare) instance where I think Peterson over-emoted the translation.

        • I know that is a possibility. I journal after reading the Scriptures and reflecting on them, and then I write it down, but it wouldn’t mean the same thing for someone else to read . . . . . maybe we all need to read Scripture for ourselves and reflect on it for ourselves, unless the Church wants to do it in community over two thousand years time . . . . even then, it impacts us all personally . . . . how very strange that is