The Art of Neighboring w/ Geordie Ziegler
Welcome to the Gospel Reverb podcast. Gospel Reverb is an audio gathering for preachers, teachers, and Bible thrill seekers. Each month, our host, Anthony Mullins, will interview a new guest to gain insights and preaching nuggets mined from select passages of scripture, and that month’s Revised Common Lectionary.
The podcast’s passion is to proclaim and boast in Jesus Christ, the one who reveals the heart of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And now onto the episode.
Anthony: Hello friends, and welcome to the latest episode of Gospel Reverb. Gospel Reverb is a podcast devoted to bringing you insights from Scripture found in the Revised Common Lectionary and sharing commentary from a Christ-centered and trinitarian view.
I’m your host Anthony Mullins, and it’s my delight to welcome our guest, Dr. Geordie Ziegler. Geordie recently became a Spiritual Formation Missionary for Imago Christi after spending 30 years in missions and pastoral ministry. Imago Christi is a community helping people experience the transforming rhythms of our triune God through abiding, gathering, and missions. You can find more information about Imago Christi at their website www.imagochristi.org. Geordie is a theologian and author of Trinitarian Grace and Participation: An Entrance Into the Theology of Thomas F. Torrance. He earned a PhD in Trinitarian Theology at the University of Aberdeen.
Geordie, thank you for being with us and welcome back to the podcast. And I got to say, you must be a glutton for punishment to be willing to do this a second time, but we’re delighted that you agreed to.
It’s been quite some time since we had our last conversation. So, if you don’t mind, tell us what’s new in your life, and how are you participating with the Lord these days?
[00:01:56] Geordie: Yeah. Thank you, Anthony. It’s wonderful to be back with you. I really enjoyed our conversation last time and look forward to today. Yeah, as you mentioned already, this past year, my wife and I took a step back from local church pastoral ministry in order to become missionaries who serve the church at large through Imago Christi which is a Spiritual formation team of a larger mission called Novo. And this team, we work with pastors, missionaries, church leaders to support their life in Christ as you said.
But actually, the really exciting thing and new thing right now for us is that this coming weekend, our son is getting married. We’re thrilled for him. We love his bride and her family. So yeah, that’s big news for us. Lots of good energy in the house.
[00:02:55] Anthony: Yeah, it sounds like it. My wife, Elizabeth, and I have a daughter getting married in October, and we’re anxious to be in the place you are—just a week out—to celebrate that. So, congratulations. And congratulations on your vocation.
[00:03:09] Geordie: Thank you. Thank you.
[00:03:11] Anthony: We’re here to talk about the lectionary passages, so let’s get to it. Here are the four pericopes we’ll look at today.
Romans 12:9-21, “The Art of Neighboring”
Romans 13:8-14, “Obligations of Love”
Romans 14:1-12, “Legalism and Liberty”
Philippians 1:21-30, “Live Worthy of the Gospel”
Let’s turn our attention to the first pericope of the month. It’s Romans 12:9-21. I’ll be reading from the Common English Bible. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 17 in Ordinary Time, which falls on September 3.
9 Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. 17 Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good. 18 If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. 19 Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord. 20 Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. 21 Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.
Geordie, if you were teaching from this pericope there’s a lot of Christian living shoehorned into this, what would you focus on and why?
[00:05:41] Geordie: This is a crazy coincidence, but the first half of this passage is actually being read at my son’s wedding this coming weekend. When I saw that, I was pretty amazed. But if you imagine a married couple making this kind of promise to each other, to make this your intention, especially the first few verses. Love is not about pretending; it’s being real with each other.
It’s holding onto the good and not fixating on—it’s so easy. I’ve been married 33 years. It’s so easy to, at times, to—something maybe annoys me with my wife. And then I’m just fixated on that and holding onto that instead of holding onto so many good things.
And on down the line, I think the whole section is such a good challenge to how we would treat each other in close relationships and in relationships that aren’t quite as intimate as marriage. Showing honor to each other.
Being enthusiastic. The word—I’m checking it in a different translation for on your translation it says, beyond fire in the Spirit. I think sometimes it’s “your Spiritual fervor,” which is an interesting word. It both refers to fire and bubbling boiling. Just energized by the Spirit as you serve one another. So that certainly attracts my attention.
But I think I’d want to focus or emphasize that everything in this passage describes the way that God is revealed to be in Jesus. Jesus is all these things. There’s no description, there’s no command or call that God gives to us that he doesn’t describe himself in the first place. He’s not telling us to take out the trash because he’s too lazy to do it.
Maybe a second comment. If I were wanting to focus, I think it’s worth taking a little bit of time on verse 19 because that can easily get misunderstood. On the surface, it looks like it’s saying that God is a vengeful God paying back evil for evil. And I’ve heard that verse quoted often by those that insist that it’s in God’s character to be retributive and punish violently and eternally. But I think the text actually is making the opposite point, and we just need to keep reading the passage.
So, if we actually stopped at verse 20, but verse 21 continues—or no, you read verse 21. That’s the end. “So do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” And that’s how God overcomes evil. He doesn’t overcome it by retributive or violent punishment. He overcomes it his way, which is by his goodness.
[00:09:16] Anthony: Yeah, it reminds me, Geordie. I saw a quote from Bradley Jersak and he mentioned, when has guilt and shame retribution ever brought somebody to a loving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ? Because his way is mercy and when Jesus showed mercy, he wasn’t trying to change the Father’s heart toward that person or toward humanity, but revealing the heart, right? This is who God is and the way he operates.
[00:09:49] Geordie: Yeah. I think anytime it’s so easy for people to lift verses out of context and then use them in ways they aren’t meant to. So, this is, I think, a good test case or just even a good teaching opportunity for people to recognize, let’s read the big picture here.
Let’s see what Paul’s actually trying to do. There’re a couple ways I think to come at it. I think I was reading some—you mentioned Brad Jersak—I was reading I think something by him related to this. It was talking that verse 19 is actually quoting from Deuteronomy 32, which is a different emphasis.
Just because the Old Testament is quoted doesn’t mean the way it was meant in the Old Testament is the way they’re meaning it in the New Testament. So, in the Old Testament, it’s almost a celebration of vengeance. But it seems like Paul is subverting that original intent. And instead of advocating vengeance and violence, he’s actually promoting enemy love.
And this whole section is caught up in the relation to the state or to the government. And of course, we know the government that Paul is writing under is Nero’s government which is like the imperial beast. It’s the worst government they could imagine in so many ways. And yet Paul is warning his people to not become like them.
Because first of all, that’s not Christ’s way, and secondly, you’ll just get killed. So, the way to be Christ person is to overcome that evil with good, with a kind of non-violent resistance that proclaims Jesus is Lord and Caesar’s not. The weapons of our warfare are not the weapons of this world.
It’s a gospel of peace and acts of enemy love. And that’s how God’s going to defeat this world. So that’s one angle.
Another angle is a little bit what George McDonald does with this, which I think is very challenging because his approach—and maybe I could read a little bit of what he says, and I wish I had the sermon. I took this out of his devotional. But he says:
No prayer for any revenge that would gratify the selfishness of our nature, a thing to be burned out of us by the fire of God, needs think to be heard. Be sure, when the Lord prayed his Father to forgive those who crucified him, he uttered his own wish and his Father’s will at once: God will never punish according to the abstract abomination of sin, as if men knew what they were doing. “Vengeance is mine,” he says: with a right understanding of it, we might as well pray for God’s vengeance as for his forgiveness, for that vengeance is to destroy the sin—to make the sinner abjure and hate it; nor is there any satisfaction in a vengeance that seeks or effects less. If nothing else will do, then hell-fire; if less will do, whatever brings repentance. Friends, if any prayers are offered against us because of some wrong you or I have done, God grant us his vengeance! Let us not think that we shall get off! And part of what McDonald’s getting at is God is committed to purifying all that is not of love’s kind out of us. And. That’s a good thing. Yes. So sometimes I know I was brought up with the idea that once you believe in Jesus, you’re forgiven. [from Consuming Fire, the devotional version of George MacDonald’s Unspoken Sermons]
And part of what McDonald’s getting at is God is committed to purifying all that is not of love’s kind out of us. And that’s a good thing. So sometimes I know I was brought up with the idea that, well, you know, once you believe in Jesus, you’re forgiven. And then you don’t have to face your sin because Jesus did it for you. And that’s, on one level, sure, we’re forgiven, but on another level, God’s committed to healing all in us that would need forgiveness. And that’s a good thing.
[00:14:28] Anthony: Thanks be to God that the old Anthony Mullins will not inherit the kingdom. And may it be so, Lord.
Verse 15, Geordie, indicates that, at least in my mind, we should place-share, enter into the place of another, through kinship and mutuality, by rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn.
You are someone who vocationally offers soul care, Spiritual formation to others. So, I imagine you would have much to say about this topic. Using the passage and thinking Christologically, what guidance would you give people who yearn for deeper connection? And frankly we all do, whether we know it or not, we want deeper connection. What does that look like? What would you say?
[00:15:19] Geordie: This is such an important verse. I think it offers us a kind of litmus test for our love. Is our love real or not? Is it sincere or not? Are we really just out for ourselves or not? If I’m really for others, over myself, then I’m going to celebrate their blessings and achievements rather than harboring some kind of competitive jealousy or envy, which is so easy to fall into.
And then it’s turned back on myself and I’m thinking about, oh gosh, I wish I had that, instead of just being able to celebrate with them. And then when those that have persecuted me or have been unkind to me, when they’re mourning or suffering, love mourns with and for them. And that’s a real test of love. I’ve had to wrestle with that myself many times. And it’s a reminder of the kind of love that God calls us to.
One of the things I do, in addition to my full-time work with Imago Christi, I also work part-time at a hospital as a chaplain. And as I said before the show, I had a shift last night. I just got off a couple hours ago and as I begin every shift, I know that I’m going to be with people who are mourning. And occasionally, I get to be with people who are rejoicing at some news. But nine out of 10 visits I make are mostly about dealing with mourning, with grief and loss, the mourning of unexpected trauma or diagnosis or impending death.
And people will sometimes say to me, I don’t know how you do it? And it’s hard, but my approach is pretty simple. And I should maybe just say first, initially my first feelings were performance anxiety. Gosh, I hope I know the right thing to say and feeling awkward. But I’ve learned over time to take a different approach.
So, when I’m on my way to visit a patient, I just pray a simple prayer. “Jesus, help me to love what I find there. Help me to love as you love this person, this family, this situation.” And that prayer, that focus on love has an amazing power to lower my anxiety level and also to enable me to be attentive to what they’re actually grieving or mourning. And not bring all my own assumptions into it. So, I don’t know if that answers your original question.
[00:18:32] Anthony: It does. It does. And God bless you and your work, and I appreciate what you said about how the prayer that you pray to Lord Jesus helps you to not center yourself in the process, in the relationship, in the time that you’re with somebody who’s grieving.
He empowers you by the Spirit to be with the other. And ultimately, I think Andrew Root was the one I read that talked about place-sharing. It’s just entering it into the grief. And ultimately, isn’t that what compassion is? It’s with somebody’s pain. It’s with their suffering. God be with you as you go. And thank you for staying awake for us. We appreciate that.
[00:19:19] Geordie: I’ve got coffee.
[00:19:20] Anthony: Yeah. Good. Let’s transition to the second pericope of the month. It’s Romans 13:8-14. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 18 in Ordinary Time on September 10.
Geordie, would you read it for us please?
[00:19:37] Geordie: Glad to.
8 Don’t be in debt to anyone, except for the obligation to love each other. Whoever loves another person has fulfilled the Law. 9 The commandments, Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t desire what others have, and any other commandments, are all summed up in one word: You must love your neighbor as yourself. 10 Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is what fulfills the Law. 11 As you do all this, you know what time it is. The hour has already come for you to wake up from your sleep. Now our salvation is nearer than when we first had faith. 12 The night is almost over, and the day is near. So let’s get rid of the actions that belong to the darkness and put on the weapons of light. 13 Let’s behave appropriately as people who live in the day, not in partying and getting drunk, not in sleeping around and obscene behavior, not in fighting and obsession. 14 Instead, dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t plan to indulge your selfish desires.
[00:20:51] Anthony: So, Paul writes of the obligation to love each other. And I’ve, from time to time, heard gospel teachers talk about the obligations of love. The word obligation can feel a bit prickly or denotes something that’s only done out of duty. So, can you help us understand the covenant commitment and obligation to love?
[00:21:16] Geordie: Sure. Yeah. God gave his promises to Abraham and then only 430 years later came the law at Sinai. And the law didn’t come to annul the promise or to impose conditions on grace, but to spell out the obligations of grace, to be the school master that leads us to Christ.
And so, Paul is arguing that in authentic Judaism, grace is prior to the law. So, the obligations of love are—well, maybe before I jump into that, Judaism is not synonymous with legalism. Sometimes we think, oh, the Jews were all about legalism and you had to earn grace, but that’s actually not how they thought about it. Sometimes, certainly.
But the basic theme was that there’s this covenant of God with his people. It’s not a contract. And so, kind of like marriage, love always brings its obligations. This is James Torrance: it has unconditional obligations, but the obligations of love are not conditions of love.
One way I think about it, last week I was away teaching at the School of Theology out here. And I said to the students I’ve been married 33 years. And for me to know that my wife loves me, I need to trust her love. And to trust it, I need to feel safe in it. And to trust it and feel safe, I need to know that she is committed to me when I’m apart from her, and she needs to know that I’m committed to her when I’m apart from her. And that’s an obligation of love, but it’s not a condition.
Human love, of course, has its limits, but God’s love doesn’t. And the invitation for us is to live with God’s kind of love where we are committed to the person regardless of their response. So, it’s not about duty.
Let me just add a thought from James Torrance. This comes from an article he wrote called “The Unconditional Freeness of Grace,” and he’s talking about this question: is grace prior to the law or is the law prior to grace? And he is using the analogy of marriage and he says, “To put it in other words, love, like marriage love, always brings its obligations—its unconditional obligations—but the obligations of love are not conditions of love. To turn a covenant into a contract is to turn categorical imperatives into hypothetical imperatives … and [that] weaken the imperatives. Legalism always weakens the character of love.”
And so, Paul—this is more of JB [James Torrance], he says, “‘Do I weaken the law’ says the Apostles—by seeing it in the context of grace? ‘No, I strengthen it!’ This question of the relation of law to grace is of paramount importance, because much evangelical preaching can go wrong at this point. It is possible to do two things which can lead to a misunderstanding of Paul. The first is to take the text, ‘the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ’ out of its context …”
And to build the whole theology and a preaching technique out of it. [Guest paraphrase] As if we need to preach the law so that people will eventually repent rather than preaching grace.
[00:25:31] Anthony: So, Geordie, what is your favorite Jesus outfit? I recall the last time we had a conversation you mentioned your son really likes the way you dress, and it just popped back into my mind as I was thinking about your Christ-like clothing.
So, is there a Christ-like garment we Christians need to be wearing, but too often it can be found hanging in the closet, gathering dust of apathy?
[00:25:57] Geordie: That’s such a good question. I’m amazed that you remembered that. Yeah, I love that image of my son dressing up in my clothes.
I think my favorite—and this is probably come to me over the last year and a half or so maybe two years really since becoming a part of Imago Christi. And there’s a broader story to that. But my favorite thing in the closet or maybe the clothing that I think is often gathering dust in the closet for many Christians is the outfit of joy.
Because the more I read the Gospels, the more I am struck by the constant sense of joy that seems to characterize Jesus’ relationship with the Father.
And that’s actually what I think about when I hear that phrase, “weapons of light.” When I see the word light or glory in the New Testament, I immediately think of what happens to someone’s face when they’re filled with joy. You know when I get home, came home this morning off my shift and I saw my wife was sitting having her devotions, and I look in her face. And I just see her face light up and her eyes shine that joy toward me.
And so, I think the “weapons of light,” the central one is the joy of the relationship of the Father and the Son. And as we participate in that, as we sit with them inside the circle of the Trinity, as we look upon the Father looking back at us with love, then we share that glory. We share the joy that they have, and our faces begin to light up.
But so often that’s not the clothing that we wear.
[00:28:24] Anthony: That’s a good word. And that’s something that is fostered by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It’s a fruit that is born and nourished and flourishes within us in the presence of Jesus. That’s a really good word. Thank you for that.
Let’s transition onto our next passage of the month. It’s Romans 14:1-12. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 19 in Ordinary Time, which is September the 17.
1 Welcome the person who is weak in faith—but not in order to argue about differences of opinion. 2 One person believes in eating everything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not look down on the ones who don’t, and the ones who don’t eat must not judge the ones who do, because God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servants? They stand or fall before their own Lord (and they will stand, because the Lord has the power to make them stand). 5 One person considers some days to be more sacred than others, while another person considers all days to be the same. Each person must have their own convictions. 6 Someone who thinks that a day is sacred, thinks that way for the Lord. Those who eat, eat for the Lord, because they thank God. And those who don’t eat, don’t eat for the Lord, and they thank the Lord too. 7 We don’t live for ourselves and we don’t die for ourselves. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to God. 9 This is why Christ died and lived: so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 But why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you look down on your brother or sister? We all will stand in front of the judgment seat of God. 11 Because it is written, As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God. 12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
Geordie, I’m a recovering legalist. Not arrived at the train station yet, but I’m working on it by the Spirit.
For the first half of my life, I took very seriously what meats I ate and didn’t eat, and what days I observed and didn’t observe, based on my religious convictions. And because of my zeal for these things, I admit, I quickly and harshly judged others who didn’t honor God in the same way I did. Oh, how I had to repent.
And it’s ongoing repentance. In light of that, this passage seems to point to the liberty we have in Christ and how we should accept others, but I wonder if it goes deeper. We live for the Lord and belong to God, verse 8, and therefore we don’t live for ourselves, verse 7. How would you exegete this section of Scripture?
[00:31:32] Geordie: I think it’s interesting that in the Greek text, the word “for” is not present. There’s actually no preposition at all, and most of the nouns are dative. And my point about mentioning that is I think Paul is pointing us toward the union with Christ, which is our life in all of this. We can’t think of ourselves apart from him.
So, I am a “we.” “Myself” is a self in relationship with Christ. There’s no me alone. So, I can’t live for myself alone because that doesn’t even make sense. And so, I live in the Lord, and I die in the Lord because I belong to the Lord. So, I think that’s at least part of one way to unpack this is to recognize our union with Christ that he’s pointing towards.
Because Paul never wants to tell us, okay, God did all this for you, and you should do all this for him. It’s like quid pro quo. Be grateful, but the Christian life is not a response to Christ. It’s a response in Christ, in his response already for us that we participate in.
And living from that perspective then, that changes who holds the gavel really. We all kind of, I think, want to hold the gavel against ourselves, against others. I was talking to someone the other day, and they were describing this sense of judgment of others against them. And it was almost like an entire stadium filled with judges and trying to please everybody. And so that that’s our default, I think, is to hold that gavel against ourselves and against others.
I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on this since you grew up with such a strong legalism. How have you come to hear this text differently since being liberated from your legalistic judgmentalism?
[00:34:07] Anthony: I think the way I view it now is wrapped up in what you just said, in that all of my doing as a beloved child of God is within the done—what Christ has already done. And now it is a happy participation, as opposed to me showing up at the end of the day and saying, hey, God, look what I did for you. And God [says,] okay, I didn’t ask you to this; I just want you to join me in relationship and watch what I’m doing.
Much like even the historical Jesus as a rabbi—as a friend, a disciple, I just do what I see my rabbi doing. And we get to do it together, and there’s such joy in that. So that shifting from for Christ to with Christ, that simple shift is cataclysmic as it relates, and I look back to my upbringing versus where I’m at today.
[00:35:08] Geordie: Praise God. Yeah, we have to hear that. I think every sermon, every podcast, every book—that’s really my litmus test.
Does this message throw me back on myself or does it invite me, draw me into participating in Christ and with Christ? And if it doesn’t draw me into the life that Christ is living in and for me already, then it’s not the gospel that Jesus is wanting, inviting us into in Matthew 11. He invites us to come to him and share his yoke.
He hasn’t dumped something on us that he doesn’t wear himself.
[00:36:04] Anthony: Yeah. I appreciated what you said, Geordie, about our identity, the “we” aspect, the communitas, the community. I was talking with some folks earlier today about the Zulu philosophy (the South African language of Zulu) the philosophy of ubuntu: “I am because we are.”
And it’s a powerful way of looking at things because we’re just so individualistic in the west. And I think we would find a richer experience with God if we thought in terms of community, because there is triunity in the Godhead, right? Father, Son and Spirit. And hallelujah, praise God that we’ve been included in that Father-Son relationship by the Spirit.
[00:36:52] Geordie: And that’s a that’s a good thing to call out as we’re going through this as many, if not most, of the references to “us” in this are plural. So, it doesn’t always come out in the translation when it says yourself. But it pretty much is always “yourselves,” talking about this mixture of, I’m responsible, but I do this in community with others. It’s not just me alone. So, it’s me with Christ, and it’s me with Christ.
[00:37:31] Anthony: Lord, forgive us for the idol of self.
[00:37:35] Geordie: Yes.
[00:37:37] Anthony: It says each of us will give an account to God in verse 12. Okay. So, Geordie, is that a threat, a warning, something we should be fearful of? How do you imagine giving an account to God? And if anything, how should it inform the way that we live today?
[00:37:56] Geordie: Yeah. I think it all depends on what I think of the character of God. So, if God is a harsh master, then yeah, I should be afraid. But if God is love, if God is triune love, Father, Son, and Spirit, then while my accounting for everything that I’ll have done, is no doubt going to be painful in some way. It’ll be the kind of pain that I might feel when I go to the dentist.
My dentist only has my good in mind, and yeah, there’s a part of me that fears giving an account to her, but I know that she’s going to bring healing to my cavities and whatever else she finds because she’s for me. She’s not against me. No matter how bad my flossing habits might be or have been, no matter how bad my sweet tooth has gotten, I know that she’s on my team. She’s on my side.
And I think this has been one of the transformations for me in terms of seeing God’s judgment, which has largely come, I think, through reading George McDonald. This recognizing that the judgment seat of God is something that all of us are going to have to stand in front of. It’s not just for non-believers to get judged.
All of us will be judged, as he says every knee will bow and every tongue will praise him. And each of us will give an account, but it’s not for the sake of punishment. It’s for the sake of healing and purifying. It’s like going to the dentist or going to the doctor and saying, look here’s some things that I recognize are not what they should be.
Thankfully doctors have tests they can run and help even discover other things that we couldn’t name or couldn’t put our finger on. And I think God does that as well. And that’s all for this, for our healing.
And so, I think it also gives us a big degree of just being able to trust God with other people that we might be apt to judge. We can trust that they are going to face God someday about that. And so, I don’t need to run around and be everybody’s voice of judgment because that is going to come for them to the extent that he’s calling me to do that with a particular person.
I need to listen for that. And that always is going to be an expression of love because that’s how God’s judgment is from him as well. It becomes both something I think for us not to fear and also a model for us of the way that we would approach judging ourselves or judging others as well. It comes from a heart and a place of love.
[00:41:41] Anthony: Thank you for that. We always go back to the character of God revealed in Jesus Christ. And as we’ve already said on this episode, God has a restorative love, not a retributive punishment. Sin does enough of its own punishment to us, right? And thanks be to God that we can trust him.
So, we move on to our final passage of the month. It is Philippians 1:21-30 Philippians, of course, is known as the Epistle of Joy. You mentioned joy earlier. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 20 in Ordinary Time, which falls on September 24.
Geordie, read it for us please.
[00:42:09] Geordie: Sure.
22Because for me, living serves Christ and dying is even better. 22 If I continue to live in this world, I get results from my work. 23 But I don’t know what I prefer. I’m torn between the two because I want to leave this life and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 However, it’s more important for me to stay in this world for your sake. 25 I’m sure of this: I will stay alive and remain with all of you to help your progress and the joy of your faith, 26 and to increase your pride in Christ Jesus through my presence when I visit you again. 27 Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel. Do this, whether I come and see you or I’m absent and hear about you. Do this so that you stand firm, united in one spirit and mind as you struggle together to remain faithful to the gospel. 28 That way, you won’t be afraid of anything your enemies do. Your faithfulness and courage are a sign of their coming destruction and your salvation, which is from God. 29 God has generously granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ’s sake. 30 You are having the same struggle that you saw me face and now hear that I’m still facing.
[00:43:30] Anthony: So, Paul challenges us to live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel, verse 27. And I see this as a challenge because many Christians have an individualistic moralism. It goes to something like this.
Be a good person. Stay in your lane. Have a nice house and an enclave, right? That’s the goal. And by the way, we know none of those things are inherently wrong, but I wonder if the apostle is pointing to Christian community that is far more robust and other-centered than we often think about. What’s say you?
[00:44:04] Geordie: Yes. Yeah, it’s interesting that phrase about worthy of the gospel. It’s basically the same kind of language that he used in Ephesians where he where the transition takes place in Ephesians from the first three chapters to the last three.
And it’s this word axios or—I can’t quite say it—axios. And we translate it “worthily, but it’s this image of an axis with kind of weight on one side and weight on the other. And the idea is that everything in the gospel, everything of who Christ is and what he’s done, this kingdom that he has created and that we are invited into—all of that is to be lived out, is to be worked out.
And that’s the challenge. That’s the journey of the Christian life is that everything gets to be lived. I remember asking Eugene Peterson this question in class once about experience. Because Eugene grew up kind of Pentecostal and then he became Presbyterian, which seems like two extremes from the Holy Rollers to the frozen chosen. But I remember I asked him, so how do we, or are we to experience every part of the Bible or every part of our theology? Or is there some of it that’s just in our head? And he said everything is to be experienced.
And sometimes, yes, thinking is a kind of experience. But it’s not meant to be abstract. It’s meant to be integrated. And Paul wants them to live the way that he has lived and he’s showing them his priority of the gospel over everything else and inviting them to follow his example. So, his example is other-centered love, which he got from Christ himself, which then leads to where he heads when he starts talking about suffering.
[00:47:07] Anthony: Speaking of that, God has generously granted you the privilege of suffering for Christ’s sake. Come on, Geordie. If the average person made a list of privileges in their life, you’re not going to find suffering on that list.
But how have you experienced in your own personal journey that suffering can be viewed as grace? And what encouragement would you give to someone listening who is suffering at this very hour?
[00:47:38] Geordie: This is this is such a huge topic, but I think there are some angles on it that can really help us and redeem this for us.
One interesting thing is there’s an early Christian text called the Epistle of Barnabas and in that he describes the human being as earth that suffers. And there’s something just basically true about that. And part of suffering means that there is a neediness that we have when we suffer.
There’s a dependency. Suffering creates a dependency for God, a dependency for God’s people, a need for others to come alongside us, a need for mercy and grace. Suffering, in a way, becomes almost an open space where grace can rush in. And if we don’t have any kind of suffering in our lives, I think, we don’t grow. Growth and suffering really are hand in hand realities.
Spring only comes because winter happened. (I guess, unless you live in Florida. And then I don’t know what to say about that.) But there’s something about our human nature where there’s a kind of suffering that is part of our design, a part of our neediness.
Now he’s talking about suffering for Christ’s sake. And that’s the life that Paul has lived; it’s had lots of suffering. It’s had suffering of rejection, suffering of abuse from others. There’re traumas that he’s experienced because of that.
Some of those because of his faith, some of those because of just life, I’m sure. And I think when we remember first that in all of those, grace can rush in, in those, that can be the thing that calls us to just—makes us aware of our neediness more.
When I went through a really difficult time about four years back and I was talking to Baxter Krueger about it. And his response to me was funny because he [says,] “Geordie, this is probably the best thing that ever happened to you because now your theology has to actually make a difference. If it doesn’t, then you need a new theology.” (I can’t do a southern accent. Sorry about that.)
But the reality is God is self-giving. This is Brad Jersak’s description, which I love, self-giving, co-suffering, radically forgiving love. And there’s a sense in which to be love means you will suffer. There is no love that does not also include suffering. And sometimes people just decide, okay, I’m not going to love.
I was talking to somebody whose dog was going to be dying probably soon, and they just said I don’t think we want another dog because the pain of losing them is too much. And I get that. Sometimes we have to make those choices, but any kind of love is always going to involve suffering because there’s going to be loss and there’s going to be hurt. But what it also means is suffering is not necessarily bad. It’s not automatically bad. Suffering can actually be a way that love gets deepened, where intimacy grows to a place that it never could have otherwise.
And so, I think Paul is not just saying stupid things when he says God has generously granted you the privilege of suffering for Christ’s sake. That is genuine for him. Now, all the hearers may have had to struggle with that a little bit, but for Paul, I think, it’s his suffering that made the love and intimacy that he knows in Christ so much deeper.
And he knows that, and he wants that for his people.
[00:52:55] Anthony: Yeah. It reminds me just thinking of my own journey, Geordie, that in my walk with Christ, I have grown and matured in him mostly when I’m going through the valley of the shadow of death. It’s in times of suffering and heartache; it’s not in the fluff of life.
And I would rather hang out in the fluff of life. But I can look back and go, thank you, Lord. Thank you. I learned something of your goodness. And I trust you more today than I did then as a result of it. Hallelujah. Praise God.
[00:53:38] Geordie: I just say that so much of the work of a spiritual director is helping somebody to just press into the suffering in prayer and to learn how to receive God’s grace and mercy in the midst of it, whatever it is.
Because often our initial response to suffering is not happy or pretty. And so sometimes we do need somebody to help us to know how to turn and face God in the midst of it. Instead of turning away or spiraling in. And so that’s part of the work that I love doing with Imago Christi, with leaders.
And I love that I have some people that do that for me, which I need.
[00:55:41] Anthony: Amen and amen. And I appreciate the work of spiritual direction and formation because it gives a holistic picture of things. Like one of the things I’ve noticed recently, and maybe I’ve just started paying attention, sometimes in Christian circles, there’s this toxic positivity that God loves me, so everything’s got to be happy, happy, joy, joy, rainbows, and ponies.
But the Bible has a book called Lamentations. And I read the book of Psalms and it’s like a yo-yo. Go God, one Psalm, the next Psalm, where are you, God, and when are you going to rescue me? And so, I just want to remind folks, especially if you find yourself in the midst of suffering now, that lament gives voice to what hurts, but hope gives voice to what heals. And the hope of God never disappoints us, never abandons us, never leaves us at the altar. Hallelujah. Praise God.
Thank you so much Geordie, for being with us staying up after a long shift of chaplaincy work. We so appreciate you. You’re a beloved child of the living God.
And I want to thank the people that make this happen, Reuel Enerio, our producer, my wife, Elizabeth Mullins, who transcribes these podcasts. So you can find verbatim what Geordie said, because I know you want to go back and re-listen to what he had to offer here today.
But thank you so much for being with us and let me remind everyone that Jesus Christ is the inerrant and infallible word of God. Keep leaning into him and watch what will happen.
Geordie, as is our tradition with Gospel Reverb, we pray to close out the conversation and we’d love for you to pray for and with us.
[00:56:26] Geordie: I would love to. Yes.
Lord, we give you thanks and praise, for you are love. You are other-centered co-suffering, radically forgiving mercy and love and grace.
And Lord we know we don’t have the strength in us to be that or do that. And that’s part of the good news is that you are all those things. And so, we thank you, God, that you don’t tell us to do something that you aren’t. But that all that you call us to be clothed in is just the clothes that you already wear.
And Father, Jesus, would you share with us your clothing share with us, your relationship with the Father through the Spirit. Help us to see what you see when you look into the Father’s eyes, and to know what you know, and to feel what you feel, and to love what you love, so that we can be your people living as children in the Father’s Kingdom in this world.
In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
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