Cultural Influences

Barry Applewhite, author

How to live close to Christ has always been a challenge since our daily lives are lived out in a particular culture. In today’s passage, Paul gives us a plan for solving this problem on a continuing basis.

Read 

Revelation 19:6-9(NIV)

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable. — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. 

Which part of this passage relates to thinking, and which part involves action?

Reflect

Although the citizens of Roman Philippi were Roman to the core, it may help for you to know that Romans adopted many things from Greek culture including their understanding of morality. Fee has an outstanding analysis of verses 8–9, showing that verse 8 could have mostly been drawn from the very kind of (Stoic) moral exhortation that people in Roman Philippi grew up with.[1]

But Paul is not telling them to adopt Stoic moral philosophy whole-hog; he qualifies such moral teachings (verse 8a) in two ways. First, he qualifies such moral belief with the clause “if anything is excellent or praiseworthy” (verse 8b). But how does this qualification work? Fee explains that they may take into account “the good they have long known from their past, as long as it is conformable to Christ.”[2]

But that tool can still be difficult to use for those new to faith in Christ or those who have neglected their relationship to Christ. So, Paul gives them a second method in verse 9: they are to imitate him as he imitates Jesus Christ. Paul grew up in the same Greek moral culture, even though Tarsus was far from Roman Philippi, and he has already had to pick and choose those cultural elements acceptable to Christ.

Now that we have a general understanding of how verses 8 and 9 work, the verbs that Paul uses deserve some consideration. When the NIV translates the first verb with “think about,” it is working with the Greek verb logizomai. The ANLEX lexicon tells us that the basic meaning of logizomai is: “think according to logical rules.”[3] The BDAG-3 lexicon offers: “to give careful thought to a matter.”[4] So, evaluating the moral values we learned in our culture — and how Jesus might change them — is not some fleeting thought! Further, the verse is present tense, and that implies that such serious evaluation of cultural values must continue.

The second verb that I want to mention is easier to understand but harder to do! That verb is translated by the NIV as “put into practice.” Another take is that in the ANLEX lexicon: “of pressing through on an action carry out.” I like what ANLEX says because Paul is talking about a complex transformation of their behavior that follows a careful evaluation of their culture. Prasso can be used for completing a journey, and Paul is summoning the believers in Roman Philippi to a figurative journey of moral and behavioral transformation that imitates Paul as he imitates Christ.

Have you considered what you learned growing up and whether any of it must change as you strive to follow Christ? The answer matters, and I ask that you explain it so that you see the issue clearly.

[1] Fee, Philippians, 414.

[2] Fee, Philippians, 415–6 (emphasis added).

[3] ANLEX, logizomai, ponder, q.v.

[4] ANLEX, logizomai, ponder, q.v.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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