Romans and Philippians in Spiritual Formation

Spiritual formation is integral to the life of a Christian. Its applications need to be rooted in biblical theology. Two important scriptures that set up spiritual formation can be found in the book of Romans and Philippians.  This paper will show how Romans 12:1-2 and Philippians 4:8-9 lay the foundation for spiritual formation in the Christian life. The approach to this will be a brief historical and literary context of both books that lead to their meaning and applications in regard to Christian spiritual transformation.   

The historical context is significant to the hermeneutic of these passages. The book of Romans was written by the apostle Paul when he was in the church of Corinth prior to his trip to Jerusalem in the spring of fifty-seven.[1] He writes this letter at the height of his mission trips. “The general social level of Christians in Rome at this juncture seems to have been about the same as Jews in Rome, which is to say the majority of them were of the lower echelon of society.”[2] This is significant to the polemic of the book of Romans; how to live a Christian life amid a pagan society. It targets the Christian way of life to a group of people festooned in an antagonistic social stratum that was hostile to Christianity.

The letter to Philippians was written by the apostle Paul as well. The conventional view is that the letter to the church in Philippi was written by Paul from Roman during his first Roman imprisonment.[3] There is something historically interesting about the Church in Philippi in relation to the church in Rome. Robert Lightner writes:

Philippi was a Roman colony (Acts 16:12) after the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC. This is significant in that the letter to Romans and the letter to Philippi were aimed at the same audience. The two churches have a significant correlation in social structure and economic status. The exhortations that Paul writes to the Christians in Rome hold very similar relation to the Christians in Philippi.

In addition, Paul is writing to the Church in Philippi from prison in Rome. His first encounter with the Roman government happened in Philippi during his mission with Silas as he exorcised a Demon. They were stripped of their clothes, beaten, and thrown in jail.[5] This brings an interesting juxtaposition of the two epistles; he first was arrested in Philippi and now he is writing from prison in Rome where he initially wrote extolling the Christian way of life.

In the book of Romans, Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles is primarily addressing Gentile Christians in Rome.[6] Interestingly, unlike Philippi, the Church in Rome has no apostolic foundation, nor was it an offshoot of any synagogue community.[7] This makes this letter unique in that Paul is writing to a Christian community that he did not plant.

In Philippians one major theme or emphasis permeates the book. All the teachings are expressions or ramifications of this one central truth. This theme is living the Christian life in and around the pagan world.[8] Much like Romans, Paul focuses on the walk-in Christ that is necessary discipleship.

Romans 12:1-2

In Romans 12:1-2, there is an interesting backdrop to this passage that needs to be considered, the historical one. As stated, the church in Rome is made of Christian gentiles and Jews planted in a pagan society where worship of foreign Gods was shared. In both Judaism and Pagan worship sacrifices were commonplace. “Hans Dieter Betz argues at length that one of the things Paul is, in fact, trying to do in Romans provides a foundation for the Christian faith as a distinct “religion”—distinct from non-Christian Judaism and from the paganism of various sorts.” He opens with this “appeal” where he is setting up a new religion of sorts, not one were priests, temples, or human/animal sacrifices were the norm but that of a living sacrifice. The symbolism is rife with antiquity common rite of old or pagan worship. In this new faith, we are not conformed to the world, a world that uses ritualistic ceremonies to worship and sacrifice, but we are to be transformed into the spirit by the mind. This is how we live out our worship in Christ.

He then exhorts Christians to live out this “renewal of the mind” by testing they may discern the will of God in their lives. This testing corresponds to the passage in Philippians.  

Philippians 4:8-9

In Philippians 4:8-9 Paul is essentially an exhortation toward testing what is right and just in the Christian walk in Christ. He gives a string of “whatever” statements for the reading to assess a holy walk with God. He ends the passage with an edict to learn or copy his (Paul) holy walk toward sanctification. The Philippians are asked to fill their minds with worship and God and think about what they have learned and witnessed from other believers.

At the beginning of Romans 12 is the daseinsweise in contrast to that of the fallen humanity that Paul lines out in Romans 1:18-32.[10] This literary context is important as Seyoon Kim points out:

It is often noted that in Romans 1:18-32 the ‘ungodly and unrighteous’ humans are described chiefly in terms of the fall of Adam in Genesis 1-3.22 When that fact is kept in mind, we can see a close schematic correspondence between Romans 1:18-32 and 12:1-2, which is supported by extensive common vocabulary (νους, έλάτρευσαν/ λατρεία, ασύνετος/λογική, δοκιμάζειν/άδόκιμος, σώματα, and ευάρεστος/οργή).23 In fact, virtually every phrase or clause in the summary statement about the Daseinsweise of the redeemed in 12:1-2 can be seen as set in antithesis to the statement about the Daseinsweise of the fallen Adamic humanity in 1:18-32.

This serves as the appropriate hermeneutic for our two passages. Paul is contrasting the new state of humanity, this one resurrected in Christ. We now share a newly formed state of righteousness formed in the spirit and renewed by our minds in our walk in the spirit.

This is achieved by giving out whole selves to Christ, as a living sacrifice. In the Anglican Communion, this is done in prayers of oblation; “oblation is an offering of ourselves, our lives and labors, in union with Christ, for the purposes of God.”[12] Paul is telling his audience to give entire way of life over to the Christian way of life and allow that to be conformed to Christ by the renewing of the mind. He then tells us to test this in order to discern the will of God.

Paul gives the means of testing this renewal in Philippians 4:8-9 with the whatever statement. We will know that our minds are being transformed by the spirit by our knowing and adapting to whatever is true, just, honorable, lovely, commendable, etc. He first gives us the path in which to walk and how to walk it with Romans and follows this up with ways to test our path with Philippians.

These two passages in the New Testament are just but two, of the many, that give us pragmatic ways for spiritual formation. Spiritual formation is often lofty in theology but ambiguous in practicality. These two scriptures combined give a great starting point as to how a Christian can start to build his/her spiritual transformation processes. 

Bibliography

The Book of Common Prayer: and Administration of the Sacraments, and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, According to the Use of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America: Together with the Psalter, or, Psalms of David. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Kim, Seyoon. “Paul’s Common Paraenesis (1 Thess. 4-5; Phil. 2-4; and Rom. 12-13): the Correspondence between Romans 1:18-32 and 12:1-2, and the Unity of Romans 12-13.” Tyndale Bulletin 62, no. 1 (2011): 109–39. https://www.thecampuscommon.com/library/ezproxy/ticketdemocs.asp?sch=suo&turl=https://search-ebscohost-com.southuniversity.libproxy.edmc.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001840204&site=eds-live.

Melick, Richard R. Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. Nashville, Tenn: Broadman, 1991.

Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary. an Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.

Witherington, Ben, and Darlene Hyatt. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: a Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2004.

Footnotes:

[1] Ben Witherington III and Darlene Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 7.

[2] Ibid, 10.

[3] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 34.

[4] Robert P. Lightner, “Philippians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 646–648.

[5] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, 26.

[6] Ben Witherington III and Darlene Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 8.

[7] Ibid, 9.

[8] Robert P. Lightner, “Philippians,” 646–647.

[9] Ben Witherington, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 14–15.

[10] Seyoon Kim, “Paul’s Common Paraenesis (1 Thess. 4-5; Phil. 2-4; and Rom. 12-13): the Correspondence between Romans 1:18-32 and 12:1-2, and the Unity of Romans 12-13,” Tyndale Bulletin 62, no. 1 (2011): pp. 109-139, https://www.thecampuscommon.com/library/ezproxy/ticketdemocs.asp?sch=suo&turl=https://search-ebscohost-com.southuniversity.libproxy.edmc.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001840204&site=eds-live.

[11] Seyoon Kim, “Paul’s Common Paraenesis.

[12] The Book of Common Prayer: and Administration of the Sacraments, and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, According to the Use of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America: Together with the Psalter, or, Psalms of David (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 857.

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