Friday, October 24, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 10)

Condemnation, attempts at heavy-handed transformation, or a mission-denying withdrawal and separation are not the means by which either Paul or Jesus asked for or expected the culture to be countered.  Remember, Jesus saved his denouncements for the leaders of the people.  Rather, the culture is countered, and the  transformation into a culture that comes closer to living as the true humanity originally intended by the Creator, through the kingdom-modeling, sacrificial, love-motivated and service-oriented activities of the members of the body of Christ, as they demonstrably and tangibly live out, in imitation of Jesus their claim that Jesus is Lord, and that He is Lord even over the Caesar that bears the title of “son of god.” 

What appearance will be taken by these activities?  Naturally, one can find the answer on nearly every page of Scripture.  Believers can look to the Jesus tradition as embodied by the Gospel accounts.  They can look at Acts.  When it comes to Paul, an observer can look at the entire body of work that is attributed to him in order to formulate an answer to this question.  However, this study is focusing in on a letter to Timothy, to whom Paul refers as his genuine child in the faith, seeing there what can be understood to be, regardless of Timothy’s “position” in the church, a personally directed letter that demands a personal response of a single member of the body of Christ, who is presumably attempting to live and to serve as part of a community that is yet one small component of a global kingdom.  Thus, realizing that there is a helpful counter-cultural message in the text of the letter may show the letter to be even more useful than some have previously imagined.   

When one thinks about countering the culture, it is almost inevitable that the first thoughts run to laws and to government.  In many ways and in many places, humans are brought up to think in such ways, believing governments to be either the source of problems or of solutions to problems, and are thereby ingrained with an almost unshakeable desire to effect changes that they would like to see through the coercive power of laws and regulations.  Government is recognized as the locus of power for the enforcement of laws.  By extension then, a government is an entity that has the power to regulate behavioral changes.  Such thinking was probably just as true in the days of Paul and Timothy as it is now. 

As the church presented a counter-imperial and counter-cultural ethic, it would be quite easy for the members of the body of Christ, who saw themselves (and should still see themselves) as representative of a kingdom to which all other kingdoms are subservient, to slip into a mindset that being counter-imperial or counter-cultural also meant that they were to be anti-government, especially if that government was actively oppressive towards Christians.  It is quite understandable why their Roman rulers were suspicious of so many Christians, considering the fact that Christians claimed to serve a Lord that was far superior to the emperor, while at the same time affirming their loyalty to a kingdom that was not Rome. 

It was one thing to maintain loyalty to tribal deities and to long-standing territorial power structures that could be taken advantage of by Rome as a means of preserving order and extending its reach, and which could stand side-by-side with Roman imperial ideology and worship, but it was quite another to take a position that ran contrary to that ideology that also served to discount the worship of Caesar, and even going so far as to place a criminal that was executed by Rome at the center of its worship and allegiance.  This was a direct affront to the power of Rome and to all community and civic sensibilities. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 9)

These heralding words from the letter to the Ephesians, and more importantly for purposes of this study, the heralding words that are employed in the first letter to Timothy, are so much more than words that a client would use in honor of his patron.  They are words, as already indicated, that would be reserved for the honoring of the world’s patron (the patron of patrons), who was Caesar.  It serves as yet another indication to an alert listener or reader, that Paul, and those communities being formed around the claims of the Gospel (Jesus is Lord), stand in opposition to much of the prevailing culture of the day and are intended to be a transformative element within that culture. 

This transformation will not occur through denouncing the surrounding culture as hell-bound, perverse, or any number of adjectives that do much to polarize and little to effect change.  While there is certainly a mystical power in the pronouncement that Jesus is Lord, one can certainly agree that the power is magnified if the life of the speaker accords with the claim.  This goes well beyond the avoidance of things that are determined to be “sins” or that which is to be avoided by Christians, having much more to do with an active engagement with the culture that demonstrates the Lordship of Jesus over every area of life. 

The pronouncement of condemnation on anything and everything that does not align with one’s personal viewpoint is hardly effective, and the condoning of such activities would have to be read into the Scriptures in a way that lacks context or coherence.  This approach would probably fail to take into account the historical movement of Scripture, the over-arching meta-narrative of exile and exodus by which the Scriptures ask to be read, and the covenant and covenant-people framework on offer throughout the whole of the Bible that defines the people of the Creator God and that God’s mission in and for His world. 

Attempts to use Jesus’ harsh words against the leaders of the people, His actions in the Temple, or the sharp words of the prophets and the apostles as justification for harshness or ugliness that is merely cloaked in the veil of a pseudo-love, would be to abuse and misuse those words and actions, especially considering the fact that the harshness is so often directed to the covenant God’s covenant people.  Though one can look through the prophets and certainly find words of the Creator God’s condemnation directed towards the nations that surrounded and often mistreated Israel, not only is there a need to remember that such words were subsequent to the Creator God’s judgment of His people, but also to remember that this God’s taking up of human flesh and going to a cross in order to die for His enemies (after telling His people to pray for and love their enemies) pretty much changes everything.   

Distance from the text, both historically and culturally, especially for those in the western world, should lead away from dogmatism in engagement with respective cultures, and towards a compassionate, inquisitive, and mercy-tinged engagement that recognizes shortcomings and a lack of complete knowledge.  When one looks at the New Testament, what must be seen behind the text are communities that are struggling to come to terms with what is implied by the life of Jesus and the kingdom of the Creator God that has been inaugurated by His Resurrection, especially considering that said kingdom has been inaugurated in a way that was completely unexpected. 

This struggle, which can be seen in the New Testament and in the records and writings of the early church, encouragingly informs those that care to see that there has never been a monolithic “orthodoxy” at any point in time in the history of Christianity.  Therefore, any believer’s struggles, in attempting come to terms with the message of Jesus and His kingdom so that it might be possible to effectively, correctly, and faithfully engage the cultures in which the believers finds himself immersed, should inspire humility and a compassion for others, as the believers both depends upon and attempts to reflect the compassion of their covenant God as embodied by the Christ.     

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 8)

Continuing, Paul grandly celebrates this patronage that he enjoys, writing “our Lord’s grace was abundant, bringing faith and love in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:14).  Creating something of an inscription minus the monument or the building (though it has no real bearing on the point that is being made, one can think about Peter’s insistence, as he operates within the same cultural milieu as Paul, that the members of the body of Christ are “living stones… built up as a spiritual house” on which the Gospel is inscribed in both word and deed) , he goes on to write “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’---and I am the worst of them!”  (1:15) 

Overflowing with praises, Paul continues with “But here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate His utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in Him for eternal life” (1:16).  Concluding the heralding of his patron and utilizing the words that were reserved for the Caesar (and thus standing counter to the culture): “Now to the eternal King, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever!  Amen” (1:17).  

The brief mention of Ephesians previously, and the Jew/Gentile issues that were present in that community, serves as a reminder that Timothy was himself in Ephesus.  Therefore, church-related issues with which Paul specifically deals in his personal letter to Timothy are the same types of church-related issues with which Paul will deal in the letter to the Ephesians.  Strangely enough, the first letter to Timothy and the letter to Ephesus share a stark similarity that sets them apart from Paul’s other writings, as these two letters contain obvious and easily recognizable odes from a client to a patron as part of their introductions.  Combined (and whether or not the two letters are Pauline, deutero-Pauline, or pseudo-Pauline---it matters not in this case), this certainly says something about the culture of Ephesus, and that culture (the knowledge of which is bolstered by the record of Acts) stands as a backdrop to the way one must hear the patron-directed praise. 

Though other church letters contain very short doxologies from Paul in their introductions, Ephesians exceeds them all, and one can Paul’s words with everything that has been said to this point in this study firmly in mind (with the patron-client relationship and counter-cultural/imperial concerns serving to enlighten this reading in a new and significant way, in the midst of heavy doctrinal, covenant-with-Israel-dependent, and Scripturally-derived thematic elements): “Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.  For He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in His sight in love.  He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of His will---to the praise of the glory of His grace that He has freely bestowed on us in His dearly loved Son.  In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace that He lavished on us in all wisdom and insight.  He did this when He revealed to us the secret of His will, according to His good pleasure that He set forth in Christ, toward the administration of the fullness of the times, to head up all things in Christ---the things in heaven and the things on earth.” 

Paul continues: “In Christ we too have been claimed as God’s own possession, since we were predestined according to the one purpose of Him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of His will so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, would be to the praise of His glory… I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of Him---since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened---so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what is the wealth of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the incomparable greatness of His power toward us who believe, as displayed in the exercise of His immense strength.  This power He exercised in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And God put all things under Christ’s feet and He gave Him to the church as head over all things.  Now the church is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (1:3-12,17-23). 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 7)

In the same letter, however, Paul can be seen engaging in what appears to be a client-like heralding of the “churches of Macedonia” (2 Corinthians 8:1b), stressing “that during a severe ordeal of suffering, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in the wealth of their generosity” (8:2).  On the surface, this appears to be Paul subordinating himself to this particular church, speaking of them as a client would a patron.  Of significance though, is that “they gave according to their means and beyond their means” (8:3a).  So on the contrary, this is not the act of a patron. 

In that day, a patron did not diminish his own comfort and standing to serve a client.  With that world’s ultimate patron, that being Caesar, always looming in the background as Paul continually operates in a counter-imperial mindset (as does Jesus as well-demonstrated by the Gospel-authors presentation of Him), a distinction between the patronage of Caesar and Jesus is drawn, as Paul writes “For you the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that although He was rich, He became poor for your sakes, so that you by His poverty could become rich” (8:9).  Jesus is an altogether different type of patron. 

This is precisely what Paul has described as the actions of the churches of Macedonia.  Indeed, this is the act of a community vested by the Spirit of the Creator God.  Beyond that, “They did so voluntarily, begging us with great earnestness for the blessing and fellowship of helping the saints” (8:3b-4).  Patron’s did not act voluntarily, but rather, they acted upon request, calculating how fulfilling the request and meeting a need would impact their honor standing.  Not only is this not what has occurred with the Macedonian churches, but they went to the other end, to the end of shame, begging Paul to allow them to participate.  It’s almost as if there are no definitions or culturally recognized categories for what Paul is describing.  Conceivably, this can be viewed as something entirely new in the world, and if one takes the position that the incarnation, crucifixion, and Resurrection changed everything, then it is difficult to disagree with that assessment. 

Paul did not wish to be viewed, on a human and cultural level, as either patron or client.  On a cosmic level things were different.  He had a patron (Jesus) and he was most certainly a client, and this impacted every area of life, while also going against the cultural grain of the Greco-Roman world.  This even went against the grain of his own culture, as the popular (generalized) opinion within the world of Israel was that when their God took it upon Himself to act as Messiah, that the Gentiles would then become the clients of Jews, with the Gentiles relying on Israel and Israel’s special relationship with the Creator God that they might derive the obvious benefits that had been reserved to national Israel.  Something like this attitude is on display when Paul is dealing with Jew/Gentile issues in the churches (Ephesians, Galatians and Romans particularly, and also in the record of the book of Acts). 

Paul was perfectly content with divesting all presumed honor so that he might be looked upon as a client to the cosmic King and the Creator God.  This becomes obvious as one moves forward in the first chapter of the letter to Timothy.  Paul speaks in the voice of a client, heralding his supreme patron, and can be heard to say “I am grateful to the one who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me faithful in putting me into ministry, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor, and an arrogant man.  But I was treated with mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief” (1:12-13).  Here, it is good to be aware that the celebration of the compassion and mercy (along with the loyalty, patience, and humility) of one’s patron was a standard feature of clientele praise. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 6)

So what does all of this patron-client talk have to do with Paul’s first letter to Timothy?  What’s the point of the examples of clients honoring their patrons, be it by heralding, inscriptions, or some other manner?  Is Paul to be viewed as Timothy’s patron?  Is one to somehow perceive Timothy as being Paul’s client?  Though something like that could certainly be gleaned from the introduction to the letter, when Paul writes “to Timothy, my genuine child in the faith.  Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord!” (1:2), it would be a stretch to assert this as being true to the situation.  Observers, however, could possibly infer such a relationship, and it is possible that Paul has this potentiality in mind.  With that in mind, Timothy will be considered in short order, but another detour is most necessary.    

Paul, much like Jesus, does not wish to be viewed as a patron.  At the same time, Paul took steps during the course of his ministry to make sure that he is not looked upon as being a client either, as this, according to his way of thinking, would diminish his effectiveness and run contrary to what needs to happen in the communities envisioned by the messianic mission and the kingdom of the covenant God.  Thus there is a stark emphasis on this aversion in what is looked to as Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. 

In the eleventh chapter Paul can be heard asking “did I commit a sin by humbling myself so that you could be exalted, because I proclaimed the Gospel to you free of charge?  I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so that I could serve you!  When I was with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone…  I kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so…  And what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may eliminate any opportunity for those who want a chance to be regarded as our equals in the things they boast about” (2 Corinthians 11:7-9a,9c,12). 

Not only is Paul expressing his independence from this church, while also diminishing the patron-client relationship into which others might naturally enter in their service of the church, one must notice that Paul also debases himself by referring to himself as a robber.  Such words, along with the other rhetorically oriented words of debasement, demonstrate that Paul is not attempting to elevate himself in any way, but that he truly desires to serve the churches for their edification. 

In chapter twelve, he reiterates and emphasizes his eschewing of patronage and clientage, writing “I will not be a burden to you, because I do not want your possessions, but you.  For children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.   Now I will most gladly spend and be spent for your lives…  I have not burdened you” (12:14b-15a,16b).  If Paul’s words are heard merely as some type of erection of spiritual laws and the relationship between children and parents, dismissing the patron-client constructs of his world and forgetting the significant amount of time and attention this congregation received from Paul, a great deal of what is being communicated to the Corinthian church will be missed.  The reader do himself a tremendous service by gaining familiarity with the cultural dynamics of Paul’s world, which, of course, were the same cultural dynamics at work in the world of Jesus.  This opens up the world of the Gospel, making the mental application in vastly different worlds that much easier, while at the same time making the application of the message of the Gospel even more challenging. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 5)

A client would also be expected to publicly attest to the honor of their patron.  If and when possible, a client would expend the effort to make a lasting, public pronouncement of said honor by having an inscription placed on a public monument of a public building, that all may see and realize the honor and generosity of their patron.  On a monument in Corinth that dates from the middle of the first century, one can read an inscription in honor of a man named Julius Spartiaticus, who was looked upon and acknowledged as an important patron to the tribe of Calpurnia.  He too would have been a contemporary of Paul. 

The inscription, offered by his clients, reads: “Gaius Julius, Son of Laco, Grandson of Eurycles, [of the tribe] Fabia, Spartiaticus, Procurator of Caesar and Augusta Agrippina, Tribume of the Soldiers, Awarded a Public Horse By the Deified Claudius, Flamen Of the Deified Julius, Pontifex, Duovir Quinquennalis twice, Agonthete of the Isthmian and Caesar-Augustan Games, High Priest of the House of Augustus In Perpetuity, First of the Achaeans.  Because of his Virtue and Eager and all-encompassing munificence toward the Divine House And toward our Colony, the tribesmen Of the Tribe Calpurnia [Dedicated this] to their Patron.”

Apart from inscriptions on monuments and buildings which, understandably, could be quite expensive and therefore limited only to being provided by the wealthier clients of even wealthier patrons (remembering that, apart from the Caesar himself, everybody was a client of somebody at some level), the honor of a patron could be expressed through the employment of a herald.  It is possible to find some excellent Scriptural example of somebody being heralded in the book of Esther.  There, Mordecai is heralded by Haman.  “He led him about on the horse throughout the city, calling before him, ‘So shall it be done to the man whom the king wishes to honor!’” (6:11b)  Though this is certainly not an instance of a client heralding a patron, it is an example of somebody being honored through the employment of a herald---albeit in this case an unwilling herald. 

The Gospel of Luke presents a record of something that would have been understood as a clear instance of heralding.  Given the early church’s position concerning who Jesus was and how He was worshiped in the years between His Resurrection and the composition of Luke’s Gospel, the angel of the Lord making an appearance to the shepherds in the field and telling them to “Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David.  He is Christ the Lord” (2:10b-11), would have been perceived as an instance of a patron (the Creator God manifest) being heralded (by one of His angels).  This is not a ground-breaking thought, especially considering the song “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”  However, the activity being referenced by the song asks to be comprehended according to a world defined by honor, the role of heralding, and the governing dynamics of the patron-client relationship. 

Speaking to this activity, and doing so from the basis of a clear knowledge of and undoubted participation in the patron-client system, along with a thoroughgoing knowledge of the role of honor in his world, Dio Chrysostom, an orator, writer, philosopher, and historian of the Roman Empire who was also contemporary with the Apostle Paul, wrote: “But when we come to men, they require crowns, images, the right of precedence, and being kept in remembrance; and many in times past have even given up their lives just in order that they might get a statue and have their name announced by the herald or receive some other honor and leave to succeeding generations a fair name and remembrance of themselves.” 

One could even take these words and compose an imaginary speech by a client, in honor of a patron, hearing something like “This man deserves crowns upon his head.  He should have images erected in his honor.  He and his family should have precedence of place at all public functions.  His name should be kept in remembrance.  With complete disregard for his own safety, he risked his life, though he expected no statues.  He placed himself at the mercy of the gods, though the idea of a herald announcing his exploits was far from his mind.  Because he had acted in complete altruism, with no regard for honor, he should be honored, as should his progeny, for generations to come.”       

Friday, October 17, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 4)

Though the patron-client system functioned at multiple levels, in which the client of one patron could also have clients of his own, it would be obvious that the most noble of families could have large numbers of clients supporting them in their endeavors.  Along the same lines, entire kingdoms or nations, once conquered and made subservient, could become clients to the Roman commander that had conquered them.  Such was the way of the world. 

Of course, if clients had clients, and if this reached all the way down to the basest level of society, it would also hold true for the other side of the ladder.  Even a noble family would be the clients of a more honorable family, with this being the case all the way up to, in the days of Jesus and subsequently of the Apostle Paul, the Caesar himself.  Ultimately, all were looked upon as clients of Caesar, who was faithful and loyal to his subjects.  Those subjects, in turn, were to be faithful and loyal to Caesar.  This ideal was embodied in the common phrase “ek pistis eis pistin,” which is often translated as “from faith to faith”.  The Apostle Paul borrowed this common and well-known phraseology and subversively put it to use in his letter to the Romans (1:17).

It is this system of patronage that truly formed the foundation of the Roman state.  Not only did it serve to create stability, but the unwavering loyalty of clients could aid certain families in retaining power for extended periods of time.  At the same time, it created something of a welfare network, which was especially useful within an empire that lacked the means (or, at least, did not direct those means) to support those most in need and incapable of providing for themselves. 

The client system that surrounded a patron would look out for its members, ensuring that no harm would come to its own.  If one member of the client group would be struck down by poverty, the other clients, and most likely the patron as well, would see to it that the one in need could get a loan.  In the worst case, they would see to it that their fellow client would receive a decent funeral.  If the patron was unable to provide assistance personally, he would orchestrate the assistance (gaining honor), perhaps asking other clients to come to the aid of another that had fallen on hard time. 

In continuing to explore the patron-client dynamic of Paul’s day, one can look to Seneca---a Roman philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and humorist that was a contemporary of the Apostle Paul.  Seneca wrote: “Let us, therefore, show how acceptable a gift is by loudly expressing our gratitude for it; and let us do so, not only in the hearing of the giver, but everywhere.  He who receives a benefit with gratitude, repays the first installment of it.”  This statement would reflect the general attitude of a client towards his patron, who would be looked upon as the source of gifts.  For what it’s worth, Seneca himself was a tutor of the Emperor Nero, later becoming an advisor.  Most assuredly, he would have considered Nero to be his patron, so though these words would be generally reflective of the patron-client relationship, they would most likely be penned with the Caesar in mind.