Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
1 Kings 12 – Rehoboam goes to Shechem and all Israel comes there to make him king. Hearing this, Jeroboam returns from Egypt. The people complain to Rehoboam about the burdens his father had imposed on them and ask him what he will do to lighten the yoke. He asks advice of the older leaders and they tell him, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them. . .they will be your servants forever” (12:7). But he ignores them and takes instead the advice of the “young men.” They tell him he must be even tougher—make their burdens even harsher.
So the people decide to reject him saying, “What share do we have in David?” (12:16) The place of the people in government. This is an important story for western civilization—this and the one about Samuel disapproving of monarchy. They provide lessons about the need for people to have a voice even in monarchical government. It also speaks to the relative wisdom of elders in a society as opposed to the “young.”
Rehoboam’s first “taskmaster” Adoram is stoned to death, but the larger consequence is that only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin stick with him as king. Everyone else gives allegiance to Jeroboam. Isaac Asimov says Jeroboam held high office under Solomon and won the favor of the “prophetic party” and disgruntled Israelites so that he led a rebellion. It fails for a while, but he is not forgotten, 335. “Man of God” Shemaiah advises him not to fight against his kindred and he listens. They go home.
Jeroboam builds Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim and stays there. He worries about not having the unifying factor of having sacrifice centralized in Jerusalem. So he makes two “calves” of gold and sets them up—one in Bethel and one in Dan [a town in the northernmost part of the northern kingdom]—for the people to worship. He makes other “houses on the high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not Levites” (12:31. He appoints a festival too that was not part of the tradition, and generally goes off on his own thing.
Philippians 2 - Paul urges his readers to aspire to unity of heart and mind—“be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (2:2); and the key to unity is humility—“Let each of you look not to [his] own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (2:4-5).
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
[as] something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness.
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth
and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father (2:6-11, NAB).
Ray Brown and my Jerusalem Bible both say it is uncertain if Paul was the author of this hymn or was just using it here in this letter, but it is amazing stuff. One of Paul’s great moments – probably simply giving us a worship formula used in the earliest church. It has been pointed out what beautiful literature this is in addition to being profound spiritual insight – the emptying out and coming down to the humiliation of the cross is followed immediately by seeing Christ as lifted up and exalted – capturing the whole paradox of Christ’s incarnation. The Jerusalem Bible also says what I believe, that use of this formula is evidence that the very early church “believed in the divine pre-existence of Jesus” (260) way before John’s time.
Through his great humility and self-giving, Christ unified himself with the human race; it is likewise by humbling ourselves of our self-involved human nature that we can achieve a degree of unity with Him and through Him, with God. In this modern era, where nothing is so sought after as self-actualization, self-determination, and self-expression, it is not surprising that those institutions, which are built on unity, namely marriage and the church as well as civic communities of all kinds, are suffering. If we can only come to be sensible of Christ’s great act of love for us and be moved thereby to respond to him with even a degree of surrender and love, he will lead us in a different path. So that even in a world where self-aggrandizement is the chief love of almost everyone, one can hope to redeem one’s life.
Paul goes on to tell his readers that they must “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in [them], enabling [them] both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (2:12-13). This is a very Quaker-friendly passage. The salvation we come into is not a once-for-all-time event, and not something that “happens” when we profess faith in Christ. It is a process, something we work out with God’s help; “it is God who is at work in [us].” He empowers us not only to know His mind and His will but to be obedient to Him in all we do.
Paul speaks of sending Timothy off to them soon, and he sets Timothy apart among many who “are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (2:21) as one who is seriously concerned with their welfare. And he is also sending Epaphroditus, “my brother and co-worker” who is ill, even close to death (2:26).