Sunday, November 29, 2020

Santa and the Window: Reflections on the Life of St. Nicholas

Yes, church, there is a Santa Claus. ...Sort of. Don't think of a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. Get rid of the boots and the suit. No more belly shaking like a bowl full of jelly, or cheeks like roses, or nose like a cherry. Turn back the clock, and Santa Claus becomes Sinterklaas. Turn it back still more, and as the mists of folklore clear, you'll see a figure painted in more realistic tones, and yet vastly more splendid than the children's tales. You'll see St. Nicholas – a real man, anchored in history. The truth is, the man on the Christmas cards would be horrified to learn that there are people who think of some version of him as the central figure of Christmas. He would be aghast to think that anyone would pit him against Jesus Christ. The real 'Santa Claus' would hate the thought. He didn't want to stand in our spotlight, not like that. The holiday isn't about him, and he'd be the first to tell you that. Santa Claus versus Christ? No falser words could ever be said!

Because the truth is, Santa Claus is a Christian – a sold-out-for-Jesus servant, a faithful minister of the gospel, a devoted man of the church. He'd run like Dasher, fly like Donner and Blitzen, to kneel beside the manger. And this year, as we prepare our hearts and our lives for Christmas, I believe there's plenty for him to teach us about what it means to live for Christ. So over the next few weeks, we're going to learn his story – the real one, the history, not the make-believe. And under Santa's tutelage, may we grow to imitate him as he imitated Christ.

So join me on a voyage. We need to cross 1,750 years of time and a third of the way around the earth. Across the ocean blue, on the southwestern coastal tip of the land we call Turkey today, sat a once-great city called Patara. It stood there in New Testament times – the Apostle Paul, on his trip back to Jerusalem, changed ships there. It was one of the great trade centers of Lycia, famed for two things. One: it had a stunning lighthouse. And two: for six months out of the year, the Greek god Apollo made his winter home there, and so the local oracle was the place pagans went to get the inside scoop.

Over two centuries after Paul was in Patara, there lived a man and his wife. The pair were among the town's few Christian households. This couple had prospered, possibly as ship owners or being otherwise involved in the trades. They could have let their gold, their silver, their house and all that was in it, distract them from what really mattered. But they didn't. They'd made a commitment to Jesus Christ with their lives, and they didn't shy away from that. They lived in the middle of a pagan city, full of idol temples and the smell of heathen sacrifices, with pilgrims swarming in half the year to get advice from demons at the oracle. It was not an easy place to be a Christian. The gospel was not a comfortable fit there. And you almost wouldn't blame people in a place like that for deciding they didn't want to bring children into that sort of world.

But they had faith. And so one day, around the year 270, perhaps in the middle of March, that man and that woman welcomed into their family one child – one, and no more. He broke the mold, as it were. And this couple gave him a rather unusual name, at the time. And that name was Nikolaos. It's a Greek name; it means, “victory of the people.” When his parents surveyed the pagan culture all around them, when they reflected on the growth of their little church as it waxed and waned through the years, they were convinced that the real victory wasn't in some great triumph of Caesar, nor in some whispered secret of Apollo, nor in a windfall of prosperity. No, the real victory was belief in the gospel. And the gospel is for all people. One day, it would spread throughout Patara and throughout all of Lycia and beyond, and that would be the real victory of the people. And so, faithful in hope for that day, thus they named their baby boy 'Nikolaos' – we say, 'Nicholas.'

Nicholas grew up in the lap of privilege, with most all the luxuries his parents could afford. He was raised on a diet of fish, grapes, figs, olives, and whatever grains the ships brought to and fro. Most important, he was raised on a healthy spiritual diet. His isn't a story of coming to the gospel late in life; he was taught the faith from an early age. He learned about the darkness of sin and the Savior who'd been sent to light up the world; he learned about the Son of God, nailed to the cross; about the Good Shepherd, raised from the dead; about the Lord reigning and returning. Since childhood, Nicholas had a laser-like focus on the Christian life and its ways.

From little on up, whether at his house or a neighbor's, Nicholas would have met with other Christians each Sunday before sunrise, and maybe sometimes after nightfall, for worship, for fellowship, and for celebrating a holy meal of bread and wine. Sometimes, they met outside town at the local cemetery, to remember the martyrs – including people Nicholas' parents had known, like Leo, who'd marched into the Temple of Fortune and taken a stand against paganism by smashing votive offerings and toppling candles, and had been executed for it. Each year, on the anniversary of Leo's heavenly birthday, Nicholas and his parents would have gathered at his grave, praised God for his faithfulness, and worshipped with other Christians.

While the fellowship of believers raised Nicholas in the teachings of the faith and the way Christians should live, he meanwhile got the best schooling his parents could provide. Like most boys, he went through primary schooling between the ages of 7 and 12; but unlike many, he – as a son of privilege – could stay in school until he was about 18. Growing up in his teenage years, with his peers enjoying entertainment at the theater and various other then-sordid sorts of amusement, Nicholas could have been tempted, like most teens are. But his parents had warned him from his infancy not to be seduced by the temptations of the world. And he listened to all that they taught him, choosing to live his young life in a Christian way. He was determined to be holy.

Then his idyllic and privileged home life was shattered. Throughout his youth, a plague had spread throughout the countryside of all Lycia, reaching even down to the coast and its beautiful, broad beaches. The past year has given us a sobering glimpse of how plagues can't be bribed. Even now, the best medicine money can buy is no guarantee. How much less then, when doctors were still as likely to harm as to heal? So maybe the plague is what did it. But we know that, when Nicholas was in his late teens, his parents' earthly pilgrimage ended. Likely before the year 290 had arrived, his natural family was no more. If you've lost some loved one to the coronavirus pandemic this year, Nicholas can relate. He lost loved ones to a disease outbreak, too.

And that's how, as a young man, Nicholas became the heir of the whole estate. He may have been fatherless, he may have been motherless, but he was far from penniless. He had plenty of gold, plenty of silver, and plenty of property at his disposal. But his parents were gone. So what would he do? How would he find his way in the world? He could do just about anything he wanted – but what was right? Those were the questions on his mind at the ripe age of eighteen. Think back for a moment to when you were that age. If you had been left alone, but given a considerable fortune, what would your next step have been?

Well, I'll tell you how Nicholas responded. He remembered that, even with no parents on earth, he still had a Father in heaven. And so Nicholas began, day after day, to get down on his knees and pray. He told God that he and his life and all his belongings were at God's disposal, and he was ready to do whatever God wanted. And then he turned to one of his family's prize possessions – a scroll with the Greek translation of Psalms. He started to read aloud to himself, in the privacy of his home. And he started finding lines like, “Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. … Teach me to do your will, for you are my God” (Psalm 143:8, 10). And that's exactly what he began to pray.

And then young Nicholas kept reading. “If riches increase, set not your heart on them” (Psalm 62:10). Those words got him thinking. His riches had certainly increased. He had more than he knew what to do with. But he couldn't afford to surrender his heart to them. He couldn't afford to be tied to his gold. He had to keep wealth at a healthy distance. It said so, right there on the page, in those words penned by David over a thousand years ago. Nicholas could have dismissed it as irrelevant, as a relic from a simpler time. But he knew better. He felt God speaking the words to his heart, probing at the depths of his soul.

Nicholas set aside the Book of Psalms, and he picked up the Book of Proverbs. There, too, he read: “Let not mercy and truth forsake you, but bind them around your neck: so shall you find favor and honest things in the sight of the Lord and of men” (Proverbs 3:3-4). “A merciful man does good to his own soul” (Proverbs 11:17). There it was again: 'Mercy.' Nicholas could feel God underlining that word. What does 'mercy' look like?

So Nicholas kept reading. “God loves a cheerful giver. … He that has pity on the poor shall be maintained, for he has given of his own bread to the poor” (Proverbs 22:8-9). There! That's mercy! Mercy is care for the poor – not out of some public storehouse, but from his own sustenance, his own bread, to care for the poor cheerfully by giving to them. That's mercy! Nicholas read onward: “Deliver them that are led away to death, and redeem them that are appointed to be slain” (Proverbs 24:11). Nicholas understood what God was telling him. Some of the poverty he saw around him led to death – not just death of the body, but death of the soul. And it was right there in the scriptures: God wanted Nicholas to use his wealth to rescue the poorest of the poor.

Some of the most respected Christians of the age, like the desert hermit Antony in far-off Egypt, had once been as rich as Nicholas. They had given it all away, in obedience to the Lord who'd once told another rich young man, “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). But some of those other rich young Christians had given away their wealth indiscriminately – not being intentional in their giving, just getting it out of their hands like a lump of burning coal. Nicholas didn't want to burn his hands with money either, but he wasn't the impulsive type. He'd read the whole way through. He wanted his giving to matter – to do the most good it could. He wanted to obey God's word in the best way – intentional, targeted, personal giving. And to do that, he needed to plan and study.

There are probably dozens or hundreds of now-forgotten stories about people whom Nicholas found to give his money to. But one story has been remembered ever since. There was a man in the neighborhood who had once been rich – in the same class as Nicholas and his parents, maybe. But things had taken a turn for the worse. He lost everything. And I mean everything. It was a catastrophe ripped from the pages of the Book of Job. And that man – formerly inclined toward the church – was desperate. Maybe he'd turned to pagan promises. Maybe he'd taken offerings to the Temple of Fortune and cried out with tear-stained cheeks for relief. But he got none.

This man had three daughters. In the custom of that day, it was the dad's responsibility to provide his daughter with a dowry, in order to marry her off. But now he was poor. So poor that none of his daughters could have a dowry; he just couldn't afford it. And no man in town would marry a woman without one. His daughters were rendered unmarriageable. He struggled to even put food on the table for himself, let alone to provide for them. And there weren't a lot of options. Times were tough, and, feeling abandoned, he turned his back on God. But then he made desperate plans. He would send his daughters to work the only work a single young woman really had back then – in the red-light district. In the brothel.

Somehow, Nicholas found out what that family was going through. He watched the situation. He saw that it was important. Marriage is important. Nicholas felt called to a different life personally – he knew that it wasn't in God's plan for him to ever get married. But that didn't mean marriage didn't matter. A lot of Christians in those days were starting to think it didn't. Some were adopting some really dysfunctional ideas against marriage – thinking that it was just a hindrance to spiritual life, and should be avoided. But Nicholas knew better. He could see that marriage was important to God, even if it wasn't his own path.

But it was important, too, because if the man went through with his desperate act, it would lead to death. Not death of the body, but death of the soul, for him and maybe his daughters, too. So Nicholas began to plan. He made his list, his list of important things to value in the situation. He wanted to find a way to save these young women from that fate and meet their needs. But he also wanted to preserve their father's dignity and honor. Nicholas knew that was important, too – not to embarrass the man or put him in awkward and humiliating circumstances; not to demean the man or treat him as just another charity case.

So, too, Nicholas wanted to keep himself humble. He didn't want praise and honor for anything he might do to help. He remembered what Jesus said: “When you give to the needy, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be secret; and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:3-4). That was countercultural in the Greek world of his time. Secret giving just wasn't something people did. If you gave to somebody outside the family, the whole point was to get a good reputation out of it. That was the trade: money for honor. It's why the rich sponsored so many public works projects: to see their names inscribed and celebrated for all generations to come. That was normal in Patara. But to Nicholas, Jesus was much better than normalcy.

However long he mulled over the plan, finally Nicholas sprang into action, before it was too late. One night, long after dark, he found the house of the family in trouble. Stealthily, he crept as close as he could on the public street. From his pocket, Nicholas pulled a small bag. Back home, he'd stuffed it with all the gold it could take without bursting, and he'd tied the string tight. And now, in the midnight hour, he pulled back his arm and let it fly – fly, fly through the open window and into the man's house. And then Nicholas quickly and quietly ran through the night until he was home.

Dawn came, and that father found the bag. And when he untied it and saw the gold coins pouring out, he was astonished. Not just astonished – he was filled with joy and amazement. And as he wept with delight, he called out to God and gave thanks for the incredible provision. He counted out the coins. He saw that it would make a fine dowry indeed. And without delay, he made arrangements for his eldest daughter's marriage – that meant a good life for her, one less mouth to feed for him, and spared both of them from doing harm to their own souls.

After the wedding, Nicholas saw that God had taken his good deed and used it to bless the family. So later that night, Nicholas filled another bag with just as much gold. And what he'd done before, he did again: crept out in the night, took aim, tossed the bag through the window, ran home. Morning came, and the father saw the bag. He never expected it – not again. He fell prostrate on the ground, overwhelmed and speechless, but grateful to God and wishing he could find out what angel God had sent to answer his unspoken prayers.

The father made arrangements for his middle daughter's marriage. And some night soon after the wedding ceremony, Nicholas filled a third bag with coins of gold. He tied it tight. He crept once more through the night, during the quietest of hours. And there was the open window once again. He pulled back his arm. And there's the toss! The bag sailed through the air, through the window, and landed with a soft crash. But it did not, as before, go unnoticed. No, each night since the wedding, the father had kept vigil, waiting up and listening carefully for that sound. And so he was ready. He pounced into the street and ran after Nicholas, whose efforts to flee were unsuccessful. The determined father caught up to him, grabbed him by the arm, spun him around, saw his face – and recognized him. He knew Nicholas from around town and from back in his church days. He knew Nicholas had given these gifts because of Jesus. As the father fell to the ground and hugged Nicholas by the legs and thanked him with great sobs, Nicholas asked only one thing: to promise not to tell the public for as long as he lived. The father agreed. His youngest daughter was married soon thereafter, poverty was relieved, and they all returned to faith and to the church. To borrow the words of the psalmist, Nicholas “has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever, his horn is exalted in honor” (Psalm 112:9).

This is maybe the most famous story from Nicholas' life. It takes up about a third of his earliest biography. It shows up in art from some of the earliest portrayals of St. Nick we have. As the story kept being retold, it mutated and changed. In some versions, the bags of gold landed in the girls' shoes or stockings. And as the story spread to northern Europe, it came to climates where open windows at night just didn't connect with people. And so somebody tweaked the story even more as they retold it. It wasn't through an open window that the bags flew; no, no, the window wasn't open – the bags fell down a chimney. And ever since then, Santa in the public mind has sent his bag of presents down the chimney to bless all the children of the house.

The great thing about the original story is that you don't need miraculous powers to imitate it. You don't even need to be as wealthy as the young saint. You just need the desire to obey God and a willingness to take the money of your own bread and to use it for mercy to those in distress – those in danger, not just of physical harm, but of being pressured into spiritual harm. It may take some thinking. But that's why we're together as a church. And it's why we partner with ministries like Samaritan's Purse and CrossNet. None of us has to do it alone. We, too, can bless our neighbors, not just around the world but in this community – our Patara, if you will – where God has seen fit to raise us up. So go, and as his Spirit shows you, do likewise. Amen.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Greet Every Saint: Sermon on Philippians 4:21-23

It's morning, and the atrium is crammed. There at the breakfast table, the chained man takes the parchment and quill to add the finishing lines himself. But first, to all his guests, he reads what he has so far. “Paul and Timothy, servants of Jesus Christ...” (Philippians 1:1), he begins – and Timothy nods and smiles. “What has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole Praetorian Guard...” (Philippians 1:12-13) – and the soldier with the chains nods with a wry smile, feeling very at home. “Most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:14) – and those gathered around him whooped and cheered. And he kept reading, and kept listening to their running commentary, until finally he got to the doxology: “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever, amen” (Philippians 4:20). And it came time to add those finishing touches, those last lines. And he listened carefully as, all around the room, his brothers and sisters called out their love for those who'd hear the letter next, those it was meant for. So he wrote the words we've read today.

When all was said and done – when the ink was dry, when the food had settled, when they'd sung a hymn – Paul handed the letter to Epaphroditus. It was time to say goodbye – at least for now. A few had volunteered to see him on his way. But he had to go now, while he could still fall in with a traveling group. And by the close of the meeting, Epaphroditus' arms were wrapped around Paul in a bear-hug; tears streamed down their faces. And with a kiss on the cheek, and Paul's prayer for Epaphroditus' safety, Epaphroditus set on his way. It would take time to reach Philippi – a long time, months of travel – but when he arrived, he'd pass along the message.

We've come to the end of Paul's letter to the Philippians. If you've been here consistently since July 12, you've heard the whole thing. Hopefully, you've at least read the entire letter – preferably, you've tried it straight through in one sitting, to hear what the Philippians heard. But as we come to these last three verses, it might seem like we've already picked the meat clean, that we're left with just bones, and that there's no point trying to get any more out of it. We're past the meat now, we think. But let's simmer these verses in the pot and see what sort of wholesome broth Paul has left us with for these chilly autumn days.

The way Paul closes out this letter is, so far as he can be truly sure, possibly the very last thing the Philippians will ever hear from him. And whereas most people in his world ended their letters with words like 'good luck' or 'farewell,' you won't hear such a thing from Paul. No, Paul leaves them on a note of grace. He leaves them on a note of blessing. He leaves them by pointing them, one last time, to Jesus: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (Philippians 4:23). And it's fitting he does that, because he also started this letter with Jesus – calling himself a “servant of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:1) and wishing “grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:2). In the beginning and the end, Jesus is there – he is the Anointed One, he is the Lord, and Paul hopes to find the Philippians standing in this Lord's good graces, as recipients of his favorable outlook and generous love. And from that beginning until that end, this letter is filled with Jesus – Jesus Christ the Lord.

In this letter, Paul tells us how Jesus existed before time began – that he was there before the mountains, he was there before the oceans, he was there before the earth, he was there before the stars. And in the timelessness of eternity when there was no creation, Jesus was already existing “in the very form of God” (Philippians 2:6). He fit the Father like a glove; he was everything it means to be God, and to look at him would have been to see it and know it plainly. When tyrannosaurs and triceratops roamed the plains, Jesus existed in the very form of God. On the day Rome was founded, Jesus existed in the very form of God. But then, one day during the reign of the Emperor Augustus, Jesus' eternal decision came into action. He voluntarily “emptied himself,” Paul says, stripping off the outward appearance of Godhood, the radiance and the glory; and, divesting himself of that immense privilege, he joined the fullness of God to a human cell in the uterus of a wonderful girl of Nazareth named Mary – and nine months later, in Bethlehem, he'd be “born in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7). In so doing, Jesus committed himself to a life of humble servitude – to all appearances, he took “the form of a slave” (Philippians 2:7) and displayed perfect humble human obedience to his Father, God. But by being obedient, he suffered the punishment Romans preferred to inflict on rebellious slaves – “the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8). And so Jesus died – and the cross seemed to prove his emptiness, powerlessness, uselessness.

But the tale was not yet all told. On the third day, with power death could not contain, Christ broke those chains and rose from the dead by “the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). Being raised anew from death, he was “highly exalted” by God's decree and received “the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9), the declaration of his true identity, when he ascended into heaven. And where the Romans used the word 'gospel' to mean the announcement that a new emperor had come to power in Rome, bringing the possibility of restoring the golden age, this Lord Jesus is the subject of better news, a greater “gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27).

His reign from heaven is good news, he hints to the Philippians, because Christ the King remains very active in this world below, this province of his empire – so active that he's taken firm possession of Paul's life: “Christ Jesus has taken possession of me,” Paul rejoices (Philippians 3:12). And Paul has learned that Jesus Christ is everything – that knowing him is more precious and more valuable than anything Paul could inherit or achieve in his wildest dreams: this is “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). Jesus Christ's faithful life, and our faithful response to it, is the source of righteousness and justice in our lives, in our souls, and in our world (Philippians 3:9), and our “fruit of righteousness” only grows “through Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:11). Jesus Christ is the defining sphere of all Christian living (e.g., Philippians 4:7), and our lives should be marked by rejoicing in him (Philippians 3:1) and glorying in him (Philippians 1:26; 3:3).

When Paul dies, he tells the Philippians, he expects to enter the personal presence of Christ the King – to step into his throne room, to be greeted by him, to be with him (Philippians 1:23). But then, one day after that, will come the close of history as we've always known it. All the plot threads of human existence, Paul says, will be tied off and reach their purpose on “the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). That's the time when the Lord Jesus will return to earth as a Savior-King coming to relieve a besieged colony of his citizens: “from [heaven] we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). And the Lord Jesus will save the world by “subject[ing] all things to himself,” pacifying all rebellion against his reign (Philippians 3:21). On that day, the dead will be raised – and Paul looks forward, he says, to attaining “the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:11) – and the bodies of the righteous will not merely be raised but will be glorified with the image of the Lord Jesus Christ's own glorious resurrected body (Philippians 3:21). All who've ever lived will be gathered together, and when the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is announced as King, every knee will bend and every tongue admit his rightful claim to rule (Philippians 2:10-11). And this rightful King will judge everything ever done. And Paul hopes, on that “day of Christ,” to be proud for how he served and lived (Philippians 2:16), and he hopes that we also will be “kept pure and blameless” to withstand the scrutiny of Jesus' judgment (Philippians 1:10).

In the meantime, here we are, as part of the church – the nation-among-all-nations that's pledged our faithful devotion and love toward Christ the King. And though we are scattered and separated throughout many lands and many cities, we have to remember that we form a single body, and that a body needs to communicate. So on the day Paul finished this letter, he no doubt was surrounded by other Christians living in Rome. By this time in history, Rome probably had a couple dozen churches throughout its districts. And although we know from earlier in the letter that some Roman Christians were against Paul and wanted to make things worse for him (Philippians 1:15-17), many other Roman Christians and their churches were supportive. And so Paul can pass along to the Philippians a greeting from “the brothers who are with me” (Philippians 4:21b) – that is, the Roman Christians who met with Paul, probably representatives from a number of Rome's varied churches – as well as “all the saints” (Philippians 4:22a), the main body of the Roman churches as a whole. They all want their voices to be added to the chorus for the Philippian Christians to hear – there's a connection there.

But, Paul adds, the greetings come especially from those of the household of Caesar” (Philippians 4:22b) – a pretty interesting thing for him to say! The 'household of Caesar,' or the familia Caesaris – that didn't mean the emperor and his relatives. The emperor's household was considered to be extended throughout the empire by a network of slaves and ex-slaves who worked for him, who answered to him. This network was inherited by one emperor after another, and while there were members of this household spread throughout the empire (and we have record of a few in Philippi), they were, of course, heavily concentrated in Rome. Some of them were domestic workers. There were some who'd carry the platform the emperor sat on, and some who'd tend to his gardens, and some who'd serve his meals or taste his food. Others worked in skilled trades on government projects, however the emperor directed for their talents to be put into use. And still others were administrative workers: they might serve as aides to an official, they might work as government accountants or record-keepers, they might carry official correspondence around the city or the empire as the emperor's mailmen, they might act as receptionists or keep track of people's names or even mediate access to the emperor himself. While they were slaves or freed slaves, a large chunk of the empire was made up of slaves and freed slaves, and by those standards, it didn't get more prestigious than being part of the familia Caesaris. At higher levels, some of the ex-slaves who belonged to this 'household of Caesar' could get wealthy enough to invest significant sums in the society around them, and wield significant influence. The 'household of Caesar' was big, and it was no joke.

And by mentioning greetings from “those of the household of Caesar,” Paul is shining a spotlight on how the brilliant gospel of Christ has spread where we might expect Caesar's pale gospel to abound. Early in the letter, Paul had mentioned how the gospel was spreading into the elite Praetorian Guard; now he stresses that the same gospel has already reached the civilian ranks of the Roman governmental apparatus. Within the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord, these act like supporting bookends to the letter. Think about the possibilities here! Think that the waiter who brings Nero his food might be a Christian, able to give thanks to God for that food. Think that some Roman taxes were being kept track of by Christian accountants, who could watch to see how the funds of the empire were being stewarded. Think that some official government documents were now being delivered from place to place by Christian mailmen. Think that perhaps, eventually, the gateway to gaining the emperor's ear might be through someone who holds Jesus as a more important Lord.

Now, in practice, this wasn't all smooth. About two years after Paul sends this letter, there will be a fire, and the Emperor Nero will be hunting for a scapegoat. And he'll notice how many Christians there are around, and how they seem marginal enough and disliked enough to blame for the flames. So he'll arrest many of these Roman Christians and sic dogs on them, light them ablaze as human torches, crucify them, use their deaths as grotesque amusement in his gardens (Tacitus, Annals 15.44). When Paul writes, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household” (Philippians 4:22), understand that some of the people whose voices you hear there are going to die as martyrs in just two years' time. Mauled, crucified, burned – but their blood will be seed to grow the church, which will surge back stronger than before. Even through the flame and the cross, Christians will manage to survive in Rome's ghettos and in Rome's barracks and in the household of Caesar. And through the coming centuries, as the gospel continues to spread in those very circles, watered by the blood of these martyrs who here speak their voice, it will change the empire until it at last becomes possible for even a Roman emperor to bend the knee at Jesus' name and confess Christ as true Lord.

Paul is telling the Philippians about the first steps toward that future. But he mentions it in this context because he knows it will thrill and excite them, and not just in the abstract. Listen to this from where the Philippians are standing. Remember, when Paul and Silas were first evangelizing Philippi, it ended with a mob of outraged Philippians beating them up and suing them in court, on accusations of “advocating for customs that are not lawful for us Romans to accept or practice” (Acts 16:21). Any Christians in Philippi are believing things and doing things that, in the opinion of most of their neighbors, are anti-Roman and illegal. Philippian Christians hail Jesus as their Lord, they say that the real gospel isn't Caesar's accession but Christ's resurrection, they spurn the worship of the Roman gods who held up the Roman civic order. So the Philippian Christians are routinely accused of being unpatriotic and subversive. And those are not just words. Philippi can react violently to things that sound insufficiently Roman. The Philippian Christians are being treated as anti-Roman – which offends them deeply, because they've always prided themselves on their link to Rome. It's why, when Paul writes the word 'Philippians,' even though he's writing in Greek, he uses the Latin form of the word – to honor their Romanness (Philippians 4:15). They still value their Romanness even though Rome's gods are lies and even though Caesar can't be their highest lord and even though the world can no longer be defined by Rome's gospel.

Compare it to what it was like here in Lancaster County during World War I, when two Mennonite pastors near Manheim were threatened with violence, and a Reformed pastor had his home vandalized, and a Lutheran pastor had five months' salary confiscated and was forced to kiss an American flag and then was ordered by police to leave the county – all because they were judged as insufficiently patriotic. The truth is, following Jesus can cause tension. Most of us here no doubt value our American identity as much as we can, and we see ourselves as patriotic, though we profess to be citizens of a better country above. But if we are serious about Jesus, there are values that mainstream American society worships that we cannot worship – commercialism, libertinism, expressive individualism, and more. Nor can we treat governments or corporations as our highest Lords. Nor can we view the world as defined by American lenses and American assumptions and American messaging – that is no gospel. Where worldly powers politicize everything, we theologize it back, pronouncing over all the name of Christ the King. The Christians in Philippi had to do much the same.

And now Paul is telling them about fellow Jesus-followers embedded in the Roman government. These are real Romans who carry Roman mail, mop up Roman palaces, do Roman work – and they've heard about the Philippians, and they want them to know: “We're on your side!” And that has got to be massively encouraging to the Philippians – a confirmation that there's hope for what it means to be Roman, that Romanness itself might eventually be transformed by Jesus, and that, even now, they are seen, they are loved, they are cherished by those whose Romanness is unimpeachable in the Lord Jesus Christ.

What does Paul want the Philippians to do, then? His words are simple and clear and rich: “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:21). Those words sound so plain, I know; but there are three great things about them. First, that word: “Greet.” The word doesn't just have the connotation of a casual hello. It can mean a salute. It can also express a deep affection. The action Paul has in mind would probably be best pictured with a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek. This word is expressive, this word is emotional, this word is an embrace. It calls on the Christians of Philippi to pass along Paul's warmth to each other in deeply tangible ways.

And that's a challenge for us to hear right now. Because this is not a year like other years. We now live in the era of so-called 'physical distancing,' as a protective measure – but in practice, we often let the effect be social distancing. As a result, the risk we run is that our interactions with each other become increasingly distant, increasingly aloof, increasingly impersonal – that they will be cold. And that has an impact, too. This year, many of us have been feeling isolated, disconnected, lonely. We feel socially cold.

The truth is, while humans have many physical needs (and chief among them is maintaining our health and our lives), we likewise have social and emotional needs – to say nothing of our spiritual needs, which cannot truly be met outside the church assembled. Because of the social and emotional needs humans have, cultures around the world have long been built on handshakes and hugs and kisses to convey affection and welcome. And yet, this year, those practices have fallen by the wayside. This past June, the director of the Touch Research Institute made the sad prediction, “I don't think we're going to have hugs and handshakes for a long time.”

Brothers and sisters, it would be a grave mistake to disregard the physical needs of our neighbors and our loved ones – to disregard their health and imperil their lives – by being imprudent and foolish in the face of the rising wave of coronavirus cases in our community, adding hundreds daily in this county alone. We must be wise with the wisdom of Christ. But neither would it be wise to disregard social needs, emotional needs, or spiritual needs for the sake of the physical. And so we have to find a way to continue greeting, and to greet warmly – to make people feel hugged, even apart from physical contact and proximity; to make people feel the affection and the welcome. Some body language experts have this year started talking about how to compensate for reduced physical touch by greatly increasing our emotional openness and expressiveness. Something like that will be needed if we're to carry out Paul's command – the word of God he speaks – here and now. We are to creatively supply the needs of the whole person, by showing warmth however we feasibly can, and giving thanks together.

Second, this warm greeting is particular. Paul could have said, “Greet all the saints,” just like he said, “All the saints greet you.” And if he'd said that, then the command could have been fulfilled by an announcement from the pulpit in Philippi. The whole mass could have gotten the greeting in a general way. But Paul didn't write it that way. What he actually says is, “Greet [each and] every saint.” A general greeting won't do. It has to be particular. It has to hit each individual in the church. This is person-to-person. And if even one person is left out, then Paul's words have not been truly fulfilled – not as they ought to be.

This year especially, it seems easy to pass certain people over. “Oh, they haven't shown up to this, or haven't been heard from in that.” Paul wants each person to feel seen, acknowledged, heard, and loved – to know that they truly are all those things. Paul is telling us to make sure we greet that person who's struggling with sin and wavering with doubt – the person who feels like no one's been tempted like he's been tempted, or no one is as much a mess as she. Paul is telling us to make sure we greet that person who's perennially busy – the one who's distracted by the cares of the world and the pressures of the day, speeding past his need for disruption, bound to starve herself of human connection and peace without an intervention. Paul tells us here to greet that person who's hunkered down at home, avoiding social situations so as to minimize risk of catching the virus – yes, he or she matters, he or she mustn't be forgotten, he or she needs to get our personal greeting. Paul tells us, too, that this must extend to those who are sick, those who are secluded not to avoid catching but to avoid spreading the disease – like the lepers in Jesus' day who kept their distance, but whom Jesus touched to share the warmth of his love and his welcome (cf. Luke 5:12-13). And Paul would tell us to greet the nursing-home residents – the ones languishing away, sealed up in a locked vault. And this word includes the rest of us too – each person here, each one absent, each and every one of us must receive this greeting and give this greeting.

And third, this greeting is Christ-centered. It is, specifically, for “every saint in Christ Jesus” – each person who belongs to Jesus Christ by the faith he or she confessed at baptism, each person who feeds on Christ Jesus when he offers us his death and his life, each person who walks with him in the quest to be conformed to his holiness, each person who belongs to the church. And the greeting itself is “in Christ Jesus.” This greeting is to meet our social needs, but not only our social needs. Too often, in the American church, we've traded in our Christian fellowship for mere socializing as friends. Socializing as friends is good – it meets our social needs – but fellowship is something more. Real fellowship is sharing – sharing a link that runs directly and explicitly through Jesus Christ. It's marked by his nature and character. It helps us to consciously interact as Christians, and not merely as friends. For Christ is King, and we lift high our hands of thanksgiving – together. We are his household, the household of Christ, the household of a Lord higher than Caesar. All our lives are his business. He is on his throne. And it's in the name of the Lord Jesus that we love, in the name of the Lord Jesus that we hope and pray, in the name of the Lord Jesus that we greet warmly each of those who belong to the King's service and the King's family, with whom we walk in one Holy Spirit and find our spirits linked as one. Now may “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen” (Philippians 4:23).

Sunday, November 15, 2020

The God of Supply: Sermon on Philippians 4:14-20

Fifteen centuries have crawled by since the day the man lay on the ground. Bishop Caesarius was begging God for a miracle, for a mighty work, for an act of supply. He was the bishop of a prominent city called Arles, today in the south of France. But it wasn't France then yet. Arles was a city on the east bank of the Rhone river, just below its fork, and it had been through quite the ordeal. Four decades earlier, as the Roman Empire died in the west, Arles – a colony once populated by Roman veterans – and its surrounding lands had been gobbled up by a people called the Visigoths. And now it had changed hands again. In the year 507, war had broken out between the Visigoths, on the one hand, and peoples called the Franks and the Burgundians, on the other. And by the end of fall and the onset of winter that year, Arles had come under attack. Its residents and neighbors, along with the Visigothic soldiers garrisoned there, held out against a siege. But winter turned to spring, and spring turned to summer, and the siege was unbroken. It seemed a stalemate unto salvation or starvation.

Cooped up within the city walls, none of the farmers could safely go out to plant their crops. The Burgundians devoured and devastated the countryside as far as eye could see. During the siege, Bishop Caesarius was accused of disloyalty, a riot broke out, he was arrested and released, and then in the fall of 508, after a year of siege, a relief army sent by the Ostrogothic king Theodoric showed up. In a great battle outside the walls, the Ostrogoths defeated the Burgundians and the Franks, killing thousands and capturing thousands more. Arles came more and more under Ostrogothic influence. The siege was broken.

And then they had to life with the aftermath. As Caesarius mentioned in a sermon, “our countryside has been left a wasteland because of the enemy.”1 Many of the local peasants who'd tried to go out and work the land had been killed, while others – along with local soldiers – had been captured by the Franks or the Burgundians and enslaved and carted off into exile. Caesarius devoted himself and the church he led to raising money to ransom them back and bring them home where they belonged, as well as to minister to the grief and hurt of those left behind. But at the same time, Arles' streets were now filled with captive Franks and captive Burgundians – for those besiegers beaten in battle had not simply disappeared in a puff of smoke. In their homeland, they may well have been social elites, but here they were reduced to poverty or the slave market. And Caesarius couldn't stand that either. Despite coming fresh from accusations of treason, he worked to purchase their freedom and keep them alive and well. He did it in spite of them having the wrong religion, in spite of them being enemies of the city, in spite of them being the reason why food was so scarce in the first place. And when Caesarius saw the funds were running out, he gave the order for the churches to pony up their treasures – the gold and silver plates and cups and ornaments. At his behest, men took axes to the insides of the churches, prying off anything made of precious metal so that it could be sold to raise more ransom money to set enemy captives free. As you can imagine, many were furious, especially the priests who saw their churches seemingly ransacked by the bishop's unilateral command. But Caesarius held his course. He was the steward of Jesus Christ in that place. And he'd often ask his critics why treasures given over to the Redeemer shouldn't be used to redeem captives in his name, and save not just bodies but perhaps even souls.2

All the meanwhile, out of the treasure-houses of the church and of his own contributions, Caesarius had bought up stored grain to dole out, day by day, to the poor – baking bread, especially for freed captives who were still destitute and unable to leave for home, and for those locals who'd been brought back from captivity abroad, and for the peasants who'd barely outlasted the siege to begin with. But now... resources were running low. One official challenged the bishop: If Caesarius didn't cut back, he'd run out of grain to make bread for his own table, and he and the church leaders would starve; better then to wean the poor off the bread dole and let them fend for themselves by begging. Because at the rate it was going, Caesarius would run out in the next day or two.

In turmoil, Bishop Caesarius retreated to his private room, his cell – once a monk, always a monk at heart, so he lived simply. And that's where he threw himself to the ground, sprawling out in self-abasement at the foot of God's throne. And Caesarius begged. He begged his God to come to the rescue. He begged his God to provide for those who had no provision – whatever happened to Caesarius, he could tolerate, but don't let the poor starve alone, and don't let them be humiliated beneath their rightful dignity. Caesarius prayed 'til he lost track of time, but he drizzled the floor with his tears. And in that moment, he felt the hand of grace. And the promises of old came back – promises that the God who made each man and woman in his image would certainly supply the needs of the church that had poured itself out sacrificially to invest in their welfare. Caesarius heard the age-old promise ring in his ears, the song of prophets and apostles. And his heart reached out and grabbed it with a tight fist and refused to let it fly away. And in the boldness of faith, Caesarius stood to his feet. He knew what to do.

Rising with confidence, Caesarius went back to the official and scolded him for having too little faith in a God of Supply. Then, Caesarius turned to his assistant Messianus and gave another order. Caesarius told him to go to the church granary and sweep it completely empty. Gather up everything, don't let even a single wheat grain be reserved against the uncertainty of the 'morrow. Gather it, grind it, make all the bread we can. And invite all the struggling servants of the church and all the redeemed captives and slaves and would-be beggars and all the poor peasants, to come and eat. And then leave the matter to God. If nature took its course and this was the last of the grain, then the next day they'd all fast together in unison, sharing the suffering with no division between the haves and the have-nots. But privately, Caesarius whispered to another priest: “Tomorrow, God will provide, because he who gives to the poor will never be in need.”3

Meanwhile, Messianus did exactly what Caesarius said. And a day went by. Night fell. Morning approached. And in the hours before dawn, the paupers and captives crowded in the town square, deeply anxious and complaining, terrified of the sunrise of the day of starvation, knowing that the grain reserves had been emptied. But then, in the darkness, came a shout from the side of the river. Three ships sailing down the Rhone. Burgundian ships, bearing the emblems of Kings Gundobad and Sigismund. And as they docked, the captains called for Caesarius. News had reached the Burgundian court of how mercifully Caesarius had treated their captured subjects, helping and welcoming them, refusing to let partisanship make them enemies in his eye. And although King Gundobad was a heretic and a brute who'd murdered his own brother in a church along with its pastor, God was now using him and moving him to pay dividends on Caesarius' investment. The sun had not yet dawned, but the prospects of starvation had become prospects for salvation – for Caesarius was the recipient of three cargo ships loaded to the full with grain enough to go around. “And when those who from lack of faith had feared the danger of famine the day before saw that the Lord never abandoned his servant, they kept thanking God joyfully for assisting them at a time of need.”4 The God of Supply had come through for his servant Caesarius! Caesarius was certainly gratified; and, smiling down from heaven, I imagine so was Paul.

For, centuries earlier, the Apostle Paul had written to a different Roman colony city, one called Philippi in Macedonia, as well you know. It all started when he left Philippi after planting the church there, and he, Silas, and Timothy had left Luke behind to organize it. Paul then had moved on to Thessalonica to evangelize there, and though he may have been there just a month (Acts 17:2), the newborn Philippian church had sent him multiple disbursements of missionary support funds (Philippians 4:16), which no doubt came in handy when the Thessalonian believers needed to post bail (Acts 17:9). After evangelizing in Berea, Paul finally left the province of Macedonia into Achaia, where Athens and Corinth are (Acts 17:10—18:17). And when he made that move into Achaia, “no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except [the Philippians] only” (Philippians 4:15). During his eighteen months of ministry in Corinth, the local converts never gave Paul any financial help, so his own wages as a tent-maker and the Philippians' gifts, brought by Silas and Timothy, funded his ministry there (Acts 18:3-5; 2 Corinthians 11:8-9). Time passed – Paul traveled to Antioch, visited the Galatians, settled for a couple years in Ephesus, and then thought up an idea of taking up a collection for poor Christians in Jerusalem where it all started (Acts 18:18—19:22). And the Philippians, contacted about it by Timothy and Erastus, got involved in that collection, and appointed Luke as their ambassador on the voyage (Acts 20:1-5). “In a severe test of affliction, [the Philippians'] abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part; for they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord,” Paul said (2 Corinthians 8:2-3).

And then Paul's life took some twists and turns that landed him in imperial custody. Eventually, the Philippians heard that the Apostle was under house arrest in Rome. But for nearly two years, as economic persecution in Philippi grew worse, they had no opportunity to send anything – until at last, they could raise funds and send Epaphroditus to carry the gift (Philippians 4:10, 18). It was a pretty penny, enough to let Paul settle up his tab for room and board, enough to set him up well for whatever's to come. “I abound,” the Apostle says; “I have been filled up” (Philippians 4:18). Paul has written this letter, ultimately, to acknowledge their gift and let them know that he considers their support to be a complete and total repayment of his investments in them: “Paid in full!” In a way, this letter is meant to function as their receipt.

Paul wants to emphasize that he doesn't need them to break the bank by sending him more – in fact, he could get by on whatever resources he had (Philippians 4:10-13). “Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble” (Philippians 4:14). That was why they gave: kindness. In spite of having to dig so deep that it put them in trouble like a prisoner was in trouble, the Philippians insisted on helping to bankroll Paul personally as well as his gospel mission – the Philippian church was kind to him. That's what delights Paul, what excites Paul.

On the Philippians' end, it must have seemed like an everyday thing, rather humdrum. Write a check. Stuff a few bucks in an envelope. Slip it into the basket, drop it in the plate, forget about it. We do it all the time. But Paul wants to open their eyes to a new way of looking at what they've been doing this whole time, especially in this last big gift. 

On the one hand, Paul describes the gift using temple language: “I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent: an aroma of fragrance, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18). And those words are ripped right off the pages of the Old Testament. Back in the beginning, Noah offered whole burnt offerings on the altar – totally consuming the victim, transforming meat to smoke for God alone – and we read that “the Lord God smelled an aroma of fragrance” (Genesis 8:21 LXX). Then the Hebrews in the desert were told to “offer up the whole ram on the altar as a whole burnt offering to the Lord for an aroma of fragrance: it is a sacrifice for the Lord” (Exodus 29:18 LXX). “The priests shall lay everything on the altar: it is an offering, a sacrifice, an aroma of fragrance to the Lord” (Leviticus 1:9, 13 LXX), “acceptable for an aroma of fragrance” (Leviticus 17:4 LXX).

And remember: the Philippians, just like Old Testament Israel, lived in a world where literal animal sacrifice took place daily. The forum and streets of a Roman city like Philippi were dotted with altars billowing smoke, the smell of sizzling sacrificial meat, sacrificed by neighbors and friends. This was a common part of the world they lived in, intensely familiar imagery. 

And since God told Israel through Ezekiel, “In an aroma of fragrance I will accept you when I bring you out from the peoples” (Ezekiel 20:41 LXX), it's no surprise that Paul understands the death of Jesus on the cross as the fulfillment of the prophecy: “the Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice for God, into an aroma of fragrance” (Ephesians 5:2) – the same fragrant offering by which God accepts his people, accepts us, once and for all, scented by a sacrificed Savior.

And what Paul is now telling the Philippians is that they have crucified their wallets with Christ, that they have conformed their finances to the slaughtered Lamb of God, that their economic selves have been victimized on a holy altar and been transfigured into smoky savor before the Lord God Almighty. In sending their support to Paul, they've actually been giving it to God himself as a whole burnt offering of thanksgiving – and it pleases God, it smells good to God, it delights the Lord. Their giving has been anything but humdrum and mundane; it has been a sacred ritual. And this is what excites Paul: he loves to see the Philippians' faith become sacrificial, not in the mere modern sense of giving something up, but in a real Old Testament sense. As recipient on earth, Paul gets to play a priestly role, taking these funds they've brought and slaughtering them for the Lord, letting the smoke of silver and gold rise to heaven as he burns it up in the work of the gospel and in living as a servant commissioned by Jesus. And in providing for this, the Philippians have truly made God happy by sacrifice.

On the other hand, Paul also takes a commercial approach to what they've given: “I seek the fruit that increases to your credit; I have received full payment and more” (Philippians 4:17-18). Paul talks about his relationship with the Philippians as “an account of giving and receiving” (Philippians 4:15) – that's an image of a joint bank account, a ledger book they share. The Philippians deposit money, Paul withdraws; Paul deposits spiritual gifts, the Philippians withdraw. What matters here for them isn't the size of the gift but their intention, as shown by the ratio of the gift to the giver's resources. Remember how Jesus wasn't impressed by the rich who made a loud rattle in the alms-box with heavy coins that didn't hurt them, but pointed out a poor widow giving her last pennies as an offering of everything she had to the Lord (Mark 12:41-44).

What excites Paul about the Philippians' gift isn't what he gets out of it, but what they will get out of it: they have a prospect of profit, of earning interest by investing their money in a godly way. They can expect that this gift is the planting of seeds, and that they will eventually harvest the crop of fruit. In God's ledger book, the Philippians – every time they give to Paul as a gospel worker – are buying up heavenly stock. And Paul wants them to salivate over just how good that market will always be doing. Remember how Jesus told the rich young ruler, “Give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19:21). Remember, too, Jesus' words to us all: “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).

How? Caesarius has some thoughts on that: “Not only are the tithes which we possess not ours but destined for the church, but whatever we have received from God more than we need should be distributed to the poor.”5 “The poor is understood as anyone who needs food or clothing, or the needy servant of God who despises the world and continually serves God. When you exercise mercy toward a beggar, the poor man receives food. When you offer some gift to God's servant, the needy receives fruit, and of this the Apostle says, 'Not that I am eager for the gift, but I am eager for the fruit' [Philippians 4:17].6

So what happens when we give to the church, to the servants of God, and to the poor and the broken? It is a conforming of our economic selves to the cross of Christ. It is a holy sacrifice which, when burnt up, will rise up to heaven on our behalf and please God. It is a purchase of heavenly stock which, if bought by kindness, will earn interest in God's ledger. And for those of us who look around for something to give and don't see much, Caesarius advises that those who can't give money can still donate wisdom and words of comfort: “If you have abundant means to show material kindness, thanks be to God; but if you don't have the means to feed the body, refresh souls with the word of God,” for this is giving “alms for the soul.”7

Delighting in what the Philippians have done by what they've given, Paul finds himself in a bit of a conundrum. In the Roman world, if someone sent you a surprise gift, it was expected that you answer with a matching gift, or maybe an even bigger one. What can Paul send back to them? He can't – but he has a God who can. Since their gift was really a sacrifice to Paul's God, it's Paul's God who will keep up the gift-giving dance: My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Caesarius said the same thing: we've made a “heavenly bargain” with the Father.8 “Christ comes as often as a poor man approaches you … Extend a coin to Christ, from whom you desire to receive a kingdom.”9 “If a man is encouraged to give something to the poor, whenever he extends his hands in almsgiving, he receives bracelets given by Christ.”10 And while the chief repayment God gives are heavenly rewards, those treasures we store up in heaven for later, Paul is also announcing the pay-out of earthly dividends, in that God will fill up and supply all the Philippian Christians' present needs – not all their wants, mind you, but all their needs.

That means, first and foremost, the tangible needs they encounter now. Each day they pray for their daily bread, their everyday need, and God will supply it. Remember Caesarius, praying in his room; remember the cargo ships sailing down the river; remember the joy of the God of Supply! And just as God supplies our material needs, so he supplies our less tangible ones: steadfastness in the face of opposition, unity in the face of division, peace in the face of disturbance, comfort in the face of distress. Caesarius pointed out both when he challenged his church that, through generosity, “you can merit earthly and heavenly gifts,” so “why do you cheat yourself of a double blessing through greed?”11

And this blessing never runs out, because God's lavish wealth is an inexhaustible supply. It's every bit as lavish and every bit as inexhaustible as it was when the temple gleamed with glittering gold and the cloud of divine glory choked the halls and overshadowed the priests. For on the day Solomon inaugurated it, “fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple” (2 Chronicles 7:1), and ever since, the temple of sacrifice was known as “the place where [God's] glory dwells” (Psalm 26:8). So too, when the Philippians sent up their sacrifice, were riches of glory opened in their temple.

But these riches are lavish and inexhaustible and gleaming and overshadowing precisely “in Christ Jesus.” For Christ's Body is the gleaming Temple, and Christ's Spirit is “the Spirit of Glory” (1 Peter 4:14), and Christ's merciful heart is the bottomless treasury of God's resources. And that bank vault was broken open when Jesus' heart was pierced with a spear on the cross. Therein the vault was thrown open, and it can never again be sealed or locked. Jesus Christ is risen with his heart forever broken open. It is in the heart of Jesus that the riches of God's glory reside, and it is out of the riches there, encompassing all the universe like Fort Knox encompasses a fleck of gold dust, that Jesus' Father, the God of Supply, could and would pay dividends to the Philippians for their kindly investment and could and would reward their sacrifice with the outpouring of his express pleasure.

Wonderful for the Philippians – and wonderful for us! For we know we're living in an era when we're often on harder times. We're financially pinched. We may become economically oppressed. Need abounds, in here and out there. We know not how long it will take for the virus besieging us to be driven away, nor how long it will take the wastelands of the economy to flower with fruit again. And, of course, we have needs far deeper than money – needs of the body, needs of the heart, needs of the mind, needs of the soul. From day to day and month to month, there are times we face danger and turmoil – but the God of Supply can take care of us. There are times we face labor and pain – but the God of Supply can take care of us. There are times we face sorrow and distress – but the God of Supply can take care of us. There are times we face confusion and ignorance – but the God of Supply can take care of us. There are times we face loneliness and bereavement – but the God of Supply can take care of us. And there are times we must confront the thorns of sin buried beneath our skin – but the God of Supply can take care of us. The God of Supply has not run out of his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

In light of such a possibility, dare we cheat ourselves of blessings? For to live like Philippians and give like Philippians is to receive like Philippians. Let this be an encouragement for all who give. When you give, you offer a sacrifice that rises up to heaven and fills it with a fragrance pleasing to the Lord your God. When you give, you earn interest that will be your reward to enjoy when everything here has gone to the moths and rust and thieves. And when you give to God in the hands of his church and his ministers and his missionaries and his poor, God will repay dividends to fill up all you need – so let no fear of scarcity hold you back, but step into the shoes of St. Caesarius' confident faith, sweeping out the granary with a willingness to fast to the Lord and an open hand for the provision of a God who doesn't run out. So now “to our God and Father” – to the God of Supply who calls us his sons and daughters, whose riches are in Jesus Christ – to him “be glory forever and ever! Amen” (Philippians 4:20).


1  Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 6.6

2  Life of Caesarius 1.28-33

3  Life of Caesarius 2.8

4  Life of Caesarius 2.9

5  Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 30.2

6  Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 139.4

7  Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 1.8

8  Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 31.5

9  Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 26.5

10  Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 78.3

11  Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 33.1

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Learning the Secret: Sermon on Philippians 4:10-14

It was the eighth day of November – just like today. But 128 years ago, it was Election Day. And that night, the president of the United States sat with his thoughts. There was nothing more he could do. And he wasn't sure he'd do it even if there were. Benjamin Harrison was 59 years old, but he felt older. Four years ago, around the same time of year, he'd run a vigorous race against incumbent president Grover Cleveland, and been overjoyed when the results poured in with a Harrison victory. A fitting way to follow in the footsteps of his presidential grandpa, after all – though William Henry Harrison had only served a month before dying in office. Benjamin had been determined to last longer than that. And he had! But now, after being renominated by a divided RNC meeting in July 1892, it was Benjamin's turn to be the incumbent – and Grover was back to challenge. A repeat of the last match. Could Benjamin Harrison win it again with the tables turned?

It had been a long four years. Wearying. Harrison often said that if he didn't know better, he'd assume a whole decade had flown by since that rainy day he took the oath of office. He described the experience of leading this nation as “one continuous strain and pull and worry” with “no pleasant break.”1 And now, by this final year of his first term, there were rivalries and factions dividing the party – it had been a contentious fight for them to re-select him as their nominee. The economy was bad. His wife Carrie had been sickly for a while. The whole matter of politics felt like a burden, especially for someone so sensitive to the crushing weight of responsibility. That summer, he felt like a prisoner.2 In August, since his wife was recuperating at a lakeside retreat, Harrison had hoped to use a trip to see her as a rare chance to give campaign speeches along the way and back. That was the plan, at least. But then he got news of a cholera outbreak in New York. And he had to rush back to Washington to lead a decisive response to the disease. He took the extreme measure of ordering a quarantine of every ship inbound, effective immediately. In so doing, President Harrison averted an epidemic, although at the cost of both angering immigrant voters and losing control over his messaging.

Then came September. His wife at last got a diagnosis for what had been troubling her. Tuberculosis. They'd had no idea. And it was terminal. Suddenly, the campaign took a back seat to the domestic concerns of the First Family. And then, two weeks before Election Day, President Harrison watched First Lady Harrison take her last breath. And only the grace of God bore him up amidst his bereavement,3 as his father-in-law – a retired pastor who lived at the White House with them – ministered to him. Letters of consolation began to pour in,4 and he had to admit: by this point, he was “so removed from the campaign that [he could] scarcely realize that [he] was a candidate.”5 And yet the race seemed like it might still break his way.

Now here he was on the night of the election, and he felt somewhat at peace, untroubled by the outcome. If he won, well, he'd feel deeply gratified by the confidence of his country, and he'd serve them as best he could. He would gladly continue to pursue the policy objectives that had marked his first term, and believed that would be very beneficial to the country. He would hardly complain. But if he lost, he'd consider it a liberation from his burdens, a chance to set political life aside and pursue “retirement and relief from care.”6 On that night, perhaps he felt able to handle victory or defeat alike, whichever should come.

Well, it took a few days to piece together reports and discern the direction the election was headed that year. He found that, although he'd gotten a fine majority from our good state, and hadn't fallen too short in the popular vote overall, he'd only landed 145 votes in the Electoral College. With 277, Grover Cleveland would be moving back into the White House. Benjamin Harrison took it in stride. He said he felt “no personal disappointments or griefs” in his defeat.7 He was simply proud to be able to turn the reins of government over in what he thought had become “a high state of discipline and efficiency.”8 Later, less than a year before his death, he would go deeper still. Former president Benjamin Harrison would declare in a speech in New York City that “to the word of God and the church of Jesus Christ must we turn for the hope that men may be delivered from this consuming greed and selfishness.”9

The ancient Philippian Christians were proof enough of that power to deliver. For the Philippians had a habit, whenever they could, of sending gifts to the Apostle Paul – bundles of supporting goods and funds meant to aid him and empower his ministry (Philippians 4:10). Paul considers responding this time to be a delicate situation. He's certainly grateful, knowing that the Philippian church is choosing to share his pain (Philippians 4:14). But his gratitude is chiefly for their attitude. It's not the substance of the gift that Paul most values; here it really is the thought that counts (Philippians 4:17). Paul wants to make clear to them that he doesn't actually need the money, because he's gained an interesting ability: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11).

That word Paul uses there – our Bibles render it 'content,' which is fair. But it's a word taken from the world of Greek philosophy: autarkes. There were various versions of Greek and Roman philosophy – Epicureanism, Cynicism, Stoicism – which all used this word when talking about the way to live. They knew that life could be rough, just like Paul did. A few verses earlier, Paul sums up the human condition as living in “the body of our humiliation” (Philippians 3:20). And as Paul's writing this, he's sharing the city of Rome with a Stoic thinker named Seneca, who said basically the same thing: that a human goes through this world as “a decaying, feeble body repeatedly targeted by diseases.”10 But Seneca didn't think it was more than a person could handle, if they were wise. “The wise person,” Seneca said, “is a craftsman at mastering misfortune: pain, hunger, humiliation, prison, and exile are everywhere regarded with dread, but when they come up against him, they are gentled.”11 “The wise man is self-sufficient for a happy existence...” And there, Seneca uses the Latin version of the word Paul uses: self-sufficient. “For a happy existence, he needs only a sound and upright soul,” Seneca adds.12 “If he loses a hand through disease or war, or if some accident puts out one or both his eyes, he'll be satisfied with what's left, taking as much pleasure in his impaired and maimed body as he took when it was sound.”13 “Happy is the one who is self-sufficient in his present circumstances no matter what they are...”14 These philosophers taught that the best way to be like the gods they worshipped was to be totally self-sufficient, to be able to be totally content and happy in any set of circumstances, because we give up trying to control circumstances and pour all that focus into controlling our reactions – our reactions, they said, are the only thing we own and for which we're responsible. To be free like the gods, Epictetus said, means “to be able to be self-sufficient, to be able to commune with oneself.”15 They wanted to be able to float from situation to situation, living above being inwardly affected or determined by what was going on around them or happening to them from outside.

The Philippians knew these philosophies. And Paul has pilfered one of their words, though he has a surprise planned with it. But first, he's saying that he's reached the level of a Stoic wise man. He's got that contentment; he's got that self-sufficiency. Paul has given up all our human attempts to control his circumstances by emotionally blackmailing the world with his reactions. Whatever happens, Paul isn't going to be changed or pushed around by what happens. Paul knows how to deal with being deprived. Paul knows how to deal with being abundantly provided for, too. He can exceed as easily as he can lack, and he can lack as easily as he can exceed. He doesn't deliberately choose one or the other; he accepts he has no control, and sees challenges on both fronts. You've probably met people who lost something they wanted and therefore changed their outlook. You've probably also met people who gained something they wanted and therefore changed their outlook. One of Paul's early readers commented that “just as being in short supply prepares one to do much evil, so too does a surfeit. … Many people don't know how to face plenty.”16 And it's true!

What Paul is saying is that if the Philippians had sent no money to pay his room and board, he'd be fine, he'd be content with the outcome. He wouldn't think of himself as needy. He could be homeless and content. He could be in a rat-infested Roman prison and be content. He could be beaten and blinded and be content. But he could be equally content if he won the lottery, if he never missed a meal, if he moved into a mansion. Neither would change him. The one wouldn't harden and embitter him, the other wouldn't soften and pamper him. Nothing is about to disrupt the care Paul shows for his soul. He can maintain the same posture in feast or fallow, in abasement and abundance, in prosperity and poverty. How? He has “learned the secret” (Philippians 4:12).

That, at least, is how my Bible translates this one word Paul uses. It's a special word. It would've sounded very odd to the Philippians, I think. The Roman world was full of cults, secret societies, that we today categorize as mystery religions. If you lived in the Roman world, you were free to steer clear of them altogether, or maybe join one, or even join a few of them if you pleased – they weren't jealous. These were religions devoted to certain gods and their most dramatic myths. People allowed to join one would be initiated into it during deeply emotional secret rituals, where they'd be shown a variety of objects and told of their symbolism and the sacred story they pointed to. And this would bestow on the initiate a secret knowledge. One Roman writer after Paul's time tells us how at first, the group being initiated would crowd together “amid tumult and shouting and jostle against each other, but when the holy rituals are being performed and disclosed, the people are immediately attentive in awe and silence.”17 One mystery initiate described the experience by saying, “I approached the confines of death... and, carried through the elements, I returned. At midnight I saw the Sun shining in all his glory. I approached the gods below and the gods above, and I stood beside them, and I worshipped them.”18 But he couldn't get any clearer, because there'd be a harsh penalty. See, it was a death-penalty offense to break the oath of secrecy and reveal the mystery to non-initiates. “The details of the initiatory rite,” one Greek explained a century before Paul, “are guarded among the matters not to be divulged and are communicated to the initiates alone.”19 That's how these mystery religions worked. And we know that some, like the Eleusinian Mysteries and the rites of the Kabeiroi on Samothrace, had some popularity in Philippi.

The word Paul uses here – “I-learned-the-secret” – is the Greek word for being initiated into a mystery religion and being exposed to that mystery, to that cultic revelation, learning the deep occult knowledge at the heart of it all. Paul has approached the confines of death (in baptism) and returned. In the darkness of his prisons, he has seen the Son of God shining in all his glory. He has approached the God who walked on earth below, the God who reigns in heaven above – the one and only God. And now Paul proclaims openly the mystery of the grand manifestation of Christ in us, in the church, in the hearts and souls of the faithful. It's this insider-knowledge, this cultic revelation, that empowers Paul's true self-sufficiency, his true contentment, of which all philosophies are at best a pale and insufficient imitation. Attend in awe and silence to the disclosure of the sacred mystery!

For the shout of the mystery is this: “I am able for all in the One who empowers me” (Philippians 4:13). That's the more literal version of the verse we all know, how “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It's a very misused verse. We tend to misuse it in a triumphalist way, as if Christ lets us accomplish whatever we set our mind to. That's not what Paul's saying here. It isn't about what Paul can do or accomplish; the word 'do' is actually something he deliberately avoids here. It's about what he can face, what he can cope with, what he can handle. And his focus is on himself onto the extent that he's an example. What Paul is saying is that Christ's empowerment, Christ's own strength, is the heart of the secret, the heart of the mystery. And through this mystery, the mystery of Christ in us, Paul can endure and thrive amid any possible circumstances, without it deforming his character or warping his attitude. Paul can go broke, and it won't change him, not even a little. Paul can win the lottery, and it won't change him, not even a little. This mystery has taken him so far above his circumstances as to render them practically irrelevant for what's happening on the inside. And that isn't about how tough Paul is, or how resilient Paul is, or how sophisticated Paul is, or how experienced Paul is, or how disciplined Paul is. It's about Jesus Christ. The mystery is that the best 'self-sufficiency' is Christ-sufficiency.

See, where Seneca says that the wise person “has placed everything in himself,”20 Paul knows that the only way to do that is to put Christ in yourself, and then you've got everything. Paul's 'independence' from circumstances stems from his dependence on the Christ who moved into his heart. True freedom for the soul comes from being tethered and anchored to the indwelling Christ, being bound ever more tightly to him and thus less able to get knocked back and forth by the wind and waves of the world. Real wisdom is letting the Carpenter from Nazareth be the craftsman of mastering your misfortune and fortune alike, and having him do it from the inside. Hence, Paul does have everything necessary for the blessed life within his soul, but only because his soul first got hollowed out and filled with the invading presence of the God of crucifixion and resurrection, the God of bleeding flesh and radiant scars, who gave and reclaimed his own divine life to be all the soundness and all the uprightness of our souls.

So if Paul gets thrown in jail, his contentment is to be full of Jesus, and he's totally confident that Jesus living in him will be sufficient for the challenge of living well in jail, hungry and poor, finding a way to serve. And if Paul gets set free with lavish gifts and a fortune, his contentment is still to be full of Jesus, and he's totally confident that Jesus living in him will be sufficient for the challenge of living well in the wild with a full belly and full pockets, finding a way to serve. Whatever the case, Christ is the generator installed in the core of Paul's soul; and the power Christ generates and supplies is what fuels his response to any situation, including his inner reactions. To imitate the gods of Greece and Rome, like the old philosophers sought, is too low for Paul to aim. To have the power of Christ unleashed within him, handling the challenge in each circumstance, is vastly more freeing. Initiation into the mystery, for Paul, has meant not only the installation of Christ as his generator, but the hooking up of every wire, every cable, every reflex, to him.

And since Paul just finished telling the Philippians (and us) to practice anything and everything that we've heard and seen in his life (Philippians 4:9), Paul must want us to be wired like he is. Paul wants to initiate us into the same all-powerful mystery. It isn't just for apostles and prophets. It isn't just for elites and philosophers. The same fuel cell, the same generator, has been installed in the core of your soul, too.

What does that mean for our lives? I'd like to quickly run over three things. First, political situations. Think of Benjamin Harrison, and how prepared he was for either outcome, ready to handle it with graciousness. Now think of where we are today. This week, with voter participation as high as 1892's was low, in a seemingly neck-and-neck race, things have been wild. Maybe you've ignored the news, or maybe you've watched it like a hawk. Maybe you just don't care, or maybe you have passionate feelings about the electoral process we've seen. Now, barring any forthcoming surprises, most media outlets have called the race, having discerned the direction the election has gone. And maybe that outcome has you elated and hopeful about the country's future. Maybe that outcome has you saddened, concerned, worried, or even angry. Maybe it just has you feeling sick and tired of it all. But learn the secret! Be initiated into the mystery of Christ-sufficiency! Whatever has happened, and whatever's going to happen, you are able to face it undaunted and unchanged in the One who empowers you. If the next four years bring prosperity, abundance, and success – if good decisions are made, if foolish and evil policies are revoked and reversed, if the nation benefits – then Christ is sufficient for you to handle that. If the next four years bring abasement, hunger, and need – if bad decisions are made, if foolish and evil policies are enacted, if the nation decays – then Christ is sufficient for you to handle that, too. If we're initiated into the mystery, we will not be changed when the Oval Office is restocked with personnel, we will not be changed by the changing culture; we will face everything with grace.

Second, the pandemic. It's not quite a year since the first human cases were identified in China. It's been less since it reached our shores and became epidemic here. But when President Harrison talked about how four years could feel like ten, we know what he means. We want it to go away, we want badly for this to be over and done with, and we've heard so many different projections of what might happen next. The uncertainty has been challenging. But learn the secret! Be initiated into the mystery of Christ-sufficiency! If you wake up tomorrow morning and the cases have plummeted, if the virus crumbles and disappears, if we get to run out into the streets and throw our arms around our neighbors unafraid by the end of the week – that will be an adjustment from what we've gone through, it might tempt some of us to pride, but Christ is sufficient for you to handle that and not be inwardly pushed around by the outward circumstance. And if the worst projections come true, if we have to wear these masks for years ahead, if the vaccine tarries and the virus makes itself at home – then Christ is sufficient for you to handle that, too. You are able to put up with a prolonged pandemic through the One who empowers you from the inside out, the one into whose mysteries you've been initiated.

Third, our personal lives. We've endured a number of things in the recent life of our church family. We've seen some new faces become more and more regular – praise God, Christ is sufficient to steer us away from pride or from jealousy. We've noticed the absence of familiar faces that are increasingly homebound – but Christ is sufficient to steer us away from hurt or abandonment. We've lost a beloved brother, pastor, and friend – Christ is sufficient to console us 'til we see him again. We've entered financially tighter times – but Christ is sufficient to face our tightness and our lack as if it were an abundance. We're weary and staring down the long grind – but Christ is sufficient for each day and each hour, unwavering, unchanged.

Some of us, or our friends and family, are dealing with a cancer diagnosis, or awaiting results. For cancer or a stroke or any disease, Christ is sufficient – it can touch the body, but the soul has a power all of Christ. Others are going into remission or into recovery – and for that too, Christ is sufficient – he can redirect our joy to what's more ultimate, remission from guilt now, remission from death itself at his coming, when our heaven-sent Savior comes to transform the body of our humiliation to be like his body of glory (cf. Philippians 3:20-21). Some of us are suffering from dementia, or carrying the care of a loved one who is. For dementia and all afflictions of mental health, and for the burdens of those who provide care, Christ is sufficient – he can power the soul to stay unchanged when the mind ails, he can power the soul to bear up beneath the heaviness, his love can bloom where all is darkness and fragmentation.

Some of us are dealing with plans falling through – things we thought we'd be doing right now that can't happen, opportunities stolen, hopeful intentions thwarted. And for all those, Christ is sufficient – he can enrich the soul as fully in the fallow as in the feast. Some of us are prospering, all is going well – and Christ is equally sufficient for that, able to keep us as steady in the surfeit as in the shortage. In whatever we face, we can learn to be fueled by the sufficiency of Christ from within. And while we'll still feel what happens to us, the mystery unveiled in us will suffice to power us through.

Over a century after Paul, there was a man who, once an initiate of various mystery religions and a practitioner of high philosophy, went on a journey through the regions of the world – and, in each place, found the witness of Christ. Initiated into Christ by baptism and enlightened by the gift of the Holy Spirit, he found the sufficiency that no other mystery ever gave him. And he celebrated by saying:

O truly sacred mysteries! O pure light! In the blaze of the torches I have a vision of heaven and of God. I become holy by initiation. The Lord reveals the mysteries. He marks the worshipper with his seal, gives light to guide his way, and commends him, when he's believed, to the Father's care, where he's guarded for ages to come. These are the revels of my mysteries! If you're willing, be initiated yourself too, and you'll dance with angels around the Unbegotten and Imperishable and Only True God, with the Word of God joining us in our hymn of praise.21

For Christ, the Mystery of the Word come close to our flesh, the One who empowers his initiates, is sufficient to make you able – able to face whatever comes. Through this mystery, it can remain very well indeed with your soul. Thanks be to God! Amen.


1  Benjamin Harrison, letter to S. N. Chambers of Indianapolis, Indiana, dated 19 November 1892.  This and other quotations from President Harrison's correspondence courtesy of the Library of Congress' Benjamin Harrison Papers digital collection at <>.

2  Benjamin Harrison, letter to W. O. Bradley of Lancaster, Kentucky, dated 16 November 1892.

3  Benjamin Harrison, Thanksgiving proclamation, 4 November 1892, in Public Papers and Addresses of Benjamin Harrison (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1893), 242: “He has given His grace to the sorrowing.”

4  See, e.g., R. H. Hollyday, letter to Benjamin Harrison, dated 4 November 1892; John Newell, letter to Benjamin Harrison, dated 7 November 1892; John J. Ridgway, letter to Benjamin Harrison, dated 9 November 1892.

5  Benjamin Harrison, letter to W. O. Bradley of Lancaster, Kentucky, dated 16 November 1892.

6  Benjamin Harrison, letter to Clem Studebaker of South Bend, Indiana, dated 16 November 1892.

7  Benjamin Harrison, letter to Gilbert A. Pierce of Minneapolis, Minnesota, dated 16 November 1892.

8  Benjamin Harrison, letter to John B. Allen of Walla Walla, Washington, dated 19 November 1892.

9  Benjamin Harrison, speech given on 21 April 1900, in Ecumenical Missionary Conference: New York, 1900 (New York: American Tract Society, 1900), 1:45.

10  Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Consolation to Marcia 11.1, in Seneca: Hardship and Happiness, Complete Works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca (University of Chicago Press, 2014), 16.

11  Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius 85.41, in Seneca: Selected Philosophical Letters (Oxford University Press, 2007), 47.  See also older translation in Loeb Classical Library 76:309-311 and newer translation in Seneca: Letters on Ethics to Lucilius, Complete Works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca (University of Chicago Press, 2015), 295.

12  Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius 9.13, in Loeb Classical Library 75:51.  See also newer translation in Seneca: Letters on Ethics to Lucilius, Complete Works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca (University of Chicago Press, 2015), 42.

13  Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius 9.4, in Loeb Classical Library 75:45.  See also newer translation in Seneca: Letters on Ethics to Lucilius, Complete Works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca (University of Chicago Press, 2015), 40.

14  Lucius Annaeus Seneca, On the Happy Life 6.2, in Seneca: Hardship and Happiness, Complete Works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca (University of Chicago Press, 2014), 245.

15  Epictetus, Discourses 1.12.33-35, in Loeb Classical Library 131:97-99; idem., Discourses 3.13.6, in Loeb Classical Library 218:89.

16  John Chrysostom, Homilies on Philippians 16, in Writings of the Greco-Roman World 16:301.

17  Plutarch of Chaeronea, Moralia 81d, excerpted in Marvin W. Meyer, ed., The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999 [1987]), 38.

18  Apuleius of Madauros, Metamorphoses, or, The Golden Ass 11.23, excerpted in Marvin W. Meyer, ed., The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999 [1987]), 189.

19  Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5.49.5, excerpted in Marvin W. Meyer, ed., The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999 [1987]), 41.

20  Lucius Annaeus Seneca, On the Constancy of the Wise Person 5.4, in Seneca: Hardship and Happiness, Complete Works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca (University of Chicago Press, 2014), 153.

21  Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus 12, in Loeb Classical Library 92:257.  Modernized.