Friday, June 5, 2009

Who is Spiritual (Part 2)

Yesterday I asked the question: What does it mean to be spiritual?

I believe that the two options of traditional religion and experiential spirituality, which are held by most people to be contradictory opposites, are actually two versions of the same approach to spirituality, each to be contrasted with the true alternative which is radically different from both.

My Scriptural text from which I will demonstrate this is Philippians 3:1-16 (ESV). The passage begins like this:
2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh
I have long and often thought that Paul is here defining what true spirituality is in three points: (A) Put no confidence in the flesh, (B) glory in Christ Jesus, and (C) worship God in the Spirit. I still believe that is true. However, I have found a key to better understand the passage by noting a structure to the flow of Paul’s argument that is not easily apparent to the casual or untrained observer.

The key to interpreting the passage is its Chiastic structure. The term comes from the Greek letter Chi, which looks like our English letter “X”. The Chiastic pattern or structure is used in a lot of ancient documents - everything from Beowulf to the Torah - as a way of emphasizing points and making an argument memorable. It is a form of parallelism. Chiastic structure is very common in Psalms and Proverbs, in many of the OT prophetic oracles, and in the epistles of Paul (trained as a Rabbi to use the technique).

Think of the letter X with two lines crossing. A Chiastic structure crosses itself. It repeats its main points in parallel form, but in reversing order. If an argument has three points (A, B,C) then a Chiastic structure would have parallel thought as either A-B-C-C-B-A or C-B-A-A-B-C.

The chiastic structure of Philippians 3 looks like this:

C. Worship by the Spirit of God (Vs 3a)
B. Glory in Christ Jesus (Vs 3b)
A. Put no confidence in the flesh (Vs 3c)

A. Put no confidence in the flesh (Vs 4-7)
B. Glory in Christ Jesus (Vs 8-11)
C. Worship by the Spirit of God (Vs 12-16)

Paul is explaining in verses 4-16 what he meant by the three terms so briefly presented in verse 3. Seeing this structure sheds a brighter light on the meaning of the passage, and what Paul is saying about the nature of true spirituality.

(continued tomorrow)