For this week's sermon, I was reading Philippians 2 and the New Interpreter's Bible has a fairly large section on the fact that Jesus is known to Paul in this passage as pre-existent. So, here is the familiar passage from Philippians 2:
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The commentary explains Paul's thinking about Christ in this way, "In Jewish thought, to speak of someone as 'Pre-Existent' is to affirm that they were a part of God's plan." Therefore Paul, who sees the cross of Christ and Jesus's life of servanthood as an essential part of God's plan, asserts Jesus' eternal value in God's redemption story by using a known hymn (or informal creedal statement) that places Jesus with God before his time on earth. But the commentary goes on:
Take 2 Corinthians 8:9 for example
9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
Paul does the same thing here, he argues the importance of Christ's emptying himself but assumes that Jesus, before being poor for our sakes, was rich in God. I guess the rub to literal interpreters would be Paul, in line with Jewish thought, isn't asserting a historical reality, but a figure of speech that affirms Christ's worth within God's plan.
So, what are we to do with Paul's writing in Ephesians 1?
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Is Paul literally arguing that God selected these church members before the historical foundation of the world, or is Paul using the same type of thought that shows the importance of the Ephesian church and their role in God's plan of redemption for humanity? While some of my "predestined" friends may not enjoy the conclusion, I believe that Paul's intention here, like other places, is to make clear that when we choose to confess Jesus as Lord and accept the salvation that comes through him, we join a story that God has been writing since the foundation of the world, and for the purposes of that story, we become important to God's plan. How in the world do we get believers to understand how important they are to the ongoing work of God in the world? Well, Paul and the Jewish writers, had a great way of displaying that for the people of God.
It is as if God's eternal plan and your transient life have come in contact... And because you have given your life to God, you are now where you always were supposed to be! Welcome Home in the plan of God that spans history! Take your place!
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.