Philippians, Paul, & Participation

As I have written on this blog, the idea of participation is huge for both the theological movement Radical Orthodoxy but also for that ecclesial tradition (some would say "that one true church") called Eastern Orthodoxy.

Now, the usual Greek word for "participation," going all the way back to Plato and Aristotle, is the word methexis. That word does not appear in the New Testament, much less in Philippians. However, I do think that concept is there in droves.

In fact if I were to summarize the book of Philippians, I would have to put Paul’s emphasis on (various forms of) participation near the top of my list of his main points.

Three words in particular make this point: kiononia, politeuma, and phronesis.

 Kiononia (cognates appear in 1:5;1:7;2:1;3:10;4:14;4:15): "fellowship, participation, an association involving close mutual relations and involvement." In these verses Paul describes Christian kiononia as a participation in "the gospel," "in grace," "in the Spirit," "in [Christ’s] sufferings," "in my troubles," "with me." 

Politeuma (1:27;3:20): "state, commonwealth, place of citizenship." In these verses Paul teaches that Christians should "live as citizens" (or perhaps "conduct your political life") in a manner that is "worthy of the Gospel of Christ" (1:27) and also that our citizenship (or our political identity / rootedness) is in heaven with Christ (3:20).

Phronesis (1:7;2:2;2:5;3:15;3:19;4:2;4:10): "to be wise; to have a specific attitude toward other people." The meaning of this word is not include the explicitly participatory, but in 2:5 Paul suggests that he is thinking of it in terms of the community: "complete my joy by participating in the same "wise frame of mind," having the same love, being in full accord and of one "wise frame of mind."

As we participate in each other (in fellowship, and in the same "political city") we are also participating in Christ himself.

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