Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister



“The Weaving of the Spirit”

Sunday, October 18, 2009



Philippians 1:12-20



Rev. Dean Snyder


We are starting a new sermon series this week on the theme “The Life of a Thread: Knit and Woven” We are looking at two Greek words in the New Testament that mean knit and woven and how they are used in several different ways. You will notice that some folk are weaving on a stand behind the lectern and that some folk in the congregation are knitting or crocheting as visual aids this morning.


Today we are working with a passage from the book of Philippians written by the Apostle Paul.


Lots of people don’t like the Apostle Paul. I like him.


The reason people don’t like Paul is because scripture verses that have been used in a reactionary way historically have often come from Paul’s writings or writings attributed to him. Here’s some examples:


Slaves, be obedient to your masters. (Ephesians 6:5) Paul didn’t actually write Ephesians.


Wives, be submissive to your husbands. (Titus 2:5) Paul didn’t actually write Titus.


Women should be silent in church. (1 Corinthians 14:34) Paul wrote that one.


Paul wrote some things, especially in Romans 1: 24-27 that are used in a superficial way to condemn gay folk.


Let me say this in Paul’s defense. He didn’t know he was writing the Bible. The reason I can like Paul is because I don’t expect him to be right about everything.


If he wrote some of the things he wrote back then today, I’d have a big problem with Paul, but he was a smart guy and his writings wouldn’t be the same if he was writing today with what we know now.


Paul is there at the beginning and he is trying to figure it out. Sometimes he has flashes of amazing insight. Sometimes he doesn’t get it yet. I don’t believe Paul would expect you to blindly accept everything he wrote.


If we meet Paul in the next life, I expect him to say to us, “Were you crazy? I was trying to teach people to think and to wrestle with the implications of Jesus’ death and resurrection … not to treat what I said as though it was the final word. Why do you think God gave you brains?”


That’s what I expect Paul to say. I may be wrong.


There is lots to learn from Paul if we will let him be a person of his time and place and circumstance.  The church decided early on that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. It never decided Paul was anything but fully human.


The same Paul who wrestled with issues concerning gender and sexuality taught that  “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” in Galatians 3:28, and he did write Galatians.


We are looking at a passage from Philippians today, which is a letter he wrote to his favorite church from prison. It may well be the last letter of his that we have. This is a mature Paul.


He is in Rome in the prison in a jail under the Emperor Caesar’s palace. We know this because Philippians tells us that he was guarded by the praetorium, and the praetorium were Caesar’s personal guards. He also talks in the letter about Caesar’s household where some members of the household were Christians. (4: 22)


He was in prison a long time awaiting trial, we think at least two years. The trial, he knew, could end either in acquittal or his death.


At this stage of his life, Paul has become unusually philosophical. He is still an activist. He is still winning people for Christ from among Caesar’s guards and from his household. But he has mellowed and become less combative.   


Paul tended to not get along well with other Christian preachers and teaches. He tends to be very critical of other Christian preachers and teachers throughout his writings.


In the first part of the passage we are looking at today, Paul is writing philosophically about other Christian preachers.


This is what he writes:


     Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. [There are still some preachers whose motivations Paul questions and criticizes. But then he writes:] What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice. (1:15-18)


This is a new attitude for Paul. Maybe because he has matured or maybe because he knows he may be near the end of his life, he is saying it is all good.


No matter what the questionable motives of some other preachers and teachers may be, Christ is still proclaimed and Christ has the capacity to bring people into the right place even if the motives of the teachers and preachers who introduce them to Christ are not right.


This is an attitude I wish I had more of … a confidence that Christ can bring people to the right place in spite of preaching and teaching that is wrongly motivated.


You know, I was introduced to Christ by people, some of whom were racist. Some of the people who introduced me to Christ were racist. Some were sexist. Most were probably homophobic, I assume, although nobody ever talked about it.


There are still a lot of people being introduced to Christ by preachers and teachers who are racist, sexist, or homophobic. Paul had come to the place in his life where he was saying that even if the preachers and teachers are ill-motivated, Christ will eventually bring people who follow him closer to the vision which Christ embodies even if the preachers and teachers who introduce them to Christ are themselves not well-motivated.  


I wish I trusted Christ that much.


I think part of the reason Paul reached this place of trust is because of what he says in the second part of this lesson.


In the second part of the lesson we get a glimpse of the mature Paul’s understanding of God’s providence … the way Paul believes God acts in the world to care for us.


And it centers around this Greek word epichoregia.[ ep-ee-khor-ayg-ee'-ah].  


Here’s the verse. Philippians 1: 19. Paul is talking about being in prison and awaiting trial, and the reality that as a result of the trial he will either be acquitted or executed.


This is what he writes:


I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.


The word I want to focus on is the word that is translated here help.


I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.


The Greek word translated help here is epichoregia.[i]


The Greek word used most commonly in the New Testament for help is the word. Sullambano [sool-lam-ban'-o]  which literally means “to lift with.”


You’d see how a word that means “to lift with” would be translate to help. When you lift with somebody, you help them.


But the word translated help in Philippians 1:19 is epichoregia.


Epichoregus means to weave. Epi means over/across and choregeo is the Greek word we get our word chorale or choreography from. What does a chorale or a chorus do? It weaves sound together.


What is choreography? It is weaving movement together.


So in this case, Paul is saying that the kind of help he trusts in from the spirit of Jesus Christ is not the “helping to lift” kind of help, but a kind of help that weaves things together.   


And the end result of the weaving of things together by the spirit of Jesus Christ is his deliverance, which does not mean his acquittal but that Christ will be exalted in his body, whether through his life or his death.


Philippians 1:20


It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death.


What is Paul saying? He is saying that he can not control the other preachers. He can not control Caesar and whether his verdict will be acquittal or death.


What he is saying is that whatever happens the spirit of Jesus Christ will weave everything together so that Christ will be exalted.


Paul only hopes that he will conduct himself through all this in such a way as to not be an embarrassment. If he conducts himself with boldness and courage and does what he is called to do, he is confident that no matter what happens the spirit of Jesus Christ will weave things together for a good result.


I wish I had that kind of trust. But then I don’t think Paul always had that kind of trust either.


Look at the weaving. What is the job of a thread? The job of the thread is to get from here to here with authenticity and integrity.


The job of how everything fits together to form a tapestry is not the thread’s job.


The job of a thread is to get from here to here, or from here to here maybe, with authenticity and integrity. The individual thread usually can’t even tell what the big picture looks like.


Epichoregia. We get our word chorale from it. Where are the tenors? Why do tenors sit together in the choir? Because their job is to sing the tenor part and they are close together to support each other. Their job is not to sing the whole choral anthem. Their job is to sing their part with authenticity and integrity.


This is what Paul was saying – let me just sing my part without putting myself to shame, and I will trust the composer and director to weave the parts together in such a way that the result will be beautiful. Christ will be exalted.


This is Paul’s mature understanding of the way God works. Let me do my part well, and let me trust the spirit of Jesus Christ to weave things together. Paul can’t control the other preachers. He can’t control Caesar’s verdict.


Matter of fact, if we believe God has given us free-will, God can’t control Caesar’s verdict.


But no matter what Caesar’s verdict is—acquittal or death—Paul believes the spirit of Jesus Christ can weave things together so that Paul’s life will exalt Christ.


It looks likely that the district will legalize same-sex marriage sometime next year—earlier rather than later. I’ve begun talking with some other United Methodist pastors about what we should do as pastors of a denomination that has outlawed same-sex marriage in our buildings or celebration by our clergy.


So we had a little meeting of some clergy this week and the topic came up, and we were discussing what would happen. What will the conservatives do if we do this or that? What will IRD do if we do this or that? What will the DS do? What will the bishop do? If we do so-and-so, what will it accomplish? If we do the other thing, what will the result be in the long haul? Would it be worth it? What will happen to our pensions? What will happen to our health benefits?


I was part of these discussions at the same time I was studying this passage from Philippians. I selected this passage long before I knew same-sex marriage would be an issue in DC.


And I am thinking to myself that Paul was awaiting trial for his life. Other preachers are undermining him. The trial will end in acquittal or death.


And Paul is saying: Whatever happens I am confident the spirit of Jesus Christ will weave everything together so that Christ will be exalted. I only hope that I conduct myself with boldness and authenticity and integrity so that I will not do anything so as to shame myself.


I’m not saying we shouldn’t be intentional or strategic. I’m just saying that Paul trusted the spirit of Jesus Christ with the tapestry. He was just concerned that he got from here to there with integrity and authenticity and boldness and that he did not embarrass himself in the way he lived out this part of his life.


I’m just saying it was a pretty intense passage of scripture to be studying in the midst of the discussion about what we clergy should do when same-sex marriage becomes legal in DC.


So this is the message from Paul for today. In his maturity, Paul came to believe it was his job to get from here to here well, and he came to believe that, no matter what others did, no matter what the verdict of his trial would be, no matter what happened to him, he could trust the spirit of Jesus Christ to weave it all together to exalt Christ.


Perhaps there is somewhere in our lives where we are having a hard time trusting. We want to control the design of the tapestry, but we are a thread. Paul came to understand that it is our job to get from here to there with boldness, courage, authenticity and integrity. Then we can trust the spirit of Jesus Christ with the rest.









[i] Earl Palmer discusses the significance of this Greek word in “The Chorale and the Choreographer,” Integrity at