Monday, February 15, 2010

Paul's Ethic

Monday, February 15, 2010 -- Week of Last Epiphany, Year Two
Thomas Bray, priest and Missionary, 1730

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 951)
Psalms 25 (morning) 9, 15 (evening)
Proverbs 27:1-6, 10-12
Philippians 2:1-13
John 18:15-18, 25-27

Paul offers a profound commentary on humility and service today. He grounds his argument in the character of Jesus. Though Jesus "was in the form of God," he "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave." Paul tells his followers to do likewise. "Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others." This is the path of divine glory, Paul says.

How might such an ethic play out if it were followed universally?

How might our families fare if each of us served the interests of others before ourselves? Note that even in this section, Paul is not withholding correction or instruction. He is not indulgent in an overly permissive way. He tells the church in Philippi to continue to obey him even in his absence as they did when he was with them. But he exercises his authority over them as a servant or a slave. He places their needs and their good above his own. How might our relationships as spouses or parents be improved if we were to live as Paul insists?

How might we apply the same attitude in our work and vocation? Is there a way that every job and every function can be embraced as an act of service? Is there an attitude of service and consideration for others that can inform and characterize our focus and our labor? A good business provides service and value to others. How can a business be healthy while also doing "nothing from selfish ambition or conceit," looking to the interests of others more than self-interest?

How might Paul's moral vision be a foundation for political and social life? What if political parties, candidates and government officials consistently looked not to their own power or self-interest, but focused entirely on the needs and interests of others? We read the other day Paul's command that we give greater honor to the weaker members of our society. How different, how much more compassionate and benevolent might our nation and our world be if we adopted Paul's vision as our political mandate?

Maybe it is more interesting just to look at the contrasts between Paul's ethic and the actions and statements that define our family, economic and political life. For whose benefit do we act? What actions do we take in our families and among our friends that are contrary to Paul's admonitions? In what ways is our work and our business more self-interest than service? How do politicians ignore the needs and interests of others and appeal to power and self-interest?

Paul grounds his entire argument in the example of Jesus. Paul says that to follow Jesus in the path of humility and service is to share eventually in his destiny of glory. "Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth." Paul encourages us to share that destiny by walking in that same love.

He closes this section by telling his friends to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." The translation lacks a bit. It might be better rendered "work forth" or "demonstrate" your own salvation. Salvation is the life that we live in as followers of Christ, a life that we enjoy now and which will come to fullness in the future. When we act as willing servants, following the example of Christ, we are working forth our own salvation even as we anticipate its fulfillment. It is to walk in love as we live in hope.

That's a good resolve with which to start this new week.


Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117

An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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