REFLECTION by Tom
The letter to the Philippians, once described as ‘a
document on martydom’, has a theological perspective of
‘cross’ rather than ‘glory’. The letter celebrates the
joyful relationship which Paul has with the church because
of their partnership in suffering. He makes many
references to ‘mind’ (1.7; 2.2; 3;15, 3;19, 4.2). This is
not simply an exhortation to be humble but of the
necessity of being inhabited by the mind of Christ through
sacrificial obedience to him.
Jesus spoke with authority and not as the scribes
(Mk.1.22). The Greek word for authority ‘exousia’ comes
from the verb ‘exesti’ which means ‘it is possible’ and
‘it is permitted’. It describes power but has a different
take on it. ‘Exousia’ is not about a person’s status,
position or authority within a structure, or an ability to
coerce, manipulate or control. ‘Exousia’ is a gift of
grace centred not on the person but on God who inhabits
and exercises ‘possibility’ within that person. Paul had
that sort of authority. That was what made him an apostle.
In the year that King Uzziah died,
the prophet for the first time saw beyond the current
political upheaval. It enable him to set current affairs
within a vision of the ultimate.
The nation had enjoyed 50 years of
stability. There had been no king like Uzziah since the
reign of Solomon. National pride had been restored and the
upheavals of recent years forgotten yet that stability was
about to crumble. The great king overreached himself,
compromised the holiness of worship and had been struck
down with leprosy. He sank into a leper’s grave.
As the prophet was worshipping he
was suddenly swept away in a hurricane of sorrow. The
nation, like the king was sick from top to toe with
uncleanness, injustice, curruption and division. It had
leprosy and would become prey for the surrounding nations.
Isaiah experienced the shaking of
the foundations of everything he had known. Henceforth the
nation would have to live with instability and threat. The
rise of a new superpower in the East would make the whole
Isaiah's vision of holiness could
no longer be confined by the temple. God's Royal Presence
was to inhabit the whole earth. Only his skirts were in
Smoke and mist arose as they
always do when holiness and sin touch each other. A
confession is forced from the prophet's lips. ‘I am a man
of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of
The social and political sin – sin
of heart, home and market- have been exposed through the
worship and they fall to the ground like rotten leafs
beneath the stainless beauty of the seraphs praise.
The words above are drawn from
George Adam Smith’s famous Commentary (revised 1931) on
the book of Isaiah.
turned again to this Commentary in the week following the
referendum vote. They spoke to me of the sickness of our
nation, of how ambition and power can corrupt, how greed
and selfishness destroys justice and how public speakers
can use words as weapons devoid of truth.
The Isaiah passage offers me an
alternative vision for the world but tells me that in and
through such a holy God 'all the nations are accounted as
dust on the scales'.