Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Philippians as an Epistle of Affirmations (#5) -- Bruce Epperly

There is good news to be had in Scripture.  There are affirmations to be heard.  It doesn't have to be a prosperity gospel, but it can be a gospel of divine abundance.  Bruce Epperly delves into this question in this the fifth of his posts on Paul's epistle to the Philippians.   


Philippians V – Philippians as an Epistle of Affirmations 
Philippians 1:6; 2:15; 4:8-9, 13, 19)
Bruce G. Epperly

Paul is the apostle of spiritual transformation.  God’s presence in our lives invites us to become new creations.  Grace urges us to look at ourselves and the world in innovative ways that align us with God’s vision of shalom, wholeness, salvation, and hospitality.  We can have the mind of Christ if we follow Paul’s counsel, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God –what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

These days, many people are seeking personal transformation through the use of affirmations.  Affirmations are short statements, made in the present tense, using “I” or “we” language, to promote realistic and positive visions of ourselves.  Affirmations are grounded in the recognition that what we take for real is often a misconception.  We are often imprisoned by limits that we learned, usually unconsciously, in childhood.  They become the lenses through which we view ourselves and the world.  Most of the time, however, they are inaccurate.  For example, many of us internalize the voices of people in our childhood who communicated to us the following: “you aren’t smart,” “you are fat,” “you’ll never succeed,” “you’re the homely one,” “you don’t deserve love,” “you weren’t meant to be born.”  Think a moment about the limits that you have internalized – the words and images that shape negatively how you view yourself. Are they “realistic” or do they represent the influence of statements, now inaccurate and perhaps never accurate, that you heard in childhood?  Affirmations are the antidote to the limitations and neglect we internalized as children.  As Abileen says to a neglected child in The Help: “You is kind, you is smart, you is special.”

Affirmations come from a deeper reality than the limitations by which we often live.  They reflect the larger world in which we live, a world of beauty, love, and possibility.  Spoken over and over again, repeated daily and hourly, affirmations shape the unconscious and conscious, and lead to personal transformation.  The use of affirmations reflects Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus recognized the current realities and the limits of life, but he did not see them as limiting.  Instead, he saw more to reality than meets the eye: five loaves and two fish can feed a multitude; a mustard seed can become a great plant; a tax collector can become a benefactor; a woman of dubious reputation can become a spiritual leader; a spiritual failure can become the leader of the church.  Paul knew first-hand the power of a new vision to transform one’s perspective and reality.  That’s the reason why Paul is the apostle of the transformed mind: we awaken to grace, creativity, and generosity, when we “think on these things” (Philippians 4:8) - the beautiful, positive, noble – rather than things that objectify, limit, and alienate.  Affirmations invite us to live by abundance – God’s abundant life – and not the scarcity of lonely individualism.

I begin each day with an affirmation from the Psalms: “This is the day that God has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it!” (Psalm 118:24)  Then I ask God to awaken me to the possibilities, surprises, and adventures of this new day.

Philippians invites us toward an affirmative faith.  Just think of how your life would change if you lived by these Philippian affirmations:

  • God who began a good work in me and will bring it to fulfillment. (1:6)
  •  God is producing a harvest of righteousness in my life. (1:11)
  • I rejoice in all things. (1:18; 4:4)
  • I have the mind of Christ. (2:5)
  • I am working out my salvation with awe and excitement. (2:12)
  • God is moving in my life to achieve God’s vision for me. (2:13)
  •  I shine like a star in the world. (2:15)
  •  I press toward the goal of God’s heavenly calling. (3:14)
  • God is near. (4:5)
  • God’s peace guards my heart and mind. (4:7)
  • I think on things that are pure and noble. (4:8-9)
  • I can do all things with Christ who strengthens me. (4:12)
  • God will supply all my needs according to God’s riches in glory in Jesus Christ. (4:19)

For more on the use of spiritual affirmations, see Holy Adventure (Upper Room), Philippians: An Interactive Study (Energion), and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern World (Parson’s Porch).

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty one books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious LivingPhilippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age.  He may be reached at for lectures, workshops, and retreats.

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