I am a big fan of movies but I have a confession to make… I have never seen some of the most well-known movies in our world such as Casablanca, The Godfather, or The Terminator. While I haven’t seen these movies I am familiar with some of their greatest lines such as “I’ll be back”, “Here’s lookin at you kid”, and “I’m going to make you an offer you cannot refuse”.
If you ask me what The Terminator is about I would give my best guess that it is about some robot from the future that has come to save earth from some other bad robots. I’ve been told that this summation of The Terminator misses the plot pretty bad. For me the line “I’ll be back” is just some silly line from a movie that I might say when I take a quick trip to the grocery store for some eggs before breakfast. That line is one many iconic lines from movies that has somehow managed a life of its own in American pop-culture that for many, such as myself, has nothing to do with the actual movie.
However when I hear other famous lines from movies that I have actually seen, I don’t just hear a random movie quotes but I am reminded of the story in which those words take place. Take for instance the line “You can’t handle the truth!” That line brings me back to the scene from A Few Good Men where a proud Col. Jessep, played by Jack Nicholson, is finally pushed to the tipping point by the questioning of a cocky young Navy Lawyer played by Tom Cruise. “You can’t handle the truth” is the very climax of a story about honor and justice and government cover-ups. For me that line doesn’t have a life of it’s own but rather finds its significance in a compelling story.
For the last 8 months our church has taken a very slow and deliberate look into the book of Philippians, a book which has so many lines which have become popular in modern Christianity such as “to live is Christ, to die is gain”, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, “Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”, and “My God shall supply all your needs according to his riches and glory in Christ Jesus.” For 8 months we have looked not just at the words of Philippians but at the story of Philippians… and it is a great story! A story of a guy named Paul who planted a church in Philippi with a handful of women. A story of a church that is beginning to suffer the persecution of Rome under a crazed emperor name Nero. A story of a guy in prison 800 miles away from one of his most dearly beloved churches who is all alone in prison without food or possession yet is being visited by a friend from Philippi who is bearing gifts to take care of him in his time of need. A story of the gospel going forward even in the most inhospitable of circumstances. A story of the grace of Christ in the midst of trials and suffering.
After going through this series I can honestly say that I will never read or hear the words “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” in the same way again. These lines as with the other famous and not so famous lines from Philippians will never be simple inspiration sayings for me. They will always take me back to the story. And the story gives me as much hope as the words themselves.
I have seen so much misunderstanding and bad theology come from a failure to understand the stories of the Bible. When we take lines from the Bible apart from their context in the story they end up having either negligible effects in our faith journey or simply get relegated to the realm of pop-culture along with lines from movies, poems, and songs. I feel like much of the surrounding world has been shortchanged on the truth of scriptures because the church has not done a very good job on telling the stories of the Bible. I can only hope that this trend is reversed because I have seen in my own personal life and in the life of the church of which I am a part that knowing the story anchors the words of scripture into the actual everday realm in which people have been seeking to live out their faith for thousands of years. The reality is that apart from the story we can’t handle the truth.