When I entered Indiana University (IU) in the summer of 1976, I was invited to join the fraternity my dad had been a member of, Phi Kappa Psi, or Phi Psi for short.
I started the first semester of my freshman year as a ‘Pledge’, meaning I had pledged to become a Phi Psi and they had pledged to receive me – if I fulfilled the requirements. There were about 15 in my (freshman) Pledge class and a total of 95 men living under the same roof, with an older couple who served as ‘house parents’ and cooked for us, but we were pretty much self-governing, with upperclassmen being President, Vice President, etc.
That first semester included a lot of ‘hazing’, the ritualistic harassment of the incoming class culminating in ‘hell week’, which I might add, was appropriately named. The upper classmen treated us like new Marine recruits, complete with hundreds of push ups at a time, yelling at us nose to nose, telling us we were lower than a snake’s belly and unworthy of being called a Phi Psi, and more.
After all, 7 time Olympic gold medalist, Mark Spitz, was a Phi Psi from that very house a mere 4 years earlier. Many ‘Captains of Industry’, doctors, lawyers, Olympians of various sports, CEO’s and such were Phi Psi’s. My roommate for a semester who was a junior at the time, later became Governor and then US Senator from Indiana - But we freshmen were mere Pledges, wannabe’s, and were treated as such.
After that final week of hazing, those that saw it through until the end, were accepted and deemed worthy to have the mysteries of the fraternity revealed to them. We spent a week being taught by upper classmen and alumni how the fraternity was founded by 2 Christian men who wanted to spread the gospel and instill in young men the knowledge of God and His ways (How far their fraternity had fallen by 1976).
We were told of the founding, the secret meanings of the fraternity shield and what the Phi, Kappa, and Psi stood for in our fraternity, and swore an oath to uphold the ideals of the Founders (Which consisted of Christian and Biblical ideals so I had no problem swearing to uphold them).
I was elected Chaplain by the whole house, and with great formality and solemnity, our class was initiated into the mysteries of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. Yes there is a secret handshake, but I’d have to kill you if I told you, lol.
But what makes me a Phi Psi is that I’ve been initiated into the mysteries of the fraternity. Only Phi Psi’s know those mysteries, the rest of the world does not. And each fraternity and sorority has similar mysteries to which only members have knowledge.
The Bible speaks of initiation into different mysteries, which I ended with last week. But first…
In ancient Mesopotamia there existed a society of what we commonly call ‘wise men’. In English they are known as the Magi. The word ‘magi’ is from the Greek word ‘magos’, and more directly the Latin ‘magus’ – the plural is ‘magi’. It is where we get the word ‘magic’, and refers to a secret fraternity of knowledge to which others are not aware. They are ‘outside’ the fraternity, ignorant of the mysteries only members know.
I don’t want to do a whole history lesson on the Magi or ‘Wise men’ as many English Bibles translate it, but will say they were a class of priests who we see as Daniel’s peers (and enemies) serving the various kings of Babylon, Persia, and Media.
They were the ones who could not interpret the different king’s dreams and visions, while God gave Daniel the meanings. They looked to the stars, acknowledging the Creator had put them in the sky as He said in Genesis 1:14: “Let them be for signs, seasons, days, and years.” They specialized in the ‘signs’ part through astronomical observations. (Daniel 2:48)
Because of their secret knowledge, they had seen a star move into the constellation regarding Israel, and determined a new King had been born in Israel. No one in Israel knew the sign of the Star of Bethlehem, and even the wise men came to Herod asking where the new King was – but everyone except the Magi were clueless. All Israel and Herod saw the same stars and constellations as the Magi, but were outside the fraternity of knowledge to understand what they were seeing.
Scripture revealed the King would be born in Bethlehem, so the Magi headed there, and upon finding the family in a house gave baby Jesus gifts typical of the day for a King; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Mt 2:11)
My point is that the Magi were part of a fraternity, marked by secret knowledge known only to those in the fraternity. It seems to be human nature to make these secret clubs, from boys climbing tree houses and refusing to let girls enter, to pricking each other’s fingers and rubbing the drops of blood together to become ‘blood brothers’, to little girls not inviting another girl to their imaginary tea party while they told secrets of which boy likes which girl – secrets only they knew and refused to share with the other girl.
Back to Paul
But Paul spoke of a loftier set of mysteries he had been initiated into. His letter to the Philippians, most likely going to Lydia and the church in her house, was the warmest letter Paul wrote to anyone in the New Testament. Many believe Paul’s good friend and author of Luke and Acts, Luke, married Lydia and stayed behind in Philippi with her. In Philippians we discover more about Paul’s desires and struggles than we do anywhere else in the New Testament.
He continues letting us peer into his soul when he thanks for them for their financial support with this statement in 4:11-13 which we will examine in detail:
“Not that I speak in respect of want, for I have learned in whatsoever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased and how to abound; every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
“I have learned” might be better expressed as ‘I have entered a new dimension’. The Greek word ‘learned’ is ‘manthano’ which is similar to ‘mathetes’ which means disciple. It refers to someone who has become a learner from (Someone) else, starting a new chapter in life we might say. It is used to express the thought they have come into a new season of life, but more than that, they have grown in knowledge in an area they previously lacked.
And what is that new dimension? He continues: I have learned in whatsoever state I am, to be content. This doesn’t mean Paul could be happy in Rome or Ephesus, it means circumstance or situation he faced.
Paul had entered a new dimension – no matter what circumstance he was in, he could be ‘content’. But don’t think of this English word as content like we would use it today. This is not ‘I’ll go with the flow’, or ‘I guess I’ll be happy’ or ‘It isn’t they way I planned my life, but I’ll be okay Lord’. NO!
It is the Greek word ‘autarkes’, which means “sufficient in oneself”. It is made up of 2 words, ‘auto’, which means ‘self’, and ‘arkeo’ which means “to be sufficiently strong, to be enough for a thing” (Vine’s). Putting the whole passage together Paul was saying this:
“Not that I am speaking out of need. For I have entered a new dimension in my life, whatever my circumstance are, to be self-sufficient, having enough for whatever I face. I know how to abound and how to suffer lack. I know how to be full and how to be hungry. For I have been initiated into a fraternity of mysteries which is; I can do all things through Christ who strengthen me.”
And that’s where I’ll pick it up next week….blessings!