In the ancient Greek epic, The Odyssey, the titular character Odysseus, a great Greek prince and hero, leaves his home on the island of Ithaca to fight in the famed Trojan War. After the bloody, decade-long struggle, Odysseus is detained from returning home by a series of unfortunate events that culminate in his imprisonment on the island of Ogygia, where he is held captive by the nymph Calypso for seven years.
Meanwhile, the townsmen of Ithaca compete in wooing Odysseus’ wife Penelope, all while living off his estate, stealing his food and wine, and carousing at night, assuming that the master of the house will never return.
What would you do in Penelope’s shoes? She could have easily married one of the suitors and chosen a more comfortable life for her and her son. Instead, she shrewdly promises the suitors that she will marry one of them as soon as she finishes weaving a burial shroud for her father-in-law—but each night, she unravels a bit of the shroud so that it is never finished.
This act of faithfulness to her husband became legendary in history and myth. Saint Jerome, writing in the fourth century, mentions Penelope as one of several examples of virtuous pagan women of old.
One cannot help but see the echoes of Christ’s romance with his bride, the church, in Homer’s pre-Christian epic. Christ’s people, like Penelope, are awaiting the return of our husband. And like Penelope, we have a choice to remain faithful or give ourselves to the world’s lesser loves.
The Apostle Paul is filled with affection for Christ’s people in these last words of the introduction to Philippians. Having thanked them for their partnership in ministry and in suffering for the gospel, he prays that they would grow in the virtues of love, knowledge, and discernment—so that they would “be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (1:10b). The “day of Christ,” also mentioned in 1:6, is Paul’s second reference so far in this epistle to the day of Christ’s return to judge and to consummate his reign.
It is essential to remember that we pursue Christian growth, not simply to congratulate ourselves on our progress, but as a faithful bride adorning herself for her husband. Every lesson, trial, and triumph of the Christian life is aimed at producing rich, satisfying joy in that moment when we meet our Lord face to face. Without this eternal perspective, we will drift off course in our pursuit of holiness.
Paul adds his prayer that the Philippian believers would be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (v. 11). Christ is not only a husband but a husbandman, seeking a fruitful harvest. In the Gospels, Jesus’ discovery of a fruitless fig tree is set in parallel with his visit to the worldly, corrupt temple complex in Jerusalem (Matthew 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-25). Jesus curses the fig tree, causing it to wither, as a sign that so too was the Jewish nation to be judged for rejecting her Messiah—which took place in A.D. 70 in the events of the Roman invasion and destruction of the temple. To be caught by Jesus in a state of fruitlessness is a serious manner indeed.
By contrast, those who are truly united to Christ by faith will bear the fruit he is looking for. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit” (John 15:5a). Hence, Paul looks forward to his friends in Philippi bearing the fruit of righteousness “through Jesus Christ”—and all this is to the glory of God as the giver of every grace in a believer’s life.
In Homer’s epic, Odysseus does return, triumphing mightily over his enemies. In book 16, as Odysseus is plotting his vengeance, he tells his son: “Here I am, and I am as you see me.” The suitors are slain, and he is reunited to Penelope.
One day, we too will see the great I Am as he is (1 John 3:2). Christ will return. Until then, our duty as his blood-bought bride is to be on mission in light of his victory, saving ourselves for him.
You have purchased your bride with your own blood. You have loved us with an everlasting love, and we belong in body and soul completely to you. Ravish us with your holy love. Help us to wait faithfully for your final coming to consummate your kingdom forever. While we wait, help us to be filled with the fruit of righteousness through abiding deeply in you. Grant us to be diligently going about your work, making disciples of all the nations, so that you will be pleased with the manner of our lives on that day.
In your name, amen.
- Confess any unfaithfulness to the Lord in your life. In light of the day you will see Christ, repent to him of any secret sins, whether sins of action or inaction.
- Pray for your church to fix its gaze on eternity. Pray that your church’s leaders and members would not be so dulled by the daily rhythms of life that they would fail to live in expectant hope of Christ’s return. Pray for your church to be zealously engaged in mission as a result.
- Pray for a missionary you know to stay personally pure and abiding in Christ. Ask God to keep them from the subtle pride and temptation to compromise that often affects those in ministry.
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