I am no fan of R. Bultmann, but I am ready to concede that sometimes he writes words of wisdom. At any rate, judging by the little I have read of him, I would not be surprised if the best of Bultmann were to be found not in his scholarly works, but in his sermons or letters.🙂
Here are some fragments from an essay on which I chanced recently.
But what does he [St. Paul] mean by „flesh”? Not the bodily or physical side of human nature, but the sphere of visible, concrete, tangible, and measurable reality, which as such is also the sphere of corruption and death. When a man chooses to live entirely in and for this sphere, or, as St. Paul puts it, when he „lives after the flesh”, it assumes the shape of a „power”. There are indeed many different ways of living after the flesh. There is the crude life of sensual pleasure and there is the refined way of basing one’s life on the pride of achievement, on the „works of the law” as St. Paul. would say. But these distinctions are ultimately immaterial. For „flesh” embraces not only the material things of life, but all human creation and achievement pursued for the sake of some tangible reward, such as for example the fulfilling of the law (Gal. 3:3). It includes every passive quality, and every advantage a man can have, in the sphere of visible, tangible reality (Phil. 3:4ff.).
St. Paul sees that the life of man is weighed down by anxiety (1 Cor. 7:32ff.). Every man focuses his anxiety upon some particular object. The natural man focuses it upon security, and in proportion to his opportunities and his success in the visible sphere he places his „confidence” in the „flesh” (Phil. 3:3f.), and the consciousness of security finds its expression in „glorying”.
Such a pursuit is, however, incongruous with man’s real situation, for the fact is that he is not secure at all. Indeed, this is the way in which he loses his true life and becomes the slave of that very sphere which he had hoped to master, and which he hoped would give him security. Whereas hitherto he might have enjoyed the world as God’s creation, it has now become „this world”, the world in revolt against God. This is the way in which the „powers” which dominate human life come into being, and as such they acquire the character of mythical entities. (Terms like „the spirit of the age” or „the spirit of technology” provide some sort of modern analogy.) Since the visible and tangible sphere is essentially transitory, the man who bases his life on it becomes the prisoner and slave of corruption. An illustration of this may be seen in the way our attempts to secure visible security for ourselves bring us into collision with others; we can seek security for ourselves only at their expense. Thus on the one hand we get envy, anger, jealousy, and the like, and on the other compromise, bargainings, and adjustments of conflicting interests. This creates an all-pervasive atmosphere which controls all our judgments; we all pay homage to it and take it for granted. Thus man becomes the slave of anxiety (Rom. 8:15). Everybody tries to hold fast to his own life and property, because he has a secret feeling that it is all slipping away from him.