Children of Light: Finishing Ephesians

For once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light.

–Ephesians 5:8, RSV

Welp, we did it! We finished Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, and it definitely ended on a more positive note than that of Ecclesiastes. Ephesians has proven to be inspiring, instructive, and enlightening thus far and I hope you will experience more of that as we walk through these final chapters.

Beginning with Chapter 5, we find a superb extension from chapter 4 that sums up Paul’s central point about Christian life and relationship. After exhorting Christians to live lives of humility and forgiveness in 4:32, he says to “be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (5:1-2). This is a fundamental teaching that should give us pause. So often, we view Christ and God as beings that are beyond us, and in one sense, this is correct. However, the whole purpose of Christ’s coming was to teach us the way we are to walk in relationship with God, and imitating God in the Flesh is the primary call of the Christian person. We can’t just treat Christ as a “far and away” hero that we categorize as entirely separate from ourselves. Instead, we should look to him as an example and do our best to walk in his footsteps as “children of light” (5:8).

With that in mind, we come to one of the most controversial sections of Ecclesiastes, namely, the “Household Codes” of 5:21-6:9. It is here that we had to have a (passionate) discussion about the context of Scripture. Paul writes from a time when patriarchy (the inherent leadership and superiority of free males in society) was the accepted norm. As such, any familial advice he gives is going to fit within that particular framework. Unfortunately, this has led to immediate dismissal as an instructive text on the part of those who are offended by the Bible’s inherent (by our standards) sexism. However, if we take a closer look, we can see how Paul was at once a man of his time, while also (inspired by the Spirit of God) someone who saw beyond it.

The section begins (in most scholarly translations) with an essential instruction to “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). This alone should give us pause, because Paul doesn’t only instruct the women, as you might expect. Instead, he instructs all believers to submit to each other, and THEN he details what that should look like. He does tell wives to submit to their husbands, but then, he does something that is unexpected in patriarchy by instructing the men on how to love their wives. They must do so selflessly, “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (5:25). If such instruction were to be taken seriously (and I believe it is), it is not nearly as one-sided as we may have been led to think in recent times, and no matter what time period we live in, putting others before the self is something we desperately need more of.

Chapter 6 continues our culture shock by giving us a view into the ancient practice of slavery, instructing slaves to serve their masters “as servants of Christ,” chaffing against our understandable modern sensibility regarding the scars of Trans-Atlantic slavery. While the two forms of slavery differ significantly, it is still alarming to see (at best) a clear lack of rebuke regarding the ownership of persons. However, again, Paul does something interesting, instructing masters to “forbear threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him” (6:9). That is a loaded statement that was definitely not typical of the time.

All in all, while our sensibilities are definitely challenged by the world as presented in Ephesians (Scripture as a whole, really), we still see the Spirit of God at working to change the world into something that better resembles the kingdom of God. Further, we see God’s invitation to live life in a way that imitates and shares his love, helping to establish this kingdom.

My encouragement to you is to remember the call that is extended to you in Christ. This call is not just one to believe in our heads, but to live in our bodies as we go about our daily doings. Just as God transforms implements of war into spiritual sources of edification in 6:10-17, let us accept God’s invitation to transform our mundane, pain-filled, and hope-deprived world into a nation of peace, rooted in love. We do this as our Lord did: one person, one interaction at a time. Let’s get started!

Peace be with you!

More Ephesians: The New Creation

“…Be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

— Ephesians 4:23-24, NRSV

We definitely read a lot this week! We technically went through chapter two at our last meeting, but re-visited it quite a bit with this week’s readings, referring back for common themes throughout the letter to the Ephesians. With so much to look at, let’s get started!

Check out Chapter Two.

Some of the most well-known quotes and ideas that are associated with Ephesians come from this chapter. For example, verses 8-9 (“For by grace you have been saved…”). What I would like to draw attention to, however, is Paul’s emphasis on our being “made…alive together with Christ” (verse 5). We are told that “we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (verse 10). Paul’s view seems to be that we are newly created when we are resurrected in faith with Christ, and this new being that we have been given in Christ comes with a whole new lifestyle, centered on doing good things.

The idea of good works as pleasing to God is touchy. We live in a time when salvation by works and salvation by faith are separate ideas, but it is important to know that to the biblical authors, there is no distinction. If we believe in Christ, we had better be doing good things for others. If we don’t, then it is doubtful that we ever had real faith in Christ.

With all that said, what is the nature of this new creation? Indeed, in verse 15 of chapter two, Paul refers to a “new humanity,” now that Christ has “broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (verse 14). In the context of the letter, Paul is discussing the hostility between Jews and non-Jews, known as Gentiles. Christianity was once an all Jewish sect, but the Good News quickly spread to those outside the Jewish community, which became a factor in impending separation of the sect from its mother religion. I would say, though, that this concept applies to far more than the historical enmity between Jews and non-Jews. In Christ, if there is a single new humanity, and we are all new creations, really ANY dividing factors are done away with. Sex, gender, race, economic status, and political affiliations are all revealed to be nothing but superficial and human means of being categorized, and our true identity is that of beloved children of God through Jesus Christ.

            Read through chapter three, and you will note that Paul is now discussing the implications of our newly established family in Christ. With all of our divisions and causes for strife gone, we are all left with “access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in [Christ]” (3:12). We are encouraged to seek the presence of Christ in our “hearts through faith…being rooted and grounded in love” (3:17). This makes for a handy transition to chapter four, which covers the specifics of how this new family in Christ, grounded in love, should be relating to one another.

For example, we are asked right off the bat “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (4:1). This includes:

  • Humility
  • Gentleness
  • Patience
  • “Bearing with one another in love” (4:2)
  • Maintaining “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3)

Note that all of these things make us subject to one another, rather than giving us an edge or advantage. Love in the Christian world is a sacrifice, acceptable to God and loving toward our neighbor. Our lives are no longer to be lived for ourselves, but for “building up the body of Christ” (4:12). This includes not just our actions, but also our words (4:29) and the management of our emotions (4:26)! There is to be no part of our lives left untouched by our new reality in Christ Jesus!

I hope that you really took/take the time to read these few chapters of Ephesians, and I would like to finish with the thought that began this article. We are encouraged to “be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and…clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:23-24). We are all created in the image of God, but our sin distorts that image. When we come to God through Christ, we regain that image, and must live accordingly. I encourage us all to go into our week and find the things we have kept from God, turning them over to Him in order that we may be truly renewed. It could be our politics, our words, our thoughts, the way we act around or toward certain people, or our self-care habits (lack thereof?). You know what those parts are, and it is my prayer that you know that God’s all-consuming love is enough to heal and inspire you, no matter who or where you may be. Love like this changes the world, and it is about time we got started, don’t you think?

Peace be with you!

 

***Biblical quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Copyright 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churhces of Christ in the United States of America.

The Point We Still Miss

“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

— Romans 13:10, NRSV

It’s been a rough week. The issue of immigration has flared up again in our national conversation, especially after Jeff Sessions misused Christian Scripture to justify the actions of the U.S. border patrol. This post is not going to address Sessions’ cherry-picking of Scripture. It honestly isn’t that surprising, and anyone who has read the Bible knows that it is not the literary work to quote when seeking to deport mass amounts of people (as these are the “aliens” in our midst we are repeatedly charged with caring for in passages such as Leviticus 19). Further, the Bible is not a legitimate collection of documents to use for the justification of national policy. We are not a theocracy, which is good, as those always fail.

I was going to write a whole post addressing this immigration question from a Christian standpoint, but I honestly don’t think I have the heart or energy for this one, as the advice is the same for any other consideration we have to make. If we do not take a God and person-centered approach to our conversations on immigration, gun control, the death penalty, and any other “controversial” topic that costs lives, nothing is going to get any better.

It all boils down to understanding the necessity of keeping love, compassion, and justice at the center of who we are and what we do, both individually and collectively. As you go out into this week, and as you are surrounded by a whirlwind of politically charged conversation, it is my prayer that you remember and honor God’s very simple request: Love Him, love each other, and live accordingly. Let your faith loose on your life. Call your representatives, volunteer, make amends, and give like crazy. I’ll try and do the same, and let’s see where we end up.

Love God? Love All

“O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.”

— Psalm 26:8, NRSV

On a Sunday, few things could be more fitting than to discuss the House of the Lord! For many of us, that means our church, our local place of worship. For the author(s) of the Psalms (and much of the rest of Scripture), that term referred to the temple in Jerusalem. Judging by the state of the so-called “Holy Land,” there are many who still see God as especially present in that particular area, though the idolatrous violence would indicate otherwise. I, on the other hand, believe this Psalm, in conjunction with a little New Testament, can point us all in a better direction, closer to the One who loved us first.

What does it mean to love the house in which God dwells? Perhaps our good friend Paul can shed some light on this. If we look at 1 Corinthians 3:16, we are taught that we “are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in” us. This makes sense, considering the fact that “the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands,” indicated in Acts 7, with Stephen quoting Isaiah 66:1. Further, this understanding of us being the temple of God puts us in position to fulfill a very important commandment… the greatest one, actually.

Matthew 22:34-40 teaches us that the greatest commandment is that we “love the Lord [our] God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” How do we do this?

Wait for it…

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” BOOM.

You see, one a fundamental level, the Spirit of God dwells in all who live. After all, Genesis 2:7 reveals God forming humanity “from the dust of the ground, and breath[ing] into his nostrils the breath of life,” making the first human into a living being. The Spirit is God’s breath, God’s wind, present at the moment of creation. In this sense, all that have the breath of life, especially humans (made in the image of God), are imbued with the Spirit of the living God, and thereby serve as a dwelling place for God. Now, believers are given a fresh awakening, a powerful outpouring of that same Spirit that transforms their lives, but fundamentally, all things are God’s, regardless of how they use that gift.

The point? How we love ourselves and each other is how we love God. Don’t believe me (or don’t want to)? Check out Matthew 25, wherein Jesus teaches us that whatever we do (or don’t do) for others, “you did it to me.” In order to truly love God, we must truly love ourselves and others. Why? Because God is not found in the rocks of the Holy(ish) Land, nor is God especially present in the cathedrals, garages, or worship centers we attend. God is found within His creation, within His people. As such, we must love ourselves and each other if we ever want to truthfully claim to love God.

Crafty, right?

Now, I know. Loving ourselves and each other is a hefty task. It means facing some things about ourselves we don’t want to. Perhaps it is getting the counseling or help we need so that our destructive cycles can stop (as in my case). Perhaps it is recognizing that we don’t have all the answers, and those of different opinions are just as valuable as we are in the grand scheme of things. Maybe it means starting to reduce, reuse, and recycle, ordering less food, and caring more for the world we have been trusted with. There are many ways to start truly loving, we just have to have the grace and the courage to get started.

It is my prayer that today you remember that God loves and dwells within you and others (yes, even those you don’t want to like). God earnestly desires us to understand this, evident in the teachings of Christ revealed in the Scriptures. If we can learn to take those baby steps toward loving ourselves as we are, and loving others where they are, we can look forward to the heavenly blessings God intends to shower upon this world. I believe in you! Pray for me!

Peace be with you!

Promises, Promises

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

— Genesis 12:2-3, NRSV

Good day, everyone! I hope this post finds you well, but if not, I hope it helps at least a little. The text above is the promise of God to Abram (later known as Abraham) that kicks off the dramatic series of stories that encompass the religious history of Judaism and Christianity. God’s promise to Abram is one that has a specific purpose and appeal, rooted in the ancient middle eastern concern for the continuation of the tribe or nation through childbearing.

The appeal of God’s promise has some carry-over for us today. Having kids is still very much “what one does.” If one is found to be infertile or otherwise incapable of having children, they are likely to pay an ungodly (pun intended) sum of money to somehow achieve that specific part of the human experience, whether by means of adoption or scientific advancement. Older generations look disdainfully at younger generations that don’t care to have children, and religious conservatives tend to discourage forms of contraception that interfere with God’s “intended purpose” for sex.

In reality, however, we are having fewer children, and that is probably a good thing. Looking at the small-scale, we already have too many children without homes, structure, or hope. Thinking bigger, our planet could use A LOT less of us hairless apes trashing it. With that in mind, it’s best to shift our focus from the literal appeal of God’s promise, as it can distract us from the universal truth of its purpose. If we do this, we find that God’s promise is for you, me, and all those who are open to hearing the call.

God promises us great things, we see that in the text in verse 2 (“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great”). The important part is what comes next, when God states His purpose to make Abram into a blessing. God indicates the intention that “all the families of the earth shall  be blessed” in the person of Abram. This is the first lesson I’d like to impart: Every gift, wage, or luxury in our lives is not just for us.

Just as Abram is charged with being a blessing to the world, so are we. If you are gifted with money, it’s intended to be used for the benefit of others. If I am gifted with the ability to interpret and write concerning the Scriptures, it’s intended to be used for the up-building of others. If one is gifted with a just or compassionate heart, charisma or influence, strength or the arts, healing or privilege, they are charged with utilizing those things for the benefit of the world, so that the One who gives those gifts may be known.

It doesn’t matter if the thought of giving to those you deem less deserving bothers you. That’s not part of the condition. Notice that God says nothing about deserving, only blessing. Following God, therefore, is a call to set aside prejudices and develop the practice of kindness and generosity, whatever the medium might be.

Abram fails at this pretty early on, like all of us have or will at one time or another. The big problem is when we don’t recognize our failures, like Abram doesn’t. Later, in verses 10-20, he uses the blessing and protection of God to fool Pharaoh, currying the ruler’s favor by putting his wife (and Pharaoh) into a terrible position as he acquires more goods, slaves, animals, etc. We often do this, making our gifts and talents into a means of gaining for ourselves as opposed to utilizing them for making the Kingdom of God into a physical reality. Such a trade is the very essence of sin, far from God’s intended purposes.

The other lesson I’d like to impart is that opportunities for being “a blessing” are more frequent than you and I might normally think. Abram didn’t blow a major opportunity by not donating all his goods to charity or by refusing to go on a mission trip to Sudan. He was intentionally deceptive and distrusting of God, using his wife to ensure safety from a perceived possibility of a threat and reaping the economic benefits, all of which amounting to a destructive discourtesy toward the very ruler who allowed him and those with him to settle in Egypt and be relieved from famine (12:10). This was a textbook opportunity to be a blessing, to be gracious, and he blew it. Let’s look at our own lives now.

Have you ever had to deal with a riled up customer, co-worker, friend, or family member? Have you ever blown by the car parked on the side of the road with the hazards blinking without a second thought? Have you ever reacted sharply to what amounted to a slight inconvenience? Have you ever violated your position, status, or relationships because of your inward focus? I know I have. These are all common situations in which we regularly contribute to the negative powers of the world. At least, that is one way to see them.

We could, however, also see them as opportunities, gifts in which we are able to showcase a different power at work in our lives. You see, what I am proposing is not that we show our spirituality through sweeping gestures that distract us from our everyday ministries. Instead, I submit that like Abram, we could all use the reminder that everything we have been given is intended for our daily use to make the world a better place. Those small situations that we encounter every day are a part of the ministry each of us is charged with, to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the knowledge of the God of grace who died for us. In those situations, our reactions and choices determine whether we are acting as disciples or not, and it is my hope that this post and this biblical text will help us all think a little more about how we react and utilize the opportunities, gifts, and talents that God has extended to us.

Every single one of us has a passion, a talent, a love, or a gift. There is something unique to you that God placed in your life for the purposes of His Kingdom. You’re very existence is such a gift, as God clearly thought the world needed one of YOU to make it more complete. This is a promise of God that is given to Abram, to you, and to me. If we can only become conscious of the fact that we and those we share this earth with are beloved children of God, we will find countless opportunities to enact our charge to be a blessing, and the promises of God will be fulfilled before our very eyes.

Peace be with you!

 

 

On Guns, Defense, and Faith

I can already hear some of you (assuming you even wanted to click on this article and read it).

“Here we go. Just stick to the matters of church and God and let everyone do what they want with this sort of stuff.” Nope. Not this time. I have already talked about the issues with discussing guns (or anything else for that matter) in a previous post, essentially exhorting everyone (especially those of faith) to keep a cool, compassionate mind. This is hard, but it is exactly what is needed in such a knee-jerk, reactionary time as ours. However, what I am discussing today is more specific, yet still applicable to many overlapping issues regarding violence and the Christian person.

First off, I don’t blame guns. I lament their existence, but in the end, we cannot blame a tool for what it is used for. Do I believe everyone should have access to whatever weapon they want with little to no restriction? Absolutely not. However, if you were hoping for a discussion of the evils of weaponry, you will be slightly (but not entirely) disappointed.

So what exactly am I going to be putting under the microscope here? That would be us, the worshipers of violence.

Think this is harsh? Sorry, but let’s just be honest. We devalue life. Specifically, we devalue life that does not conform to our sense of what is right, and we call this “justice.” Where I am from, for example, lives are most valuable when they are free of certain mistakes. If you break into someone’s house, you should be shot with no remorse. If you talk about shooting someone with no remorse, you are somehow a more moral being. If you murder someone, you should be murdered back. If you talk about murdering those you deem deserving of it, you are simply being just (even though it is likely the same logic was applied by the murderer). Do you see the odd cycle?

The issues around gun control are the most frustrating of these cycles. For example, when enough white kids are killed in school, we want to take action. When young people of color are killing each other daily in our forsaken “bad parts of town,” that’s just a sad but acceptable part of life, it would seem.

Too often, what we mean by wanting justice is really the desire to have our biases validated in a court of law, whilst we dare to hope for forgiveness for our transgressions. Oddly enough, I think Jesus actually talked about this somewhere in Matthew…

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

In chapter 6, verses 14 and 15, Jesus lays down a truth that we love to use for small infractions and the hope of our wrongs being overlooked. When bigger transgressions are committed, however, we tell Jesus to shut up and let us handle this situation as we see fit.

Sounds crazy when you put it like that, yes? That is what we do. Nowhere does Jesus say, “Forgive unless they murder someone or break in or are trapped in the cycle of gang life and violence.” I checked. Everywhere. However, this is how our collective mind seems to interpret the words of Matthew’s Gospel.

My point is that while the tools of violence are not dangerous in and of themselves, the attitudes and biases we all carry (combined with the haphazardly regulated availability of efficient weapons) are exceedingly dangerous, especially for those of us who hold these positions while displaying crosses all over our house. Luckily, though, those crosses hold the key to doing something different.

What I am about to say may seem impractical and scary, but it is honestly, as I see it, the only Biblical way to approach the issues of self-defense, weapons, and violence as people of faith (and, I submit, as people in general).

We own three pistols. Part of this is due to inheritance, part of it for the cathartic hobby of shooting targets. A fun fact, though, is that we keep none of them in our night stands, but in our safe. Why? Nothing that we own is worth the life of someone else. Also, if someone were to break in during the day (which is when that usually happens), I do not want my very efficient pistol out there doing damage to others. This is why we keep our weapons properly stored and why I personally choose not to carry weapons with me.

As the 49th Psalm admonishes, “Truly, no ransom avails for one’s life, there is no price one can give to God for it.” The first step to preserving life is realizing there is nothing worth more than life. This isn’t because criminals are utilizing life well, but because God gave that life, and only God can rightfully take it back. If we ignore this truth and decide that there is no shame in killing those we feel deserve it, we share the same mental space as ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hitler, Charles Manson, and the like.  The fact is that if we continue down the path of selective devaluing, we are no better than those we condemn. We must learn to think, speak, and act in ways that show an inherent, immovable valuing of life.

We cannot underestimate the impact of our collective attitudes regarding the value of all life. As long as we walk about devaluing that which God has given (whether we feel justified or not), nothing will change. As long as we (by word, thought, and deed) dismiss the cross of Christ, where God declared sinners to be worth dying for, we cannot expect a brighter future. 

Now, if you know me, you know I practice martial arts, specifically Goju-Ryu Karate Do. To many this seems like a preparation to do violence, and it was when the style originally developed. Things change, however, and what I have found is that practicing martial arts has helped me learn to keep a level head and an open heart. Does this mean I will allow someone to strike me if I can prevent it? No. Does this mean I am going to puff out my chest, pick fights, inflict as much damage as possible, and think in terms of violence in my daily life? Also no. Martial arts is a tool that should be used responsibly and actually promote communal well-being.

On a similar note, I have no problem with gun ownership… as long as we are held accountable. Do we all have safes and keep them locked up at appropriate times? Do we have a record of assault/domestic abuse? Do we ensure that we are properly trained in marksmanship, safety, and maintenance of firearms? Too often, these are issues that are overlooked for the sake of convenience and pleasing lobbyists.

On the broader scale, are we holding ourselves accountable for our words and attitudes? Did I just talk about killing someone if they ever try to rob me or break in? Did I just rejoice that a death row inmate met his end? Do I really feel no remorse about someone dying? Is my convenience really the most important thing in this conversation? Remember, Proverbs 24:17-18 teaches us, “Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble, or else the LORD will see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from them.”

My final point is geared toward the criticism this post may very well receive (which I welcome). I will undoubtedly provoke the question, “So I should just let myself be a victim then? Do nothing? Is that the Christian way?” My answer is, “Well…”

It is here that I appeal to Scripture. In Matthew 26:47-56, Jesus is being arrested and a disciple tries to defend him by drawing his sword and cutting off a slave’s ear. Jesus’ response?

“Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?”

It would appear Jesus could have resisted, utilizing heavenly violence to prevent his own innocent suffering. However, thankfully, that is not the example Jesus sets for us, yet we pretend that it is. Either that, or Jesus doesn’t affect our conscience regarding justice and violence at all. I am not sure which is worse.

I understand our natural impulse to seek peace by eliminating all threats, but I have to say that it is impossible that all threats disappear. Eventually, we have to live life, and we have to choose whether we will live in acceptance of fear and violence or strive for something else. The only way to achieve peace is through this “something else.” Jesus encourages us time and time again to live as if the Kingdom of God is at hand, even if the world around us doesn’t reflect that. The implication, for me, is that the world will begin to look this way if we actually treat God’s world as if it were a reality now and not just a post-death escape.

If we want peace, we must think, speak, and behave peacefully. If we want forgiveness, we must think, speak, and behave with grace. If we want to be loved, we must think, speak, and behave lovingly. What’s more, if we want to be followers of Christ, we must actually follow Him into those places of discomfort and danger, walking as He walked.

On the surface, I seem to have taken a middle-of-the-road approach. In truth, I just took an exit and headed a different direction. Banning guns will not cleanse us of the plague of violence that is so commonplace in our country. Nor, however, will the refusal to do anything. Most pressing to me is the issue of our attitudes regarding death, defense, and the use of force as a means of justice. If we devalue the lives of anyone, we fail at our task as disciples. When our attitudes change, our practices will. Perhaps open carry will cease to be a source of pride and bluster. Perhaps carrying at all will be reduced. Perhaps a nation can come together and find useful and effective ways to curb and reduce tragedy, not just in the schools and communities that we care about, but the places we try to forget exist. Perhaps we stop neglecting communities at all and start behaving as if we are, in fact, our brother’s (and sister’s) keepers. Perhaps the future could be filled with faithful people who decided to choose the cross.

Once can only hope.

Peace be with you!

An Old Idea We Have Yet to Master

“For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” — 1 Corinthians 3:17, NRSV

“My body is a temple.”

We have heard, said, or disliked someone who said that phrase at one point or another. It is a spiritual idea that comes from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, yet we somehow have taken it to mean that one shouldn’t enjoy Pringle’s every once in a while. Jerks…

Anyway, I have been reading 1 Corinthians (First Corinthians, not “One Corinthians,” Mr. President) for my New Testament devotional text, and I felt compelled to use this section from chapter 3 to talk about the purpose of the Christian faith and provide some encouragement for all of us to take it seriously. So let’s dive right in.

Verse 16 of the text says that we “are God’s temple” and “God’s Spirit dwells in” us. It should be noticed (as the footnote tells us) that the “you” in this text is intended to be plural, which serves several purposes, the first of which being that the entire Church (the body of believers in Christ) is considered the temple of God in which the Spirit of God dwells. When we gather and act together (in accordance with our faith), the Spirit of God is powerfully present, revealing the love of God to the world through us. As Jesus says in Matthew, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

The “you” in this text can also refer to the body of individual believers, because each believer is said to have the gift of the Holy Spirit (see the entire Book of Acts). Both our personal and communal lives, therefore, should bear witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ. Whether we are gathered in a church, Bible study, service event, or individually at work, school, or home, the Spirit of God and our connection to it should guide our thoughts, words, and actions.

Too often, however, we are not so intentional with who we are. We react based on how we feel, our instincts, or what will seemingly benefit us the most. Our personal, political, economic, and social lives too often fail to reflect that which we claim to be when we gather on Sundays (or Saturdays or Wednesdays, depending on your denomination). In fact, we have developed a system where this is accepted, known as the confession and pardon of sin.

Not every denomination has this as a formal moment in worship (which also contributes to the problem), but for those of us that do, the ritual actually reinforces the idea that wrongdoing is just a part of who we are. If we say the words with the correct measure of guilt, everything will be okay for US, which is hardly the intended point. Similarly, those churches that don’t talk about sin and the need for forgiveness contribute to the problem by failing to acknowledge that we do harm to others. Sometimes it is intentional, sometimes it isn’t, but either way, it needs to be acknowledged and fixed.

So what does this have to do with the whole “you are that temple” talk? I’m glad you asked. Step into my office.

A self-centered life does not witness well to the love of God with which we claim to be connected. I shall repeat that in bold. A self-centered life does not witness well to the love of God with which we claim to be connected. This holds true for when we gather as the Church and when we are in the midst of our daily individual lives.

Do I go to church for me? Do I go to church for my friends or so I can go to heaven? Do I go to church so I can act how I want during the week? Do I leave my faith in my private life? Do I treat others how I want, knowing I can ask forgiveness from God later? Do I keep my faith strictly personal and make my political, economic, and social decisions based on other things?

These are all good questions to ask, and more than likely, we are all begrudgingly nodding our heads in response to some of them. After all, it is how we were all raised to see church: as a service industry. What’s worse? The institutional church plays right into this role. Church is for us. It is so we can get what we need. It is also for when we have the time to do things for others, but mostly it is for us. It’s okay to admit this, because that is how our culture views almost everything. How is it useful? What does it do for me?

Unfortunately, this is hardly how the faith was designed to work. Our intentions do matter when it comes to what we do. If we gather because we are supposed to or because we are getting what we feel we need, we are not gathering in the name of Christ. We are gathering in our own name, and the Spirit of God is silenced. We unknowingly place an idol that looks like us on the altar of Christ and defile ourselves, the collective temple of God.

When we leave our faith at the church or in our hearts, making decisions based on what will make us the most friends, money, or success, we do the same thing. If we treat our neighbors based on stereotypes, prejudice, or ignorance, we defile the temple of God within us. When we poison our earth because we feel it is there for our uses only, we defile the temple of God within us. The same happens if we believe the lies of our culture and what they have to say about us, our bodies, and our value. Whether collectively or individually, we defile the temple of God when we fail to realize our value and the value of all others. 

So what do we do? We go back to square one. We hit the basics again.

We must re-accept the teachings of Christ daily, resolving to live in a way that honors the Spirit of God within us and within each other. When we gather, it must be in order to connect with God. When we go out into the world, it must be to live in light of that connection. We must be willing to change when we are in the wrong, and to stand firm in the love of Christ when we find ourselves tempted to act in self-interest.

In short, we must daily resolve to seek to both experience the love of God AND reflect it. This takes practice and grace, both for yourself and for others. It is about building daily habits of mindfulness and compassion. It is a journey that will last as long as we are on this earth, but it is one that is worth every twist, turn, and disruption.

I don’t know where you are on your faith walk, but I can tell you that all of us need this reminder every once in a while. Remember that you house the Spirit of God within you, and every decision you make either honors that or… does not. If we can all be more conscious of that, we will all get the chance to experience the love of God on a greater level. It is my hope that you will join me in this re-evaluation, so that we can all be the temple we are designed to be.

Peace be with you!