Sunday, July 19, 2015

How to be a Person when Love and Unity Seem Far and Not Near

At Bible study this week, we ruminated over Colossians 1:24 – 2:5. Our first reflection question was almost uncomfortable in its very direct-ness. This question asked if Paul’s stated purpose in 1:28 & 2:2 was a reality in our own lives, or if we were still somewhere along the way. The NIV translates these verses as follows:

27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Paul’s purpose –as stated here – was to make known among the Gentiles the glorious mystery of Christ in each of us, his goal to encourage believers and see them united in love.

When I’m sitting in Bible study – any Bible study, not just this one – I can’t help but to relate verses we read to what’s happening in the world around me. As I sit and try to understand what new-to-me truths these Bible verses might hold, my limited knowledge of world events inevitably creeps into my thoughts as I try to make sense of happenings that don’t always seem to mean anything good. Tonight, as I sat and read over this passage, I began to wonder where exactly our focus is with regard to the Gospel. There seems lately to be an epidemic of American Christians who are staunchly convinced they are right because the Bible. And the message of what it means to be a follower of Christ’s teachings and example begins and ends at a discussion of sin.

To my knowledge and according to my experience – and I’d even say according to Paul’s stated purpose above – the Gospel of Christ involves His indwelling each person who invites Him in, and the goal of the Paul’s teachings for the early church (and arguably the mission that should be at the heart of the church today) is that believers be encouraged in heart and united in love…in order that we may know the mystery of God. To me, this means Christians who wish to grow in maturity must necessarily embrace the fact that the wholeness of God’s Self and love for us is not entirely knowable – hence the mystery. To me, this means all treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ Himself. So when I find myself confused when trying to understand the Bible's teaching and relevance for today's culture, I turn to the example of Christ Himself and to prayer for illumination.

Therefore, my concept of my faith and relationship with Christ allow me to reject some Christians’ “fine sounding arguments” in favor of the treasure and mystery of Christ Himself.

As I shared with the group the other night after browsing the commentary my Bible offers on verse 2:8(which refers to Colossian heresy which in part taught that faith was not enough for salvation because rules), I realized that the nature of the Gospel message as being a free gift to all is an idea that is still as offensive now as it was when Jesus lived and walked this Earth. The free gift of salvation, grace, love, acceptance, just as we are, is not quantifiable, doesn’t follow the rules we’d much rather establish for the sake of order (and freedom, truth, and the American Way), and therefore it gets all up in our shizz. It’s audacious – this idea. And how very dare we live like we believe it, especially if someone who disagrees with us on a point of doctrine also claims to believe the same.

There has to be a time for Christians to come together, look each other in the eyes, embrace each other, and move forward together, in faith. Lines drawn in the sand in order to enforce arbitrarily chosen and elevated Bible verses only serve to further divide us, not to encourage our hearts, and not to unite us in love – which, as we well know, will win.

So in answer to that initial, invasive question about whether Paul's stated purpose  is a reality in my own life or if I'm still somewhere along the way, I think I'd have to say, "Yes." It is my desire to encourage others and be united in love, but I know I've got a long way to go. So does the whole of the American church.

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