Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Live-Blogging Ephesians? Part 4

(Eph 4:17 - 6:9) Looking at Paul's argument, he now sticks to the same topic and develops it for nearly the whole rest of the letter: putting off our old lives and living new lives. He has laid his groundwork on the goodness of God which he showed us in Jesus Christ, the power of God made known to us through Christ, and the change God would work in us to unite us fully to Christ -- us, along with all things. Now, he insists that our new selves are created to be like God. We are to be righteous as he is righteous, holy as he is holy.

He gives example after example, instance after instance where their lives and ours need to be lived in light of God, rather than as if we were still hard-hearted and clueless about the good news. The one that caught me most was how he has two sections about improper speech. The second one, at 5:4, covers what we usually think of about watching our mouths: obscenity and crudeness and that kind of R-rated thing that we have, most of us, grasped is wrong. But first he tackles one that is probably a daily sin in our culture, widely accepted and seen almost without intermission: unwholesome talk that tears down rather than builds up. He points out kinds of things that come out of our mouths and hearts that are just as obscene as dropping an F-bomb: "bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, and every form of malice." The whole section deserves a daily read until I've mastered it, or at least get out of kindergarten on it.

He emphasizes the point of being like God again (5:1-2), and one more time ties it back to the point of God's love. Because God loves, we should love. He has already staked his position firmly on God's love as the thing they most need to understand. From here, one section of the letter after another consists of case studies in how to love and show love in various relationships. It is not mere advice on Christian living, and it is not only our marching orders (though it is that, too); it is our call for how to redeem the world where we are right now, how God's kingdom begins to come for anyone who has any relationship with any follower of Christ, because Christ in us does not leave any relationship unchanged. There is no dividing line of hostility between us and anyone else, no bitterness or rage, no harsh or untrue word, no taking advantage of each other. There is, instead, a guarantee of diligence and truthfulness, of kindness and justice -- and more than that, a guarantee of mercy and compassion when dealing with followers of Christ in any capacity, because we follow the one who has loved us and called us to love each other.

While one section after another of his letter explains how love acts in each type of relationship and in each role, some of the details deserve special mention. Just as there is an implication that bitterness, malice, and hostility grieve the Holy Spirit within us (4:29-31), but there is also an implication that saturating our hearts and minds with hymns, music, and thankfulness are helpful in opening our hearts to God's spirit (5:18-20).

In certain types of relationships, Paul calls special attention to the parallels between that relationship and the relationship we have with God. He goes one step further with his long-running theme of how Christ is united with us: he compares it to the union of husband and wife. The Old Testament refers to God as husband and bridegroom; Christ referred to himself as the bridegroom and the kingdom of heaven as a wedding feast. This is the future to which we are called, and in this life the foreshadowing love is that of husband and wife.

(6:10-18) The battle we fight is a battle to live lives of integrity, holiness, and love. We are called to gear up: to take the battle seriously, to recognize that it is a fight rather than a given. In the Old Testament farming imagery was common, and the image of getting ready was for people to take up a yoke like an ox starting to plow. Living their lives according to the Torah -- with decency and integrity -- was considered how to plow the field of the world and make it a good and productive land. Here again with Paul, there is a call to take the word of God seriously and harness up, to live our own lives by it. We are in the habit of lamenting the sorry state of our land -- but is there any part of our common complaints that would not be put to right if we harnessed up and each lived our own lives in this way? If the millions upon millions of Christians all lived the lives which we are called to live, this would be a more peaceful and more prosperous land. (If you think I go too far when I say "more prosperous", I ask you to consider this: what percentage of poverty in this country can be directly traced to the unnecessary prevalence of single parenthood with either failures of self-control or failures of marriage? And consider what portions of the current economic crisis could have been avoided if more budgets involved self-control, if more accountants exercised honesty, if in the days of prosperity more people had been determined to "work, doing something useful with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with those in need." So, then, any country at all is more prosperous when people live this kind of life of decency and self-control.)

I should say, even now, even for the unemployed there may be a challenge there that, even if no one will give jobs, there may still be ways for us to do useful things with our own hands to share with those who are needy. And if those who are idle are called to find a way to share, plainly, too, those of us who work are called to share.

After we have geared up, note the action to which we are called: pray.

(6:19-24) Paul again puts himself in perspective. He speaks as if fear of his life and safety was a temptation to be less bold than he should be. I'm not quite sure, at this stage of his career, how often his life had been in danger, how many beatings he had endured, how many other hardships from the catalog that he gives elsewhere, but that had to be a temptation to timidity. He calls for prayer for himself too.

He closes with thoughts of the love he bears for them, and putting their minds at ease, and finally the love of God and the love of the followers of Christ.


When next I get back to Ephesians, I'll connect the dots and sum up.
Thank you all for your patience with this.


Amillennialist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Weekend Fisher said...

Oh, hey stranger. Good to see you.

If I remember right, Cub, you do beautiful artwork. Hope all is going well with you & yours. Tell big brother bear I said Hi. :)

It's a tricky thing, isn't it, for us Christians? We have to juggle the duties of the guardian on the wall shouting the alarm, and the one in the watchtower who if we did not warn a sinner will share in his guilt, and the one who must first take the plank out of our own eyes and recognize ourselves as the chief of sinners, and our call to proclaim both law and Christ to everyone, and to love our enemies. No wonder that so many people give up and just stay quiet. I hope that's not the case with you.

For those who speak out -- I wonder if they have covered all those different things sooner or later, just not necessarily in the same breath.

I would not spend too much time trying to figure out if other people were sinners; I would more wonder about myself. (And I do mean myself; I'll let you figure that out about yourself.) I'm not sure if we can look at God-called prophets face-to-face with the people who would see miracles with their own eyes and still execute the one who did them, and generalize that to anything in our own lives. Which leaves us with that mix of responsibilities: guardian on the wall, lover of enemies, etc.

If I were someone who had any business giving advice, the main advice I would give is: pray. If I cannot pray for my enemies, then how can God be involved in what comes out of my mouth concerning them? Do I know whether my words could ever lead someone to repentance? Do I know how I would proclaim the good news of Christ so that any given group of God-loved sinners could hear it? Do those I am trying to warn hear truth or shrillness? Will they take serious account of it?

I wish I could tell you exactly how to pinpoint the difference between righteous anger and malice; I doubt I'm quite that wise. If I look at Christ, though, I'll say this: his anger did not take delight in the destruction of the sinner. Thank God.

If you doubt yourself, remember Jonah: he may not have been perfect, but God still accomplished his will through him.

Hope that helps. & All the best to the Mrs. & the little people.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Amillennialist said...

Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Weekend Fisher. I've taken it to heart.

God bless you,