Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Paul's challenge to our complacency

St Paul, as a writer, knew how to make a point. Writing to Jesus' followers in Ephesus, he gave instructions on how we should live as new creations. Watch how he draws attention to some pairs of opposite things, to make the difference plainer to us. Pardon the extra numbers added into the text here; it helps separate out his points:
And put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must:
  1. put off falsehood ... and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.
  2. In your anger do not sin ... do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
  3. He who has been stealing must steal no longer ... but work, doing something with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
  4. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths ... but only what is helpful for building up others according to their own needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
(Ephesians 4:24-29)
Paul challenges me there. Sure, it's easy to feel good about not stealing and having one command easily accomplished. But then Paul puts stealing as part of a spectrum, a continuum, where on the low end we have stealing, in the middle ground we have self-supporting, and in the higher goals we have helping the needy. All the sudden "not stealing" is the lowest bar, not the highest.

Paul challenges again on "unwholesome talk" -- if I leave off slander and gossip, and skip character assassination and arrogant talk, and reject the use of insults and put-downs, and shun all cussing, that is now the low end. Saying things according to my needs instead of the other person's needs is challenged next; some self-promotion is (possibly) not as offensive as gossip or slander or character assassination, but self-promotion and even self-centered talk are challenged because it does nothing to build up the other person.

That whole section of Ephesians continues in the same way for awhile. Paul shows that it is one thing to avoid being bad, but after that we still have a long way to go where we can pursue being good, for the sake of others and to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.


Martin LaBar said...

"All the sudden "not stealing" is the lowest bar, not the highest."

Good thought! Thanks.

Weekend Fisher said...

Thank you for the encouragement.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF