Category: OneLove

Another prayer

I’ve been reflecting a lot on Paul’s prayers to fuel my own attempts at ‘extraordinary prayer’. As I do, it’s remarkable the resonance I find with our 4Priorities, and especially with ReCentering Jesus and Equipping for Unity. I jotted some thoughts on Ephesians 3:14-19 down in my journal to help shape my praying imagination as I intercede for us and for our local brothers and sisters. I thought I might share them with you to help fuel your extraordinary prayer, as well. If you’d like the extra fuel, read on. If not, no harm done, and have a great day!

Here’s the text:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Paul’s endgame is “that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God”. Imagine that for a moment, and imagine the effect – both direct and indirect – that a people filled with God would have on a city, on a culture. No goodness that God wants to give thwarted, no corner of our personalities untouched. All that God is totally permeating all that we are. Infinity quietly (and sometimes not quietly) suffusing the mundane. A people utterly Godsoaked.

To get there, Paul thinks we need defining, transformative experiences of the love of Christ – experiential knowledge of a vastness that defies category and definition. We need experience that outstrips explanation, when often what we have is just the opposite.

There is something here that’s easy to miss but absolutely crucial: this love can only be fully known “with all the saints”. This is a group exploration, and the group required to pursue it is “all the saints.” Division aborts sanctification and blessing and fullness, and sometimes I fear we have gotten used to a normal that isn’t normal at all.

The same kind of “unity required for further growth” idea is present in Ephesians 4, and in Colossians 2, wherein our “hearts knit together in love” provides the matrix necessary for us to receive and comprehend the mystery of Christ. To offer a weak metaphor: no one, no matter how skilled or brilliant, can lasso a butterfly with a single strand, but even a child can catch one in a net. A net knit together in love.

A fractured pitcher holds no Water, and does a thirsty world (and thirsty saints) no good. Ok. Enough metaphors 😉

There is a wideness and a depth to what we’ve inherited, and as long as the church lives divided, she’ll only know one dimension of what’s hers. And she can only show what she knows.

Toward all this, Paul’s desire is that “Christ may dwell in [our] hearts (our cores) through faith”. A condition must be nurtured in each believer – a way of life Dallas Willard has called “vivid companionship with Jesus”. Saints betting on his presence down in our cores, and that very expectation opening the doors to all the rooms within us, giving him opportunity to set up shop in all our corners, and in all the layers of our lives. His real, current presence not mainly a theological fact, but the dominant experience of our lives.

I don’t live here often or steadily enough. What’s more, there seems to be little I can do to wrestle myself into the “mood” to feel him in my heart, or little I can remember or believe to “truth” myself into a steady state of vivid companionship with Jesus.

That’s why the very first part of this prayer is so encouraging to me. The first domino in this beautiful cascade of goodness is an action that God takes, and he takes it with all his might. With a force equal to the fullness of his glory, he reaches into us and acts on that part of us that is always ready for him – beneath our good and bad theology, beneath our emotional and social disturbances, beneath our wounds and attachments and ambitions, and beneath the distractions that fill us with noise – God himself, with a strength commensurate with his own, strengthens us in our inner man, and aims that power at the endgame…a people filled with God. In response to a prayer, God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

Paul knows that this generous action on God’s part is absolutely necessary. He also knows that it’s not always sufficient, because of the way God has made us, and because of the way he has conspired to save us. So Paul employs his Pray-and-Say strategy.

He prays because it’s first and always God’s work in us, and without that the engine doesn’t turn. But he also says what he’s prayed, I’m convinced, because he knows that the process usually requires the saints’ intelligent participation. So he tells us what he’s asking God for, essentially activating the cooperation of the willing in a transformation that begins and ends with God.

So, this week, I’m letting this prayer from a master apostle inform my praying AND my saying. I’m praying it for us, and I’m saying it to us right now. I’m also praying it for our local Family, and I’m saying what I can when I can as I encounter the brethren along the way.

If you think it might be helpful, you could do the same. Pray and say.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Brief thoughts on a prayer of Paul’s

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11

As Paul prays for this persecuted church that has been so good to him, but that is also beginning to struggle within itself, the first thing he prays for is love. Not a cold love, not a weak love that can be trumped by offense or ambition, but a love that “abound[s] more and more.”

It’s also not a naive or fragile love Paul has in mind – not a love that works until situations get dicey or until relationships get complicated or damaged. Relational damage can happen easily in the thick of mission; it’s not just the purview of the shallow or totally self-involved. Paul prays for a love that is marked by “knowledge and all discernment” so that it can navigate the inevitable rough waters.

It is also important to note that it’s not just discernment he’s after. He’s after discerning love, where the love is the primary noun. The discernment and knowledge aren’t so we can find out who is right, but rather so we can parse out how we can love one another well right here, and right now, in the midst of external difficulties and internal complications. It’s so our love can be grown-up love.

It’s this mature, discerning love that will allow them to find the best ways forward out of many good options, and will help them resist the draw of compromise and the temptation toward mediocrity. It is this abounding love – this mature, wise love – which, guiding them to choose excellence, will lead to purity and blamelessness when the Lord appears; and it is this love that will lead to fruitfulness in Christ and the glory of God.

May our love, and the love of those we serve among, abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.

The Spirit and unity

Next Sunday, all over the world, saints will gather. That’s so good. They will gather around a common opinion on doctrine, or common preference in how to worship, or a common commitment to a particular leader, or a common ethnicity. That’s not good. In some cities, there will actually be bubbling anger and bad blood between these groups, while in other cities they will just politely ignore one another. Either way, they will say to the rest of the body of Christ in their city, “We don’t need you in order to follow Jesus. We can do this without you.” That is unbiblical and simply not true. It’s very bad.

When we talk about the unity of the Spirit, sometimes contrast can be helpful. Paul tells us to protect the unity of the Spirit.

Not the unity of a common code of doctrine (though doctrine is important).

Not the unity of preference (though we all have preferences for style of worship or teaching).

Not unity around leadership (though we might like some leaders better than others).

Not the unity of philosophy of ministry (though anyone who begins to actively serve Jesus inevitably develops some kind of thoughts about how it should be done).

Not the unity of relationship (though we all have circles of relationship, and unity must be expressed through real relationships).

None of these things can be the basis of our practice of unity, because the unity we’ve been commanded to guard is the unity of the Spirit.

But what does that mean in real life?

1Corinthians 12:12-13

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body Jews or Greeks, slaves or free and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”

Paul borrows the two images the church would be most familiar with: baptism and the Lord’s Table. He says that every single believer – regardless of ethnicity and socioeconomic status, and we might add denomination – has been immersed by one Spirit into one body. All of us into one body. And we have all – regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, denomination, etc. – ALL been made to drink of the one Spirit.

Which believers are in the same body as you? All of them. Do you practice life in a way that reflects your commitment to that fact? Are you committed to all of them, or only the ones you agree with?

Which believers have inside them the same Holy Spirit as you? All of them. Is that fact more important to you than what makes you different, or do you use your differences as an excuse not to love people who aren’t part of your little group?

The language in this passage is interesting. Both movements – immersion and drinking – find us in the passive voice. That is, they are things that happen to us. Our opinion is not asked on the matter, and we are not asked to volunteer. Whatever your persuasion is on election and predestination – once you’ve chosen Christ, or responded to his choice of you – there is no longer any choice as to which body you’ll belong to. You have been baptized by him into the one body. As have I, as have we all. And we all have been made to drink (he made us do it) the one Spirit.

You don’t get to choose who you’ll practice unity with. The choice was made for you by God himself, and he chose that you will practice unity with all the saints.

How to do this

I have a friend named Richard Nelson. He taught me to say, “Amen, Lord.” When I encounter something plainly written in the Scriptures, before I start offering a hundred reasons why obeying that would be impossible, or practicing that would be too hard, now, I should say, “Amen, Lord.”

Before I start the cascade of practical questions about how to work something out, I should say, “Amen, Lord.” Before I try to figure it out, I should agree with Jesus that he is right, and commit that I will obey, then I can start working with the Holy Spirit to hammer out how to do it in the real life I’m living now. If I wait to agree, if I wait to commit until I understand all the details, then my obedience will only be as complete as I am clever, and it will be obedience to my reasoning, and not obedience to His voice.

First, friends, say amen.

First, commit to hold ALL of God’s people in your heart. All of us. Commit to the Lord that you won’t only love the people in your little group. You will serve all the saints however he asks you to. Commit to not allow those few relationships that have gone bad to remain that way. Commit that, since you have the same Spirit, you will forgive and love them no matter what, with all your heart, even if they never ask. Choose now.

Second, think about the church in your city. In 1Corinthians 12:27, Paul goes on to tell the believers in Corinth that they are the body of Christ. Not part of the body, but the whole thing. Does that mean that believers in other cities are not part of the body? Of course not. It suggests that Paul thinks that the way we practice being one body is at the city level. Or, more plainly, geographically. When we intentionally separate ourselves from each other, we’re saying to other parts of the body of Christ, “I have no need of you,” and that’s exactly what Paul says we can’t do (1Corinthians 12:21).

Before we bog down in arguments over that idea, just try something. Decide that you’re going hold in your prayers the well-being of all the believers in the city you live in. You’re going to pray not only for your Sunday gathering, but for all the gatherings. You’re going to pray for the imperfect spiritual leaders who look out for you, and for all the other imperfect spiritual leaders in your city. You’re going to pray for all the believing households in the city – and all the single believers whose households haven’t believed yet – remembering by name those you know, and especially those not part of your Sunday gathering. Choose that, and then practice that, maybe with your family or a few friends, for one month. Just try that and see where your heart goes.

Our unity is ontological – that is, it’s down in the core of what we are. We ARE one. It is not based on our dogma or our convictions, but on the One Spirit. It is not something we must invent or build. He won it on the cross already. It is time we started living in the truth, and keeping what our King has won at so high a price.

Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to all the believers in Corinth. They had broken the church into warring groups, and he told them they were one. If he were to write to the saints in Narnya, or in your city, I have a feeling he’d say, “Some of you say, ‘I am with this leader,’ while others say, ‘I am with that leader.’ Some say, ‘I’m with this brand of Christians,’ and others say, ‘I’m with that other brand.’ But this is not right. There is one church in your city, and you are all part of it. You all drank of the same Spirit, and you have all been immersed into one body. So, I beg you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to stop living like many little clubs or fiefdoms, and live like one church. I beg you to find one mind, and to tolerate no divisions among you.”

That, I’m pretty sure, is what he would say. And the question he would ask is the same question he asked the saints at Corinth – Is Christ divided?

The Spirit’s Unity

I’m taking a short break from the ROOTED series to work on something for the church here in Narnya. One of the absolutely essential tasks facing the expat worker community and the local believing community here is the recovery of some ways to live out the unity of the Spirit practically. In another post sometime I might unpack why that is so mission-critical here (and, I’m increasingly convinced, everywhere). But today I thought I’d post some of the first section of something I’m writing to strengthen the disciples and fellowships here in my city. I’d love your feedback if you have any – you can contribute to something that might prove very helpful here.

What I’m working on is a brief treatment of the concept of the unity of the Spirit and how to keep it, working mostly from Paul’s letters (as he’s the one who coined the phrase), but also engaging John and maybe James on the topic. I’m thinking I’ll talk in terms of “the Spirit and Unity,” “Christ and Unity,” “the Father and Unity,” “Deviations from Unity,” and “How to Keep it.” Something to give readers handles, and something that follows the relational nature of the Triune Godhead, since the unity of the Spirit isn’t a doctrine to agree with, but a relational reality to be protected and practiced. Below is an early version of an early chapter. The tone and word choice will be slightly different from my usual voice on this blog, since I’m writing to a very different audience, culturally, and because I will have to translate this before publishing. Again, I’d love your thoughts.

In a coffee shop

I want to start with a story that I’m ashamed of. Ten years ago I was sitting in a coffee shop in the United States, drinking my coffee and reading my book. Two guys were sitting at a table nearby, discussing something from the Bible and talking about a sermon they had heard that week. I started to listen in, and found myself thinking some pretty terrible stuff.

Wow, what he’s talking about is pretty shallow. That wasn’t much of a sermon. We do a lot better in our fellowship.

People really should come to our Sunday morning meeting, because it’s so much better than the other meetings in this area.

I mean, it’s great these guys are believers, but they really need to experience real spiritual community and solid teaching like we have in our fellowship.

I’m so glad our Sunday meetings are better than the one I’m hearing about right now, and I’m so glad God is working uniquely in our fellowship so we can fix these other churches and set everything to rights.

To be honest, none of these thoughts fully formed themselves in my mind, but I remember feeling these thoughts. I believed these things were true. Such pride. Such foolishness. I’m still ashamed of what was in my heart as I remember that day.

But it gets better. I’m telling the story because the Lord met me at that table. He quietly chastised me. Did I really think that he was working uniquely in my fellowship, and not all the other ones in my city? Did I really think I had some kind of inside line on Jesus? What is wrong with me that I can look at two brothers – my brothers in Christ – two meters away from me and not rejoice that they are attending carefully to their hearts and to the teaching they are receiving? The problem wasn’t the shallow sermon they were discussing; it was the shallow love in my heart for people who are Christ’s.

In that moment the Lord touched me and I had an experience that marked me. I don’t chase experiences, but a discipleship with no experiences doesn’t get far. On that day, at that table, I felt in my heart my connectedness to all the saints everywhere. I sensed in my bones how we are all one – all of God’s people, all those in Christ, are one body, and I felt that. And with it I received a sense of responsibility to care for and serve the whole body, never valuing one part of the body more than another. From that moment on, my relationship to Jesus has been intrinsically tied to my relationship to the saints, and the force and skill with which I love them. On that day, for just a moment, I touched and felt the unity of the Spirit.

The Spirit’s unity

But I want to be clear that the unity of the Spirit isn’t a feeling. It’s not ‘spiritual unity’, but rather ‘the Spirit’s unity’. We’re not talking about a vague idea that we give assent to, nor a mysterious feeling we sense when we like another believer; we’re talking about an objective reality created, maintained, and owned by the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit of God has made us one – he has woven us into one fabric, and that fabric comprised of every believer of all times is the Church. What holds that fabric together in reality is the unity of the Spirit – the oneness created and perpetually maintained by the Holy Spirit. It’s a real thing, whatever we believe about it. And this reality is his. We did not create it so it does not matter in the least if we want to be one with a particular person or group of believers. He did not ask our opinion on the matter. We are one.

Oneness

Oneness is ONEness, not twoness, not manyness. Paul goes to great lengths in a few passages to make this very clear. Let’s explore them.

Ephesians 4:4-6

“There is one body and one Spirit just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

This is a hymn that Paul’s readers would have already known. Apostles in the early church often left hymns with the churches they planted or helped to plant, in order to make certain that core doctrines were preserved whole and in one piece among churches who might not be highly literate or might not have much of the Scriptures available to them. The hymns were the means of preserving teachings the apostles thought were absolutely central and essential to the life of the church.

He quotes this hymn, not to tell them what to believe, but to tell them how to live. He expects them to PRACTICE what the hymn preserves and teaches. What the hymn teaches is the absolute centrality of practiced oneness to the way of Jesus and the life of the church. The clear emphasis is unity.

There is one body. Not 2, not 3, not 7, not 70. In the whole world, there is one church, comprised of all the believers everywhere. In your city, there is one church, comprised of all the believers in your city. One body.

There is one Spirit. We will explore this one a little later, but for now it is enough to say that to offend the unity of the Spirit is to offend the Spirit of God himself. It is not a small matter.

There is one hope. We will all be together in the new heavens and new earth. We are all on the same journey now to the same destination, and our current silly divisions won’t matter then. So why do they matter now? Why do we intentionally live life with Jesus in ways we know we will never live when he appears again? Why do we tolerate divisions now that he won’t tolerate then, and why do we think he is happy with them now?

There is one Lord. There is one King, with one kingdom. Not many little fiefdoms feuding with each other, or ignoring each other. One kingdom, with one King, and none of us are him.

There is one faith. There really aren’t lots of different ‘kinds’ of Jesus-followers. There is one faith. Why do we gather like there are many?

There is one baptism. Baptism is the pledge of allegiance to our One King, and there is only one such pledge. You are HIS, and you belong to no other. There is one chief shepherd, and all the sheep are his. You are no one’s sheep but Christ’s. Submission to him means mutual submission among the saints. In your baptism you pledged allegiance to Jesus, and to all the people who are His. You owe your full allegiance to him, and to all the saints – not just the ones you like or agree with.

There is one Father. So there is one family. He is above all of us, and in all of us. Even those you disagree with, and those who have hurt you. And he is at work through all of us, even the ones whose decisions you don’t like.

There is but one of all of these. One. Paul did not say there should be one Father, one Lord, one faith. He said there is. There is only one church, one God, one Christ, one Spirit.

Paul says that living in this oneness is what it means to live worthy of the gospel, worthy of the Voice that called us.

What would happen if we actually lived like that?

Philippians 1:27-30

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”

Paul paints a vivid picture. Imagine a valley. Down in the bottom, a small band of soldiers stands silently, side by side, shields interlocked, spears hovering over top – locked in formation and standing firm. No cowardice, no chaos. No one running away, no one running headlong at the enemy. Perfect, disciplined unity.

Maybe some of these soldiers have problems with each other from time to time. Maybe they had a fight last night and some harsh words were exchanged. But today, on the battlefield, they will die for each other before they break ranks. Each man’s shield protects the man to his left, and he trusts the man to his right to protect him, whether they are blood brothers, dear friends, or not. Because they are soldiers, and this is what soldiers do.

At the other end of the valley the enemy army has begun to advance. They outnumber our brave friends 20 to 1. As they march on this little band of sword-brothers, our friends still don’t break ranks. They don’t move. They don’t waver. The enemy commanders begin to wonder about their plan. We outnumber them 20 to 1, they think to themselves. Why are they not running away?

And a suspicion grows in the enemy commanders’ hearts. What if this little band of soldiers knows that reinforcements are coming? What if this isn’t going to end like we hope? What if their discipline holds, and they don’t break ranks, and they can hold this ground long enough for their King to arrive with his cavalry, and cut our lines to shreds? What if today isn’t the day they die? What if they hold, and we fall?

As the first lines of the enemy horde descend on our friends, they hold. They fight. They bleed, and some die. But the shield wall holds. They fight as one – as one man with many spears, many shields. They are unmovable, because they move as one. And their enemy’s hearts begin to melt.

This is the image Paul is giving to this church in Philippi – a military city with a long military history, and a church with many soldiers in it. He says that he might be able to come to them, and he might die in prison before he can. But whether he comes and sees for himself, or if he just hears, he wants to hear that they are living worthy of the gospel. Again, worthiness is defined by the apostle as living in practiced unity with all the saints in the city.

The church at Philippi was experiencing conflict, likely driven by disagreements between the leaders (see chapter 4, verses 2-3). Paul doesn’t tell each group to live as one, while they live divided from each other. He says that he wants to hear that ALL the saints in that city are living as one, “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind fighting side by side for the faith of the gospel.” He wants them to fight – not against each other, but alongside each other, for the furthering of the gospel.

When the church lives like that, the enemy (spiritual and earthly) have reason to fear. When she lives broken apart, the enemy always wins, and the church always has reason to fear. Always.

But how far does this one-mindedness need to go? Can we just agree to disagree?

1Corinthians 1:10-12

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”

When Paul writes letters to churches, he writes to all the believers in a city. Never to one group or another. He will carefully greet each group when that’s necessary, but always the saints in a city are the church at that city.

The letters to the Corinthians were written that way – to all of them. When Paul wrote 1Corinthians, the city church there was broken into factions around their favorite teachers or leaders, the way churches in the States and in Narnya are broken up. Paul writes to them – to ALL of them – in the name of Jesus Himself, saying he wants:

ALL of them to agree

NO divisions

All of them UNITED in the same mind and the same judgement (to come to a shared conclusion)

As you read that, I’m sure you’re saying, “That’s impossible.” And you’re right. Without the Spirit of God, it is impossible. So what?

One more story

I was talking with a dear friend of mine last year. We were discussing this very thing, and I was sharing with him my burden to see the church everywhere live in the unity of the Spirit. He looked at me and said, “It will never happen. Too many people who think they are right. Too many pastors who won’t give up the power they’ve worked so hard to protect. Too many good believers and pastors who just don’t know how to live as one. Too many believers have been taught to fear each other. It will never happen.”

“Maybe not,” I replied quietly, “but I can see only one choice in front of me. I can look at the terrible, sad mess we’ve made of things, and I can accept the current state of affairs as normal – all the while feeling the heartbreak of the Father and watching the world he loves burn down while we busy ourselves fighting each other or marketing our fellowships so people will like us better than the next bunch of believers down the street.

“Or, I can obey the Scriptures. I can decide that I won’t participate in the destruction of the Temple of the Living God. I won’t sit by while God’s beautiful and beloved children defile his table with their hate and unforgiveness, or their simple neglect of each other. I won’t quietly let spiritual leaders nurture bitterness and resentment toward each other, while their cities burn down around them. I will, instead, with all my might, endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and I will beg others to do the same. I will succeed or die in the effort.”

I can say, “It’s impossible; it will never happen.”

Or, I can say, “It’s impossible. Let’s get it done.”

I have made my choice, and what I’m writing to you now is an attempt to help you as you make yours.

Come, let’s live worthy of the gospel. Impossible is what we do.

Hey, Ephesians, long time no see

A few weeks ago a passage in Ephesians leaped off the page at me. It’s the stretch in chapter 4 where Jesus gives the global church apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers so they can equip the saints for the work of service, and from there the Body builds itself up in love, with life flowing from Christ and with the Body growing to eventually match the head. A beautiful passage, and a strategically important one for me right now. I’m sitting in that passage in particular, praying with it, dreaming around it, and executing much of what I do in light of it.

I’ve also decided to take a few months and study Ephesians in depth. I have always loved this letter, but I’ve been leaving it alone for the past several years. The group I was with in Nashville studied Ephesians together for about 35yrs (well, maybe 2), and though it was good, it wore me out a bit. But it’s been long enough now, apparently, and I am seeing things this time through that lead me to believe my last pass may have overemphasized a few things to the exclusion of some others. As I go along, I’ll be posting bits – not my whole study, but bits and pieces that are germane to something like a blog.

This time I thought I’d tell you how I got started. These letters were originally read aloud. They are written with that in mind, so a good way to get a feel for the overall rhythm and structure of a letter is to read it out loud. Another practice, one I use a lot, is the fly-over. I leave my Bible open somewhere and as I pass by throughout the day I glance down and look at few places on the two open pages I can see. Or I’ll flip the page back and forth a few times and look for points where I can see the argument being tied together. This takes patience, and you usually have to do this for a period of days before all the significant patterns emerge. Using this method I came across three things of interest to me today.

The first thing is the basic layout of the letter. I grew up being told that the first half of Paul’s letters are often theology and the second half ethics. At least with this letter, that kind of approach doesn’t do justice to the genius. The first half repeatedly insists that there is a Story afoot, it’s God’s story, and we have found ourselves in it. And it insists that it is being in the Story that totally defines us now. By telling and re-telling that story in the first three chapters Paul tells us what God is up to, how Jesus fits into that, how we fit into that, and who we are as a consequence of that. From there, the second half of the letter is given to teaching us how to walk out what we are – how to live in the Story.

The second thing I saw was the looping Story-arcs. Four times Paul tells basically the same Story, focusing on one thing here, on another there. But, taken together, we get a thorough picture that I’m not sure we could have gotten another way. We are ready, by the time he’s done, to learn how to live in that Story. More on that later, maybe.

The third thing is cool. Twice in the space he uses to tell those four versions of the Story, he pauses to pray, and to tell his audience what he prays. When you examine the prayers, you see that Paul appears to be telling the Story, and then pausing in the realization that unless God helps them see it – deep in their bones see it – they won’t understand or be able to mobilize the Story inside them. So Paul prays specifically for God to do what they cannot do for themselves, but he prays it as a support measure to the telling of the Story. One layer of Story, seal it with prayer. Awesome.

Tomorrow I will sit down into the four arcs. I’ll let you know what I see.