27 April 2007

Unity: Pumping the Prime and Priming the Pump

This post has been a long time coming. Today will just be some initial thoughts.
I’m talking about unity among the Church (with a capital C, meaning the universal church, which encompasses the local churches, of course).
I love Ephesians. I love all its growing togetherness and one body and one Lordness. I think one verse in particular has been sequestered from Ephesians, an arm chopped off from its body, mutilated, and waved at anyone I deem offending.
“Speaking the truth in love,” as most translations have it. And then we use it to say something to the effect of, “I’m telling you this for your own good,” and proceed to explain how we think they are horribly wrong. I’m not saying we should never practice church discipline. I think the Matthew passage and Paul’s use in I Corinthians (I think or is it I Thess? I’m too lazy to check) are excellent examples. This, however, I think refers to something else entirely.
Let’s look first at the context surrounding this phrase. It fits in a section, which begins, “4:1 I, therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called, 4:2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 4:3 making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4:4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, 4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 4:6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (NET)
Not only is all of Ephesians dedicated to the unity of all believers, but more specifically, this passage climaxes with the idea. After verse six, Paul goes on to describe the different gifts God gives to the body (teachers, evangelists, prophets, pastors, you know the drill). Why are these gifts given? To attain the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God. (Notice how these things work together, which makes me wonder: if we don’t have unity, do we not truly have the knowledge of the Son?)
What happens when we have these things? We are no longer deceived by schemes and tricks, but (and here’s where are verse comes in), we can truth in love (the Greek is a participle, so truthing in love—I like that, truthing in love).
Our phrase is a contrast to being deceived. It also leads to growing up—not individually (as we Westerners understand everything)—but as part of the body. The body grows together, and it grows in love.
Now, let me note that I’m not saying we just accept everything willy-nilly and cry “Unity!” But often, the phrase is used by one individual to another individual who has the same core beliefs, with a good finger shaking. “She was wrong, and I was speaking the truth in love.” Or “he did that wrong” (which, when we really look at it is, he did that in a way that I didn’t like).
Okay, back to some observations, than I have an example for you: a disgusting look at my life, to be specific.
The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) uses the verb in its participle form (as it is here) five times, never meaning speaking the truth, but living in a way that understands the reality of a situation.
Paul also uses it in Galatians 4, meaning he was speaking the truth (“by speaking the truth”) to them in a context where throughout the book he was correcting their theology when they entrapped themselves in practices inconsistent with the freedom of the gospel. The context is entirely different.
All these things considered, I think it is best to say “practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head,” (NET) or, as the NLT has it, “we will hold to the truth in love.” The nuance here is not telling others what to do, but together practicing an ethic that transforms us more and more like Christ.
Fine print: I ascertained this information from my Greek class with Dr. Dan Wallace many years ago, from Harold Hoener’s commentary on Ephesians, and from the NET bible notes.
Personal story (sorry this is getting so long): There is a man that I often disagree with. The conversations center around modern v. postmodern situations and the nature of Christianity being outside of v. part of culture. We fought vehemently several times, and each time, we would both realize our guilt of acting unlovingly. We would ask each other for forgiveness. Then we would fight again. Eventually, I think we both realized the same thing. I saw that he is a man seeks first God’s kingdom, loving God and loving his neighbor (even if he did it in a way that I didn’t like). He has sacrificed to follow God. He ministers to people to whom I couldn’t, and I minister to people he could not reach. We both believe that Christ died and rose for us and has the victory over sin and death. This does not mean that I always agree with him. It does not mean that I have to stop believing what I believe. It just means that we can be around each other as fellow Christians knowing that we both love God. I do not have to “speak the truth in love” to him, and he doesn’t to me. In fact, we don’t have to talk about the sore subject at all. It’s not avoidance. We both know what the other thinks, but we can focus on commonalities and our joy in Christ.
I struggle with this, but I’m coming to believe that Christ, being the Truth, is seen more in my loving than in my speaking (although I like the speaking too much for my own good, especially when I'm right, which, let's face it, we all think we're right, which is why we believe what we do).
Jesus prayed for us, all believers every where at all times, right before he died. He prayed “they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me.”
So that’s my deep (and long - hey, like the song: deep and wide, deep and wide, there's a fountain flowing deep and wide) thinking for today.


Jennifer Tiszai said...

I think that's exactly the point, Heather. We tend to use that verse, and others like it, to bludgeon others to our point of view, when it's really putting the onus on us to be humble and understanding of others.

Michelle Pendergrass said...

Excellent post Heather!

And Jen, I agree. How many other verses do people use to condemn others while proudly saying, "I spoke the truth in love" or "the word of God is a sword."

I love what Anne Lamott said, "You don't have to cut with the sword of truth; you can point with it."

All of that leads my train of thought to the stump and speck of dust lesson as well.

If we are "truthing in love" we don't have to say out loud "I'm speaking the truth in love" because we do it naturally.

Heather said...

I forgot to put in the post (it got really long), but I was thinking about it like a dance. You don't typically pull someone who doesn't know the steps to the side and tell them how stupid they look. You guide them and keep them moving.

Erin said...

Good thoughts on an experience I'm undergoing right now.

When we focus on our commonalities in Christ- which are the foundations of our faith- we are better able to lose our personal agendas and preferences. So much that goes on in a day-to-day church scenario is ancillary to its foundation.

Truthing in love seems to me to entail not being bothered by someone else's expression of their spiritual gifts. As long as the Truth is there, so should Love be there.

I like your dance illustration.

Pamela said...

Your post made me think of a favorite song by The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir "Field of Souls"

One is off to foreign soil to work a distant land
Another anchors close to home to hold a neighbor's hand
Who has served the Father most and who has labored best
That life devoted to our God, that devotion will be blessed

One shouts the gospel in the streets
For everyone to hear
He's bold to everyone he meets
And the Word is loud and clear
Another cries alone and prays in silence on her knees
Before the throne day after day
Where human eyes don't see

We work the field of souls, together you and I
Some fields are blooming now, other fields are dry
We are not the same but differences aside
We will work the field of souls, together you and I

Heather said...

thanks for the song, pam. i don't know it, but the lyrics are lovely.