A Valentine’s Verse.

February 13, 2011

love builds up

 Dear reader, today’s post is very short and, I hope, a little sweet. As you know, it’s valentines day tomorrow and so how apt that I should be reading Paul’s advice on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7. However, I must admit, it’s not very romantic!

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is well for a man not to touch a woman.’ 2But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. (7:1-3)

I can’t imagine any one having that read at their wedding! Now, of course, it’s taken out of context. Paul was actually encouraging the Corinthians, who’d convinced themselves to give up marriage, that the union was good in the eyes of God, that it was fine for them to be married. Though he, believing that Jesus would come again in his lifetime, erred on the side of caution advising those who weren’t married to stay that way.

No, you’ll not find much romance from this chapter of Paul. But don’t despair, I have a found us a verse about love, one to keep in hearts (our real hearts that is, not over-priced chocolate covered or stuffed velvet ones!). And I have found it in the less likely chapter 8, which is all about whether or not the Corinthians should eat food offered to idols. Nestled in the very specific advice, which can feel irrelevant to us now, is this wonderful phrase:

“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (8:1b)

Paul is encouraging the church in Corinth to act from a place of love, rather than one of superior knowledge, and so he says Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.” (8:2-3). He asks them to act from a place of humility.

“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” I know in my own marriage this is a verse to remember. When we think we’re in the right, when we think the other person simply doesn’t understand; will I act from my ‘knowledge’ or in love (which is always God’s love)?

May tomorrow not be about cards and chocolates and flowers, which will fade so soon (and cost so much!!) but instead may it be about building each other up with a hundred little blessings; making a home of love.

Amen.

 

P.S. Just to prove I’m not blogging in a vacuum; how about Egypt huh?

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Dear reader, this is my 70th post. Go me! Although I had originally intended to post every day that hasn’t really happened, as you know. This is partly health, partly work, partly fun stuff getting in the way, and I think that’s fine. But I must admit I’m not really ‘raring to go’ with this blog at the moment. When I began it was the first flush of enthusiasm; a new project is always enlivening (unless it’s a let’s-clean-the-skirting-boards-with-a-toothbrush project of something of that ilk). But as winter set in and I realised I wasn’t suddenly going to go viral and become and internet sensation, I felt slightly less enthusiastic.

What I’m realising with this process is that it’s not just about learning what the scripture says, which was my original intention. It’s actually teaching me about my relationship with the Bible; my prejudices, my favouritisms, my cynicism. This is something of real value, and something I hadn’t really thought about before. But it’s obvious really, that our state of mind affects how we approach, and so how we absorb, the words in this book.

Recently I’ve been feeling a bit stale, a bit stuck around this project. I’m reading dutifully, but not joyfully. I suppose that’s a common experience with Bible reading. And the principle of self-discipline – ploughing on when we’d rather be watching Friends repeats – is a good one, but I’m wondering what’s to be done? I’m wondering whether reading the Bible could actually be…fun… dun dun der!

 I love being playful, irreverent even, but somehow I don’t include this part of myself this with the process of reading the Bible. But why not? There are jokes in there! Hebrew scholars tells us there are lots of puns and plays on words in the Old Testament, which we sadly lose in translation. And then there’s the New Testament, there are loads of jokes in there. Why do you look at the splinter in someone else’s eye when there’s a log in your own? Classic! And Paul’s not adverse to a joke or two either, honest! But I always come back to the idea that, finally, our experience must profound. Even if that means it’s profoundly boring.

So, dear reader, what to do, what to do? Mix it up a bit of course!

And that’s what I did with good old Paul and his letter to the Corinthians. I have definitely learned about my prejudices to Paul through this reading. In my head his letters speak in a serious and self-satisfied tone. So I decided to counteract that with my first mixing-it-up experiment. There’s nothing like a bit of silliness to loosen things up.

I read 1 Corinthians aloud in a number of different voices. First, as a Blue Peter presenter, then in a sort of swanky advert voice (“you too can have a sparkling new X”, that sort of thing), and finally, and a bit more seriously, in the voice a nurturing, caring mother; something I rarely think of Paul as!

So did it help? Well at first I thought maybe not. It amused me to read the words of Paul in the voice of an overenthusiastic children’s TV presenter, sure, especially saying things like “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person” in a relentlessly cheerful manner. And perhaps I heard the words differently than before. But I found myself asking, what insight in the words am I gaining here? And the answer was, pretty much, none.

But do I need to gain insight every time I pick up the Bible? Surely to expect a daily epiphany is a bit much? My experiment wasn’t geared in that direction, rather it was meant to bring a bit of life, and a bit of me into my relationship with this book. What reading 1 Corinthians 3-4 aloud in these different voices did was nothing dramatic; I havent suddenly fallen madly in love with Paul and all that he was. To be frank, whatever tone I read “I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me” in it doesn’t lose its patronising edge (4:16). But it did something; shifted something. I helped me to enjoy reading the Bible, with a pinch of a irreverence, but all the same to engage in a new way. And the voice of the mother helped me to consider the idea that Paul wrote in a spirit of love. I invite you to give it a try. Can you think of some out of the box voices? Please share them!

I think the word relationship is a good one to apply to how we interact with the Bible. Whether we’re acquaintances or long-term lovers, there seems to be more going on than the dynamic of a person and an inanimate book. For my part, I believe that the Bible is alive, speaking to us in new ways and revealing the ever-newness of God, if we’ll listen. That’s why it’s so important for me not just go through the motions. Like in every relationship, I need to put the work and mix it up if things are going to last.

So over the next week (month? year?) I’ll be trying a few experiments different ways of responding to what I read. Jesus came to give us life in all its fullness, why should we limited and uncreative in our approach to the book that tells us this good news?

 

Oh, and if you’re unfamiliar with the ‘blue peter presenter’ genre, enjoy:

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Great way to start a post hey? Well, I can’t take all (any) of the credit as a stole it from the beginning of 1 Corinthians, verse 3 to be precise.

The verse that ends today’s reading (chapters 1-2) is equally quotable: “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” The mind of Christ? Wowza. What does that even mean?

In these chapters Paul spends most of  his time contrasting the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God.He writes that the message of the cross is “foolishness” to those who do not accept Jesus, or as Paul tactfully describes them “those who are perishing”. I am well aware of how foolish and strange many of the most familiar Christian beliefs are. In my work I have spoken with international students who come from places where little is known about Chriastianity and are perplexed to hear the details: “you believe God was a human?” “well, yes, but also no…” “so you believe God was crucified?” “well yes…”.

My favourite question I’ve been asked is from a Muslim student here to do a PhD; “I’ve heard some Christians eat bread and drink wine and they believe that it symbolises Jesus’ body and blood, what kind of Christians are they? ” His tone implied that the thought it was some kind of sect, until I said “actually, we pretty much all do that, some more often than others, and some Christians believe that it’s actually the body and blood of Jesus.” Now that was an interesting conversation! The point here is not to imply that this guy was one of those worldly foolish types, but to show how alien and unintelligible Christian beliefs can be. This would also be a good point to mention that I have learned and will continue to learn much on my spiritual journey from other faiths and people of all faiths and none.

Paul’s writing can make it all seem pretty clear cut: those with human wisdom don’t understand the gospel, those with God’s wisdom do. But I worry about these conclusions; as I said in my last post, there’s nothing worse than a smug Christian. Okay, so Paul makes it clear that our boast should be in God, not in our own understanding (1:31), but we’re still affirming that we are the ones who have received God’s wisdom; we must be very very of some egos getting puffed up here.

Over this Christmas season (it’s not over until the 6th people!) it really struck me me how much I believe in Jesus; his birth and life, his death and resurrection and the saving grace that he has brought the world. How much I believe the doctrines preached by Christians (including Paul) for two millenia, even if I do shrink from a few of the add-ons. If I have any wisdom then it is through Christ Jesus and I feel it has been revealed to me by the Spirit, as Paul writes in 2:12-13. Believing these things that I do means that I disagree with others, not only with atheists, but with those of other faiths. And I must be true to this, because I would have no integrity if I simply pretended to agree with whoever I was with (though of course there is a time to speak and a time remain silent). But how do I do this with humility?

Perhaps if I never make these beliefs into beliefs about myself; about how I”m right, or I’m spiritual. It feels a bit scary to think about that; to toy with the idea of losing my identity in God’s. 

Though I find Paul’s binary languages about Christians and others (e.g. worldly wise and godly wise, spiritual and unspiritual) hard to accept, I do like how he describes his attempts to share God simply in Corinth;

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. (2:1-2)

To know nothing except Jesus Christ. What a wonderful concept. Even as I write again I find the concept more than a little scary. “know nothing else? what about all that education I have? what about my theological musings? what about me?” This scared little voice is an unmistakably good sign; not about me, but about the idea.

To know nothing except Jesus. What would that look like? What would we know? Freedom, sacrifice, love, mercy, justice, peace, obedience, passion, forgiveness. What would we forget? Pride, arrogance, greed, money, materialism, selfishness, fear, sin.

Now wouldn’t that be something? Like to having the mind of Christ perhaps…