These heralding words from the letter to the Ephesians, and more importantly for purposes of this study, the heralding words that are employed in the first letter to Timothy, are so much more than words that a client would use in honor of his patron. They are words, as already indicated, that would be reserved for the honoring of the world’s patron (the patron of patrons), who was Caesar. It serves as yet another indication to an alert listener or reader, that Paul, and those communities being formed around the claims of the Gospel (Jesus is Lord), stand in opposition to much of the prevailing culture of the day and are intended to be a transformative element within that culture.
This transformation will not occur through denouncing the surrounding culture as hell-bound, perverse, or any number of adjectives that do much to polarize and little to effect change. While there is certainly a mystical power in the pronouncement that Jesus is Lord, one can certainly agree that the power is magnified if the life of the speaker accords with the claim. This goes well beyond the avoidance of things that are determined to be “sins” or that which is to be avoided by Christians, having much more to do with an active engagement with the culture that demonstrates the Lordship of Jesus over every area of life.
The pronouncement of condemnation on anything and everything that does not align with one’s personal viewpoint is hardly effective, and the condoning of such activities would have to be read into the Scriptures in a way that lacks context or coherence. This approach would probably fail to take into account the historical movement of Scripture, the over-arching meta-narrative of exile and exodus by which the Scriptures ask to be read, and the covenant and covenant-people framework on offer throughout the whole of the Bible that defines the people of the Creator God and that God’s mission in and for His world.
Attempts to use Jesus’ harsh words against the leaders of the people, His actions in the Temple, or the sharp words of the prophets and the apostles as justification for harshness or ugliness that is merely cloaked in the veil of a pseudo-love, would be to abuse and misuse those words and actions, especially considering the fact that the harshness is so often directed to the covenant God’s covenant people. Though one can look through the prophets and certainly find words of the Creator God’s condemnation directed towards the nations that surrounded and often mistreated Israel, not only is there a need to remember that such words were subsequent to the Creator God’s judgment of His people, but also to remember that this God’s taking up of human flesh and going to a cross in order to die for His enemies (after telling His people to pray for and love their enemies) pretty much changes everything.
Distance from the text, both historically and culturally, especially for those in the western world, should lead away from dogmatism in engagement with respective cultures, and towards a compassionate, inquisitive, and mercy-tinged engagement that recognizes shortcomings and a lack of complete knowledge. When one looks at the New Testament, what must be seen behind the text are communities that are struggling to come to terms with what is implied by the life of Jesus and the kingdom of the Creator God that has been inaugurated by His Resurrection, especially considering that said kingdom has been inaugurated in a way that was completely unexpected.
This struggle, which can be seen in the New Testament and in the records and writings of the early church, encouragingly informs those that care to see that there has never been a monolithic “orthodoxy” at any point in time in the history of Christianity. Therefore, any believer’s struggles, in attempting come to terms with the message of Jesus and His kingdom so that it might be possible to effectively, correctly, and faithfully engage the cultures in which the believers finds himself immersed, should inspire humility and a compassion for others, as the believers both depends upon and attempts to reflect the compassion of their covenant God as embodied by the Christ.