Tuesday, December 9, 2014

All The Saints (part 21)

As if Paul has not made himself clear enough to this point, having made this point about the composition of the new humanity that is the church of the Christ, Paul continues to take up and extend language that had been exclusively reserved to national Israel and to those that had Judaized, building on talk of being clothed with the new man and further describing the appearance that should be taken by this new humanity, writing “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else.  Just as the Lord has forgiven you,” remembering the exodus connotation of “forgiveness,” “so you also forgive others” (Colossians 3:12-13). 

Paul believes that unity is key for the church, and he does not underestimate the difficulties in melding disparate people groups into one body.  Speaking to that, he continues in this stream of thought, writing “And to all these virtues add love, which is the perfect bond.  Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart (for you were in fact called as one body to this peace), and be thankful” (3:14-15).    

Though this study moves towards a conclusion, there will be no tiptoeing past Paul’s use of peace here in verse fifteen of chapter three, casually applying a possibly inadequate definition to this important term.  This is much more than just a feeling of serenity enjoyed by an individual, as part of a reconciliation with the Creator God.  Though that certainly can be a component of the peace, when approached from within the larger movement of the letter and the heavy emphasis on inclusiveness and unity as the covenant of the Creator God extends outwards to all peoples, it is possible to understand that this peace is specifically part of the reconciliation between Jew and Gentile.  This is rightly evidenced by Paul’s connecting it with the fact the church has been called to peace as part of their calling to be “one body.”

In the twenty-third verse of this chapter, following a digression that deals with the leveling out of the church body in mutual submission and self-sacrifice (remembering that Paul has made it clear that there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free---one can safely add “male or female” to that list, as that would not be a falsification of Paul’s way of thinking), Paul once again plucks language from the lexicon of Israel’s heritage, applying it equally to all, be it Jew or Gentile, when he writes “Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people, because you know that you will receive your inheritance from the Lord as the reward” (3:23-24a). 

Though one may have a tendency to think of this “inheritance” as “going to heaven” or eternal life, or some such limited and far too ethereal and ill-defined notion, it is far more likely that this use of “inheritance,” as Paul always, always, always locates the story of Jesus and the church along the path of the story of Israel (for without doing so, the story of Jesus and of Paul’s Gospel lacks substance and meaning), is designed to call to mind the promises first given to Abraham, that had been passed along to Israel, and were now being dispersed abroad and made available to all nations through the spread of the kingdom of the covenant God. 

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