I have this thing happening where on a morning after a cold night my driver side tire looses a lot of pressure. It happened today. I was running on time and was going to be at school with plenty of time to spare. Then, I go to warm up my car, and it looks like a saggy diaper on that tire. This was frustrating. Fortunately, the tire seems to be fine. There was something about yesterday being in the 70’s and then last night being in the 30’s that caused this. Recently I bought a $15 cigarette lighter powered air compressor. It works fine, but it does not work fast.
Standing in the chill of the morning, watching the air pressure increase on the dial (in my head I am chanting, “Twenty-nine, twenty-nine, twenty-nine”) waiting for it to reach 29 PSI, I am reminded that I am not good at being patient. I am also not good at planning ahead. A little thing like this should not be able to knock my mornings off kilter. I should know by now, that there is a potential of my tire losing some pressure after yesterday. I suppose I was more concerned with my first cup of coffee and my bagel than checking my tire to ensure safe travel this morning.
I have been doing my morning reading in 1 Corinthians. I chose this because I seem to avoid Paul’s writings. Rather, I read the Sermon on the Mount over and over. I don’t see anything wrong with this, but I also know that I need to broaden my gaze, especially when it comes to the text. I think I avoid Paul’s writings because we spent so much time on them when I was younger. At my Christian school, it basically felt like – who needs the gospels – we will read ALL of Paul’s stuff with no context as to why he is saying any of this. I still feel like I know more about Paul than I do Jesus, I find that odd.
In my exploration of 1 Corinthians, I am learning that I really love Paul’s writing. I love how specific he was. I love that he was willing to take the time to write to these churches in need. I love his intention and his writing style. I really love Paul. I do not love how we have used Paul to fight through our every disagreement or frustration. We read this “Letter to the church in Corinth” as though it is intended to be an absolute truth for every church in every situation. I find that absurd and unhelpful. Paul does speak a lot of truth. There are ways our churches ought to function because we have read Paul’s writings, but to use his writing as my own personal sledgehammer to destroy what another church teaches – that is ignorance and a misuse of the text.
Paul even says this, “What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’ or ‘I belong to Apollos’ or ‘I belong to Cephas (Peter)’… was Paul crucified for you?” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13) I believe what he is saying is stop deifying me! Stop using my teaching to beat each other up! This is why later he says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Because Paul understands what we forget, he is not the Messiah. Paul, with the mind of Christ, is yearning for this church to be unified. To stop their small-minded quarreling, and remember the big picture.
Too often our churches spend our time and lives denouncing what another church is teaching. We proclaim, “I belong to Matt Chandler. I belong to John Piper. I belong to Alexander Campbell. I belong to Martin Luther. I belong to Barton W. Stone. I belong to Walter Brueggemann. I belong to N.T. Wright.” We want to be RIGHT. We want to solve every issue with an easy answer. We deify these teachers, just as the early church deify-ed Paul. Still, I do not think the point is to sit around and sing Kumbaya and act like nothing is wrong. Nor do I think that we are not allowed to speak truth to one another in love. But this morning my wife arrived at work at a local pre-school, and someone had left a hymnal, a note, and a literal pile of crap at the top of the stairs heading to the basement where they have school.
I do not know what the note said. I am assuming someone is displeased with the lack of Hymnal use or some stupid disagreement like that. Frankly, I do not care what the note said. I do care that this is a person who apparently professes to be a Jesus follower and thinks this is a reasonable action.
As atrocious as that action is, I have seen church people take similar stances over all kinds of things (women preaching, praise teams, guitars, you name it). These stances might not include a literal dump being taken on the church stoop. But the Facebook posts that people left (for example) on 4th Avenue CoC’s wall a year ago were equally atrocious and were the social media version of that same hideous act.
I think part of the problem is this, we think that we are the final say in the way the Kingdom is to run. We think that our beliefs, words, deeds, and readings are the final ones and any person or church who does them differently is bound for hell. This is because we have spent more time reading Paul’s letter to individual churches and less time looking at the life of Jesus – specifically his Sermon on the Mount.
I think this is because we live in a world of easy answers. We can Google anything and know it immediately. We want there to be one right way to live. So, we go find a proof text in Paul’s letters and use them as if they were written personally for us. Rather than going to the Gospels and wrestling with the deeper and harder questions concerning our anger, jealousy, greed, and lust. We want cookie cutter answers, but Jesus never gave those. So, we go to the one place where it looks like you can find those in the Bible, but that idea is a misunderstanding of Paul’s letters.
So today, stop using band-aid answers to deep, longing questions. Stop using (or misusing) Paul’s writings without first considering the work of Jesus’ hands. We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. That is only true when we love our enemies, and pray for those who we loathe. That is only true when we follow The Way, not our way. Today I implore you to set aside small-minded quarreling which causes us to burn bridges, and call the person with whom you are angry and sit down with them and get coffee. Maybe we can rebuild some of those bridges, or at least put the fire out. Because according to Jesus, we ought to do this before we ever offer anything to God (Matthew 5:24).
I hope you have a blessed day.
Grace and Peace,