Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Thought for Wednesday 30 September 2015

“We exhort you, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.  See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.  Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise prophecies.  Test all things; hold fast what is good.  Abstain from every form of evil.”  1 Thessalonians 5:14-22 NKJV

Though this passage seems to be a mishmash of exhortations, the sum of what is written here is expressly thusly: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  There is love, encouragement, discipline, admonition, mutual accountability, and a strong sense of purpose.  It cannot be reduced to any set of “rules” but is rather an abiding principle conducive to building up a community of faith devoted to Divine Will.

Since the Age of Enlightenment (17th-18th century) there has not been any real sense of community, peoples preferring instead the freedom and perceived power to do and to think as individuals.  Rather than a strong community as the primary pursuit, individualism became primary.  An idea of doing or being had to do, first, with what is best for “me” with little or no regard for the well-being of one’s neighbor.  Consequently the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” – even as Jesus affirmed this commandment as a great commandment “like the first” – became love your neighbor … as long as it does not interfere with your personal pursuits.  The Age of Enlightenment being also known as the Age of Reason, it became more reasonable to first look after oneself and then consider sharing one’s excess.  It is arguably summed up for us today (even we who call ourselves the Body of Christ) as “The American Dream”.

The ideal of Christian community as the Body of Christ is much broader than “me first”.  No one, not even the apostles, has asked us to completely deny ourselves our basic needs.  Even within the context of Jesus’ encouragement to “deny yourself”, there is still that ideal of community in which the principle is defined; to care for one’s neighbor IS the care of oneself (if we consider ourselves to be part of a whole Body), for the well-being of the community is the well-being of all. 

With a strong sense of individualism, however, the care of those who are “fainthearted” or “weak” becomes the responsibility of someone else.  Rather than the collective strength of the “ekklesia” (the whole community, the whole congregation), charity has become the strength of the individual.  In other words, our real strength has left us; having been voluntarily surrendered to the strength and well-being of “me”.

The problems of our communities seem overwhelming precisely because we think as individuals.  Who alone can handle homelessness?  Or poverty?  Or hunger?  Or addiction?  Or gang violence?  We have no real idea of just how powerful the Body of Christ can be because we have never really had the faith to let go and “deny oneself”.  In that reality alone is lacking the faith necessary to “please God” or to even be justified before The Lord.  After all, what are we really saying when we profess faith in Christ?  In our contemporary Protestant context, faith in Christ has been rendered strictly “personal” with no mind or heart toward the whole Body.

I would venture to guess each of those of the church to whom Paul was writing were “personally” saved, yet Paul was encouraging them not to become so fragmented that the community falls apart, the Body weakens, and the “weak” and “fainthearted” fall through the cracks, having become “someone else’s” responsibility.

Let us “test all things” in accordance to what is written in the Scripture and learn to live as we are called to live.  We have been called not merely away from sin but have been called into the Body of Christ.  The “weak” and the “fainthearted” among us have no hope in this life apart from the Word Alive in the world today.



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