19 July 2013

That Won’t Do, Pig. That Won’t Do.

When was the last time you went to a private social club? If you think that kind of thing is for the elite members of our society alone, guess again. The Yellow Pages are filled with lists of social clubs in which anyone in the neighborhood can become a member. They meet mainly on Sunday mornings—but don’t be foolish enough to wait for an invitation.

Unfortunately, like most other clubs, this one is designed to keep certain people in and other people out. You will find in it a decidedly internalized and individualized faith, complete with its own set of man-made regulations. You will find in it a group of folks who act as if they are enjoying life to the fullest, no matter where they are or what they are doing. And what do they do? They do exactly what they wish to do. In this Sunday club, then, it comes as no surprise that God Is One Who Exists for Me.

But in reality, this private social club has been called out of the world of clubs, not to be just another club—albeit a little cleaner (if not a lot less fun)—but to be the anti-club, the place where the mantra above is flipped: I Am He/She Who Exists for God. Apart from this, we would have no purpose, being left anchorless in a torrid sea, unable to know our worth as creatures among other creatures wrought and redeemed by a holy God. (I’m paraphrasing R. Clapp here, A Peculiar People, p. 42; see also Eph 4:14).

And this reminds me of what the apostle Paul wrote long ago. One word, among a few others, that sums up Ephesians 4 is this: friendship. I know that sounds trite to modern ears, but that might have more to do with how trite our friendships are in this shallow, isolated age (friendship in the classical period in which the apostle lived could be summed up as "the sharing of two selves," and, once cultivated in childhood, went on to form the basis of politics and the family of economic activity). St. Paul often exhorts the church in Ephesus to simply act like a community of friends. Chapter 4 of his letter is littered with such exhortations: support each other in love and preserve unity (vv. 2–3); use your gifts to knit the body together and strengthen it (vv. 12, 16); “speak truth to one another” (v. 25); don’t sin in your anger against a friend (vv. 26, 29, 31); and work an honest job in order to share with those in need (vv. 28, 32).

In short, practice friendship. For a church without friendship, just like a "beautiful woman who lacks discretion," who turns aside from her dignity, is like “a gold ring in a pig’s snout” (Prov. 11:22).1

1 I'm assuming, perhaps not unlike the trajectory laid out for us by the church fathers, that the primary interpretation of "women" when found in Jewish wisdom literature in this new covenant age often can refer allegorically to the church, original intent notwithstanding.


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