Saturday, October 04, 2008

Domesticating Paul

The Apostle Paul writes these provocative words in his letter to the Philippians (3:7–11):
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

But modern-day Christians have taken all the sting out of them. We read them something more like this:
I have given up my old ways so that I can trade them in for God's declaration that I am righteous because of what Jesus Christ did for me. The most important thing to me is knowing that salvation is by faith in Christ and not by my trying to be good. I want to keep this straight in my mind and never forget that it is Jesus' death for me that makes it possible for me to get to heaven.

Not only is this not what Paul is saying, but it is nearly the opposite of what he is saying.

He means something more like this:
All those things that I used to count on to make me feel significant and accepted by God I now realize were worst than useless. In fact, all the things that seemed important I now consider sh*t, because my only hope is in my participation in the life that can only be found in Jesus Christ. The most important desire I have is intimacy with Christ Jesus who is my Lord. I yearn to experience the power of his resurrection at work in my life as I follow in the way of the cross. And while I enjoy life now that has an eternal depth, my ultimate hope is in the final resurrection when God's perfect kingdom will be realized.

Of course, that is just my clumsy attempt to paraphrase what Paul wrote in carefully crafted Greek that borders on poetry.

C. S. Lewis did a much better job in this poem:

As the Ruin Falls

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love —a scholar's parrot may talk Greek—
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.

That's what I was trying to say.

Pastor Rod
"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"

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