This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
JAPANESE RESCUE CHINESE BALLOONIST NEAR DISPUTED ISLANDS
Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
17 Therefore I say this — indeed, in union with the Lord I insist on it: do not live any longer as the pagans live, with their sterile ways of thinking. 18 Their intelligence has been shrouded in darkness, and they are estranged from the life of God, because of the ignorance in them, which in turn comes from resisting God’s will. 19 They have lost all feeling, so they have abandoned themselves to sensuality, practicing any kind of impurity and always greedy for more. 20 But this is not the lesson you learned from the Messiah! 21 If you really listened to him and were instructed about him, then you learned that since what is in Yeshua is truth, 22 then, so far as your former way of life is concerned, you must strip off your old nature, because your old nature is thoroughly rotted by its deceptive desires; 23 and you must let your spirits and minds keep being renewed, 24 and clothe yourselves with the new nature created to be godly, which expresses itself in the righteousness and holiness that flow from the truth.
25 Therefore, stripping off falsehood, let everyone speak truth with his neighbor,[a] because we are intimately related to each other as parts of a body. 26 Be angry, but don’t sin[b] — don’t let the sun go down before you have dealt with the cause of your anger; 27 otherwise you leave room for the Adversary.
28 The thief must stop stealing; instead, he should make an honest living by his own efforts. This way he will be able to share with those in need.
29 Let no harmful language come from your mouth, only good words that are helpful in meeting the need, words that will benefit those who hear them. 30 Don’t cause grief to God’s Holy Spirit, for he has stamped you as his property until the day of final redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, violent assertiveness and slander, along with all spitefulness. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted; and forgive each other, just as in the Messiah God has also forgiven you.
Yesterday I used the Phillips translation, today the Complete Jewish Bible, which emphasises the Jewish roots of the language of faith. The passage begins with a typical piece of Jewish stereotyping: Gentiles are immoral, especially in sexual matters. Certainly Jewish sexual morality was strict compared with that of many Gentiles; indeed Gentiles were attracted to Judaism because of the discipline of its family life. Like all stereotypes it would have limited truth; but Paul knew well the sexual behaviour of Ephesians, as he made that city his missionary HQ for some time.
People are notoriously stubborn about their sexual habits and resist any suggestion that they should change. Paul insists that his converts must not imagine they are part of the new life of Jesus if they are not prepared to change these habits. The “new life” he says, is not an abstract category, it is specifically the life of Jesus, and therefore has specific content, namely the character and teaching of Jesus.
In Jesus Messiah what is offered is a new human nature. This picks up a major theme of Paul’s theology. “If anyone is in Messiah, there is New Creation” he wrote to the Corinthians. God has gone back to or perhaps has never ceased, creating; the new humanity of Jesus is present ready to be “put on” by those who believe. But nobody can put on the new nature without taking off the old one.
But what does the offer of the new nature mean if Paul has to instruct people as to its content and people themselves have to make decisions and behave better? It sounds not very different from obeying a set of rules. The truth is that we have to trust God and cooperate with our new creation. God will not give us a new nature against our will; but if we begin to cooperate by shaking off the old ways, we will find ourselves changed beyond our expectation. Our trust in Jesus, that is, our handing control of our lives to him, allows us to experience the rules as integral to our growth rather than as external impositions. The 12- step programmes of the A.A .are similar to this.
The New Creation happens gradually but meanwhile the enabling goodness we feel in our lives should be named as God’s Spirit; and seen as God’s down payment on our souls which he will ultimately redeem from the pawnshop of death. The new life is essentially a shared life so Paul’s rules of behaviour are intended to stop believers behaving as isolated individuals. In community believers grow into ways of living which fit them to be agents of renewal in society.
The thought process is this letter is a creative and coherent development of Paul’s theology. This makes me defend his authorship of the letter, which has been questioned by many scholars.