A Commandment from Paul

Over the years, I’ve been fairly critical of what I’ve deemed “Paulianity,” that is, the preeminence of Paul’s letters in the development of Reformed theology over the past 500 years.  I say this as a recovering Pauline Christian.  There was a time, early on in my faith, when the rules that Paul set out in his letters made the world an easier place to live.  As one AL.com letter to the editor writer suggested this weekend, the Law of Paul is clear, and we like things that are clear.

The problem, of course, is that the world is not black and white, but rather full of vibrancy, color, shade, and tone.  When we attempt to place black and white thoughts upon the beautiful world, we end up with a very gloomy world indeed.  Certainly, that kind of world isn’t the one Jesus came to save.  Additionally, even those rules from Paul, the ones that seem so straightforward, are rarely quite as cut and dry as we make them out to be.  Remember, Paul’s letters were written in response to real life situations in real life churches, they aren’t to be taken as abstracts about life for everyone.

Except.

Except, of course when Paul says something like, “we command you…”  Then, I suppose we ought to pay closer attention.  In Sunday’s New Testament lesson, Paul commandment to the Church in Thessalonica  has nothing to do with sex, women in Church, or slavery: the juicy stuff of Paul; but instead, it is an admonition against laziness.

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness…”  I have to be honest and say that I’m pretty surprised that Paul would use so much of his leadership capital on this issue.  Perhaps I’m more surprised that it was such an issue that Paul had to.  Of course, idleness has been a point of contention in Christianity throughout the generations.  Was Simeon the Stylite just being lazy, or were his 37 years standing atop a pillar the work of God?  Do ivory tower theologians do work?  Should clergy be employed by the Church on a full-time basis?  These are just a few of the compounding questions regarding the role of work in faith, and yet Paul is very clear.

Do not be weary in doing what is right.

I’m thinking that the fact that this post took over 4 hours to write thanks to the various distractions of parish ministry, at least for today, I’m doing something right.

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