Paul’s letters and the Gospel, the Holy Spirit as editor

Today’s Forward Day by Day reflection made me wonder about how we read Scripture – how we apply what God is revealing to us on this day in this moment.  Application of Scripture seems to be so tied to our location – where we are in any given moment.  And while God intends to reveal to us personally, as individuals, He also writes to us as He knows us corporately, as part of His church.  We have no identity under God as a singular human being, exclusively.  I am, to God Trinity Seasons, ONE person, and at the same time, only ONE of many.

So, Scripture.  Do I search it and let it search me as just the ONE person under God, or as the one of many of God’s church?  Can I read it both ways simultaneously? Does Scripture reveal God’s will for me/us in each passage or book?  Or do we find Scripture, as a whole, speaks to us personally and corporately through different persons and books?  Like a daily newspaper, in some ways – Scripture contains the who, what, when, where and why articles along with editorials, historical reports, illustrations and advice columns.  A variety of styles and voices that speak at any given moment to me as an individual and me as part of a community.

Which leads me to back to the blessing received from today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on 1 COR 14:26-37.  It is a good one to read ‘personally’:

     1 Corinthians 14:26-33a, 37-40. Let all things be done for building up.

When I first submitted these meditations to the editor, he kindly wrote back that they seemed to be a bit too impersonal. Since we had known each other for almost forty years, his comments were a blow to my pride, especially since he had trusted me enough to invite me to write them in the first place. Besides, I thought they were pretty good—else I would not have submitted them.

When someone challenges our way, we are often quick to defend rather than to defer. It is a blow to our ego to be told that another way might be the better way. It is an even greater blow to our ego when, after careful consideration, we must admit that the other way is the better way.

If our first concern is self-defense, we will close our minds to what another is saying or doing. But if our first concern is for the greater good, we will be open to listening and doing what is best for all, even if it means giving up our position. That is never easy. It was not easy for me. But a good dose of humility often works wonders.

Never insist that anything be according to your will, for this gives birth to anger.

Paul’s letter here was not addressed to an individual, but to a church – to a body, the body of Christ.  And  so I wonder if we do his letters disservice by singling verses out for personal application, favoring the “I” of our identity over the “WE” of our identity – the personal over the corporate.  And in doing so, are we unable to hear what the spirit is saying to God’s church?  What happens when we read this passage as ‘church’?  What ‘things’ is God’s church doing or not doing ‘for building up’?

I find it is easy to read Paul’s letters, some more than others, as a personal advice column.  But I am careful not to read them in isolation but as part of the whole of Scripture.  Today’s Gospel reading from Matthew, for example.

     Matthew 10:34  4 ¶ “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to    bring peace, but a sword.

I wonder if these words from Jesus don’t ask me to read Paul’s words, “let all things be done for building up” not personally, but corporately…surely, both and.  The Holy Spirit is one fine editor.

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