“As If Paul Really Meant It”

I’ve been thinking a lot about church lately, for as many reasons as there are days in a week, really.  I’ve also been doing a slow re-read of N. T. Wright’s After You Believe, which isn’t about church life in an obvious way (but is ultimately and totally about church life).  Here’s a section that I read this afternoon that is worth mulling over (including a translation of Philippians 2 that is kind of interesting).

Commands such as the following seem quite extraordinary and unreal to us today, and we have no reason to suppose that they were any easier in the first century:

So if there is any comfort in the Messiah; if there is any consolation from love; if there is any partnership in the Spirit; if your hearts are at all moved with affection and mercy—then make my joy complete! Bring your thinking into line with one another, in this way: hold on to the same love; bring your innermost lives into harmony with each other; set your minds on the same object; do nothing from selfish ambition or vanity, but in humility reckon each other as superior to yourselves; don’t look after your own interests, but each other’s. (Philippians 2.1–4)

It’s breathtaking, but it looks as though Paul really meant it. And it’s not an optional extra, a further moral mountaintop for the intrepid few who have already climbed all the other peaks in the district and are looking for new challenges. This, you might say, is what Paul means by declaring that love is the virtue that binds all the others together (Colossians 3.14). This is love-in-action; or, rather, it is the starting point for love-in-action. Unity of heart and mind among believers is only the beginning. From here, the gospel of active, generous love can go out into the rest of the world.

I’ve been thinking about that “harmony” part, the “setting your minds on the same object.”  I wonder how much differentiation can exist in that way both within a church and across various churches.  How much of a distinctive vision is a church allowed?  (As if “allowed” was the right word.)  Something to think about this Easter season.

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