by Wye Huxford
I keep reading the early chapters of Acts and find myself more convinced than ever that our over-the-top celebration of “independence” in much of western culture isn’t good for the cause of the kingdom of God. No offense to our recent celebration of July 4th – we grilled out, too! – but the goal of life for followers of Jesus is community, not independence.
Luke says near the end of chapter two, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common” (2:44). He will spend the rest of chapter two and all of three and four describing this remarkable community which most likely defines what Paul meant when he spoke of “one mind,” “one spirit,” or “one love” in places like Philippians 2:1-4.
In his masterful work The Moral Vision of the New Testament, Richard Hays is talking about how we should use biblical texts, especially as they relate to ethics. Among other things, he reminds his readers “We are not starting from nowhere, reading the New Testament as though it had just been found sealed in a cave; we are the heirs of a community that has been reading and performing these texts for nineteen hundred years already” (page 305). In that same section, he says “Until we see God’s power at work among us, we do not know what we are reading. Thus, the most crucial hermeneutical task is the formation of communities seeking to live under the Word” (page 306).
Translated into pretty normal southern lingo, the last part of Philippians 2:12 would sound something like “y’all work out y’all’s salvation with fear and trembling.” Our sometimes far too focused idea of “personal salvation” has caused us to miss the reality that God works in communities of faith where the Spirit of God Himself dwells and which are, according to Paul, the very body of Christ.
Thus the title of this month’s devotion – It’s Not Mine. I have no idea how many Bible translations I own. More than I need for sure. However, the Bible doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the church – the body of Christ, a community of two or more gathered in the name of Jesus. I can’t pretend that nothing has happened in these communities since Pentecost that might help me better understand our mission to be God’s partners in His plan to renew and restore creation.
But it is tempting to think “it’s mine.” I have a great office with hundreds of books on its shelves. So many books that many shelves have books stacked in front of books. I have electronic access to more resources than I could ever fully use. I love to study, think, experiment with ideas, and rework them. I can be happy and alone at the same time!
Yet – that sounds as though the Bible is mine and I get to study it, write about it, and come out and deliver a word about its meaning.
Real Bible study, however, is worked out in the trenches of life. While we can’t dismiss the role academics play in our understanding of Scripture, academics must find ways to stand in the same trenches of life of those we hope to influence. Stanley Hauerwas was right when he said, “The lives of the saints are the hermeneutical key to Scripture” (quoted in Hays, page 305).
My paternal grandfather was what some might describe as a “salty saint.” But I learned a lot from listening to his ideas about life, being a Christian, and just figuring things out.
One of his oft' repeated stories went something like this: "Mister, if I'm digging a ditch and you are down here digging with me, you can tell me where to throw the dirt. But if you're standing on the bank watching me dig, I don't need your advice."
This is one of the things I love about the stories being created through the partnership of TCMII and EES. They are often stories of "getting down in the ditch" with others and figuring out together where to throw the dirt.
It is that kind of life that together we, as community, learn to "work out our salvation."