…in light of Paul’s passionate prose…

Paul can be a shocking figure, when he puts his mind to it.
He writes to the churches in and around what is now Greece and Turkey
to help them settle their grievances –
or at least to bring their attention to the futility of them…

Paul as a writer is intriguing –
as a preacher – intimidating –
but most often Paul’s work is used
in tiring and terrifying ways
to enforce morality of one kind or another,
and it is the mis-representation and misapprehension of Paul’s ideas
that give me the most trouble.

Paul writes of the dangers
of taking license with the gift of God that is our sexual selves
– and indeed, there is a good bit of sense in that –
but he writes too of the (greater danger?)
Of taking our freedom in Christ as liberty to ignore
the responsibility that come with our redemption.

To call ourselves “freed by Christ” is, of course, perfectly accurate,
but we are neither singly nor separately saved.
God’s great act of Salvation made known in Jesus Christ is offered for all people, for all time.
We accept this freedom as a work in progress,
acknowledging that there will be some rough patches yet
before we realize our full potential as children of God.

We recognize (some of the time) that this work has been fulfilled in some,
and remains unrealized in others: in short,
we have no real claim on the fullness of freedom.

“all things are lawful for me, but not all are beneficial” Paul writes
– this has the sound of an ancient proverb
that reminds us that we are not saved in isolation.
As personal as our faith may be, Salvation is a communal act.
We are freed, through Christ, by our individual decision,
but truly freed in the mutual action and interaction
that springs from that individual decision –
Paul reminds his flock that they (and of course, we too)
need always be aware that our interactions, one with another,
can (and should) be expressions of that freedom we know in Christ.

What of our freedom, then?
Our choices – our rights as citizens of the world
are remarkably wide open when you think of it –
we can do any amount of harm to ourselves as suits us,
without fear of reprimand.
Paul has noticed this too, and calls the faithful to
“drive out the wicked person from among you.” (1 Cor 5:13)
He points to those who have mistaken forgiveness of sin for freedom from responsibility –
idolaters, adulterers, prostitutes, thieves, the greedy, revilers and robbers, among many,
who have not changed their attitudes or their habits as a result of their decision.

Paul’s zeal for this seems contrary to the Spirit of love that we find in Christ,
but for all his bluster, Paul’s message has that love at its very core.

Our freedom – our redemption – is, after all, the supreme gift of love.
A gift that heals relationship between Creator and Creation.
Our nature as relational beings is part of that gift –
we need one another for companionship, correction, praise and pity.
This is reflected in the response to the first question in the newest Catechism of the Church:
What is God’s purpose for our lives…?
“We have been made for joy; joy in knowing, loving and serving God – joy in knowing, loving and serving one another; joy in the wonder of all God’s works.”
That purpose covers a lot of ground – social, sexual and sacred –
and still we misunderstand the scope of the freedom granted us by grace.

Having been ‘made right with God through Christ’s living, dying and rising’,
we are still held responsible for our stewardship of that gift.
And in the end, the test is not “what does Paul say is right or wrong?”,
but rather “what use of our freedom honours the spirit of the gift, and the glory of the giver?”
Now, I’m no prude, but I wonder;
does the trend towards sexualization and objectification in society
– think of any advertisement you have seen in the last 10 days; beautiful people doing beautiful things – buying stocks, or socks –
does this use of our ‘freedom’ benefit anyone?
Does it honour the spirit of the gift, or give glory to God?

Suddenly we see the passion behind Paul’s fiery speech.
Life/living need not always be about sex and money –
and when it is, Paul would see us abandon the useless pursuit of those things.

Being made for joy, we may certainly be led to joy in our relationships –
if they are founded in love, respect and the knowledge
that they are ours to savour, not squander.
That joy, which we find revealed in its fullness in Christ,
is ours to share –
in the loving, respectful, God-honouring treatment
of ourselves and of one another –
treatment that should not abide greed, idolatry, robbery,
or any attitudes that make objects out of individuals –
or turn compassion into a commodity.

God so loved the world – that Jesus came – that sin is forgiven –
that joy is made complete.
It is in the spirit of that love we are called to live
– to act as though we were loved –
to love our neighbours and our selves, in ways that are fitting, and right,
and which honour God’s loving act.

That is the platform that Paul fights from
whatever else folks say about him.


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