Somebody (I forget who) said “I’d have an easier time with Christians if they weren’t so busy stepping all over each other to climb up on a cross.”

There are all sorts of things running around in this criticism.  Some of the things it points at are things that to me aren’t criticisms at all.  But I think it’s also lampooning our tendency to quietly suffer, to humbly allow ourselves to be hurt, ridiculed, and insulted.

For example, somebody has repeated a behavior over and over and over again.  We think about the whole idea of forgiving somebody 70 X 7 times.  And so we’re mostly sure they are going to do the same hurtful thing again.  But we think we’re doing what we’re supposed to do when we let them.

Sometimes I allow myself to be hurt by others.  And I call up a picture of Jesus on the cross.  And I feel pretty good about it, in a bad kind of way.

This morning I read this in Ephesians 5, “5For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.[a] 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7Therefore do not be partners with them.”

I wonder if I always skimmed over this.  I wonder if I didn’t have fresh eyes to see.  I wonder if it sounds different in other translations.  I always thought that the admonition was to not be decietful with other people; I thought this was saying “Don’t be partners in crime with someone”

But that’s not actually what it’s saying.  It’s saying “Don’t allow yourself to be decieved by others.”  And the reasoning is fascinating: don’t allow yourself to become a victim because when we do this, we create victimizers.  When we act like prey we are helping others to learn to become a predator.  

The last verse does use that word, partner.  But it’s not talking about a conscious, willing partnership.  It’s saying that when we allow others to decieve us we are entering into a partnership nonethless.

Just for clarities sake, I’m not claiming that every time we are victimized are we partners.  The whole point is those cases where we know what we’re doing, where we allow ourselves to let this happen.  There are real predators.  There are are innocent victims.  When somebody is doing something unexpected to hurt me then there is no partnership. 

There is more advice which runs contrary to the way we Christians often do things.  Later in the chapter it says Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for it is light that makes everything visible.”

What does it mean, to “mention what the disobedient do in secret”… Is it when we sit around in a small group, and share with everybody that so-and-so keeps hurting us and we pray that they will stop?

If it is, then I have some changing to do. 

It seems like this verse is saying that we have an obligation to go to the person hurting us and tell them, bring the light to them.  This is one way to make sense of what follows:

 This is why it is said:
   “Wake up, O sleeper,
      rise from the dead,
   and Christ will shine on you.”

 15Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

Here, what jumped out at me was the word, wise.  So often when we set ourselves up in these situations where we forgive and forgive and forgive, we know that there is a level on which we’re being quite stupid.  Rationally, we know what’s going to happen.  In honesty, I find it kind of refreshing to be told to be wise around these things.

For me, this all leads to questions about how best to reconcile these truths to the reality of the cross.  It can almost appear that Jesus did the thing we’re told not to do.  He unwisely partnered with us in all our sin.

Interestingly, the next part of this chapter is one of the most-talked about in all of the bible.  It’s the one about husbands and wives submitting.  It’s used as the basis for traditional thought and progressive feminist thought in Christianity.  It’s used in weddings, as a model for devotion to spouses, as a model of devotion to the church.

But I think that there is a different read in the fuller context of the chapter.  The additional truth we get when we look at the whole thing is this: one act of submission is to not allow ourselves to be victimized by people’s habitual sins.  Wives submit to husbands by preventing them from acting in anger.  Husbands submit to their wives by preventing them from acting in greed… and vice-versa.  We shouldn’t just accept mediocrity from each other.  But we should call each other out, we should challenge each other, we should not partner with their sin by allowing ourselves to be victimized by it.

The second half of this chapter of Ephesians talks about being presenting in purity.  It explains I think, why Christ wasn’t partnering with us in our sin.  He had the power to destroy it, so he did.  And I think maybe there is this implication that we should do the same, first for our spouses then those around us.  When we have the power to destroy sin in others’ lives we should.  We feed their sin when we constantly forgive them and then position the person to do it again.

Of course this can be taken t far.  There is lots about forgiving verses forgetting, codependent relationships, etc. that I haven’t even touched on.  But it’s interesting how seeing just a couple phrases and viewing a chapter as a whole can bring this whole other meaning to scripture.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

5 thoughts on “Partners…”

  1. “We shouldn’t just accept mediocrity from each other. But we should call each other out, we should challenge each other, we should not partner with their sin by allowing ourselves to be victimized by it.” and “When we have the power to destroy sin in others’ lives we should. We feed their sin when we constantly forgive them and then position the person to do it again.”

    I’m thinking about another passage that says it as “spurring one another on in good deeds.” How do you do that when the other person is apathetic to change and prideful? Speaking the truth in love can be taken as unwanted help. Obviously the bible calls them (and I’m part of the them) fools, for not listening to wisdom, discipline, or instruction.
    The whole idea of positioning them not to go it again is interesting. I’m thinking of that idea around parenting. How do we position our children from doing the same things like lying, teasing, anger, selfishness? sometimes it’s easier for them because they do listen to you…but they stop when they see the opposite being lived out. Maybe that same principle is also needed. Not only do we bring light to their sin, but it comes from a person who doesn’t constantly continue in that same sort of sin.


  2. Yeah–I’m challenged by this. I think the opposite swing of the pendulum in this is being really judgmental and calling people out all the time, and it’s very hard to avoid “door-mat-ism” and legalism. This is particularly true, I think, because most people who are doing hurtful things, whether they are intentionally hurtful or not, kind of love their sin (I count myself guilty in this, too) and resent having it pointed out. Then sometimes it gets worse. So what do you do then?

    As for the Jesus thing–I don’t think that can be discounted. I think He DID do what it seems we’re being told not to do, or what seems really stupid to do. One thing about that is that I think it exhibits the “foolishness of God”–He’s a little crazy about us, maybe. But also, I think He knew exactly what He was doing. That’s where it’s different from codependency–He said no one took His life from Him–He set it aside of His own free will. Unfortunately, I think it’s one thing to go into a potentially damaging relational situation and think you can do that, and another to maintain that mindset without sliding into codependency, etc., while in it.


  3. Hi Jeff, I really appreciate your “close” readings of scripture in this post and other ones you have done. I tend to skim by these, and miss what really appears to be the intent when you really look at the text. I think this is one of the valuable things the literary side of the post-modernist thinkers have given us–encouraging us to be very careful and methodical with the text. Thanks for your good example.


  4. Thanks Vance, I always appreciate your insight and your encouragement.
    That’s interesting, I’d never really connected the post modern literary roots as being responsible for close readings of scripture. Strangely, I haven’t spent much time contemplating the literary/philsophical roots of post modernism. A thought that comes to mind now is that the grand poobah of Christian Post Modernish, Brian McLaren, was a college professor before he became a pastor. If I’m not mistaken, in fact, his field with literature.


  5. i did some research. i found that the NIV is the only translation that uses the word “partner” – all the others use “partaker” or some variation.
    Though i don’t dispute the wisdom of the commentary you’ve given, the context doesn’t quite suggest the relationship you’re emphasizing.

    Steve is on to a “better” catagory of Scripture to support your enabling axioms. “Speaking the truth in love” and being a “peacemaker” are halmarks of Paul’s mission to both believers and non-believers. He pulled no punches with his exortations to the Jews and gentiles and it frequently got him a full serving of whoop-A.
    i think we can safely infer that Paul didn’t do a lot of returning to those tables for seconds.

    Romans 1:32 is one of the strongest indictments on those who stand idly by in the presence of sin. Of course we have to agree that doing or saying nothing in the presence of sin is defined as “tacit approval”. And i’m inclined to side with James 4:17 as support for this proposition as it speaks more clearly about doing nothing.

    If you back up to Ephesians 4, there’s a series of “therefore”s. The commands there are centered around not “grieving the Holy Spirit”. Paul is convincingly arguing for the value of this “new life in Christ” which identifies itself by true love. He covers both embracing the positive and turning from the negative. i see that the “partaking” to which he refers is in those things that “idolators” whisper to us are ‘harmless’.

    i like that you’re going to great lengths to institutionalize the ‘Proverbial’ wisdom in this passage. It can only spur us on to go deeper. What a better world we’d live in if we endeavored to be accountable in relationships.


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