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.