I’m learning to read my Bible differently. This isn’t the first time God has added a new depth of understanding to His written Word. There was that time 30-some years ago when the life in the words came alive to my soul by the work of the Holy Spirit. Then there was that time almost a decade ago when I listened to Wayne Mack unlock the truths of Genesis 1-4 for a day and a half, and I saw God’s passionate heart to ‘counsel’ through His whole word for the first time.
New Reading Glasses
In recent weeks, He’s added something new again. I’m not saying I’ve learned something new from His Word; that happens regularly. Rather, it’s like I have been given new glasses with which to read His Word. It’s such a small insight really and one I believe I’ve had opportunity to understand before … it’s just that now I actually get it. And now that I see it, I see it almost everywhere I turn to in God’s Word.
The pronouns are plural. I’m not supposed to read it as if it’s written for MY instruction; it was written for OUR instruction that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans15:4NASB). The crazy thing is, that very truth drove me to seek to be equipped as a counselor. But God has taken it a layer deeper in these recent weeks.
It’s like this. I knew to go to the Scripture because they were written so that I’d have hope. And I knew that I should take others there so they could find hope in their struggles. And those are both meaningful ways of interacting with God in His word, but it’s so much bigger than that. What God is offering is that WE go there together to find hope for US—for humans living in a fallen world where nothing makes sense apart from His written Word.
Maybe that doesn’t feel seismic to you, but it seems like it to me. It’s a reality that backs me away from myself, from my own little problems, even from your own little problems (forgive me if that seems harsh—I’m thinking in terms of the largeness of God) to the much bigger picture of who God is and what He’s doing in our midst.
All we have to do is look to the next verses in Romans 15 to get a clearer view of that bigger picture. We are encouraged, in view of God’s good provision to live in such harmony with one another that together with one voice we might glorify God. Somehow, he is calling us to a purpose that is more effectually accomplished together. I might live a life that glorifies Him, and you might live a life that glorifies Him but when we live in community with each other, He is glorified most accurately.
The obvious explanation for this reality is that God Himself exists in community. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as distinct expressions of one undivided nature, live in harmonious, interdependent relationship with one another. As God’s image bearers, we will most accurately and effectively fulfill our calling of glorifying Him (rendering conspicuous and glorious the divine character and attributes) when we also live in interdependent relationships that reflect this aspect of His nature.
In Ephesians 2, Paul explains that God’s children are being built together into one temple, one holy dwelling place for the Lord. Just a little farther on in this letter, Paul prays that God would grant to the Ephesians that they be strengthened together with power through God’s Spirit so that Christ may dwell in their hearts, that they would comprehend and know the vast extent of Christ’s love and in this way be together filled with all the fullness of God. This passage masterfully intermingles the reality of the community of the Godhead with God’s calling on the lives of His children to correspondingly live in community.
The idea is not obscure. Now that I’m paying attention, I realize it’s everywhere. Romans 12:1-2 have been written on my heart and mind since my spiritual infancy, but my application has always been personal—individual. Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. (NASB) How did I miss it? Our bodies – one living sacrifice. This more accurate understanding of the meaning of verse one has significant bearing on the application of verse two.
Changed Vision Leads to Changed Living
Paul clarifies this exhortation by calling Christ’s followers to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” When we understand the communal nature of the first exhortation, we are compelled to see it in the second. Together we must work toward this high calling and as we do, together we will discern God’s good and acceptable and perfect will.
I have to ask myself, after all these years, if this is more about US discerning what Christian living in this world looks like than about ME discerning what God wants me to do with my life. When the verses are considered in context, it becomes obvious. Paul goes on to call us to humble relationship with one another, remembering that we are uniquely gifted for the effective workings of God’s one body in one of the most extensive teachings on body life in all of his writings.
There are to be no Lone Rangers in God’s family. It is, after all, a family. If we are going to grow into a holy dwelling place for God, we are compelled to do it together.
Zodhiates, S. (2000). The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.