For Sept. 18, 2016. Ephesians 4:1-16
Does this explanation make my "but" look big?
Yes, yes it does.
In verses 1-6, Paul begs (his word) the faith community to live in humility, gentleness and patience. They are to make every effort to maintain unity and peace because they all have the same God.
Then in verse 7 we see the big but.
I looked in four different translations, and all of them (NRSV,NIV, New KJ, NASV) have the but. Someone told me once that we can ignore everything coming before the but in almost any sentence. "You look nice, BUT those clothes aren't appropriate for a wedding." "The kids were good, BUT they wouldn't go to sleep at bedtime." "Her marks were great, BUT not high enough for getting into the program she wanted." The important comment, the focus of the statement tends to come after the but. After a but, there is always work to be done, something has to change. The clothes need to be changed, the kids need a different schedule or less sugar, an alternative program choice has to be made. Buts always require adjustment, and usually it wasn't our first choice.
So when I read Paul's words, the focus is clearly on the grace that follows the but. The before the but stuff expresses a hope, an ideal, BUT he knows that it never quite happens so he has to move on he has to help people figure out how to make the best out of the reality of things not being perfect.
We get stuck when plans fail because we don't have a "plan B" for after the but. We so often do not follow up failures with concrete, life-giving ways of dealing with each other. Paul reminds the people that God's grace to our community is the abilities given to it's people. When people use their diverse God given abilities to build up the whole body, we find a unity and we stop being tossed to and fro by fads and selfishness. When the pastors, teachers, evangelists, and workers all do what they are good at, the body can grow.
What I take from this passage is simple, yet hard to implement. I see the see the hope expressed in the direction that humility and gentleness and patience can take a faith community and I want to set myself in that direction. Then I also see the reality that these are ideals and humanly we will always run into a but. How do we deal with our failings, our frustrations, our disagreements? Do we keep resetting to focus on hopes and dreams that never quite work out, or do we start working on the big BUTS and gracefully do the hard work of figuring out how diverse giftings and opinions can somehow build each other up into a unity?