IT’S HARD TO argue with divine inspiration, of course. Still, there are times when as a writer and editor I can’t help feeling that some of those who penned the Bible could have done with a little coaching.
Paul is the prime candidate. Some of his words are poetic, some piercing, and some, well downright puzzling on occasions. He can veer from one topic to another, and now and again seems to want to challenge Henry James for writing with as few periods as possible. Run-on sentences, Paul!
Even fellow apostle Peter had to admit that sometimes Paul could get a bit convoluted. In his second epistle, Peter referenced letters from Paul and noted, “There are some things in them that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). No kidding.
Given that tendency, I especially appreciate those times when Paul nails something in just a few words. Three of his epistles include closing exhortations that pack a lot of punch in just a sentence or two. It’s as though he knows time is running out before the letter needs to go out the door. He’s anxious to get a last few important things in, so he boils them down. Maybe he anticipates, too, they are going to be tweetable in a couple of millennia.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, he writes: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Be grateful, be persistent, be content. Check. That should keep me busy for a while.
In 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, he writes: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” Be aware, be grounded, be brave, be gentle. Got it. Lots to be working on there.
In 2 Corinthians 13:11-12, he writes: “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace.” Be appreciative, be conciliatory, be supportive, be peaceable. Righto. Seems like enough to focus on for a season.
Any one of these short, epistolary “before I go”s leaves the reader with plenty of discipleship material to be working on for a long time. And if more churches truly embodied these principles, what more impact might they have?
Without dismissing the weightiness of some of the doctrinal issues Paul wrangles in some of his more—shall we say challenging—writings, taking his last-minute lessons to heart could help some of us turn internal belief into external behavior.
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