(This is another reflection from my week at The Academy For Spiritual Formation, and is drawn once again from our morning sessions on The Spirituality of the New Testament.)
As we reflect on “the spirituality of the New Testament” during our morning sessions of this week at The Academy, our leader/lecturer seeks to address two questions for each of the five primary NT authors (Mk, Matt, Lk/Acts, Paul, John):
- How does this author describe God? (That is, what is God like and how does God fit into the picture of human life? How do we [or this author] see God in our life and world?)
- How do we live out our commitment/covenant to God in all of live (whatever challenges life may present)? (Related: what makes spirituality authentic?)
This morning our topic has been the writings of the Apostle Paul. After sharing an understanding of God in relation to Paul’s highly Christocentric view (i.e., the first question was changed to “Who is this Christ in whom God has reconciled the world and in whom we live?”), Glenn shared Paul’s thoughts on how we live out our commitment/covenant to God in all of life.
In the first of four points drawn from Paul’s Christocentric perspective, our leader (Glenn Hinson) shared Paul’s “trajectory of Christian growth and development,” drawing heavily from Philippians 1:9-11. According to Hinson, for Paul, “the longer goal is purity of heart and fruit of righteousness of the Spirit.”
For obvious reasons if you’ve read some of my other posts, that grabbed my attention!
Glenn went so far as to say that Paul wanted to see God, citing the beatitude; that as a deer pants for water, so Paul yearned – and so we yearn – for God: to see God, to be with God, to live with God.
Paul’s teaching shares that both purity of heart and fruit of righteousness (i.e. Gal 5:22-23, the fruits of the spirit) are important. And the way to these is, first, to “have a sense of things that really matter,” meaning both a proper sense of values (what is right and what is wrong) and the right kinds of priorities. (All of these themes are well developed in Paul’s letters!
And, ultimately, for Paul the gateway to everything is growth in the love of God. Agape love. Growth in our sensitivity to God’s love; in our understanding of God’s love. And in our practice of God’s love. Discussion then turned to point two, which was clearly related, and was a focus on love as the axle around which the Christian life revolves.
For Paul, all of faith, and all of Christian life, is rooted in relationship with Jesus Christ. I resonate with that aspect of Paul – I find as I listen to conversations, and even debates, over the years about points of doctrine, dogma, or biblical interpretation, that at the end of the day my main hope and goal is to better know – and be known by – Jesus Christ. “Give Me Jesus,” is a hymn I’ve sung alone in the dining hall at Mingus Mountain on many mornings…
Like Paul, then, I have identified a long-term goal of “purity of heart,” and I have been coming to the conclusion – so well articulated today – that the fruit of righteousness is the obverse side of it. Purity of heart and the fruits of the spirit go with one another – as God works in my heart, transforming me from within, I’ll know and demonstrate more fruit. And, conversely, as I seek to practice and live the fruit of the Spirit, I will better know purity of heart!
Like others, I’ve struggled over the years – and still struggle – with aspects of Christian life, with the fruits of the spirit, with the nature of love that Paul so eloquently defines (see 1 Corinthians 13). I struggle with feelings of anger and betrayal toward those who have hurt me (just this morning, there was a figure in my dream who I am still dealing with subconsciously after regularly experiencing rudeness and condescension in their presence). I struggle with forgiveness (and deeply appreciate Rev. Godfrey’s sermon on this this past week). I struggle with many of the things people struggle with: impatience, impure words, lust, greed, enviousness, gluttony, acedia, etc.
But in my yearning to know purity of heart, I’ve been feeling changed, both from within and from without. So when I encounter situations where I feel victimized, I need to extend grace to the other person rather than just demonizing them – there may be deep reasons in their own heart/life that lead them to treat others in such ways. When I encounter impure thoughts (or say an impure word!), I need to take stock of my self and my life, and begin to reflect on how I more fully live out the life I feel called to. The life I desire. A life lived constantly in the presence of God.
Not that by doing these things I am saved, or bring God nearer; but I am coming to be aware that as I let my heart be more pure, as I live out the fruits of the spirit, as I allow grace to flow in and through me more and more, I am more aware and attentive to God.
May it be so. Oh, please, may it be so!