Monday, March 12, 2012 — Week of 3 Lent
Gregory the Great of Rome, 604
Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 954)
Psalms 80 (morning) 77,  (evening)
1 Corinthians 7:25-31
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“I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.” (1 Corinthians 7:25)
Paul distinguishes the level of authority that he will claim for his convictions. Some things he is certain have been divinely revealed to him. His interpretation of his vision of Jesus on the Damascus road is something he will speak of with the kind of authority that Jesus and the prophets used, equivalent to “Thus says the Lord.” He knew in that experience that he had been liberated from his self-justification project. He was certain that Jesus had freed him from trying to earn his place before God. He was convinced that he had been declared blessed, justified, saved, okay, and that the divine declaration was a sheer gift. He no longer had to perform to be accepted. He was accepted by God — grace: pure gift, no strings attached.
Whenever anyone tried to compromise Paul’s certainty about all of that, Paul reacted unequivocally. Would you propose to enforce some law as a prerequisite for acceptance? No! Would you require circumcision as a sign of one’s belonging and obedience? Never! Paul spoke with zealous passion about these things. Yet even over these certainties, Paul could bend compassionately in his willingness to live in community. If his neighbor’s scruples were troubled by dietary anxieties over the meat from the public market, meat sacrificed to idols, even though Paul knew their fears and insecurities were groundless, out of kindness Paul would refrain from exercising his freedom when dining with them. Loving regard for the other trumps doctrinal certainties.
But Paul does not regard everything that he believes equally. He knows that God revealed to him directly the gift of acceptance. He will let no one compromise or diminish that truth from God. Yet that still leaves a host of things that good people may disagree about. Even though many of those disagreements concern important things.
Paul is pretty sure that Christ will return soon and establish a new age where old relationships and structures will be transcended. Paul structures his whole life around that conviction. But that is not something that has been revealed to him in the same way as his justification by faith.
So when he offers his advice to those who are making long-term decisions in what Paul interprets to be a short-term circumstance, Paul is glad to advise them. He thinks he’s right. But he’s willing to say, this is my opinion, I might be wrong. I think I’m trustworthy, so I hope you’ll take my advice. But only God knows for sure.
As it turned out, Paul was wrong. Jesus did not return. The time that he thought would be short was not. He was sure that “the present form of this world is passing away,” but that didn’t happen in quite the way he had thought it would.
Yet, below that place where good people could disagree — is the end near or might it be far away — there was a deeper shared truth and trust in God. Whether short or long, we are God’s beloved — accepted by God’s grace as a sheer gift. There’s something about that conviction that gives us a radical freedom. A freedom to be generous to those with whom we disagree. A freedom to be wrong and not obsess about it. A freedom to give your opinion and not be too attached to it. A freedom to watch someone do something you believe is wrong, and remain loving friends with them in community.
I write stuff nearly every weekday morning. I’ve got lots of opinions, beliefs and convictions. I almost always think I’m right about these things, or I wouldn’t write them. But for most of what I write, “I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.” But I may be wrong, you know.