Beverly Gaventa gets to the heart of the ethic of the Apostle Paul.
If we think about Paul’s understanding of the Christian life, what does that mean? It means, first of all, to belong to Christ. Which in our time is a radical thought. We live in such an individualistic world, at least many of us do, that we think only of belonging to ourselves, right? At most we might belong to our family, or loved ones, or good friends. But to think of yourself as belonging to this other person, this divine agent, is quite startling to us.
And I think Paul’s ethic comes out of that. It’s the notion that I don’t belong to myself, so what I do with my person matters. It matters to God, so it matters what I do physically, sexually … I’m want to go on and say that that’s not, I think, the most important thing for Paul – we make a lot of it because a lot of us read the Bible and think it’s all about sex. It’s remarkably not about that. But it is about belonging not only to Christ but to this community, so that I must think about what I do in relationship to others, I must think about its impact on others. That goes to everything in one’s life, from how you relate in the community itself, how you deal with money, how you treat other members of the community who may be of lower or higher status than yourself.
Certainly love is probably the best word we have to describe this. I tend not to use it so often because I think we get so fuzzy and sloppy about it, and we don’t really know what we mean. And it strikes me that in … going back to First Thessalonians, he talks about how you have love for all the believers in Macedonia. Well, he doesn’t mean by that what we mean by love – I don’t know all those people, how could I have love for them in the sense that I love my family or my friends? But it means that I have a sense of belonging to them, that what’s good for them is important to me and that I will compromise my own good for the … the word he likes is “upbuilding”, the upbuilding of others. Which may be a good way of thinking about what he means by love.