“Christian friendships are call-and-response friendships.
We tell each other over and over, back and forth, the truth of who we are and who God is….
We speak good news to each other. And we become good news to every other.”Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary
Last week, a group of us from Two Rivers started a small group where we are committing to practicing spiritual disciplines together while we are in quarantine. One of the practices is to read the Bible every day, so we are reading the letters that Paul wrote while under house arrest, starting with his letter to the Ephesians. What did Paul have to say about to Christians when he couldn’t leave the house?
At the time of writing this, I’ve only gotten through Ephesians 1:1-2:10, but I’ve noticed something: Paul is writing a letter that will be going around to the churches in Ephesus. And so far, he’s spent the first chapter and a half, almost one-third of the letter, telling them what God has done, what that means about who they are, and how he is praying for them. I made some lists. According to Paul:
1:3 blessed us with every spiritual blessing
1:4 chose us to be holy and blameless
1:5 predestined us for adoption to sonship
1:7 redeemed us
1:7 forgave us
1:8 lavished us with grace
1:9 made his will known
1:20 raised Christ from the dead
1:20 seated Christ at his right hand
1:22 placed all things under Christ’s feet
1:22 appointed Christ to be head over everything for the church
2:5 made us alive with Christ
2:6 raised us up with Christ
2:6 seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ
2:7 showed us kindness
2:8 saved us
2:10 created us
2:10 prepared us for good works
1:8 lavished with grace
1:13 included in Christ
1:13 marked with a seal (the Holy Spirit)
2:5 alive in Christ
2:5 saved by grace
2:6 raised with Christ
2:10 God’s handiwork
2:10 created in Christ Jesus to do good works
Out of all of the things Paul could have told them, he chose to start out reminding them what is true about God and about themselves. He wanted them to know that God blessed them, chose them, redeemed them, and forgave them. He wanted them to know that they are lavished with grace and alive in Christ.
A short time after making these lists, I was listening to a recent episode of Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love podcast, and these words from her guest Jo Saxton jumped out at me:
“There’s a Himba tribe, who, when a child is born, they sing a song over that child. And at certain key points, they sing a song over that child. And when that child is grown, and if they ever lose their way, the villagers gather that child to them and they sing the song that was sung over them when they were born… And I think sometimes you need to know who your people are, who will remind you of who you are, who will remind you what you are about, who will remind you about your purpose.”Jo Saxton
It feels like this is what Paul is doing in the opening of his letter: reminding the believers in Ephesus who they are, what they are about, and what their purpose is. Some think Ephesians 1:3-14 was a hymn that the early church sang, so in a sense, Paul is singing a song over them to remind them who they are.
In this uncertain season, this is what we can do for one another: we can sing over one another to help us remember who we are. Over and over, as long as it takes, we will remind each other who God is and what God has done. We will remind each other who we are and what we are about. And we will pray for one another, just as believers have done since the very beginning.
How can we respond and model our quarantine after Paul?
- Start sending emails and letters: Remind the recipients about who God is and who they are, and tell them the specific ways that you’re praying for them. This may be awkward at first, but own that. You have permission to straight up write, “I know this is weird coming from me, but I want to tell you…”
- Meditate on the lists I made, or make some of your own, until what is true about God and about us becomes part of who you are.
- If you’re looking for regular encouragement and friendships, join our quarantine small group. Everyone is welcome.
“The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.”Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
“That is the metanarrative that has become my story, the story Jesus has written me into and has written into me. It forms my identity. I know who I am: loved, forgiven, cleansed, made alive and destined for eternal joy. As we sing, the community reminds me who I am. The community has this power. We are bound by a common story, and as we tell it we are reminded of our true identity.”James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful Community