Wielding the Word, Living the Word
If His Word is written on my heart, why isn’t it flowing in my blood?
It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” -- Matthew 4.4 (NRSV)
I have been reading selections from the Apostolic Fathers lately, and one thing that strikes me most about them is just how drenched in Scripture they are. The difference between these documents and more contemporary writings of edification (the so-called “Christian Living” genre) is clear and impressive. These early documents live and breathe God’s written Word.
Take 1 Clement, for example, which is an epistle from the Roman church to the Corinthians, written at the end of the first century and attributed to Clement of Rome. The point of the letter appears to be a correction and a soft rebuke, addressing the fact that young members of the Corinthian church have affected some sort of rebellion, even ousting older (and wiser) members of the church. The primary aim of the letter is restoration.
And the whole thing is riddled with references – some explicit quotes, some incorporated paraphrases – to Scripture passages, both from the Hebrew Scriptures and from the early New Testament canonical tradition. (By the way, the practically equal treatment artifacts like 1 Clement give to both Old Testament documents and to assorted snippets from the Pauline epistles, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and even Gospel sayings is a good indicator of the historic attestation of our New Testament canon.)
The letter known as 2 Clement, which is not really a letter but a sermon, is likewise full of Scriptural quotations. The footnoted references at the bottom of the pages of my edition are thick. 2 Clement, which is a speech of exhortation, is essentially a thin pretext for preaching God’s Word unadorned. It reminds me of the time I prayed privately with an old pastor, whose prayer was not much more than a recitation of a few Psalms. At the time, I thought this somewhat lazy. Now I think of it as revolutionary and refreshing.
We don’t write like this anymore. In the blogosphere, one occasionally comes across a reader who comments using only Scripture, but typically those people are using God’s Word as a carelessly swung club, not as a rightly dividing sword. More like a bomb than a balm. These are the blogospheric equivalents of the stereotypical “Bible thumpers” who quote Scripture at you without regard to context or investment, whether spiritual or personal. They don’t mean to lovingly correct, but to callously rebuke.
These comments may be 100% Holy Writ, but they are 0% Holy Spirit.
But even in our “regular” writing – our blog posts, our e-mails, our sermons, our Sunday School lessons, our notes and letters – we use Scripture as a tool (if we use it at all), rather than as the motivating muse for and lifeblood of what we are trying to say.
The early church, though – ah, those put-upon, persecuted, finding-their-way through the heresies and the apostasy and the violence and the prejudice early Christians – wrote God’s Word in such a way as they lived it. The authors of the early church wove the Bible into the fabric of their writings, because the Bible was inextricably woven into the fabric of their lives.
I may be alone, but such knowledge convicts me. I am a toolbox biblicist, not a lifeblood one.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is always with me. -- Psalm 119.98 (NRSV)
[A]nd you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. -- 2 Corinthians 3.3 (NRSV)