With Marriage Week starting today, Emma was talking on Sunday about our individual relationships, but also our corporate or circle relationships, and how the way Jesus loved the church, giving Himself up for her, laying down His life for her was such an incredible example for all of us to follow with each other. But how hard it was the closer we were to each other in the circle, or more intimate we were with each other, to be more concerned with others’ needs than with our own. And Jo rather surprised us with his enthusiastic championing of well-played games of rugby, where benefits are achieved via teamwork rather than by individualism or prima donnas, and that’s how we should work together as a church family, looking out for and protecting each other, submitting to and promoting each other.
Juan Carlos Ortiz from Argentina in the late 1970’s called that sort of love in the Body of Christ “mashed potato love,” and he illustrated it this way: “You go out to the potato field and dig up all the potatoes and put them in one big bag. Now, all the potatoes are in the same big bag, but they’re still individual potatoes. Next, they go to the packing shed where they are cleaned and put into smaller bags, and sent to grocery stores. But even though they are in smaller bags, they are still individual potatoes. Then a customer buys a bag, takes them home and peels them and puts them in the cooking pot. Now they’re closer together. Their skin no longer separates them. But they’re still individual potatoes. It is not until they’re boiled and mashed and mixed all together that they really become one. And that is what God wants for us. No super star standing up and saying, Look at what a big potato I am. But all of us mixed and blended together, one in Jesus Christ.”
We’re such an individualistic society today aren’t we, hugging things to ourselves, not wanting to share things with each other, let alone acclaim or honour? We speak of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ a lot, even when speaking of our relationship with Jesus and experiences of His Kingdom – we seem to find it harder to do this corporately, so that it is ‘we’ and ‘us’. In the New Testament, we take most of the promises to be to ‘you’ in the singular, whereas in fact most of them are to ‘you’ in the plural; it’s made difficult when the two different words in the Greek are translated by the same one for both in English.
A simple example of this is in the very last verse of Paul’s second letter to Timothy, where he says“The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you” The first ‘your’ is singular and Paul is personally encouraging Timothy and saying “May the Lord be with your timid spirit Timothy, strengthening you to overcome your shyness with people, and giving you confidence.” (He’d already said in Ch.1:7 “for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” Or as the old Living Bible put it “God did not give you a spirit of timidity and fear of people”) Then the second ‘you’ is plural where Paul is declaring God’s grace upon them all at the church in Ephesus, to whom the letter was addressed, and intended to be read.
How about this that I read last week, as a picture of the church?
“You are like the hairs on a woman’s head……if there were none, or only a few, you would say ‘She is bald’, but there are too many hairs to count and they fall in loose waves around her shoulders, rich and brown, each one in its own place, but closely related to the rest, so that the woman might say ‘I will brush my hair’, and refer not to one, but to many.”
Of course we want to treasure our times on our own with Jesus, and even deepen the intimacy we have already, but let’s also not miss out on the benefits and joys, as well as challenges, of working out His promises for us together as the family of God – as I think He longs for us to do!