Imagine the time is the year 4012.

A group of people sit around discussing the Twilight novels, looking at pictures of Domino’s pizza and Diet Coke, and watching hologram re-dramatizations (what is known in the year 2012 as “home movies”) of weddings and sporting events. They poke fun at our “so-called” technology, stodgy attitudes, and food without trying to place any of them in context.

Let’s face it, taken by themselves, any one of these items might seem ridiculous.

 In her book Paul Among the People, Sarah Ruden cuts right to the quick of the matter for many people when it comes to Paul: “Jesus was my teacher; Paul was an embarrassment.” Unlike the group of people in the year 4012 who made no attempt to see from our eyes, Ruden uses her area of expertise, classics, to place Paul and his writings in context. This allows us a broader sense of the original recipients  would have been read, heard and understood his letters.

Paul’s writings are directly related to faith lived out in real relationships in a real society grappling with  real issues. Sound familiar? If you are reading this, you are real, you have relationships, and you’re placed in a societal context that’s grappling with real things. Take a look at the chapters in this book and see if they don’t also sound an awful lot like the nightly news in this political season:

  • Paul and the end of pleasure
  • Paul and homosexuality
  • Paul and women
  • Paul and the state
  • Paul and slavery
  • Paul on the foundation of the new community

The parallels are a bit unnerving! Instead of rehashing them, Ruden’s uses contemporary writers and shows how Paul’s writings stack up against what others were saying about each of the topics. I found it well researched and in the name of full disclosure admit to skimming some of the selections because I am not a classics scholar; but they did illustrate her points and are there for those who want to comb through them.

In the chapter on love, she looks at the passage most can quote in their sleep: 1 Corinthian’s 13. On Valentine’s Day I wrote about that passage saying it’s for more than weddings! Ruden backs me up and then does love one better. She points out that English uses adjectives that wouldn’t have been used in the original Greek. None, as in not one adjective! It was all about the verbs, baby! Love is something we do!

She includes a translation saying that,

Since the wording is so simple, I can translate this piece fairly literally without creating nonsense. I am also going to take out spaces between the words, punctuation, and the distinction between capital and small letters — none of these would have appeared in the original ancient manuscript. [I added spaces back in].

Here’s the original Greek translated:

The love endures long acts kindly the love not acts jealously not acts brutally not boasts not gets full of itself not disgraces itself not seeks what is its own not gets irritated not reckons up the evil not rejoices in the injustice but rejoices together in the truth endures everything believes everything hopes everything endures everything the love never falls.

She summarizes:

So manically verb-centered is the passage that Paul takes two adjectives and creates a one-word verb from each (neither verb being attested previously in Greek); and he creates yet another verb, in Greek  a one-word metaphor:

  1. [is] kind (verb: “kinds”)
  2. [is] boastful (verb: “boastfuls”)
  3. [is] arrogant (verb: “inflates-like-a-bellows”)

Manically verb-centered. So love is more than just a feeling? Hmmmm. In another place she calls them “machine gun verbs.” Now that’s a picture! Verb after verb after verb. Lived out. That we have handed the concept of love to Hallmark and allowed  love only one day a year is maddening! MADDENING, I say. Hallmark, nothing personal, but I am on the prowl and just as love actively pursues, I’m not going down without a fight! Go find another holiday to hijack, love is about to be set free from your clutches and released among the people!

How hard is it to “kinds?” Sometimes I act kindly, but to outright “kinds” someone. That sadly needs more than one day a year with phrases like “be mine.” To “kinds” someone means that whether or not they are mine, I am theirs and my behavior will reflect it.

Did you see that “endures everything” is listed not once, but twice? I double, triple checked to make sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks with all the spaces removed. They weren’t. Paul was compelled to stress that no matter what, love endures. Do you get it, he seems to ask? Keep on loving, it endures.

Kinding is hard. And unrelentingly necessary. The very moment I am with another I have a choice: Am I going to kind them or unkind them?

Paul definitely had opinions on these matters. And so should you. Buy this book and understand afresh how this Jesus, this lover of your soul came for the messy middle of the issues we face in real and really messy lives.

Today, who have you been given the choice to kind or unkind? Please share in the comments.