Paul & the
Whole in His Theology
…to me to you to make the word of God complete.
If not apparent, this study has not been a detailed commentary on the content of Paul’s corpus. Ongoingly, while engaged in the relational epistemic process with the Spirit, I have focused on the significance of Paul’s relational discourse and theological dialogue, in what hopefully presents a clear theological interpretation of the developing content of Paul’s life, function and theology as communicated in the biblical text.
It has been important to examine the relational language and purpose of his texts—which includes both the content level and the relational level of the communication—not only in relation to Paul’s communicative action but God’s also as the implied author of the text. The intention of Paul’s communication and God’s communicative action are inseparable for canon Scripture. Paul was contextualized in God’s communicative action and by God’s thematic relational process, thus he always spoke from this deeper context while speaking in and to a human context. His letters are the relational outcome of both his vulnerable involvement with the whole of God in God’s vulnerable relational response and his ongoing engagement in the relational epistemic process with the Spirit.
Sensitivity to the qualitative and awareness of the relational conjointly characterize the whole of Paul from inner out and the whole in his letters, which are often perceived only from outer in focused on the quantitative content without its relational message. Therefore, Paul’s readers need to have his qualitative interpretive lens and relational engagement to “listen” to Paul’s relational message extending from God’s relational message, which the Father made imperative for Christ’s followers: “This is my Son, my beloved Son, listen to him” (Mk 9:7). Just as with listening to Jesus throughout the incarnation, listening to Paul is an ongoing relational epistemic process throughout his letters that necessitates a hermeneutical cone. It is a necessity because Paul was not static in his life and practice but developed in his ongoing involvement in the relational process of listening to God. Paul’s relational epistemic engagement explains his further and deeper understanding of the whole of God beyond monotheism, God’s relational whole on God’s relational terms beyond the prevailing perception of the covenant, and the definitive theology necessary for wholeness beyond the common experience of shalom. And Paul’s readers need to account for the qualitative-relational significance of Paul’s communication as well as their own epistemic engagement.
Paul’s letters are not random statements, notably in response to various situations affecting the church. He was not dispensing moral prescriptions to cure a bad situation or ethical advice to fix a broken situation. In fulfillment of his relational responsibility for God’s family (oikonomia, Col 1:25; Eph 3:2), Paul’s letters represent the key aspects critical to the whole of God’s revelation in thematic relational response to the human condition. His letters included aspects from the relational outcome of the whole of God’s self-disclosure to Paul, whether by Christophany or through the Spirit. As noted previously, this clear relational process implies three vital matters:
1. The development of Paul’s thought and theology signifying his synesis of God’s whole relational response of grace that constituted Paul’s experiential truth of the whole gospel.
2. This developmental process is demonstrated and unfolded in his letters, which necessarily include all thirteen (undisputed and disputed) attributed to Paul, and thus strongly suggests their chronological order.
3. That God’s direct relational involvement with Paul throughout this process not only constituted Paul’s oikonomia to definitively pleroo the word from God, but also that God was involved further in the process in order for the complete Pauline corpus to be included in the biblical canon; therefore, that it was not arbitrary selection or a mere human construction which both attributed and included these thirteen letters of the Pauline corpus into the whole of God’s word.
The additional textual notes below provide added detail (not exhaustive) in his letters not discussed in the main study, which may further help Paul’s readers’ synesis (as Paul encouraged, 2 Tim 2:7) of the whole of God and God’s relational whole, and for our further relational response and deeper involvement from inner out in whole ontology and function.
1:1—Paul consistently conjoins Father and Christ, thus implying their inseparable relationship as the whole of God, whose relational action and outcome are signified further in his conjoined greeting “grace and peace.”
1:2-4—Note Paul’s triangulated involvement, which points to where Paul is speaking from as he speaks in and to this context.
1:5—Paul’s gospel, indicating its functional and relational significance in practice (see 2:1-2).
1:6-10—The Thessalonians’ faith was signified, yet apparently too future-oriented, perhaps in a truncated soteriology (3:10-12; 4:9-12; 5:10-11).
2:1-12—Paul’s practice of gospel with v.8 the key, demonstrating the relational involvement of agape family love.
3:13—“blameless and holy” is an ongoing theme in Paul, which is about persons being whole in relationship together with the holy God, thus only on God’s terms.
4:7-10—The relational significance of being and functioning on God’s terms in whole relationship together with family love.
5:5—The necessary distinction and function of light with darkness, thus Paul’s focus of our identity in the context of the world.
5:10-11—The ‘already’ and ‘not yet’ of life together and the need to build God’s family in the present.
5:19-24—Paul assumes the Spirit’s presence, involvement and relational work (“since you entirely,” holotelos, the whole) with the whole of persons (holokleros, whole, having all its parts) together in life and practice in the whole of God’s relational context of family and relational process of family love.
Note: This letter begins the process of Paul pointing to the experiential truth of the whole gospel, in which he makes functional what Christ saved both from and to—life together as the whole of God’s family ‘already’ and to live and make whole until ‘not yet’. This keeps unfolding throughout his letters to Ephesians, in which he makes definitive pleroma ecclesiology.
1:3-4—Evidence of their growth since the first letter, an indicator of this letter as an extension from Paul of 1 Thes.
2:2—This verse is used by some scholars to indicate an opposite position of the believers in 1 Thes. But Paul is clarifying the last days so these same believers don’t become alarmed or misled by Christ having returned, thus Paul points to relationship and not event.
Note: The different style and wording of this letter suggest that Paul likely used a secretary to pen this for him.
2:13-14—the relational outcome ‘already’ of full soteriology to be made whole through the relational work of the Spirit and the reciprocal relational response of believers.
2:16-17—Paul’s primary focus on the ‘already’ of the whole of God’s relational process of family love (cf. 3:5).
3:5—“Lord” may refer to the Spirit, who works in the hearts of God’s family for the whole relationship together defined in 2:13.
3:6-9—the nonnegotiable and irreducible character of Paul’s role-model, which is based on the ontology and function of Christ embodied.
3:16-18—“peace at all times and in every way,” that is, wholeness is not only future but ‘already’, and this wholeness signifies (semeion) Paul’s purpose in his letters. “Lord of peace” directly interrelates to and is inseparable from “God of peace” (1 Thes 5:23), and constitutes a theme for Paul, an integrating theme (cf. 2 Cor 13:11; Rom 15:33; 16:20; Phil 4:9; 2 Thes 3:16). This points to Paul’s authorship of this letter, which is not only Pauline but at the heart of his theology and the experiential truth of the whole gospel—which he passionately fights both for and against reductionism.
Paul experienced in Corinth a vision of the Lord’s vulnerable presence and relational involvement with him in his fight for the whole gospel and against reductionism (Acts 18:9-10). The relational outcome of this reciprocal relationship emerged ongoingly in his letters with the theological development to wholeness, notably emerging initially with 1 Cor.
1:4-9—The ‘already-not yet’ dynamic of the identity of God’s people constituted on the basis of God’s grace relationally extended to them by Christ, by which they have been defined and determined to be whole (“blameless,” cf. tamiym) as family together (“fellowship of his Son”). “Spiritual gifts” are a means only for this relational purpose and not for indicators used to define them.
1:10-17—What unfolds in Paul’s thought and theology is not focused on their situation embedded in “divisions,” which he puts in juxtaposition with ‘being united.” This points to the whole, God’s whole, where Paul is focused, which he makes definitive for their relationships to be whole together on God’s terms (cf. 12:12-13; 14:33). God’s whole is always in contrast to and in conflict with human shaping on human terms, that is, reductionism.
1:18-31—“saved” (sozo, made whole) and the ongoing tension-conflict between human effort (from below) and God’s relational action (from above). The former exacerbates the human condition (cf. medicalization of life) and further fragments human relationships (cf. modern electronic technology, globalization). The latter redeems human persons and reconciles relationships together.
2:4-5,13—key verses defining the functional significance of Paul’s communicative action determining from top-down causation, not bottom-up (cf. 4:19-20).
2:6—“Wisdom of this age,” a quantitative rationalism that elevates human thought to preeminence for knowledge and understanding, notably about the whole of life and function—the epistemological illusion from reductionism (cf. 3:18-20).
2:7-16—“God’s wisdom, secret and hidden,” not about mysticism but a wisdom about the whole that had yet to be revealed but which is now accessible because “God has revealed to us through the Spirit,” The qualitative agency of the Spirit and the reciprocal relational involvement of the Spirit to intimately connect us with the heart of God, “the mind of Christ,” and thus to “comprehend what is truly God’s”—the basis for Paul’s theology, for all definitive theology.
“foolishness”—can be understood as the conclusion of a quantitative perceptual- interpretive framework of reductionism, precluding the qualitative.
“spiritual”—can be understood as the qualitative perceptual-interpretive framework of the whole of God.
Note: Paul’s polemic here is between human
contextualization and the Spirit’s relational work to constitute us
further and deeper in the whole of God’s relational context and
3:—God’s whole only on God’s terms
3:10-13—The qualitative and quantitative processes of building the church.
3:16-17—God’s temple and dwelling shifted directly to his people, the context of which is holy, thus distinct from common or ordinary in the surrounding context. The holy of God’s terms is important to constitute the ontology of his church/people; the church only in human contextualization reduces it to human terms and shaping, ontological simulation from reductionism.
3:18-23—Paul’s polemic for God’s whole: “wise in this age,” “wisdom of this world,” knowledge and wisdom are not worthless in themselves but how they are used determines their significance and value. As a means of self-determination that constructs distinctions used to define human persons on a comparative basis and thereby stratify human relationships (cf. 4:7), these are “foolishness with God” and “futile.” There are no false distinctions in God’s relational whole, whose relational belonging and ontological identity are definitive in the relational dynamic: “all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”
4:1—“servants of Christ” who are “stewards of God’s” (oikonomos, manages a house), which continues Paul’s emphasis of oikos and other cognates to signify the church as family.
4:6-7—Paul’s perceptual-interpretive framework and lens
4:8-17—“be imitators of me,” not specific to these behaviors/practices outlined but for being whole and making whole.
5:3—Paul uses pneuma to signify his relational involvement in the qualitative significance of his heart.
5:9-11—He qualifies involvement with sinners: on the one hand, God’s family involves relationship together on God’s terms, thus relationship necessary to be whole and holy; on the other, involvement with world is a necessary part of God’s grace and thematic relational response to the human condition.
6:—Paul extends this polemic, which goes beyond situations,
6:9-11—and applies it to “kingdom of God,” reminding them that they were sinners reached out to and were “washed…sanctified…justified” by the whole of God’s family love.
6:12-20—Redemption frees us from legal consequences of the law, not merely to be free but only for relationship together (“beneficial,” symphero, to bring together). Freedom does not define and determine the identity of God’s people (“not be dominated by anything”) but is just the means to enact God’s relational purpose (“body is meant not for…but for the Lord”) in the relationships necessary to be God’s whole (“united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him”). Counter-relational work of reductionism fragments these relationships together. “One flesh” (e.g., with a prostitute) is not merely about sexual union but about reductionist relationships (possible even in marriage, cf. Eph 5:25-32) which fragment God’s whole. The relational consequences are significant and critical in Paul’s polemic, which goes well beyond moral and ethical behavior. Paul’s focus is a wholeness of the person (“your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit”) and the relationships by nature to be God’s whole “within you which you have received from God…you are not your own”).
7:1-16—In response to matters this church wrote to him about, Paul is making functional the relationships together necessary to be whole. Whatever the specific matter, “it is to wholeness God has called you.” This wholeness is what Paul makes operational in their situations for the church to be and function whole.
7:17-24—Knowing what defines the human person in the image of God and finding one’s part in God’s whole in God’s relational likeness. Paul does not advocate passiveness or resignation to our situations but puts these secondary conditions into the context of what is primary, though not to be lost or forgotten. Redemption frees us from the deeper enslavement of reductionism in order to be whole in relationship together “with God” as God’s family, thus don’t get distracted from what is primary.
7:25-40—Points to different scenarios of life and their realities given the primacy of whole relationship together, not so much the dos and don’ts of marriage. Paul contextualizes all these matters in the eschatological trajectory of the relational progression with Christ and the Spirit (“the appointed time has grown short”). This is not about life in chronos but kairos and the qualitative significance of being the whole of God’s new creation family together and the relational work involved on God’s terms.
8:—Paul’s illumination in this chapter has been discussed previously.
9:1—His historical life (bios) in deeper context becomes about zoe.
9:15-23—He presents a new paradigm for servants of the gospel:
· The nature of preaching the gospel: “entrusted with a commission” (oikonomia, responsibility for the family); not about role performance but the relational response to God in relationship together as family.
· The character of preaching the gospel: “…I may make the gospel free of charge”; removes conflict of interest and other reductionist contingencies which Jesus implied in the above quote (9:14).
· The inner-out nature of relational involvement for the gospel: “…I have made myself a slave to all…,’ which certainly appears to reduce his person and function. Yet, as discussed previously, his person remained defined and determined by the primary, not reduced to secondary. Paul made his whole person vulnerable from inner out to be involved with others for their wholeness.
9:24-27—This paradigm is ongoingly subject to the lure and influence of reductionism, waiting to diminish this wholeness by its counter-relational work, which is not nullified by self-discipline (notably in outer-in human effort, ontological simulation) but by only living whole specifically from inner out in relationship together.
10:1-10—Paul wants them to remember and learn from the history of God’s people, not to ignore this history and thus make the same mistakes.
10:11-13—Being presumptuous and sin seem to go together because the influence of reductionism always cultivated self-autonomy and –determination with the assumption that functionally disconnects from God’s grace as the source of life and covenant relationship together. Yet, God’s involvement in reciprocal relationship can be counted on for the means to live whole.
10:14-22—In other words, reductionism and God’s whole are always in conflict, which raises the issue whether a church functions in relationship together on “our terms” or God’s terms.
10:23-33—Paul is fighting against “our terms” and for God’s terms. And the issue is not readily distinguishable because “all things are lawful” for the redeemed. Two critical matters to understand in Paul’s theology: (1) redemption is not merely to be free, and (2) soteriology is not only saved from but necessarily also saved to—both of which constitutes persons whole in whole relationship together. Therefore, Paul’s functional discourse is not about ethics per se or about behavioral purity but about the primacy of relationships together necessary by its nature (dei not opheilo0 to be God’s relational whole on God’s relational terms.
11:—Each matter in these situations and circumstances must be understood in Paul’s conjoint fight against reductionism and for wholeness. This chapter has been discussed in previous parts of the study (notably 11:3-16 in chap. 11, question 11).
12:1—“to be uninformed” (agnoeo, ignorant, to ignore, fail to comprehend, grasp, to perceive wrongly, think erroneously, cf. 10:1). Paul ongoingly clarifies, sets the record straight, and holds accountable in both the epistemic process and function for persons and church.
12:3—He makes unequivocal that the Spirit is the definitive key in this whole process.
12:4-31—“same Spirit…Lord…God,” the whole of God who constitutes God’s whole in the primacy of relationship together and the interrelated function of its secondary parts. Key verse defining the Spirit’s function (v.7): “To each if given the manifestation of the Spirit [phanerosis from phaneroo, referring to those given revelation] for the common good” (symphero, to bring together, contribute for the benefit of the whole). “The same Spirit who allots” (diarea, divides, part, apportion, assign, v.11), that is, in terms of gifts and resources the Spirit decides to take one thing from the whole for each person, not to highlight the individual part but to build up the whole with a diversity of parts. The relational significance of the whole is necessary for relationship together to function in wholeness; and this whole relationship together is based on the depth of relational involvement with each other, which is constituted by agape and not by the extent of various gifts and resources the parts have and do. Faith makes persons vulnerable to be agape-relationally involved with each other for the intimated relationships necessary to function as God’s relational whole.
13:1-3—Paul points to all the gifts and knowledge persons can exercise and express, which may puff up the individual but in reality “I gain nothing” unless functioning in the relational context and process of agape (cf. 8:1). This popular chapter needs to be read in the context of the entire letter.
13:8-13—Agape never falls (pipto, v. 8) to reductionism but remains involved in relationship together, not just for oneself but mainly for others. Agape is always relationship-specific to others in the church, God’s family, and thus is family love. This is Paul’s function in this letter. And even faith and hope do not constitute the depth of involvement with others that agape involves, the family nature of which underlies Paul’s decisiveness with them.
14:1—Paul reiterates that the dynamic of agape’s relational significance antecedes the functional significance of gifts.
14:2-5—He is not focused on spiritual activity but on the purpose of communication.
14:6-12—The quality of our communication is not defined by verbosity, eloquence or any other indicator measuring the words of the speaker (cf. vv.18-19). It is defined only by its relational context and thus is determined just by the relational function of engaging others in that context. To be “a foreigner” to each other implies distance in the relationship. What is definitive of qualitative communication is relational involvement with others for the relational process of “building up the church,” which is directly influenced by the integrity of the person presented in the communication (see vv.13-17). Given Paul’s concern for God’s whole and against all reductionism, this dynamic of communication applies to any utterance in the church: tongues, preaching, teaching, general interaction, etc.
14:13-17—Paul takes the mystery out of communication and thus eliminates the esoteric character associated with mysticism. In qualitative communication, he clearly prioritizes the whole over the individual (v.17).
14:20-25—He further reiterates (cf. 13:11) the self-centered immaturity and limitations of childish thinking, and such a reductionist perceptual-interpretive framework. And he points to the relational response (“listen to me”) necessary by its nature to engage the reciprocal relational process, the involvement of which will even have an impact on those who observe their relationships together (“God is really among you”).
14:26-40—Paul has been redirecting them further and deeper into church life and function together. His primary concern is not to detail procedures to maintain harmony in the church. Church function by its nature must go further and deeper to the whole that Jesus constituted and the Spirit completes: “God is a God not of fragmentation but of wholeness” (v.33). God’s relational whole on God’s relational terms is where all of Paul’s function, thought and theology converges, nothing less and no substitutes.
15:1-11—Is the gospel just words, teachings, tradition, doctrine? Paul identified the relational process which he experienced (“what I received”) to define the truth of the gospel. The truth of the gospel was not embedded in doctrine for Paul but was embodied by Jesus for relationship together. Paul’s gospel must always be seen in this relational context to understand the full significance of the primacy of the relational process inherent to the gospel. The historical overview was not of mere events but of the newly constituted relationships together necessary to be God’s whole family, which determined the experiential truth of Paul’s ontological identity and relational belonging (“I am what I am”) by God’s grace.
15:12-19—Issues about the resurrection which essentially are about not only the embodiment of Jesus but also of the embodied Christ who is present and vulnerable for relationship together. Paul’s theological and philosophical polemics should not detract from the primary issue, which emerges as the human relational condition of being apart from the relationship together of God’s whole.
15:20-28—A theological framework for the human condition and God’s thematic relational response to our condition, which Christ embodied for its eschatological conclusion with the whole of God.
15:35-58—Paul applies his theological framework to a practical question about the nature of life ahead and the qualitative transformation necessary which will constitute life together in God’s whole. Therefore, Paul is able to confidently call his family to the relational response of “becoming” (ginomai) who and what they are in relationship together as whose they are—relational work, not “doing” their Christian duty.
16:13-14—Paul’s imperatives are not about merely having a certain awareness and posture. He uses relational language to reinforce agape not as a moral imperative but as the relational imperative. For Paul, anything less and any substitutes of the whole of the gospel is reductionism, and thus engaged in counter-relational work and embedded in ontological simulation and epistemological illusion.
This seems to be Paul’s most heartfelt letter, in which the whole of Paul is likely the most vulnerable.
1:3-7—Paul points to the reciprocal relational nature of involvement in the whole of God’s relational context and the reciprocal relational responsibility of engaging God’s relational process for relationship together to be God’s whole—regardless of situations and circumstances. This is what he makes operational for the church with more development in 2 Cor, which includes triangulation and reciprocating contextualization.
2:12-3:6—He contrasts the quantitative focus of reductionism with the qualitative significance of God’s whole for new covenant relationship together.
3:7-18—He provides the theological framework of God’s thematic relational action from the old to the new for covenant relationship together: “being transformed into the same image” of the whole of God. Makes definitive the qualitative significance of the whole of the gospel embodied by Christ and constituted by Spirit for both ‘already’ and ‘not yet’.
4:7-18—Points to human limits (“clay jars,” “outer nature is wasting away”) and the situations and circumstances of the human context, which don’t define or determine Paul. He never ignores the human context but always contextualizes it from within the relational context of God’s whole and by the relational process of God’s terms. Thus, he either confronts the reductionism of human contextualization or recontextualizes it into God’s whole.
5:1-10—The tension continues between the human context and its quantitative reductionism and the qualitative relational context of life together in God’s family. We are susceptible to be defined and determined by the former, unless we engage the latter in ongoing relational involvement by the primary relational work of “faith not by sight.” This already/not-yet relational process is the very purpose God has made us for (v.5, cf. Gen 2:19), which continues to be definitive for the new creation.
5:11-21—Paul makes his person transparent to them from inner out, thus vulnerable for relationships to be reconciled together in the wholeness of the new creation.
6:1-2—The relational dynamic of God’s grace in response to the human condition is not merely to save us from but also to save us to relationship together in God’s new creation family, the relational outcome both ‘already’ and ‘not yet’. For God’s grace not to be received in vain necessitates relational involvement compatible for relationship together on the terms initiated by the whole and holy God. What Paul illuminates here and continues to discuss in his letter is not about morality, ethics or religious obligation but only about compatible reciprocal relationship together in God’s family (cf. vv.11-18).
7:—Extends the above discussion. Sanctification is only about the relational compatibility necessary for involvement in ongoing relationship with God. “Making holiness perfect (epiteleo, an intensive of teleo, to complete, fulfill goal) points not to the individual focused on becoming holy in oneself but rather signifies the relational purpose of the relational progression as the new creation family together ‘already’ in process to its completion ‘not yet’.
8:—Paul continues the functional significance of family love to encompass the whole of the church (local churches together) by highlighting the Macedonian churches’ involvement with the Jerusalem church in their crisis need. He encourages, not commands (v.8), the saints in Corinth to function in the same relational significance also, which he bases on the function of the relational significance of equality (isotes, vv.13-14). While family love cannot be legislated, he tests the depth of their family love, agape relational involvement (vv.8,24). And he makes definitive: relationships together in God’s new creation family must by its nature (dei, not opheilo’s obligation or command) function in the primacy of both intimacy and equality.
9:—As demonstrated by Jesus in the incarnation (8:9), anything less for Paul is not whole and the outcome is not whole relationship together. No substitutes for agape relational involvement are compatible for reciprocal relational response to God’s relational grace—“his indescribable gift” embodied by Jesus, who constituted the whole of God’s relational context of family and relational process of family love for the new creation of whole relationship together.
10:1-6—Paul gets into polemics in defense of his ministry, which needs to be understood in the context of his fight for wholeness and against reductionism.
10:7-18—He exposes his detractors’ quantitative perceptual-interpretive framework and lens. He refuses to engage in the reductionist processes of human “classifying” (enkrino, categorize) essentially to stratify, stereotype in human constructs of distinction making, which invariably involves a comparative process (“compare ourselves with some,” synkrino, v.12). Thus, he exposes this process as the fragmentation of reductionism, counter-relational work; and those who engage in it fail to understand the whole because they don’t put the parts together (syniemi, v.12).
11:—Paul expresses some indulging thoughts (vv.2a,7-10), images (vv.2b,8,21) and comparisons (vv.5,16-18,22-29) in order to give situational context to his fights against reductionism. He hopes that they “would bear with me in a little foolishness” as he makes definitive a theological framework for the sin of reductionism and its counter-relational work—not merely about disobedience but also about reducing the whole person to outer in, defined by what one has/does, reducing God and what he said, and reducing relationship with God to one’s own terms, pointing to similar relational consequences. In the context of this chapter, and all of 2 Cor, it is conclusive that reductionism is always positioned against wholeness to generate, shape and construct alternatives to be whole, namely by the counter-relational work which often takes on a quantitative appearance of God’s whole (metaschematizo, vv.14-15) but are inherently only ontological simulation and epistemological illusion from reductionism.
12:—Critical account of Paul’s transforming relational involvement with the whole of God. Contrary to sin of reductionism, Paul resolves to define his person by his humanity (“the things that show my weakness,” 11:30) because this gets to his whole person defined from inner out. And Paul’s whole person defined from inner out can only boast of God’s grace: the whole of God’s vulnerable relational initiative to him for relationship together. In making his whole person vulnerable to God and then to this church, Paul gets down to the heart of the issue for them: the whole person from inner out signified by the function of the heart involved in whole relationship together, which are necessary to be both intimate and equalized for God’s new creation family on God’s relational terms. Thus, Paul asks the most critical and urgent question facing them, and all Christians today: “If I love you more, am I to be loved less?” (v.15). That is, “If I involve my whole person further and deeper with you in family love, will you back off, distance or separate yourself in the involvement of your person in our relationship together?” God in his relational grace with agape asks us the same question, and in family love holds us accountable for our relational response of agape involvement to the whole of God’s vulnerable presence and ongoing intimate involvement.
13:—Paul declares the extent of relational action his family love will take with them (“I will not be lenient,” v.2); and he aligns his family love to how Christ was (“He is not weak in dealing with you,” v.3). Paul defines reciprocal relationship in the process of triangulation (“in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God,” v.4). In family love, he makes two ongoing imperatives: First, “examine”(peirazo, with the purpose to show where one has fallen or failed, v.5) two vital matters—(1) “yourselves,” your person, and (2) “whether you are living in the faith,” that is, your vulnerable relational trust in involvement with God, and see if, where and how you have sin of reductionism. Then secondly, “test yourselves” (dokimazo, prove one good and acceptable) ongoingly to distinguish your person as whole and your relationship together as God’s whole family. The only alternative to God’s whole is reductionism (adokimos, “fail to meet the test”). These are not mere moral imperatives and ethics. They go much further and deeper into human ontology made in the image of God (cf. 3:18), and the relational imperative for relationship together to be whole as the new creation in relational likeness of the whole of God—nothing less and no substitutes. Therefore, Paul’s added closing imperatives to be whole are relationally conjoined with the intimately involved whole of God (“the God of agape and wholeness be with you,” v.11) in the experiential truth of the whole of God’s relational context of family and relational process of family love: “The vulnerably embodied grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the agape relational involvement of the Father, and the reciprocal relational koinonia of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” (v.13).
In Galatians Paul establishes the functional clarity of the truth and whole of the gospel from any alternatives of reductionism, and thus to be distinguished from any alternative gospels—the ongoing tension and conflict not only in Galatians which signified his conjoint fight for the whole gospel and against reductionism. This suggests that Galatians should be the lens by which to read Paul’s writings.
1:1-5—More than a greeting, his opening words make definitive the basis for the truth of the gospel and the ongoing base for the whole of the gospel—“grace and peace from…,” v.3—which are in conflict with a gospel of human contextualization and shaping from reductionism.
1:6-9—The difference in gospels is not a minor adjustment but a fundamental deconstruction of the relational source of the gospel, which redefines its functional and relational significance. Paul’s purpose in this letter is to illuminate this qualitative difference in order to establish the functional clarity of the truth and whole of the gospel, thus exposing any alternatives from reductionism.
1:11-12—He makes definitive the source of his gospel—a pivotal declaration of the relational source who constituted his gospel as a direct experiential truth, the construction of which is neither Paul’s nor any other human’s and thus which is not amenable to deconstruction, reduction and negotiation.
1:13-24—The old Paul embedded in reductionism (vv.13-14) and the new Paul called to be whole “through his grace” (v.15) and thus transformed and made whole (“his Son in me,” v.16) with the relational outcome (“so that”) of Paul sent to make whole (“proclaim him”) the human relational condition.
2:1-10—He returned to Jerusalem “in response to a revelation” (v.2). Some see this trip as his response to famine in Jerusalem (as Agabus predicted, Acts 11:27-30), yet this doesn’t seem to fit the context of Paul’s purpose and should not be seen as a mere parenthetical statement. Adding circumcision to the gospel was a major issue confronting the church, the seriousness of which he addressed as the purpose of their trip “so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you” (v.5). For Paul, the issue wasn’t about Christian freedom to shape the gospel, which contrarian teachers were seeking to make uniform by conformity to circumcision. “The freedom we have in Christ Jesus” (v.4), for Paul, involved not having our person reduced by false distinctions of human constructs, which engage a comparative process using a deficit model to stratify relationships—“God shows no partiality” (v.6). This reductionism and its counter-relational work “enslave us” (v.4). As Paul states later (5:1,13), the critical issue for the church is about being whole, neither reduced nor fragmented in relationships apart from God’s whole. Paul’s grasp of the whole of the gospel had the qualitative significance of experiential truth, such that even the church leaders at Jerusalem “contributed nothing to me,” (v.6), implying that Paul and his gospel were whole to which nothing could be added, nor could anything be taken away. They recognized God’s direct relational involvement with Paul, “the grace that had been given to me” (v.9).
3:—The view the Galatians received of Jesus on the cross was no mere picture of a crucifixion event. More significantly, it was a qualitative view of Jesus’ whole person functioning in agape relational involvement with them for the purpose and outcome only of relationship together with the whole of God. From the qualitative view of Jesus’ relational involvement, Paul shifts to the Spirit. While Paul still engages the issue of “doing the works of the law” or “through faith in Christ,” shifting from Christ to the Spirit seems like a big jump, somewhat disjointed. Not for Paul. He extends the discussion of God’s whole and gives functional clarity to the whole of God’s relational context and process—the necessary relational context of God’s new creation family and relational process of family love which constitutes whole relationship together, both intimate and equalized from inner out.
4:—the nonnegotiable relational process and irreducible relational outcome continues in Paul’s relational discourse and theological dialogue, discussed earlier in this study. “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (v.16) is raised by Paul to put things into deeper perspective (cf. similar question with deeper relational significance, 2 Cor 12:15). While the situation involved “false brothers” (2:4) who were teaching “a different gospel” (1:6) and “confusing you” (1:7) and “bewitched you” (3:1), the underlying dynamic involved assimilation into human contextualization, which thus shapes church life and practice in human terms and redefines covenant relationship together with God on our terms. This reductionism has relational consequences both with God and among each other in its counter-relational work (“to exclude you,” 4:17) because reductionism always seeks to diminish the whole person (our new identity) and fragment the relationships of the whole (whose we are together as God’s whole).
4:21-31—Paul further makes definitive the relational and ontological consequences of any such assimilation into human contextualization shaping our life and practice in human terms. Two covenants represented by Hagar and Sarah which distinguish their relational and ontological difference. A reduced human ontology embedded in relationships functioning with distance within the church essentially function in the ontological limits and relational constraints of slaves, even though our theology may be of a free child of promise.
5:—Paul asserts the redemption of Christ in opposition to the above condition of enslavement. Yet, redemption is only the necessary means for reconciling relationship together into God’s family as adopted daughters and sons—the redemptive reconciliation of whole relationship together both intimate and equalized from inner out (5:6,13).
5:16-26—Paul defined this new identity “in Christ” as a function not of mere Christian ethics and morals, which then becomes reductionism, but only as a function of the whole person in relationship. And the most significant relationship of which the new identity “in Christ” is a function is with Jesus’ relational replacement, the Spirit. Therefore, it is nonnegotiable for Paul that we “be guided by the Spirit” (stoicheo, to follow, walk in, adherer to, v.25), that is, in reciprocal relational involvement together. This relational involvement frees us from reductionism of the human person (“become conceited” by what we do/have) and makes whole reductionism’s counter-relational work (“competing…envying one another,” v.26).
6:1-10—Above discussed by contrasting, on the one hand, the relational involvement of family love (“restore such a one…bear one another’s burdens,” vv.1-2) and its relational outcome (“reap at harvest time,” v.9), on the other, with the self-autonomy/interests/determination of reductionism (“think they are something,” v.3, expands on “conceited” in 5:26, “rather than their neighbor’s work,” v.4, expands on “competing…envying”) and its relational consequence (“they deceive themselves,” v.3, “reap corruption,” v.8) of reduced ontology and function. Paul calls them to be whole and live God’s whole in relationship together with “those of the family of faith,” and thus to make whole “all” (v.10). This inner-out agape relational involvement (extending 5:6) goes beyond the moral and ethical “work for the good of all.”
6:11-18—Paul closes in summary on the ontological significance of God’s whole and the ontological simulation and epistemological illusion of reductionism: “Any function of reductionism, whether in the practice of either circumcision or uncircumcision, is without any ontological existence [eimi]; only the new creation exists in ontological wholeness” (v.15, my paraphrase). And the wholeness (“peace”) of God’s relational involvement of grace (“mercy”) will be the relational outcome for all who are relationally involved compatibly with God, even those of Israel who are not reduced but function in the faith of Abraham.
Just as Paul opened this letter by defining his identity as contextualized in the whole of God’s relational context and process—not by human contextualization shaping him by human terms—he now makes unequivocal that any faith and works rooted in human contextualization, based on human shaping and construction by human terms, have no ontological reality and thus significance. The only faith with work with ontological significance is “faith functioning in its inner-out relational response of entrusting our whole person, both to be vulnerably involved with the person of Jesus Christ and to be vulnerable in the relational involvement of family love with others” (5:6, my paraphrase). This qualitative relational dynamic is the definitive life and practice which signifies the new creation of God’s relational whole on God’s relational terms—which, as Paul’s life and practice demonstrated, is both ‘already’ and more to come.
For Paul, therefore, the gospel was no mere doctrinal statement and propositional truth, nor was it of his own shaping. His gospel was the experiential truth of God’s relational response of grace vulnerably embodied by Jesus only for relationship together, which he directly experienced with Jesus to transform his life and practice to the new creation. Thus, Paul’s gospel was rooted only in a complete Christology and full soteriology; and this functional significance was first his relational experience and then his synesis for the truth and whole of the gospel—the theological basis of which Paul expands on in Romans.
In Galatians, Paul made unequivocal the functional clarity necessary for the truth and whole of the gospel that distinguishes it from any alternative gospel. In Romans, he makes definitive the theological basis for this gospel, thus providing the theological clarity necessary to be integrated with the above function clarity to constitute the experiential truth of the whole gospel as the whole of God’s relational context and process in response of grace to the human condition. Nothing less and no substitutes for Paul, thus his theological dialogue unfolds ongoingly in contrast and conflict with reductionism.
1:16-17—Paul gets into the heart of the gospel (“the power of God for salvation”) and its significant roots both historically (“to the Jew first”) and, most important, relationally in reciprocal involvement together (“righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith…one who is righteous will live by faith”).
1:18-32—The roots of God’s involvement with the human context and God’s response to the human condition. Two responses by God: (1) God’s grace signified by the gospel, (2) “the wrath of God.” Paul focuses first on God’s latter response to expose the underlying dynamic of the human condition in which all sin is rooted. What Paul outlines is less about the various characteristics of the human condition distinguishing human contextualization, and more about the relational consequence from “to be apart” from the whole of God. The outline of sins must be understood in this deeper relational context with God (“the truth about God…the Creator,” v.25). Yet, persons “suppress the truth” (v.18) specifically revealed to them for relationship together (“known about God…God has shown it to them,” v.19); and “though they knew God” (v.21, they substituted (“claiming to be wise,” v.22) human shaping and terms for the whole of God (vv.23,24). That is, they engaged the sin of reductionism by reducing God and themselves in ontology and function. It is in this deeper relational context and process that Paul gives theological basis and clarity to root the human condition in its proper relational significance.
2:—At the end of Paul’s overview in chapter 1, he extends God’s justified anger (1:32) leading to judgment in chapter 2. Here he shifts the focus of God’s response to the human condition specifically to the Jews, who are the recipients of God’s further revelation for the terms of relationship together (the law)—notably to Jews who have engaged the sin of reductionism. Paul redefines who is a definitive Jew and what is definitive Judaism by recontextualizing them in God’s involvement with the human context (“the law…written on their hearts,” v.15) and God’s response to the human condition (“the riches of his kindness…to lead you to repentance,” v.4). In the whole of God’s relational context and process, Paul now begins to make definitive God’s second response to the human condition, which is interacting with God’s first response of justified anger and judgment. In the initial stages of the good news of God’s thematic action of grace, Jews made whole are persons who have received God’s relational involvement of family love to redeem them of their sin of reductionism (“real circumcision…of the heart,” v.29) for covenant relationship together. Therefore, whole Jews are persons not defined, determined and constituted from human contextualization “but from God.” In this chapter, Paul also introduces the theological anthropology defining all persons in the created ontology from inner out, not a reduced human ontology from outer in signifying an anthropology merely of human contextualization. At the same time, by contextualizing all persons (Jew and Gentile) in the human condition embedded in the sin of reductionism (“anguish and distress for everyone,” v.9), Paul equalizes all persons in a common ontology before God. Yet, in the context and process of God’s thematic relational response of grace, Paul appears to give priority to the Jew not over but before the Gentile: “the Jew first and also the Greek,” 1:16;2:9,10). What is the significance of this priority and what is the difference between over and before? Paul goes on to give theological clarity to this.
The reduced Jew in chapter 2 is put into juxtaposition with a whole Jew in chapter 3 by Paul.
3:1-2—Whereas the ancient person of creation only possessed an indirect revelation from God, the ancient Jew in history received direct communication from God revealing God’s thematic relational response of grace to the human condition. That is, God entrusted Jews with “the oracles of God” (v.3), which included the promise of covenant relationship together and the terms for this relationship. Those words of God were the words from God’s mouth given in God’s relational context and process; this necessitated a compatible relational response from the Jew of trust (faith) in God and God’s words—which Abraham and subsequent whole Jews engaged with God in reciprocal relational response.
3:3-8—A reduced Jew redefines God’s terms for relationship to human terms. But they cannot redefine God and God’s words (“nullify the faithfulness of God,” v.3, “God be proved true,” v.4). the identity of who, what and how God is is not determined by human contextualization. A reductionist may argue that our reductionism helps bring out and define the whole of God (“through my falsehood God’s truthfulness abounds,” v.7). Some have accused Paul of this kind of reductionist thinking (v.8). Reductionist thought is based on the premise: the parts (human effort) define and determine the whole. The truth is that only the presence of God’s whole can expose the reductionism in human contextualization.
3:9-20—To have directly received the
whole of God is the advantage of the Jew signified in circumcision.
Yet this advantage does not place Jews over Gentiles (“not al
all,” v.9); it only puts them before Gentiles in knowing the
whole of God and thus in perceiving the sin of reductionism. And
God’s further salvific action is necessary to redeem and reconcile
them to God’s whole on God’s terms, not by human terms shaped by
human effort (“by deeds prescribed by the law,”
3:21-31—God’s salvific response of grace as the only means for the human condition. God’s salvific response embodied in Jesus is accessible to all persons equalized before him, whatever their sin of reductionism. This is the truth and whole of the gospel; and its theological anthropology and full soteriology begs the question for Paul, “what becomes of boasting?” (v.27). The issue is not necessarily between “works of the law” and “faith” because pride in faith (i.e., having or doing it) define persons in the same reductionist way. The issue is between reductionism and wholeness. Faith does not render the law “useless, ineffective, invalid and nullified” (katargeo, v.31); but since the law points us to God’s salvific response “in Christ” (Gal 3:22), faith actually “confirms” (histemi) the experiential truth of the law as God’s terms and desires for covenant relationship together. Therefore, Paul does not diminish the law as God’s relational terms, nor does he ever have a problem with the law in these terms. He, however, is in conflict with the reductionism of the law that renegotiates God’s terms for relationship to human terms.
Paul gives further theological clarity to the matter.
4:—By delineating the relational context and process of God’s thematic response to the human condition and by unfolding the relational progression of God’s grace to the gospel embodied by Christ, Paul is also able to give further and deeper theological clarity to the roots of the covenant relationship together promised and consummated with Abraham and constituted by God. The retrospective Paul gives of Abraham is contextualized in various human relations interacting with relationship with God, in which Paul clearly identified Abraham as “our ancestor” (v.1), “the father of all who believe” (vv.11-12), “the father of all of us” (v.16). Abraham and his relational response are the roots of covenant relationship together with God on God’s terms, the same roots which make definitive the necessary relational response for all persons who engage God to constitute covenant relationship together. The truth that God does not engage us in relationship on human terms is not about a doctrine defined as ‘justification by faith’. This truth is the experiential truth of receiving God’s initiative of his relational response of grace to the human condition only for relationship together. The only solution to our human condition is to receive God’s relational action by our reciprocal relational response of trust from inner out (faith). This relational outcome is what Abraham obtained, gained and experienced, which defined him and determined his relational involvement with God—“the father of all of us who believe just as he did.”
5:1-5—The relational outcome of having been brought into right relationship with God (“justified by faith,”) is wholeness with God (“peace with God”) through Christ’s salvific action—the relational outcome both ‘already’ (“in which we stand”) and ‘not yet (“in our hope”). Moreover, our situations and circumstances are contextualized in God’s relational context and process of relationship together to take us further and deeper in this relational progression and outcome because of God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement with us (“God’s love poured into our hearts through the Spirit”).
5:6-11—Paul gives the theological clarity of a full soteriology (saved from and to), not a mere truncated soteriology (only saved from): “justified by his blood…saved from God’s wrath” and “reconciled to God…saved by [in] his life.” For salvation to be full and to be saved (sozo) made whole, the relational outcome of Jesus’ salvific work of grace must by its nature engage the functional involvement of being the whole of God’s family together. This is the only functional and relational significance of Paul’s definitive assertion: “we have now received reconciliation”—the experiential truth of the whole gospel of what we are necessarily ‘already’ also saved to.
5:12-21—He gives theological clarity to the structural roots of the human condition. Adam is the functional key to sin and its relational consequence (vv.12,14,16-19), who set in motion this relational consequence for all human persons, not because of his sin but “because all have sinned.” Paul is not stating the root cause for all to be condemned (vv.15,18) but only clarifying the roots of the process that ends in this relational consequence. Paul puts Christ in juxtaposition with Adam, the functional key for the roots of our relational consequence from God. Adam bears a resemblance to Jesus, who is the functional key to the relational outcome of the gift of relationship together with God (vv. 15-19). Paul makes theologically clear the relational roots of God’s relational response of grace to the human condition which counterbalanced the structural roots of the human condition and negated its relational consequence. This relational outcome is the full soteriology of what Christ saved us conjointly from and to in order to make us whole in the whole of God’s family—the experiential truth of the whole gospel.
6:1-14—The above relational roots of this relational outcome necessarily involve a specific relational context and process, the whole of God’s relational context and process. To be involved with God in his relational context and process necessitates redemption and transformation. Paul brings theological clarity to this process by constituting it in baptism into Christ: “into his death…buried with him…raised from the dead…walk in newness of life,” thus transformed to the relational outcome of God’s new creation family. Redemption and transformation necessarily go together in conjoint function and cannot be separated. The ongoing process of the old dying and the new rising involves the whole person in whole relationship together. Nothing less and no substitutes can be whole in the new creation.
6:15-23—He clarifies further the relational process involved, using an analogy “in human terms.” He uses the analogy of slaves for relationship with God also, and even though God has ownership by redemption there is no enslavement as exists in relation to sin. Most important, slave signifies the depth of the relational bond (not its character) involved in relationship together with the holy God on God’s terms—which are nonnegotiable and irreducible to human terms—thus submitting (“obedience”) one’s whole person in righteous function (“slaves to righteousness”) in the relational context and process of the holy God, with the relational conclusion of being set apart (“sanctification”) in “eternal life” of relationship together with Christ and the whole of God (cf. Jn 17:3).
Reductionism is always positioned against God’s whole, and engaging the sin of reductionism is always trying to redefine God’s terms by human contextualization shaped by human terms. Paul continues in the next chapter to give theological clarity to this tension, conflict and struggle.
7:1-6—He uses another analogy from human relationships (“marriage”) to make definitive the total commitment by necessity involved in this relational bond together. Analogous to marriage, as long as a person has not died to one’s involvement in sin of reductionism, the relational bond with sin is still binding in function and no release from that bond (enslavement) can be realized (“work in our members”); and he defines the functional process of redemptive change necessary to go from one relational bond to the other (“you have died…so that you may belong to him’). Paul expands on the dynamic from Gal 6:15 and gives further theological clarity to it in these sections. And he makes definitive that the new creation is only a function of relationship with the Spirit, who constitutes our function in whole relationship together as God’s new creation family—“the new life of the Spirit.”
7:7-25—Yet, Paul is well aware—both in the human condition and in the experiences of his own life—that our function does not readily flow from our theology, even that our function at times is not congruent with our theology (cf. 2:14). Moreover, our function can even precede our theology to shape it to conform to our function in reductionist terms. Paul tries to sort this all out, helping to distinguish the forest from among the trees, and keeping the cart from going before the horse. First, he doesn’t allow the law to be reduced or renegotiated but clearly defines the law and its function as God’s desires and terms for relationship together: “the law is holy and the commandment is holy and just and good” (v.12). Next, Paul addresses the tension, conflict and struggle the new person has with the reality of reductionism, both theologically and functionally. His use of “I” is unclear as to its reference but it appears to refer to a mixture or combination of a collective “I” and a personal “I.” In 7:15-20, Paul appears to be describing the human condition. I don’t think he is talking about two natures (+ and -) both within the same individual. Here he describes the limits, constraint and enslavement of the human condition. Then he turns to Christian function from inner out or outer in (vv.21-25). For the Christian person, a similar conflict and struggle between reductionism and being God’s whole can exist, not as an issue of life or death but as an issue of the heart. On the one hand, this whole person from inner out signified by the heart (“my inmost self”) is directly involved (Gk. middle voice) to “delight in the law of God.” On the other hand, reductionism “lies close at hand,” trying to influence the whole person to engage sin of reductionism: “reducing my whole person to parts…fragmenting my perceptual-interpretive framework (nous, mind)…and embedding me in a reduced ontology (eimi, being) and function from outer in.” This ongoing conflict and struggle with reductionism is what the new person in Christ still faces, which nothing less and no substitutes of God’s whole on God’s terms constituted by Christ and completed by the Spirit can expose, deal with, redeem, transform and make whole. Therefore, this is not about dual natures but rather function as a reduced person from outer in or as the whole person from inner out of the new creation.
In the relational context and process of the whole of God’s relational response of grace, Paul focuses now on the Spirit and the theological clarity necessary to make functional the vital relational work of the Spirit in the transformation to wholeness.
8:1-8—While redemption is fulfilled, redemptive change and the process of transformation (sanctification) have yet to be wholly completed. This process is brought to completion by the Spirit. Paul is building on the pneumatology established in Gal 5:16-26 and initially set forth in his Cor letters, in order and so that the church as God’s family has the wholeness in theology and function signified in the new creation. The ongoing issue between reductionism and the whole continues: the sin of reductionism prevents the whole of God, the whole of God rejects or redeems the sin of reductionism but cannot coexist with it. To try to coexist is a reductionist effort, notably in ontological simulation and epistemological illusion.
8:9-17—Paul makes definitive Christian identity and what as well as who defines us. No longer being (eimi) defined by human contextualization (“in the flesh”), Christians are defined by the whole of God’s relational context and process “through the Spirit” who is ongoingly present and intimately involved (“dwells in you”). Christian identity constituted in this relationship together as family is not a static condition or character but a dynamic process of relationship together necessitating by its nature reciprocal relational involvement with each other. Paul’s relational language is not hyperbole (e.g., to evoke obligation), rather the theological depth of the experiential truth of the whole gospel: God’s intimate relational response of family love adopted us into God’s own family. The experiential truth of this theological reality is the relational reality that functionally constitutes the relational belonging and whole ontological identity of who we are and whose we are. Anything less and any substitutes in function disengages Christian identity from the whole of God’s relational context and process and engages it is human contextualization to redefine Christian identity in the shape of human terms from reductionism. This has far-reaching implications, as Paul continues to unfold.
8:18-27—Paul adds theological and functional clarity by taking all this further and deeper into God’s big picture eschatological plan framing God’s thematic relational response to the human condition. He paints a big picture that goes back to creation. God’s whole also encompasses all of creation, and God’s response to the human condition is the redemptive key for the rest of creation to “be set free from its bondage to decay.” The significance of this already-not-yet eschatological picture is to deepen theologically the experiential truth of the whole gospel for the definitive wholeness in theology and practice of the church as God’s new creation family.
8:28-30—God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement with us are ongoing and irreducible, that is, cannot be defined or determined by situations and circumstances, nor by any issues in human contextualization. God’s thematic relational response of grace is irrevocable in God’s relational context of family and unremitting in God’s relational process of family love. Therefore, Paul can be definitive that God is wholly in control and sovereign, though not by determinism; the Father’s definitive desire is for the relational involvement of his sons and daughters—by their reciprocal relational response of trust—“to be conformed to the image of his Son” for the relational outcome and conclusion to be the whole of God’s family together (“the firstborn within a large family”). This necessitates compatible ontology and function from inner out, thus relationship in intimacy together.
8:31-39—The relational significance that this relational outcome ‘already’ has for the issues faced in human contextualization is addressed directly. He makes the definitive connections with these issues in human contextualization by addressing each of them in the relational context and process directly from the Father and embodied by his Son and extended by his Spirit—definitive connections made functional by the process of reciprocating contextualization in conjoint function with triangulation. Regardless of the situation or circumstance faced, the outcome is assured—not a situational outcome but the relational outcome “through him who loved us.” Paul is convicted (peitho, v.38) by the experiential truth with the Spirit, not by self-conviction, “that neither…nor anything else in all creation (human contextualization)…separate us from the whole of God’s family love constituted by Christ Jesus and his relational replacement, the Spirit.” The Spirit is absolutely necessary in order for this relational reality to function in the wholeness definitive of theology and practice constituting God’s relational whole on God’s relational terms.
On this relational basis, from this whole phronema (perceptual-interpretive framework) and with this qualitative phroneo (lens and mindset), Paul addresses further urgent issues.
9:—He addresses an issue weighing personally on him but also urgent for the church: the Jew, Israel and God’s people. In an overview of God’s thematic relational response of grace, Paul makes definitive the identity of God’s people and the place of “my kindred according to the flesh” (v.3). He clearly identified Israel, as unfolded in OT history, as adopted children, the divine glory, the covenant and promises, and from them is the human ancestry of the Messiah (vv.4-5). Yet, he also makes definitive that Israel’s identity is not about nation-state: “not all Israelites truly belong to Israel” (v.6); nor because they are Abraham’s children are they “his true descendents” (v.7). As Paul expands on 2:28-29, he continues to distinguish that “not the children of the flesh who are the children of God but the children of the promise” (v.8), that is, those involved in the primacy of covenant relationship together. By decontexualizing Israel’s identity from nation-state, Paul recontextualizes Israel and the true Jew to their definitive identity only in relational terms. This vital distinction is the significant difference between the quantitative reductionism of sin and the qualitative whole of God. The former is shaped by human terms and determined by human effort, and in contrast the latter is defined and determined only on God’s relational terms (v.16). Yet, God’s relational action is not unilateral and deterministic, though it may appear that way to some (vv.14-19). In his polemic, Paul anticipates the question “who can resist his will?” His potter-clay analogy (vv.20-21) appears not to answer the question but Paul is making definitive that God’s action is not defined and determined by human contextualization, though human response to God’s initiative of grace is certainly a determiner of the resulting negative relational consequence or positive relational outcome. It is crucial to see the relational dynamic involved and to see what order things unfold in this relational process, because Paul highlights involvement in reciprocal relationship and accountability for it. In the question above, there is some truth to the inability to resist God’s will, since when God decides to do something it is done—which Calvinists signify by ‘irresistible grace’. But this is only true of God’s will as thelema (cf. Jn 6:38-40), denoting not just a will or an intention but also the execution of it. Paul frames the question with boulema, denoting only the thing willed, the intention. When the question is clarified, what is implied about God’s action shifts from unilateral to intentional desire for relationship, reciprocal relationship together. The answer then involves the other person(s), and certainly includes whoever avoids, denies or rejects God’s desires for reciprocal relationship together signified in God’s relational response of grace.
As Paul further unfolds God’s thematic relational response to the human condition, the interaction between God’s two-fold response of wrath-judgment and of grace is given theological clarity to understand the full relational significance of God’s response, notably for the Jews (vv.22-29). The issues throughout remains: covenant relationship together based on either human contextualization defined by human terms and determined by human effort (vv.31-32), or God’s relational context and process of grace embodied by Jesus evoking the compatible relational response of trust (vv.30,32). The choice always remains ours.
10:1-4—Paul heightens his pursuit for the Jews’ salvation, in full soteriology and not merely delivered from (as much of their history reflected) but also saved to the whole of God’s family. He acknowledges their good intentions (“zeal for God”) but their basis “is not enlightened” (epignosis), that is, according to specific knowledge. He is not advocating a specialized knowledge from mysticism. Epignosis is the specific knowledge of someone which is gained from relational involvement with that person, and thus what that person has disclosed to them. Engagement in relationship with God is the functional key Paul makes definitive, contrary to shaping this relationship by one’s own terms (v.3).
10:5-13—When the law is understood as God’s terms for covenant relationship together, Moses can be followed for righteousness from the law (“does these things”). The problem is no one can fulfill those terms on the basis of one’s own effort. That attempt is only a reductionist substitute which reduces one’s whole person, God, God’s terms and relationship together to human terms. The only alternative for relationship together emerges from one’s relational response of trust to God’s grace embodied by Jesus, who constitutes the whole person in the righteousness God can count on in relationship together (vv.6-13).
10:14-21—This good news embodied by Jesus is further embodied by those who share in and thus share this good news. Not all Jews relationally responded (vv.16,18). “Did Israel not understand?” Paul asks. Yes and no. No, for the reductionists who saw Israel as mere nation-state (v.19); and yes, because the reductionists also failed to perceive, listen and respond back to God’s ongoing relational response and involvement of grace (vv.20-21). Those Jews who did not respond to God on God’s terms redefined the covenant on their terms, thereby reducing human ontology to outer in (cf. 2:28-29) and only the idea of relationship without its qualitative relational significance.
11:1-6—Throughout God’s thematic relational response of grace to Israel, only a minority of Jews relationally responded in trust—thus making Israel definitive not as nation-state but as a significant minority designated “a remnant” by God (vv.4-6). Paul clarifies that God’s “chosen by grace” had nothing to do with the remnant’s “works” (v.6). Yet, Paul has been making definitive in Romans that God’s thematic relational action of grace constitutes the relational context and process necessitating our reciprocal relational response of trust for compatible relationship together on God’s terms—irreducible and nonnegotiable terms, which is how the remnant (minority Israel) received God and responded back in contrast to other Jews (majority Israel) functioning in reductionism on human terms.
11:7-10—‘Majority Israel’ determined their relational position to God—that is, seeking relationship with God on their terms—and God responded by letting them remain embedded in it. “Hardened” (poroo) signifies to become callous and insensitive, without relational awareness and sensitivity to the qualitative; poroo is from poros, a small piece of stone broken off from a large one, which implies the fragmentary process of reductionism ‘majority Israel’ engaged “to be apart” from God’s whole. God let them be accountable for their relational position. And Paul addressed further the relational consequence or outcome of Israel’s relational position.
11:11-24—He discussed Israel’s relational consequence or outcome by integrating their relational position with the Gentiles relational position to God’s thematic response to the human condition. The deeply interrelated relational position of Jews and Gentiles is in complex interaction to signify the whole of God’s thematic response of grace. Paul makes definitive that in terms of both of their relational positions one is not the cause of the other’s, nor is one at the exclusion of the other and precludes or is better than the other.
11:25-32—Paul acknowledges the lack of full knowledge of what is involved in all the details of God’s thematic action (“this mysterion”). Yet, what is known Paul details for them. This raises two questions: Is God’s relational response to Israel’s relational position indeed apart from the gospel? and who is Israel? Paul already identified definitive Israel as “the remnant,” ‘minority Israel’. The remnant has always engaged God’s grace in reciprocal relationship together, thus their trust will always experience God’s relational response of grace to be made whole in relationship together. This is not apart from the gospel of God’s grace embodied by Jesus but congruent with God’s thematic salvific action for the human condition. In God’s action, he also holds them accountable for their relational position (v.32). This action, as the law did, not only illuminated the issue of the human condition but pointed to its solution in God’s relational response of grace embodied and fulfilled by Christ. Though Paul said “As regards the gospel they are enemies” (v.28), two distinctions need to be understood about the gospel and Israel. First, the gospel should not be reduced to propositional truths, doctrine and beliefs, or be disembodied to event or teachings. The truth and whole of the gospel is only God’s grace relationally embodied and fulfilled by Christ for relationship together as God’s whole family. Anything less and any substitutes are a reduced gospel of human contextualization. The second distinction is about Israel, which Paul distinguished unequivocally as either ‘majority Israel’ or ‘minority Israel’. ‘Majority Israel’ is indeed an enemy of the whole gospel, given its relational position to God’s relational response of grace. ‘Minority Israel’, however, is not an enemy of the whole gospel because they function in the relational response of trust necessary in the whole gospel. Therefore, Paul’s statements in 11:28-29 about the gospel and Israel are not contradictory when these two distinctions are understood.
11:33-36—For the depth and breadth of God’s thematic relational response of grace to the human condition—which by the nature of the whole and holy God includes the mysterion of the details of God’s response in the whole of God’s eschatological big picture—Paul rightly and humbly concludes his theological overview with this summary doxology. This doxology is not a mere description of the attributes of God, nor to merely ascribe them to God in closing. Paul closes relationally focused and involved with the relational dynamic inclusive of God’s whole (“from him”), God’s wholeness (“through him”) and the whole of God (“to him”)—the whole of the gospel, nothing less and no substitutes (cf. 1 Cor 8:6).
Having provided the theological clarity of the whole of God’s thematic relational response of grace to the human condition, Paul now concentrated on the further functional clarity (again building on Gal) necessary to be whole, live whole and make whole, God’s relational whole on God’s relational terms.
12:1-2—“Therefore,” based on the theological clarity unfolded in the previous eleven chapters, Paul issues to his family (“brothers and sisters”) a definitive call to effect (parakaleo) the necessary reciprocal relational response to God’s relational response of grace. What follows aligns with the vital issues for all practice: (1) the integrity of the person presented (“present…”), (2) the quality of what the person communicates (“…your bodies as a living sacrifice”), and (3) the depth of relationship the person engages (“holy and acceptable to God”). Paul is expanding on 6:13,16,19, where he used a slave metaphor. Here he shifts to an offertory metaphor, yet the significance of human ontology and function from inner out is the same to involve the whole person, including all the outer parts of the body. The functional significance here is not to offer in sacrifice merely a part of one’s person—notably a reduced person of outer in defined by ‘what to do’—but to relationally present to God and stand vulnerably before him with one’s whole person (cf. Abraham’s call, Gen 17:1). Moreover, how to be involved in relationship with the whole and holy God is not only with one’s whole person but also to be ongoingly involved in God’s relational context and process on God’s terms, which are the only terms “holy and acceptable to God” for whole relationship together. This practice is not a function of the individual doing a certain thing or living a certain way acceptable to God; this process is a function only of reciprocal relationship together compatible to the wholeness of God’s ontology and function, in whose image and likeness human ontology and function were created. Yet, reduced human ontology and function from outer in, signifying conformity to human contextualization (syschematizo), is fragmentary, which needs to be redeemed and transformed from inner out (metamorphoo) in order to be whole in ontology and function and thus to live whole.
12:3-21—On the basis of God’s relational response of grace defining Christian identity as who we are and whose we are and determining Christian function as how to be involved in whole relationship together, Paul gives further functional clarity to define the relational responsibility (even demand) which comes with God’s relational grace. Only the experiential truth of whole persons in transformed relationships together both equalized and intimate is the relational outcome of wholly receiving God’s relational response of grace. God’s grace is the basis and ongoing base for the church to be the whole of God’s family—the ecclesiology of the whole which Paul is making functionally clear in these closing chapters of Rom. While the church is called to be and live whole and sent to make whole in the human context, Paul is unequivocal that human contextualization does not define who they are and whose they are, nor does human contextualization determine how they are. The church’s ontology is to be the whole of God’s family in the world and to function whole in it by extending God’s family love, just as Jesus vulnerably embodied to them (and prayed in his formative family prayer, Jn 17:20-26).
13:1-7—Fragmented relationships prevent wholeness from developing. Some ways the whole is fragmented are by self-autonomy promoting individualism, self-determination pursuing self-interests/concerns, and self-justification necessitating self-centeredness. One means to chasten these is with the presence of “authority” (exousia, the physical capability to do something and also the right and authority to carry out the action) to centralize or bring coherence to a group of persons, so that they will not be fragmented into merely disconnected individuals. Throughout the human condition God has chastened the human condition by appointing (hypotasso) such authorities to serve to bring persons together, whose function in effect can only point to the need to be whole without functionally being able to make whole. That wholeness only God can accomplish by his relational response of grace. Yet, human authorities serve God’s purpose for the need to be whole together, if only to highlight the need. Even negative authorities serve some purpose, despite the severity of their action—which God and Paul do not dismiss or merely tolerate—since what they do is not the underlying problem but only symptomatic of the deeper human condition “to be apart” from God’s whole enslaved in sin of reductionism. Thus, negative authority still serves God’s purpose by pointing to the inherent need for the human condition to be made whole. In this sense, “those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” And without condoning negative authority or blindly submitting to them, Paul states that Christians need to affirm what God is doing, be involved with God to make whole, and ensure we are not acting in cross-purposes with the whole of God.
13:8-10—Paul makes clear the need not to have any secondary debts (opheilo, obligation) which are able to determine or dilute our primary function: “to share God’s family love with one another.” Secondary obligations fragment the whole in reductionism, whereas the qualitative relational involvement of agape builds God’s relational whole on God’s relational terms, thus fulfills the law (God’s desires for relationship together).
13:11-14—The ongoing conflict between reductionism and being whole is framed by Paul in the context of qualitative kairos time, not quantitative chronos (v.11). While Paul’s eschatology is both ‘already’ and ‘not yet’, he is focused on the importance of the already and its opportunity (kairos) to function clearly in our identity as the light (v.12). To live whole illuminates the present practices of reductionism, thus giving Christians further opportunity to make whole. Paul makes it definitive that this kairos is now.
14:1-18—The issue of dealing with reductionism is an ongoing necessity in the church if being and living whole is to be an experiential truth and functional reality. For example, “those who are weak in faith” signify their relational response of trust that has been diminished, diluted or redefined by reductionism—essentially focused on secondary issues from outer in over the primary from inner out. He goes into other secondary matters and makes it imperative for church whole ontology and function not to be defined and determined by them. Rather stay involved in the primacy of whole relationship together with family love. In all these secondary issues, Paul is emphatic about the importance of God’s whole and functioning together in wholeness: “the kingdom of God is not [those things] but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
14:19-15:13---Therefore, “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (v.19), that is, be and live whole by building God’s family with family love, and “do not [fragment] the work of God” (v.20). The primary work is the relational work of trust, without which all other activity and effort are “sin of reductionism” (v.23). Those mature in wholeness (“strong”) need to help those susceptible to reductionism (“weak”) and not be focused “to please ourselves” (15:1) for the relational purpose “of building up the neighbor” (v.2), just as Christ himself extended God’s family love (vv.3,7-9). All of God’s thematic relational response of grace unfolded in Scripture only for whole relationship together, and was written for our “steadfastness and encouragement” in order to work through these various secondary issues, situations and circumstances, and thus attend to the primacy of relationships together necessary to be the whole of God’s family (vv.4-6,10-13). Paul essentially closes the main body of Rom with the conclusive benediction (v.13), which is the relational progression of the definitive benediction in Num 6:22-27 that Jesus embodied for our experiential truth and relational reality along with the Spirit.
15:14-16:27—Paul adds some personal notes in closing.
Colosse is a specific situation—different from controversy in Gal in apparent philosophical notions (Col 2:8)—in which the functional and theological clarity of the truth and whole of the gospel are needed to expose, challenge and negate reductionism in order to be and live the whole of God’s family and to make God’s whole on God’s terms. While Col is somewhat of a test-case application of the functional and theological clarity from Gal and Rom, Paul’s theology in Col also reflects further development from Gal and Rom, likely gained with the Spirit while in prison.
1:1-2:5—The extended length of these opening remarks is not characteristic of Paul’s undisputed letters. Yet the situation and developments in Col required a further and deeper response from Paul than he had expressed fully before, though he did partially. The situation necessitated establishing the further framework and deeper context (than human contextualization) to address the issues for Col. In doing so, Paul also had opportunity to make definitive his further theological reflections and deeper theological development in the relational epistemic process for synesis of God’s whole, which included integrating the Jesus tradition for pleroma Christology and soteriology.
Paul wants them to be made complete (“be filled,” pleroo) “with the specific knowledge (epignosis) of God’s will” (desires, thelema, v.9) for whole relationship together. This relational process involves a qualitative knowledge and understanding of the whole (“wisdom and synesis), thus “growth in the epignosis of God” (v.10) is not about gaining more information about God but only about growing in whole relationship together as family with “the Father who has enabled you to share in the inheritance” (v.12) as his adopted children (vv.13-14). Without apology, Paul declares openly the whole of Jesus, “the image of the invisible God” (v.15), “the pleroma of God” (v.19), in order for the relational outcome “in Christ” for every person to be complete, made whole (“mature,” teleios, v.28). This is Paul’s passion (“I toil and struggle”) in reciprocal relationship with the Spirit (v.29) and compassion for the churches in Colosse and Laodicea (2:1; cf. 4:16). His purpose clearly stated (2:2-3): that their whole person from inner out to be encouraged (“hearts to be encouraged”) and thus be deeply involved in relationship together (symbibazo) in family love; this necessitates all the wealth (ploutos) of the full assurance from whole understanding (synesis) without reductionism, in order for the relational outcome to specifically know (epignosis) God’s self-disclosure embodied in Christ (“God’s mystery”), in whom is the source of all life and function (“the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”). With synesis Paul makes definitive the whole of God in order to expose the ontological simulation and epistemological illusion of reductionism, which “may deceive (paralogizomai, or delude) you with plausible arguments” (v.4). This will help them not to be fragmented by reductionism and to function in relational wholeness on God’s terms to have “a context in order” (taxis, cf. 1 Cor 14:33) and deeply involved together in “your relational response of trust in Christ” (2:5)—that is, the integral relational process of family love in which Paul is also involved together with them (“I am with you in spirit”).
2:6-8—Just as their compatible relational response of trust to God’s relational response of grace constituted them in relationship together in God’s relational context and process, these terms for relationship together cannot be reduced or negotiated by human terms and still have compatible relationship. Anything less and any substitutes of the whole relational context and process of God’s terms are attempts to reduce God’s whole or to renegotiate God’s terms. This is the reductionist influence Paul urgently addressed. Exactly where this reductionist influence originated is not clear from the text. He earlier cautioned against those “with plausible arguments” (v.4). Now he impresses on the church to be aware “that no one takes you captive” by the arguments “through philosophy and empty deceit” (v.8), thus qualifying 2:4. Paul clearly identified the basis of this thinking, human constructs, shaping and terms as the notions only “according to human tradition” and the formulations only “according to the elemental spirits of the kosmos and not according to Christ.” How much Greek philosophy and its worldview Paul points to here are unclear but certainly their influence in the ancient Mediterranean world had its effects. Paul is emphatic that those who turned to this thinking cannot be whole and could not expect to live whole or to make whole. The truth and understanding of the whole can only be illuminated ‘from above’ by the vulnerable disclosures of the pleroma of God embodied by Christ.
2:9-10—In contrast and conflict with the human efforts ‘from below’, he gives further theological clarity of the pleroma who is ‘from above’ and how he constitutes the pleroma of those ‘from below’,
2:11-3:17—Paul outlines the relational process constituting the whole of Christian ontology, in which Christian identity must by its nature be rooted: the integral relational process of redemptive change in which the old person dies so that the new person is raised up for pleroma soteriology of what Jesus also saved us to in relationship together as the whole of God’s family—“pleroma in Christ, “the wholeness of Christ” (3:15, cf. “the pleroma of Christ,” Eph 1:23). Yet the line between the old and the new gets blurred in practice. Therefore, given the experiential truth and whole of the gospel, Paul is decisive: don’t let anyone define and determine your person from the outer in of reductionism based on what you do/have—norms not only in Judaism (2:16) but in human contextualization (2:20-21)—which are only the ontological simulation and epistemological illusion (“shadow,” 2:17, “an appearance of wisdom,” 2:23) from reductionism, not “the substance of Christ” who defined the whole person from inner out; and don’t let anyone prevent you from experiencing this relational outcome, that is, “disqualify you…by a human way of thinking,” (v.2:18)—the relational outcome that reductionism prevents from being the experiential truth. The distinction between reductionism ‘from below’ and God’s whole ‘from above’ can be confused when their contexts are not clearly distinguishing or are put in some combination. For Christian ontology, both individual and as church, to be whole is not about a static condition. The whole of Christian ontology is a dynamic function of reciprocal relational involvement together, signifying the ongoing process of redemptive change from old to new: “Set your phroneo on…above, not on…earth…put to death whatever in you is earthly” (3:2,5).
This is the integral relational context and process of God’s whole into which Paul’s prescriptions for the following situations need to be contextualized; and this is the whole phronema and the qualitative phroneo necessary in order to understand Paul’s position in these matters (and those similar in Phlm, Eph and Tim).
3:18-4:1—In reductionism, the parts are primary and the whole, if addressed at all, is subject to these parts—defined by its parts and explained by the sum of its parts. In the sin of reductionism, the individuals are primary, even in a collective context, and the whole is subordinated to their self-concerns/interests, and thus is subject to and shaped by those human efforts at self-autonomy/determination/justification. By his lens of whole phronema and phroneo, he focuses on the sin of reductionism and addresses individual efforts in each of these situations, which function in the following way: (1) with the autonomous thinking in lieu of the priority of God’s whole, (2) by the self-serving-determination to build-up self at the expense of serving the growth of God’s family, and (3) for the validation of the individual value or self-worth over primary involvement in the relationships together necessary for the experiential truth to be God’s whole family constituted only by God’s relational terms.
4:2-6—Paul closes with the functional clarity to be whole, live whole and make whole. Wholeness in God’s relational context of family by his relational process of family love is by its nature entirely a relational function. This relational function cannot be reduced to anything less or any substitute, that is, anything less than direct relational involvement and any substitute for direct relational communication. The primary communication we engage for relational involvement with God is prayer, which Paul therefore makes the relational imperative (v.2). He also expands their relational involvement with God beyond themselves to embrace the global church (vv.3-4). Moreover, he impresses on them the need to make whole in the world with family love (vv.5-6). This relational function is not optional or negotiable but what must be (dei, not opheilo, obligation) by the nature of who we are and whose we are as the pleroma of God’s new creation family.
This personal letter is a specific relational context in which the ecclesiology of the whole is made functional. Paul takes Philemon deeper into God’s whole on God’s terms, just as his purpose for Col. Thus, Phlm needs to be understood by the phroneo and phronema Paul established in Col for the synesis necessary for the pleroma of God. Placed prior to Eph, Phlm becomes a functional bridge to Eph, in which Paul makes definitive the theological basis for Philemon’s relational function.
This letter closely followed Col and Phlm, and it represents an even further development of Paul’s thought and theology than Col. Paul also appears to develop further the theological clarity of Rom—likely his deeper theological reflection with the Spirit for synesis, while in prison—by defining the theological forest and adding aspects he did not include in Rom, notably pleroma ecclesiology for the theology of God’s whole family functioning on God’s relational terms. Yet, ecclesiology is never about doctrine for Paul but only about relationship together to be God’s whole family on God’s relational terms of wholeness.
1:3-14—Paul’s theological forest within which pleroma ecclesiology is relationally embodied.
1:15-23—He keeps praying for them for the purpose that the Father may give their persons an inner-out quality in reciprocal involvement with the Spirit to specifically know God further (epignosis,v.17), and that their qualitative phroneo of their inner-out person (“the eyes of your heart”) be illuminated to know the hope of God’s calling (‘already’ and ‘not yet’)—to be in whole relationship together , which involves the depth of the Father’s inheritance as his very own children (v.18) and which includes “the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who relationally respond in trust” (v.19). This power is the same as the relational function of the whole of God’s power which worked “in Christ” in the process of redemptive reconciliation for God’s eschatological plan (vv.20-22). God’s power is not about what God has but it always involves God’s relational action in how God is to enact his eschatological plan in thematic relational response of grace for relationship together. God’s power only functions with this relational purpose; therefore, it must not be disconnected from its relational action or it loses its functional significance, both in its eschatological trajectory and in its present involvement with the church. The church is both the object of God’s power and its recipient to be its subject in ontology and function as “the pleroma of Christ” (v.23).
2:1-22—Paul then penetrates even deeper into the experiential truth for those “in Christ.” He gets to the heart of Christian identity, that is, to the inner-out ontology of the person made whole (and new) and to the whole ontology of the church with those whole persons in the transformed relationships together necessary to function whole in God’s new creation family.
3:1-13—“My synesis of the mystery of Christ” (v.4) was never shaped by his own theological effort but only “revealed to this holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (v.5), notably to Paul. Paul did not draw only from the Jesus tradition but his direct relational experience with the whole of God. The relational epistemic process engaged with the Spirit precludes the need for human speculation, shaping and doubt.
3:14-21—“Because of this experiential reality (charin) I engage the Father in relationship directly” (v.14), in Paul’s identity of ‘whose we are’ (v.15), to pray in the qualitative depth of God’s relational context of family with the integral relational process of family love. Paul’s prayer is only for wholeness, the peace Christ embodied, thus it focuses only on the whole person with an inner-out ontology and the primacy of function in whole relationships together in God’s family love necessary to constitute the church.
4:1-6—This wholeness for Paul was not about theological discourse and having the correct theology. Rather than engaging in a theological task, he engaged the experiential truth constituting the heart of who they were and whose they were “in Christ.” Thus, he engaged them directly in family love for the transformed relationships necessary to be God’s whole family, and not to diminish, minimalize or even lose their ontological identity. The ontological inner-out depth of church identity is relationally embodied in the interrelated, interdependent and integrated function of the whole of who they are together in whose they are.
4:7-13—The ontological whole of church identity is not a human construction shaped in human contextualization by human terms. This identity is solely constituted by God’s relational action of grace ‘from above’, the dynamic of which Christ relationally embodied to make each person together to be God’s whole (vv.8-10).
4:14-19—The relational and functional significance to be whole together is qualitatively distinct from the reductionism shaping human contextualization by human terms and effort. Paul describes the latter as those functioning in a reductionist ontology shaped by prevailing human context (nepios, immature, v.14), for which he prescribes the vulnerable involvement of reciprocal relationship together in family love (v.15). The relational outcome will be “the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (v.16). The alternative in contrast and conflict is outer-in ontology and function (vv.17-19).
4:25-32—He makes functional what is the relational significance of this new creation—various relational functions congruent with the wholeness of the new creation, which should not be confused with obligation/duty (opheilo) of mere Christian ethics and morality. These relational functions need to be understood in relation to the three issues involved in all practice: (1) the integrity of the person presented, (2) the quality of communication from that person, and (3) the depth level of relationship that person engages. And the Spirit is the primary key to this whole process (v.30).
5:1-14—“live in love as Christ loved us” is not about imitating his behaviors or merely following his example or model. This relational imperative is the accountability of one’s ontology and function to be (ginomai) in relationship together with the depth of involvement of love, which signifies God’s new creation family as constituted by the pleroma of God’s relational response of grace. But church ontology and function is diminished without clear distinction from the ordinary, common, normative practice of the surrounding context—the distinction only of “children of light” (v.8). The light is both an ontological condition and a relational function, whose identity and function must be accounted for in all church life and practice (vv.9-14).
5:15-21—Therefore Paul is emphatic about the imperative “Be careful how you live [in the surrounding context]…making the most of the kairos [to live whole] because the days are [existing in the sin of reductionism]” (vv.15-16). He never underestimates the influence of reductionism and the persistence of its author (cf. 6:16). The presence and function of God’s whole is the only definitive alternative of qualitative significance to reductionism. And to be whole and live whole is a functional only of the integral relational process of agape involvement together in the relationships of God’s family. The key in this process for Paul is not more human effort (“do not”) but the necessity to “be complete (pleroo) in reciprocal relationship with the Spirit” (v.18) in order to be the whole that counters reductionism. Moreover, this reciprocal relational involvement includes worshipping God together (vv.19-20). And in contradistinction to the self-autonomy/determination/justification of reductionism, Paul makes definitive the critical relational dynamic for relationship together to function whole: “submit to one another with family love out of reverence for Christ” (v.21), who submitted to the Father in order to relationally embody God’s family love so that we can be made whole in God’s family. This is the whole Christ saved us to, which constitutes our ontological identity together of who we are and whose we are. “Submit” (hypotasso) is a voluntary relational action and should not be confused with a compulsory act of obedience. Paul’s relational dynamic of submission is a function only of family love, which gives primacy to whole relationship together over an individual’s self-interests/concerns yet without sacrificing the whole person’s significance in God’s new creation family. Paul’s interpretative lens for “submit” is not from human contextualization but from the whole relational context and process embodied by Jesus.
5:22-6:9—It is only in this integral relational process of family love that “submit” has significance for Paul, and thus how any submission he advocates must be understood. The three relationships he highlights here echo Col, with notable extension of the marriage relationship in analogy with the church. Each of these relationships is associated with a social role that forms a secondary identity, which Paul takes beyond to contextualize all roles and secondary identities into our primary identity of who we are and whose we are together as the church family. And what Paul makes definitive is the new relational order of God’s new creation family—the transformed relationships together of pleroma ecclesiology.
6:10-20—He contextualizes these persons, relationships, roles and identities in the whole of God’s relational context and process. As he does this, the surrounding context of the world also goes further than the Greco-Roman world within the ancient Mediterranean context, and deeper than any other human contextual, structural or systemic factors. Paul penetrated deeply into our human ontology and the heart of our identity “in Christ”; and he clearly makes definitive our surrounding context in which we are called to be whole and sent to make whole. This unavoidable context is not only the context of reductionism but most importantly the context of its author (“the devil,” v.11, “the evil one,” v.16). Despite all the negative human situations, circumstances, conditions and issues, Paul makes known unequivocally: “our struggle is not against those quantitative indicators but against their underlying influence and counter-relational work or reductionism constituted by evil” (v.12). Paul doesn’t underestimate reductionism or assume overconfidence toward Satan. To live and make whole in the surrounding context of reductionism in confrontation with its author necessitates the whole of God and God’s resources (vv.11-17, not by our own well-intentioned effort), which Paul bookends (vv.10,18, in possible chiasm) with the relational process involved that might otherwise appear as our burden of responsibility: “be made strong (passive voice) in your relational involvement with the Lord” by means of ongoing reciprocal relational involvement of “pray in the Spirit….” This reciprocal relational involvement will engage the presence, involvement and resources of God “to stand against the wiles of the devil” (v.11) and thus “to withstand” (v.13) reductionism and to be whole. Therefore, Paul’s conclusion in this letter is directed solely to this ongoing conflict for the sake of the experiential truth and whole of the gospel, the gospel of wholeness (v.15), for which he had been fighting and continues to seek boldness without constraint (vv.19-20). The relational outcome ‘already’ for Paul is pleroma ecclesiology, nothing less and no substitutes.
1:1-2—In his address Paul includes the bishops (cf. presbyteros, Acts 20:28) and deacons, which indicates some structure or organization to that church. Church leadership, however, does not suggest a hierarchy of roles, sine Paul identifies both Timothy and himself as servants. This was still about their wholeness together (“peace”) based on God’s relational response of grace (“from God”).
1:3-11—He identifies them as fully sharing together (koinonia) in the experiential truth of the whole gospel (v.5); and he affirms his intimate relational involvement with them in reciprocal relationship (“you hold me in your heart,” v.7, “I long for all of you,” v.8) constituted by their involvement together (synkoinonos) in relational response to God’s grace (v.7). This is God’s family love they share in together, and Paul prays for their family love to grow in the relational function of wholeness together until ‘not yet’ (vv.9-11).
1:12-18—Paul puts his own situation into the relational context and process of God’s big picture (vv.12-14). Regardless of his situation and how others react to them (vv.15,17), Paul is confident that God can still use that negativity for the purpose to fulfill God’s desires and action. So Paul still rejoices, even at some personal cost to him (v.18).
1:19-30—He qualitatively understands (oida) that through their relational involvement together in God’s relational context of family and relational process of family love (“your prayers and the help of the Spirit”) they will experience further the relational outcome to be more deeply made whole (soteria, v.19). Thus he will not allow situations to define him and determine his practice (v.20) because for Paul living was about zoe (not bios) in family together with Christ (v.21). And this creates ambivalence for Paul to be ultimately with Christ in his relational context (v.23) or to remain (meno) to share in relationship together (parameno) “with all of you” (v.25). The former is more important but the latter is also vital “for your relational progression of your relational response of trust in relationship together for the joyful relational outcome in Christ ‘already’ to go further and deeper” (perissos, v.26). Therefore, whatever situations happen ahead, Paul makes it definitive for them to relationally function in the experiential truth of the whole gospel (v.27). This will signify the relational and functional significance of the gospel of wholeness, pleroma soteriology, to the reductionists for their redemption (v.28). He makes paradigmatic the theological journey of the whole relational process Christ embodied, in which they have the relational opportunity to be involved with Christ in the various situations, circumstances and struggles in the surrounding context in order to be whole, live whole and make whole—God’s whole family relationally embodied by Christ (vv.29-30).
2:1-4—Some critical issues are raised in four interrelated conditional statements involving their relational experience. This is neither about implementing doctrine nor about following disembodied teaching in ethical practice.
2:5-11—That is, have the same qualitative phroneo as Christ and function relationally just as Christ also relationally embodied: the theological journey of Christ begins with a high Christology (“was in the form of God,” v.6), that is, preexisting in the ontology as God, not as mode but as person; although completely equal with God, Christ did not regard it “as something to be exploited” (harpagmos, v.6); unclear theologically what harpagmos involves, I suggest in terms of function it involves not being defined by that aspect of his identity and letting it determine how he would function in the incarnation—implying that Jesus didn’t impose himself on us and engage in power relations; on the contrary, he “keno himself” (from kenos, empty, v.7), which is also unclear theologically, yet I suggest in terms of relational function keno involves submission and humility of his God-person in order to take on aspects of human identity in ontology and function, inexplicably conjoined with his God-person, and thus to relationally embody God’s family love for the redemption necessary (“death on the cross,” v.8) to be reconciled and made whole in God’s family together—fulfilling God’s relational response of grace to the human condition; therefore, also, the God-persons were relationally united (never ontologically separated), and the Son assumed his relational position and function in the whole of God’s eschatological plan and is once again exalted as Lord, along with the Father in God’s whole (vv.9-11).
Paul makes this theological journey of Christ paradigmatic as the relational model for congruent relational function in Christian life and practice to be whole with Christ in his relational context of family by his relational process of family love: Just as Jesus relationally embodied the ontology from inner out of one whose identity is special as person in the whole of God, yet whose unique God-person function is not special in the sense of giving priority to the individual over the whole. Just as Jesus submitted in his special identity to relationally function in his unique God-person function for the sake of the whole of God’s family love to be relationally embodied to us for the experiential truth of the whole gospel (as signified in Paul’s four interrelated statements, vv.1-4). In other words, just as Jesus relationally embodied in the incarnation, those “in Christ” must by its nature be congruent with in order to be compatible in relationship together.
2:12-18—Therefore, Paul makes it imperative for their ongoing involvement in only the relational work to be whole (“work out your own salvation,” v.12), not in human works but in reciprocal relationship with the whole of God and God’s relational work “who is at work in you” for God’s only relational purpose (eudokia)—as Jesus relationally embodied—of whole relationship together in God’s family (v.13). Thus, whatever their situation or circumstance (v.14), they are to function only for the relational purpose to be and live God’s whole family—“blameless (amemptos) and innocent (akeraios) children of God” (v.15). Amemptos and akeraios are not sufficiently understood by ethical and moral practice; they have the sense of a condition that is not qualitatively reduced, and thus are better rendered to be “whole.” This sense is the functional significance Paul further describes with amomos (not crooked, in sound or unblemished condition, that is, whole), which is necessary in a reductionist context (“a crooked and turned-from-the-truth generation”) for their whole ontology and function to be undiminished light to illuminate the relationally embodied “word of zoe” (v.16) for the human condition in the world. Nothing less and no substitutes of their life and practice could be whole, or could make Paul “glad and rejoice” in reciprocal relationship together (vv.17-18).
2:19-30—Paul elaborates on his relational involvement in family love together with Timothy and Epaphroditus. What is unmistakable about their surrounding context, which apparently also fragments their church, is the influence of reductionism signified in the function “All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (v.21).
3:1-11—Without apology, Paul further identifies the reductionists in the church who function from an outer-in ontology defined by their human effort (vv.2-3), which, in comparative analysis, Paul highlights his own reductionist identity previously defined by what he did and had (vv.4-6). What follows demonstrated Paul’s process of his own growth and development.
3:12-16—Despite his metaphor (cf. 1 Cor 9:24-25), Paul understands that this is not about achievement in human effort, however rigorous and well-intentioned. This work is only relational work in the process of reciprocal involvement together with the whole of God. Those growing (mature, teleios) in this relational process have the necessary qualitative phroneo (from the whole phronema); and when their perspective becomes qualitatively different (heteros) the Spirit will give them feedback to function based on the relational outcome ‘already’ (vv.15-16).
3:17-21—Paul reminds them that their ontology and function are defined and determined by either of two contextualizations: either human and thus reductionism (“their phroneo is set on outer-in earthly things,” vv.18-19), or God’s and thus whole (“transformed from inner out,” vv.20-21). The distinction between these two contextualizations is crucial.
4:1—Therefore for the purpose (hoste) of family love together to be God’s whole, Paul makes it a relational imperative for them to relationally function clearly without ambiguity (steko, “stand firm”) in relational compatibility (houtos) with the whole of God—and thus nothing less and no substitutes from reductionism.
4:2-20—Paul adds various ongoing practices which help to constitute this necessary relational function:
· As those ontologically and relationally interconnected together (syzygos, “yoke fellows,” v.3), be involved among yourselves (syllambano in middle voice) in the relational work of reconciliation necessary ongoingly to be whole together without relational fragmentation or distance (as signified between Euodia and Syntyche, v.2); a functional key for whole relationship together as family.
· Whatever your situation or circumstance, maintain ongoing relational involvement and open communication with God, “rejoice in the Lord…who is near…let your requests be made known to God, and the wholeness of God…will guard your whole person from inner out in Christ Jesus” (vv.4-7); a functional key for reciprocal relationship together .
· Focus on qualitative things and “put them together in your mindset” (logizomai, v.8), moreover the wholeness “you learned, received, heard and saw in me,” ongoingly engage in relational function (prasso) “and the God of wholeness will be relationally involved with you” (vv.8-9); a hermeneutical key to be and live whole.
Paul closes with a secret he has learned (myeo) from his own circumstances (v.12) and thus has learned (manthano, v.11) the experiential truth: that situations and circumstances do not define who and what he is or determine how he functions—which otherwise reduces the person to outer in—but in all those I can be a qualitative whole person from inner out and live whole in relationships together, even make whole, by ongoing reciprocal relational involvement with the whole of God who constitutes me (endynamoo, v. 13) not to do something from outer in but to live whole from inner out, and who continues to make me whole (pleroo) according to God’s whole, “his riches in glory relationally embodied in Christ Jesus” (v.19). This is the relational outcome ‘already’ of the experiential truth of the whole gospel—which, if your experiential truth also, you are then accountable for (2:1-5).
I suggest that the following letters were a compilation of Paul’s personal thoughts, advice and written notes to Timothy and Titus, who formed them with the Spirit into personal letters for some edifying purpose (not for nostalgic reasons) after Paul’s death—while contextualizing Paul in their later period of the church, thus accounting for the apparent further development of church order. The content of these letters is representative wholly of Paul, not mere Pauline fragments which Timothy and Titus shaped or constructed of the Pauline corpus. What unfolds is more than pastoral but reflects the further and deeper involvement of Paul’s family love to make the whole relationships together of God’s family.
By working in cooperation with the Spirit, Timothy and Titus fulfilled God’s complete relational purpose for the canonical inclusion of Paul’s corpus.
For the relational purpose of building God’s whole family on God’s terms, Titus needed only a shorthand summary from Paul.
1:1-4—Other than Rom, none of Paul’s other letters identified him in the expanded context of the whole of God’s thematic relational response of grace for relationship together. The theological content (“God’s elect,” “the truth,” “eternal life,” “before the ages began,” “in due time revealed his word”) should not distract us from the relational process of God’s action. Nor should this theological content be assumed without the relational significance of God’s vulnerable involvement. God’s relational process of vulnerable involvement is the only functional basis to know God specifically as experiential truth (“the epignosis of the truth”), the relational outcome of which necessitates the reciprocal response of trust (“the faith we share”) for whole relationship together (“grace and peace”). This is the relational function of God’s family, the church, which Paul makes further operational for Titus to engage the churches in Crete for their ecclesiology to be whole.
Evidently, Titus—whom Paul would not allow to be circumcised (Gal 2:1-3)—faced opposition in Crete from “those of the circumcision” (1:10), which signified the influence and conflict of reductionism (notably of the law) and its counter-relational work (v.11). He encourages Titus to clearly teach the distinction between reductionist function and wholeness and what they are saved to (2:1-14), thus for Titus to live whole and make whole among them (v.15).
Paul reiterates (a reminder to Titus from his other letters) the basis and ongoing base for Christian life and practice as only God’s relational response and involvement of grace (3:4-7). This was already the experiential truth for the Gentile Titus, and the experiential truth Paul wants Titus to make relationally functional for “those who have the relational response of trust in God” (v.8), in order that the church family “learns to devote themselves in the necessary relational work so that they may not be relationally uninvolved, disconnected” (v.14). This is the vulnerable involvement of family love in whole relationship together that signifies reciprocal relational involvement to God’s relational response of grace (v.15).
Thus, Paul reminds Titus what is expected of him and for what he is accountable as a church leader. This letter then can be seen for the edifying purpose for all church leaders to engage their relational responsibility for church ontology and function to be God’s whole family together, and only on God’s relational terms.
Timothy necessitates greater input/feedback from Paul in family love for his accountability as a church leader than was needed for Titus.
1:1-2—Timothy’s compilation of Paul’s communication to him appears to be expressed much more in Timothy’s wording than Paul’s—emphasizing authority over relationship and shifting subtly from gospel to doctrine, perhaps to help Timothy deal with the difficult situations he faced.
1:3-11—Paul distinguishes the teaching of “any different doctrine” and the speculations of human effort in “myths and endless genealogies” from the relational epistemic process “by faith.” He clarifies that the telos (purpose, objective, end) of God’s desires is not doctrinal purity but only God’s relational process of family love emerging out of (ek) a heart made whole (“pure”) qualitatively from inner out (“a good conscience,” not about mere ethics) signifying a genuine relational response of trust (“sincere faith”). Anything less and any substitutes reduce God’s whole and reshapes the gospel by human effort on human terms, which is the ontological simulation and epistemological illusion of reductionism being practiced by some in the church (1:6-7). Paul reminds Timothy that focusing on “the law is good” only “if one uses it legitimately” (v.8), that is, in its relational context without reductionism and thus not contrary to whole (hygiaino, healthy) teaching (not merely sound doctrine) constituted by the experiential truth of the whole gospel entrusted to Paul (v.11).
It is this tension and conflict which must be grasped in these three letters for them to clearly demonstrate being from Paul and of Paul. Only this extends Paul’s conjoint fight for the gospel of wholeness and against reductionism.
1:18-20—In family love, Paul gives Timothy definitive instruction, reinforcing Timothy’s call (4:14), to be rigorous in the qualitative relational context and process necessary to be whole and not in quantitative secondary matters which reduce the whole of God’s relational context and process as some in the church function.
2:—discussed previously in chapter 11, question 11.
3:—Paul previously indicated the presence of some church order (Phil 1:1), which is expanded now by Timothy’s current church context, and the function of church leaders remains for the church to be God’s relational whole on God’s relational terms. Paul anticipates the development of church order for Timothy and Titus in order for them to have his whole perspective of this relational order. God’s relational context and process of family clearly distinguish the church from an organization, institution or mere voluntary association (v.15). Therefore, given Paul’s whole phronema and qualitative phroneo, church leadership should be characterized not merely morally and ethically but also with more significance relationally. This signified who and what Jesus relationally embodied and how he functioned in the incarnation, the “mystery” (v.16) of whose relational context and process Paul made definitive for the church and its leaders to be whole in likeness.
4:—Paul concentrates Timothy’s focus on “godliness” (4:7-8), which is only a function of relationship together and not a function of an individual’s behavior and character; also, eusebeia is certainly not about asceticism (vv.3-5) or based on any human construction of religious practice (v.7, cf. 2 Tim 3:5). While eusebeia may involve virtues, Paul is not focused on individual virtues. Moreover, godliness is not about “sound doctrine” or doctrinal purity (v.16). These all shift the focus and involve reductionism of the relational function in qualitative involvement together necessary to be God’s whole family. Paul focuses Timothy only on this relational function, which was not about strengthening Timothy in self-discipline like an athlete despite being “of some value,” but for the primary function “valuable in every way” (v.8). Thus, Paul formulates a “relational paradigm of godliness” for Timothy’s wholeness in his ongoing life and practice: “Be involved (eimi) wholly in this primary relational practice (meletao) so that your progress, that is, wholeness, may be openly seen (phaneros, cf. phaneroo) to all” (v.15). It is Timothy’s experiential truth of this “teaching” in his whole person, not about doctrine, that Paul makes imperative for Timothy to “continue to live, dwell in” (epimeno) because this relational involvement is the functional key to “make whole (sozo) both yourself and your hearers” (v.16). Along with the Spirit (4:1), Paul makes operational for Timothy the experiential truth of the whole gospel in the ecclesiology of God’s whole, for which Timothy is wholly accountable as a church leader.
5:1-6:21—Anything less and any substitutes in relationship together are reductionism, which Paul continues to address in church life and practice. What counters and nullifies reductionism’s counter-relational work of distancing and fragmenting relationships are the transformed relationships together both equalized (5:21) and intimate which are necessary by its nature to be God’s whole family in the relational function of family love (5:1-2).
Thus Paul’s charge to Timothy (5:21; 6:11-16,20) was not to bear witness to Christian virtues but to wholly bear witness to his full identity of who he is and whose he is—in the experiential truth of whole relationship together as God’s family by family love, not by doctrine. This is the experiential truth and wholeness of the gospel which “has been entrusted to your care” (6:20) with nothing less and no substitutes. Therefore, Timothy necessarily by the nature of (dei, not obligation) his full identity had to make his whole person vulnerable and to step out in family love in order for his relational involvement to be compatible, congruent and thus definitive in function. Any shyness, timidity, backing away or wishy-washy action on his part signified his engagement in reductionism.
Timothy’s susceptibility, or even tendency, to be influenced by reduced ontology and function was further addressed by Paul with supportive family love in a more affectionate second letter.
1:1-2—Either Paul included “mercy” or perhaps Timothy added this (in both letters, 1 Tim 1:2) to the significance of Paul’s usual greeting (“grace and peace”) because Timothy personally has been experiencing much eleos (mercy, compassion) due to his shortcomings. Also, the affectionate tone of this letter over the more business-like first letter is quickly set by Paul’s address of Timothy as “my dear son.”
1:3-18—Unlike 1 Tim, Paul includes a reflective section about Timothy, which is characteristic of Paul’s undisputed letters about his addressees. His reflection is relational (“I remember you constantly,” v.3) and intimate (“recalling your tears, I long to see you,” v.4). At the same time, Paul gets down to the heart of Timothy, a heart that has been somewhat restrained and not vulnerably in its full involvement, thus reduced: “I remind you…for God did not give us…but rather a qualitative resource from inner out (dynamis) of love to be relationally involved and of the right mindset” (sophronismos from sophroneo, vv.6-7) so that Timothy would not be reduced to counter-relational work.
The relational consequence of Timothy’s functional posture in reductionism may not be apparent because it may be obscured by the appearance “of your sincere faith” (v.5). Yet Paul makes clear its relational repercussions with the penetrating phrase “do not be ashamed” (v.8). Timothy likely was not knowingly or intentionally ashamed but his reductionist function of avoiding vulnerability involves keeping relational distance, which has the essential relational consequence of being “ashamed of our Lord or of me.” In relational contrast, Paul affirms his relational function, “I am not ashamed…whom I have put my trust” (v.12), and testifies of Onesiphorus who “was not ashamed of me even in my chain” (v.16).
Any relational distance, whether from implied shame or not, involves a relational dynamic of not being vulnerable in one’s whole person with other persons or what identifies them, thus resulting even in a disassociation with one’s own person and identity. In other words, Paul implies that by Timothy’s action (or lack of) he diminishes his person and identity, the gospel and also minimalizes God and God’s relational response of grace merely to what Jesus saved from without the full soteriology of what Jesus saved to. This is a subtle process for those engaged in ministry, notably as church leaders, yet who avoid making themselves vulnerable to action, relationships, situations, etc., which may have consequences for their self-image/worth/concerns/interests or self-autonomy/determination/justification.
‘Who one is’ and ‘whose one is’ are a function of only relational involvement together in the relational context and process embodied by Christ and deepened in reciprocal relationship by the Spirit (vv.13-14).
2:1-13—“Therefore,” Paul says affectionately in family love, “you, my child, be strong in the relational response of grace that is in Christ Jesus.” In contrast to timidity, the common perception would be of Timothy needing to take on a strong personality, demonstrating strength and not weakness. Paul is directing him deeper into his whole person. While there may not be a necessary difference between the compound endynamoo (to make strong or vigorous) and its simpler root dynamo (from dynamis, 1:7), Paul is going deeper with endynamoo to address Timothy’s person from inner out. He is not trying to change Timothy’s outward personality but pointing to the experiential truth of Timothy’s whole identity, which is made definitive by the relational response of grace embodied by Jesus. That is, Timothy’s whole person from inner out needs to be determined, and thus made vigorous, by his vulnerable relational involvement of trust with the vulnerable relational involvement of grace embodied by Jesus. Only the experiential truth (not doctrinal) of this relational involvement together can have the unmistakable relational outcome both necessary and sufficient for Timothy’s whole person and identity to relationally function wholly in the relationships necessary to constitute God’s new creation family.
For this reason, therefore, Paul makes this a relational imperative for Timothy, and all church leaders (v.2). What Paul makes definitive, however, is not a system (hypotyposis) of static doctrine (1:13), nor a rigorous paradigm for ministry (2:3-6). Moreover, Paul is not suggesting merely optional teaching shaped by an individual’s terms. This relational imperative is irreducible and nonnegotiable because it signifies the only relational response compatible to God’s relational response of grace for vulnerable reciprocal relationship together. Since this relational imperative involves the whole person, Paul understands well that it cannot be engaged by reductionism from outer in—just vulnerably from inner out. Thus, it cannot be legislated, self-generated out of obligation or a mere expression of duty from one’s role. So Paul conjoins this relational imperative with another: “Think over (noeo, meditate on) what I communicate (both content and relational messages) for the Lord will give you synesis in all things” (v.7). This imperative is not about turning inward in some self-reasoning process because the noetic process highlighted is the relational epistemic process engaged with God—Paul assumes Timothy’s reciprocal involvement with the Spirit (1:14)—who will help us grasp all this by interrelating these aspects together for integration into its whole (synesis). This whole is entirely God’s whole, the whole of the gospel that Jesus relationally embodied for our experiential truth (2:8-13), without which there is no coherence in theology and peace in practice.
2:14-26—Paul knows that as Timothy’s experiential truth of God’s relational response of grace is deeply rooted in relationship together with his vulnerable reciprocal involvement, that Timothy’s relational function in the whole of the gospel will emerge also—free from reductionism. So he encourages Timothy to “be diligent to present your whole person vulnerably to God in his grace as one affirmed by him, who does his relational work unashamed, thus who wholly handles (orthotomeo) the word of experiential truth entirely for relationship together, not as static doctrinal truth reduced of its relational significance” (v.15). Yet, Paul also knows well that unless Timothy relationally functions whole in his person (vv.21-22), that he will be unable to wholly address the influence of reductionism surrounding him (vv.16-20) and also will be inadequate to necessarily deal with reductionism’s counter-relational work (vv.14,23-26). This points to the integrating them of Paul’s fight for the whole of the gospel and his concern in family love for ecclesiology to be whole.
3:1-9—Reductionism not only persists but will get worse in the church, both in ontological simulation (“holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power,” v.5) and epistemological illusion (“always being instructed and can never arrive at a knowledge of truth,” v.7).
3:10-17—Thus, Paul makes another relational imperative for Timothy to “dwell (meno) relationally in what you have learned…” (vv.14-17), that is, to ongoingly engage the relational epistemic process and be relationally involved with God’s communicative action (“the holy Scriptures…breathed out by God,” theopneustos, vv.15-16). It is this ongoing relational involvement with the communicative words from God—not the mere rational study of quantitative discourse on doctrine—which will have the relational outcome “so that persons relationally belonging to God may be whole (artios, complete), having been made functionally complete (exartizo, cf. katartizo, Eph 4:12) for every relational work necessary to be whole, live whole and make whole” (v.17).
4:1-5—It is with this qualitative phroneo within the whole phronema of the whole of God’s relational context of family and relational process of family love in the eschatological big picture that Paul completes his charge to Timothy and all church leaders: “relationally communicate the embodied Word for relationship together, not a disembodied Word for mere doctrine; be relationally involved (ephistemi, to come near, stand beside), whether opportune (eukairos) or not (akairos), whatever the situation or circumstance, in order to make God’s whole in family love (“expose, rebuke, encourage”) with the utmost patience in relationally embodied teaching…; keep your perspective (nepho) with the qualitative phroneo and whole phronema in all matters, even during hardship, and engage the necessary relational work of a person functioning not from outer in merely in a role of church leader but rather from inner out involving your whole person, who therefore fulfills your ministry in wholeness” (plerophoreo, cf. v.17).
4:6-22—Paul’s closing notes are an interaction of this relational process with reductionist situations/circumstances, with God’s whole of reciprocal relationship together ongoingly prevailing (vv.8,18)—the experiential truth and whole of the gospel, nothing less and no substitutes.
This completes Paul’s album of family love for ecclesiology to be whole, the whole ontology of God’s new creation family in whole function on God’s relational terms—which Paul holds church leaders accountable for and challenges their theological assumptions of anything less and any substitutes.
©2010 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.