I had one of those slap-upside-the-head Bible reading moments a couple of days ago. The ones where you’re reading words out of habit, and suddenly, blam-o! The Hound of Heaven ambushes you, and with no warning, you’re having a holy “have a good look in the mirror at high noon” moment.
I was reading Romans 16, which is mostly a list of personal greetings from Paul and team to the Church in Rome. There are some instructions and a beautiful benediction in the chapter, but the bulk of the language here is of the “Say hi to Jimmy and Tracy and Debbie for me.” Well, that’s how I’d always read the words, anyway. This was the part of the letter where I always felt like I was reading someone else’s mail. From an academic standpoint, I appreciated the fact that so many of Paul’s greetings here were directed to women who’d helped to shape the life of the infant congregation, but that was about as far as my connection with this passage ever went.
This time, however, I couldn’t zip past the things that Paul mentioned about each of his far-away friends:
- She’s a benefactor to many.
- The pair put their lives on the line other believers.
- He was the first convert in his area.
- She worked hard to benefit others.
- These fellow Jews were apostles who’d been imprisoned for the sake of the gospel; he and she each demonstrated outstanding character and perseverance.
- He’s my dear friend.
- He’s my co-worker in the Lord.
- He’s been faithful to Christ through fierce testing.
- He’s my fellow Jew – and brother in faith.
- There are entire households full of beloved believers.
- She’s a woman who really works hard in the Lord.
- He’s chosen in the Lord.
- She’s been like a mother to me.
Most of his letter is given to instruction, but in the end, these closing words move Paul from leader-teacher to friend. There is nothing in this list that reflects the brilliance and intensity we usually ascribe to Paul. There is, simply, deep affection and a palpable sense of longing for each person. He wrote here like a proud parent who pulls out a wallet packed with pictures of his kids and inflicts anecdotes about each one on uninterested bystanders. Paul was gobsmacked by the character and commitment of each of these individuals – and what he saw was important enough to become a part of the canon of Scripture.
My moment in the mirror here? My mind often goes toward the negative in others, or I focus on their appearance or performance. I cherish too little and carp too much.
Lord, forgive me. And help me truly, deeply see (and verbalize!) what is truly beautiful to you.