Dan Herford

Receive, juggle, pass

Vosotros, Y’all

Folks, as I read the Bible, I become increasingly convinced that the typical ‘me-and-God’ take on what it means to be a Christian is completely at odds with God’s purposes.  While God is concerned about every single person out there, his intentions have much more to do with y’all than with you.

This is a bit nuanced, but hang with me as we dig around a bit.

The consistent message of the New Testament is that God wants to make himself known through a corporate expression of humanity.  He cares about you, but he wants to demonstrate his grace to the world by how you connect with y’all.

You see this in Jesus’ prayer in John 17: 20-23.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

That’s God’s heart – that we may all be one, so that the world can see and believe.

You see it in the ways that the NT writers talk about the church – as a body, or a temple: a bunch of intimately connected parts that a make a glorious whole.

And, you see it in the grammar of the NT, particularly in the use of the second person plural pronoun.

Well, you might not have seen it, because English doesn’t have a good second person plural pronoun any more.  When the Greek says “y’all”, modern English translations say “you”, and when the Greek says “you”, modern English translations say “you”.  The KJV, for all you may or may not like about it, did do this right.  Those ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ are not fancy religious words, nor the ‘right way’ to talk to God.  They are just good translations of the Greek.  Ye and you are plural, thee and thou are singular

So, what does it matter?  Am I just being persnickety?

Let’s ponder a passage I’m just now studying through with a group of guys.  We recently read through Philippians 1:1-11.  Here it is in the ESV:

“To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers  and deacons:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace,  both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.  For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.  And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

I went to the Greek (which I frankly know very little about) and determined that all of the occurrences of “you” in this passage are in the plural (I am able to figure that much out).   Go back through, and every time you see you, substitute the group that is ‘all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Phillipi’.   How does it read?  Does it change how you understand the passage?

Let’s look specifically at one of the verses, Philippians 1:6.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Paul is sure that God, who began the good work in the Philippian church, will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  God’s desire is that he would be made manifest – visible and alive – to the watching world by how they relate to each other and how they interact with the world in which they live.  He started a work amongst a people and he is faithfully going to press on with them.  Does God care about the individual and work in the life of the individual?  Yes!  But that’s not the point of this verse.

It’s here that I have had pushback from some of those I’ve shared this thought with.  Plural-shmural, they say.  What Paul meant, they say, is ‘each of you in this group’.  Only, that’s not what he meant, or he would have used a different pronoun in the Greek – one that means ‘each, or every one of you’.

Again, this correction to our understanding doesn’t take away from God’s individual care for us – it’s still there throughout the Bible.  What it does is open our eyes to see God’s greater purpose.  As we see that you is the local collection of people who follow Christ we get a better sense of God’s desire.  He has established the church, not just a bunch of individual saved people.

And here some ask “Well am I just a lemming, then?  Just a cog in the machine?”  No!  You are individually valuable and known.   You are not a robot.  You have your will, and you make your choices, and actually those choices affect more than just you.  As you read you and understand the corporate context, you don’t tune out; you recognize your individual role and response.  It’s “OK, we therefore I…” versus “OK, I…”

Think of a sports team, or a company, or an orchestra, or (to bring it right into your home) a marriage.  In each of those contexts, there are individuals, but together they make something bigger than just the collection of individuals, and when we talk to them, we talk to that larger thing.

The coach says to the sports team “today, when you take the field, give it your all, communicate, remember the plays,” and this is received by individual athletes who understand their place in the context of the team.

The CEO says to the company “we need to think creatively to solve this problem,” and a bunch of individuals come together to collaborate and find solutions.

The conductor raises his baton and the orchestra begins the performance, each instrument playing as part of the whole, responding to the conductor and to the other instruments.

A friend says “I really appreciate your son.  You’re doing a great job with him!”, and the parents look at each other, knowing that neither of them had what it took, apart from the other.

Thou, individual person, are incredibly valuable, a treasure in the eyes of God and a treasure rightly celebrated by others.  But you, the interconnected people of God, are right at the center of God’s eternal purposes, and that’s a good place to be.

10 Comments

  1. You are right that we (as individual believers) are an interconnected people of God and are right at the center of God’s eternal purposes… and that IS a good place to be. You are also right that God wants to demonstrate His grace (and love) to the world by how you (individually) connect with y’all (collectively). It is not only how you (individually) connect with y’all (a body of believers/”the church’), or how y’all (collectively) connect with individuals, but also how y’all (collectively) connect with the world (a body of non-believers), and how you (individually) connect with the world. You are also right that it IS important to understand this. (In case your fellow bloggers haven’t figured it out, I am the “some of those” that you spoke of.)

    We (as individuals) have to ignore a whole lot of scripture to miss the intent of the epistles to “the church” (described in scripture {paraphrasing} as a body of individual believers). I like that you used a coach addressing a team as one of your analogies, but it’s really applicable to any team analogy you used. I’ll go with the sports analogy because I love sports, have been on many teams, and have also coached quite a few teams. You are right, the coach addresses a team of individual players as a group. But what is his intent in addressing them as a group? So he tells them, “When you take the field, give it your all, communicate, remember the plays.” So SOME of the team members heed the coach’s words; took the field, gave it their all, communicated, and remembered the plays, but not ALL of them did so. At the end of the game the coach the coach tells John Smith, “John, YOU heeded my words, gave all of yourself, and left everything out on the field. Well done!” However, the coach turns to Joe Blow and says, “Joe, what was the problem? YOU didn’t listen to a word I said. YOU ignored what I told you to do. You took the field, but YOU didn’t give it YOUR all, YOU didn’t communicate to the others, and YOU didn’t remember the plays.” So Joe replies, “But coach, what you said was addressed to the team, not to me individually!” And Joe finds himself with less to no responsibility and is benched or kicked off the team entirely. This is scriptural!

    The best commentary on bible IS the bible. If you want to go beyond the literal translation of the epistles and know the INTENT of the epistles, then read the epistles – as the intent is clearly expressed. Paul expressed all these things clearly in his own epistles, but we’ll skip all that and go directly to what Jesus had to say on the matter, for we see in Revelations Jesus himself addressing the various churches:

    “2 “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,
    ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: 2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. 6 But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”

    Clearly we read Jesus addressing a collective body of believers. The passage is full of “y’all” and y’alls”; we read that. Was every individual within that church doing the things Jesus praised them for collectively, or were they all doing the things wrong which Jesus judged them for collectively? No, but the majority were. But Jesus didn’t stop there. He continued on (as though He knew this would be a contention within the body) and expressed His INTENT with addressing the collective body of believers:

    “7 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”’

    We clearly see that Jesus’ INTENT is that the individual believer would heed His words and live his individual life in obedience to HIM. And we read this very thing in each of Jesus’ addresses to the seven churches, “HE who has an ear, let HIM hear what the Spirit says to the churches, and HE who overcomes shall…”

    So we see by Jesus’ own words, words to the church are not solely meant for “y’all”, but also for “you.” What a different world we would currently be living in if each one of us who believe and profess Christ would live according to His intent and purpose. Far to many rely on “y’all” to live out their faith for them and become an ineffective member of the team – after all, the Coach was addressing the team as a whole, and not the team member…

    Grace and peace to you, brother!

  2. Dan

    November 1, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Lynn, thanks for the interaction.

    We agree all the way up to your last paragraph, and there I think we have a different perception of what the issue is in the church.

    I think you (Lynn) see a bunch of people who are content to meld in and let the larger mass of Christians carry them along, so that they have little personal responsibility or activity.

    Yup, I agree – that is a big problem. But, I think they are seeing themselves just the way the church typically tells them to see themselves – as a individual with a relationship with God who needs to show up on Sunday and tithe and read their Bible and pray during the week.

    What I am calling for is not a lack of personal responsibility, but the huge jump in personal responsibility when you understand you are a critical part of the whole, and you have a critical role to play.

    Joe Blow thought he could just be an individual, doing what he wanted independent of the rest of the team. Joe didn’t recognize that when the coach gave instructions to the team, he needed to filter it through “we, therefore I” and do his part.

    We have a personal relationship with Christ, but God is calling us to live our lives as a part of the whole, active and responsible.

  3. Dan, Jennifer has been posting links to your blogs, and I’ve read them a bit. I don’t usually comment, but want you to know that people may be reading even if they don’t leave a comment. I like to read, then consider before being hasty to speak. I’m even becoming comfortable with being quiet even if I don’t agree with something that someone says or if I think someone doesn’t “see” things in the way I think is right.

    I read your blog, “Approved Ones in a Divided Church” prior to reading this post. Then I read this “Vosotros” post, Lynn’s comment, then your follow-up comment. In your follow-up comment, you point out that you have a slightly different perspective, and mention what you think about how she sees. I’m sorry, but I got quite a chuckle about your follow-up post, considering your recent “Divided Church” post. A bit ironic! 😉

    Nonetheless, it’s fun to see you step out and participate in the body of Christ by writing and using your gifts. Blessings to you and your family.

    • Dan

      November 1, 2014 at 4:18 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Renee!

      For clarity, Lynn is a guy I have known and interacted with for several years – a friend and someone who enjoys some back-and-forth in the pursuit of what’s true and good.

      There’s a good blog post I’ll have to ponder: How do we walk forward together in love when there are significant points of disagreement? One note about that: When I am interacting with someone who sees things differently, I try hard to understand what exactly it is that they think, and I really appreciate it when others try hard to understand what I think. Too often, discussion around differences follows the talk radio model – see how much noise each side can make while they attack a caricature of the other side.

      Thankfully, the interaction with Lynn is not a debate – it’s a process of gaining understanding so that we can most effectively work together in the building up of the local church.

      • I appreciate the comment when you write: “I try hard to understand what exactly it is that they think, and I really appreciate it when others try hard to understand what I think.” The desire/willingness to listen and understand is better than agreeing. Glad to spur on a new blog topic. 🙂

  4. Reading your thoughts has been good for me. I will not be making comments often but want you to know that I am one that appreciates reading what you write.
    Aunt Judy

  5. Dan: I made a similar discovery recently when reading the Lord’s Prayer and noticing that Jesus tells us to pray for “Us” not for “Me” – ie. “Give us this day our daily bread”, Forgive us our trespasses”, “Lead us not into temptation”, and “Our Father…” (not singular but plural – “ours”), etc.

    • Dan

      November 10, 2014 at 5:19 pm

      Keith, thanks for the feedback. I haven’t looked into Mt, Mk, Lk, Jn, or Acts yet to track that thought. The Lord’s prayer is a great starting point!

  6. Dan thanks for reminding me or us about our importance as ‘us’. Two thoughts to share. Pointing to john 17 v 21 which was referenced – ‘that they may be one in us.’ Clearly communicates that our spiritual union with Christ and the Father is together, corporately as a ‘they’ in the presence of God vitally connected to Christ and that when we connect corporately and individually in Christ, produces a spirit borne unity which makes Christ known to the world.

    Second thought – eph 2:10 that God has a call on individuals for particular works with particular people – and God also has a particular call on groups to do works which he ordains as peculiar manifestations of the gospel in the world. We are Gods handiwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. We and us keeps popping up. Keep up the writing! Cheers brother.

    • Dan

      December 28, 2014 at 6:35 pm

      The ‘us’ perspective jumps right out at you when you come to realize it’s there.

      Very interesting, the Eph 2 passage. There’s another passage that is typically read by the individual for the individual, but Paul is again using that corporate language. I’m spurred to press in on this and do some more study on the range of meaning with a passage like this.

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