The Para-Myth of Love

Myth. The word inspires images of unicorns and dragons, gods and heroes. We define myth as antithetical to fact, stories that may have a point, but no basis in truth. This is a cultural definition, not an ancient one. At it’s core, the word, regardless of culture, refers to a story. In our culture, that story is always false. But for the ancients, these stories inspired people, and taught them important lessons.

Today, we don’t use the word that way. We think in terms of false stories that people believe, and, most often, to their detriment. False stories or beliefs on which people base their lives can be dangerous. Because of this danger, we avoid myths, or try to. So, you may be surprised that this word is used, in a compound form, several times in the Christian Scriptures. Here’s my favorite:

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.

Philippians 2:1-2 NASB

Did you spot it, the mythic reference? You may not, most people don’t. I missed it for years, and then one day I realized that the word I was drifting past contained the word, myth. The word in Greek is paramuthion, and can be found in the Strong’s Concordance at G3890. It’s made up of the Greek preposition “para”, referring to something alongside another. We get our word, parallel from it, two things laid alongside each other.

What is alongside here is a myth. And this myth comes from love, agape love. The context clearly implies that this “para-myth” of love is what is supposed to happen, so it can’t be a myth in the sense we think of myths. It’s not a false story, but a true story. And this story is what we’re supposed to gain from love. It’s a story to inspire and teach us. But what is it?

There are options for the content of this story. An obvious one is the content of Jesus’ life and ministry. From His life we learn what love truly is, how love is defined by our Creator. That is probably the best option for the content of this particular story. But I believe there are others as well.

Remember that Paul is about to use the life of Jesus, in a shortened form, to inspire the Philippians to regard each other in unified humility (Philippians 2:5-11). But I believe that part of unified humility is to follow in Jesus’ pattern in the stories we tell each other. Think about the sheer volume of reversals Jesus brings about in those He meets. A leper is touchable, an adulterous woman escapes judgement, the lame walk, the dead are raised, the hungry are fed, and fishermen become theologians. Life stories are retold, changed, becoming something completely different.

When was the last time, you sat with the downcast, the depressed, or the mourner, and told them a new story? We do it, actually, we do it a lot of the time. But more often than not, we do it clumsily. We want them to stop bringing us down with them, so, we give them some other way to look at their circumstances that will cheer them up so they can refocus on us. Or, at least they may stop depressing us.

Jesus told a different set of stories than we do. To Martha, the woman who lost her brother, Lazarus, Jesus says that He is the resurrection and the life, and that whoever believes in Him will never die, and those that die will live again. She is encouraged to go get her sister, Mary. To Mary, Jesus tells a different story. He simply weeps with her, then raises her brother to life. For Martha, it could be a story about Himself, but for Mary it had to be tears. For both, it included an act of power.

If we can come alongside each other, and tell different stories from the love of our Savior passing through us into them, then completely fill up joy by being like-minded, together-souled, and of the same love. It doesn’t begin with these para-myths of love. But it includes them. Let’s not forget them. Jesus tells a different love-story to His human creatures, one they can’t even imagine.

He’s given you one, and He has one for the others around you as well. So, pass along the love-story He has for someone else. Tell them the story Jesus has for them, but from beside them, holding their hands. Do not tell the story from above them, or from in front of them, behind them, or below them. Sit with them in their pain, sorrow, frustration, or despair. And tell them the love story Jesus has for their lives.

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Working Out…Salvation

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Philippians 2:12 NASB

Faith and works, works and faith, and what part do we play in our salvation? What is it we “bring to the table”? Is there a “table”, and is there an event, like a potluck, or something? Perhaps, in order to be clear, this would be a good time to define some terms.

First off, what is meant by “salvation”? The obvious implication is that there is a “danger” to be saved from. This danger is described in various places as “death”, “hell”, and “separation from God”. All these descriptions are metaphors, and, together, provide a picture of the problem solved by “salvation”.

Salvation, then, provides a solution to death, hell and separation from God. So, therefore, salvation raises the dead, escapes hell (or prevents one from entering in the first place), and connects to God. Which leads us to the question, “how can a person achieve any of those things through their own effort?”

Does it seem reasonable that a Person, who has created this impossibly complex universe, would be accessible to creatures within that universe on their own initiative? How could it be possible that anyone within the system could access someone outside the system, unless granted permission?

Salvation, as it has been described so far, has to originate from our Creator. Nothing else makes sense. Paul states this very clearly in Ephesians 2:8-9:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB

So, are we human creatures simply passive in this salvation by our Creator? That would also seem odd. Why create us with the capacity to even ask such a question if we were never intended to cooperate with our Creator? To continue Paul’s point to the Ephesian disciples, he explains:

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Ephesians 2:10 NASB

Our Creator created us to work. We are His workmanship created to work which becomes His purpose in creating us. So, how do these two concepts of our salvation and the work we were created to do fit together?

Look, again, at Philippians 2:12-13. Notice that “work” is used 3 times. Translations have a difficult time of differentiating here, but two different words are used. In verse 12, the Greek word is “katergazomai” (Strong’s G2716), which is to “work down along through”, or thoroughly, accordingly, typically meaning “to work up a sweat”.

In verse 13, a different word is used, “energeo” (Strong’s G1754) which refers to the “function” or “operation” rather than the “effort”. The usage in verse 13 is also interesting. The first use is a participle describing God, “the One working”, and the second is an infinitive “to work”. In Greek, this means that God is the “Operator” making it “operate”. Or, to put it another way, God is the One making the whole thing function.

So, yes, we are to work up a sweat in our salvation, but from within the condition of being saved (Ephesians 2:8-10). And what makes our effort effective is the Operator, our Creator and Savior.

Think of it this way, I can’t bench press 1,000 pounds. On the other hand, if there are three or four Olympic weight lifters on either side of the bar lifting with me, then I probably can. But who’s doing all the heavy lifting? In the same way, we attempt the impossible, to connect with our Creator, but He does the “heavy lifting” of connecting us to Himself.

That’s my view of our Master through my knothole this morning. What do you see of Him through yours?