As the Israelites wandered the desert, God formed them. He led them through the wilderness, being their physical a spiritual sustenance. Life brimmed in this community. Not without dummy spits or brain snaps (like whining and a golden calf), but God was forming His people; a chosen people, blessed to be a blessing and a light to all nations.
A wilderness is a time of searching and dryness, but it’s also a context for preparation and nourishment. Potentially.
In all that God was doing, these nomadic people were being formed in freedom. Guided by God-given laws for their benefit, and sustained by the joy of God’s tangible, miraculous and daily provision and presence.
Some practicalities were necessary within this community. We know some of them through ripping books like Leviticus, which gives helpful regulations for defiling skin diseases like ‘living alone and outside the camp for a time’ (Leviticus 13). The same was likely for excrement and all kinds of fun stuff. The periphery of the camp was no place to live; life happened at the centre, so the quicker the forays to the outer, the better.
These practicalities seemed to make sense while having a conversation about doctrinal positions and the arguments and puffing up that accompany them.
That we should work out our salvation with fear and trembling is unquestioned. Nor is it that God, through Jesus, by His grace, through the gift of faith, does the saving. But it is the ‘winds of doctrine’ that can blow us to the periphery of the camp and can spread yeast through a community. They potentially bring blinding amnesia to our foundation and cornerstone, Christ.
Excuse the language, but the reality of making camp at the periphery is that you’re going to end up with crap all over you. On your feet, and everywhere else – if it’s where you live. Worse, or equally bad, you’ll smell offensive, too. You’ll barely need to utter a word; others sense you coming. It stains you and the community of which you’re part.
Frighteningly, like a strange pleasure in offensive odours, we can become familiar and comfortable with the pungency at the periphery. We may even become attracted to the stench like a dog might return to its vomit.
It may be important to visit the periphery from time to time to deal with stuff that keeps us from the centre, but to camp there can quickly become toxic. All smell breaks loose.
A pretty picture? No.
A whole picture? Hardly.
A divided, divisive, and toxic picture? Yup.
As a nomadic people, following Jesus in common unity as He leads us, we called to be and declared ‘the aroma of Christ’.
“We are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and to those who are perishing.” (2 Corinthians 2:15)
Yes, we are – when we follow with our eyes fixed on the cornerstone and foundation of faith, Jesus Christ.
Our unity is in Him. Our encouragement, in Him. Our new life, in Him. Our hope, in Him. Our justification, in Him. Not at the edges, where nits are picked, but in Him.
“You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in the bonds of trust, constantly tuned into the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted”
Is it inappropriate to reason together? Not at all. It’s potentially profitable, encouraging and essential to our formation in Christ. But Christ is our goal. The finisher of faith. In Him, all things are held together. Yesterday, today and forever.
Don’t camp at the periphery; it’s stinky there. Come to Jesus in whom there is life and more life. Amen.