You know what I mean. That place in the biblical library which speaks to you more than any of the others. And so when you are in a difficult spot or you are facing an uncomfortable choice or you simply don’t know what to read next, you return to it.
For a lot of folks, the default spot is the Psalms. Poetry, majesty, and comfort all rolled into one. (If it’s comfort you’re looking for, though, I’d avoid Psalm 44, 88, or 137.)
For other folks, the default section is the Gospels. Teaching, miracles, intrigue, defeat, and resurrection make Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John an endless source of encouragement, wisdom, and inspiration.
And then for others, default lands them at James. The rubber of the Word there meets the road of life and the applications in those five chapters are limitless.
My default place is different than any of those, however.
It is instead a group of four Pauline letters, placed in the the New Testament in consecutive order, each capable of being read in a single sitting, and all addressing the intersection of the spiritual lives of individuals and congregations: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians.
Why is this section-within-a-section that place to which I return time and again for spiritual nourishment?
Perhaps it’s because as I pastor I appreciate Paul’s advice to these churches and their leadership. Or maybe it’s due to their length — as I mentioned above, you can reach each (ignoring the chapter divisions!) in less time than it takes to watch a re-run of Modern Family. Or it might even be because I resonate with the way each letter establishes a foundation of doctrinal accuracy before then moving to behavioral admonition. As if Paul says, time and again, “Because you BELIEVE that, now you are to BEHAVE like this.”
There’s truth in all those answers.
Yet I believe that GEPC means so much to me because each letter has to do with what people in theological circles call Christology — which literally means “study of Christ.” What we think, say, and believe about the nature of Jesus.
People with a relatively “low” Christology regard Jesus as example, teacher, faithful. A man who by virtue of his intimate connection with his father is the godliest man who ever lived.
Those with a high Christology believe that Jesus is not godly. He is God.
The source of my own Christology comes from a number of places throughout Scripture, but the GEPC bookshelf is perhaps the most prominent. Each short letter contains at least one moment of inspiration where Paul scales mountaintops that I didn’t know even existed in his descriptions of Jesus.
In Galattians, for example, it’s 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
In Ephesians, it’s 3:16-19: I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
In Philippians, it’s the utter simplicity of 1:21: For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. That one is going on my marker some day.
And in Colossians — which I think has more of these Christological peaks than any of the others — it’s 1:15-17: The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
So for my soul food, Christology & spirituality are inseparable. The higher the one, the stronger the other becomes.
What is your “default” bookcase within the bible that you return to time and again?
If you don’t have one, I encourage you to start browsing. And don’t forget to eat some popcorn along the way.