Keeping to my promise of sharing one letter a month, we are now at the second "I" in my VISION for the Antrim Church of Christ. Yes, I do realize that technically I've broken that promise, but I don't think you can blame me for the unseasonably-early pre-Halloween snow that cancelled church last week. Maybe God wanted this talk to wait until today, especially since He has taken most of the snow back while I was away near Dallas. 🙂
In review of the previous letters in VISION:
- V — Values — My vision for the Antrim Church of Christ is that we will only get our values from the Bible and that we will value heavenly things more than earthly ones.
- I — Integrity — My vision for the Antrim Church of Christ is that we will always have integrity.
- S — Seriousness — My vision for the Antrim Church of Christ is that we will take our calling seriously.
Do you remember what the second I was for?
That's right, intimacy.
- I — Intimacy — My vision for the Antrim Church of Christ is that we will have greater intimacy.
What is intimacy?
But what exactly is intimacy? When I first started thinking of a title for this sermon, I thought of calling it, "You said what?!" (Instead it is "After We Had Torn Ourselves Away From Them…," a quote from Scripture.)
"You said wait?!" because if I were to walk up to any woman here at church other than my wife and tell her I would like to get intimate with her, I suspect the most appropriate response might be a slap across my face. 🙂
And if I did the same with one of the guys…I can't say I'd blame them for punching me. 🙂
But in my VISION I've specifically said I hope we will all have greater intimacy…which means I've literally told you all I hope to get intimate with you.
Please do not all rush up here to either slap or punch me! 🙂
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
The definition of intimacy
Obviously when I say, "My vision for the Antrim Church of Christ is that we will have greater intimacy" it has no sexual connotations…but what does it mean? The word intimate itself occurs only twice in the English Standard Version, and does not seem to be a whole bunch more prolific in other versions unless it is used, for instance, in places like "Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain" (which the Holman Christian Standard Bible renders, "Adam was intimate with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain" (Genesis 4:1a)
And I've already made it clear that I don't want to know any of you like Adam knew Eve. 🙂
However, the two locations that the English Standard Version uses the word intimacy are actually quite helpful for our discussion…so let's look at them.
The first one we'll read is Proverbs 7:4-5:
4 Say to wisdom, "You are my sister,"
and call insight your intimate friend,
5 to keep you from the forbidden woman,
from the adulteress with her smooth words.
In order to make the point about how important wise insight is, Solomon says we should call it our "intimate friend." I think we all understand what that means…wisdom should be more than just something we pay attention to every once-in-a-while…or that we just share pleasantries with when we run into them at Shaw's while grabbing groceries. Instead it should be like a friend who we've spent so much time with we know more about him or her then he or she may realize about themselves.
The use of the word helps define the word.
How about the second time we find the word "intimate" in the English Standard Versions? That one is in Job 19:13-19…
Here Job is complaining about what has befallen him…and I suspect we all would be in a pretty miserable and depressed mood if what happened to him happened to us:
13 "He has put my brothers far from me,
and those who knew me are wholly estranged from me.
14 My relatives have failed me,
my close friends have forgotten me.
15 The guests in my house and my maidservants count me as a stranger;
I have become a foreigner in their eyes.
16 I call to my servant, but he gives me no answer;
I must plead with him with my mouth for mercy.
17 My breath is strange to my wife,
and I am a stench to the children of my own mother.
18 Even young children despise me;
when I rise they talk against me.
19 All my intimate friends abhor me,
and those whom I loved have turned against me (Job 19:13-19).
He's not speaking of people he just knows, acquaintances, or fair-weather friends—he's talking about those he was very, very close to.
And there anything more painful than having an intimate friend abhor you?
Again, the use of the word helps define the word.
(As a quick aside…just a bit later in the same chapter our depressed patriarch shows his true faith by uttering those syllables that have given hope to the saints through the centuries:
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth (Job 19:25).
He knew…we know…our Redeemer lives!)
Tearing ourselves away
Now, the words that finally got me past writer's block with this talk on intimacy weren't actually in the Bible, although they did point me to a Scripture I'd saved to become the subject of a sermon or a bulletin article.
In the November/December, 1989 issue of Discipleship Journal, Paul Thigpen wrote a piece called "Closer Than a Brother: Those Who Take Risks Necessary for Intimate Friendship Gain a Treasure that Will Transform Their Lives." It starts off with a very poignant story:
The petals of the roses I'd gathered for my daughter only a day before lay scattered around the vase that still held their naked stems. Lydia, my six-year-old, was pointing to them and weeping uncontrollably.
I knew that the news of our impending move to another city had left her emotionally fragile, so I took Lydia in my arms and offered words of comfort: "Sweetheart, that's just how roses are. We get to enjoy them a day or two, and then the petals fall."
But Lydia blurted out a protest through the sobs: "The petals didn't falloff. I tore them off!"
Taken aback, I gently asked her why. "Because," she wailed, "I pretended those roses were my heart, and my heart is torn all to pieces because I'm leaving my friends."
Then two of us wept in one another's arms. In perfect concrete poetry, Lydia had described the condition of both our hearts. Over several years we had each cultivated a pair of intimate friendships. To have such friends torn from us was truly to have our hearts torn apart from the inside out, and to realize the value of the relationships that had grown.
Now, how is that for a definition? Intimacy means that losing the person you are intimate with tears your heart to pieces, like petals of a rose that belong together in a beautiful flower but instead are torn off by circumstances…whether it be a new job 1,000 miles away or death or our own stupidity.
(And I suspect we've all damaged intimate relationship with out stupidity…it's part of the disease we've all be afflicted with since we first listened to the serpent in the Garden.)
After thinking a bit about Thigpen's words, I remembered I had made a note in Yojimbo (a Mac program that can keep all kinds of different info) about a quote I had read in Acts that jumped out at me. It wasn't actually in the English Standard Version…instead I'd run into it while reading my small Today's New International Version while traveling. Paul had just said goodbye to the Ephesian elders, something that was especially painful for everyone involved:
When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship (Acts 20:36-38, TNIV).
Have you every had that kind of experience? My guess is that their hearts were just like six year old Lydia's. But, as the next sentence reveals, the distress wasn't just on the Ephesian elders' side:
After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Kos (Acts 21:1a, TNIV).
"After we had torn ourselves away."
Like petals torn from a rose…
Now, some could say that the TNIV is just being melodramatic, but it and its sister translation, the New International Version aren't alone in using a form of tear. The Holman Christian Standard Bible similarly says:
"After we tore ourselves away from them and set sail, we came by a direct route to Cos, the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara" (Acts 21:1, HCSB).
Later in his article, Thigpen does quite a bit to define intimacy in writing:
What exactly do we mean when we speak of an "intimate" friendship? "There is a friend," says the book of Proverbs, "who sticks closer than a brother" (18:24, emphasis added)—a friend who, we might say, even goes beyond "close" all the way to "inside." The Latin root of our word intimacy is actually the superlative of intus, "within." So the friend who is intimate is literally the one who is "most within" us, the one we have taken into the deepest chamber of our heart, into the most inward, private, and vulnerable place we have.
"Most within"…"one we have taken into the deepest chamber of our heart"…
Which brings me to another quote my research for this sermon led me to…this time from The Message paraphrase.
You in me and I in you
Eugene Peterson chose an interesting place to use the word intimate…if you turn your Bibles to 1 John 4:15-16 you'll almost definitely find a different word there. Peterson, however, paraphrases it like this:
Everyone who confesses that Jesus is God's Son participates continuously in an intimate relationship with God. We know it so well, we've embraced it heart and soul, this love that comes from God.
My guess is that your version comes a lot closer to what you find in the pages of the English Standard Version:
15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
And the intersection of The Message's paraphrase and the English Standard Version's translation…along with Thigpin's insights…might give us the best understanding of intimacy in a Christian context there is.
The greater intimacy I want for our humble little church is I in you and you in me and all of us in Christ and Christ in us. Not surprisingly, that's what Jesus specifically prays that we'll will have in John 17:20-21:
20 "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 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.
Sure, it doesn't say you in me and me in you…but isn't that what "all [being] one" is? Jesus want you in me and I in you and all of us in the Father and the Son (and the Holy Spirit) and them in us.
And oddly enough, this is where suddenly the two kinds of intimacy intersect. This whole "one" stuff brings these words from Jesus into scope:
4 He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate" (Matthew 19:4-6).
Do you think I am pushing it too far? That the connection between John 17:20-21 and Matthew 19:4-6 is tenuous at best?
Well, you've probably heard that the church is referred to as the "Bride of Christ." Actually, Scripture never says that, but the perception comes from a very interesting passage, where Paul uses Christ's relationship with the church to teach us thick men how we should treat our wives:
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:25-32).
Is my connection still as tenuous? Or have you, like me, been a bit amazed how these different pieces of Scripture connect in surprising and wonderful ways?
Paul specifically says that "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh…refers to Christ and the church."
- We are supposed to be one with each other.
- Christ is one with us.
- Christ is in the Father.
- The Father is in Christ.
- We are in them.
- They are in us.
It can all sound pretty confusing, can't it?
But there is one thing that is very clear.
The intimacy we are supposed to have is far more than a hug or a handshake on Sundays and maybe Wednesday nights.
You in me and I in you and all of us in Christ and Christ in us.
That is the kind of intimacy that my vision wants more of.
One that tears at our hearts when we lose one of our fellowship. When they hurt we hurt. When they celebrate we celebrate.
Maybe then the world will believe the Father sent Jesus and we will prove that we honestly believe our Redeemer lives!