Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Apostolic Rule

The holy apostle Paul writes, ‘Be united in following my rule of life. Take as your models everybody who is already doing this and study them as you used to study us’ (Philippians 3:17). The little manual which follows, entitled The Apostolic Rule, is the product of my first years as an adult Christian, when I was being grounded in the Word of God by reading it constantly every day. My bible was the Jerusalem Bible, first published in English in 1966, the work of the School of Biblical Studies in Jerusalem. I was drawn to this version because it was in modern English and charged with an energy that brought the words to life in a way that I had never experienced before. The use of the name Yahweh in the Old Testament made my contact with the Lord immediate and concrete and, strangely, unreligious. The way that the Old Testament apocryphal books are smoothly integrated into the Jerusalem Bible also appealed to me. Finally, the book of Psalms became my daily prayerbook, translated as they are with poetic rhythm and compelling imagery. Although I sometimes read The New English Bible, the Good News Bible, and The Living Bible, to gain further insight, the Jerusalem Bible continues to speak the Word of God to me with directness and clarity, and it is from this version that I collected the extracts that became The Apostolic Rule.

Speaking of the words of divine scripture, the Word of God declares in Psalm 19, that ‘more desirable than gold, even than the finest gold, His words are sweeter than honey, even than honey that drips from the comb. Thus Your servant is formed by them, observance brings great reward’ (Psalm 19:10-11). And further, in the prophet Isaiah, ‘I have not spoken in secret in some corner of a darkned land! I, the Lord, speak with directness! I express Myself with clarity!’ (Isaiah 45:19).

As I read the apostolic writings, the letters of Paul, of Peter, John, James the brother of the Lord, and Jude, it became clear to me that the rule of Christian life was contained in them. As I studied the epistles over and over, certain verses and passages began to stand out as powerful utterances and expressions of this rule. I copied them out in a little notebook and divided them into ‘chapters’ called by the name of the epistle where they were written, such as ‘The Roman Rule’ from the letter to the Romans. The verses found in Paul’s letters to individuals I grouped under the apostle’s name, as ‘The Pauline Rule,’ even though he also wrote letters to the churches. This is the plan I followed, harvesting powerful living words from every one of the epistles from Romans to Jude.

Now, please notice that I am not calling this manual ‘The Apostolic Rules’ in the plural, because it is not the following of rules that makes a Christian life. The ‘rule’ of Christian life referred to by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians is more like a ruler (or gauge, as we might call it today), a standard against which we compare our life, or perhaps a specific pattern on which we model our life. That seems to be what the apostle is trying to tell us.

The verses and passages that I collected in my notebook were therefore not normally expressed as ‘rules’ but rather in the form of (1) concrete commands, (2) definitions, (3) exhortations, and (4) reasons for behavior. The first four passages in ‘The Roman Rule’ are examples of exactly these forms.

Sometimes a verse is removed from its context because that part of the passage brings out the meaning better than does the whole. It should focus our attention on what is essential and suggest to us a plan of action. No comments clutter the text of the verses presented, because ‘the anointing He gave you teaches you everything’ (1 John 2:27).  It is important to remember that reading a manual like this one is never a substitute for studying the bible itself, in which we will always find the life-giving promises of the Word of God, who says, ‘If you make My word your home, you will indeed be My disciples’ (John 8:31). ‘And My Father will love you, and We shall come to you and make Our home with you’ (John 14:23).

Turning back to Psalm 19, we read, ‘The Law of Yahweh is perfect, new life for the soul; the decree of Yahweh is trustworthy, wisdom for the simple. The precepts of Yahweh are upright, joy for the heart; the commandment of Yahweh is clear, light for the eyes. The fear of Yahweh is pure, lasting for ever; the judgments of Yahweh are true, righteous every one, more desirable than gold, even than the finest gold; His words are sweeter than honey, even than honey that drips from the comb. Thus Your servant is formed by them, observance brings great reward. But who can detect his own failings? Wash out my hidden faults, and from pride preserve Your servant, never let it dominate me. So shall I be above reproach, free from grave sin. May the words of my mouth always find favor, and the whispering of my heart, in Your presence, Yahweh, my Rock, my Redeemer!’ (Psalm 19:7-14).

The Apostolic Rule — Passages pulled from all the epistles of the New Testament and organized by book, that reveal how simple and direct are the instructions that the apostles have left us about how to live the Christian life. Click HERE to download a PDF of the entire booklet (40 pages) which you can print out.

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