There’s an expression that we use in church (and outside, too) that typically refers to the manner in which we conduct ourselves in relationship with one another. The expression is “doing life”. It’s often said, “I’m ‘doing life’ with such and such”, or “we’re ‘doing life’ together”. It’s a helpfully broad expression that encompasses the various activities of life and relationship. It doesn’t refer to one particular behaviour; rather, it refers to the variety of activities, ebbs, and flows that are involved with a particular relationship. It’s this idea that I want to explore very briefly in the context of our relationship with God.
I’m pretty sure it’s a strange thing to have to a favourite Greek word, but I must confess, I have a few. One of them is the word peripateō. Peripateō was a common Greek term that simply meant “to walk”. As in, place one foot in front of another so as to move in a forward direction. But it also had a metaphorical sense, which was something like “doing life”, “to go about your everyday affairs”, “to travel through and engage with life as it happens around you”, “to live”. Now, I realise this sounds like a pretty boring word to have as a favourite, but there’s a good reason why I like it so much: it’s also Paul’s favourite way to describe the Christian life. Let me give you some examples (quoting directly from the NIV).
So I say, walk (peripateō) by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Gal 5:16)
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live (peripateō) a new life. (Rom 6:3–4)
Nevertheless, each person should live (peripateō) as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. (1 Cor 7:17)
For we live (peripateō) by faith, not by sight. (2 Cor 5:7)
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (peripateō). (Eph 2:10)
Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live (peripateō) as we do. (Phil 3:17)
I could cite plenty more examples, but I think you get the point. When Paul imagined the Christian life, he pictured it as “doing life” with God. It was walking every day with the Holy Spirit. It was walking in the new life made available through baptism. It was walking with God in whatever situation you found yourself. It was walking forward through life trusting that God has set out a path. It was walking the journey to which you were specifically called and gifted. Finally, it was finding others who had gone before you and watching how they walked the journey. In other words, the Christian life—at least as far Paul saw it—is not a clear cut “you must do this and not do that, or else”; rather, it’s staying near and walking with God in the everyday ebbs and flows of life. Being with Him as He is with you, then going where the relationship takes you. Now, of course, there are points where Paul is really clear about what is intolerable in the Christian life (e.g., 1 Cor 6:9–10)—the absolute no-no’s of Christianity. But his overall picture is a life lived in close relationship with the God who created us and has the very best outcomes for us in mind.
I think this is a particularly timely thought as we come into the new year and reflect on the year that has just passed. The clear lesson from 2020 was that we cannot take for granted anything we thought was “normal”. Life is going to throw strange things at us and put us into situations where we have absolutely no control. At the same time, 2020 also reminded us that the one certainty in life is God. And it is this God who invites us to peripateō with Him.
About the author: Rev. Dr. Adam White is the Head of Biblical Studies and Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Alphacrucis College. Adam's primary interests are Graeco-Roman history, ancient education and culture, and Pauline studies.