Bends in the Road, the Bent of Life

“Trim 10 pounds for Christmas by walking” suggests a headline from a ladies’ journal in my mailbox.  The Mayo Clinic advises walking for healthier lives.[1] Physical therapists tell us continual motion over years sustains long life.[2] There are websites for walkers where one can go to find any information necessary to begin or get better at walking.[3] And I personally cannot wait to read Geoff Nicholson’s, The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, and Literature of Pedestrianism.[4]

For my part, I have been walking for years.  At present, my feet pound 25 miles of pavement each week.  Folks chat with me as I read and walk my daily course, surprised that anyone can do both at the same time.  Even the rabbits watch with interest—from a distance.  While I know aerobic exercise has multiple benefits for my body, there is a constant struggle of commitment: sometimes just getting out the door is a victory!  In addition, devotion must be followed by repetition.  Logging those miles necessitates a steady, step-by-step gait.

Consistency marked the Hebrews’ use of the word for walking.[5] The idea behind treading the roads of one’s time on earth was the metaphor of conduct, “the whole bent of the life.”[6] The first two times Scripture uses the word, focus is on how humans lost their proper walk.  The walkway to the garden was blocked and their walking ways caused the flood.[7] Thereafter, Abram’s line walked in a different direction, marching to a different Drummer.[8] From this point on in Scripture and Church history, when one walks, the pace of life is to be wholly dedicated to the Lord.[9]

The theme of walking is linked closely with wholeness.  The imagery comes from shepherding: “If you want to become whole . . . you must walk before me; you must place yourself under my exclusive supervision, guidance, and protection.”[10] The “whole round of the activities of the individual life” is referenced continuously in the New Testament letters, especially those of Paul and John.[11] Walk, used as a code of conduct, was unique in the language of the day making the Christian walk one of a kind.[12]

So when Paul compares a Christian’s past life with their current lifestyle, the apostle says these are ways we “formerly” walked, we are “no longer” to walk this way.[13] Our habits change.  Our life is to be different from unbelievers.  How?  We are to walk in The Spirit.  A short list includes being honest, truthful, loving, wise, orderly, obedient, doing good works.[14] Why?  We are to walk “worthy of” or “pleasing to” God.  The word indicates that our actions are not simply outward displays of the Christmas carol, “Just be good, for goodness sake.”  Ours are not simple acts of service.  Our reasons for walking down a certain road are our inner motives, totally given to Jesus, without thought of ourselves.[15]

James Houston’s writing best describes the interiority of the Christian life.  I have read and reread passages of his book Joyful Exiles: Life in Christ on the Dangerous Edge of Things.  Houston explains how sin has so invaded our inner lives that, among other things, we believe being “good for goodness sake” is what it means to be Christ-like.  Quoting Augustine, Houston concludes, “Where I am most inwardly myself, there You are far more than I.”[16]

Before I walk in Christ according to Colossians 2:6, my inner being must bow to “this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27).  I am about to begin my exercise for the day—walking.  With each footfall, I will be contemplating yet again how my whole life can be unified for Christ, “being good for Jesus’ sake.”

Armed with a new pedometer, Mark Eckel keeps track of his miles; with his English Standard Version he keeps track of his destination.


[1] http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/walking/HQ01612

[2]http://www.redorbit.com/news/health/1334940/exercise_promotes_longevity_and_mental_health/index.html

[3] http://www.thewalkingsite.com/

[4] Read The Washington Post review at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/159448998X

[5] See Mark 7:5; Acts 21:21; Hebrews 13:9.  A deep sadness grips me when I see modern Bible translations lose the impact of the words in the original language.  Walk gives us a picture; live (the common translation) is just the idea.  The English Standard Version captures both the intention and direction in its word-for-word rendition.  The best thought-for-thought translation of the text remains Eugene Peterson’s The Message.  Read, for example, how walk is rendered in Ephesians 4:1.

[6] Leon Morris. 1959. The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, NICNT. (Eerdmans): 118.

[7] See Genesis 3:24; 6:12.

[8] God tells Abram in Genesis 12:1 to walk (often, unfortunately, translated “go”) to a new land so that Abram might walk before God (Genesis 17:1).

[9] One of the earliest Christian books was entitled Didache or “teaching.”  The metaphor of choosing between two “ways” or walking down two “roads” is a constant recurrence in the text.

[10] Benno Jacob quoted by Allen P. Ross in his inestimable commentary on Genesis Creation and Blessing. (Baker, 1988): 331.

[11] Vine, W. E. 1984. The Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Reprint (Bethany): 1207.  Beginning in Galatians 5:16, the full list follows: Ephesians 2:2, 10; 4:1, 17; 5:2, 8, 15; Philippians 3:17, 18; Colossians 1:10; 2:6; 3:7; 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 4:1, 12; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 11; 1 John 1:6, 7; 2:6, 11; 2 John 4, 6; 3 John 3, 4.

[12] G. Kittel. 1977. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Reprint (Eerdmans): V. 944.

[13] Just from the book of Ephesians we have this list: 2:2, 10, 11, 13; 4:1, 17, 22; 5:2, 8, 15.

[14] Galatians 5:16; Romans 13:13; 2 John 4; Ephesians 5:2; Colossians 4:5; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 John 6; Ephesians 2:10.  Notice our habits are not described as an external list of “do’s and don’ts” but rather those matters which proceed out of one’s inner life.  This includes the “good works” of Ephesians 2:10 which are totally of God, by God, and through God in the context.

[15] Philippians 1:27; Colossians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; and 3 John 6 are just a few of the many references to walking as it pleases God.  The Greeks emphasized service in the interests of others for the political commonwealth.  [Moulton and Milligan. 1976. The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament. Reprint. (Eerdmans): 75.] That type of service was as common then as it is now.  But the New Testament emphasis is on the intentions of one’s will, seen through our emotions and decisions.

[16] Run, do not walk, to buy this book from InterVarsity Press (2006).  I continue to ingest pages 31-50.

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