English has a significant grammatical problem, one that creates confusion and misunderstanding, especially as we read our English language Bible translations. In English, both the second person singular – YOU, and the second person plural – YOU are the exact same word. So if I said, “You should come to my party on Friday.” I could be referring to one person or to many people. Interestingly, English once did make that distinction using THOU for singular and YE for plural. But we stopped using those forms several hundred years ago leaving us with the mess we are in today. Now being resourceful people, English speakers have overcome this problem by creating new, informal plural forms like, Y’all, You all, All y’all, You guys, Youse, Yous, Youse guys, you-uns and perhaps more. So a more likely version of my previous statement would be, “You guys should come to my party on Friday,” meaning a lot of people.
So as interesting as this short grammar lesson is, what does it have to do with us or with church or with anything at all that we should care about. Here’s the problem. The very smart scholars who translate the Scriptures from Greek and Hebrew (which do distinguish between singular and plural) into English, use the same word YOU for both singular and plural because that is the proper English usage. It is not, however, the most helpful to us readers. We never know if Jesus or Paul or Moses is addressing one person or many people when we read YOU. We Americans, being very individualistic, tend to read the references to YOU as singular. The Lord is speaking to me – not us! The promises Jesus made are to me – not the church. Ok, maybe it’s for the Church too, but mostly it’s for me. This changes the way we think and act about our church experience and our Christian walk. For example, take these well-known verses:
To them [the Gentiles] God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you [All Y’all], the hope of glory.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you [Youse guys] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ
Put on the whole armor of God, that you [You guys] may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
In all three cases, Paul is referring to the whole church, the entire group of believers gathered together; He is talking to the second person plurals. So Paul is not just talking to me – that is the way I always read it – He is talking to us, all of us. The promises and encouragement is for all of us gathered together. As I start thinking about church as an “us,” I set aside my frustrations or needs or demands or pettiness. I start thinking about whether we reflect the “hope of glory” and what I can do to help make that happen. Instead of just making sure I have my own armor on, I try to make sure that the person sitting next to me also has their armor on and is able to use it. Together we stand against the devil. If church is not about me, but about us, then how can I make sure that we are growing up into Christ together? That changes my perspective.
Sure there is an individual component to all of this – a personal relationship with Christ. I don’t discount or minimize that, but as I go into my own prayer closet, I do so as a member of us, of the Church. My goal is to align my life with God’s plans and priorities and He has clearly told us what those plans and priorities are:
In him you [You all] also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
As you [You all] come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
I want to be part of the dwelling place for God – of that spiritual house – and to do so I will need to join together with all the second person plurals around me.