Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Ruler of the Relationship

What a contrast between the grim and dreary weather outside and the warm glow of fellowship inside our church this morning as Pastor Brad proclaimed a cheerful "Good morning!" and welcomed us to worship this day. In his customary manner he briefly highlighted his theme for today's message: re-thinking our relationships. He also reminded us that it was Christ the King Sunday in which we proclaim Jesus as Lord of our lives.

Announcements were many.
1. Tonight at 7:00 there is a Thanksgiving service at St. John's Lutheran Church.
2. Don't forget to bring your soup can offerings next week for Covenant World Relief.
3. December 10th there will be a special Christmas concert featuring Christina Deloach.
4. Friday at 6:00 all who wish to participate may come to the church to decorate it for Christmas.
5. The first bike for the Congo is almost paid for, with the goal being for two.
6. The school supplies for local schools were distributed and appreciated.

Darlene played the introit and ushered us into a worship time led by Brad, Ellie, Pearl and Mae.

Caryn Pederson was with us today to share about the work of Pioneer Ministries with which she is involved. Pioneer is a missions organization involved with planting churches in difficult places, including Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and Afghanistan among others. Caryn, who has been with Pioneers for ten years, is joining a "prayer tank" in Wales. Her enthusiasm was infectious as she said, "If we're not living recklessly for God, then what are we doing?"

The Scripture reading today was from John 18:33-37. After a time of prayer, including some praises, Brad shared the message which God had placed on his heart.

The Ruler of the Relationship

"Anytime we don't do what we feel led to do, things start to go downhill," he began. It was a great opening to a message which clearly came from a deep place in his heart. Our disobedience is not just bad for others, it is an act of self-betrayal.

Brad indicated straight up that he was hesitant to get into this passage of Scripture because of the somewhat hard truths it addresses. His straight talk, and compassionate approach gave a special power to the words he shared as he sought to convey what was behind the words Paul had written to the Colossian church nearly 2000 years ago.

From Colossians 3:12 to the end of the book Paul is writing about relationships. Today's passage, beginning in verse 18, calls us to radically re-think husband and wife relationships, parent-child relationships and employer-employee relations... and ultimately our relationships with each other in the family of God.

18Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
19Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
20Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
21Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
22Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.
Colossians 4
1Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

This passage flows directly out of the previous verse in which Paul states, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Paul is saying that in your relationships, whenever you sense you should do or say something that will honor Jesus, don't betray that feeling. Do it with a grateful heart, in honor of the one who has done everything for you.

Context is important when studying Scripture. In that culture, which Paul was writing into, women had no rights. Men could treat their women any way they wanted, and often did. He could abuse her, he could be unfaithful, he could hurt her in any way and she had no legal recourse.

Paul says, "Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands." A difficult request. But he follows it with another admonition to the husbands, to love their wives and not be harsh with them.

Brad immediately reminded us of the passage in Ephesians where Paul states we are all to submit to one another "out of reverence for Christ." This is to be the general attitude in every Christian home, in every family, in every group. Wives, husbands, kids... submit. In another place Paul wrote, "In Christ there is no male or female," and by this he indicates that submission does not cancel out our individuality.

Brad explained submission in this way. "If I submit a bid on a building project, I am saying in effect, 'Here are my service, I am offering them.'" In the same manner, when we submit to one another, we are extending this same service, offering our talents, our wisdom, our minds, gifts, our whole self into the relationship. The wife who submits to her husband is doing so in honor of the one who submitted everything for us, including His life.

Brad quickly asserted that this is not a blind submission. Paul writes, "as is fitting in the Lord." Wives don't have to submit to husbands who urge them to do immoral things. Nor do they have to submit to physical abuse, or let their children receive such abuse. Nor do they have to submit to husbands who assault or coerce or traumatize them. That's not fitting in the Lord. Women are "not called to submit to being a punching bag," he added.

The reciprocal command is for husbands to love their wives. It's a command with no qualifier.

The next section deals with parent-child relationships. Again, Paul was writing into a culture where children had no rights. Parents could even sell their kids into slavery if they wanted to. Yet Paul writes, "Obey your parents in everything." The Scriptures teach us to honor our parents. Jesus Himself obeyed his parents, even though they were sinful and fallible.

To parents, Paul gives clear instruction that their children have value. "Don't embitter your children." Parents can go wrong on both sides when raising children. They can be too controlling, uptight and thereby driving them away. Or they can be so lax with so much freedom that the children are insecure because they have no boundaries.

Brad shared details about how eagles teach their young ones to fly. They have no intention of keeping the baby eagle in the nest forever. One day they nudge the eaglet out of the nest onto their backs and fly high, high, high up into the sky, and then with a little flip drop the young eagle off their backs to give it a chance to learn how to use its wings. The parent drops down and catches the young one and flied up again to give another chance. Eventually the young eagle finds his wings.

So it is that parent let go, but do not abandon their young. We help them find their own wings. Parents provide protection and security, but also prepare their children for life in the real world at large.

Paul doesn't quit with family relationships but also addresses employee/employer relationships. Again, context is extremely important for grasping this passage. At the time slaves comprised one third to one half of the Roman empire. Why didn't Paul lambaste slavery? Why didn't Paul talk about the rights of slaves? Instead he said, "Slaves, obey your masters."

There is a radical principle here. Real change always begins in the heart. The Gospel is a message directed to heart change, internal change.

"I'm not in favor of Internet porn or drug use or abortion," Brad said, but his heart breaks over the emptiness that people are experiencing that leads to these things. "You can change laws, but if hearts don't change, what good is it? Real change begins with a changed heart."

Paul was sowing seeds that would ultimately overthrow slavery and abuse of women. Real change is internal, not structural.

So, Paul's message to slaves, and to employees today, is this: "It is the Lord Christ you are serving." We who are employed are to work as for the Lord. Your employer pays your salary, but it is the Lord whom you are working for.

In exchange, employers are commanded to do right by their employees. Pay fair wages. Encourage them. Treat them with respect.

From here Pastor Brad proceeded to draw attention to a few of the rich jewels that one can easily extract from reading between the lines in the final passages of this great letter to the Colossians. For example, in verse 10 Paul writes what appears to be a rather non-descript statement, "My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings..." Most people just pass over this, but who was Aristarchus? This was a man who had been loyal to Paul through much hardship, and stands as an example to us as the kind of friendship that hangs with us through great hardship. These are very special people. In Acts 19 Aristarchus stood with Paul in a situation that resulted in his being beaten to within an inch of his life. And in Acts 27 we find that Aristarchus was still there for Paul and endured a shipwreck with him. These kinds of friends are special. They don't bail when times get tough.

Proverbs 17 says, "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity."

Another brother-in-Christ mentioned by Paul here is Tychicus, a dear brother. Now here's a dear brother and what did he do? He delivered a letter. He was faithful, and Paul affirmed him with these words of encouragement.

Brad then shared how a friend of his, whose wedding he recently participated in, once shared words of encouragement with him. It was only a moment in time, 30 to 45 seconds, yet they were life giving words and invaluable.

Relationships, of all kinds, are important. That is why God calls us to a radical re-calibration of our relationships.

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