(Spend 5 minutes before you read thinking about one or two things you appreciate in your life)
Monday September 19
1 Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do.
Remember, Paul is writing this letter to Romans who have become Christian. In the Roman culture of the first century, men had absolute power. The oldest male ruled over the household. By the time a children reached the age of seven, they were considered capable of making rational decisions and taking responsibilities around the house. By then, if children angered the father, he had the legal right to disown the children, sell them into slavery, and even kill them.
We see here that Paul is directly speaking to these Roman children. The word “obey” means to listen closely and respond. In the Roman code of behavior, you obey your parents because you want to avoid severe punishment. But now that they are Christians, the children are invited to listen closely for a different reason. You obey your parents because that is what you do when you have a God who adores you and cares for you. Your relationship to your parents comes out of your relationship as a son or daughter of God.
2 “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: 3 If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.”
Children listen closely to your parents and honor them because first and foremost you are sons and daughters of a heavenly Father who is absolutely devoted to you.
God gives children parents to care for them and protect them. Parents are to have the same view of their children as God does. They are to adore and care for them because that’s what God wants them to do. So, when we have parents who are devoted to God’s ways we flourish.
But, parents can also harm their children if they are not following God’s model. Parents can rebel against God and not be protective. Parents can choose not to provide all that a child needs. and it is not just physical needs. A child’s emotional and spiritual health are expanded by parents who model themselves after God, as well.
What is the main attitude in popular culture that children are to have for their parents? How does this compare to what the Bible says here?
Tuesday September 20
4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.
Here, Paul is turning the Roman world upside down again. Instead of punishing an angry child, the ball falls into the father’s court. Yes, dad, children are to obey you, but it doesn’t end there. Parents are called to a mutual responsibility. Parents are to behave appropriately with their children, as well. Parents are not to treat them harshly so the children would become bitter and resentful.
This goes along with the “love your neighbor as yourself” command of Jesus that we considered last week. We saw how to love your neighbor as yourself begins with your closest neighbor. The closest neighbor you have if you are married is your spouse. Husbands and wives are to devote themselves to each other.
Then, if you have children, they become your primarily focus for devotion and flourishing. When Paul uses the phrase, “Bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord,” he is mainly speaking of parenting skills. Treat your children as Jesus would treat them if he were you. Here is how Jesus treats children.
“Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me.” (Matthew 18)
It can’t be any clearer. The way we treat our children is the way we treat Jesus. Our children are to flourish. When fathers and mothers care for their children the way Jesus cares for them, their lives are blessed. Now, to be a parent seems a bit overwhelming when you look at it from Jesus’ view. And it is.
Martin Luther went so far as to declare being a parent the highest calling there is. Serving God in this way is the peak of Christian devotion. Think about what our families would look like, what our communities would look like, what our nation would look like if parents would see children as their highest calling and raise them to flourish. Jesus is serious about this. Listen to what he says next.
“But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
Jesus is absolutely serious about the way we treat our children. Cherish them, provide for them, protect them, raise them to know how much Jesus loves them, and you will do well.
Treat children harshly, abuse them, ignore them, make them disposable- things will not go well for you. As a family, as a community, as a nation…
What are ways children are treated poorly in our society? How is this different than what God desires?
Wednesday September 21
5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. 6 Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart.
When someone wants to criticize Christianity, a popular target is to mention there are slaves in the Bible. OK, so what point are they trying to make? If you know anything about first century Rome you know slavery plays a central role in society. NT Wright explains.
“Paul could no more envisage a world without slavery than we can envisage a world without electricity. Most of what the modern world takes for granted – television, computers and a million lesser inventions – are impossible without electricity. And yet for most of human history it was unknown. In the same way, the way Paul’s world worked was through slaves taking a vital place in most households except the very poor. Treatment of slaves, and its legal regulation, varied enormously in the ancient world, from country to country and owner to owner. Many slaves were valued, respected and trusted family members – and many were used and abused in every way imaginable by careless and inhumane masters and mistresses. But they were simply part of the way the world worked.”
Slavery in Rome is not like the slavery we had in the United States. Slavery had nothing to do with race. Slaves came from all cultures in Rome.
You became a slave for one of these reasons. Either you were:
•captured after losing in a war against Rome
•sold as a slave by your parents
•a slave to pay off your debt
Slaves could be freed at any time. Slaves could earn money to buy their freedom or some masters would just free their slaves after a time.
Now, Christianity would eventually defeat slavery, beginning with these first Roman Christians. But, it is a slow process. It isn’t going to change overnight. So, in the meantime, Paul is speaking to the reality of his day and begins with the Romans who are slaves and have become Christian. The way they work reflects on their new faith.
Slaves are to work as if they are working for Jesus himself. This means doing a good day’s work, being honest, and working hard even when they aren’t being watched. This sounds like wisdom for any employee to have, regardless if Paul is addressing slaves here. In fact, slavery in Rome is closer to employment than it is to the slavery of our nation’s history. Paul is saying how you work reflects on how you are honoring Jesus through your work.
What does it mean for you to put in a good days work?
Thursday September 22
7 Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 8 Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free.
When we work we are fulfilling a blessing God put in creation. The first command to humans is, “Be fruitful and multiply.” This is not just having children. To be fruitful is to flourish as God intended from the beginning. To be fruitful is to work. Adam and Eve are to care for the garden. That is their job. It doesn’t work out so well for them because they rebel against God, but work isn’t originally a curse, but a blessing.
In the new Kingdom Jesus has begun, work is becoming a blessing again. We can work filled with the Spirit, the meaning of the word, “Enthusiasm.” We can work in a way that God is blessed by our labor. And good will come out of our work if our work is for God.
Some of you might be thinking, how come work doesn’t look like that for me? Here’s the thing. Short-term you can work any job because you need the money. Whether you like the job or not. But, long-term, your work is to reflect the honor you have for God. It is just like when you serve God by doing good for other people. It is not to get rewarded by God, but the reward is already built in by the way God wires us.
And it is God’s desire that you are blessed by your work. That your work expands your influence for good in the world.
What is the worst job you have had? The best? What is the difference?
Friday September 23
9 Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Don’t threaten them; remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites.
In Rome, just like with children, the master is the oldest male in the household. He could punish slaves by mistreating them, abandoning them, or killing them. But, Paul is calling on masters to repent. Turn to the new way in the new kingdom.
Again, for our own practical purposes, it helps to look at this from an employment perspective. Masters are those who supervise and lead in business. So, in other words, business owners and supervisors, treat your employees with deep respect and fear as if you are supervising Jesus himself. Treat your employees as if Jesus is watching you, because he is. Treat your employees the way you want God to treat you. When your employees flourish, you flourish.
We can see that in business as well as family, to follow Jesus is to turn the ways of the world upside down. We are to act as if we are living for God when we live for others. Because we are living for God when we live for others.
You see, with God, not one of us is better than anyone else. Not one of us is worse than anyone else. In God’s eyes, we are all the same. He is to be our God and we are to be his people. And like with parents and children, employers and employees, God has no favorites. We are all precious and we are all equal before him.
This is how God wires the world. This explains why the treatment of children flourishes where Christianity has strong influence, why slavery is condemned and no longer practiced in places informed by Christianity, this explains why the whole human rights movement comes out of Christian teaching in our world. There has always been a minority of Christians who have gotten these things right throughout history. That all human beings are noble in God’s eyes. That God shows no partiality. We are all equal before him.
I say minority because this is where it starts. The world as lived by human beings on human wisdom and by human power is a destructive world and it continues to be the way of the world. But, like Paul with slavery, the seeds we plant by living another way, counter to the ways of the world, grow into God’s Kingdom influence transforming the ways of our world. The hope of the world is Jesus and the way Jesus works is through us. So, the hope of the world is in the minority of Christians who actually live their family lives and work lives as if they are living for God himself. Because we are.
Look up “William Wilberforce” and reflect on his life as it relates to today’s reading.