Godly Family Life - Established to Transform World

(Photo compliment of Font Hill, St. Thomas)

The peace of God be with you! During this month of May, we observe many events including Family Month, Child’s Month, Mothers’ Day, Teachers’ Day and Nurses’ Day among others. I take this opportunity to give God thanks for families including mothers who seek to uphold godly standards in seeking to transform the lives of others for good. We acknowledge the importance and value of our children and commit to seeking their best interest in a world bent on their abuse and destruction. To God be the glory for our educators, nurses and other health care workers who continue to serve our nation sacrificially. We continue to focus on Being God’s People in God’s World - Living the Sacrificial Life and in this message, we will reflect on, Godly Family Life - Established to Transform the World. Let us hear a reading from God’s word as recorded in Colossians 3:15-25 (NIV),

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 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.

18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

22 Slaves, 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. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favouritism. The Word of God.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Colossian believers to show that Jesus Christ is preeminent in everything and that their Christian life should reflect this priority in every aspect of their lifestyle. The believers are rooted in Christ, alive in Him, hidden in Him and complete in Him. It is therefore inconsistent for true believers to live life without Christ Jesus. The love of Christ envelopes the Christians with His peace ruling in their hearts and thus they are to manifest Christ’s unity, love and peace in their various relationships and in the world around them.

It is within this context that the passage read is grounded. Faith in Jesus Christ should transform relationships inside and outside the home. Family relationships including husband and wife, parent and children and worker and master within the household setting should be governed by sacrificial love as a result of the believer’s new relationship in Christ Jesus. This was a new and radical departure from the existing family relationships in Jewish, Greek and Roman culture. The apostle wrote to establish a new approach to the life of the believer in their homes and in their interaction with the wider world. Their Christ-like lifestyle should transform relationships at home, work and in the wider society. Christianity then was a private affair with meetings mostly held in homes among family groups. The Christian family then operating under the influence of the love of God in Christ was a mighty transforming power for culture and society. Many of the positive changes in family life and society today can be attributed to the early Christian lifestyle.

Paul wrote in challenge to a patriarchal situation where the males ruled and had complete authority over women, children, and household workers, called slaves. This resulted in abuse of every kind against the human person in the form of women, children, and slaves. Under Jewish law, the woman and children were seen as things, the possession of husbands and fathers as much as their flocks or material goods. A husband could treat his wife anyway he wished and could divorce her for any reason. In the Greco-Roman society, a respectable woman lives a secluded life of servitude and chastity while the male could live as he pleased including the practice of adultery and sexual immorality. Children could be killed, sacrificed, sold into slavery or abandoned and abused in any way without recourse in Greek and Roman culture. In both Greek and Jewish laws and customs, all the privileges belonged to men and all the duties of women, children, and slaves.

This sounds very familiar in both our modern Eastern and Western culture. Gender-related abuse, especially against women and children, continue to raise its ugly head in various ways; emotional, psychological, economic, religious, physical, sexual, among others. Some of these abuses are perpetuated by Christians using the Scriptures as a basis for their abhorrent actions. As Paul wrote then affirming that in Christ we are one and therefore abuse, injustice, and ill-treatment of the human person as male, female, child or worker is a scandal and sin, so we today should seek to break the silence regarding abuse in the family. Our Christian lifestyles must exemplify the fact that Godly family life was established to transform the world and it should continue to be so. Our text focusing on Colossian 3:18-21 speaks to us today,

18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged

Paul sought to establish in a radical and transforming way Christian family life which manifested a change in the way Christian husbands, wives, and children ought to relate to each other for the good of each other and society at large. Such a transformation should be manifested as follows:

  1. Reciprocal Submission
  2. Revocation of Abuse
  3. Restoration of Sacrificial Love

       Reciprocal Submission

Submission in the society in which Paul lived was one sided where the males had all power and authority over women, children, and slaves. This opened up the way for serious abuse of every kind. The Christian household must now become the transforming institution in the society. There must be a radical reordering of society through a new understanding and practice of submission, one toward the other. Many today continue to view the term submission in a negative way which suggests, forced obedience, slavery or subjugation. When Paul speaks of submission it is clear that it is grounded in and patterned off the life of sacrificial love of our Lord Jesus Christ. Believers are called to submit one to another. There is no absolute power to be exercised by anyone over the other but each seeks to serve the best interest of the other in love, no matter what our sex, gender, economic and social status or rank may be. We do not abandon our God-given status in life as male, female, parent, child, worker, employer among other ranks in society, but we are to use our individual status and position of authority for the good of the other in the home, family and society.

Biblical submission should not be seen as an unpleasant demand made upon us or as passive resignation of our will to people or circumstances, but it is an act of faith in active dependence, trust, and reliance on God to fulfil God's glorious purposes in one's life. Submission must be grounded in love and reverence for God and each other and not in fear. It is the surrender of human will to the divine will. Submission is the voluntary act of yielding or giving over to God's control and authority all that we would withhold, including our being and our self-will in the service of the good of the other including the vulnerable, abused and oppressed in society. What Paul calls for in submission is an act of reciprocal obligation and responsibility toward each other in society beginning in the home and extending to the workplace and the wider society. Husbands have a great responsibility and obligation to love their wives as Christ loves; wives, in turn, submit to their husbands in the Lord; parents and children have a responsibility toward each other and masters and slaves, employers and employees a binding duty to serve each other in justice and love.

The church and individual believers today can use this biblical understanding of submission to transform much of the abusive culture and treatment of each other in domestic intimate relationships, in the abuse and ill treatment of women, children and other vulnerable persons in society. The application of this biblical idea of submission must be uplifted in our Bible Studies and devotions in families, church, and workplace if there is going to be any change in our current situation of abuse, corruption and gender-related violence which is an increasing scourge in our society. As in Paul’s time when culture, religion, and tradition seems pitted against the just treatment of the vulnerable in society, we must through the power of the gospel and its transformative practice in our daily living seek to do all we can through the love of Christ the serve the best interest of each other. Submission in Christ demands nothing less.

Revocation of Abuse

Abuse of the human person is rampant in our society. We have come to accept it in many respects as part of our culture for different reasons including religious and cultural impositions, economic circumstances, fear, silence and ingrained traditional practices. In Jamaica the upsurge of domestic and intimate partner violence manifested mainly in the male abusing the female in various ways; human trafficking; abuse of our children and elderly; abuse of the disabled and street people among others goes unchallenged and unexposed in many places including the home and the church. As Paul challenged the structure of his times so must we to stop the abuse of the human person.  In our text of Colossians 3:18-21, Paul addresses husbands specifically and in a way which, if lived out, would transform the gender-related abuse we face today.  In Ephesians 5:25-33, there is a fuller treatment of the issue. Husbands are to love their wives in the same way in which Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25).  This giving up suggests giving up one’s rights or privileges with Jesus as the example.  A true Christian husband, father or employer should never treat his wife, children and workers in any abusive way. Abuse in any form is sinful. We are called to do all we can in and through the love of Christ in us to stop abuse, to nullify it in our intimate relationships, our homes, workplaces and society at large.

We will each be held accountable before God for how we contribute to abuse in our society. When we are aware of abusive situations we become complicit with it even in our silence. We must stand up, speak out and expose abuse wherever it exists. This is the revolutionary and transformative way of the Christian life. This is what Paul was challenging the believers in Colossae to do. Husbands, men, young and old, let us stop being perpetrators of abuse. Let us become part of the solution. God has given us a responsibility to love and care as Jesus did. The cycle of abuse based on religion, tradition, crude culture and psychologically ingrained habits must be stopped in the name of Jesus Christ.

Restoration of Sacrificial Love

The call to submit to each other is based on the new sacrificial love relationship into which believers have entered with God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In this relationship, There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28 NIV). This is not a negation of our individual status or personality. We are still recognized as distinctly male, female, married, single etc. It is a reflection of the fact that in Christ our distinctions based on status, culture, ethnic background or gender should not allow us to treat each other within abusive and unjust ways.  Our text calls us to return to the selfless way of living ordained by God before human beings sinned in rebellion against God. We were created to portray God’s self-giving love and care towards each other and creation in general.

In Ephesians 5:26-28 we are reminded that Jesus’ love for the church was given for the purpose of presenting the church to himself sanctified, pure and spotless and here the husbands love for his wife is somehow analogous to this.  The husband’s love is given in part because he longs to see his wife sanctified.   The history of the church is scarred with examples of those who have used the biblical injunctions for wives to submit to the husbands as a justification for the oppression of women.   Ironically such passages in Colossians and Ephesians demonstrate the clearest biblical instructions to combat the oppression which they have been used to generate or justify. There is the almost universal practice of insisting that mothers are responsible for the raising of children; however, it is fathers who are to raise their children in the training and instruction of the Lord.  Fathers are to take back their spiritual responsibility in offering sacrificial love and care not just for their wives but their children as well. The abandonment of, abuse of and dereliction of Christian duty toward children by fathers must cease in the name of Jesus. Children are commanded to be obedient and respectful to parents in the Lord.

The submission of wives is always mentioned in Scripture in the context of what is considered to be a greater command to self-denial on the part of the husband.  To seek to apply one without the other is to abuse Scripture.   The man can no more force the submission of his wife than the wife can force the love of her husband.  A man who forces or manipulates his wife, children or employees to submit to him, either physically or in any other way, acts sinfully and outside the ambit of God sacrificial love demonstrated in Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Godly family life was established to be a counter to the family structure in Paul’s time. In focusing on the value of godly family life which has the power to transform broken families, communities, cultures, societies and our world we acknowledge the call to practise:

Reciprocal Submission

Revocation of Abuse

Restoration of Sacrificial Love

This challenges us to seek to do all we can in and through Christ in our family, work and community environment to stop abuse in any form of the human person. Men who are the main perpetrators of the scourge of gender-based violence which affects mainly those made vulnerable by our society including women, children, the disabled and homeless among others, must be made to understand the gravity of their sinful actions. Silence which is a form of complicity with those who do violence must be broken in the church, workplace, domestic and intimate relationships and wider society. Fear must not be a factor to remain silent. Those who are abused should not be encouraged to stay in any situation of abuse. The church which is the body of Christ must do all it can through education, proclamation and by any practical means to expose abuse, seek its prevention and participate in the healing, liberation, protection, and peace of many who are living with the nightmare of abuse. May God help us as believers to take the lead in the healing and transformation of our broken world through the family structure as God calls us to in our text today. Amen

Let us pray:

Sovereign Lord, self-giving God of love, mercy, and justice, you created all human beings in your image to live in partnership complementing, caring and loving each other with your love. We have strayed. We have sinned. We have become silent partners in abusive relationships. We have lacked compassion as we remain unmoved by the pain of hurt, dehumanization, and brokenness of our brothers and sisters, our children and our vulnerable in society. We see we hear but we do not act to transform, to liberate, to heal and restore the broken. Forgive us Lord. Move us to loving sacrificial action wherever we are as your godly people established to transform a broken world. Amen

(Christ For Today – Luke Shaw – May 21, 2017)

 

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