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Diocese of Charleston Bible Study + November 16, 2016

Colossians 3:17-4:1
Luke 15:1-10

Colossians 3:17-4:1 (NKJV)
And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them. Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eye service, as men pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality. Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.

Luke 15:1-10 (NKJV)
Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Jesus to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them." So He spoke this parable to them, saying: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!' I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. "Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!' Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

Commentary 

One of the foremost virtues of the Orthodox Christian faith is obedience, but it is a virtue with which we as modern people in democratic countries tend to struggle. Our ethos is one of freedom, often even radical freedom. We blanch at rules and limits. We struggle against restrictions. We encourage young people to question authority. We will not have rulers. We will be governed only by our own consent. On an interpersonal level, we avoid people who are 'controlling'. If we have a desire of any kind that we want to fulfill, and are unable to fulfill it, we consider that to be the greatest type of 'problem' that exists. We would rather live in a culture where great evil takes place than in one that is virtuous, but where we are not free. We speak at length about our rights, and the number of things that are ours by right continues to multiply day after day and year after year. On the flip side, we avoid and repudiate the idea of responsibilities and duties, the very idea of them, that might say that we owe something to someone other than, or something bigger than ourselves.

The Roman world in which St. Paul lived was quite the opposite. That world was built upon a rigid social structure and class system which the Romans believed was based not on tradition or expediency but upon nature itself. The Romans firmly believed that, simply put, all human persons were not created equal. There were superior examples of the human species, and inferior ones. Peace and prosperity for the Empire came about from society being properly ordered, with the superior specimens of humanity, who demonstrated this through intelligence, strength, and in most cases successful military service, ruled and were served by the inferior. There were the wealthy ruling class, the common Roman citizens beneath them who conducted commerce, providing the powerful with worthy subjects to rule, and facilitating their lifestyle, and finally there was the greater mass of humanity who were not Roman citizens, legally 'non-persons', and as far as the Romans were concerned, only slightly above livestock. This last group, like livestock, was potentially dangerous if not domesticated, and so Roman life was built firmly upon the institution of slavery. It is estimated that in various periods, as much as two-thirds of the population of the Roman Empire was made up of slaves.

There was, within this worldview, no real concept of freedom. Even the great and mighty amongst the Romans did not so much consider themselves free as they considered themselves to have some great (though potentially tragic) destiny laid out for them by the gods. As for the rest, it was the gods, the same forces of fate, that caused them to be born into their station, whatever it was, and their virtue lay in performing their duties in a way that pleased their superiors, much as what separates a good from a bad plow horse is how well said horse pulls the plow. But said horse will never be a warhorse, or pull a chariot in races, not because he isn't 'free', but because that isn't the type of horse he is; it isn't how he was born.

In response to this, many of the Judean people called out for independence from Rome. Note that this is independence, the ability for them to govern themselves by their own laws and live according to their own religious and cultural traditions, not freedom per se. An independent Judea would not have been a democracy, merely a Judean, rather than Roman, dictatorship. Various parties within Judea were willing to go to more or less radical ends to try to secure this independence, with the zealots, for example, going so far as to call for violent insurrection. Such insurrections occurred in the late 60's A.D., leading to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and from 132-135 A.D in the Bar Kochba rebellion, which ended with the complete destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

Against this background, the Gospel which St. Paul preached is one of radical freedom. For the Apostle, anyone who has been baptized into Christ has been set free from sin, and therefore stands before God on equal footing. Every person, whether Judean or Greek, slave or free, male or female, possessing that same standing, and will be judged by the same standard on the great day of Christ's Second Coming. Christ is an impartial judge, and will accept no bribes, nor is he concerned about social status or circumstances of birth. Everyone is free to choose to do what is good, or to choose what is evil, life or death, to follow God or their own destruction. For this reason, a great many of St. Paul's early converts to the faith were women or slaves to whom the Apostle had communicated the astonishing truth that the God who created and governed the universe knew, loved, and was concerned with not only the great and powerful but the weakest and the least in the Roman world.

Because of this truth, social status in this world, wealth and poverty, become ultimately meaningless in the long view. Everything that we do in this live, whether it is cleaning a lavatory, building a building, conducting commerce, helping the poor and needy, or governing an Empire, becomes service rendered to Christ. Whoever our earthly master might be at any given point, it is ultimately to Christ whom we will give an account as to what we did in and with this life. It is He who will give us our final reward, or the consequences of our choices. Obedience, therefore, is not the opposite of freedom. Obedience requires freedom to be true obedience and service offered to Christ. We are accountable to Christ for all of our actions precisely because we have chosen to serve Him or not. Any form of rebellion, likewise, is rebellion against Christ in that it comes from the desire to serve ourselves, to do what is right in our own eyes, rather than to serve.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us do everything which we do, whether grand or small, whether glorious or demeaning, whether difficult or simple as a service for Jesus Christ, and an offering to please Him. Let us not look at duties and responsibilities in this life, no matter how menial, as drudgery or things which we are forced to do, but as opportunities for service to our Lord. Let us not be concerned with whether or not we please, or are even noticed, by those in authority over us in this world, remembering always that our reward lives with our true master, Christ. When we find ourselves in a position of authority, let us remember that even as others serve and assist us, we have a Master, the Lord, to which we too will give an account for how we have treated those whom we have been blessed to have in our service. In everything we do, let us give thanks to God the Father, through Christ, His Son, by His Holy Spirit.

Questions to Ponder

  1. In today's epistle reading, St. Paul speaks about true Christian obedience. True Christian obedience comes from true freedom. Because Christ has freed us from slavery to sin, we can now choose who it is we are going to serve, and how we are going to serve them. St. Paul calls us as Christians in every area of our lives to offer service to the Lord by serving others, be they our spouse, our employer, the civil authorities, or any other authority in this world. When we voluntarily choose to serve, we sacrifice our own desires, and offer that sacrifice to Christ. When you are called to be obedient, to parents, to an employer, to a spouse, to clergy, or to the civil authorities, do you obey willingly or begrudgingly, or even not at all? Do you serve them as you would Christ, or do you inwardly, or even outwardly, rebel?
  2. In today's Gospel reading, Jesus is criticized for the people with whom He chooses to associate. Because He is concerned for the salvation and life of all people, He sought out and pursued those who were the most in need of God's grace and forgiveness. As someone whom Christ has entrusted with His Gospel, with whom do you associate? Do you seek to befriend and share your life and your faith with people who aren't like you? Do you keep to 'your own', or are you open and demonstrating God's love and acceptance to people of other races, cultures, economic statuses, and backgrounds than yourself? Do you go out of your way to befriend and assist those who most need your friendship and assistance, or do you seek friends who can do things for you?
  3. As St. Paul points out, many times we do things in order to receive a reward. Sometimes that reward is pleasing other people about whose opinion we care, other times it may be a more material reward. What St. Paul reminds us is that the day is coming, when Christ returns, when He is going to rebalance the scales. Those who have done evil and not received repayment for it in this life will receive it at His judgment seat, but likewise, those who have done what is good and received no reward or recognition will receive them from His Throne. As you examine your conscience, are they things you've done of which you are not proud that you have been 'getting away with'? Are there things which you could set right now, before you stand before Christ? Likewise, are you willing to work hard for no reward or recognition in this world, and trust Christ with your reward?

Questions or Comments? FrStephen@stgeorgecharleston.org

Note from the Author – No rights reserved. If you find anything good, or helpful, or worthwhile in these Bible studies from week to week, feel free to take and use it as you see fit. I do not need credit.


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