Renewing our Resolve: “Modeling Clay” – Colossians 3:18-4:1

molding clayPeople need more than directions; most require models to really understand a concept. That’s absolutely clear to any of us who have assembled most household items by looking at the pictures rather than by reading through the directions. Furniture and toys aren’t the only things that require assembly – children do as well. God cares, in the womb, for the knitting together of the body. He leaves to us – parents, families and communities, the task of knitting together a conscience. Right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable behaviors are mostly learned in the context of our early life. Americans have come to realize in recent years the powerful nature of the two “e’s” that are shaping our children – education and entertainment. We have looked at the trends in education at various times together, but occasionally we also must lend a “nod” to the field of entertainment. You might be interested to know that TV guide has come up with their “must see list” for new shows for the Autumn 2013 season across the US, and even a short examination of the shows reveals “family models” that Hollywood is offering for our nation in the days ahead.

On the roster, there is plenty to help those who are hungry for new superheroes, and those who need another dose of the undead. Even vampires make their way back for yet another year – as if the world needs another Bram Stoker revival. There are a few new cop and robber dramas, and some interesting forays into history – though told without any of those “pesky constraints” like the actuals facts of the events. Yet, we can always draw particular comfort in the golden city’s depiction of the American family, as they shape and model what they think people live like – or should consider living like. Look at the “diet” of “new models” we are to digest in the name of entertainment:

Back in the Game (ABC), a comedy which stars a divorced single mother and former all-star beer-swilling ex-baseball player. Father and daughter reconnect when they start coaching a Little League team together.

Betrayal (ABC), a story about unhappily married photographer that starts a torrid affair with a lawyer for a powerful family. It turns out that her new love is defending a murder suspect who is being prosecuted by her current husband.

Dads (Fox), a story of two video game developers whose lives are disrupted when their fathers move in with them and fill the house with crass, sexist and racially insensitive jokes.

Hello Ladies (HBO), a new cringe comedy where a tall, gawky English web designer who moves to Los Angeles is taught to “have game” with the ladies.

Masters of Sex (Showtime), exploring the Life and Times of Williams Masters and Virginia Johnson, who pioneered research of human sexual response, and diagnosis and treatment of sexual disorders in the ’50s.

The Millers (CBS) a comedy about a news reporter who makes the mistake of telling his parents that he just got divorced. Why? His dad leaves his mom and moves in with him!

Sean Saves the World (NBC) the story of a career-oriented divorced gay dad who is determined to become the “world’s best father” after his 14-year-old daughter moves in with him.

Trophy Wife (ABC) the tale of a reformed party girl who marries a man she met at a karaoke bar. He comes with a lot of baggage though: three manipulative kids and two ex-wives!

We Are Men (CBS) the comedy about a man who was left at the altar, and his move to a short-term apartment complex, where he’s befriended by three fellow bachelors: an OB/GYN in the middle of his second divorce, a four-time divorcee and ladies’ man, the third is a guy who’s desperately trying to win his wife back after he got caught in an affair.

I am not picking on people who have gone through a failed marriage. Nor am I making specific commentary about the shows – I haven’t seen them and (from the sounds of them) very likely never will. All that I am trying to show is this: If you are placing your hope for the future of America’s families in the forthcoming models of entertainment, plan on frequent divorces, lots of gay interaction, and a continuous call for the shaping of immorality into amorality. Hollywood’s answer is that our word is not our bond, marriage is not a covenant, and the best way to solve difficult times at home is to find a new home. They can complain about church, but they are doing more PREACHING than any Pastor I know about how we should all aspire to live.

Here’s my point: Many young people in our nation will learn from the Hollywood model. They will be shaped by what they laugh at, sing to, and have their heart strings pulled by. One hour in Sunday School cannot reverse twenty hours of shaping and sculpting by morally depraved producers. It won’t happen – even if the child is in the home of a believer. The line-up of new shows is woefully deficient in one category – two biological parents that love and honor each other, and thoughtfully raise a child. Apparently, they are either no longer living in Hollywood, or no longer worth really exploring for our next generation.

What are we to do? First, recognize the problem. People are “pressed into the mold of the world” as a natural consequence of living in it, and we have to limit the exposure to ourselves and our children by the shaping process. Don’t trade what is right for what is funny. A few laughs, at the expense of wholesome thinking, are the cracks in the foundation of a godly home. Be careful little eyes what you see. Second, and absolutely essential to the future of our nation, LIVE TRUTHS that you know God’s Word expresses. Nothing else helps more. Let me say it another way:

Key Principle: The most prominent place for our faith to be lived in is our daily relationships.

That was Paul’s point when he wrote to the Colossian church in the first century. In the opening of the letter (chapter one), Paul offered three details to set in context his words on relational behavior:

He started by telling them they needed to know what Jesus has done for mankind (Col. 1:3-14) and Who Jesus truly is (Col. 1:15-20) – so that life is placed in the context of the Master – His saving and transforming work. When we know Jesus for Who He is, and we see what He has done for us – we WANT to live to please Him!

He explained why they needed to see who they were when Jesus met them (1:21-23) to remind them they didn’t find HIM – He found them. When we are reminded of who we have been, and confront anew God’s goodness is offering us a relationship with Him – we WANT to live to please Him!

He reminded them of who he was as an Apostle on a mission (1:24-27) and what his goal was in relationship to them (1:28-29) – to see them all mature and ready to meet the Master. When we recall that the goal of ministry is NOT just to reach people for Jesus and give them the Gospel, but to GROW them to maturity – we WANT to live to please Him!

Paul was hindered from getting to see them face to face (2:1-5) and that frustrated him. Add to that, Paul knew some distractions were tugging on them, and some were slipping away from a positive walk with Jesus. Paul made the problem clear:

Some felt like there was “something deeper” than the Gospel and a walk with God (2:6-15). They were attracted to the “philosophically deep” discussions invented by lost men.

Some felt pressured to conform to religious practices posed by others (2:16-23).

Some were so pulled in by fixation on the physical world; they allowed themselves to wallow back into the mud of immorality (3:1-11). They spent their time thinking about THIS WORLD and its pleasures – trying to “gain the whole world” but in danger of “losing their own soul”.

With those problems pulling people back (worldly philosophies, religious practices, and licentious living), Paul made it clear that there were, in fact, “Six Markers of God’s Transforming Work” that he wanted to see in them as they progressed toward his goal of obvious maturity. We looked at these in the last lesson briefly:

Marker 1: God’s people saw each other (and the world) with new eyes of love and compassion (3:12-14). They were to be kind people.

Marker 2: God’s people walked with a new steadiness – peace ruling them (3:15). They were to be settled people.

Marker 3: God’s people will learn the new tone of thankfulness (3:15b). They were to be people filled with gratitude.

Marker 4: God’s people will offer the sounds of a new voice. They will sing a new song (3:16). They were to be people who shared faith with their mouths.

Marker 5: God’s people will learn a new goal – to do all that we do in Jesus’ name (in His character and under His authority with personal responsibility). They were to be dedicated people.

Marker 6: God’s people will focus on a new pattern of relational behavior (3:18-4:1). They were to LIVE OUT truth in their daily walk and relationships…

That is where we want to focus our attention for the next few moments. The passage ends with an insightful list of instructions about RELATIONSHIPS that change when we practice God’s Word in daily life. Look at the text. Paul wrote:

Colossians 3:18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. 20 Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. 22 Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who [merely] please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. 25 For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. 4:1 Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.

These aren’t unfamiliar words… but they may be unfamiliar actions in our lives, and are CERTAINLY unfamiliar patterns on our TV sets! Look carefully at the list – because it reveals key conflict areas in relationships of the Roman world. Many of them continue to be problem areas today, suggesting the conflict is broader than a single culture and time:

Wives: be subject to your husbands. The term is hypotássō (from hypó, “under” and tássō, “arrange”) – properly, “arrange yourself under”. It is used in the New Testament as making choices that submit to the Lord’s stated plan or order. The word is something A WOMAN CHOOSES TO DO as a mark that she belongs to and follows Jesus. Look carefully at the phrase: “as is fitting in the Lord”. This is the term anḗkō (from aná, “completing a process” and hḗkō, “come”) – which combined means to “come up to a particular standard of expectation” or “to fill out the required obligation”.

When women live in submission, they live according to the place God put them in the world; they celebrate God’s right to shape them as He desires. They worship Him by submitting to His plan for them.

Let’s face it, ladies. You know the truth. He can’t make you voluntarily place yourself in a serving position in your marriage – but I will tell you the truth: He yearns to be respected. Men want to be respected more than they desire to be loved. That respect is clearly transmitted when you place them above you in rank, though (and we know it is true), we men are often not nearly as smart as YOU! This “befits” a believer according to the text. This doesn’t befit Hollywood. This doesn’t befit Washington. Yet here is the truth: There is no such thing as a “two-headed” marriage. Someone leads in every one of them. This is your opportunity to serve Jesus by serving your husband. Maybe he isn’t as bright as you. Maybe he lacks many of the character traits you wanted in a man. That’s fine – because JESUS DOESN’T – and He is the One you serve when you obey His Word.

Husbands: There are TWO instructions. The first is LOVE your wife. The second is to deliberately toss out of your heart anything that will allow bitterness to take root inside you concerning her. The word used, pikrainó, can mean “to make bitter” or “to make harsh”. The Spirit calls to believing husbands – address issues and then LET THEM GO. Love her, and cherish her. Let her know you are fortunate to have her in your life.

When men love their wives and act in patience toward them, they recognize God’s headship over them and His patience with them. They worship and serve Him by serving their wife.

Go back in time for a moment, and recall that Colossians weren’t Americans – they were Romans. If you think modern America doesn’t treat women in a proper way, you will be amazed at ancient Rome. The Roman poet laureate Vergil summed up well Roman feelings about women, in a line that he used of Dido, Queen of Carthage. He said: “A woman is an unpredictable and fickle creature.” Most Roman men would no doubt have agreed with him. In fact, as late as the C 2nd CE we still find Galen, the foremost medical writer of Roman times, describing women as “less perfect” than men on the grounds that their bodies are colder. It gets worse…

The standard under Roman Law for women was they were considered in frequent references of two phrases: They had “infirmitas sexus” – the basic infirmity of being female, and “levitas animi” – or inflicted with a fickleness of mind. It appears that some men in Rome felt the need to stop women from overshopping – and devised a legal remedy in the Oppian Law (215 BCE) (named for Gaius Oppius). He proposed a law that limited to half an ounce—the amount of gold that a woman was allowed to possess. This was passed at a time of dire hardship—one year after Rome’s catastrophic defeat at Cannae at the hands of the Carthaginian general Hannibal—and it was later repealed. I guess he figured if they outlawed too much jewelry owning, they could cut down on jewelry buying. Just telling women to “take it easy on the shopping” didn’t seem to be enough for the afflicted and weak-willed among them.

It would SHOCK your modern sensibilities how much inequity was actually enshrined in Roman law: If a woman committed adultery, it was a criminal offense, whereas if her husband committed adultery it wasn’t. Constantine later decreed that if a woman was raped in the city, she was automatically partly responsible, guilty of what we would call today “contributory negligence,” because if she had screamed sufficiently loudly, the neighbors would have come to her rescue and prevented the rape.

Valerius Maximus, a C1st CE writer, wrote a number of examples of women being “punished” (Read: abused) by their husbands. He referenced one man who clubbed his wife to death for drinking wine and was left unpunished. Valerius observes: “And so, long ago, when the misbehavior of women was kept in check, their minds were prevented from scheming.”

I mention all this because it was the world that Paul was addressing. He knew men could be brutal, and for their harshness, they would not be held accountable. He knew they needed to learn both LOVE and FORGIVENESS… and so do we. For generations, the law has been unequal in regards to women – so we must be even MORE CAREFUL to understand the gift they are to us. They aren’t OBJECTS – they aren’t BEAUTIFUL PLAYTHINGS. They are God’s first gift to man after life itself – and they are a PART OF US – taken from our own flesh. No man in our free society EVER has the Biblical right to physically harm a woman – ever. If you raise your hand to your wife, you are NOT acting as a man – period. I have NO room for this. NONE. Cease the sin, and stop looking for some way to excuse this abysmal behavior.

Children: In a bare-knuckled, no-nonsense way, Paul says: “Please the Lord and obey your parents.” He is addressing this to those who are not considered adults, and he is saying that parents are supposed to be honored and respected.

When children obey their parents, they kneel at the authority of God. They recognize God’s position by recognizing the positions of authority God placed in their lives.

The term “teknon” means a “dependent”. It refers to one who is unable to care for self and needs the guidance and assistance of another. Children must learn they are not providing for themselves, and they need to heed the voices of parents who are offering the provision.

How are we to enforce this Biblical view in modern society? Lest we bypass the war on Biblical principle in modern society, let us hear the voices that are educating our modern sensitivities. Al Mohler offers this comment:

As [Daniel] Zalewski [of the New Yorker Magazine] argues, today’s young parents “learn that there are many things they must never do to their willful young child: spank, scold, bestow frequent praise, criticize, plead, withhold affection, take away toys, ‘model’ angry emotions, intimidate, bargain, nag.” In other words, “nearly all forms of discipline appear morally suspect.” Modern “experts” like Alfie Kohn [considered a leading figure in progressive education] now go so far as to argue that rewarding children for good behavior is virtually as injurious to the child as punishing children for negative behavior. Arguing against what he calls “conditional parenting,” Kohn came out against everything from the “time out” to positive reinforcement. Writing recently in The New York Times, Kohn asserted: “Conditional parenting isn’t limited to old-school authoritarians. Some people who wouldn’t dream of spanking choose instead to discipline their young children by forcibly isolating them, a tactic we prefer to call “time out.” Conversely, “positive reinforcement” teaches children that they are loved, and lovable, only when they do whatever we decide is a “good job.”

I want to deliberately encourage parents to recognize some important stages of raising children. Though the war against parental authority, as a subset of war against all authority in the country, is alive and well, parents must NOT abandon their role in the blur of cultural distraction. Studies show that an infant needs to learn to settle themselves – or they are far more likely to need a bottle or a pill to get to sleep years later. A toddler needs to learn to clean up their toys, or they will find themselves on a job twenty years later without the proper tools in their bag. An elementary child needs to be able to make the sandwich and clean up the mess, or they will lack experience in the joy of caring for one’s self. Discipline, if handled properly, is a selfless act. A godly parent sets aside their desire to feel the short-term love and warmth of their child’s approving affections, in exchange for helping the child’s long term development.

Fathers: Paul returned to the men of the congregation and directed them to learn some tempering gentleness when dealing with their children. Roman fathers “accepted” or “rejected” a child immediately after birth when someone placed the child at the foot of the father. He was under no legal obligation in Roman society to claim the child, and could order the child abandoned. Such dictatorial power over even life and death for a child could have easily given them an un-tempered harshness with their children.

When fathers deal with their children sensitively, they show sensitivity to the Spirit of God, and obedience to His command.

The term “provoke” is “er-eth-id’-zo”, a word that meant to “stir up or provoke”. Dads were admonished not to stir up the child, in part, by setting a standard that is unattainable. We must press our children to accomplish more, but we dare not set a bar ever higher and higher with no reward or affirmation. Unable to reach our standard, children will turn their disappointment to disillusionment and anger. Toughness and harshness is not the same thing. We are to be tough (because life will be) but fair – and never harsh. As parents recede in expectation, children enter the work world without the benefit of truly understanding that they are not equal in position to their boss – a problem that is plaguing American business today.

Slaves: Paul told slaves who knew Jesus to serve Jesus by serving their masters. Though the rewards may not have come to them in this life, their real inheritance was beyond this life. Look closely and you will see some great principles for how God wants us to think when we are in unjust situations.

When slaves recognize that they can serve Jesus best by serving Him in the confines of where they have been placed – they can look past issues of injustice in this life and focus on honoring the God that made them.

Paul told them to serve Jesus in every task – and know He sees their labors. When we remember that we belong to the Lord, and He sees every moment and every thought – we can be encouraged. He misses nothing! He knows if we give our absolute best efforts at what we do. Others will “cut corners” – but we cannot and will not – for our “real boss” is watching. Every deed I engage has the potential to become a point of both worship and celebration – when I do it my best because I want to honor Jesus.

Masters: God’s Word to those who held power over others was to look up, and remember God had power over their lives!

When a master treated his servants well, he remembered that God was above him, and he was treated with greater grace than he ever deserved.

Common to all of these relational commands was the one idea that is so hard for the world to understand – other person centeredness. The Gospel is all about how Jesus saw our need as a greater value than His comfort (Phil. 2:1ff). Yet the world trains us to think in the opposite way – to think of SELF FIRST.

• A wife that thinks of herself first, will assert herself rather than place herself in a submissive role. Isn’t that what women learn in our world to do?

• A man that thinks of himself first will wander the internet with roaming eyes because his wife hasn’t been all he wanted. Is that so “out of the ordinary” in our day?

• A child that asserts him or herself instead of listening to those obtuse parents is seen as great leadership material for the future in our modern view.

• A father can’t possibly learn sensitivity – he is the MAN of the family and they need to understand the PRESSURE ON HIM and stay out of his path – isn’t that clear in modern life?

• No one needs to serve another – they need to GET what they can. Bosses need to know I have a life outside the office. Employees need to shut up and be glad they have a job…

In many places you look in modern society, SELFISHNESS is interpreted as LEADERSHIP and SERVANTHOOD is cast as WEAKNESS. The fact is, the opposite is true. Servants lead and other person centered thinkers are strong. When trouble strikes the nation, it isn’t selfish egotists we seek, but quiet servants. They pull us from the rubble, and they douse the fires we inflict on ourselves as a society.

Enter the room, two thousand years ago. Look at the reclining disciples, and watch the Savior move about the room. What was He doing? The Bible showed what Jesus did to show relationship and authority to the men:

“Jesus knew that the Father had put him in complete charge of everything; that He came from God and was on his way back to God. So He got up from the supper table, set aside His robe, and put on an apron. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of His disciples, drying them with His apron.” -John 13:3-6 (MSG)

The most prominent place for our faith to be lived in is our daily relationships.