The point hit home and it hit hard. This week in one of our first intimate talks with my wife this year, she shared with me how she had observed that I was becoming too busy. In the typical good memory of my wife and by extension all women, She reminded me how during our first pregnancy, I used to be there for her, call her often, washing and massage her feet, Do some shopping, do pelvic tilts and nurse her to bed. But now I am not just there. She had learnt to make do. To press through, to be silent about her swelling feet, about the new clothes she has bought for the baby. Sometimes I am there physically but my mind is not. The thoughts and concerns of meetings, deadlines and targets many times many of you will agree with me, have a way of making us just not to be there…
We continue to lay out the theme for this year on being rooted in LIFE from Col 2:6-7. Last week we introduced the theme by looking at the area of LIFE Conviction or our faith. In asking Lord, What would you have me be in the area of our faith or relationship with God? God says to us, be in touch with me. And this week we have been reflecting on Lord what you would have me do more, do less, do without to be in touch with You. I want to encourage you to journal what the Lord will be telling you over this season. What are some things you will do more, do less, do without for instance to stay in touch with God, to pray, to read God’s word, to be more obedient to him e.t.c
Today we turn to look at the area of Relationships. What does the Lord want you to be this year in the area of relationships? We are still in the introductory studies of the book of Colossians which is our key book for this term and in this month we concentrate on the introductory prayers made in Col 1: 1-14. (Read)
Last week I focused on the spiritual background of this church in Colossae as we compared the competing views and ideologies that threatened the Christian faith then and now. We took note of the Colossian heresy that disputed the supremacy of Christ and saw how slowly has crept in to distort the faith of many even Christians today. We must then turn to God’s vantage point of view and be in touch with him in prayer as Paul puts it, to be filled with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
Today I will attempt to paint a social background of this book, in order to understand why and how Paul would address some key issues regarding relationships for instance family, work and political relationships. What did it feel to be a Christian in this kind of a society? and so then how does the prayer in 1:9-14, influence their relationships?
From many scholars and biblical studies (http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1-300/what-were-early-christians-like-11629560.html) we observe that
The early Christian church in the first three centuries after Jesus’ resurrection brought about the most amazing transformation of diverse social and religious cultures ever achieved by peaceful means in the history of the world. How did it happen? What kind of people were these? What was special about their way of living and believing?
The church at Colossae like many of the Pauline founded churches, drew from a mix of Jews, Greeks, and Roman population with the Jews too often being the least. Such coexistence had never been thought possible given their backgrounds in values and religion. Most of the gentiles came from multi gods, while the Jews believed in one God, there were issues to do with foods to be eaten, there were social class disparities with the Jews being poorest, there was political disparities- The Jews who hated the Romans for taxation and enslavement, indeed the early church had a background that could only take the hand of God to be called ‘One body’. They even disagreed on spiritual matters. Some of these backgrounds led to internal conflicts such as the Corinthian church that faced the challenge of competition with spiritual gifts. It is easy to think from the example of the first church in Acts 2:42-44, that most churches were peaceful in themselves and never had internal conflicts and struggles.
Nevertheless, the early churches as a whole did represent something different in their world. It attracted both devoted followers and brutal persecutors. The key signature of who was responsible for this unity is seen in verse 4, Faith in God that resulted in Love for the saints. They were now not Jews and gentiles but saints. Let me demonstrate the nature of this Love not just within but also to others.
The Epistle to Diognetes, c. AD 130
A gem of records -a letter to Diognetes written around 130 AD presents us an excerpt that has preserved a magnificent description of Christian living in the early church community. I will read some portions.
“For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life.
They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death and restored to life.
They are poor yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things and yet abound in all; they are dishonored and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of and yet are justified; they are reviled and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good yet are punished as evildoers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. To sum it all up in one word what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.”
From the Apology of Tertullian, AD 197
“But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another, for they themselves are animated by mutual hatred. See, they say about us, how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves would sooner kill.”
And, finally, the observations of a prominent present day researcher. Sociologist Rodney Stark analyzed the survival and growth of the early church in the first few centuries.
“. . . Christianity served as a revitalization movement that arose in response to the misery, chaos, fear, and brutality of life in the urban Greco-Roman world. . . . Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachment. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fire, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services. . . . For what they brought was not simply an urban movement, but a new culture capable of making life in Greco-Roman cities more tolerable.” Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, Princeton University Press, 1996, page 161.
How Christians stood out can be seen in the striking Roman Social world that existed before then. Sexual relationships were exchanged carelessly and freely, loyalties or fidelities such as the family pattern that Christians Lived was unimaginable. It was a norm to have a wife at home, concubines on the side and Prostitutes for leisure, divorce was rampant, entertainment was wild and irresponsible- drinking and orgies, theft was on the increase- poverty and scarcity led to a degraded culture, the environment was one big dump, It is said at one time the sewerage and scarcity of water literally made the city have a pungent smell, Politics were authoritarian and oppressive, worship of idols and offering of babies as sacrifices to the false gods for survival. The rich remained manipulative, oppressive and distant in their huge palatial homes and tracks of land and owning many slaves and shrewd and cunning businesses in the city streets.
But one of the most amazing observations of many scholars is how the Christian faith not only survived but grew stronger and reached wider in these times. How did they face these difficult days, among such a hostile society. Their simple answer is LOVE; practical God inspired LOVE that led them to be there…there through the rough times, there for each other through poverty, there for each other through dictators, there for each other even willing to die for each other. What Kind of Love is this? Love that is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not prideful, not rude, not self seeking, not easily angered, not keeping record of wrongs. Even though they loved they did not delight in evil or cover up, but rejoiced when truth was found. They always protected, always trusted, always hoped and always persevere. This Love was there….always there. This LOVE is not found elsewhere but it is the LOVE of God namely Christ who is the body of the church.
So we turn to that Prayer: Read Col 1:9
Paul prays then that it is only in knowing God’s will through spiritual wisdom and understanding that their relationships will be worthy of the Lord. In family relationships characterized by unfaithfulness and irresponsibility how were they to remain to united? In work and business relationships characterized by mistrust and selfishness how else, could they bear fruit in every good work? Because of this Love that was practically present there for each other, God would empower their Relationships to endure and be patient through these hard and difficult times and yet giving thanks and breaking bread (the little and I imagine sometimes expired bread together.
On the surface, we may think we are in a civilized society, there is order, wealth and a government, there are social justice organizations, and there are red crosses for that. We may think, if only they had red cross, if only they had NGO’s, civil courts, if only they had all these social institutions they would be better.
But the striking resemblance is amazing, that although we have these organizations and government, our society today is a dyeing society with decaying morals. We are only cleaner on the outside but still as dirty inside.
Our education is high but our language is still dirty, We have one government but yet we are a divided people, We have many ways to keep in touch but we equally have many ways to be unfaithful, We have many business ideas but we remain poor, Same old educated thieves, cleaner prostitutes, Polished cheaters. Here it and here it Loud, Society is crying for God’s LOVE. As it did for the early church, the strength of any relationship to survive through these tough times is not found outside the LOVE of God. The practical love of God that transforms societies not man- made counterfeits of God’s love, these charity and social justice organizations. They are good but dead. God’s LOVE is not just good but godly and with the power to change people. The Love of God that is there.
The rush of life also does not make it easier. We deceive ourselves with technology, many friends on FB but many lonely people, Many TV raised children, many impersonal interventions. How will they know LOVE if LOVE is not there? Who will be there for me, If I am not there for others? Who will be there for my children….As the church we are called to be there.
With many counterfeits and ungodly relationships, we must first audit the priority and nature of relationships around us. I do not discount the love of God to be shared with all men, however our influence to LOVE the world starts with how we love those close to us, what kind of relationships should we seek then? Let’s go back to that Scripture
Are your relationships pleasing and worthy of the Lord? As one of our staff members Justus lightly prays “Lord lead me to those who lead me to you and remove me from those that remove me from you” We need to repent of sinful relationships and also repent of relationships that are wasteful, do not spur us on towards love and good deeds as Heb 10:24 puts it.
- Repent of sinful relationships. – delete certain numbers, do without that night meeting…Do without that mpango…
- Yes there are good times and soccer buddies..but are they relationships that make you live a life worthy and pleasing to the Lord
Instead be there for relationships that
- Help you to bear fruit in every good work- Relationships that build you, that spur you towards good deeds. A better relationship with your boss, your teacher, your mentor, your elders may be better than many hours with soccer buddies, party friends or salon friends. Be there for the right relationships.
- Help you to grow in the Knowledge of God- Be there for Relationship in Church, Be there for church mate, be there for your life group leader, bible study partner, prayer partner, be there for your pastor.
- Be there for relationships that empower you in the Lord, through patience and endurance. Be there for your family, Be there for the mourning, the sick, the grieving among us. Be there for the ones going through tough times.
- Be there for lives that lead you to a life of gratitude and not complaints, You can choose to be there for workers strikes and demonstrations, political rallies and debates or choose to be with those who are grateful to have a little like the Janitor who is just grateful to have a job.
As I finish, I invite you with me to turn my dilemma with my wife into a prayer which goes like this “Lord what will I do more do less, do without to be there for LIFE relationships, For relationships that spur on towards love and good deeds, for relationships that matter for the Kingdom. And as the Lord speaks to you about Relationships you will respond by saying “I am here, I am here for LIFE”. Let’s pray.