I AM CHANGED
I am going to attempt the impossible today by combining what could be two sermons into one. This means I cannot go very deep into the things we’re going to talk about; nevertheless, we’ll get to see how the gospel is related to our work and our family, just like we saw last week how it related to marriage.
So without further ado, let’s jump into our text.
Ephesians 6:1–9, ESV
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
Here we have directions for a couple of critical spheres of our lives: family and work. Let’s unpack them beginning with family, because what happens in the home ultimately finds it’s way into society.
THE GOSPEL AND YOUR FAMILY
Have you ever heard of the Grimm’s fairytale: “The Old Grandfather and His Grandson”? In that tale an old grandfather has become very senile and confused, as well as a very messy eater.
The old grandfather lived with his married son and his daughter-in-law who found his messiness a nuisance. Over the time that old grandfather lived with them the daughter-in-law turned her husband against his father; convincing him that his father was a tremendous burden.
One day old grandfather was particularly messy at dinner and the daughter-in-law said, “That does it. You’re eating in the other room.” She picked him up, led him to the other room, sat him in the corner, and gave him an ironstone bowl to eat from. For weeks the old grandfather sat in the corner with his eyes blinking, unsure of what was going on, far from everyone, slurping his porridge.
Then one day he dropped the bowl and it broke. The daughter-in-law was furious! She yelled at him, “That does it! If you’re going to eat like a pig, you might as well eat like a pig!” She grabbed the trough out of the pigsty, and put it in front of him, saying, “From now on you can eat out of this.”
A few weeks later the son and his wife noticed their little boy carving something. They said, “What are you working on?” He looked up and with great pride announced: “I am carving you and daddy a trough so when I grow up and you get old I can feed you from it.”
The son and daughter-in-law look at each other and said nothing. They began to weep. Suddenly, the son remember his father. He went to him, picked him up by the hand and led him back into the dining room, seating him in the most comfortable chair and let him eat there—never to be angry at him again.
I think we’re greatly confused about what honoring our parents entails. The fifth commandment doesn’t command affection, or confidence, or trust. It doesn’t even command love or obedience. All of these things are good things, but they’re just not contained in the command to honor.
Understand… when Paul says, “Children, obey your parents,” he’s talking to little children. He’s showing a trajectory of thought: If you obey your parents when you’re young, you’ll end up honoring them when you’re old.
Allow me to linger on this trajectory a bit. The relationship with their parents is a child’s first experience of social interaction. And a little child is dependent upon their parents for everything, therefore, obedience is a must. But the child is supposed grow so they can care for themselves and think for themselves, and eventually leave and provide for themselves. To depend upon your parents like a child when you’re an adult is neurotic. So, there’s a trajectory.
Some folks have had great parents who espoused great wisdom; there was a healthy experience. Others had evil parents who were frankly hard to love, maybe they were abusive or absent; it’s hard to admire them; they taught more what not to do than what to do, and obeying them as an adult would be foolish and possibly illegal. Therefore, the Bible doesn’t tell adults to obey their parents, but to honor them.
But why? If you’re parents weren’t wise or good or honorable, why honor them? Because it is the moral structure of the universe.
Parents hold an office of authority that points to the ultimate authority in the universe, God. Your parent is the first representative of God in your life. Eventually you grow out of childhood and move from the representative to the real God, yet the parent was discharging an office. Maybe they discharged that office horribly, maybe they did it wonderfully. But either way they represent the office of “God with us.”
Liberty is a big thing in Western society. But—and this is counterintuitive—true freedom to be what you are meant to be is found only under authority, not in it’s absence. For example, a fish is most free to be itself when it is in the sea , not when it’s on dry land. Or, when you get a bunch of musicians get together under the direction of a conductor, watch out for a symphony might break out. But if they each decide to play their own tune at their own tempo, all you get is a headache.
A parent is to raise a child up to one day leave them and be an independent, critically thinking, member of society. And what makes a parent effective is surprisingly not whether they were right or wrong in what they taught—although we are to disciple and instruct children with the mind of Christ—but whether or not they took up the office that God had called them to as parents. Sociologists have studied this and come to the conclusion that if you give a child the wrong kind of authority, at least they’ll grow up and say that that was wrong, or stupid. But if you give a child no authority, no teaching, the child will grow up believing that there is neither right nor wrong, and they’ll never develop critical thinking; they’ll not have the capacity to know good from bad or wise from foolish. So, the job of the parent is to take up the office in which they represent God, and then work themselves out of a job.
Now, our text gives us one piece of critical advice as we working at discharging the office, and it pins this on fathers because everyone knows that only father are overzealous, mothers never are. It says: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
This doesn’t mean appease your children out of fear that they will get angry. It means don’t frustrate and exasperate them, which could be done in one of two ways…
We were watching “The Good Doctor” the other night. And there was a mother in the story who’d not seen her daughter for 15 years. But she was at death’s door, so her daughter was summonsed and they had it out. The mother said, “You were so smart, you were an honor student, but you gave it up for singing—which would never amount to anything.” The daughter replied: “Mother, I was accepted to Juilliard, and you weren’t even proud of me. You never came to one of my recitals.” (You know Juilliard is like the tops in fine arts; it only takes like 3% of applicants.)
This is one way that you can provoke your children to anger: you can expecting nothing, underestimate their capacities, treating them like you think very little of them.
The other way is to expect something of your child that is beyond their capacity, beyond what they can live up to or give.
I can remember when my daughter was 3, we would sit in her play room in the Philippines and work on math worksheets together. We would spend about 10 mines a day drilling. Sometimes she would get them correct, other times she would answer one problem and then a few problems later it would come up again and she wouldn’t know it. I was wrong, but I got so angry and frustrated that I would yell and then she would cry. I was pushing beyond her present capacity.
There’s a story of a man who is an accomplished horse rider. In fact, he boasted to his wife: “I learned how to ride before I learned how to walk.” So when his son was 3 he put him up on a horse, dressed him as a cowboy, and wanted him to ride like he had. And his son burst out crying and hated being on the horse and was upset—and the father was furious at his son. He wanted his son to be able to do what he had done. His wife said to him, “Your son is not you.”
Are we expecting too little or too much? Either extreme can place a rift between parents and their children. My advice to you, if you are a parent, is to seek balance. As you do, it gives children the capacity to honor the office you hold, and even to learn to respect the authority behind the office: the throne of God itself.
Remember Grimm’s fairytale: If we don’t honor our parents—which we do by taking them seriously and forgiving them—there will be no honor in society, just chaos and a headache.
THE GOSPEL AND YOUR WORK
The story is told about an editor of a small magazine, Elbert Hubbard. One night after dinner in February 1899 he needed some filler for next issue, so he banged out an article without a title. He didn’t think much about the article, but over the next couple of weeks he received requests for reprints. A dozen, 50, 100, then 1000 copies were requested. They wanted that title-less article.
Then an order came for 100,000 copies from the president of the New York Central Railroad. Hubbard replied that it would take him two years to fill the order. So with permission the railroad president printed the article himself and distributed a million copies. Soon a visiting railroad executive from Russia saw it and had it translated into Russian and distributed to every railroad employee in Russia.
Then article spread to Germany, France, Spain, Turkey, India, and China. During the war between Russia and Japan, every Russian soldier was given a copy. When the Japanese, found the booklets on their Russian prisoners, they concluded that it must be a good thing. It was translated into Japanese and given to every member of the Japanese government. That article ended up being translated into 37 languages, selling over a 40 million copies.
Why the demand? Well, the article was about a true story in which President McKinley wanted a message delivered personally to General Garcia, leader of the Cuban insurgents, in the mountainous interior of Cuba during the Spanish-American war. A young Lieutenant was given the task to get the message to the General. No one knew where the General was and the Lieutenant didn’t ask or receive instructions, he just carried the message. He was a self-driven man on a daring escapade. The article contrasted the virtues of loyally, trust, the willingness to act promptly, and to concentrate one’s energy on a thing and do it against the feebleness of the average American man.
“Good help is hard to find.” But why? Because people are generally self-centered and self-serving. They generally put their own interests before their employers. And perhaps we can understand why: employees generally put their own interests before their employees. The entire situation will make your eyes and mouth droop.
In our text, Paul speaks to slaves and masters. We could be tempted to think a couple of things:
First, that it doesn’t apply to us because we’re not slaves or masters. But if we think of it in terms of employees and employers, then it does apply.
Second, we could get bent out of shape and the mention of slavery and the fact that Paul isn’t advocating a revolt here, and so close our ears to hear what he’s saying. I don’t want you to close you ears so understand this: Slavery in ancient Rome wasn’t like slavery in 18th century America.
First of all, slaves made up approximately a third of the Roman Empire, and the vast majority of them were in bondage only until they were 30 years old. Lastly, slavery in ancient Rome wasn’t based on race; it was based on a person’s lack of personal finances. If Paul had called for a slave revolt, then—and you need to understand this—Rome would have risen up and stamped out Christianity before Paul could have planted a single church.
Paul’s not for slavery, but under the influence of the Holy Spirit he tells slaves and masters how to treat each other. And that’s something he also did in the book of Philemon, which I like to mispronounce as “filet mignon.” Because Paul was trying to keep the slave Onesimus from becoming filet mignon by willingly returning to his master, who, by the way, was a leader in the Colossian church.
What Paul does in that book is the same thing he does here: He encourages both slave and master to treat each other well, knowing that the trajectory of true Christian love would cut the legs out from under the evils endured in slavery and, then, eventually slavery itself. Paul is saying, “The gospel brings change; the gospel starts an avalanche… wait for it.”
Now we can turn our thoughts to employees and employers. What I would like you to take home from this is an understanding of “divine calling;” that is, something God calls us to because he’s going to make use of it.
Better than anyone, I think, Martin Luther really nailed this. When he was preaching on the Lord’s Prayer he took note of the line that goes: “Give us this day our daily bread,” and he asked, How in the world does God answer that prayer? How does God feed us? Does milk and break magically appear our cupboards? … No. How does it come?
It comes, Luther said, by the hand of the farmer and the milkmaid and the person who transports to the goods to the market. He then concluded that the folks who do those tasks are doing God’s work; they’re acting as God’s hands and feed to feed us.
And what this means is that there’s no gulf between sacred church work and secular society work. When we work, we’re answering a divine call. Through our work God is meeting someone’s needs, giving someone life. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). Think about that.
But even more than this… When we work we reflect God himself. In the book of Genesis, we’re told that God made everything ex nihilo (fancy Latin for “out of nothing”). “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’” (Gen 1:2–3). God was at work bringing order out of chaos.
Think about this, now… When you’re cleaning your house, wiping the counters, dusting, mopping the floor’s, you’re reflecting God. You’re bringing order out of chaos. If that work doesn’t happen—and it doesn’t matter if a wife puts an electric shock collar on her husband, or the kids do it, or a hired maid does it—if it doesn’t get done, eventually things are going to get so bad that you’ll get sick and die. And so… all work is a divine calling, it’s God’s way of meeting needs and bringing life through you to others.
You may be banking or building or budgeting or basting a Turkey, whatever you’re doing God is moving through you. Now, maybe you have a boring job, a a job you hate, a job that doesn’t align with your passions or talents, I’m not telling you to stay in it. You can get another job if you want; I’m not your mother. But understand: whatever you are doing is your divine calling in this present moment, a calling that benefits another in someway. And if you remember that perhaps you’ll be inspired to work for the glory of God; seeing God as your true employer; seeing God as the true power behind your employer’s office.
When Paul tells slaves, employees, “Be good slaves and you will be rewarded in heaven,” he isn’t giving pie-in-the-sky-till-you-die platitude. He’s saying your theology changes you. The world wants justice and fulfillment and reward NOW; God says, “Wait on me. Trust me.”
Gospel theology not only transforms your understanding of the meaning of work, it infuses all work with meaning. Gospel theology changes your motive. And so, gospel theology changes you. It works on your heart and enables you to work from the heart. This is where you find dignity. This is where you find the capacity to be free to function in any environment.
In conclusion, one concept sums up all I’ve said about “The Gospel and Your Family” and “The Gospel and Your Work” and it’s the same concept that has undergirded our entire sermon series: Know who you are in Jesus.
When you know yourself in Jesus you’ll neither be pushed or pulled to overindulge your child because you’re afraid of their disapproval nor overdrive your child because you’re trying to live your life through them.
Think on this: Jesus, the true child of God, the true Son of God, insured you of a loving Heavenly Father on the cross. Therefore, you’re freed from the need to over-control or under-control your child; you’re freed from neurotic need to be approved of by your parent; you’re freed from being too hurt over the fact that they weren’t present or didn’t give you the approval you so deeply desired. Your identity in Christ changes how you parent; it changes how you honor your parents.
Similarly, if you know who you’re in Christ, you don’t need to look to your work or your performance for self-esteem, approval, power, or status. Your identity in Christ frees you to work with all of your might for God’s glory, and your satisfaction that someone is ultimately being served.
By the way, if you’re trying to find yourself through your work, it will make you neurotic—you want proof?, then look at me: do see all of this grey?—you’ll be unhappy and frustrated for nothing will be good enough. But if you work from your identity in Christ, realizing you’re executing your divine calling in this moment, then within your interior world you’ll be liberated. No shackles or circumstances will bind you there.
Do you see … ? Gospel identity changes who you are in the family and at work. God’s free grace in Jesus Christ changes everything! Amen.