Revolutionary Action!

November 21, 2017

The Kingdom Revolution #10

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

Contextually Paul wastes little time getting directly to the heart of the matter within the Roman churches—literally. It is the practical stage of the transformation. It is what the makeover really looks like. He is calling for revolutionary action—what living the revolution is all about.

Redirected Passion (12:8-16)

Or perhaps even better stated—redeemed passion. He begins with a makeover of what drives us—our passions—what we love and hate. Could it start otherwise? For things to change in Rome; for the Jew and Non-Jew alike to get on with the kingdom revolution; the “inward man” needed a makeover. Genuinely and transparently they needed to love each other. Unless and until they sincerely did no transformation could take place. Period.

Driving this change would be a decided distaste for anything evil coupled with an overarching desire for the good, holy and righteous. Don’t fail to make the connections Paul is working for here. Revolutions change everything remember? Change here involves a Jew and non-Jew seeing each other through the kingdom perspective. The layers involved in this include how good and evil are viewed. No longer would the Jew view the non-Jew through a hate/evil lens and visa-versa. Instead sincere love replaces hatred and racism. In Christ it is all good! Cling to that! Cling to your brothers. Christ’s values become preeminent in relationships, not worldly values.

Therefore be devoted to each other as family—regardless of race. Part of the revolution is creating a new family and a new identity in Christ that trumps all others. It is a family not based on heritage, but on “no condemnation” in Christ Jesus. The bloodline that we all have in common is what Christ shed on the cross. Love each other deeply, transparently and sincerely in this family—without reservation—even to the point of honoring the other above yourself. In Christ we are all elevated! Live that out. That is indeed a revolution—not seen nor heard anywhere else outside of the kingdom of God. Be passionate about that—not about hating. Frame it all in Christ. It all flows from serving him.

Redirect all that negative emotion; all that passion twisted by evil values and transform them to reflect the values of Christ. What a difference that would make! Transforming—not conforming. This is the way revolutions spread! It is not business as usual. It is the revolution of the kingdom of God. Wonderful. Amazing. Different. Redeeming. Beautiful. Welcoming. Eternal. Cling to this!

Never Be Lacking!

Allow this positive passion to go deep within to create the kind of hope that endures even when challenged. The kind of hope that can even find joy when the pushback comes—and rest assured it will come. All revolutions face resistance. Pushback comes from being different; from doing things differently (such as Jew sitting down to a meal with a non-Jew); so be ready. Never be lacking in the kind of zeal that enables hope and joy to reset the challenges (this is a common New Testament encouragement—Hebrews 12:2: James 1:2; 1 Peter 1:6-9). No longer is the pushback—the persecution—crippling and disheartening. It can be processed as a “light and momentary” trouble. Our joy in Jesus outweighs it. Prayer is a significant part of this process too. It is how we express it all directly to God. It is the language of the revolution.

So much so that in the kingdom we can even redefine persecution itself. Incredibly it can be made over into an opportunity to bless the persecutors! (Notice the echoes of the Sermon on the Mount throughout Paul’s teaching here?) Talk about a revolutionary idea—this is it! Don’t speak curses back into the pushback—speak blessings! (How are we at this practice?) Find the losers around you—not the winners to identify with and associate with! Incredible! That is just not the American way (nor was it the first-century way), but it is the kingdom way. (If we have paid any attention to Christ, this should not be surprising however. It is exactly what he did—Matthew 11:4-6.) So the weak, the poor, the timid, the mournful, the outcast, the sick, the homeless, the meek, the hurting, the lost, the friendless, the sinner, those on the fringe—go bless them; go hang out with them. Intentionally befriend them. Do not care what anyone else thinks. Care what God thinks. Do it all together too—in harmony with one another and with the same goal in mind. Revolutionaries must be united in their pursuit of the revolution or it will not happen.

And for it to happen, Paul includes another bit of advice—get over yourself. He doubles back to verse 3 because he knew this needed to be reiterated. No one ever said revolutions were easy. As long as a Jew allowed any old prejudice to linger; who kept even a small portion of Jewish pride within; or the non-Jew hung on to similar attitudes—nothing would change. Not a chance any of this would happen. Therefore—let go of conceit. Forget who you once were. That was all meaningless and counterproductive to the kingdom. Transformation is transformation! The result is nothing looks like it once did and that includes the person looking back in the mirror.

God’s calls for revolutionary action! Action intentionally driven by the values of the kingdom of God. Action designed to further the kingdom. Action that is not unnoticed. Action that makes sense only through a kingdom perspective. Action that will continue to change the world. So, how about it? Are we up to it? Are we passionate about it? Are we a part of the revolution?

 

 

Advertisements

Revolutions Change Everything

November 14, 2017

The Kingdom Revolution #9

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

Throughout this series of lessons, the idea that revolutions change everything has been a consistent thread. Revolutions by nature transform—they makeover what came before. Think of the recent entertainment “makeover” trend. Whether it was personal physical makeovers or the transformation of an old house—the results are always dramatic. Never featured in these programs is the person who lost only five pounds or the house that simply got a fresh coat of paint. That would attract no viewers. Instead the makeovers are revolutionary; the changes dramatic; leaving us astonished by the outcome.

Bring that idea into our next text of this study in Romans 12. Contextually Paul has finished his remarkable historically and theologically based presentation on God’s eternal will for the church to consist of both Jew and non-Jew. The first eleven chapters of Romans expounds upon his “there is neither Jew nor Greek” statement in Ephesians and expertly demonstrates the biblical case for it. It could only happen through Jesus—not the law. None are perfect. All (both Jew and Greek) deserve death (the “wages of sin”) but through Christ Jesus none (both Jew and Greek) are condemned. Having completed his thorough presentation of this, he turns to its application. What does this mean personally? What does it look like practically?

His answer? It kind of looks like a revolution!

Be Transformed!

One thing it is not, and that is to resemble is the way it was before—before Christ. Conforming to the old pattern—life without him—is not acceptable. Being completely transformed into new thinking, new goals, new behavior, and a totally new life is the result of “no condemnation” in Christ.

Everything changes. In the Roman context that started with how a Jew and Gentile thought of and treated each other in Christ. It also meant a great deal more which Paul details in chapters twelve through fifteen.

It can’t really be a revolution if only some things change. It cannot be a transformation if conforming to some patterns of the world linger. Like with the makeovers there must be a notable difference, such as, a Jew and Gentile eating together. This is the witness of the revolution in Christ—something astonishing, which can only find its reason in God.

This is what is so incredible about the Sermon on the Mount. The content of that message had not been heard before in that way. Little wonder those who heard Christ firsthand were astonished at his teaching (Matthew 7:28). In it he reset how we view the values of heaven. In it he announces the revolution that transforms everything!

Roman Echoes

There is little doubt and no mistake that Paul had this sermon on his mind in this section of Romans. Read particularly Romans 12:9-21 and echoes of Christ’s sermon abound. Paul understood this is the way of the transformation. This is what it looked like lived out—just as Jesus first proclaimed.

Not conforming, but transforming through a continuing devotion to renewal in Christ leads naturally and logically to embrace the way of Christ. It leads to the Sermon. It leads to a makeover. It leads to substantial, sweeping changes in all facets of life.

Not surprisingly it first leads to unblinking, honest self-evaluation. Before he ever recalls Christ’s teaching, Paul first urges an inward focus:

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment in according with the measure of faith God has given you. (vs. 3)

Considering the racist tension in the Roman churches this was solid advice. Jews were not superior to non-Jews. Neither were Gentiles better than the Jewish Christians. All were sinners in need of Christ. So, for them, the revolution had to begin with an honest assessment of how they thought of themselves and their place in the kingdom, which, as Paul stated, was based not on heritage or ethnicity, but on the gifts of God.

Another way to understand this is—how can everything change for me; how can this transformation take place within me; how can the revolution be personally embodied if I think I do not need it? That it is just for the other guy? No way I can move forward fulfilling God’s kingdom plans for me if this is how I think.

True transformation demands that I give up those old notions that tend to entrench stubborn but damaging behaviors in order to accept the newness of the kingdom, which then enables me not only to see myself differently, but others also. The kingdom revolution creates therefore a place where there is neither Jew nor Greek, which Paul describes as “one body with many members,” working together through a variety of giftedness, “so in Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Each belonging to all the others!? If that was not revolutionary teaching in the context of the Roman churches, nothing possibly could be!

But it all starts with that personal makeover—a revolutionary transformation that leads me to rethink everything the kingdom way and accordingly reframing relationships, community, and behavior. How I approach all of that simply no longer reflects my pre-revolutionary life. Everything changes.

It is in this astonishing makeover that we can make bold statements about the kingdom of God.


The Kingdom Perspective

November 13, 2017

The Kingdom Revolution #8

 Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 1 Corinthians 6:7

At the heart of the lawsuit that “defeated” the Corinthian church was a self-centered short sightedness. Lost in the dispute was the greater good and larger vision of the kingdom. It is not difficult to see why. Likely an injustice had been done; feelings were hurt; rights were violated; money or something of monetary value was likely involved (which always seems to ratchet up the stakes); the church had failed in peacefully resolving the issue; and as a consequence all thoughts of the kingdom were shoved aside. No kingdom revolution breaking out here—just business as the unbelieving world defined it—thus their defeat.

Which is why into this Paul reintroduced the kingdom perspective. There was another way to handle this dispute—a revolutionary way of taking the loss; being wronged and cheated—for the sake of kingdom peace and prosperity. Nowhere else would this be put forth as a solution. Yes, the kingdom is more important than personal rights. Yes, the kingdom is worth more than monetary gain. Something bigger than just me is going on here.

It is an Eternal Perspective

Another way to frame the Corinthian dispute is to view it through an eternal verses temporal lens. Those engaged in the lawsuit were merely reacting to and being driven by the moment. That, then, led to disastrous results. The kingdom perspective, which Paul taught, had the eternal component. Making decisions based upon that perspective changes things—how we feel, react, process, and behave in any given circumstance. He would remind the Corinthians of this in another letter:

Therefore do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Contextually Paul offered this kingdom perspective to the Corinthians as a part of his teaching on his ministry of reconciliation and how he personally processed challenges. Applying it to their earlier lawsuit problem it fits in seamlessly with his advice to take the loss. The lawsuit should have been considered a “light and momentary” trouble. Being wronged and cheated—the revolutionary kingdom approach—would have merely then been an investment into achieving eternal glory, which in comparison made the loss insignificant. This could have been done only by swallowing up the seen into the unseen and discerning the eternal out of the temporary. Once the bigger picture was given precedent, the lawsuit along with the heated emotions that triggered it, would have faded away in favor of the values of the kingdom.

Nothing to Gain Here

Recall Christ’s teaching about gaining the entire world but losing our souls in Matthew 16:25-27. This reflects the temporal versus eternal tension also. If we give into the moment to gain its rewards, but lose sight of the eternal will and perspective of God, what have we really accomplished? Was winning a lawsuit against another believer while bringing defeat and shame upon the church really worth it? Not much upside to that from a kingdom perspective.

Peter certainly had the kingdom perspective in mind when he wrote concerning end times:

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed it’s coming. (2 Peter 3:11-12)

He speaks of the ultimate temporal versus eternal tension that will be permanently resolved on the day of Christ’s coming. The treasure we lay up on earth? Gone. Our light and momentary problems? Over. All the losses we endured for the kingdom’s sake? Rewarded. This is the overarching and revolutionary backdrop upon which to place our entire approach to life. Holy and godly living combined with an ever-present anticipation of the kingdom fully coming completely changes things. With this type of kingdom perspective even the idea of a lawsuit would have never surfaced in Corinth. In the big picture of the kingdom there was nothing at all to gain from it.

Not My Will

Of course, Christ personified perfectly this kingdom perspective. It is what governed his life; it is how he came to make personal decisions; it is what enabled him to carry out completely the will of the Father. Note what the Hebrew writer says of him while encouraging us to “fix our eyes” on his example:

Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3)

What joy was found in a Roman cross? Absolutely none. It offered nothing but excruciating agony. In the moment no one desires that—even Christ. But he knew joy within it from the kingdom perspective. He took the loss so that we could achieve greater glory. That was the only way he could approach and finish it. The moment itself was too disheartening (as are many moments) but against anticipating the “joy set before him” he endured it. He gave up his rights; he did not insist on his way. He subjected his will to the Father’s (Luke 22:42) so that none of us would be defeated.

So to conclude this section of text—the simplest way to understand the kingdom perspective embedded within it is for us to let the Father’s will have preeminence in all we do—even if that means taking the loss; being wronged and cheated for the kingdom’s sake. It is not about insisting on getting my way and pursuing my rights; creating strife, division, or turmoil in the body of Christ; about temporary gain at the cost of the kingdom. It is about discerning the difference between temporary and eternal while living holy and godly lives with that framing and driving our decisions; it is about knowing that the only way to overcome the defeatism of the moment is to invest ourselves and our recourses into the eternal. It is about fixing our eyes on the unseen—on Christ—and always living in the moment with the eternal in mind. This is the kingdom revolution that indeed changes everything!


Rethinking the Value of Money

October 30, 2017

The Kingdom Revolution #7

Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 1 Corinthians 6:7

While not addressing money specifically within the context of the Corinthian lawsuit, it is not much of a leap to conclude that some kind of monetary value was at the core of this dispute. Paul’s divine advice to “take the loss” implies that someone would lose something of value and at a personal sacrifice. In teaching this as the kingdom solution in this specific situation, he clearly placed the value of the kingdom over the monetary value disputed in the lawsuit. For the kingdom’s sake; in order not to be defeated in pursuit of and spread of the kingdom; be wronged, be cheated and take the loss. In so teaching, Paul is putting forth a revolutionary way of thinking about money and possessions. They (and the pursuit of them) do not come first—the kingdom does.

While this teaching indeed was revolutionary, it was not new nor did it originate with Paul. As usual Christ was there first.

Life is not about Possessions

In three landmark texts, Jesus puts forth clearly the kingdom perspective about money and possessions. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:19-34) he warns against hoarding and trusting in wealth, offering the kingdom alternative of “laying up treasure in heaven.” He speaks to divided loyalties if money and possessions are our goal. He points to God’s care of creation as evidence for God’s care for us. He will provide all we need. No need to worry or fret. The key is in seeking first the kingdom and it righteousness. When the kingdom truly comes first everything changes including how we think about the value of money and possessions.

He addressed this topic again in Luke 12:13-33. The occasion for this was a question about inheritance. Jesus response is vividly clear on the kingdom approach to money and possessions:

Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.  

He then shares a story about a farmer, who coming off a bumper crop decides to build bigger barns to store it, while celebrating in and trusting in his windfall. Jesus labeled him a “fool” for relying on his wealth while not being “rich toward God.”

And lastly, there is the conversation between Jesus and the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-30. Replying to the young man’s question about what he yet needed to do “to get eternal life,” Christ bluntly told him to sell all of his possessions and give the money earned from it to feed the poor. Christ then spoke to the spiritual challenges related to being rich. This doubles back to his previous teaching. It is difficult to serve both money and God.

That is, unless we embrace the kingdom way of rethinking the value of money. Then things can change—like taking the loss in a lawsuit that threatens to defeat our kingdom purpose and goals.

A Kingdom Approach to Money

Before going further, it must be acknowledged that having wealth and possessions is nowhere in itself condemned in Scripture. Riches in themselves are neutral—neither good nor evil. It is our attitudes about them and use of them that muddy up the water.

Consider Paul’s directive to Timothy about the wealthy within the Ephesian church:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God who richly provides us everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

Notice the echoes of Christ’s teaching? This text followed an earlier one in which Paul put the “root of evil” not on money itself, but on the “love of money” while warning against the idea that contentment comes through financial gain and chasing riches at all costs. He labels that “foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin” (1 Timothy 6:5-16).

So absorbing all of this—what is the kingdom way when it comes to money and possessions?

  • First of all, we are not to be greedy and covet them—Exodus 20:17; Ecclesiastes 5:10; Luke 12:15; Colossians 3:5
  • They are not to define us nor are we to put our trust in them—Matthew 6:20; Luke 12:15 1 Timothy 6:17
  • They are to be shared; there is a communal responsibility that comes with them—Luke 6:30; Acts 2:45; 4:32
  • They are a means to support and carry out kingdom goals—Acts 16:1-2: 2 Corinthians 8-9.

The key to rethinking the value of money and buying into this revolutionary teaching is all about our priorities. As Jesus said, “For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If seeking first the kingdom is what we treasure above all else—using our resources the kingdom way will not be an issue. Lawsuit problem solved!

When it comes to our attitudes and use of money and possessions, we reap what we sow. The Corinthian church most definitely reaped the turmoil and strife of a non-kingdom approach. The kingdom way would have us thinking of how to use our money and possessions as investments in God’s heavenly goals—sowing the seeds of the kingdom.

“God loves a cheerful giver.” This is exactly what the kingdom revolution produces—revolutionaries who refuse to allow money and possessions to define and control them, but who invest themselves first into the kingdom, trust God above all else and generously use their resources for kingdom purposes in order to bless others. With this perspective—taking a loss is not even processed that way—it is just another investment into the kingdom of God.


Redefining Personal Rights

October 19, 2017

The Kingdom Revolution #5

Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 1 Corinthians 6:7

The Corinthian Situation

These words were among those written by Paul in response to a letter he received from a lady named Chloe who was a part of the infant church in Corinth. Being a first generation church it was experiencing severe challenges transitioning from a secular worldview to a kingdom one. Chloe detailed those challenges to Paul and he responded. We know that response as the New Testament letter of 1 Corinthians.

The problems that plagued the Corinthian church were rooted in immaturity along with a lack of understanding (and embracing) of kingdom values. They had yet to be completely revolutionized. In the specific context of our scripture reference it was evident in their handling of some type of legal dispute among Christians. Instead of assisting those at odds and seeking a resolution within the church setting, this dispute spilled over into the greater community and into the secular court system. Paul was most displeased at this news.

“You have been completely defeated already.”

Instead of seeking outside counsel, Paul would have had them adjudicate the situation among themselves—making the case that the discernment of Christians (who are to judge the angels, he teaches) should be superior to that of ungodly outsiders. It was also a matter of perception—what kind of witness to the kingdom was this in their community? The entire situation was so shameful that Paul laments, stating how they were already defeated in their pursuit of the revolutionary values of the kingdom. Infighting? Lawsuits between Christians taken before unbelievers in the state court system? Not exactly the kind of kingdom revolution to which they were called.

So Paul offers another viewpoint on the situation and it, not unexpectedly, is quite different and revolutionary. If worse comes to worse. If the dispute cannot be resolved, then his divine advice was to take a loss, be wronged, and be cheated for the kingdom’s sake. If the dispute cannot be handled among the church; if a solution cannot be found within; do not take it to the courts; just take the loss. That is the kingdom way. The health, harmony, progress, and witness of the kingdom is worth far more than whatever gain was involved in winning the dispute.

Don’t be defeated by ungodly greed, revenge, and pursuit of personal rights at all costs. Allow kingdom values to reframe the approach even to the point of completely redefining personal rights.

While this was revolutionary then, it may be even more so for us now (with our deeply ingrained American “rugged individualism” and hard fought history of securing personal and civil rights). This revolution did not start with Paul however. As with all other kingdom related values, it has its roots in Christ.

Lose Life to Gain It

Embedded within the kingdom has always been a paradoxical idea about self-interests. It runs counter to our natural inclinations. Our nature calls upon us to pursue our self-interests above all else. If that means allowing a dispute with another Christian to spill over into court in order to prove my case and be vindicated—so be it—regardless of the collateral damage to the kingdom. But that is just not the kingdom way. Listen to Christ:

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for may sake will find it.  What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:25-26)

Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians simply echoes these words of Jesus. In the kingdom there is a different personal ethic at play. Pursuing the kingdom shuffles the deck. No longer are my personal rights preeminent. No longer do I seek my self-interests above all else. No longer do I insist on having my way. And even if it comes to it—I am willing to be wronged and to be cheated for the kingdom sake. What good is it to win a lawsuit if it defeats my purpose within the kingdom? Instead I lose my life and in the process find an entirely different and more meaningful way to measure and value my life.

This is the revolutionary attitude and understanding that put Christ on the cross.

Our Attitude Should Be the Same as His

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Just how tough are these words to process for us? My guess is about like those who first heard Paul’s teaching in Corinth. Who wants to be wronged or cheated? Who really considers other’s better than themselves? Is it even possible to not have selfish ambition?

Again the answers to these questions are found in Christ. He was wronged. He was cheated. His only ambition was to submit to the Father’s will for our sake—so that we could find our life in him. And we are to emulate his attitude!

For a couple of Corinthian Christians involved in a dispute this meant forgoing the lawsuit as well as redefining what personal rights meant within the kingdom context. What does it mean for us? Using this Corinthian text as our backdrop we will explore that in the next few lessons.

The ideas put forth here are only found in the kingdom of God. Nowhere else is such an ethic found. Nowhere else but in the kingdom of the humble, meek, pure, and redeemed.

 


Social Revolution: Neither Slave nor Free

September 25, 2017

The Kingdom Revolution #3

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. –Galatians 3:26-28

Slavery in the Roman Empire

Slavery within the Roman Empire was not racially based. Slaves were primarily made up of people from conquered nations who were sold into the slave networks that supplied much of the labor that fueled the continued expansion of the empire. Piracy (through raiding and capturing) also added to the slave rolls. Claiming abandoned babies (unfortunately a rather common practice known as “exposure”) for the singular purpose of selling them (when of age) in the slave markets also contributed to the slave supply. And there were also generational slaves—the offspring of slaves who continued to belong to the house that owned their parents (slaves were by law not allowed to marry).

Slaves were a commodity within the Roman Empire. The empire depended upon the labor they provided to function. According to various estimates slaves made up approximately 30-35% of the population throughout the empire. They had no legal rights (until the latter stages of the empire—an important note); could not own prosperity; and belonged completely to their owners—considered nothing more than property by them. One historian noted:

Slaves were the lowest class of society and even freed criminals had more rights. Slaves had no rights at all in fact and certainly no legal status or individuality. They could not create relations or families, nor could they own property. To all intents and purposes they were merely the property of a particular owner, just like any other piece of property – a building, a chair or a vase – the only difference was that they could speak…Slaves were, for many of the Roman elite, a status symbol and, therefore, the more (and the more exotic) one had, the better, so that wealthy Romans very often appeared in public accompanied by an entourage of as many as 15 slaves. (Mark Cartwright; Slavery in the Roman World on the “Ancient History Encyclopedia” website.)

The circumstances of slaves varied according to their abilities and owners. Slaves who were educated and/or skilled in a craft would fare better than others. They would typically be owned by wealthier families in cities—serving as tutors or using their skills to earn money for their master (and even for themselves—slaves were allowed to earn money and could even purchase their own freedom, which was called “manumission”). Those without skills often would work in harsher conditions in rural areas on farms or used in brothels. The owners always dictated daily life for slaves—some could be kind; others could be cruel.

For the most part slaves accepted their lot in life in the Roman Empire. On occasion some would rebel. Perhaps the most famous such rebellion took place in 73 BC led by a gladiator slave named, Spartacus. It ended with the rebellion crushed by General Pompey; Spartacus dead; and 6000 of his fellow slaves rebels crucified along a 120 mile section of the Appian Way between Rome and Capua. Choosing between crucifixion and slavery—most chose slavery. Again the historian notes:

The entire Roman state and cultural apparatus was, then, built on the exploitation of one part of the population to provide for the other part. Regarded as no more than a commodity, any good treatment a slave received was largely only to preserve their value as a worker and as an asset in the case of future sale. No doubt, some slave owners were more generous than others and there was, in a few cases, the possibility of earning one’s freedom but the harsh day-to-day reality of the vast majority of Roman slaves was certainly an unenviable one. (see above reference.)

Neither Slave Nor Free

It was into this culture that Paul spoke these words to the Galatian churches—and quite revolutionary words they were. It was nothing short of a social revolution. As noted, slaves were property—not people. The idea that there was no difference between slave and owner; that owner and slave were somehow equals; that they would sit down as brothers and sisters—was outrageously scandalous—socially in every way. The socio-economic gap between slave and owner within the Roman Empire was just too vast; too culturally entrenched; even too politically significant to be bridged, but yet here is Paul saying, that in Christ, it can be. To understand and accomplish this took an entirely new and revolutionary way of ordering things. It took the kingdom way.

Paul and Slavery

It is quite notable that the apostle Paul never called for the end of slavery or for the emancipation of slaves. Certainly he recognized its unjust, cruel, dehumanizing, and exploitative nature, yet he was not divinely directed to end it. How could his words to the Galatians be reconciled to this? How could there truly be no slave or free if slavery continued to exist? In answering this question the true revolutionary nature of the kingdom is revealed.

Much like Christ—whose teaching, while not overtly political, deeply subverted the cultural norms—Paul subverted the accepted slave/owner relationship. He does so by calling upon slaves to see their work for their owners as working for the Lord (Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25), which was quite a revolutionary thought. Doing that would be a game-changer in that slaves would give full effort in their labor, not hold back, rebel, or steal from their owners (see also Titus 2:9-10). It would reorient the slave and redefine his purpose. His purpose now became a kingdom purpose. His owner now became someone to win for Christ and working for him as if he was working for the Lord was his venue to do it. This is why Paul concluded his Titus teaching to slaves by saying, “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our savior attractive.” Slaves as evangelists to their owners? Subversive indeed. So much so that Paul could ask slaves to even reimagine themselves as free—free to serve God through the purchase price of the blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 7:22-23).

Interestingly enough he also asked those who were free to reimagine themselves as slaves in the same text—their purchase price being one into slavery to serve the higher cause of Jesus. Christ is the great equalizer in this situation. God is not respecter of persons in this regard. Being clothed with him changes identities—that of Christian slave owner as well. Paul commanded them to not mistreat, be harsh or threaten their slaves, but to be fair and just—treating them kindly—while reminding them that they too have a Master in heaven (Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1). And then there is the way he seeks to resolve the conflict between Onesimus, a runaway slave, and his Christian owner, Philemon. He appeals to Philemon to accept Onesimus back not as a slave but as a brother and reframes the value of Onesimus not in market terms, but in kingdom terms. If the institution of slavery was to change for the better within Rome or eventually end, this is the way it would. Not through rebellion would it happen. Rome would and did brutally crush those. It would change when slave owner and slave began relating to one another through the revolutionary teaching of the kingdom of God. Then and only then would everything change—and it did. While slavery did not end completely, slaves eventually gained more legal rights within the empire. Was this chance or did the growing influence of God’s kingdom have something to do with it? No where else would you see slave and owner sitting together as one—brought together in Christ Jesus. No longer wearing the clothes of a slave or owner, but of Christ.

“Class warfare” or “identity politics” only serve to heighten and further social divisions. The kingdom of God serves to help us overcome such social constraints and unite in the common cause of Christ; to understand that our value is not tied to our socio-economic status or political identity in our particular culture. If Christ can remake the slave/master relationship, there is no social barrier he cannot overcome. The kingdom is for all and welcomes all to unite in Christ.


Revolutionizing Race Relationships

September 18, 2017

The Kingdom Revolution #2

You are all sons of God though faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. –Galatians 3:26-28

Jew-Gentile Relationship

The first century Roman world was in some ways remarkably tolerant concerning race and even religion. According to the Caesar as long as subservient conquered people would pay homage to the Roman gods along with the Emperor and obey Roman rule they were pretty much left alone to pursue their native culture and religion. If a nation refused to do so, then such tolerance ended. Jews in Palestine were such a people. Israel was a hotbed of rebellion. This ultimately led in 70 A.D. to the complete and utter desolation of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple—the Jewish cultural and religious center.

At the core of the Jewish rebellion was a desire to be free to pursue their own interests as a nation including the practicing of their religion. Embedded within this core was a prejudicial attitude toward non-Jews. The Jewish historian Josephus noted that the Jews “did not come into contact with other people because of their separateness” (Antiq. 13:245-247; Apion, 2.210). This separateness evolved out of certain requirements of the Law. Because of their dietary requirements, ceremonial cleansing, and other such practices, most Jews viewed non-Jews as unclean. The physical mark of circumcision also separated the Jews from the rest of the population. This led to elitism and an entrenched prejudice toward non-Jewish people. As expected a pushback to this occurred from among non-Jews. In general the Jew-Gentile relationship in the first century was not a healthy one.

This is evident in Christ’s ministry. As he expanded the idea of God’s kingdom, he often prodded at the Jewish elitism identifying non-Jews as the heroes of stories (the Good Samaritan for example). He continually challenged the status quo. He wanted them to see the revolutionary nature of the kingdom of God. It was no longer just a Jewish domain nor was it ever designed to remain so. Then the apostle Paul—more than anyone else as he carried out his “ministry of reconciliation” among non-Jewish people—dealt with the struggle of Jew/Gentile racism within the church. One commentator writes of this:

From the Jews, whose view of Gentiles was filtered by Levitical prescriptions for ethnic purity, came accusations that Paul’s Gentile inclusiveness had polluted God’s covenant to His people. After all, the majority of Gentiles led unceremoniously unclean lives and held Judaism’s mores in contempt. From the Gentiles, whose view of the Jews was marked a by derogatory racial superiority, there arose a sense that Paul was futilely pandering to his kinsmen. After all, the Jews rejected their Messiah, seemingly forgoing God’s favor on them. For Paul to conjoin Jews and Gentiles together as the co-recipients of the gospel’s salvific power was to offer a gospel liable to shame from both ethnic groups.*

Fruther commentary:

The greatest threat to the Christian faith in the first century was racism. Jews and Gentiles detested each other. Both Jews and Gentiles perpetrated stereotypes. Both made false assumptions about the other. Both Jews and Gentiles thought the best way to live was at an advantageous distance from the other.*

Into all of this Paul speaks the words of Galatians 3:26-28 and it was totally revolutionary, radical and scandalous. It spoke to the very way people for generations had been identifying themselves—and proudly so–by their race, heritage and culture.

Galatia

The situation among the churches in Galatia was fairly typical of the racial dynamic of the day. Many Jews within the Galatian churches refused to accept non-Jews unless they also embraced certain Jewish traditions and customs. Paul refused this—calling their teaching “another gospel.” It was all about identity and there was just one identity that mattered—that of being in Christ. It superseded all others. In him there is neither Jew nor Greek. Within the kingdom of God our very identities are transformed. Our race takes a back seat to our faith. This was the revolutionary message to the Galatian churches then and remains so.

In Christ Race is Revolutionized

Jesus, through his death and resurrection, dramatically ripped apart the barriers of hostility that divide races (Ephesians 2:14). He is the God of both the Jew and non-Jew (Romans 3:29-30). He is the God of both black and white and every nation and tongue. It is in him and through his power that prejudice is overcome and a new revolutionary way of thinking about race and identity is lived out.

  • Redefine our Primary Identity. No longer are we to identify ourselves first as Jew/Gentile or back/white, etc. Our clothing has changed! We wear Christ as our primary identity. Even further our primary citizenship is no longer within the nation we reside. Instead it is in the kingdom of God. When we put on Christ in baptism—everything changes including the way we view ourselves. We identity first with him and his kingdom. Our priorities are revolutionized. We discover a new way of viewing other people. We are adopted into a family with a different set of values.
  • Racism is replaced with acceptance (Romans 15:7). We learn to accept each other in Christ Jesus. We are set free from suspicion and separation. It is Christ who binds us together in his grace. What brings us together in him becomes more valuable than what separated us before him. Instead of making worldly assumptions about one another based upon race or other factors, we are moved with the compassion of Jesus to accept and embrace one another based upon the fact that he saved us all with the same sacrifice. No one is superior to any other. Paul stated it clearly—all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Who are we to consider ourselves better than anyone else (Romans 2:1-2)?
  • Relationships are revolutionized. They are, in fact, redeemed in Jesus. The old way of thinking is revolutionized. In God’s kingdom relationships are based upon God’s grace. In Christ we are made to be one people—not many. Race is secondary. Christ is primary. Since he destroyed all the barriers of separation, we are now set free to embrace, accept and love each other in a way that can be found no where else—a revolution of relationships that mark us as citizens of God’s kingdom.

What emerges from this is a true post-racial community. (It is not a community free of the reality of race. Nowhere does God ask us to ignore our racial heritage and culture. Paul allowed Jewish Christians to continue to practice circumcision, dietary customs and keep Jewish holy days—as long as it never superseded their kingdom identity or they attempted to enforce them upon non-Jewish Christians). It is a community that simply refuses to allow race to be the dividing line; to create hostility and separation; or to undermine the unity of God’s kingdom. It acknowledges that racism is sin in any and every form. It strives to present the kingdom alternative—the revolutionary idea that race is not primary, but Christ is. It is the revolutionary nature of the kingdom—a place that looks like this:

After this I looked and saw a multitude too large to count, from every nation and tribe and people and tongue, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! –Revelation 7:9-10

Want to revolutionize race relations in our world? The only way is Jesus. The only place is in his kingdom.

 

Both quotes are taken from article entitled. “The Gospel, Unashamed: Race Relations in Rome, Part 2 on the Downline Ministry Blogpost of July 17, 2016.