Growing Through Committed Relationships
The sanctifying process is primarily worked out in our lives through committed relationships for two reasons. First, people can put on a public face giving others a false perception of who they are, but they can’t consistently do that at home. Their spouses and children will see right through them. Second, marriage and family as well as slave and master relationships were lifetime commitments. Rather than run away from the pressure of living together, we are supposed to stay committed and grow up. Where better are we going to learn to love one another, accept one another, forgive one another, and bear with one another? Consider Titus chapter two, which begins with an appeal for sound doctrine and ends with appeal to godliness. Within that context Paul discusses the family and social relationships and follows the same order in the books of Ephesians and Colossians.
It is critically important to distinguish between who we are in Christ and our role responsibilities in life. When Paul led the runaway slave to Christ, he sent Onesimus back to his earthly master. Paul appealed to Philemon to receive Onesimus as a brother in Christ. In the time of Christ, a slave was more like a lifetime employee and they often lived better than the self-employed who were quite poor. Onesimus was first and foremost a child of God. Being a slave was his social role. This distinction can be clearly seen in Colossians 3:11&22. In verse 11 Paul says in Christ there is neither slave or free, then in verse 22 he talks about the role responsibility of slaves.
The same truth holds for husbands and wives. Husbands are to respect their wives as heirs with them of the gracious gift of life (1 Peter 3:7). In other words, Christian wives are children of God and equal in status with their Christian husbands. But they don’t have the same calling in life. In Titus chapter two Paul gives specific instructions for older men, older women, younger women, young men and slaves, and then concludes by admonishing all to live godly lives.
In a general sense, Paul’s Epistles are divided into halves. The first half is often considered theological and the second half is practical. The tendency is to skip the first half and look to the second half for practical instruction for daily living. The result is a subtle form of Christian behaviorism. “You shouldn’t do that, you should do this, or that isn’t the best way to do it, here is a better way.” Committed Christians will try the best they can, but often fail or burnout trying. Why isn’t it working? The first half of the Epistles establishes us in Christ. If we can get believers to enter into the first half of Paul’s Epistles, they will be firmly rooted in Christ. Then they will be able to supernaturally live according to the second half.
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