October 28, 2012

EARTHLY DUTIES ACCORDING TO OUR STATION IN LIFE.

(Ephesians 6:1-9)


Part of the Saxon Pericope Gospel list series, preached at a Sunday Morning service

Our text for this morning is Eph. 6:1-9, reading as follows:

Dear fellow redeemed sinners, redeemed by Jesus Christ, God’s only-begotten Son, who has set in all things the perfect example for us. Some popular texts appear in almost every pericope or list of sermon texts for a year. An obvious example is Luke 2 for Christmas. They may pick Joseph and Mary coming to Bethlehem and Jesus’ birth, or maybe the angels announcing it to the shepherds, or perhaps the shepherds visiting and telling others, or the angels’ song, or the entire story. It will be something from Luke 2, for that is just too popular and instructive to skip. It is the same with today’s text. This is the seventh or eighth time I have preached on it: in Epiphany, in Lent, after Easter, and, of course, on several Sundays in Trinity. I thought, What new insight can I possibly bring forth? And I answered myself: NONE! And then looking at the text once again, I started to notice a few new points. But why bother? Because it is a very valuable text and that is why so many lists often include it. It is one of our great proof passages in the Small Catechism on the Fourth Commandment. Then I suddenly realized that there are children here today who were even not born four or five years ago. Those who were born were babies then, and basically were unable to understand much if anything said. Now these children are older and can receive the basics. Those who were a bit older can now understand most or all of God’s message to them. Boys and girls, you are to love and obey your parents who love you and have done so much for you and continue to do so much for you. I must also remind parents to love and provide for their own. If all parents heeded this it would cause an enormous improvement in modern society. Young children are now able to listen and think about God’s message to them. Perhaps a gentle reminder is needed for all of us as well, for our memories are not perfect. Of course, there are no perfect parents. So it is certainly worthy of one more sermon! This morning we consider our –
EARTHLY DUTIES ACCORDING TO OUR STATION IN LIFE.
I
First, we hear of efforts in the home. Our text begins particularly with the children. Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. There is only one exception to this commandment, namely to obey God above all (Acts 5:29). He says, “In the Lord,” not because we are forced to do something but gladly, wholeheartedly, because God tells us to do this. Nor is there any age limit. He tells us to listen to our father and not despise our mother even when they are old (Prov. 23:22), to respectfully to rise up and honor the elderly (Lev. 19:22), to help them as able. Jesus was the only perfect child (Luke 2:52), and, for that matter, the only perfect adult who while in agony on the cross still saw to the provision of His mother Mary (John 19:27) after His resurrection and ascension. He tells all children: Honor thy father and mother. He expects far more than grudging obedience. Your parents should hold a special place in your heart. You should gladly obey and quickly do as they say. They care for you and tell you things that are good for you. They know best and care most for you. In today’s environment, however, disobedience and gross disrespect are far more often the case. Often wicked defiance is given to even the most reasonable orders. Because of our sinful, stubborn nature, God also adds a special reward: This is the first commandment with promise, that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. This is only one of the Ten. Commandments which has a special promise attached. This emphasizes its great importance to good order in this world. You do not have to wait for heaven, but God already gives a partial reward here and now in this world. But there has been one change from the original commandment in the Old Testament. Instead of living long upon the “land,” namely Israel, God changes it to “earth,” for this is intended for all believers in all the countries around the entire planet. He does elsewhere warn of the opposite, which is here implied, of punishment to the disobedient, such as the eagles plucking out the eyes from their carcasses (Prov. 30:17).
After speaking to the children and directing them how they ought to behave, God turns also to the parents: Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. While the word “fathers” can mean many fathers, it also means and should be here translated “parents,” for He has just mentioned honoring both fathers and mothers. This is also what the modern Spanish plural “padres” means. It does not mean that you must listen to fathers but may feel free to ignore mothers. Surely it is unnecessary to mention this? Oh how I wish that were true. In the early New Testament times parents set “unwanted” babies on street to die of hunger or exposure or be eaten by roving packs of hungry dogs. Yes, children, that is how many non-Christian parents behaved back then. The Christians could not stand this. They knew that Jesus had made and also redeemed all people, including tiny infants, that He wanted them too in His heavenly family. So they took these abandoned ones and adopted them, which is another reason why the early Christian church had such fast growth. A preacher back in 1941 observed the growth of childless homes in America. He acknowledged that some couples dearly would like to have children but for various medical reasons were unable to have children. But most couples simply would not; they did not want children any longer. It was pure selfishness: The women went to work during the war and had gotten used to factory work, going to the bars after their shift, and especially loved the extra wages from a second worker, as well as not having any stinky diapers at home waiting to be changed. They chose to live childless. They would live for themselves. It was pure selfishness. But it is far worse today. Now while the homosexuals clamor for the “right” to marriage, a slight majority of heterosexuals do not bother with marriage. If there is the inconvenience of a child despite their “precautions,” then they pay someone to butcher the unborn child, but they call it by the “nicer” term of “abortion.” That does not sound nearly so bad and often the government even pays for the “procedure.” There is truly a lack of loving parents. God warned that it could happen that a woman would desert her own flesh and blood, but assured that He would never do that to us (Is. 49:15). And Jesus foretells that in the last days the love of many would grow so cold (Matt. 24:12), yes even to the point of killing one’s own offspring. God warns of provoking the children, such as with “abuse,” and we hear reports of such on TV headlines regularly. Sometimes we can scarcely believe what we hear. There is a distinct difference between discipline and mistreatment. Sometimes there are reports of violent murder by mothers or stepfathers or new “boyfriends.” On the other extreme there is total indifference, utter lack of concern. Let the children run wild and whatever happens happens. Another similar response is no time for children, who then become starved for love and affection. Alas, there are those out there who are willing to prey on these young innocents, abusing or even killing the vulnerable afterwards.
Parents are to provide for their children. I should not need to mention the obvious, but … Several decades ago a Lutheran pastor, of all things, who needed his new car and computer and other things said, “Should something happen to me, the brethren will care for my family.” So he spent foolishly and left his family nothing but a pile of debts. That is not what Christian parents desire. Not Paul, but the Holy Spirit judges such a one as “worse than an infidel” in the First Epistle to Timothy (5:2). Children have physical requirements, but they do not need name brands or the latest thing advertised. Clean, warm covering is sufficient. Our texts mentions to “nurture” them. It is well to note that “to nurture” means “to discipline,” and does not have to do with nutrition. Parents are to look to their mental and social training. The parents must be a team in decisions in rearing children, lest clever children play one against the other. We must guide them in morals and especially their religious upbringing. This is of particular importance, for their faith affects their soul and also their resurrected body for all eternity. Christian parents are to bring their children to the Lord in baptism. Yes, many may later stray, but at least they have a foundation to which to return rather than sink in the quicksand of life. Note, some wiseacre once said: “Be nice to your children; someday they will pick your nursing home.” And I pessimistically add, “If you are lucky!” Many may abandon their parents to their own efforts or urge them to be “euthanized” before the estate is consumed in assisted living fees. Others may well strike against the Social Security Ponzi scheme. They will reject the demand for further deductions from their wages and also the matching percentage the employer must match rather than giving it to them directly. Many will understandably exclaim: We have our own parents to care for and our own family to raise. Certainly they will not sacrifice for strangers who could not be bothered with children of their own. Those couples should have thought of their old age when they were recklessly spending all their money on themselves. If things do not change, violent rebellion is surely coming. I shudder at the day of reckoning. Thus God speaks to children and to parents and then he turns to –
II
Society and our relation with others at work. He speaks first to servants. Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ. At that time many households had servants, but in our day people usually are employees for some outside business. The principle is the same: Obey them under whom you are, except, of course, if they demand contrary to God. In all other cases servants are to obey. Sometimes naïve children think that they can hardly wait to grow up and get out of the house. They can at last be out of school, out on their own, have their own house, be free to do whatever they wish. Oh, how glorious that will be. Many recent graduates, even college graduates, are ruefully finding that it is a cold, cruel world. They are not being recruited for that dream joy with an enormous salary. Yes, excellent people with years of experience go begging work. New graduates often find no job at all. They cannot immediately afford all those things which their parents slowly accumulated over many years and shared freely with them. They find out the hard way that obedience does not end at age 18 or even 50. Life just replaces the person over you. You have a boss over you and you either obey promptly or may be fired. There is no real choice. The foremen certainly do not care about you like your Christian parents, and will not treat you patiently and gently if you back-talk or do something poorly. You must keep on obeying the boss anyway, yes, not only the good and gentle, but also the “froward” (1 Peter 2:18), the pig-headed and stubborn who demand it be done their way, for they are paying you. “Shut up and obey or pick up your last check.” Servants are to obey and obey promptly. But Christian employees are not to do this from fear. No, our text says in verses six and seven: Not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: Again, Paul is addressing Christians here. The heathen have an entirely different response. Maybe they will go on strike or commit sabotage or open violence against their employer. The poor boss may have to fear an employee uprising!
But Christian employees are to live by different standards than the workers of the world. We are to do an honest job to the best of our ability, whether any boss is present or not. We are to serve not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord. God is always there watching us, hoping to witness good stewardship for Him to reward. We are to set a Christian example to those around who may either snicker or have their consciences pricked as the case may be. God adds: Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. There will be some kind of reward. He does not say that it shall be on this earth, although it may sometimes be, but it may well be afterwards. Even here on earth, goodness rarely meets with punishment while wickedness almost always receives punishment in return. We should not forget that even the most menial service pleases God as much as that of any prophet. Luther refers to the husband hanging out laundered diapers on the line in order to help his busy wife. It is a very humble service of love and God sees his heart. We have a promise here from God, which is a parallel to verse three about things being “well with us.” We may receive this reward hereafter, however. This is the case, whether bond or free. They are treated alike by God.
Even as earlier God spoke to the parents, so He now deals briefly with masters. Things are reciprocal: Ye masters, do the same things unto them. This is the Golden Rule in action, to do to others as you wish they would do to you, although too many times they do not respond so. Bosses should remember when they were once lowly employees and how they felt. These are men under them and not animals. I still remember back to the wisdom of foreman Dahlke when summers during college I worked for the County Park Department. One day in very hot weather, 90º or higher, it was our task to load a truck box with long 2x12 planks to be unloaded again to become new bleacher seats at a ball diamond. Four of us worked nonstop, not wanting to be the first to give in to rest, and we continued until the big box could hold no more and a second trip would be needed. Suddenly the foreman appeared and pulled out four cans of pop from the shop. “You really worked hard,” he exclaimed with praise, “ especially in this heat. Take five! Here are four cans of cold pop; my treat.” He knew how to be a wise master, knew how to get the very best of his workers. To such a foreman it is easy for the employees to give their very best. That is a good lesson for all masters. Paul adds, “Forbearing threatening.” There should be no need for angry shouting let alone curses or threats. And in the secular world, with a majority of unbelievers, those workers have many devious ways of getting back. Thus threats and curses are not even wise from a selfish view. Above all, Paul reminds his Christian readers: Knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with Him. We are always to remember that there is an active God always watching us, that we have the ultimate Master in heaven. He deals justly. It does not matter if we are multibillionaires or run a mom and pop little store we started. Yes, it is only under God’s blessing that a person becomes that billionaire. All have a Master in heaven who is no respecter of persons. These words are very short and to the point. That makes them all the more dramatic.
We have a world of opportunity around us every day in what ever station we may be to practice our text. Children, parents, employees, employers, or whatever else there may be. Of course, all have failed here more times than we would like to remember. But we also have a Savior who obeyed also these instructions perfectly for us, so that we may be freed from punishment. Our heavenly Master desires to reward us. May we grasp His grace and cling to Him in faith till we meet Him face to face in heaven. God so help us. Amen.
HYMNS: 628, 627, 624, 32
GLORIA DEI – HOOD RIVER, OREGON
October 28, 2012