Summary: How to live in a family - according to God
A Typical Roman Family
This week we move on from Rules for Holy living aimed at the individual, to look at rules for living in a Christian family. It is almost as difficult to describe a typical Roman family in the first century as it is to describe a typical English family in the 21st century. The Colossian church would have had a mixture of
families from many different backgrounds, just as the Billericay church does today. So what was the Roman equivalent of '2.4 Children'? There would have been:
The role of the father was very different to the role that fathers have today. The father was the head of the household. He had absolute authority over everything that happened in the household.
She was the subject of her husband. She had few rights, and could not divorce her husband except in the most extreme circumstances. Divorce would only be possible if, for example,if the husband caught leprosy. After giving birth she would take the new born and put it at her husbands feet. If he picked it up, the baby
would live. If he didn't it would be taken away to die.
Children were the property of their father and could be sold, or discarded as he saw fit. If sold they would be sold as slaves.
They would most likely have had 6 Children, but only 3 would survive to adulthood.
If the sons were grown up, their wives would be living in the house.
There were not many slaves that had a life as good a Lurcio. (That's
Frankie Howard from Up Pompeii, if you don't recognise him.) Slaves were usually prisoners of war. The Roman Empire was always fighting somewhere, and the prisoners were brought back to the centre of the empire and sold as slaves in various locations. This meant that slaves often came with useful skills, or from what we would now consider to be professional backgrounds. As a Roman, if you needed a teacher for your children you could buy a slave who had previously been a teacher somewhere else.
Slave revolts were a relatively common occurrence as many slave were badly treated. It has been estimated that at the height of the Roman Empire up to 50% of the inhabitants were slaves.
Think for a moment about the kind of world that Paul was writing in. It is almost impossible for us to understand the concept of owning another human being, or being
owned by some else. By owning, I mean having the power of life and death, and by being owned I mean that your life depends entirely on your master.
God's Transformational Instructions
Jesus is referred to as Lord six times in this short passage, and Master once. When we chose to become Christians and accept Jesus as our Lord we put ourselves under His authority. If we are serious about living God's way – living under the authority of Christ, then it WILL change the way we live.
Now lets read the scripture again as we try to focus our minds on the type of life that we might have lead in 1st century Rome:
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favouritism.
Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.
These instructions are so radically different from the way society operated at the time it id difficult for us to believe that they could ever have taken hold.
Obligation – Authority
Notice that in each of the pairs Paul speaks firstly to the person with the obligation, and secondly to the person with the authority. The implication being that if you are carrying out your obligations it is easier for the person in authority to behave as they should. Notice also that each obligation as it is mentioned is in some way linked to your faith in Christ.
Wives submit (as it is fitting in the Lord), husbands love
Children Obey (because it pleases the Lord), Fathers encourage (or at least don't discourage)