Summary: Most of us are pretty good at knowing how to behave at church. But how does Christian faith apply in your workplace. The Apostle Paul gives some real wisdom for us in his letter to the Ephesians.
Imagine with me that we aren’t in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, but in the Greek city of Ephesus. And it’s not this morning. It’s the first century. And the routine of going to church is very different.
There is no church building. We come to church in a house, the home of one of the few fairly wealthy members, the only home that has a courtyard big enough for 40 or 50 people to worship together.
There is no illuminated sign out front. The neighbors are still very nervous about this new sect. They have heard that Christians refuse to give worship to the gods of Rome. And in time of war or famine, when they really needed those gods to help them, that’s treason.
They have heard that Christians no longer were part of the worship of the patron goddess of Ephesus, Artemis. They were social dropouts for many of the most important social functions in the life of the city, rebels.
When Christians got together, Jews and Greeks mixed freely, slaves and free people, rich and poor. It just wasn’t natural. Grandma never would have approved of this.
Sure, they knew some of the Christians and liked them as people. But there was tension. And when things went bad in parts of the Roman Empire, it wasn’t unusual for the Christians to get blamed and harassed and even arrested and jailed or thrown to the lions because they were so different.
There is no pipe organ, but a few members have brought along drums and stringed instruments, which they play enthusiastically.
They always have a meal together after church, a love feast that climaxes in communion. Some linger for hours after the service is over. That does sound a lot like our routine here and now.
The speaker for the day is the Apostle Paul. He arrives early. The head of the household greets him warmly, and then invites him into a more private room for a word together. They sit on ornately carved chairs to talk. A slave brings them drinks and fruit.
“Paul,” he says, “you’ve been talking about the church a lot lately. It sounds like you are saying that in the church we are all the same, all equal. That sounds nice. But Paul, you know that three of my slaves have now joined the church. I don’t think you realize the ramifications of what you are saying.
You can’t get too close to your slaves. My family has handled slaves for generations. We know. They are naturally lazy. If they get any idea that I won’t punish them severely, they’ll rob me blind. They’ll slack off in their work. I’ll be ruined. My business can’t make a profit without slaves. I couldn’t have all ‘this’ without slaves.
One of my slaves was talking about it with the slaves next door, this business about everyone being equal. My neighbors are furious! One of them had a slave sass off at him this week and he said it was because he heard in our house that all people are equal. And he had always been a good slave and kept his mouth shut before you started this. Paul, this puts me in a very difficult position.
You remember, a century ago Spartacus led a slave rebellion that almost toppled Rome. Paul, you are playing with fire. Tone it down! Be realistic!
Paul said, “Give me some time to pray about this.”
The service begins. It’s a glorious time of worship and Bible Study, followed by the love feast and communion.
And as the church is finally breaking up for the week, as Paul is about to leave, one of the slaves asks to see him. He speaks with his head down and his eyes on the floor. “Mr. Paul, sir, I hate to bother you because I know you are busy. But could I talk with you for just a minute?”
Paul answered, “Of course!”
The slave had no place to receive a visitor. There was no privacy in the crowded slave quarters. He didn’t have any snacks to offer him or even have a chair for a guest. So they found a quiet spot in the garden to talk.
“Mr. Paul,” the slave began, “when I hear you talk about God loving all people and all people being equal, it feels so wonderful in my heart.
But the more I dare to believe that I am a real person and that God loves me, the harder it is to put up with the way my master treats me. We do all the work, but we have nothing and he gets rich. When I talk with my friend next door, he says we should all just refuse to work like this anymore. He got in big trouble this last week. I don’t think he’s right. But, Mr. Paul, I get so angry inside. It’s just not fair the way they treat us. Why should I work day and night for this guy? Why should I put up with it when he treats me like dirt? Paul, I’m torn. How can you be a Christian and a slave at the same time?