faithful, though frustrated

Imagine the following scenario.

Over in the corner of the room, one of the Christians in this little house church, a young slave, has gotten the apostle Paul’s ear in a private moment. The young man is pretty wound up emotionally and is obviously frazzled with frustration. He says he wants to live like a Christian, but it isn’t at all easy for him given his day-to-day situation. From all outward appearances, this could be something of a “make it or break it” moment for this young Christian as he’s wrestling with his attitude about life, faith, people, and God.

What’s Paul doing? He’s not saying a word, he’s just drinking in everything the young man has to say. Occasionally we see him give the young man a knowing nod as if to say, “I understand. I feel your pain. I’m right here with you in all of this.”

Now it looks like the young man may be just about to wind down his little speech to Paul, and Paul will likely have something to say. Let’s gently ease over their direction and try to eavesdrop for a minute to see if we can pick up the gist of what’s going on and maybe glean a little wisdom from Paul for ourself.

I’m telling you, Paul, you don’t know what it’s like to serve the man I have to serve! I do the right thing and he doesn’t even notice. It’s like he takes for granted every good thing I do. In fact, it seems like the harder I work, the less he takes notice. Why should I knock myself out trying to do good by this guy?

And don’t get me talking about the others. He has other slaves, too, and some of them don’t do half of what I do! They only work when they know he can see them and then they fall all over themselves buttering him up. Come the end of the day, he looks at them and smiles with pride, and then when he looks at me, well, there’s no frown, but there isn’t a smile either! Half of the day they’re just slacking and they loll around in his good pleasure. I hit it all day long and hit the hay exhausted, and where does it get me? Nowhere! Nowhere, I tell you!

So you tell me, what I’m supposed to do? I’ve about had enough of this stuff! I’m starting to think, ‘Why don’t I just do like these other slaves do?’ At least they’re not completely spent when the day is done and they seem to make the boss man happier than I make him. So I ask yo again, what am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to do?!

And then, after a little pause, almost as if he had first filled the moment with a silent prayer, we hear Paul speak:

You’re a slave. That means you’re to always obey your master with fear and trembling. You’re a Christian. And that means everything you do should come from, and be an expression of, your real devotion to Jesus Christ.

What should you do? Don’t work to make yourself look good to your master or others. Don’t brown-nose your boss. Don’t become like the others, just working when you think your master’s watching. Remember who you are first, a slave of Christ. That mean’s your daily task is to do what he wants, to do it from your heart, and to do it as if it doing it to him personally. So summon up the heart to serve your earthly master that way. I know you know that we believe that the way we treat people, all people, is an expression of what we really think about our Lord.

I know you’re upset with the way your master shows others some favoritism. I know it’s like he’s almost blind to the good you do him. But let me remind you of what I know you already believe in your heart, and that is the fact that while your master here on earth might act that way, our Lord will never treat you that way. Your master here may be blind to you, but our true Master isn’t. He sees everything good thing you do, big and small, and ultimately, he will personally reward you for all of those things. He doesn’t play favorites, he knows what you’re doing and not doing, and he understands even better than you do what exactly you’re going through.

What I’m saying is, our Lord Jesus will do right by you when the end comes. It’s your place to do right by him here and now, come what may.

Now you might wonder where all of that came from. Actually, all I’ve really tried to do is to help you hear a piece of Scripture that’s still just as relevant to us today in a thousand different scenarios as the day the words were first penned and the ink was still wet.

As for slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling and with sincere devotion to Christ. Don’t work to make yourself look good and try to flatter people, but act like slaves of Christ carrying out God’s will from the heart. Serve your owners enthusiastically, as though you were serving the Lord and not human beings. You know that the Lord will reward every person who does what is right, whether that person is a slave or a free person. (Ephesians 6:5-8 CEB)

We should pray.

Lord, when I’m about at the end of my rope and I think I can’t go on, send someone or some situation my way to stir up within me what I believe now, namely that I’m here to be about you, not me. As I ask for wisdom in the way I should go, hear my prayer and answer. As I am tempted to give up and quit, pour new strength into me that I might be built up and not break. I love you, Lord, and long to honor you in every situation in which I find myself. I pray not so much that situations be made easier, but that I might be faithful to you within them. Amen.

Paul & 1st Century Letter Writing (4)

Paul’s letters are neither public, philosophical treatises nor artless, spontaneous, private letters. Furthermore, a public versus private dichotomy is probably inappropriate for Paul’s day. Letters fell on a spectrum ranging between these extremes, and Paul’s fall closer to the middle of the spectrum and reflect a Jewish subculture. Paul followed the standard format of an opening, body and closing, and used much of the standardized phrases, stereotyped formulae, of Greco-Roman letters. Paul’s letters also used common rhetorical devices used by effective speakers and writers of his day, and while not in the same class as the premiere rhetoricians of the classical age, they demonstrate a rhetorical sophistication that would have earned him respect as a persuasive speaker and writer. …

… a single dispatched copy (of Philemon) would have cost approximately a third of a denar, a notable expense (almost a day’s wage).” … How was it that Paul paid for his letters? It is possible that the church where he was serving or a patron in the church paid the expense. It is less likely that Paul paid for the letters from his income as a tentmaker. Paul’s work as a tentmaker has been exaggerated in modern times, particularly in discussions of modern mission methodology.

As a traveler Paul did not carry the supplies necessary to conduct a significant business as a tentmaker. It is true today and even truer in antiquity that one did not enter a town and immediately open a profitable business. In the ancient Greco-Roman world, it took considerable time to establish the necessary relationships in order to gain the necessary permissions to conduct business in a city, both from city leaders as well as the appropriate guilds. … While he and his team may have done some minor contract work (repairing tents perhaps) in order to gain food and lodging, Paul was primarily dependent, as were all travelers, upon hospitality and patrons. (pp.140,169,170)

Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection by E. Randolph Richards (IVP, 2004)