Sabbath School Lesson for September 2-8, 2023
Overview of Lesson 11, Practicing Supreme Loyalty to Christ
Memory Text: “And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” Ephesians 6:9 NIV
What to expect:
- Sunday: Advice to Children–What does it mean to “obey” and “honor” our parents, both when we are young, and later as adults?
- Monday: Advice to Parents–What is the correct way to discipline our children?
- Tuesday: Slavery in Paul’s Day–What’s the difference in being a social reformer and being a pastor, and which role was Paul using in his letter to the Ephesians?
- Wednesday: Slaves of Christ–Christians are all slaves of Christ. How should we then serve as slaves, or as employees today?
- Thursday: Masters Who Are Slaves–Christians all have a Master in Christ. How should we treat others then?
Paul attempts to outline in Ephesians 6:1-9 how to better our relationships by becoming more Christ-like in our dealings with each other. When these principles are followed, unity in the church and society is more likely to be the norm, rather than the exception.
Certainly there were flawed social structures in Paul’s day; slavery being a major problem. But surprisingly, it’s been estimated that there are more than 40 million slaves in the world even today. When one considers all those who are oppressed and abused at every age and social status, the numbers of suffering individuals are staggering.
But to complete his discourse on unity, Paul attempts to do so in the context of the challenges they were facing at the time. There are Christian principles and values that all of us must utilize, in order for the best outcome to occur in these difficult situations.
Sunday: Advice to Children
Jesus showed the great value He placed on children by encouraging them to come to Him (Matthew 19:14). He even used them as a model for adults to follow (Matthew 18: 2-4). Certainly their humility, obedience, and trust are an example for us as we place our lives in the Lord’s hands.
Just as Paul advised wives to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord”, children are encouraged to obey their parents “in the Lord”. The Lord always comes first. These relationships are designed, however, to teach us the deep value of submission and what it means to submit to our heavenly Father.
When Paul speaks to children, he obviously isn’t just talking about those who are young in age. By referring to the fifth commandment as the “first commandment with promise” (Ephesians 6:1-3), Paul is saying that at any age, we have duties and responsibilities to our parents. We must remember that abuse of the elderly is just as much a problem as child abuse.
- How can heeding this advice lead to longer, more satisfying, lives?
- What was Jesus trying to teach His disciples by using this example of a child?
- How did Jesus show His value of children?
- How should we treat all children, even those not our own?
Monday: Advice to Parents
Paul writes very similar advice to the Colossians, also drawing them to more unity by becoming more Christ-like. Read Colossians 3:18-25. Verse 21 tells parents not to provoke their children to anger, lest they become discouraged.
The Lord’s methods of discipline are to come from God. They should draw our little ones to God, not away from Him. Ephesians 6:4 even mentions bringing them up “in the training and admonition of the Lord”. Interactions with our adult children must also be loaded with loving, thoughtful, kind words. We can easily discourage our children of any age by sounding harsh and judgmental as we counsel them.
The book Child Guidance, p. 259, by Ellen White, shows us the kind of discipline parents should provide for their children. She says, “You are to require obedience, not with a storm of words, but in a kind, loving manner…No license is given in God’s Word for parental severity or oppression or for filial disobedience. The law of God, in the home life and in the government of nations, flows from a heart of infinite love.”
Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21
- What kind of discipline does Paul recommend to both the Ephesians and the Colossians?
Tuesday: Slavery in Paul’s Day
Another area of social life where oppression and harsh treatment tended to flourish in Paul’s day was slavery. Slavery looked different in the Graeco-Roman world, however, than has been experienced in other times and cultures.
Urban households in the Roman Empire were more likely to include slaves, or bondservants, as they were also called. These slaves tended to have diverse, ethnic backgrounds, and were often either a debtor, criminal, or captive from some battlefield. They comprised a large portion of Roman society in Paul’s lifetime, and intolerable abuses, therefore, were common.
It goes without saying that any kind of slavery, the owning of a human being, is an inexcusable evil. But Paul does not speak out against it as one might expect of a social reformer. Instead, as a pastor, he speaks as one who wants to show them how to best endure their enforced lot in life. And, of course, he’s interested in preserving unity in the Ephesian house churches, where both slaves and masters gathered together to worship.
Ephesians 6:5, 6
- Why were slaves told to obey?
- What kind of obedience should it be?
Wednesday: Slaves of Christ
Paul, in writing to the Ephesians and to others in his numerous letters, counsels them to obey their masters, just as he advised children, in dealing with their parents (Ephesians 6:5). He pointed out that, as Christian believers, they were also slaves of Christ. It would be helpful if they, therefore, served their human masters, as if they were serving Christ. They must do their very best to work wholeheartedly and sincerely, as if they were serving their heavenly Lord (Ephesians 6:6).
Even when they suffered abuse, believing slaves could rest assured that their heavenly Master cared about them, and they would have an eternal reward with Him in the end. After all, Christ suffered as well. We can’t always expect things to go well, even when we are doing our best to please those in charge of us.
These same principles of untiring service can be applied to other relationships today. Most jobs and careers require us to answer to someone in authority. We must always do our best to fulfill our duties the best we know how, even when our efforts go unnoticed or are criticized.
- How would you describe a “man-pleaser”?
- How can we give our best service without becoming “men-pleasers”?
Thursday: Masters Who Are Slaves
Imagine you are someone who owns slaves, sitting in the church where Paul’s letter is read. Slaves, no doubt, might be in the same room, hearing Paul’s counsel to them to give heartfelt service to their masters. How sobering to then consider Paul’s reminder that they themselves are required to render service to their slaves (Ephesians 6:9).
Just as slaves were also slaves of Christ, masters were also slaves of their Master Jesus. And this Master would judge them equally, without partiality or favoritism.
Paul had been hinting at this idea of them being “fellow citizens” and “co-heirs of Christ” all along in his letter; but now it strikes them forcefully what this adoption into the family of God means.
They were not only admonished to stop threatening their slaves, but challenged to show deeds of kindness to them as well. Just as Christ, their Master, had provided gifts to all of them. Suddenly, they realize what offering supreme loyalty to Christ looks like.
- If you were a Christian slave owner, how would you react if you heard Paul’s reminder of who your Master is?
Friday: Final Thoughts
As in Paul’s day, divisions between generations and social class are still most troublesome, even in the church. Therefore, it’s important to apply Paul’s counsel in chapter six of Ephesians as carefully as we can, if we are ever to achieve unity among church members.
Paul advises children and slaves to obey their parents and masters, and for parents and masters not to provoke or threaten their children and slaves.
These recommendations apply equally to all involved. This is because in God’s eyes, we are all the same. Mutual submission, coming from a heart of love, must be practiced among all ages and classes, because we all have the same Master. We are all under His care and scrutiny. God will judge us all by how much are like Him, which is loving, respectful, and fair.
Unity is possible when we remember to apply these simple guidelines. Our mission of spreading the gospel depends on following these principles of loving submission to each other, shown by our obedience and loving care.
Next Week: The Call to Stand
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