33. Sonship

Meditations in Romans : 33:  Sonship

Rom 8:14-15   those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

I am aware that, looking back over the ‘meditations’ that I have written over the years that they vary a great deal in length in terms of what they cover.  Sometimes we may cover ten or fifteen verses while at other times we only cover two or three. These present ones fall into that latter grouping and you may be excused for muttering, “Oh, not again. Why doesn’t he move on?” and the answer has to be, because Paul doesn’t. We have commented before that Paul is a good teacher and good teachers know that their pupils need to hear the same thing over and over again, often from different angles, before what they are teaching really sinks in.

So yes, we did conclude the previous meditation with starting to mention sonship but as Paul goes on and explains it, so we must stick with it and consider it. Now writing as a man I often wonder how women think about this subject of ‘sonship’. If the feminist lobby took notice of this they would no doubt want to shout, “What about daughter-ship?” Well, my answer to this has to be that the language being used is being used to convey certain truths and they are not gender based, even though they come out of gender illustrations. This is also true in respect of the fact that I am a man, but I am part of the ‘bride of Christ’.

So previously we concluded with Paul saying, those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (v.14) and we suggested that whenever ‘sons’ are being referred to in New Testament language, it is using the imagery of the Old Testament where in daily life, so often the son followed in the father’s footsteps and so if there was reference to ‘sons’ if was reminding us that we follow on in the Father’s steps, learning the Father’s business and becoming more and more like the eldest son in the family, Jesus. It’s all about family likeness and family inheritance and family business.

So then Paul makes another of his ‘contrasting statements, where he sets one thing of against another. He starts with a negative and then balances it with the positive to add to what he has already been saying. First the negative: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear.” (v.15a) We’ve just be noting him talking about the Holy Spirit coming in to us as new believers and so he now says, but there is nothing about this that creates fear. God isn’t doing all this to make us craven slaves, groveling before Him in fear. No, he says, it quite the contrary: “but you received the Spirit of sonship.” (v.15b) In whatever language and with however little knowledge we may have of the Old Testament, this must come over to anyone quite simply as, “He didn’t make you a slave but a family member.” Bear in mind all we said earlier about the implications of sonship, do that by all means, but just grab the simple concept of being a member of God’s family, a close member, not a distant cousin, but a son!

You may observe the note in your Bible that says an alternative to ‘sonship’ could be the word ‘adoption’. That conveys something even more strongly. When a child is adopted, they are taken into the family and become a real and genuine part of it. They were not born in it but now they have legally been made part of it. Legally they are now related to the parent and that by the wishes and intent of the parents. How else can it say it? You are now directly related to God, part of His family and you are not a slave or anything like it. It seeks to convey a sense of warmth, a sense of unity and oneness. God is for us!

But then the reality of this new relationship is revealed for we find ourselves, as the Holy Spirit within is urges us, crying out and addressing God as ‘Daddy!’ (which is what the Aramaic ‘Abba’ conveys): “And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (v.15c) and we don’t need to wonder about this for Paul adds, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (v.16) So often when I pray, I find myself praying, “Father….” In fact I invariably pray that. I don’t ask the Holy Spirit and I rarely ask Jesus, even though he is seated at the Father’s right hand. I pray, “Father….” because that speaks of family relationship, but Paul tells us that this is how the Holy Spirit prompts us.

For those of us who have not had good relationships with fathers, counsellors warn that we might feel negative about God being a Father, and yet I find that in God I find one who makes up for all the deficiencies I might have found in my own father, and who my children might find in me. When we consider human fathers, our own or our own role as a father, we will always find deficiencies. There may be many good things (and a good exercise is to sit and think what they are) but there will always be things where they do not live up to our hopes and expectations, or we find we cannot live up to the hopes and expectations of our children. That’s just how it is being part of the fallen human race. God will help us, but we still come from a position where we start with deficiencies. But when I turn to God, I do not find that. If there are deficiencies, I have found, they are deficiencies in my understanding of Him. When I can see through or past my own confusions and misunderstandings, I find a Father who is perfect in every way. If only I did not have those confusions and misunderstandings! But that is how it will be this side of heaven, and that requires me to open myself to the Holy Spirit to enable Him to allow me to catch and see the wonder of the One who has done everything that is possible to bring us to Himself, and to show us the wonder of who He is.

15. Servants

Lessons from the Law: No.15 : The Law for Servants

Ex 21:2-4 If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

Remember, we said in the previous meditation, these laws are to bring peace, order and stability to society. Many years ago when I taught Law at college, I would always ask my students in the first lesson, do we need laws, and why?  They would always answer, yes, to protect the weak. That is an answer which corresponds very well with Scripture for the Lord is always concerned for the weak, the poor and the underdog. Someone who has to work for another as their servant is clearly in this category and so the Lord starts off these laws with instructions for caring for servants.

Note that it starts off, “If you buy a servant.” The situation would be that a family was poor and in need and so might sell a family member into servitude. They would become the ‘ownership’ of the master who bought them and the family would receive the payment for them and they would receive their keep and become almost part of the family who bought them, and would work for them. The point that is at issue here is that when such a thing happened, the Lord demands that their period of service be limited to six years only and then they be released without payment.

Now we need to realise that this is very different from the concept of slavery for later in the Law in Leviticus we find the following instructions: If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. He is to be treated as a hired worker or a temporary resident among you; he is to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then he and his children are to be released, and he will go back to his own clan and to the property of his forefathers. Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.” (Lev 25:39-43). The servant is to be treated as a ‘hired worker or a temporary resident’, NOT a slave!

The fact of history is that slaves did exist. For example, Hagar had been Abraham’s slave (Gen 21:10). In the Law, slaves could be bought by the Hebrews but only from other nations (Lev 25:44,45) and many laws protected the welfare of those slaves (e.g. Ex 21:20, 28-32, 23;12,  Lev 19:20). The Lord was just as concerned for them as for servants and for masters. The Law however regulated the practice, already in the world, of owning slaves, and ensured in Israel, at least, slaves were well cared for.

The crucial issue, here at least, is that the period of servant-hood is strictly limited and so if poverty pushes a family into service, that is only for a relatively short period and not for a lifetime. If the servant was married when he came, then his wife went as well and when the period of service came to an end they both left.

Now comes the difficult part (in our modern eyes). If the master gives the servant a wife, she is under the master’s directions and so she and any children remain with the master at the end of the period (unless of course a friendly master should release her as well). However legally she was to stay with the Master. It would be likely that a servant knowing this would either marry with the obligations and stay on at the end, or simply not marry during that time.

We then come to an even stranger part of the Law: But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free, then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.” (v.5,6) There is an implied recognition here that being a servant for a good master actually created a great sense of security. It was just a job and one which had rewards which the servant might wish to continue. For a good master, such a job may have had no more onerous requirements than many jobs today. If the servant did want to stay on, then a simple procedure of creating a permanent body mark (like we pierce ears for earrings) indicated his intent and the master’s agreement to have the servant and his family stay on. Actually piercing the ear against the doorpost of the home probably also added the sense symbolically of him being attached to that home. In reality it was no more different than ear piercing today.  The purpose of these instructions was to formalise a process that often happened anyway – the servant staying on after the six years – in order to prevent abuse and to protect the servant by formalising the arrangement in the eyes of the Law and of the local community.

Although there is much that is taken for granted in these laws or implied by them, the basic guidelines are there that show the Lord’s recognition of what went on in the world but which, in the redeemed community, should be carried out in a caring and humane way. Peace, order and security thus followed.