Romans 6:15-23                 “Obedience to Christ”

 

            Do any of you remember the movie Aladdin by Disney? The cartoon movie had the character of the genie played by Robin Williams. The running joke through the entire movie was that the genie had all the “power of the universe tucked into an itty-bitty living space.” I sometimes think that is what it is like being a Christian. The advantage is that you have God the Almighty on your side!  The downside is that there are some limitations as to how you can live your life.

            This is the story of Jesus himself. Jesus was the very essence of God. He was the Almighty Creator of the Universe shoved into a little human body, frail, and subject to pain. He had every advantage, yet he also had every human limitation. Like the genie in the lamp, Jesus had to be obedient to God. He had to go to the cross. He had to suffer and die. Yet, he got to be the firstborn from the dead, too.

 

            The word “obedience” that is used here is really a very simple idea. The word in Greek “hyp-akua,” ὑπο-ακύω, just means that you are “under” what you “hear.” That is to say, if you hear something, then you must do it. That is a very simple idea that relates to the understanding that we are first commanded to “hear the Word of God.” In the Bible, the command that is repeated the second most over and over again is to “hear or listen.”

If you turn to Deuteronomy 6:4, for instance, you can read the first commandment of God to love God with all your heart, soul, and strength. However, the first part of the scripture says “Hear, O Israel. . . .” This part of the Bible is referred to as the “Great Shema,” as “shema” means to hear in Hebrew.

So, Paul is saying first off that to be a Christian, you must have really great hearing. Let me say that again, just in case you did not hear me: “You must have great hearing to be a Christian.” Of course, that means you can be totally deaf, because I am talking about being able to receive the Word of God, and that can be in sign language or in reading too.

Think about how it is that Paul has become this great apostle for Jesus. In Acts 9. “Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples. . . .” So, we see he is the one that is just making noise against believers and that he is not able to hear the Word of God. (Verse Acts 9:4 ) “Falling to the ground he heard a voice. . . Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Then he sees Jesus as well. The men around him do not see, but they do hear the voice. So, their hearts are also changed. Saul is made blind and is then led by his men to Ananias for healing in the name of Jesus. He is then blessed with a new name so that he is now “Paul.”

I have to relate this back to our own world today of course. News media, politicians, most of the general public seem to be “breathing threats” like Saul before hearing and coming under the Word of God. If you are breathing threats right now in your life, I invite you to breathe in the Holy Spirit right now, and try to listen to God rather than speak too much! Become obedient under the Word!

 

In our text for today, we see that there is a lot of talk about “slavery.” I think that this deserves a moment of explanation. We have to put this into context for when and to whom Paul is writing. WE might be thinking to ourselves otherwise, “I will try to hear the Word of God as it is spoken to me, but I will not ever become a slave to anybody!” Of course! And, God does not want to enslave anybody. That is simply not how God works!

The word “slave” here in this context is the Greek word “doulos,” δουλος. Wait, is that not the imaginary kingdom in the movie “Shrek”? No, that is “Duloc.” I seem to be into cartoons today. Some bibles today will say “slave” while others will say “servant.” I did a quick cross-reference of different versions to discover that it is a fifty-fifty split right now. I tend to lean to the “servant” translation for the simple reason that when we get to the last line of our text for today, it talks about “wages.” A slave does not get wages!

Back then in Paul’s time, a doulos would get wages. In fact, a doulos would be able to choose his or her master depending on beneficence. People became slaves in those days because they had accumulated a debt that could not be paid back. So, they go to a nice patron and say, “Well, I cannot give you the money, so I have to work off my debt.”

That would be like if today you could not pay off your credit card bill, so you go to Citibank and say to the CEO, “Hey, I will come and stay with you and mow your lawn for the rest of my life as long as you give me food and shelter.” Of course, the CEO jumps at the deal simply because you cannot hire a good gardener at any price! On top of that, you get a little stipend for extra expenses, too.

Now, here is one of those hidden histories of Hawaii that is not common knowledge. When Kamehameha took over the island of Kauai, he appointed a former general from the Big Island, Kaikeoewa was his name. When he came, he won the heart of the locals by actually giving wages to his servants. That was a new concept to the island. In the past, one would serve the king simply out of obligation. It was more of a servant, or doulos, model of doing things. The workers who were not getting any recompense before were happy with the new government indeed.

In the church in Rome, most of the new Christians were “slaves” or “douloi.” So, Paul is giving them a choice right now: Hear the Word of the Lord, become obedient to it, and get the free gift of grace from Jesus that leads to eternal life; or continue to breathe hatred, and earn the wages of sin, which is death.

 

            I try to be a fair-minded individual. I thought that I should ask non-Christians about the advantages of being a Christian. You know, I kind of asked “Do you want to have the free gift of grace or the wages of sin?” One response back was to the effect: “What” Christians honestly believe that they are so advantaged in this life? They really think that they are better off than the rest of us? Then, that is certainly one of their worst limitations!”

            However, when Paul talks about the advantages of being a Christian, he is not rubbing other people’s noses in it! Neither shall we! In fact, he starts talking about how Christians must become like slaves or servants in this world. How is it that a slave should be at an advantage?

            We must at this time consider Christ’s own life. If Christ were alive today, he would be considered a disadvantaged person. He would be eligible for food stamps, low-cost housing, and who knows what other kind of welfare from the State.  His life does not seem to show any advantage at all. He walks everywhere. He is stalked by the government. He is eventually accused of crimes he did not commit and is murdered on a cross as a subversive. 

            How very different is the life of Christ to, say, my own life, I who has a lovely wife, two beautiful kids, a lovely home. Jesus had none of these things. And, we must be careful to see what our real advantages are as followers of Christ.  Our advantages are spiritual only. Amen to that.

 

            I have talked about the advantages. I must also talk about the limitations, that itty-bitty living space as it were.  I have known people who live without limits. Their lives are not happy at all. I have known people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, and they will consume these without limits. Their lives are focused on getting their next fix rather than on the God that can save them. I have known people who have gone through limitless sexual encounters. They were not happy. In fact in both these cases, the people were really living their lives in great fear. I know people who have limitless greed. Again, they are not ever satisfied with what God provides.

            Limits in this life are good things. They help us to live “sanctified” lives!

 

            I have to get to the part of the scripture for today that talks about “sanctification of our lives.” That is a big term that needs some explaining probably. It means that we are to be “saints.” We are to live good and virtuous lives.  In fact, the term that is here in the Greek is αγιος, which simply means “good.” We are to lead good lives. Are we not supposed to be living the “good life?” Yes, the good life with Christ!

            When Paul addresses his letters, very often we read, “to all those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints. . .” ( 1 Cor. 1:2) He does not mean that every person there is a saint as they have come to be known in the Catholic Church. He is just saying, “to all those people who have goodness in their lives through accepting Christ.” In this light, we are all saints. We all have had our lives sanctified by Jesus.

            But, why not try to live like the saints?