Life in the spirit - Ephesians 5:22 - 6:9
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A police inspector was once asked to visit a primary school and give an RE lesson to a year 3 class. He began by asking, "Who knocked down the walls of Jericho?" Well there was a long silence as the children shuffled nervously in their seats. Eventually a little boy put up his hand and said: "Please sir, my name is Bruce Jones. I don't know who did it, but it wasn't me." Well the inspector thought this a little cheeky, so he reported the incident to the headteacher. After a pause, the headteacher said: "I know Bruce Jones. He's an honest boy. And if said he didn't do it, then he didn't do it." By this time the police inspector was becoming exasperated. This headmaster was either very rude or totally ignorant. So the inspector complained to the Department of Education in London, and a few days later, he received this response: "Dear Sir, We are sorry to hear about the walls of Jericho and that no-one in the school has admitted responsibility for causing the damage. If you send us an estimate, we will see what we can do about the cost."
Confusion and misunderstandings about the Bible abound don't they, and perhaps no more so than when it comes to a passage like the one before us this morning, Ephesians 5 and 6. Because to many what we have before us is a charter for abuse, and a manifesto of male domination. Surely it's just hopelessly out of date and totally culture bound to the first century, with it's talk of women submitting, male headship and teaching on slaves and masters. What could it possibly have to teach us in our free, egalitarian society 20 centuries later.
Well the fact is, like all parts of the Bible, this part too is timeless and is useful for teaching and rebuking us. And that becomes crystal clear when we remember the context of the letter. Contrary to what many people think, Paul is not at this point going on a rant or imposing his own views on this church in Ephesus. If you've been here over these last few weeks, you'll know that Paul has been explaining all the way through Ephesians what God's great plan for the universe is. And that is to bring all things under the headship of his Son Jesus. And integral to that plan is God's church, his people who have been rescued through the saving work of Jesus on the cross and who are being made more and more like Christ. And last time we saw that the way God is making his people like himself is through the work of his Spirit, since all Christians are filled with the Spirit, and it's by the power of the Spirit that we are able to go God's way.
And this passage on married life, home life and working life is the outworkings of a life lived full of the Spirit. In other words living for God affects every area of life. Paul is explaining to us how a Christian is to act Christianly in respect of his or her marriage, the way they bring up their children and the way they act at work. It is a passage that is intensely practical. You see being a Christian is not a one day a week hobby, like watching football, or playing darts at the pub, or going to a book club. Being a Christian is a 24/ 7 365 day a year experience. Following Christ affects everything. And that is precisely what Paul is arguing here. He is challenging us with a very simple but very powerful question. He's asking us: "Is Jesus Lord over your marriage? Is Jesus Lord when you're at home? Is Jesus Lord when you're at work?" Because in every area it's the lordship of Jesus that is at stake. Did you notice in verse 22 that wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church, in verse 25. In chapter 6, children are to obey their parents in the Lord, and fathers are to train their children in the Lord. And slaves are to work as if for the Lord, and masters are to treat their slaves in the knowledge that they will stand before that Lord. At its heart what we have here is a challenge to allow Jesus to be Lord of all, because if we don't, he is not really Lord at all. We desperately want to keep him at arms length, and we say to him, "Yes, you can have me on Sundays, and possibly alternative Wednesdays, but please not Mondays. I don't want you to have too much of an impact on my working life, because it could be embarrassing. And by the way, please don't look too closely at my marriage." But if we claim to follow Jesus as Lord, then it's all or nothing. He's Lord of all or not at all.
But there's one other thing we need to bear in mind before we begin and that is that none of us will find this teaching easy to put into practice. And as always, the preacher speaks first to himself and then to the congregation. Some of it is hard to swallow, for the simple reason that it challenges our basic presuppositions. It cuts against the grain of our culture so much. But as so often when you follow Jesus as Lord, the question will be whether you bow to the prevailing culture and follow that, or whether you bow to Jesus as Lord. And that was actually what Paul was doing. Again contrary to popular opinion, Paul was not a man bound by his culture. He too he was being counter cultural in his own day, the first century AD. He was teaching timeless truths rooted in God's creation principles which are the best for us, and not the culture of his day. So when it came to teaching on marriage, Paul said to a culture where men would normally take concubines and mistresses, and use their wives simply for bearing babies, love your wives sacrificially. To a culture which said children must be seen and not heard, fathers are told to engage with their children and not to exasperate them. And to a culture where employees were regularly mistreated and so moodily shirked their responsibilities, Paul says be faithful at work, whether you be a master or slave. It's counter cultural in every culture, because it's the living and enduring word of God. And each one of us, whatever our marital status, whether we have children or not and whether employed or not, each of us need to hear this teaching, so we can encourage one another as God's church to live under the Lordship of Jesus in every area of life, whatever the cost. For he's either Lord of all, not at all. So let's turn to Ephesians 5 and 6 and look at each of these relationships in turn, with most of our time on the first, before a much briefer time on the second and third.
1) Let Christ be Lord over your Married Life (5 vv 22-33)
2) Let Christ be Lord over your Home Life (6 vv 1-4)
3) Let Christ be Lord over your Working Life (6 vv 5-9)
1) Let Christ be Lord over your Married Life (5 vv 22-33)
So the first challenge Paul gives us is this: Let Christ be Lord over your married life, in chapter 5 vv 22-33. Now the key principle in marriage is that husband and wife are equal but different. Whilst man and woman are made equal in God's sight in spiritual terms and whilst both are made in the image of God, yet there are different roles and responsibilities for men and women in marriage. There is a God given complementarity between men and women. Now of course the problem is that this delicate God designed balance has been ruined by the fall. And as soon as sin enters the world, then so does the battle of the sexes. And so instead of a gracious loving harmonious relationship, there is much pain and abuse. It's rather amusingly illustrated in the relationship between Winston Churchill and Lady Nancy Astor, who though not married were constantly at each other's throats. Lady Astor once said to Churchill: "Winston, you are drunk!" To which Churchill replied: "And you madam, are ugly, but I shall be sober in the morning!" On another occasion, she said: "Winston, if I were your wife, I'd put poison in your coffee." To which Churchill replied: "Madam, if you were my wife, I'd drink it." And when it comes to this teaching on headship and submission, we import all our bad experiences into this teaching, and say it can never work. And we instantly think of all the exceptions which make such teaching very hard. For instance what about wives with non Christian husbands or wives whose husbands are abusive. Well Paul doesn't address those issues here, though Peter has much to say to wives in difficult marriages in 1 Peter 3. But we need to see the Bible's teaching for what it is, God's blueprint for his people to conduct their marriages in a godly way. And interestingly Paul will use more than twice as many words to address the husbands as he will the wives. He uses 44 Greek words to speak to wives, and 115 to speak to husbands. Conclude from that what you will! At the very least, it suggests we men have much to learn. So equal in status, but different in responsibility. And it is vital that we see that principle as we come to what Paul says to first the wife and then to the husband.
a) Wives- First to the wives. Verse 22: "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything." Now as soon as we mention that word submit, a whole host of images goes through our heads. For me, it's holding down my brother in a headlock and shouting "submit". And to many there is a similar thought here. Paul is telling the woman to be a slave to her husband. It's a carte blanche for the husband to mistreat his wife. But that is in no way what is meant here in this teaching. To "submit" in the Bible is to graciously and humbly place yourself under someone's loving headship and leadership. In fact, the model of submission in the Bible is Jesus himself. Although fully God, yet as God the Son he submits to his Father's will. Submission is actually a godly thing to do and the model is Jesus himself. And so it is in marriage. For the Bible teaches right from the start that men and woman are equal in status, but with different responsibilities and roles. And the man's role is to be loving head of the marriage relationship. He has the responsibility to care for his family and to take the lead in guiding and providing spiritually for family life. And that begins with his wife. And that is a very positive and good thing. Actually as we'll see, it means the husbands have a very demanding role. But for the wife to submit means humbly to place herself under her husband's care and headship. And interestingly the husband is not told to make his wife submit. Rather she is humbly to submit to his loving and godly leadership.
Now of course that will not mean that suddenly the wife is not allowed to say anything or have her own opinion in her marriage. Nor does it mean that she is to be her husband's obedient slave in everything. No, she is to submit in everything that is good and right. If a husband forces his wife to do something that goes against the Bible's teaching, then she must not do it. And nor will it mean that a husband and wife will not work things out together. They will need to work together at their marriage. But at the end of the day, God's blueprint for a wife is that she lovingly submits to husband's caring headship and love for her. And in a good marriage, both husband and wife flourish and develop their characters and gifts as they seek to submit and lead according to their roles.
And why should she submit? Well Paul gives a reason in verse 22: Her humble gracious submission is " as to the Lord." And then Paul gives the reason. "For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour." Marriage is meant to be a reflection of how the church relates to her Saviour Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate head of the church, and the church submits to him and his care and protection. So the wife will submit to her husband. So how will she do this in practice? Well what does it mean for Christian to submit to the Lordship of Jesus? It means to please him in every way, to seek to put him first in all things, to say no to self and yes to him in all that is good and godly. The model of submission for wife, is the church's submission to the lordship of Jesus. And when you understand that, then suddenly submission becomes, not so much a lists of do's and don't's, but an all encompassing attitude.
Here's what one Christian female writer says about this passage: "If a wife is to submit to her husband as to Christ she must submit her whole life to him. There is nothing she will do without conscious or unconscious reference to her husbandBeing a wife is like being a Christian: not so much a matter of performing particular duties as of embracing a completely new attitude. There is no self any more. there is only living to please another. This is what it means to be one flesh: total and absolute surrender. Such is a wife's submission. Everything she does will be in order to please her husbandHer submission to her husband is to be like her submission to God himself. It is astonishing. If it were not there in front of us in the bible we should think it blasphemous." But if you think Paul's teaching to wives is hard, then the real shock comes in the next verses, as Paul addresses husbands. And the fact is, it will be much easier for wives to fulfil the teaching of Scripture in their marriages, if husbands are fulfilling their roles in a godly and humble way. So what does Paul say to husbands?
b) Husbands- Verse 25: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." And again notice what Paul does not say. He does not say: Husbands, exercise your headship. He says, husbands, love your wives. And what is the benchmark for that love? Husbands, we are to love our wives as Christ loved the church. That means we are to have for our wives the same measure of love as Jesus Christ has for us.
And how did Jesus show that love? Well he gave himself up for us, verse 25, in other words, he went to a cross to die for us. His love was selfless, sacrificial, and unrestrained. You see, the cross is to be the model for how we are to behave as husbands. The cross shows us that God loved us even though we didn't deserve it. Our love for our wives must be unconditional. The cross shows us that God's love is very costly. Our love for our wives is something that we must be willing to give everything to. It will cost us everything. And the cross shows us that God's love brings us back into relationship with him. So our love for our wives will seek to make her the person that God meant her to be. Under his loving hand and care, a husband's wife should become an even more godly and gracious woman who finds her fulfilment in her relationship with her husband and in her relationship with God. Now I don't know about you, but I as a husband find that very challenging. It's certainly a very tall order. And if that isn't clear enough then Paul makes it even clearer in verse 28: "In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself." So, husbands, we are to love our wives as we love ourselves. And that is because of the fact that marriage is about two becoming one. Two people are joined together by the promises they make. So the way we husbands treat ourselves, which I take it means with great care, will be the way we treat our wives. And when a husband takes his responsibility seriously to love his wife as Christ loved the church, then it surely that will go a long way to building a secure and lasting marriage. For a wife who is loved like that cannot possibly fail to develop as a Christian and grow in godliness and grace.
But the trouble is so often, that is not the way it is. For many of us men fail to be loving towards our wives and fail to take the responsibility seriously that God has entrusted to us for our families. And the problem is that so many Christian men today are far too much shaped by the culture around them than by the Bible. The story is told of the farmer and his wife in the Mid West of America who were lying in bed one night, when a tornado struck their house during a storm and they were sucked right out of the house still lying in their bed. The wife began to cry, and the farmer called out to her and told her that this was no time for crying. She called back saying that she couldn't help it, because she was so happy. For it was the first time they'd been out together for twenty years!
And the danger is that we husbands shirk our responsibility and don't love our wives as Christ loved the church. So what about your attitude to your wife around them home. You might be known as a pillar of godliness in the church, but what about in the home behind closed doors? The sharp tongue, the constant verbal putting down of your wife in front of the children, the self indulgent lack of help around the home? Is that really loving her as Christ loved the church? Headship does not mean being a domineering bully, or lazy tyrant. Christ's headship of the church means self sacrificial love at great cost to himself. It means total love and care for the church. Or what about taking the spiritual lead with the family? Who is it that takes the lead in encouraging the family to make church a regular commitment on a Sunday, or to get out to a Homegroup every fortnight? Who is it that makes sure God's word is at the centre of family life, both as individuals and as a whole family? In each of our homes, will we find husbands devoted to praying for their families and reading the Word of God, bearing their families up before the Lord? If that's not happening, then husbands we are failing in our responsibility! Because headship is not a right. It's a God given responsibility. It's not that our wives have no role spiritually in the home. That's not true at all. But are we husbands taking the lead and the initiative when it comes to the things of God? Or are we shirking our responsibility? If so, then we need to hold up our hands and confess our lack of loving leadership. We need to ask for our wives' forgiveness and to God for his forgiveness. And then get on with the loving responsibility that God has given us. For it takes a real man to do that doesn't it? And it's very hard for a wife to respect her husband, as Paul says in verse 33, when he's failing in his duty. You see both husbands and wives have a responsibility. The one to lovingly lead, the other to humbly submit. And when that happens, then it is a beautiful picture of Jesus' relationship to his church is like. It's a profound mystery, says Paul in verse 32, but I'm talking about Christ and the church. Do you want your marriage to be a advertisement for Christ and his church? And do you claim to follow Christ as Lord? Well if so, you must let Christ be Lord over your married life.
2) Let Christ be Lord over your Home Life (6 vv 1-4)
But another area where we must let Christ be Lord over is in our home lives, that is with our children. Paul addresses children first in verse 1 of chapter 6: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honour your father and mother'which is the first commandment with a promise 'that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.'" It's significant that children are addressed personally in this letter to these churches, and it's just a little reminder to us that our younger members are just as important to the whole church family as are us older members. And what must the children do? They must obey their parents. In other words that is the application for children of what it means at this stage in their life to honour their parents as the command says. They must be obedient. It's unlikely that there are many here this morning, but if there are any Mark 2ers here, then the way you are to exercise your love for your Lord is to be obedient to your parents in all things, not balshy or rebellious, but obedient. For that is the mark of a godly son or daughter who wants to serve Christ as Lord. But why? Because this command, honour your father and mother, comes with a promise. It leads to long life on the earth. That's probably another way of saying that stable home life, with obedient children, leads to a stable social life. That is the fabric of society is kept intact when children are obedient to their parents. And Christian children have a challenge to take that on board.
But perhaps more relevant to us here is the challenge to parents in verse 4. The word here means fathers, and again it's a little reminder that fathers must not be lacking in fulfilling their key responsibilities in the home. But of course, it doesn't rule out the mother's influence as well. So what are they to do? Verse 4: "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." So fathers aren't to drive their children to distraction, but rather bring them up in the teaching of the Lord.
Of course that is easier said than done especially when the children are the ones driving you to distraction! The Christian writer James Dobson tells the no doubt painfully familiar story of one family who were about to go off on holiday. The father had worked hard all week to make sure everything was done so they could get off on time. He then got up at 4 in the morning to pack the car and the family left on the dot at 8. The father was hunched over the wheel with bloodshot eyes, eyelid twitching, determined to get there as quick as possible. But in the back, the two sons were at each other's throats all the way there, bickering and winding each other up. Until at last the father, who was getting more and more irate, exploded. He brought the car to a screeching halt. Pulled the two kids out he car and gave them the telling off of their lives. He then bundled them back into the car and told them not to say another word. So there was absolute silence in the car, until about half an hour later, the elder son plucked up the courage to speak. "Can I speak now Dad?" "Yes, what do you want to say!" "It's just that when you gave us that telling off back there, one of my shoes fell off and I left it on the pavement!"
It all goes to remind us that parenting is one of the toughest jobs in the world, and especially for Christian parents who are to bring their children up in the training and instruction of the Lord, again going against much of the prevailing culture. So its worth parents asking if they are doing what Paul commands. Putting the teaching and instruction of the Lord at the centre of their home life. Or is the family home just like any other home in the street. But of course there is a challenge here for the whole church. And that is for each of us to play our part in encouraging and supporting Christian families in the bringing up of their children in the Lord. We can all play a part, by prayer, by encouragement and help for parents, especially those who are struggling or those bringing up children on their own. Because the challenge for each of us is to let Christ be Lord over our home lives.
3) Let Christ be Lord over your Working Life (6 vv 5-9)
But then finally and very briefly as we finish, Paul's last challenge to us is to let Christ be Lord over our working lives. Now at first we might think that this teaching on slaves on masters is not relevant to us. But slaves in the first century were not so much the ball and chain slaves that we see in films like Ben Hur. Slaves were employees who just happened to be owned by their master, and millions of people in the ancient world were slaves. In fact its been estimated that a third of the population in Rome at this time were slaves. And some slaves became very influential in Roman society. In fact, in many ways, whilst there were terrible abuses of slaves, something Christians would later fight against, yet this teaching is far closer to our employee-employer relationship than we might think. So how are Christian employees to work? Let's read from verse 5: "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye
is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free." Paul's point is actually very simple. We are to work as if we are serving Christ. And that means that our attitude to work is to be our attitude to serving Christ. So we're not to be known as lazy employees or late employees or sloppy employees, because that would bring dishonour to Christ's name. Rather, says Paul, serve whole heartedly as if serving the Lord. Now as with all we have seen this morning, it doesn't mean it's easy, especially if we are finding work a huge problem or we have a boss who's impossible to work for. But it certainly gives us a new perspective on work. Because as with all the rest of our lives, work comes under the Lordship of Christ too. And the way we go about it, is another part of our discipleship.
And if you're a boss, and you have people under you, then read verse 9: "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 favouritism with him." Bosses too will have to give an account for the way they have treated their employees. So the challenge is to be godly in the office, just as much as in our marriages and in our home lives. For Jesus must be Lord also of our working lives.
You see there are no parts of our lives that do not come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ when we submit our lives to him. And yet the difficulty with these three areas, married life, home life and working life, is that often we want to keep Jesus at arms length. Because when you let him be Lord over your marriage or your home or your work, then it will mean changes. So let each one of us examine ourselves again this morning and humbly ask God to change us to become like him. Because we all need his gentle helping hand. And we all need to heed these three challenges. To let Jesus be Lord over our married lives, to let Jesus be Lord over our home lives and to let Jesus be Lord over our working lives.
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