Peace, Love, and Faith

21 So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. 22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.

23 Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. Ephesians 6:21-24 ESV

For the first time in his letter, Paul turns his attention to himself. He has written the letter while under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial. He had been arrested in Jerusalem having been accused by the Jews of allegedly bringing Gentiles into the temple and defiling it (Acts 21:28-30). The Jews had been so incensed at Paul that they wanted to kill him, but he had been rescued by Roman soldiers. Paul ended up having to defend himself before the Sanhedrin, the Roman governor, and King Agrippa. Eventually, he was shipped off to Rome because, as a Roman citizen, he had appealed for a trial before Caesar. So, while under house arrest, he wrote this letter to the Ephesians. In fact, Paul wrote many of his letters while physically detained in Rome. He made very good use of his time and continued to minister to the churches he had helped to plant.

Paul had a special place in his heart for the believers in each of the cities to which he wrote. He saw them as his spiritual children. He had a pastor’s heart for them, worrying about their spiritual well-being because he knew they were under spiritual attack from the enemy. That is why he wrote his many letters. He wanted to educate, encourage, and instruct them in the faith. He desired to see them grow in Christ-likeness and continue to spread the good news of Jesus Christ around the world.

Paul was also aware that the believers to whom he had ministered so faithfully worried about him as well. They were concerned with his well-being and felt a certain sense of dependency upon him as their spiritual mentor and father in the faith. So Paul regularly them about his circumstances. With everything else going on in their lives, he didn’t want them worrying about him. So, he told them he would send Tychicus, “the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord” to bring them up to speed. It seems that Paul used Tychicus in this way quite often (Acts 20:4; Colossians 4:7; Titus 3:12; 2 Timothy 4:12). He was one of Paul’s constant companions and was able to travel to these various cities and keep the believers there informed as to the current status of Paul’s imprisonment and trial. Paul’s main purpose in sending Tychicus was that they might be encouraged. He knew that they didn’t need any more distractions or discouragement than they already had.

Paul loved others. He cared deeply about them and was willing to do whatever it took to see that they grew in faith. He could be hard on them, pointing out their weaknesses and flaws. But he could also be deeply compassionate, encouraging them in their weaknesses, and calling them to remain faithful. Like a loving parent, Paul wanted what was best for his children, and he was willing to sacrifice his own life to see that the flock of God was healthy and whole. Paul was the consummate shepherd. He shared the heart of Jesus, who said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11 ESV). As a matter of fact, prior to heading to Rome to await his trial before Caesar, Paul had called for the elders from Ephesus and told them, “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders” (Acts 20:28 NLT). And Paul had lived out that admonition in his own life – all the way from Rome. Paul had lived out the calling for elders penned by the apostle Peter.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly – not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. – 1 Peter 5:2 NLT

And in keeping with his role as a shepherd, Paul closed out his letter with a prayer for his flock in Ephesus. He prayed for three things: peace, love, and faith. Peace is not an absence of trouble, but an awareness of God’s presence in the midst of trying times. Peace also can mean harmony between individuals. Paul knew that there would be plenty of potential for turmoil in the Ephesian church because churches are comprised of people. And he knew that peace was going to be necessary if they were going to grow together and experience the unity that God desired for them. But peace is only possible when love is present. Mutual love is what brings about peace. The sacrificial, selfless love for which Paul was praying is unifying, not dividing. It is healing, not hurtful. It is other-oriented, not self-centered. And that kind of love is only possible through faith in Christ. It is not a self-manufactured kind of love but is a natural expression of the love that God expressed to us by sending His own Son to die on our behalf.

We love each other because he loved us first. – 1 John 4:19 NLT

All three of these attributes – peace, love, and faith – come from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. They are divine gifts to the church and they are to be used for the mutual edification of one another.

Paul closes his letter the same way he opened it, with an emphasis on the grace of God.

Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. – Ephesians 6:24 ESV

The grace of God, His undeserved favor, is the most remarkable thing any of us have ever received. But it is easy to lose sight of His grace and mistakenly assume that we somehow deserved or earned His love. We can end up thinking that we are worthy of His forgiveness and capable of living the Christian life in our own strength. But Paul would have us remember that it is the grace of God that made our salvation possible and it is the grace of God that makes our sanctification achievable. It is the grace of God that makes loving Him and His Son feasible. All that we are and all that we do is made possible by the grace of God.

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that is greater than all our sin!

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Suit Up, Stand Up, Speak Up!

18 To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. Ephesians 6:18b-20 ESV

Paul ended his description of the armor of God with a call to prayer, strongly advising his readers to “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion” (Ephesians 6:18a NLT). Constant communication with the Father is essential for our spiritual survival. Prayer is not simply a tool we use to get what we need from God. As Paul will show, it is not to be used for our own selfish desires either.

Throughout this letter, Paul has been addressing the great doctrine of the church, the body of Christ. In chapter one, Paul addressed Christ’s headship over the church, having earned that role through His sacrificial death and resurrection.

And he [God] put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:22 ESV

And all believers are members of that body because they share a common faith in Christ, and that faith was a gift provided to them by God, “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9 ESV). The church was and is the mysterious or previously hidden idea that God would miraculously join Jews and Gentiles into one body.

…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross. – Ephesians 2:14 ESV 

It was God who made us “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19 ESV). And it is through the church that “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10 ESV). It was Paul’s prayer that the Ephesian believers would “know the love of Christ” and be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19 ESV). Paul knew that God had a divine plan for the church. He also knew that the future success of the church, including all those who would later become a part of it through faith in Christ, was totally dependent upon the work of God and for the glory of God. That is why he ended his prayer in chapter three with the words:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV

The body of Christ, the church, is a powerful force, but only as long as it remains dependent upon God. It is a God-ordained agent of change in the world, but only when it stays committed to the will of God and connected to the power God has made available through His Spirit. When we lose sight of the fact that God saved us and placed us within the context of the body of Christ, and begin to see our salvation as something individualistic and isolated, we miss the whole point. A self-centered, what’s-in-it-for-me attitude has no place within the body of Christ. Even the armor of God is of little use to the Christian, if he wears it in a futile attempt to act as a one-man army.

As Christians, we must come to grips with the fact that we are in this battle together. Even the best-equipped, most highly trained army, without unity, will fall to its enemy. And without constant communication with and obedience to its commander, even the mightiest army will fail. So, Paul calls Christians to prayer.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. Ephesians 18 NLT

There is a sense of camaraderie and unity in his words. We are to pray not only for ourselves but for one another as well. We should desire that each and every believer on the planet lives in the power of the Spirit and according to the will of God. The body of Christ requires members who are healthy, whole and committed to the cause of Christ. That is why Paul even asks for prayer on his behalf.

And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. – Ephesians 6:19 NLT

Paul knew that he needed the prayers of the saints in order to stay committed to the call given to him by God. He coveted their prayers. And he longed that they would pray for one another.

What more selfless, loving thing can we do than pray for God to protect, guide, strengthen, and embolden our fellow believers. We must realize that our strength, while provided by God, is found in our unity with fellow believers. It is together that we form the powerful force that can dramatically alter the landscape of the world in which we live. Solitary soldiers, even though well-armored, will have little impact “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). So, we must pray. We must seek God’s face, determining to know His will, lifting up our fellow soldiers, and resting in His divine strategy for ultimate victory.

Not surprisingly, Paul asks his flock in Ephesus to pray for him. He is writing his letter while under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial before the emperor. But Paul doesn’t request that they pray for his timely release. While there’s little doubt that Paul longed to be set free so that he could continue his ministry, he also saw his confinement as a God-ordained opportunity to share the message of Jesus Christ with a “captive” audience. In his letter to the Philippians, he mentioned those he had been able to lead to faith in the household of Caesar.

The brothers who are with me send you their greetings. And all the rest of God’s people send you greetings, too, especially those in Caesar’s household. – Philippians 4:22 NLT

Paul had been busy while under house arrest in Rome. He had been bemoaning his circumstances or complaining about his sorry lot in life. No, he had been spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to anyone and everyone.

I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear. – Philippians 4:12-14 NLT

Paul was an equal-opportunity evangelist. He was ready, willing, and able to share the gospel with Jews, Gentiles, Romans, freemen, slaves, guards, and even emperors if given the chance. No one was “safe” when Paul was around. So, instead of asking that his friends in Ephesus pray for his release, he asks them to pray that he will “keep on speaking boldly for him” (Ephesians 6:20 NLT). He desires strength, endurance, and a fearlessness to boldly proclaim Christ even in the face of possible rejection and ridicule.

Paul knew that he would need just the right words to speak in each situation. He was totally dependent upon God to provide him with just the right message at just the right time. Paul didn’t preach a one-size-fits-all kind of gospel. He allowed the Holy Spirit to custom-fit the message for each individual. That is why he asks that the Ephesians pray that God would give him “the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike” (Ephesians 6:19 NLT).

Paul didn’t ask for release from confinement, but instead, he asked for Spirit-empowered communications skills. He wanted to make the most of his time while under house arrest. He viewed his situation as part of the sovereign will of God, and not as some kind of difficulty from which to escape. He was in God’s hands and what he desired most was the Ephesians’ prayers so that he might have God’s help in proclaiming the news of God’s Son.

Paul‘s prayer request reminds me of the words of an old hymn that echoes the same sentiment. Oh, that we would have the same perspective as Paul and share his desire to be used by God no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free
Silently now I wait for thee
Ready, my God, thy will to see
Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!
Open my ears, that I may hear
Voices of truth thou sendest clear;
And while the wavenotes fall on my ear
Everything false will disappear
Silently now I wait for thee
Ready, my God, thy will to see
Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!
Open my mouth, and let me bear
Gladly the warm truth everywhere;
Open my heart and let me prepare
Love with thy children thus to share
Silently now I wait for thee
Ready, my God, thy will to see
Open my heart, illumine me, Spirit divine!

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Resources to Resist the Enemy

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Ephesians 6:10-13 ESV

Having just addressed the topic of godly submission by illustrating its impact and influence on three different relationship settings, Paul now makes a somewhat jarring shift in thought as he brings up the seemingly unrelated topic of spiritual warfare. But upon closer examination, it seems clear that Paul is simply continuing the same train of thought he began when he called the Ephesians to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which they had been called. Throughout two chapters, Paul has been emphasizing the need for believers to live out their faith in everyday life. He has called them to put off their old selves and to be renewed in the spirit of their minds. They were to put on their new natures, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:24). They were to walk in love, as children of light. There were to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ and willingly sacrifice their rights in order to selflessly love others as Christ had loved them.

But this was not going to be easy, and it wasn’t going to come naturally. Paul knew that their old sin nature or flesh would fight them every step of the way. Their natural inclination would be to lord it over one another, rather than submit. They would be prone to pride and self-exaltation, not humility and selfless service. Submitting to those who don’t appear to deserve it or loving those who don’t seem worthy of it are not easy things to do. And to make matters worse, Paul knew that believers have an enemy at work behind the scenes to make their walk of faith as difficult as possible.

He was keenly aware that there was an unseen spiritual battle taking place to which most of us as Christians were blissfully oblivious. What Paul was asking the Ephesians to do was impossible to pull off in their own strength. They were not equipped for it. Their fallen human nature, apart from the help of God, was not suited for spiritual warfare. Without the assistance of God, they would be like someone bringing a knife to a gunfight. So Paul tells encourages them to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10 ESV).

He doesn’t tell them to gut it up or get busy. Paul doesn’t berate or belittle them for their lack of effort and determination. No, he calls them to place their hope and trust in the all-sufficient strength of God. Earlier in this letter, Paul told the Ephesian believers that he prayed for them regularly. His request was God would empower them so that might be “strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Ephesians 3:16 ESV). He prayed the same thing for the believers on Colossae.

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy. – Colossians 1:11 ESV

When Paul called the believers in Ephesus to “be imitators of God” and to “walk in love as Christ has loved us” (Ephesians 5:1), he knew that he was asking them to do the impossible. But not if they did it in the strength that comes from God. Not if they recognized their insufficiency and God’s all-sufficiency. The impossibility of the task should drive them to the reliability of their Father. The life to which God had called them was only possible through the power He had graciously provided for them.

And the good news is that the very same power is available to us today. Paul calls it the whole armor of God. Notice that he refers to it as whole or complete armor. We can’t afford to be selective or picky about it. Not a single piece of the armor was to be left off or left behind. It is only as we are wholly equipped with the divine protection God has provided that we will “be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11 ESV). God has given us the armor but we still need to put it on. And we must always keep in mind that his “armor” is spiritual in nature because “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). In other words, our battle is not against other people. Our enemies are not those on the left or the right, the liberals or conservatives, the Muslims or the atheists, the irreligious or the immoral.

Paul reminds us we are fighting “against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). Sound scary? It’s meant to be because it’s true and the enemies are very real. What we see happening all around us today is an orchestrated effort on the part of the enemy of God to subvert His will and supplant His authority. Satan stands opposed to all that is godly, and that includes every single believer because the Spirit of God lives within them. As Jesus Himself warned, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10 ESV).

So what are we to do? Paul is quite clear.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. – Ephesians 6:13 NLT

Notice that Paul says, “to resist,” not go on the attack. Our job is not to destroy Satan, but to resist His efforts to destroy us. James gives us some invaluable insight into how this is all supposed to work. He writes:

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. – James 4:7 NLT

Humility before God comes before the resistance of Satan. Acknowledgment of your need for God’s strength must precede any attempt to withstand the enemy’s attack. By putting on the armor God has provided, you are acknowledging your need for Him. The reason so many of us fail as Christians is that we refuse to put on the whole armor of God. We think we can survive without it.

But God has provided a complete set of armor that must be put on and depended upon. Each piece is designed to work in concert with every other. They are spiritual resources designed to fight a spiritual battle. Paul told the Corinthian church, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV).

We live in evil days. We have a formidable enemy whose mission is to destroy us. We still have our old sin-prone nature, weak and worthless when it comes to resisting a spiritual enemy. But we have not been left defenseless or devoid of help. Our gracious, all-powerful God has given us His divinely empowered armor to protect us and the indwelling presence of His Spirit to do battle beside us. Like Paul, we need to recognize our own insufficiency, the enemy’s reality, and God’s gracious provision for our security.

So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

A Radical Change in Relationships

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. Ephesians 6:5-9 ESV

Paul continues to discuss the practical implications of walking as children of light, in love and in submission to one another. But in doing so, he brings up a relationship that is particularly difficult for 21st-Century believers to understand. He has already addressed the relationship between believing husbands and their wives, and he has covered God’s will concerning children and their parents. But now he takes on the the rather awkward topic of slaves and their masters. But in keeping with the rest of his letter, he is still focusing his attention on believers. So, in this case he is addressing slaves who have come to faith in Christ but still find themselves in the same hopeless position they had been in before their conversion.

Based on this passage, there are those who have accused Paul of being a proponent of the institution of slavery, because he refuses to speak out against it. But Paul, like Jesus Himself, was not out to revolutionize the civil or cultural institutions of his day. Nor was he out to bring about social upheaval. He was interested in redeeming the lives of all those who made up the the variegated fabric of society. So, while it’s true that Paul did not condemn the socially accepted practice of slavery in his day, it doesn’t mean he was in favor of it. In fact, in his letter to Philemon, he makes an appeal to his brother in Christ regarding one of his slaves, a man called Onesimus. Evidently, Onesimus had run away from Philemon and had somehow ended up meeting Paul in Rome. Under the apostle’s influence, Onesimus became a follower of Christ.

He ended up ministering to Paul while he was under house arrest. Eventually, Paul encouraged Onesimus to do the right thing and return to his master. Slavery was legal in Paul’s day and Onesimus was obligated to return to Philemon or face severe punishment. But Paul sent his letter to Philemon explaining the change that had taken place in the life of Onesimus and to ask Philemon to see his former slave as a brother in Christ.

For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. – Philemon 1:15-16 NLT

This is exactly the kind of context Paul is addressing in his letter to the Ephesians. Slavery was a socially-accepted and legally-sanctioned part of the culture of the day. And yet Paul was calling those slaves and masters who had come to faith in Christ to radically change their perspective regarding their relationship and the institution that determined dictated it. The interesting thing is that slaves, who were viewed as property and sub-human in many ways, were coming to faith in Christ. Not only that, they were becoming members of the local churches. It was not uncommon for a 1st-Century church to have slaves and their masters as part of its congregation. And within the context of the church, there was a unity and equality that was unheard of anywhere else in the culture of that day.

This is why Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia: “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28 NLT).

In the context of the body of Christ, everyone was on an equal footing. But while coming to faith in Christ had set Onesimus free from sin, it had not freed him from slavery. In fact, Paul wrote to the Corinthians and told them, “Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you. Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ” (1 Corinthians 7:20-22 NLT).

Paul’s primary concern was the behavior of believers. He was focused on their walk – the daily living out of their faith within the context of their existing social relationships. This is reflected in what he wrote to the church in Ephesus.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. – Ephesians 6:5 NLT

We see once again, that their motivation was to be Christ-centered, as if they were serving Christ. Jesus had became a slave on their behalf, even dying in their place so that they might be freed from slavery to sin. Now He was calling them to serve their earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Rather than forced subservience, Paul was calling them to willing submission. Paul gives them some very specific instruction about how their faith should manifest itself in their relationship with their masters.

Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. – Ephesians 6:6-7 NLT

Notice that Paul encourages them to do the will of God with all their heart. What would the will of God be in their particular situation? To walk as children of light. To walk in love. To walk in a manner worthy of their calling. Yes, even within their context as slaves because, in reality, they were slaves of Christ. Their earthly situation was temporary. So, they could work with enthusiasm, performing their earthly responsibilities as if they were doing it for the Lord, knowing that “the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free” (Ephesians 6:8 NLT).

But Paul is not done. He also addresses those individuals in the churches in Ephesus who happened to be masters. He tells them, “Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Don’t threaten them; remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites” (Ephesians 6:9 NLT).

Their faith in Christ was to have a relationship-altering impact on their lives. Their slaves were now their brothers. And everything they did was to be done as to the Lord. This was a game-changing, life-altering moment in the lives of these individuals. Can you imagine what kinds of renewing of the mind and shifting of their paradigm was taking place as they wrestled with their new-found faith in Christ and its impact on the social construct in which they found themselves? This particular relationship between slaves and masters would put the daily application of faith in Christ to the test like no other. 

Jesus did not come to revolutionize the structures of society, but He came to dramatically transform the lives of the people who make up that society. He did not come to radically alter institutions, but to redeem individuals. Political change or legal sanctions do nothing to remedy the condition of the heart. Overthrowing the evil social structures of a society through rebellion or civil disobedience may bring about external change, but it will never fix the problem of sin. Believers living as children of light in the midst of darkness, loving unconditionally, submitting to one another willingly, and obeying Christ joyfully are the true change-agents in the world.

As modern-day Christians, we find Paul’s discussion of slavery to be distasteful and outdated. After all, we live in a nation that outlawed slavery a long time ago. But in Paul’s day it was alive and well. And becoming a believer did not set slaves free from slavery. It didn’t change their circumstances, but it did radically alter the way they were to live their lives. Because of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, slaves were expected to do their jobs differently. They were expected to relate to their masters differently. They were to obey with “deep respect and fear.” And they were to do it as they would serve Christ. Their subservience was now to become willing submission, performed for the Lord, not for their earthly masters. Their work ethic was to be motivated by their love for the Lord. They were still slaves, but they were slaves who had been changed by Christ and had a new capacity to love – even within the context of their slavery. And those masters who happened to be believers, were to treat their slaves with dignity and respect, knowing that they would one day be held accountable by God for their actions.

Paul makes a significant statement regarding God’s view of slaves and masters. He says, “remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites” (Ephesians 6:9 NLT). God doesn’t see as man sees. While He has ordained there to be order, structure, and degrees of authority in the world, He sees all men as equals. He views husbands and wives as equals. He regards parents and children as equals. And He sees slaves and masters in the same way. The key issue is how His Spirit can radically change each of the individuals in those relationships and give them a new capacity to interact and interrelate so that He is honored.

Spirit-filled, Spirit-controlled believers bring a whole new meaning to their earthly relationships. They view their roles and responsibilities differently. They see their positions as opportunities to serve others and honor God. They do their work as unto the Lord. They serve others as they would serve Christ. They submit to others as they would submit to Him. They love as He would love. They obey as if He were the one giving the command. Living under the influence of the Spirit is a life-changing, relationship-altering experience.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Turning Homes Into Lighthouses

1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:1-4 ESV

Next, Peter turns his attention to the parent-child relationship, where the filling of the Spirit could help the believers in Ephesus to dispel the darkness engulfing their community. A home where godly parents and children lived in submission to the will of God would be a beacon of light and life to the lost. Their Spirit-empowered interactions with one another would bring glory and honor to God as they lived in keeping with His good and perfect will.

Paul begins by addressing the children within the Ephesian church. He calls on them to obey their parents “in the Lord” (en kyrios). In his earlier passage addressed to believing wives, he called on them to submit to their believing husbands “as unto the Lord” (hōs ho kyrios). The idea is the same here. Paul is calling on children to obey “in the Lord.” The obedience of the children was not to be dependent upon the belief of their parents, but they were to obey because it was the will of God. Paul was essentially telling young children who came to faith in Christ, “you need to understand what the Lord wants you to do” (Ephesians 5:17). Regardless of age, every member of the body of Christ was to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 ESV).

It would seem that Paul has believing children in mind because he calls them to obey “in the Lord.” He seems to assume that these children are old enough to understand their Christ-honoring commitment to submit to their parents in the same way they would submit to Christ Himself. And Paul quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures to drive home his point.

Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. – Deuteronomy 5:16 NLT

In this passage, Moses is reciting the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel, and this verse, he shares God’s command that His people show proper honor and respect to their earthly parents. This commandment was applicable to children of all ages, including those who had reached adulthood. In a society that had no welfare system, it was the responsibility of adult children to take care of their elderly parents. God was ordering His covenant people to treat their loved ones with dignity and respect, and He tied future fruitfulness to present faithfulness. If they continued to treat their parents with honor all the days of their lives, then they would enjoy a long and fruitful stay in the land of promise. This is why Peter refers to this as a “commandment with a promise” (Ephesians 6:2 ESV). As long as the people obeyed it, they would enjoy the blessings of God. Faithfulness to do the will of God would be accompanied by fruitfulness.

It’s interesting to note that, in his second letter to Timothy, Paul included disoBelibedience to parents among the list of godless characteristics that will mark the end of the age.

…in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT

It seems that Paul is describing people who are old enough to know what they are doing. Their behavior reflects the status of their hearts. Their outer actions are simply byproducts of their inner condition. Jesus made this point quite clear when He stated, “the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you” (Matthew 15:18-20 NLT).

Paul doesn’t seem to be focusing his attention on small children. They were not the problem. It was those children who were old enough to come to faith in Christ but also old enough to be tempted by the inevitable allure of autonomy and freedom from their parents’ control over their lives. He is calling them to remember their commitment to do that which is pleasing to God. They were to emulate Christ, who willingly submitted Himself to do His Father’s will.

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” – John 6:38 ESV

“I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” – John 5:30 ESV

Paul states that children who obey their parents are doing what is right. The Greek word is dikaios, and it means “that which is righteous, in keeping with the commands of God” (Outline of Biblical Usage). To obey earthly parents is righteous because it is in keeping with our Heavenly Father’s will. It is what He desires, therefore, it is right and good.

This command is intended to last a lifetime. It doesn’t end at the age of 18 or whenever the child moves out of the home. No, it lasts as long as the parents remain alive. And in a culture where the family unit tended to stay intact for much longer periods of time, this command carried special significance. It was not uncommon for young married couples to take up residence in the home of the husband’s parents. Multiple generations would end up residing under the same roof, making obedience to this command more essential than ever. A home where parents, children, and grandchildren lived together was the perfect environment for displaying the Spirit-filled lifestyle to which Paul was calling his audience.

And it was within this kind of familial context that Paul called on fathers to treat their children with love and respect, raising them in accordance with the will of God. And that included “the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4 NLT). Once again, Paul is emphasizing the need for all believers to do things according to God’s will, not their own. And they were not to use the prevailing cultural context as their model for godly behavior. Paul has already warned the Ephesian believers not to pattern their behavior after the world.

Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. – Ephesians 5:7-9 NLT

Instead, they were to “carefully determine what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10 NLT). And for fathers, that meant leading their children in such a way that it produced godliness rather than bitterness. Paul demands that father’s not “provoke” or exasperate their children. Believing fathers were to submit themselves to the will of God and minister to their wives and children in a loving and self-sacrificing manner. Their God-ordained role as the heads of their households didn’t give them the right to lord over those under their care. They were to be servants and shepherds. They to were to model Christ-likeness as they provided instruction in godliness.

God holds Christian fathers responsible for the care of His flock. A godly father is to recognize that his children are gifts from God.

Children are a gift from the Lord;
    they are a reward from him. – Psalm 127:3 NLT

And because God has assigned believing fathers with the role of shepherding His young lambs, He will hold them responsible if they fail to care for them well. The warning that God applied to the spiritual shepherds of Israel can be applied to those Christian fathers who abdicate their God-given responsibility to shepherd their children as God has commanded.

“What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.” – Ezekiel 34:2-6 NLT

And God went on to describe what He would do to those shepherds who failed to carry out their God-ordained role.

“I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.” – Ezekiel 34:10 NLT

In a similar way, Paul is pleading with the fathers within the church at Ephesus to step up and do what they have been called to do. They were to model the self-sacrificing love of Christ. They were to teach their children to honor God by demonstrating it through their own lives. Their homes were to be lighthouses, illuminating the darkness of Ephesus with the glory of God’s grace and the life-changing power of His Spirit.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Lord of Break-Throughs.

When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to search for David. But David heard of it and went down to the stronghold. Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim. And David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?” And the Lord said to David, “Go up, for I will certainly give the Philistines into your hand.” And David came to Baal-perazim, and David defeated them there. And he said, “The Lord has broken through my enemies before me like a breaking flood.” Therefore the name of that place is called Baal-perazim. And the Philistines left their idols there, and David and his men carried them away.

And the Philistines came up yet again and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim. And when David inquired of the Lord, he said, “You shall not go up; go around to their rear, and come against them opposite the balsam trees. And when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then rouse yourself, for then the Lord has gone out before you to strike down the army of the Philistines.” And David did as the Lord commanded him, and struck down the Philistines from Geba to Gezer. – 2 Samuel 5:17-25 ESV

Upon hearing word that David had been crowned king of Israel, the Philistines determined to attack him before he could establish his reign and gather strength. It seems that while he had been king over the single tribe of Judah, they had been content to leave him alone, seeing him as little to no threat. But now that he had unified all 12 tribes, he had gotten their attention. So they came in search for him. Having just taken the city of Jerusalem, and not having had time to fortify it, David and his men made their way to their stronghold. We’re not told where this stronghold was. It could have been the cave of Adullam, near Hebron. Or it could be a reference to the fortress of Zion (verse 7). Most likely, David returned to his original stronghold in the wilderness. It would have made sense for David to return to familiar ground and draw the Philistines away from Jerusalem and the other tribes of Israel. The Valley of Rephaim was southwest of Jerusalem and closer to Hebron and the border between Israel and the Philistines.

Before attempting to do battle with the Philistines, David sought the counsel of God. He wanted to know two things: Should he fight with the Philistines and, if he did, whether or not he would be successful. David could have easily assumed that war with the Philistines was inevitable and simply marched into battle without seeking any word from God. He could have rationalized that, as the king of Israel, doing battle with the enemies of Israel was his duty. It came with the job description. But instead of acting rashly or presumptuously,  David turned to God. He wanted God’s blessing and approval. But more than anything, He wanted God’s help. And God assured David that He would be with him and give him victory over the Philistines. And after defeating the Philistines, David name the place of the battle Baal-perazim, which literally means, “the Lord of breaking through.” David explains the meaning of the name when he says, “The Lord has broken through my enemies before me like a breaking flood” (2 Samuel 5:20 ESV).

The victory was so quick and decisive that the Philistines abandoned their idols on the battle field. Their gods had been worthless because they were lifeless. So David and his men gathered them up and burned them (1 Chronicles 14:12).

But while the Philistines had lost the battle, they were not giving up the war. They gathered once again in the Valley of Rephaim. And again, David sought the counsel of God. This time, God gave David different instructions, commanding him to take his troops and prepare for a rear action against the Philistines. And God told David to wait until he heard “the sound of marching” in the tops of the trees under which they were taking cover. This was to be God’s sign to go into battle. David did just as God commanded and, once again, he handily defeated the Philistines that day.

These two victories had been God’s doing. Yes, David and his men had to fight, but it was God who gave them success. David’s naming of the first battleground, “the Lord of breaking through” provides us with insight into David’s perception of the events of that day. It had been God who had broken through his enemies like a flood. David would experience other victories like this one. And with each win over his enemies, David would grow in his faith and confidence in God. This dependence upon God for aid in his battles is reflected in his psalms.

God’s way is perfect.
    All the Lord’s promises prove true.
    He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.
For who is God except the Lord?
    Who but our God is a solid rock?
God arms me with strength,
    and he makes my way perfect.
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    enabling me to stand on mountain heights.
He trains my hands for battle;
    he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow.
You have given me your shield of victory.
    Your right hand supports me;
    your help has made me great. – Psalm 18:30-35 NLT

Praise the Lord, who is my rock.
    He trains my hands for war
    and gives my fingers skill for battle.
He is my loving ally and my fortress,
    my tower of safety, my rescuer.
He is my shield, and I take refuge in him.
    He makes the nations submit to me. – Psalm 144:1-2 NLT

David’s break-throughs were God’s doing. His victories were the direct results of his reliance upon God. God didn’t win the battles without David. He won the battles using David as His preferred agent, His divinely chosen instrument to accomplish His will. And God has chosen us, believers in Jesus Christ, to act as His agents of change and spiritual army to bring about His victories on this earth. But as Paul reminds us, we are not fighting against flesh and blood.

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. – Ephesians 6:10-13 NLT

God has provided us with spiritual armor. He has equipped us with spiritual power in the form of the Holy Spirit. He has assured us of victory over our enemy. But we must fight according to His terms while utilizing His strategies. We must seek God’s will regarding the battles we face. As Paul reminds us, we must “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere” (Ephesians 6:18 NLT). David was victorious because He sought the will of God. He won because God gave him a break-through against his enemy. The same thing will be true for us, as long as we turn to God, rely upon God, and do what God commands us to do. Attempting to do battle for God, but without His permission and help is doomed to failure, no matter how well-intentioned we might be.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Deliver Faithfully.

If your people go out to battle against their enemy, by whatever way you shall send them, and they pray to the Lord toward the city that you have chosen and the house that I have built for your name, then hear in heaven their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause. – 1 Kings 8:44-45 ESV

1 Kings 8:22-53

Solomon and the people of Israel were enjoying a time of unprecedented peace and tranquility. Unlike his father David, Solomon was not faced with the constant threat of war or incursions by the Philistines. God had blessed his reign and allowed him to enjoy a time of national prosperity and protection from warfare. But Solomon wasn’t naive. He knew that war was always a real possibility because the Israelites were still surrounded by nations that considered them their enemy. The threat of being attacked was a constant part of their lives. But there was also the distinct possibility that God could lead them into battle. The time could come when God ordained that they take the battle to their enemies, “by whatever way you shall send them.” And if that time came, Solomon knew that the key to victory would be tied to God’s divine assistance. Solomon had been raised by David and no doubt had heard the stories of David’s many victories. His father had probably told him the story of his victory over the giant, Goliath, many times. It was on that occasion that David had boldly proclaimed to his over-sized enemy, “For the battle is the Lord‘s, and he will give you into our hand” (1 Samuel 17:47 ESV). David had ended up defeating Goliath and had gone on to have an illustrious military career, thanks to God’s power and presence in his life.

While Solomon did not have the kind of military experience his father had, he did know that what set Israel apart was their dependence upon God for all their needs – including victory against their enemies. He knew that a God-ordained military campaign without God’s help was doomed to failure. Doing what God calls you to do, but in your own strength, will not work. Attempting to accomplish God’s will without God’s power misses the whole point. God wants to direct, but He also wants to empower. So Solomon prayed that when the time came for God’s people to go into battle, and they turned to Him for help, that He would hear them and provide them with victory. Warfare is always a distinct possibility for the child of God. The enemies of God are many and the time may come when God calls us to go into battle. When that time comes, we must turn to the Lord. We must always remember that the battle is His. Victory or defeat will not be based on our personal strength, but on God’s divine power. Attempting to fight the enemies of God without His help will always lead to defeat. We must turn to Him. We must rely on Him. And while today we may not face physical foes and flesh-and-blood enemies, the battle is just as real. Paul reminds us, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:12-13 ESV). Notice that Paul challenges us to take up “the whole armor of God.” He goes on to describe the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit and the shoes of the gospel of peace. These all come from God. They are the armor that He provides. We are to fight, surrounded by His means of protection and equipped with His weapons of warfare, and “praying at all times in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18 ESV).

Wearing God’s armor and waiting on God’s power. That is to be the stance of the child of God. The battles will come. The enemies will come against us. But our God is great and His power is unmatchable. We can face any foe with confidence and boldness, knowing that our God fights for us. The battle is His. We must believe that when God’s children call out to Him, He will “hear in heaven their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause.” He will do what only He can do. He will provide the victory. But we must pray. We must depend. We must wait. We must believe that He will deliver – faithfully.

Ephesians 6:10-24

Brothers In Arms.

Ephesians 6:10-24

Finally, be strengthened in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Clothe yourselves with the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemesof the devil. – Ephesians 6:10-11 NET

This is one of those passages in Scripture that we tend to particularize and personalize to such an extent that we end up missing the whole point of its meaning. For six chapters, Paul has been addressing the corporate body of Christ in Ephesus. His emphasis has been on the unity of the body and the relationships they share with one another. He has gone out of his way to drive home their shared experience in Christ and the unifying presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, who provides them with a capacity to live lives of mutual submission and love. Now he turns his attention to the spiritual battle in which these believers find themselves. Together, they are lights shining in a dark and desperate world. And as Jesus promised, that world hates them. So Paul warns them to be prepared.

But this is where we do this passage a disservice. In our me-centered, modern mindsets, we attempt to take every passage and make it a personal statement for our benefit only. In doing so, we miss out on the community context of these verses and the corporate nature of the Christian life. At the end of his letter, Paul is not suddenly changing his emphasis to the individual. But that is the way we typically read these verses. We see every personal pronoun as an opportunity to insert our name and make the passage about us. For instance, it would be so easy to read this passage as “Ken is to put on all of God’s armor so that he will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For Ken is not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities in the unseen world, against might powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” There is no doubt that this would be a true statement for every believer. But Paul’s message throughout this letter has been on the unity of the body of Christ. He has been speaking to believers as a whole, not to individuals. If I read this passage as a personal charge to me as an individual believer, I miss the whole point of Paul’s message, and I set myself up for failure. The spiritual battle in which we are engaged is not meant to be fought alone. This is not about me strapping on my spiritual armor and marching off into battle by myself. But that is how most of us read this passage and how many of us attempt to live the Christian life. We attempt to wage war with the enemy alone. We try to go mono y mono with Satan and then wonder why we come back bloodied and battered far too often. Spiritual warfare was never meant to be a solo sport. But in our individualized, it’s-all-about-me mentality, we end up battling all alone, with no one to watch our back or to help us when we fall.

The New English Translation is the only one that seems to keep the gist of Paul’s message. “Clothe yourselves with the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” Yes, each individual is to put on their individual armor, but we do battle together, not alone. When Paul refers to the struggle in which we are engaged, he refers to it as “our struggle.” When we strap our armor and stand to fight the enemy, we do so as an army, not as individuals. We stand out ground together, not alone. We fight side by side, using our shields of faith to protect one another. Together, equipped with the weapons God has provided and standing side by side, we make a formidable army. There is strength in numbers. We are to fight together. Stand together. Pray together. And experience the joys of victory together. The body of Christ is an army. It is made up of individuals who have been chosen by God and placed into His service and equipped with all the resources they need to do battle in His name. We fight for a common cause and against a common enemy. We are not individual gladiators doing battle by ourselves in an arena, but members of the King’s army, waging war together.

And lest we believe that victory is up to us, we must always remember that ultimately, the battle and the victory are His. Even as an army of many, we are helpless and hopeless apart from God. So even as we strap on our armor and prepare for battle, it pays to remind one another of this very important reality: “This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chronicles 20:15 NLT).

Father, remove the curse of individualism from our midst. The enemy’s greatest weapon against us is to divide and conquer us. We are far too self-centered and prone to fight alone. Our arrogance and pride cause us to run off and do battle alone. We want to experience individual victories. We want the glory. But the battle is Yours, and the victory is only possible because of You. Give us a mindset that allows us to see ourselves as members of an army with a common enemy and a common cause. Together, we can stand firm and resist the enemy in these evil times. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Ephesians 5:21-6:9

Redeemed Relationships.

Ephesians 5:21-6:9

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:21 NLT

Our relationship with Jesus Christ should change everything – especially our relationships with others. Saving faith is practical and applicable. It should make a difference in the way we relate to and interact with others in our lives. Paul uses the term “submit,” which was typically used in a military context. It referred to the attitude of a soldier who was expected to have  “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.” It carried with it the sense of being part of a larger whole, and serving within a unit that shared a common cause and answered to a higher authority. So Paul tells us to “submit to one another.” Notice that this is a command to any and all within the body of Christ. Too often we skip this verse and go right to the next verse where wives are told to submit to their husbands. This verse has caused much confusion, anger and anxiety over the years, especially within the minds of modern Christians. Many women find the idea of submission as antiquated and outdated. Some find it outright demeaning. But to understand what Paul is saying, we must keep all of the verses within their context. Paul is calling ALL believers to submit and he gives various examples of what that submission will look like for each of them.

Remember, Paul has just finished talking about being filled or controlled by the Spirit. Now he provides us with submission as a result of that filling. When we are living under the influence of the Spirit, we will submit to one another as to the Lord. Paul is going to deal with three pairs of people: husbands and wives, children and parents, and slaves and masters. The primary subject when talking about each is submission, made possible by the filling of the Spirit. It is critical to understand that each example is an illustration of submission. Women are told to submit to their husbands. This is not a command to subservience and is not meant to communicate that women have a lesser value or worth. It reflects a Spirit-empowered willingness on the part of wives to serve their husbands as they would Jesus Christ. This is not a call to passivity or a command to become a doormat. It is a call to Christ-like servanthood and submission. The key phrase here is “as to the Lord.” That theme runs throughout these verses. God has established an order and a structure to the family. He has made the husband the head of the home, just as Christ is the head of the church. Headship comes with authority, but also responsibility. The husband will answer to God for how he lead and cared for his family, including his wife. When a wife submits to her husband, she is simply coming under God’s ordained structure for the home. The wife’s ability to submit is directly tied to the next verses that deal with the husband’s responsibility to love. Paul tells husbands that for them, submission takes the form of selfless, sacrificial love. They are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Christ gave His life for the church. He placed the needs of the body of Christ above His own. He loved the church so much that He was willing to die for it. And that is the degree to which husbands are to “submit” to their wives. They are to love them so much that they are willing to sacrifice everything for their holiness. The kind of love husbands are called to express toward their wives was not to be based on her performance or merit, but was an unconditional acceptance based on her intrinsic worth as God’s gift to her husband. That kind of love will create an atmosphere where willing submission is easy.

Paul now turns his attention to parents and children. Children are commanded to obey and honor their parents. Again, this is an illustration of Spirit-empowered submission within the home. And it’s important to recognize that Paul tells children that their obedience stems from their relationship to the Lord. All of these relationships are to be God-centered and Spirit-filled. But there’s a second half to this equation. Fathers, as the head of the home, are commanded not to exasperate and frustrate their children by unloving and inconsistent parenting. Lack of loving leadership on the part of the father and an absence of structure and protective rules can end up causing children to become angry and, ultimately, rebellious. Love masquerading as license and leniency, can be damaging and destructive. Fathers are to provide an environment that is loving and disciplined, creating an atmosphere where obedience and honor come naturally.

Finally, Paul takes on a somewhat awkward topic of slave and masters. As modern-day Christians, we find this discussion distasteful and outdated. After all, we live in a nation that outlawed slavery a long time ago. But in Paul’s day it was alive and well. In fact, the local churches typically had members who were slaves, and oftentimes they attended the same church their masters did. Becoming a believer did not set slaves free from slavery. It did not change their circumstance, but it did radically alter the way in which they were to relate within that circumstance. Because of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, slaves were expected to do their jobs differently. They were expected to relate to their masters differently. They were to obey with “deep respect and fear.” And they were to do it as they would serve Christ. Their subservience was now to become willing submission, performed for the Lord, not for their earthly masters. Their work ethic was to be motivated by their love for the Lord. They were still slaves, but they were slaves who had been changed by Christ and had a new capacity to love – even within the context of their slavery. And those masters who happened to be believers, were to treat their slaves with dignity and respect, knowing that they would be held accountable for their actions to God some day. Paul makes a significant statement regarding God’s view of slaves and masters. He says, “remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites” (Ephesians 6:9 NLT). God doesn’t see as man sees. While He has ordained there to be order, structure and degrees of authority in the world, He sees all men as equal. He sees husbands and wives as equal. He sees parents and children as equal. And He sees slaves and masters as equal. The key issue is how His Spirit can radically change those relationships and give them a new capacity to interact and interrelate in such as way that He is honored. Spirit-filled, Spirit-controlled believers bring a whole new meaning to their relationships. They view their roles and responsibilities differently. They see their positions as opportunities to serve others and honor God. They do their work as unto the Lord. They serve others as they would serve Christ. They submit to others as they would submit to Him. They love as He would love. They obey as if He were the one giving the command. Living under the influence of the Spirit is a life-changing, relationship-altering experience.

Father, may we learn to live under the influence of the Spirit more and more. We can’t always change our circumstances, but we can change the way we relate in the midst of them. Our marriages need to be Spirit-controlled. Our homes need to be Spirit-filled. Our work relationships need to be Spirit-empowered. Show us how to make our faith practical and applicable to each and every one of our relationships. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org