In this week’s lesson, we looked at two more categories of relationships which believers are to bring under the gospel as we walk out our calling in Christ. To set the context, we are asked to look back at some of the high points we have covered thus far in our study of Ephesians.
What has God done for us?
To find the answer to this, we are directed to Ephesians 1:3-8 and 2:1-7. In these rich texts, we find that God has blessed us in Christ with every blessing in the heavenly places. He has chosen us in Christ that we would be holy and blameless. He predestined us before the foundation of the world and adopted us through Jesus Christ. Our Lord Jesus Christ bled and died so that we would be redeemed and forgiven. In his wisdom and insight, God lavished upon us the riches of his grace.
Though we were dead in our trespasses and sins, just objects of wrath like the rest of mankind, because of his great love for us and the richness of his mercy, God made us alive together with Christ—saving us by grace, rescuing us from the passions of our flesh and enslavement to the prince of the power of the air and the desires of our bodies and minds. Throughout the coming ages the riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus will be on display as we are seated with him in the heavenly places.
What is the destiny of all history?
According to 1:10 and 4:10, the destiny of all history is that all things in heaven and on earth would be united in Christ. He has ascended far above all the heavens that he might fill all things.
To what purpose were you chosen?
God’s purpose in choosing us was to the praise of his own glory (1:12), and that, through the church, his manifold wisdom might now—at last—be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. The angels have watched from their front-row seats, through the ages, wondering what in the world God was doing with these sinful, rebellious, adulterous humans, and it is only now, through the church, that suddenly it is all making sense and revealing God’s wisdom in all its magnificence and glory!
In that purpose, how are we all interconnected?
We are built together on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (the holy Scriptures), with Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, growing into a holy temple in the Lord (2:20, 21). As God grants us strength and Christ dwells in our hearts, we are able to comprehend together with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the unknowable love of Christ (3:18, 19). Individually, we may know some measure of this love, but together we can better grasp it.
We are one body, given a variety of gifts by grace, that we may be equipped for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (4:4, 7, 11-16).
When I study my Bible alone, I do benefit by what I have learned. But when I study the Bible together with the body of Christ, when we do life together, learn and grow together, work out together how this walk with Christ is supposed to work, hold one another accountable and pray together, that’s when we all benefit, together, so much more. It’s like serving family dinner: the entire feast is richer for everyone when we all come to the table bringing our dish to share. Griefs are divided, joys are multiplied, and we grow up into Christ as we build one another up in love.
Now that we have set the context, we read Ephesians 6:1-4. Observing that Paul has commanded wives to submit to and respect their husbands, and husbands to sacrificially love their wives, we now turn to his commands to children. In the household of God, children are responsible to obey and honor their parents. Their obedience to and honor of their parents brings praise and glory to God because they are ultimately obeying him. Paul attaches an extra encouragement to this command to obey parents by saying that ‘it is right.’ Rick Phillips expands on this idea with the following observation:
This is why children are to obey their parents—not because Dad is bigger and stronger and his punishment is to be feared, for the day will come when none of these may be true—but because this is right.
Obedience to parents is right, simply by the order of nature. This is why nearly every culture emphasizes the submission of children to parents; it is so obvious a duty that only a decadent and warped society—like our own—would question it. It is not wrong for children to be immature and to make mistakes, but it is wrong for them to flagrantly refuse their parents’ commands.
It is also right by virtue of God’s law: the fifth commandment requires the honoring of parents (Exod. 20:12). It is noteworthy that the ancient Jews placed the fifth commandment in the first tablet of God’s law—which teaches our duty to God—instead of the second tablet—which teaches our duty to others. They rightly placed God’s command to obey and honor parents under the category of our worship of God. For children, parents represent and mediate God’s own authority and love, and their duty to God requires obedience to their parents. This is why Paul tells children to “obey in the Lord.” [Richard D. Phillips, Ephesians, a Mentor Expository Commentary, (Christian Focus Publications) 2016, p. 418-419]
Paul reminds the Ephesians that there is a special promise attached to this commandment, “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land” (vs. 3). This is not a guarantee of worldly comfort, but a spiritual principle. Those who learn to obey their parents while young are training to obey a higher authority—God—when they are themselves adults. We tell our children that grudgingly going through the motions of obedience isn’t truly honoring behavior, but is still disobedience. Obedience that does not come from the heart is merely behavior, not obedience. When children learn to obey quickly, with a willing heart, even when it goes against their wishes, they are training their hearts for the day when they will need to obey God, quickly, with a willing heart, even when it goes against their wishes.
And isn’t quick, willing obedience better for us? Obeying God’s laws for our lifestyle certainly leads to healthier choices which, in principle, leads to longer lives. Obeying God’s Word for our relationship with him and with others around us will certainly, beyond all earthly comforts, make it “well with our souls.” Believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s final Word to us, leads to life eternal, and full of glory.
Knowing that the glorious goal of history is union with Christ and his church, built together as a dwelling place for God by the Spirit, we can encourage our children in their obedience to us and to the Lord. They too, as they believe on Christ for salvation, are being built into this temple, are valuable members of the body, and part of the bride of Christ, sharing with us the same glorious hope and calling. We are called to watch carefully how we walk, just as they are called to obey, learning to walk with us before they step out and walk with the Lord as adults responsible to him. To change the metaphor: they are learning with ‘training wheels’ while they are under our authority until the day when they must ride without them.
We should be careful, however, in our efforts to train our children, not to frustrate or exasperate them, to their harm. Disciplining them with harshness, unfairness, inconsistency, and changing expectations; favoritism, selfishness, outbursts of anger, and, of course, abuse of any kind are all ways in which children are frustrated in their efforts to learn obedience and right walking with the Lord, not to mention the damage they cause in our relationships with our kids. We must remember that we are stewards of the children God gives us, to train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The authority God grants us is for their blessing and protection. Even in the heat of the moment, we must remember to exercise our authority as stewards, and discipline fairly, with firmness, instructing them biblically, praising and giving encouragement where appropriate.
I was blessed with five children: I had not read all the right books before I began, I changed course and methods several times along the way, and will be the first to say that Rearing Children Is Hard! For the years that I was outnumbered by people half my size, on many days I was operating on little sleep, frayed nerves, and large doses of desperation. Looking back from where I now stand I bless God for the abundant grace which he gave—even when I wasn’t ‘feeling it.’ Parenting is a cauldron of sanctification. I learned much about myself which wasn’t pretty during those years. I learned that I could go from calm to crazy in the time it takes a gallon of milk to hit the kitchen floor (the carpeted kitchen floor, why-o-why, I have no idea…). I didn’t weep over that spilled milk, I howled like a banshee. I love my children more than I imagined possible, but there were days when I did not show it well.
I also learned that God’s love for them is deeper still. He preserved them through the multitude of my mistakes and gave all of us the grace to reach the point where we now are. So, if you are still up to your neck in the cauldron of sanctification, surrounded by little people whom the Lord has lent to you, take heart. God is at work in both you and your children. Pray for grace, grab some godly mom-friends, laugh at the spilled milk, and hang on tight for the ride of your life.
Before we leave the topic of children, our attention is brought to the singling out of fathers for not provoking children and raising them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. As we learned last week, the husband is the head of the household, and is therefore responsible to God for how he leads his family. This does not mean that he is the Grand Poobah, issuing orders from on high. He is involved in the lives of his wife and children in such a way as to be better able to guide and discipline the children and support his wife who bears the bulk of the child-rearing each day. A wife who is loved by her husband as Christ loves and nurtures his church is better equipped to deal with the demands of child-rearing than a wife whose husband expects her to do everything without his help.
What about homes without a father? Paul is describing for us the ideal situation, knowing full well that the ideal is not always the case. In a single-parent home, the parent who is there—often the mom—is the head of the household and is therefore responsible before God for the upbringing of her children. In these situations, a hard job becomes far more difficult. I would suggest that this is where the church needs to step in, not as an institution, but as individuals loving and nurturing one another. Men in the church can include fatherless children in activities with their own kids, not just fun stuff, but meaningful things. Families can band together to support in real ways the moms who are going it alone, with time, friendship, and prayer. Individual people have individual needs. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. The church, made up of individuals, “when each part is working properly,” can be just the right fit for the needs God presents to his people, so that he can “make the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Finally, we read Ephesians 6:5-9, the section on slaves and masters. How do we apply this to our modern American situation; what should our attitude and service toward our employers look like? Beginning with the text, it is rather clear:
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.
This is entirely consistent with what Paul has been teaching about all our relationships. If we are in Christ, the way we treat others is to be as unto the Lord, honoring him in all our interactions. For an employee, your work is to be done with sincerity, from the heart, not superficially, as if you are working for the Lord himself. There is no caveat regarding the character of the employer. Simply this: if you are an employee, do your work well. Wherever the Lord has ordained for your employment, serve him in your work. Ultimately your reward comes from God. This goes hand-in-hand with understanding the sovereignty of God in placing us where he wills us to be.
From our limited perspective, it may appear that the “masters,” whether they be the owners of corporations or the manager at work, are in more fortunate positions than the “servants:” the employees and workers lower down the corporate ladder. Paul makes it clear that ultimately, as we stand before God, none are more privileged than others. God is the Master of all, and there is no partiality with him (vs. 9). We all stand on level ground at the foot of the cross and before God’s throne. God gives his grace and his gifts to his children as he sees fit, to use during our brief time on earth for his glory.
Remember where we began with this week’s study. The goal of history, the purpose for which we were each saved into Christ, is not our own glory but his. As we live and work, in all our relationships—personal and professional—we are to keep this goal before us. Each of our relationships are opportunities to glorify Christ and enjoy him forever. Let no opportunity go to waste.