Saturday, January 03, 2009

Ephesians 6:10-13

We’re looking at verses 10-24 of chapter 6, in which Paul begins with the word, “Finally,” and comes to the end of his letter. In conclusion, we are taught and encouraged to stand firm in spiritual warfare against the spiritual forces of darkness. Paul gives us a call to arms against the real enemy (not flesh and blood) and details the armor (the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of readiness of gospel peace (reconciliation), the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation), weaponry (the sword of the Spirit – the Word of God), and strategy (stand firm in prayer) for battling this enemy successfully.

10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Paul knows that Christians face many obstacles in this world, including the desires of the flesh and the tendencies to lean to the right into legalism or to the left into antinomianism. But the greatest obstacle to Paul is “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (v12). The Christian duty of unity and purity is complicated by hostile spiritual powers. In fact, there is a war ongoing! But this war is not against “flesh and blood.” It’s a battle against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (v12). Christ has won the war, and victory will be finalized (Romans 16:20); however, though darkness is defeated, it is not yet harmless. And Paul can teach on sound doctrine, on applying that doctrine to our hearts and minds, and on living out that doctrine in the various relationships we have, but if we lack an understanding of this final category of struggle, then we will fail to overcome with great joy. So Paul explains how we are to persevere in this life en route to the next, how we are to make progress unto unity in the faith, how we are to stand firm in this spiritual war that is going on over us, in us, and in our midst.

Compare v10 to Ephesians 1:19; 3:16-19. We are to be strong, or perhaps better translated as be strengthened, in the Lord and in His mighty power, not our own, for we have none, especially none capable of battling the devil and his schemes. The new clothes Paul mentioned earlier (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:10,12) have now become full battle gear, the full armor of God (v11,13). Paul combines Roman soldier armor with Old Testament imagery, especially that of the Messiah. Strikingly, Paul applies what is said of God in the Old Testament to believers in this passage. In Paul’s culture, Roman soldiers were everywhere. The source of Paul’s imagery is obvious. He takes the physical reality of warfare, that one prepared for battle requires weapons and armor crafted for physical battle by skilled craftsman, and turns it into an illustration of the reality of spiritual warfare, that one prepared for spiritual battle requires weapons (God’s Word and prayer) and armor (truth, righteousness, readiness for the gospel peace of reconciliation, faith, and salvation) crafted for battle by a skilled craftsman (God Himself).

The command here is to be strengthened, knowing how God has empowered us, and the word “stand” is used in this section four times (v11,13-14); it describes action, opposed to sitting in weakness and idleness in the faith. Though Paul’s emphasis here is on the defensive, his war analogies can prove be aggressively offensive as well (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Regardless, with the full armor of God on, when the day of evil comes, we will be able to stand our ground, and after we have done everything, to stand. In other words, we need to be strong to stand during battle, so that once the battle is over, we will be able to stand. Calvin says, “There will be no danger which may not be successfully met by the power of God; nor will any who, with this assistance, fight against Satan, fail in the day of battle.” 1 John 5:18 assures believers of victory as well.

So Paul’s message here is simply to be armed spiritually for what we’re up against spiritually for the sake of, first, survival and, second, progress and conquering and overcoming. To summarize, we need to realize the war we are in; we need divine strength to wage this war; we need to see the enemy for who he is (powerful and wicked) and what he will try to do (deceiving schemes that employ the “rulers, authorities, and powers of this dark world,” to which, according to 2 Corinthians 4:4 and 2 Timothy 2:26, unbelievers are destined to fall prey); and we need to put on – intellectually (2 Corinthians 10:4-5) – the full spiritual armor that God gives us in order to defend ourselves and ultimately win this war in His strength.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Ephesians 6:5-9

5Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. 9And 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 favoritism with Him.

Paul has pointed to the created order as a primary motive for obedience in the marriage and parenting relationships, but there is no created order in regards to the master/slave relationship. So Paul’s instruction here is different. He doesn’t appeal to the created order; instead he appeals to Christ. Paul could have pointed to Old Testament law for his remarks here. Instead he looks at Christ and writes of the importance for slaves to respect authority, and he looks at Christ and writes of the importance for masters to treat slaves with respect in the same way. Paul’s culture was a slave culture; people would voluntarily sell themselves into bondage. This was a big deal, because even indentured servitude was a dismal, permanent lifestyle. Masters did not treat slaves well, and slaves often despised their masters, pitying themselves for their condition. Regardless, respect for authority was an absent virtue in Paul’s culture, and it is much the same in ours. We may be tempted to make a simple crossover from the master/slave topic that Paul addresses to the employer/employee relationship of our day. While the principles are good, we must remember that Paul is addressing slavery, not mere employment. Nevertheless, Paul makes clear, most importantly, the truth that our vocation is a spiritual matter.

Slaves are to do four things as Paul reveals. First, in v5, they are to respect their masters, just as they would respect Christ. Second, in v6, they are to obey their masters from the heart, as slaves of Christ, and not out of selfish motives. Third, in v7, they are to serve wholeheartedly as if they were serving the Lord. And fourth, in v8, they are to do good work, knowing that the Lord will reward them. (I can’t help but mentioning what was said earlier, about how God issues a command and when we obey and merely do our duty, we receive rewards (Colossians 3:23-24). How gracious! There is a saying in the world that no good deed goes unpunished. In other words, when we do good in this fallen world, we may suffer for it in one way or another. But that won’t be true in God’s eternal Kingdom. Good deeds done with right motives will be rewarded.) In all four instances, we see that slaves are to live their temporal lives of being under their masters with an eternal focus of being alongside Jesus Christ.

Paul also reveals four things to masters, all in v9. First, there is a principle of reciprocity. Masters are to treat their slaves “in the same way,” meaning with respect, or according to Calvin, “that which is just and equal” (Colossians 4:1). Calvin adds, “Masters and servants are not indeed on the same level; but there is a mutual law which binds them. By this law, servants are placed under the authority of their masters; and, by the same law, due regard being had to the difference of their station, masters lie under certain obligations to their servants. This analogy is greatly misunderstood; because men do not try it by the law of love, which is the only true standard.” Second, there is to be no threatening. Oftentimes, masters would threaten a severe beating to a slave for non-compliance or a bad attitude. Masters could even execute their slave for whatever reason they saw fit! Paul says not to threaten. Slaves knew their status in the world, and nothing good came from threats. Third, masters and slaves have the same master, Jesus Christ, so they are in essence, both slaves and would desire equal treatment from their heavenly master. Furthermore, the masters are here encouraged to consider that they will give an account before God regarding the treatment of their slaves. Fourth, along those same lines, God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34). Jesus is impartial when it comes to judgment. It won’t matter who was the slave and who was the master. Jesus will note each individual’s respect for authority (earthly and heavenly authority), regardless of social position.

All believers are called to share the humiliation of Christ and His sufferings, though Paul would not make anyone’s sufferings greater than they need be (1 Corinthians 7:21-23). Slaves are to work diligently and willingly, and masters are to treat slaves as Christ would treat His followers, since that is what we who follow Christ are – His bond-slaves. Paul is not a social crusader, but he knows that the gospel transforms lives of masters and slaves from the inside out (see Philemon). Christianity undermines slavery from within. Externally, one may be a master or a slave, but internally, we are brothers in Christ; and the internally reality ought to be reflected externally.

Vincent Cheung offers a conclusion, saying, “Conversion does not dissolve human relationships, obligations, and authorities. If you are a wife, you must still obey your husband; if you are a child, you must still obey your parents; and if you are a slave, you must still obey your master. However, there is one great difference: all Christians now have one common Master, and ‘there is no favoritism with Him,’ and ‘the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free’… The passage (6:5-8) provides the foundation for the matchless biblical work ethic that Christians had been famous for in times past, but now so few of them still demonstrate. This work ethic calls for a sincere respect and fear toward one’s superior, but also to look beyond them to the Lord: ‘Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men.’ Alas, many professing Christians today are just as slothful and unproductive as the non-Christians. But Paul writes, ‘I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received’ (4:1).”

Ephesians 6:1-4

We looked at verses 21-33 of chapter 5, last time, but they go along with verses 1-9 of chapter 6, in which Paul lays out “household rules,” what Christian behavior looks like within specific relationships people have within the family and/or home. Paul continues to teach us about the filling of the Holy Spirit, resulting especially in worship through witness and servant-hood between husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and slaves (especially consider the Greco-Roman culture).

1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2"Honor your father and mother"--which is the first commandment with a promise-- 3"that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth" [Deuteronomy 5:16]. 4Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

In v1-3, Paul gives children – and every one of us qualifies as a child (Matthew 15:3-7) – three reasons for obeying their parents. First, children must obey their parents (in the Lord – that is, Christian parents; remember Paul is writing to Christians!) because it is right to do so. Throughout the world, people just know that children ought to obey their parents. It’s part of the created order, part of the natural order, and even pagans know right from wrong on certain things (Romans 1:32). Gentile culture displayed disobedience to parents as a sign of being under the judgment of the gods (Romans 1:30; 2 Timothy 3:2). Second, children must obey their parents because it is commanded. The command is to honor, but Paul says obey. Calvin notes that obedience is the outward sign, the evidence, of ongoing, inward honoring. God expressly commands children to obey their parents; and Paul quotes Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16 to prove it. Remember the first four commandments of God dealt with our relationship to Him directly. Those were the first-table laws. The second-table laws include the final six of the Ten Commandments, and this charge to obey parents is the first of them. Paul adds that this is, in fact, “the first commandment with a promise,” and that points him to a third reason that children ought to obey their parents – because obedience is rewarded. That this is the first commandment with a promise points to certain laws being more important than others (Matthew 23:23).

Isn’t it interesting that God says we must do something, but that when we do it, we receive rewards? We ought to do our duty simply because it is our duty (Luke 17:10). We who do our duty are still merely unworthy servants. But God is gracious. It is right to obey, but it is also good for us to obey. When you obey God, and specifically “your parents in the Lord,” “it may go well with you and you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Think about typical parental commands. “Chew up and swallow your food before going out to play… Walk along the side of the pool and don’t run… Get to bed on time… Do not talk back when I give you a command…etc.” Consider reading through the Proverbs with your children and explaining them. These commands are for the children’s good. They are intended to aid the children in leading long and healthy lives. They are timelessly and culturally appropriate, and they’re not burdensome. Finally, the principle of honoring one’s parents never changes, though the method of honoring does change with age. How great is it that Christian parents can enjoy friendships with their grown Christian children! Consider that children’s obedience to their parents serves to unify generations in Christ. It’s therefore no surprise that John’s greatest joy was to hear that his children were walking in the truth!

In v4, fathers have authority over their children as expected and as was common in the culture, but the purpose of this God-given authority was to serve the children responsibly, nurturing and helping them to flourish. Parents exist for children, not vice versa as many believe, though it is true that children certainly benefit husbands and wives. The child’s mind, body, and emotions are entrusted to the parents, and the parents are to help the young divine image bearers to develop their own personhood before God. Paul gives a negative command first, and then he follows with a two-sided positive command. He’s addressing the fathers specifically, for they will give an account before God as to the spiritual health of their family. (It is for this reason that wives/mothers ought to aid their husbands through submission and loving obedience.)

Beginning with the negative command, Paul uses the word “exasperate.” It means “provoke to anger.” Paul says, “Don’t provoke your children to anger.” Colossians 3:21 elaborates, saying that embittered children will become discouraged, that exasperated children will lose heart. What father wants their child to lose heart and be discouraged? Fathers – and mothers too – struggle with impatience and selfishness, “unreasonable severity,” as Calvin says. Paul says not to let that happen – by expecting too much too soon (or too little when they’re capable) out of one’s children, or by exacting disproportionate measures or intensities of discipline (let the punishment fit the crime (avoid parental hypocrisy and unexplained double standards)) – and then he gives a double-edged positive command. “Instead, bring them up,” as opposed to tearing them down. It’s typical of Paul’s teaching: Do not do that, but instead do this. Encourage rather than discourage; enlighten rather than embitter; instruct or construct rather than destruct.

The Greek word translated “bring up,” according to Calvin, “unquestionably conveys the idea of gentleness and forbearance,” and so he translates the text, “Instead, let them be fondly cherished.” The words “training” and “instruction” refer to discipline, nurturing or shaping the human will through training, and admonition, nurturing or shaping the human mind through teaching. And so parents are to fondly cherish their children, not by failing to discipline, but by properly shaping their minds and wills to conform to the standards of God’s Word. Calvin says, “It is not the will of God that parents, in the exercise of kindness, shall spare and corrupt their children. Let their conduct towards their children be at once mild and considerate, so as to guide them in the fear of the Lord, and correct them also when they go astray. That age is so apt to become wanton, that it requires frequent admonition and restraint.”

That’s quite a task, so prayer, personal example, and precept are crucial in parenting. We dedicate our children to the Lord, rely on His grace through prayer (with and for our children), set godly examples before them in our lifestyle, and teach them sound doctrine. We must make consistent and constant efforts to convey loving affection toward our children, and children spell the word “love,” T-I-M-E. We must allow them to make mistakes and issue gentle correction. We need to establish limited and reasonable rules to follow and enforce them consistently. We ought to admit our own failures and ask for forgiveness from our children, making it easy and desirable for them to approach us in any and every circumstance. It’s that simple…and that hard.

Vincent Cheung says, “Just as the man is the head of the woman, he is also the head of his entire family; therefore, the responsibility finally rests upon him to bring up his children…He must bring them up in “the training (nurture) and instruction (admonition) of the Lord.” In other words, he must make sure that they learn and follow biblical doctrines. This has been the duty of parents, and especially the fathers, throughout the history of humanity (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). It also necessarily follows that, if you have not been teaching your children Christian theology, then you are a bad parent. This is the measuring stick of parenthood, and until it is first discussed and settled, all other considerations are trivial.”

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ephesians 5:25-33

25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing [or having cleansed] her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church-- 30for we are members of His body. 31"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh" [Genesis 2:24]. 32This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Paul has told wives to submit to their husbands, not all men, not other husbands, not their sons, but their own husbands. But the husband’s authority over the wife is not for tyrannical dictator-style government; rather, it is for loving and self-sacrificial service. Now the remainder of this chapter, with the exception of the last part of v33, which serves as a summary bookend, speaks to the husband’s responsibility to his wife. And reading this potion of the text after the previous portion softens the command to the wife significantly. For no woman would want to submit to someone who doesn’t love the Lord, who fights against Christ daily and shows that disdain for the Lord through persistent attitude and behavior issues in the home. But a woman ought to be excited to submit to a man after God’s own heart, a man who wants nothing less than to please the Lord through the humble service – even unto death – and building up of his spouse.

Thus, in v25, Paul tells the husband to love his wife. Ligon Duncan says, “God calls Christian husbands, all Christian husbands, to a radical, God-originated, gospel-based, grace-empowered, Christ-emulating, self-denying love for our wives; a love in which we are to serve our wives and to care for our wives’ best spiritual and temporal interests.” Love is not a when-you-feel-it-do-it sort of thing; love is a lifelong commitment to lead. Paul then adds that a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the Church, to give himself up for her good; and that’s a challenge that few men, if any, have ever lived up to. It’s something we cannot do apart from God’s grace, and it’s something that we should only hope to make progress in as our lives with our spouses continue until death. We need to think of how Christ loved the Church and love our wives that way; we need to make His atoning sacrifice for the Church the foundation for loving our wives; we need to focus on His purpose in loving the Church – sanctification (an inward reality with outward signs) – and make that our purpose for loving our wives; and we need to consider the glory that becomes of the Church through the work of Christ and strive to present our wives holy before God as Christ does the Church. But what does it look like to exhibit the love of Christ for His Church to our wives? Perhaps we can consider seven adjectives: unmerited, intense, unending, unselfish, purposeful, manifested, and sacrificial.

First, Christ’s love for His Church is unmerited, and a husband’s love for his wife should be as well. Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates His love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Our wives may not always feel or show love to us, but that’s no excuse for us not to show them love. We may not feel love for our wives at times, but we love her with a committed love that comes not from us but from God. Even when she doesn’t fulfill her part of the marriage covenant, “husbands love your wives.” Second, Christ’s love for His Church is intense. In Luke 22:15, Jesus says that He coveted eating the Passover with His disciples. We ought to covet a relationship with our wives that is intensely intimate and special. Third, Christ’s love for His Church is unending. John 13:1 reveals that Jesus loved us to the end. And we promised in our wedding vows to love our wives “until death do us part.” We don’t take a break along the way. Fourth, Christ’s love for His Church is unselfish. In Philippians 2:6-7, we see that Christ did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made Himself nothing, emptied Himself by taking on human flesh, and submitted Himself to slavery unto death – all out of love for us. Humility ought to be a revelation of our love for our wives, through our providing first and foremost for her needs. Fifth, Christ’s love for His Church is purposeful. In v26-27 we see what that purpose is – to cleanse us and make us holy. Jude 24 speaks of Christ as able to keep us from falling and to present us before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy. Are you striving in your marriage to purify your wife for the Lord? Sixth, Christ’s love for His Church is manifested. In John 13-16, we have Jesus’ upper room discourse, in which He shows His disciples the full extent of His love for them in a number of ways. Do we show our wives our love for them? They like to see our love in our speech and communication efforts. Do we use words to convey our love for them? How can we do that progressively better? We show our love for them by protecting them and making sure they feel safe and secure. Seventh, Christ’s love for His Church is sacrificial. In John 15:13, Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Husbands are called to lay down their lives for the benefit of their wives, out of unmerited and amazing love for them and for Christ. Lord, make us love our wives like Christ loved the Church, for we cannot desire it out of our sinful nature, nor do it out of our own power.

Paul’s focus in v26-27 is to show that husbands are called to adapt their lives to their wives’ needs, to provide for their spiritual growth and health. Since Christ’s love for the Church is the first foundation and highest motive for a husband’s love for his wife, husbands are to cleanse and make holy their wives, just as Christ cleanses and makes holy His Church. It is a lifelong, progressive transformation. Fathers walk their daughters down the aisle and present them to their fiancĂ©s to begin the wedding ceremony. Consider that husbands, by the way they love their wives, walk their wives down the aisle and present them to Jesus Christ. Will He say, “A pure and spotless bride! Well done good and faithful servant!”?

Paul reveals a second foundation, an additional motive for a husband’s love for his wife in v28-29. Husband are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and also as they love their own bodies; Paul knows that men are selfish by nature and take care of themselves by instinct. He’s basically saying that to take care of your wife is to take care of yourself, because husband and wife are one flesh. But it’s not that weak an argument; the argument Paul gives here is radical, pointing to the profound mystery of the union of Christ with His body. The statement reminds us of Adam and Eve, with Eve actually being made from Adam’s rib. The marriage union actually makes husbands and wives one flesh. Ligon Duncan says, “Paul is saying as mysterious a thing as it is that God can say that in marriage a man and a woman become one flesh, it is an even deeper mystery that when you are saved by grace that you are united to Christ. And your marriage…is a prime witness, Christian, to the reality of your union with Christ.” V28-32 teach us that Christ has not only bonded husbands to wives in the way that a person is united with their own body (intimately and permanently), but He has also bonded Himself to believers in this way. Consider when Christ appeared to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road and asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul was persecuting Christians, not Jesus Himself, right? Wrong.

In the end, marriage is the most important and most difficult place to live out the vertical Christian life (the relationship between man and God, as opposed to the horizontal life between man and woman). There’s no better place to learn grace and humility in service out of love than in marriage. V33 sums up Ephesians 5:22-32 as simply as possible: Husbands must love their wives, and wives must respect their husbands. Ligon Duncan explains, “Consequently, in light of this great mystery of union with Christ, which is witnessed to especially in a Christian marriage, since we share in that union, every Christian husband, every Christian wife, is a part of the body of Christ. Since we share in that union, and since we are to image that union, every Christian husband and Christian wife is to be a living, breathing, walking, talking witness to that union which Christ has with the church. Therefore, Christian husbands must love their wives, and Christian wives must respect their husbands.”

Monday, December 29, 2008

Ephesians 5:22-24

22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

If you look at v22 and then v33, you see that Paul places this command for wives to submit to / respect their husbands as bookends over this section of Scripture. Paul doesn’t come to this command for wives to submit to their husbands lightly, but he wants to ensure that we see its practical importance. He works hard to show that maintaining proper relationship roles for mutual benefit is the broader scope here. Just as reverence for Christ serves as our motive to submission in general, now in v22-33, Paul reveals that Jesus’ love for the Church is to define the Christian’s love for one another, especially that of a husband and wife. The word “submit” means simply to receive a spouse’s loving care and service. This definition helps us see how the Church submits to Christ; otherwise, this submission might seem unnatural, since Jesus’ disciples were His friends. In v23, we see that Christ’s specific role as Savior models the husband’s responsibility to his wife. He indwells the Church, governing both her and the universe, and He serves as the source of the body’s health and growth to maturity (Ephesians 4:14-16). The Christian wife has been set free to serve Christ by submitting to her husband. And Paul is simply saying that there is no possibility of a Christian woman manifesting her true embrace of the lordship of Christ without showing respect for her husband in the context of the home.

So the submission command means that Christian wives are to give appropriate respect to their husbands. They’re to acknowledge and follow and encourage and respect their husband’s efforts at spiritual leadership in the home; genders are complementary in the Christian worldview. A husband’s leadership is not automatic but should be an initiative to which the wife should respond (1 Corinthians 11:8-9; 1 Timothy 2:13-14). Christ restores to the marriage relationship what was lost from creation’s order in the fall (intimate union). Furthermore, both husband and wife acknowledge that God has established a divine order in the Christian home, and that order is for the good both husband and wife. The wife must not resist or resent that divinely established order, but she must acknowledge and embrace it. God has given husbands a unique spiritual responsibility for which they are accountable to God and with which they must exercise spiritual leadership for the well being of their wives and families in the home. Wives, through submission and respect, need to help husbands fulfill that responsibility; and they need to make a commitment to sacrificial, self-giving, long-suffering loyalty to their husband, keeping in mind that he is a sinner.

John Piper and Wayne Grudem say this: “Submission refers to a wife’s divine calling to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership, and help carry it through according to her gifts. It is not an absolute surrender of her will; rather, we speak of her disposition to yield to her husband’s guidance and her inclination to follow his leadership. Christ is her absolute authority, not the husband. She submits out of reverence for Christ, as Paul said in Ephesians 5:21. The supreme authority of Christ qualifies the authority of her husband. For instance, she should never follow her husband into sin; nevertheless, even when she may have to stand with Christ against the sinful will of her husband, she can still have a spirit of submission, a disposition to yield. She can show by her attitude and behavior that she does not like resisting his will, and that she longs for him to forsake sin and lead in righteousness so that her disposition to honor him can again produce harmony in the marriage.”

So the wife – see Proverbs 31 – should focus on making the home a safe and cozy place for her family for the glory of God. She ought to strive for trustworthiness and dependability. She must work hard to keep a good attitude, cultivate inner beauty, and discuss things in an open, honest, and loving way. The wife should be content, satisfied with her position, with her possessions, with her task, and with what her husband provides. She ought to be patient, forbearing, forgiving, and grateful in all things. And she ought to be industrious for the sake of her husband and household, building loyalty for her husband in her children. The submissive wife offers suggestions and advice and counsel, and even correction to her husband, but she does it in a loving and obedient way that shows respect.

Before moving on, we need to mention, in this world of political correctness, some things that the concept of Biblical submission does not include. First, submission does not mean that the husband takes the place of Christ. Christ has ultimate authority, but the husband is subject to other authorities. Second, submission does not mean that wives must give up their opinions and independent thoughts. Third, submission does not mean that wives must do whatever their husbands demand no questions asked. Submission does not mean, fourthly, that wives should not try to influence their husbands and make suggestions for the direction of the family. Fifth, the idea of submission does not mean that women are somehow intellectually inferior to men. Sixth, submission does not include cowering in fear of the husband’s response to a thought, word, or deed. And all of these examples of what submission is not reveal that the husband is to be someone who loves and cares for his wife, as the next section begins.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ephesians 5:21

21Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Remember v21, which we looked at last time, serves as a transitional verse. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” concludes Paul’s comments on the effects of being filled with the Spirit (v19-21) and opens his letter to the topic of submission in the various relationships people encounter in life (v22-6:9). The Spirit-filled life is about serving, not being served. And the result is mutual edification. It is more blessed to give than to receive. A consequence of being filled with the Spirit is servanthood, and our motive for obeying this command is fear of or reverence for Christ. No one humbled himself or served like Him, yet we ought to strive for that lifestyle (Philippians 2:4-11). Take note that the word “submit” means simply to receive loving care and service from another.

Calvin remarked: “God has bound us so strongly to each other, that no man ought to endeavor to avoid subjection; and where love reigns, mutual services will be rendered. I do not except even kings and governors, whose very authority is held for the service of the community. It is highly proper that all should be exhorted to be subject to each other in their turn…[and out of reverence for Christ], that we may not refuse the yoke, and can humble our pride, that we may not be ashamed of serving our neighbors.” And even the standard teaching of ethics at the time, as far back as Aristotle, taught male headship, but not for the sake of selfless service and nurturing care. Christian living is counter-cultural, upholding the value of women, children, and slaves, as well as men.

I find it interesting that this crucial lifestyle application of the Christian faith – mutual service – can only be obeyed in the context of “worldly” relationships. So much for the hermit, monk, nun, and even spiritual person who denounces churchgoing, removing themselves from society or from the local congregation for the sake of “individualism” or focused holy living. Ligon Duncan says, “Though God wants us to be holy individually, it is impossible for us to express the holiness that God wants us to have individualistically. It must be expressed in the context of relationships. It must be expressed in the context of the communion of the saints. It must be expressed in the context of the body, the corpus, and so it is corporate.”

Submission is radical, because it takes the focus of self and puts in on others. But at the same time, we must be discerning about selfless service, because if we get all gung-ho about sacrificial selflessness and serving the community or the world, we might forsake our families or our jobs or even, strangely enough, ourselves. As we’ll read in this section, “he who loves his wife loves himself” and “no one ever hated his own body.” So we have to balance radical submission with time management. Ligon Duncan helps here: “Mutual subjection requires that you do some thinking about what God’s gifting is to you, and what your present obligations are. You’ve got to prayerfully approach how best you can serve others, but it’s not about other people getting to run your life. It means, in fact, that there are some times that we have to say no.”

Ephesians 5:18-21

18Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 21Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Paul gives one final motivation for right living here: the indwelling and overflowing Holy Spirit. Once again, says Ligon Duncan, “Paul’s argument is very clear. You’re filled with the Holy Spirit, Christian; every one of you is filled with the Holy Spirit. You ought to seek to go on being filled by the Holy Spirit, and if you are being filled by the Holy Spirit, you’re going to want to pursue holiness. You’re going to be on a quest for godliness. And so the Apostle Paul points us today to the Holy Spirit as the ultimate incentive, and indeed, dynamic, of living the Christian life.”

Paul begins this final motivation to right living with a negative command. Don’t get drunk. And certainly don’t let your life be characterized by drunkenness. V18 prohibits drunkenness, but Paul may have more in mind here. The cult of Dionysus (Bacchus), the god of wine, practiced orgiastic worship, in which prophecy and frenzied dancing brought on by drunkenness was attributed to the deity indwelling his worshipers. Paul considered this to be “debauchery,” which is translated many ways, and it intends the suggestion that you are mastered by something negative. Now some might say that getting drunk helps them relax. Here are six things that getting drunk really does: (1) it helps you fit in with the world (something Paul says not to do); (2) it helps you cope with insecurity (our security is found in Christ); (3) it can be a potentially dangerous habit (alcohol is a depressant); (4) it sets a bad example (others who might not be inclined to drunkenness follow the drunkard’s lead, because they respect that person so much when sober); (5) it breaks the will, causing a yielding to peer pressure (as opposed to building up to strengthen the will to avoid peer pressure); (6) it oftentimes violates of the law (and Christians ought to obey the civil government).

On one hand, drunkenness makes immodesty and shame practically unavoidable; on the other hand, being filled, which alludes to deep drinking (Romans 14:17), with the Spirit, Paul’s positive command, yields, according to Erasmus, “A pleasant kind of drunkenness, which stimulates you, not to wanton dances or foolish songs, by which the Gentiles render homage to their deities, but to psalms, to hymns, to spiritual songs, by which you rejoice, and sing, and offer praise to the Lord, not with indecent roaring, as is the custom of drunk people, but inwardly in your minds and hearts.” Drinking of the Holy Spirit, being indwelled by the Spirit, is nothing less than the peace of Christ and the word of Christ governing the heart (Colossians 3:15-16; John 14:16,26; 16:12-15; 17:17). And though a person can consume too much alcohol, a person can never overindulge in the Holy Spirit.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not a one-time occurrence; it is a constant replenishing and soaking in like a sponge that will never reach saturation, because, as Bob Russell quipped, “We’re leaky vessels.” In Ephesians 3:14-19, Paul’s prayer for his audience was that the Holy Spirit would strengthen them with power in their inner being so that Jesus would dwell in their hearts through faith, and so that they would be filled up to all the fullness of God. Being filled by the Spirit is a work by which He matures us, grows us in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Paul says it ought to be our desire, our unquenchable thirst, to see that ongoing filling, the work of the Holy Spirit, in our lives. But we may wonder what Paul has in mind in terms of what this constant filling of the Spirit looks like. And Paul gives us the answer with a series of five commands in v19-20.

In v19, Paul says that we exhibit this Spirit-filled life by speaking to one another with Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Paul speaks of this in Colossians 3:16, in the context of allowing the word of Christ to dwell in you richly with gratitude. We gather that worshipping God corporately can/should/often does involve communication with one another for mutual benefit (Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 14; Hebrews 10:24). Meditate on Scripture and its application to any given moment of life (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2; 119:97). Always look to edify one another, especially children, with your speech. But Paul is not finished with this thought. Speak to one another, he says, but also sing and make music in your heart. The Christian who is being matured by the work of the Holy Spirit devotes himself wholeheartedly in song to God. It doesn’t mean you have to like to sing, nor does this command imply that you ought to be good at singing or making music. Rather, don’t let your inabilities or lack of talents stop you. Sing to God!

So we speak to others, and we sing and make music to God. Then in v20, Paul says to always give thanks. The Lord gives and takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. I like Calvin’s comment here: “[Paul] means that [giving thanks] is a pleasure which ought never to lose its relish; that this is an exercise of which we ought never to weary. Innumerable benefits which we receive from God yield fresh cause of joy and thanksgiving. At the same time, he reminds believers that it will argue ungodly and disgraceful sloth, if they shall not always give thanks, – if their whole life shall not be spent in the study and exercise of praising God.” Vincent Cheung adds, “The Holy Spirit fills us with biblical knowledge, and as He does so, we become capable of teaching and admonishing others with theological insight, perhaps even in the form of songs and doxologies, and always with gratitude in our hearts to God.”

Finally, v21, which serves as a transitional verse, adds one final command, that of submission. The Spirit-filled life is about serving, not being served. And the result is mutual edification. It is more blessed to give than to receive. A consequence of being filled with the Spirit is living out the proper role in any given relationship, and our motive for obeying this command is fear of or reverence for Christ. No one humbled himself or served like Him, yet we ought to strive for that lifestyle (Philippians 2:4-11). Remember how Christ served you. Now don’t be ashamed to serve your neighbors; He served you. Remember what you were like, and He served you. Now you serve one another in that way. Calvin concludes: “God has bound us so strongly to each other, that no man ought to endeavor to avoid subjection; and where love reigns, mutual services will be rendered. I do not except even kings and governors, whose very authority is held for the service of the community. It is highly proper that all should be exhorted to be subject to each other in their turn…[and out of reverence for Christ], that we may not refuse the yoke, and can humble our pride, that we may not be ashamed of serving our neighbors.”

To summarize, Ligon Duncan says, “Paul has armed us now with arguments to use with ourselves as we seek to be different from the world: We’re going to remember the Judgment Day to come; we’re going to live in light of what God has made us by His grace, and not what we used to be; we’re going to live wisely because we’ve been made wise by the grace of Christ; and we are going to be matured by the Holy Spirit and live in consistency with the One who indwells us; and He is holy, so we’re going to walk in holiness.”

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” concludes Paul’s comments on the effects of being filled with the Spirit (v19-21) and opens his letter to the topic of submission in the various relationships people encounter in life (v22-6:9). The standard teaching of ethics at the time, as far back as Aristotle, taught male headship, but not for the sake of selfless service and nurturing care. Likewise Christian living is counter-cultural, upholding the value of women, children, and slaves, as well as men. We’ll hit on that, Lord willing, next time.

Ephesians 5:15-17

15Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.

Paul has motivated us to right living by mention of Judgment Day and by reminding us of who we were and who we are in Christ – our past, present, and future. Now Paul motivates to right living with wisdom. His argument is very simple in v15-17: You are wise. God by His grace has made you wise. Once you were foolish, apart from Christ, but God has made you wise. Now live that way (James 3:13). But you may be thinking, “Paul doesn’t say that we are wise; he says that we ought to live wisely.” You’re right; he doesn’t say that we are wise; but it’s implied. He knows that we know that if we’ve trusted Christ, then we’ve proven our wisdom. If we’ve been born again, if we are new creations, if we no longer live but Christ lives in us, if we have the Spirit of God indwelling us, then we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:15), and we are wise. But we need to live wisely. We need to – by God’s grace and with the help of the Holy Spirit – apply the wisdom of Christ to our living.

Again, I like what Vincent Cheung says: “Throughout this letter, Paul labors to convey the tremendous intellectual and moral differences between the Christians and the non-Christians, and here the imagery cannot be any clearer – Christians and non-Christians are intellectual and moral opposites.” And in these three verses, Paul shows what it looks like to be wise. First, the wise are careful how they live (v15); they are careful – full of care. They think before they act. Second, the wise make the most of every opportunity (v16). They realize that the days are evil (everything around them in the world is dangerously corrupting), and so they don’t waste their time. They “throw off everything that hinders and run the race” (Hebrews 12:1). John Piper wrote, “Don’t Waste Your Life.” Andy Stanley wrote, “Choosing to Cheat.” The idea is to live efficiently, because time is precious. And third, the wise understand God’s will. They make wise decisions, because they know what God would have them do in any circumstance. How do they know that? By living by the Spirit in the word (Psalm 119:9)! Paul says, “You are wise. Now act like it.”

Ephesians 5:8-14

8For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10and find out what pleases the Lord. 11Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: 'Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'

Paul gave us the motivation of Judgment Day, a future time that is surely a motivation that will only be meaningful and useful to those who know the grace of God. And that alone teaches us that grace is the underlying motivation of all these supports Paul builds up. Now Paul turns our attention from the future (Judgment Day) to the past (we were once darkness) and present (we are light in the Lord). Looking back to see what God has graciously delivered us from ought to be motivation to continue on that path of progress. And remembering who we are by that grace – children of God brought from darkness to light – ought to motivate us to never return to the darkness again. Paul again shows us what grace looks like.

In v8, Paul offers a great positive command that sums up his teaching. We shouldn’t focus on what not to do; rather, our efforts ought to be constantly on doing right. In other words, we do not merely abstain from doing evil; rather, we live as children of light, doing good by making the most of every opportunity (Colossians 4:5-6; 1 Peter 2:12). And Paul says that we were darkness. We weren’t merely in darkness. We were darkness! But now we who are in Christ are light. We aren’t merely brought into the light; we are light! And so Paul wants us to focus on being who we are. By being who we are, we will do good things.

It’s as if Paul says, “You were darkened by the confusion that you were at the center of the universe, and now you realize that there is a God and you are not Him. And you were created by Him, for Him, to worship Him, and enjoy Him forever, and that has radically changed your whole moral outlook and experience and character in this life. So, remember who you are! Remember that you are now a child of light, and live that out.” Christianity never asks you to be someone you’re not. Rather, first, understand who you were and who you are, then put off who you were and be who you are. “Live as children of light.” What does that look like? Paul shows us in v9, as a parenthetical remark. Living as children of light looks like goodness (generous benevolence to others), righteousness (thoughts, words, and deeds that are right in God’s sight), and truth (integrity, such that motives and actions are united, Coram Deo).

The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is God?” and answers, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness [and then listen to the last three}, justice, goodness, and truth.” Notice the last three designations; they are the same as what Paul reveals as living in light. So we might conclude that to live as children of light, to exhibit goodness, righteousness, and truth, is simply living like God would live, wanting to be like Jesus. And so we ask, “What would Jesus do?” When it comes to trying to find out what please the Lord, we want to practice living as children of light until we can do it naturally, without having to “try,” much like athletic training or playing a musical instrument. Consider Eric Liddell, the fast runner in Chariots of Fire. He said, “God made me to run, and I run for His glory. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” In other words, Eric Liddell is doing exactly what God made him to do, and he knows that the Father delights in him doing exactly what he was made to do, which brings God glory.

Finally, in v11-14, we are to do such good deeds that our light exposes the darkness in our midst for what it is. Our motive for doing good works is not self-recognition, but God-recognition. Specifically, in v13, we notice that the light exposes evil (John 3:19-21). One commentary says that some sin of unbelievers is so shameful that only the presence of a Christian can bring it to light and demand repentance. Otherwise, it will not be recognized as sin. But even when the light of godly people reveals sin, the sinner may harden his heart. V14 may be a hymn that shows how God calls the dead to life in this very way (sin exposure).

Ephesians 5:5-7

Now we’re looking at verses 5-21 of chapter 5, in which Paul seeks to motivate his audience to follow the commands he established in Ephesians 4:17-5:4. Paul gives four motivations (1) Judgment Day (future); (2) what you were and who you are (past and present); (3) wisdom (you are wise so act like it); and (4) the Holy Spirit (indwelling). Vincent Cheung says, “Many Christians have changed their theology to accommodate the sinful lifestyle of the non-Christians. It is as if they think that if we are going to affirm that all these things lead to hell, then it would mean that many people are going to hell, and surely we do not want such a harsh theology! But take it or leave it, this is Christianity.” Let’s notice our motivations to live distinctly.

For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person - such a man is an idolater - has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7Therefore do not be partners with them.

From Ephesians 4:17-5:4, Paul taught us to live for God’s glory and for Church unity by living selflessly. He gave essentially six commands, six transformations that the Holy Spirit will work in us as we move away from our Gentile / pagan past into a stronger relationship with Christ. Those six commands include transformation from: (1) lying to truth telling, (2) uncontrolled anger to self-control, (3) stealing to useful labor, (4) harmful speech to helpful speech, (5) a sinful disposition to a loving disposition, and (6) unrestrained sexual desires to a thankful acknowledgement of God’s gracious gifts.

Vincent Cheung says, “Throughout this letter, Paul labors to convey the tremendous intellectual and moral differences between the Christians and the non-Christians, and here the imagery cannot be any clearer – Christians and non-Christians are intellectual and moral opposites.” This might signal to us another motivation, to be distinct from the world. Another motivation would be striving for God’s glory. Another motivation might be the fact that God made us, Christ bought us, and the Holy Spirit indwells us (1 Corinthians 6:12-20). And in Ephesians 5:5-21, Paul actually gives four specific motivations to help us respond to his teaching. And we may already know that grace is the chief motivation, and that’s true. But Paul will elaborate on what that grace to us looks like in terms of practical motivation.

Now in Ephesians 5:5-7, he remains on that theme but focuses on the internal heart condition that brings the transformations he’s been talking about. He wants to motivate us to respond to his teaching, and so he begins in v5, “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is! The anticipation of Judgment Day ought to motivate us to sexual purity and fidelity. Paul is simply saying here in v5 in the sternest of rhetoric that God does not give us the option of having Him and His way along with the things He despises all at the same time. We can repent and receive forgiveness and joy and peace and hope and life to the full, or we can stubbornly remain in our sexual sin and have none of God’s blessings for eternity. We can’t have God and His blessings along with sin. Paul delivers this message in the same letter that contains the glories of predestination and election, and yet he says none of that is applicable to the unrepentant sinner. It’s a stern warning, because it’s an insidious sin.

One argument against Paul here is King David. We might say, “But David sinned sexually and was forgiven, so God will forgive me too.” Let me answer that rebuttal in two ways: first, David repented wholeheartedly and was granted mercy and forgiveness by grace; second, that sin still brought him great despair, left him without a life of familial love that we all long for, cost him (and his children!) the lives of four or more of his children, and ultimately incurred the downfall of Israel. Sexual immorality is a serious sin that has intense consequences, and when it hardens hearts to the point of no turning back, there is no repentance. Read v5-6 again: “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.”

The first part of v5 might better be translated as, “You know with certainty.” In other words, Christians know that they know that God will judge the sexually immoral. In case some of his audience tuned him out on the sexual immorality issue, Paul wants to make sure they realize that they know it’s a problem. As he reveals elsewhere (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), sexual immorality is the ultimate form of idolatry. It’s an exceedingly sinister sin that merits the judgment and wrath of God (Galatians 5:19-21; Revelation 21:8; 22:15). We can’t worship God and live in sexual immorality, and we know that we know it. V6 suggests that judgment day may be denied with “empty words” (2 Peter 3:3-4); and knowing otherwise, we ought to be discerning in recognizing that false hope. There are some well-meaning people, even church leaders, who, for the sake of brotherly love and unity, will say, “God is merciful. He won’t condemn anybody. It’s all going to be okay. You’ll see.” We know better. God will divide those who are disobedient (elsewhere translated “the sons of disobedience”), the goats, from the “children of light” (v8), the sheep of His flock. Be certain that you’re in that flock – Repent! And we know what repent means: Turn the other way. Paul tells us not to engage in that behavior in v7. We are not to be partners with sinners, namely unbelievers. Paul speaks similarly when he mentions being unequally yoked. Jude hints at this as well in v22-23. It’s not that we should avoid contact, but we should not be influenced.