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Living the Life

Date: May. 23, 2021

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Ephesians 5:21-6:9

Key Verse: Ephesians 5:21

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Social media is big nowadays. Although I don’t have Facebook or Instagram, there are over 3.78 billion social media users, with Facebook and Instagram being the two largest platforms. Facebook has 2.32 billion active users and Instagram has over 1 billion active users. That is a lot of people using social media to keep in touch with others. On these platforms, there are the people called influencers. They are supposedly living out their daily lives and documenting it on social media. People love to see what these influencers are doing, and they get a huge following. People like seeing what the influencers are up to, where they are going on vacation or how they have decorated their homes. It is similar why people watch some of those reality TV shows. People think they get a glimpse into the lives of rich and famous people. Unfortunately, those reality shows couldn’t be farther from reality. Much of what is on screen is staged and the same holds for many of the influencers on social media. There are so many people that just want to know how to live a successful life. That is why we look to social media or to television. We want inspiration and guidance to know what life could be like because we really don’t know how we are supposed to live. It gets even trickier as a Christian. We don’t want to have the same desires as the rest of the world, but we are to be different. Unfortunately, it can be hard to know what that exactly looks like. Today’s passage is a very practical passage. It deals with how we live our life, especially in regard to some very common relationships that we might have.

In last week’s passage, Mike showed us that we should leave our old lives behind, to leave the darkness behind and to live as children of light. We should be using our words to build people up and help them to grow in Christ. Christ didn’t die so that we could live a shameful life. He died to redeem us in order to make us better, better than we could ever be on our own. As we begin this passage, we get some more details about what it means to be children of light. Our passage begins in chapter 5 verse 21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Now, this verse is the basis for everything that follows. Our entire attitude in our relations with others is done out of reverence for Christ. Now, the first word in that verse is “submit”. That seems to be a bit of a loaded word. Nowadays, in our culture the thought of submission is a show of weakness. We are led to believe that we shouldn’t submit to anyone. Our nation was founded on a revolution so that we could be self-governed. We didn’t want to submit to a monarch across the ocean, so we created our own country. For decades, we have been enthralled by those who fight the system, and our tendency to buck the trends has helped us to innovate in a million different ways. Submitting is not in our nature, but, here, it says to submit to one another. It is an intriguing thought that can be a little tough for us to swallow. We’ve become proud in our hearts. We’re a nation that has told everyone to strive to be a leader; so, it can be hard to hear that we have to make a decision to follow. If everyone is trying to be a leader, then who is following?

As Christians, we are to do things a little differently. Our submission should be done out of reverence for Christ. We submit, not because someone is better than us, but because we respect and love Jesus. Jesus is a great example of this. His entire time on earth, Jesus submitted to those around him. Now, he obviously was greater than any person who has ever been on the earth. Jesus was the only sinless person, but he is also God in the flesh. There is no one greater than that, but Jesus didn’t use his greatness to bludgeon us into submission. Instead, he submitted. He submitted to the Father and followed his plan for salvation. He submitted to his earthly parents as their child. He submitted himself to the authorities that unfairly tried him and had him executed. He submitted to even his own disciples. The night that he would be arrested, before the Passover meal, Jesus got down and performed the dirtiest, nastiest job that was reserved for the lowest of servants. He washed the feet of his disciples. He was their teacher, but he submitted to their needs. He didn’t complain about it, but he did what was necessary out of love for his disciples. As a parent, you understand this somewhat. Parents do many things for their children that they would never do otherwise. How many parents have cleaned up after their kids? If it were a random person, I wouldn’t clean up after them, but I love my kids and we are one family and I clean up after them even if I didn’t make a mess. Actually, right now, we’ve been trying the teach our kids about this in regard to helping each other clean up even if they didn’t make the mess, but the lesson is having trouble sticking. At any rate, we do because we love. Likewise, because Jesus has done so much for us, we should honor him in our lives. Paul says that our submission to others should be done out of reverence for Christ. We don’t submit grudgingly or defiantly because that is not done out of reverence for Jesus.

Next, Paul shows three sets of relationships where this could be practiced. These relationships are ones you would see in a household of the time. There are wives and husbands, children and fathers, and slaves and masters. Two of these pairs are pretty straightforward in their application, but the third is a bit more abstract, since I doubt that there are many household slaves right now. Although there might be a few people saying, “Hey, hey, wait a minute” on that last one.

First up is wives and husbands, the marital unit. “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” (5:22-24) These have got to be the most uncomfortable verses I have ever had the pleasure to preach about. “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (5:22) So, does that mean that wives should doubly submit? Not quite. Paul mentions that wives should submit to their husbands as they do to the Lord. This submission isn’t blind obedience to whatever their husbands say, but there is an understanding that a wife should submit as they submit to God. Now, that doesn’t mean that their husband is God, but it does open a door to the thought that the relationship between husband and wife is very similar to that of Christ and the church.

This comparison continues into the next paragraph, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (5:25-27) Here, Paul is encouraging husbands to show love to their wives similar to how Christ loved the church. As hard as it might be for wives to submit to their husbands in everything, I would argue that it is even harder to love as Jesus loved. He loved by giving himself up. He loved the church so much that he sacrificed himself on the cross so that we could have salvation from our sins. He was willing to sacrifice out of love. His leadership, his headship of the church was not done by forcing the church into submission, but through love for the church. He cared for the church so much and his desire was not for himself, but for his church to flourish. Jesus wasn’t concerned about his own well-being, but in the condition of his bride, the church. He did what was necessary to cleanse the church and make her perfect. In the same way, husbands should think of their wives’ well-being above their own.

At this point, Paul, again, begins to refer to the body. “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body.” (5:28-30) Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. That is an interesting thought. Husbands should treat their wives as an extension of themselves. This isn’t a promotion of self-love, but a reminder that we care for our own bodies. We take care of every need that we have. We feed, clothe and cleanse our bodies. We take care of our basic needs and husbands should treat their wives in the same way. Husbands are the head, but the wives are the body, and they should be treated with the appropriate love. A wife isn’t just another person in the house they are part of the same body. The verse Paul quotes in this passage is from Genesis. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (5:31) The family unit is defined by leaving one’s parents and holding tight to your spouse. Before marriage, a person’s closest relationship is with their parents, but upon marriage, that relationship with the parents is not cut completely, but an even closer relationship is created, the one between husband and wife. They become one flesh, no longer two. They become one body with one head.

Paul, then concludes the paragraph with, “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (5:33) I think that this is a very important part to this relationship. It is a summary of what was above. Husbands should love their wives and wives should respect their husbands. These are significant because they are what best builds the other up. Each of these are what husbands and wives need most in order to thrive. Husbands need respect in order to thrive and wives need love in order to thrive. This doesn’t mean that husbands don’t need love and wives don’t need respect. We all need both, but husbands tend to respond better to respect and respond strongly when they aren’t shown that respect. Likewise, wives respond better to love and respond strongly when they aren’t shown that love. These are the things that we each need in order to grow, and it is up to the husband and wife to provide what the other needs. When that happens, each person is built up. We have seen previously that we should use our words and actions to build up other people, but the person you are to build up the most is your own spouse. The family is stronger when husbands love their wives and wives respect their husbands. When that happens, each person is built up and wants to be better and is willing to grow more and more. They want to serve each other.

Now, doing that requires for each person to submit to one another. Husbands have to submit to their wives by loving their wives more than anything other that God. It means putting aside your own desires to make sure that your wife is adequately shown the love that they need. In the same way, wives submit to their husbands to show them the respect that they need in order to be the head. This requires sacrifice, as well. The husband might not deserve respect, but respect is given in hope of them becoming who they are supposed to be. That respect encourages them to become worthy of such respect.

The passage doesn’t just stop on wives and husbands but continues on to children and fathers. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” (6:1) Children, obey your parents in the Lord. Again, Paul implores people to do something in the Lord. Here it is for children to obey their parents. As much as some children might not want to admit, parents do really know what they are talking about. I’ve got one preteen that thinks she knows better on a number of things. Honestly, I have a toddler that thinks he knows better on a number of things. But Paul mentions that children ought to obey their parents, to honor them as he quotes the commandment. This is part of God’s design because, again, parents should have the best interests of the child at heart.

This leads to the flipside of the relationship, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (6:4) Even though it says “fathers”, this can be extended to both parents. It says to not exasperate your children. This means to not overburden them, particularly with a multitude of rules and constant deriding. There are some people that think that children shouldn’t be seen or heard, and they must follow all rules at all times. But parents shouldn’t be unreasonable. When there are too many rules without the knowledge of why, children tend to rebel against those rules the first chance they get. Instead, parents should bring children up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Children need to be taught who God is and helped to foster their own relationship with God. That means letting them fail sometimes. Their failures aren’t necessarily reflected on to us. We don’t look bad because our children fail, but we are there for them to help them learn and grow in Christ. Again, there is a mutual building each other up because of reverence for Christ.

This brings us to our last set of relationships, slaves and masters. I say that this one is a little different that the other relationships. These are household slaves, and there aren’t any household slaves anymore. There is still slavery in the world, with human trafficking, but that is still illegal. The slavery mentioned here is the legal and common slavery that existed at the time. It is reminiscent of the slavery that existed in the US. Families had slaves to perform many of the tasks around the home. Slavery was abolished here well over a hundred years ago, but we are still feeling the repercussions of slavery in our current society. There are still systematic issues that originate from slavery.

In this passage, slavery was still a common part of life, and Paul addresses it here. However, he doesn’t call for slaves to revolt. “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.” (6:5) Paul calls for slaves to obey their masters with respect and sincerity of heart. He calls for slaves to obey their masters as they would obey Christ. Paul expands, “Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.” (6:6-8) The goal is not to earn favor in the eyes of the master, but in the eyes of God. Ultimately, God is in charge of all situations, and we should serve because we are ultimately serving God.

It is here, where I want to extend this out to us. We aren’t slaves and don’t have slaves, but there are other authoritative relationships that we are a part of. We are employees or students. These roles can be stand-ins for slaves. I’m certain that many will agree. Sometimes a boss, teacher or adviser can feel like a slavedriver. Even in those situations, God’s words hold true. We should work as if we are working for the Lord. We should do our best at work or in school with our whole heart because our desire should be to please the Lord. Again, we are submitting out of reverence for the Lord. We submit, not because of the authority over us, but because of Christ’s authority over everything.

This is reflected in the last verse, “And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” (6:9) Sometimes, we are the employee, but sometimes we are the boss. When that is the case, we should have the same respect for them as they should have for us. We do this because we know that we have a master, that is God, who is master of all. We shouldn’t threaten or berate others in order to get them to comply. We should treat them in light of God. In all of our relationships, we have to remember Christ. Jesus is always present, and we have to remember that or these relationships will break down.

In each of these pairs, there are two sides of the relationship. Each side of the relationship has to be cultivated properly for the relationship to thrive. As believers, we cannot neglect one side or the other. Each is equally as important as the other. But there is a lingering question about what to do when there is no other side. What do you do when the other side of the relationship is failing? Do you give up and be selfish or do you still submit? What happens if it goes really bad and there is actual abuse? These are legitimate questions that are difficult to answer. There are not blanket answers to these questions and each situation should be dealt with individually. But some basic tenets should still be followed. We ultimately submit to the Lord, and we have to see what that means in each situation.

Jesus is again a great example of this. Paul explains in his letter to the church in Philippi, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4) This is very similar to what he has been saying in Ephesians. We have to have the interests of others in mind. But the most powerful part comes next in the letter, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—   even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8) Jesus, who is God, chose to become a servant for all and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Jesus chose to submit himself, to empty himself completely all the way to death. It was God’s will for Jesus to die on the cross in the hands of people who were falsely accusing him. They beat him and tore his flesh, but he still submitted. They nailed him to a cross, but he still submitted. Pilate said that he had the authority to free him or condemn him, but Jesus said that authority came from God and God was the ultimate authority. Jesus succumbed because it was God’s will. But before his eventual submission, there were a number of clashes with the religious leaders. They wanted to kill Jesus for some time, but until it was God’s will, Jesus evaded them and berated them. He did not succumb until it was God’s time.

Likewise, we need to submit ultimately to God. Sometimes, that means things might look bad for us, but other times, he might give us an opportunity to escape or be proved victorious. Ultimately, we surrender to God and trust in him that he knows the situation better than we do. It can be hard to submit. It might require us to deny ourselves and put others first. We might even have to die to ourselves for the sake of others, but it is all for God and it is good for us too. When we cultivate our relationships with submission, our submission, we open the door to build people up and live as children of light. Conflicts get minimized because we are not seeking our own interests, but the interests of others. When we submit, we are humbled and when there is conflict, there can reconciliation because we are thinking about the other person. We are to live our lives submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, because Christ was submissive to us, even in our sin.

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