One of the main messages of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus was to be found IN CHRIST. This includes all the spiritual blessings that he highlights in the first three chapters. In the practical outworking of Christian faith, Paul highlights another foundation for the believer, to live a life CONSTANTLY FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT. Being found In Christ and being filled with the Holy Spirit is powerful for the believers in Ephesus, and for us today.
With these truths in mind, Paul speaks to the church – “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21). The was a culture smashing statement for the Roman Empire and those within the Jewish faith. The Emperor was the Head of the Empire and this headship was pagan, abusive in its authority, and self-gratifying. Unfortunately, this idea of headship was promoted in the relationship between husbands and wives. The Jewish leaders also had twisted views in relation to home life. A practicing Jewish male believer would recite 13 blessings every morning. Here are three of those blessings:
· Blessed are You that You did not make me a non-Jew.
· Blessed are You that You did not make me a slave.
· Blessed are You that You did not make me a woman.
The idea of submission to one another was a huge shift in thinking. A wife submitting to her husband was a big step up in status, both for the house-hold code book for the Roman family and for the Jewish faith. A husband loving his wife as Christ loves the church puts headship into a Biblical mindset, challenging the culture of the day, whether pagan or Jewish. And Paul ends this section with a great verse – “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Eph 5:33).
Children and Parents
The next topic of discussion for Paul and the church of Ephesus in parental – Eph 6:1-4 - “Children, 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.” 4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. The Spirit-filled life is foundational for parenting in a secular society like Ephesus and especially today.
· The idea of obedience being formed in the hearts of children is essential for growth and maturity and part of them experiencing the fullness of freedom at home and IN CHRIST.
· In the same way as wives submitting as to the Lord, children are to obey their parents as in the Lord. The whole idea of submitting one to another and children obeying their parents is summed up as Christ submitted to his Father in everything. (Phil 2:5-11)
· “Honour your father and mother” is actually the fifth commandment but the first commandment with a promise attached to it; the first four commands are directed towards one’s relationship with God. Honouring your father and mother is being respectful in word and action and having an inward attitude of esteem for their position; parents are not perfect. The Greek word for honour means “to revere, prize, and value.” Honour given towards parents comes with a promise of blessings received in life.
· One of the challenges for fathers in Ephesus was that of parenting in anger. Can any father relate? Do not exasperate means to make angry or provoke. So how do father's make sure their children are at peace? Father's need to be in a healthy relationship with the mother, to control their own attitudes and anger, grow in learning and loving as a father, admit mistakes, be secure in their fathering, insecurity breeds a controlling atmosphere in the home, be free from addictions whatever they may be, addictive behaviours produce fear in the home for the spouse and children.
· Lastly, fathers need to be well-informed in the ways of God to instruct, train and warn their children. The training isn’t simply head knowledge but a practical understanding of the ways of God in life; in other word, fathering is hands on.
Slaves and Masters
Now Paul looks at the interaction between Slaves, Masters and Christ in Eph 6:5-9. Slaves, in Roman times, were often prisoners of war and could earn their freedom within a decade. At other times, people sold themselves into slavery to pay off debt or to increase one’s social or economic means. In Jewish culture, there were slaves, male and female who served their masters under Jewish Law (Deut 15:12-15); in the seventh year slaves were set free.
Slavery in biblical times was very different from the slavery that was practiced in the past few centuries in many parts of the world. The slavery in the Bible was not based exclusively on race. People were not enslaved because of their nationality or the color of their skin. In Bible times, slavery was often the result of war and based on economics. People sold themselves as slaves when they could not pay their debts or provide for their families. In New Testament times, sometimes doctors, lawyers, and even politicians were slaves of someone else. Some people actually chose to be slaves so as to have all their needs provided for by their masters. This is in stark contrast to the slavery under “colonialism” during British and American rule where slavery was forced upon people and was a lifetime sentence and (black) slaves were believed to be inferior human beings. The Bible does not condone race slavery, or man stealing.
With this understanding, Paul now speaks to slaves and masters who had faith in Jesus. Obedience was required by slaves towards their masters, with the thought that they are ultimately under Christ’s authority – “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ” (Eph 6:5). Obedience has certain characteristics that Paul highlights; be respectful just as towards Christ, and fearful, not slavish terror, but an eagerness to do your duty. Paul mentions the idea to be sincere and to serve wholeheartedly. This kind of Spirit-filled slavery carried with it reward and freedom IN CHRIST, and possibly from slavery itself.
Paul also addresses 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” (Eph 6:9). In other words, masters were to handle their slaves with kindness and respect, as if submitting one to another and to Christ. This was unheard of in Roman culture. Sometimes Christian slaves had non-Christian masters, and this would be very challenging for the slaves. Sometimes Christian masters had non-Christian slaves, and this was an opportunity to win them for Christ. And Christian masters with Christian slaves were to treat each other just like they would treat Jesus Christ; brothers and sisters IN CHRIST.
One of the challenges we face today is this. How do we display the culture of the Kingdom of God in a secular and pluralistic society? How do we submit one to another? How do Christian children obey their parents? How do parents’ parent? What about slavery?
We must understand that the Bible is the foundation upon which God evaluates our lives. The Bible is the source of knowledge for wives, husbands, children and parents living in the home. Our home life is to be saturated with the infilling of the Holy Spirit, in contrast to the all the stuff secular society offers…
Slavery is something that needs to be addressed in our broken culture. It is estimated that there are over 27 million people in the world who are subject to forced slavery: forced labour, child slaves, sex trade, etc. We have been redeemed from the slavery of sin, as followers of Jesus Christ should be the foremost champions of ending human slavery in the world today.
Paul’s hope for the church of Ephesus is simple, he wants them to experience the fulness of their freedom in Christ. He gives the church in Ephesus several keys to live by in contrast to Jewish and Roman culture of his day.
· First, they must come under the Headship of Jesus Christ.
· Secondly, them must be spirit-filled.
· Thirdly, they must be respectful and submissive to one another because of their love for Jesus. Many of these verses underline love and selflessness, which results in harmony, and is evidence of the Spirit’s work in the home with wives, husband and children, as well as between slaves and masters.
Just as there are practical challenges to living out our faith IN CHRIST, there are spiritual forces that are in opposition to the body of Christ. That is where Paul takes us next in Ephesians.