Servant relationships in Christ. (Ephesians 5:21-6:9)
Pastor Terry Inman
Last week our message on new patterns of living in love and living in light ended with a passage that can be both a conclusion to that discussion and an introduction to our next one.
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. (Excessive indulgence) Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Ephesians 5.18 (NIV) Chemicals like drugs and alcohol are used to alter our mental, emotion and physical state. There are other things we abuse like food and sex that also alter our brain. There is something about human nature that makes us want to experience altered states. Life can be pretty boring.
Paul suggests a harmless in fact very healthy way of altering your mood. Stay filled with the Spirit! When the Holy Spirit was poured out a few days after Jesus returned to His Father in Heaven, there were definitely some visible physical, emotional and spiritual effects.
The book of Acts tells us there were unusual manifestations of God’s power and presence like the sound of a powerful wind, and small flames of fire over peoples heads. The followers of Jesus began praising God in unlearned foreign languages. Acts 2.4 (NIV)
People were happy. In fact they were ecstatic. Some of the people in the crowd thought these followers of Christ were intoxicated. They were exhilarated but not intoxicated. That word has the term “toxic” in it. The Holy Spirit is non-toxic. There are no bad after effects, like hangovers, or addictive behaviors. Living filled with the Holy Spirit is life altering!
Paul suggested a way to stay spirit-filled. He says, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5.18-19 (NIV)
Wednesday night our Prayer Team leaders met for training. After a time of instruction we stood and soaked up the presence in the Lord for a few minutes. The Holy Spirit refreshed leaders, weary from a long days work, some even suffering physical pain were touched. There was joy and buoyancy in the room. Some stayed until 11 pm enjoying God’s presence.
We need to re-fuel often to keep the fire going! Staying filled with the Spirit is also a great introduction to our next subject: “The Family Plan” servant relationships in Christ. Spirit filled people submit to one another not just in church, but also in the home and workplace.
Paul’s “The Family Plan” for servant relationships in Christ includes husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees. He begins with a directive that covers all these relationships.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5.21(NIV) Submit is not our favorite word in the dictionary. Some men prefer verse 22 “wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord”.
Some people like to just ignore this passage all together. I can understand this because this passage has often been taken out of context to marginalize and dominate women.
This passage is focused on mutual or submission. “One another” is reciprocal and not coercive. We may have different roles at home and in the workplace but genuine love involves the voluntary surrender of ourselves to God and to one another.
Somewhere in Sunday school I learned this simple acronym JOY Jesus, others and you! It takes Jesus in you to submit to each other. It takes staying full of His Holy Spirit. The human spirit is self-centered. We need the Holy Spirit to be mutually submissive.
Now it may be helpful to define the word submit. The Ancient Greek term (hupotasso) is to “be under” or “put under”. It is to subordinate or be in subjection to. Now we are not talking about someone putting us down or putting us under but voluntarily submitting ourselves. This is clearly a choice we make to submit to one another.
Paul makes a very important qualification concerning mutual submission. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5.21(NIV) Reverence is a holy fear or respect. If we really respect Christ we shouldn’t have a problem with love and respect for each other.
The opposite of submission is resistance or defiance. That’s a fight. It is Satan’s nature to resist and rebel. Earlier in chapter two Paul said, “We used to live in and follow, the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” Ephesians 2.2 (NIV)
Insubordination is a dark spirit. If you don’t believe me listen to this. “If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace- loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. James 3.14-17 (NIV)
Next Paul lists the specific roles and relationships that require mutual submission in reverence to Christ. Wives are to submit to “their own”, husbands--not just to any male. Again Paul says, “as to the Lord”.
Wives, submit to your husbands as 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. Ephesians 5.22-24 (NIV)
The Body of Christ has been the focus of much of this letter. It makes sense that Paul would again use this metaphor here. In the first chapter Paul said, “God placed all things under His feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” Ephesians 1.22 (NIV) Then in chapter two he said the church was built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets with Jesus as the chief cornerstone. Ephesians 2.20-21 (NIV)
A head stone or cornerstone is a foundation. Head here doesn’t mean top down leadership. It means bottom up leadership. Jesus is our head because he gave him self up for us.
He is our source. He is our support. We submit to him because he saved us. When husbands loving lead and serve, wives naturally submit. Let me make it very clear submission here has nothing to do with superiority.
In the ancient Greek culture women were often treated as property with very little rights. Jesus changed all this. Peter makes this very clear. Husbands, be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker (vulnerable) partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. 1 Peter 3.7
Paul get’s into a little more detail as he talks to husbands. It’s interesting that he has a lot more to say to men than women. Maybe we are thicker headed. He employs the traditional purification rites to illustrate this love.
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. Ephesians 5.25-27 (NIV)
Jewish weddings involved elaborate purification rituals. Paul compares this with the effects of salvation. Jesus makes us holy. The church is the bride of Christ. His word purifies us. Every stain, wrinkle and blemish is removed. We are like a radiant bride.
We get our word “catharsis” from the term used here for cleansing. Guys listening carefully and sharing deeply makes for a radiant wife. We need practice communicating from our heart and not just our head.
Paul says, 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 his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. Ephesians 5. 28 -30 (NIV)
We are the body of Christ. Jesus loves his body. In this same way husbands are to love their wives as their own body.
“Feeds” and “cares” in the King James Version is “nourish” and “cherish”. Jesus Christ nurtures, cultivates or develops us. He cherishes us. He treasures our relationship. Does your wife feel encouraged and valued?
Paul summarizes the purpose of marriage. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5.31-33 (NIV)
The Greeks were fond of mystery. So Paul again uses their word with a new twist. It is not something secret or hidden but now revealed in Christ. Marriage was designed to reflect the image and nature of God. The bible say both male and female were created in His image.
The way to love your wife is to understand that you are connected you are one. When you love her, you love a part of yourself. To strengthen this bond, women need expressed love and men need expressed respect.
There are two more relationships that are based on mutual submission.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Ephesians 6:1-3 (NIV)
Notice this is also “in the Lord”. Notice it doesn’t say, obey your parents because they are right. You may feel like some parents are not worthy of obedience and honor but “it is right in the Lord”. Notice also that obedience and honor promote wellness and longevity.
Paul also has a word for neglectful or abusive parenting. “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6.4 (NIV)
There three things here that are required of parents. (1.) Raise them. “Bring them up” (2.) Mature them. “Training them” and (3.) Teach them spiritual values; “Instruction of the Lord”.
I had a university professor that said, more is caught than taught. Life is a classroom. Our kids need our time and attention to learn the love of God.
Finally Paul also talks about mutual submission in the workplace.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey 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.
Again submission is for Christ not necessarily for your self or your boss.
Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. Eph 6: 7-8 (NIV)
Paul also has a strong word for bosses. 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. Ephesians 6.5-9 (NIV)
Jesus had a lot to say about servant relationships. He modeled it. He was the master but he took the role of a servant. He washed his disciples feet. We are all part of God’s Family Plan. All of our relationships are opportunities to submit to Christ and serve one another.
Marital conflicts are often power struggles. Defiant children or dominating parents put families in crisis. Workplace conflicts create so much stress. How about your relationships? Are they marked by mutual respect and submission through Christ?
Paul has repeatedly used the prepositional phrase, “in Christ” many times in this letter. Are you really “in Christ”. Do your relationships reflect this?
Ask Jesus Christ to you help you with that difficult relationship. Maybe it’s your marriage or a family member. Maybe it’s a strained relationship with a son or daughter or another relative. Maybe it’s a coworker or a boss.
Maybe you need to forgive. Maybe you need his help to reconcile. The Holy Spirit is your guide. He is the spirit of truth. He will fill you he will lead you. He will give you courage. Invite the Holy Spirit the helper now.