|THE OBEDIENT LIFE
Series: A Letter of Grace and Life - Part Eleven
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
May 10, 2020
Before we come to Ephesians 6:1-9, there are two big picture ideas that we need to have in mind while we look at this passage.
First: As much as we might be tempted to think that the focus of this passage is about children and parents and slaves and masters, and even though this passage teaches some really helpful things about children and parents and slaves and masters, the focus of this passage is not about children and parents and slaves and masters but about the church.
Second: Where this passage fits into Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is hugely important for us to keep in mind in case we might be tempted to think that the focus of this passage is about children and parents and slaves and masters and not the church. Because ultimately, this passage is an illustration of our life together as the church.
Paul began Ephesians by writing about who we are in Christ because of God’s grace. Jews and everybody else - saved out of bondage to our sin and redeemed to new life in Christ - brought together as the Church - the Body of Christ.
Paul has been writing about what that looks like in the real time drama of life. How we live authentic Christian lives in growing imitation of God by surrendering ourselves to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Living in God’s love and God’s truth and God’s wisdom. And how we do that together.
In 5:21, Paul began opening up that we need to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ. Because of our love and respect for Christ.
Which is easy to say, tough to do.
Which is why 6:1-9 is here. Paul is using relationships - that on different levels - we struggle with these relationships. Paul is using these relationships to illustrate what that means to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ.
Last Sunday, we looked at Paul using marriage as an illustration of that. Today, we’re going to look at Paul teaching about children and parents and slaves and masters.
Which is why, as much as we might be tempted to think that the focus of this passage is about children and parents and slaves and masters, and even though this passage teaches some really helpful things about children and parents and slaves and masters, the focus of this passage is is an illustration of our life together as the church.
So, the big picture we need to keep in mind as we unpack Paul’s illustration - the big picture is what all this teaches us about submitting to each other out of reverence for Christ.
So with all that in mind, let me read for us Ephesians 6:1-9:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.
Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
Let’s unpack Paul’s illustrations.
First, Paul begins with children and parents: Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
The Greek word for children includes everyone from little tikers up through young adults - teenagers plus. Paul writes that children are to obey their parents.
Meaning that children are to listen to their parents. And then try to understand what it is that their parents expect of them - even when parents don’t always come across as clear on the subject. And then in submission to their parent’s authority - children are to actually do what their parents ask them to do.
Isaac obeyed Abraham - carried the wood - got on the altar - was willing even to be sacrificed. That’s a stretch in thinking about obedience. But that’s the intensity of what Paul’s writing about.
When Paul is writing about obedience he’s writing about heart level - on in - obedience.
There’s the story of the boy whose mother told him to sit. And he sat. Then he looked up at her with defiance in his eyes, and said, “You may make me sit down outside, but I’m still standing up inside.”
When Paul is writing about obedience he’s writing about our heart level attitude - our choice to listen and obey.
Then Paul writes that children are to obey their parents “in the Lord.”
So, we need to be careful. There are a tremendous number of parents out there - parents in the biological sense - parents who are negligent - abusive - and self-focused - who are causing serious damage to children. That’s not who Paul is writing about.
Parents who are raising their children to love God and serve Him with their lives - to be who God has created them to be.
Parents who are the one’s who’ve given birth to us - changed our diapers - raised us - put food in front of us - been extremely patient with us - done an amazing amount of sacrificial things for us that we have no clue about.
Because they love us and they love God and their deepest desire is for us to know Jesus as our Savior and to heart level obedient follow Him through life.
Anyone who’s been blessed to have parents like that ought to be thanking God every day of their lives.
If we’ve got Godly parents who are pouring out God’s love - and theirs - on us - that love needs to be responded to with heart level obedience.
That may not always be easy.
Growing up there are times when every one of us wonders if our parents have lost it completely. Like they have no understanding of the real world and where we live our lives.
Obedience may mean obeying even though we don’t completely understand where they’re coming from. It may not be easy. But we still need to obey.
That word “right” in the Greek is same word we get righteousness from.
If we want to be Godly man or woman - living righteously - rightly before God - then we start by obeying our parents in the Lord.
Paul goes on - verse 2: “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
Obeying our parents is the right thing to do for two reasons.
First: It's a commandment. Ten Commandment’s - number 5 - is to… “Honor your father and your mother”
The Greek word translated “honor” has the idea of giving something extreme value - being priceless. Treat your parents as priceless.
The Hebrew word for that - in the Ten Commandments is “kabed”. Which is even more intense.
“Kabed” is giving our parents authority over us because they are priceless. Choosing to give our parents a priceless place of respect and dignity and influence over our lives.
Obeying someone we respect - that we value and choose to give influence over our lives - that’s heart level obedience - submission - in real time.
But the command is still there. Obeying our parents because we seek to honor them - by submitting to them - that’s being obedient to God.
In the Bible there are number of descriptions of what God means by that.
Proverbs 20:20 and 30:11 tells us that to honor our parents means that we speak well of them. We hold up their character and reputation before others. We bless them instead of cursing them.
Proverbs 19:26 says that honoring our parents means that we don’t physically abuse or reject our parents.
Proverbs 15:5 calls on us to listen to our parents and respect their discipline and guidance and wisdom.
Proverbs 15:20 encourages us to do things that make our parents glad by not rebelling against their authority.
Obeying our parents is the right thing to do because God commands it. And second - because the commandment comes with a promise.
Obey your parents and so “that it may go well with you” and so “that you may live long in the land.”
What God has in mind is what Jesus meant when He said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 5:33)
Prioritize pursuing God and everything you need God will provide for as long as God gives you life.
To live well means that we live with God for the full length of our lives.
Things going well isn’t about physical stuff. It’s the stuff of the heart. Which is way more valuable.
God dealing with our emptiness and loneliness and brokenness and wounds and questions and uncertainties and anxieties and fears. Heart level healing and wholeness of life. Living with purpose and meaning to the glory of God. The abundance of life that Jesus said He came to bring us.
That and way more is what God promises us.
Paul begins with children. Obeying their parents. Submitting to the authority of their parents. Which is out of obedience - think reverence - obedience to God. It is what God blesses. It is the right thing to do.
Then Paul moves to fathers. Verse 4: Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
It’s possible that as Paul is writing to fathers that he’s thinking about fathers and mothers. Back then - culturally - to talk about a husband generally meant that we were talking about his wife as well.
But, Paul didn’t use the Greek word for “parents.” He did that in verse 1.
Paul is choosing to call out fathers. Fathers can really mess up their kids. Or hugely help them move forward in life. Statistically, even more than mothers.
Maybe it’s because of our own struggles and issues and insecurities - but sometimes we fathers let go of the crucial God designed privilege and significance of being a father. As the heads of our homes - God places the greater weight of responsibility for parenting on fathers.
It is a statistical reality that children coming to Christ and remaining committed to Christ and His Church is connected more to father’s than to mothers. If the father comes the family comes. If the mother comes the family might come.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger,
The word here for anger is “parorgizzo.” It means to exasperate - to lose heart.
Meaning children just give up trying to obey. They grow to resent their parents authority - they get angry at them. Ultimately they get angry at God - rejecting their parents and rejecting their parent’s God.
Instead, Paul writes, “Bring them up.” The word means to nourish them - to supply what they need to grow. The fertilizer of discipline and instruction.
Discipline meaning what grows their minds and morals. Instruction meaning helping them to understand and to have healthy boundaries for how they live life.
A huge problem in our society today is families where the children are in charge. Where rules - boundaries - are not applied with consistency - firmness - and love. Children - who are ill prepared - who are allowed by default to make moral decisions way beyond their ability.
Without boundaries children feel unloved - unwanted - insecure. They’re prone to rebel - to wander into all kinds of self-destructive behavior. They become angry. They experience - depression - anxiety - and a host of mental problems. Boundaries create security - provide a healthy pattern for living life - demonstrate love.
Fathers need to take quality time with their children - to listen to the hearts of the children - and to explain life to their children - to give them instruction that helps to them make sense of the world - at the least, to know why the boundaries are there.
Then Paul writes that discipline and instruction needs to be “of the Lord.”
Godly fathers who raise Godly children who will live Godly lives - knowing Jesus as their Savior - living in obedience to God - testifying of Him - honoring and glorifying God - Godly fathers raise Godly children because Godly boundaries are not just demanded but demonstrated.
Children who submit to parents out of reverence for the Lord need to see their parents living in reverence for the Lord. And father’s are to take the lead in that.
Bottom line: As difficult as child parent relationships may be - as much as we might struggle with those relationships - we need to submit each other and those relationships to God - in reverence for Christ - our of our love and respect and desire to honor Jesus.
In verse 5 Paul turns to another social order that comes with it’s own set of struggles.
Verse 5: Bondservants - or slaves which is a more literal translation - Bondservants - slaves - obey your earthly masters
Paul is in Rome writing to Christians in Ephesus. As Paul looks out on the city of Rome maybe 1/2 of the people he’s seeing are slaves to the other 1/2.
A slave might have been someone who was captured in a war and then shipped off some place in the empire as a slave. Or maybe a slave was born into slavery. There were different ways that someone became a slave.
And there were different levels of what it meant to be a slave.
Some slaves were brutalized. Seen as no more important than a pick or a shovel. Life was cheap - expendable. Lived by the whim of the master.
On the other hand most slaves were servants in homes. Some were highly educated - skilled. They were tutors and maids and a whole number of other things.
But the bottom line of being a slave was that you were a slave. Bound. Not free. Who you were and your liberty were subjected to the authority of a master.
Let’s be careful. Paul is not condoning or condemning slavery. That’s a discussion for a different time. Paul is using a very difficult social relationship to illustrate mutual submission out of reverence for Christ.
Some Christians were slaves. Some Christians were masters. It’s not hard to imagine a whole lot of potential struggle in that relationship.
Paul writes: Bondservants, obey your earthly masters
The word Paul uses - in Greek - for obey - is the same word he used in verse 1 - children obey your parents. It has the idea of placing ourselves under the authority of what we hear.
Slaves are to listen to their masters - discern what’s expected of them - and then in hear level submission to their master’s authority - actually do what’s been asked of them. What the master says to do - do. Obey him.
Paul writes that we are to obey with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,
“Fear” is the Greek word “phobos” - phobia. As Paul uses it here he’s teaching about fear that causes awe - respect - honor - even love. It’s the same word Paul uses that our versions translate reverence.
“submitting to one another out or reverence for Christ.” Same word.
“Trembling” is the word “tromos” - trembling in astonishment - going weak at the knees because of what we’re confronted with.
with a sincere heart,
The King James Version translates that word “sincere” as “singleness.” The single purpose of your heart. One agenda not two.
as you would Christ,
Meaning living out our relationship with Jesus which should bring us to our knees. Obeying Jesus - means that we heart level obey our masters. Respect, honor, maybe even love them.
In verse 6 Paul expands on what he means by sincere from the heart obedience: not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers,
Years ago Ray Stedman - preaching on this passage - maybe you’ve heard this - Ray Stedman shared about an foreman in Africa who had several African nationals working under him. He found that they were afflicted with this disease of eye-service - they only worked when this foreman was watching them.
But this particular foreman was the proud possessor of a glass eye and he found that he could take his eye out of the socket and lay it on a stump where it could “watch” the men and they would go right on working, whether he was there or not.
Until one day he came back to find them all lounging around. He had placed the eye on the stump, but one of the men had found a way to sneak around behind the eye and put his hat over it so that it could no longer see them. (1)
“Eye service” is working only when the boss is watching - sneaking around and not giving our best. That’s double hearted.
And, slaves are not to obey as people-pleasers.
Someone who’s always bringing Starbucks. Playing office politics. Always kissing up to the boss. Someone who’s only giving lip service to obedience as a means to advance themselves. That’s double hearted.
Verse 7: but - in contrast - sincere heart level obedience means - as bondservants of Christ - slaves of Jesus - doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,
It’s been said that the most motivated person on earth is a five-foot, ten-inch non-swimmer in six feet of water. Paul is writing about what motivates us - keeps us going - deep down at the heart level.
First - because we’re bondservants of Christ.
The Holy Almighty God condescends to allow us to know Him. To give us the privilege of living in a personal relationship with Him through the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross for us. As Christians we live in daily relationship with the Holy Almighty God who is at work within us and through us - allowing us the great privilege of serving Him.
That should drop us to our knees in fear and trembling - in reverence - in respect and honoring and love - before God.
The heart level motivation of a Godly slave is God. Being a slave of Jesus first “as you would Christ” prioritizes and orders our hearts to single hearted obeying others. If we’re wholeheartedly obeying Jesus were not going to be half-heartedly obeying others.
Verse 8: knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.
Second - sincere heart level obedience motivation - God takes care of us.
Whatever good we do God sees it even if our masters don’t. God always has our back.
That may not mean that things are going to change a whole lot. God may not immediately change our circumstances.
I’ve had some pretty interesting jobs - upstairs maid - street sweeper - baker’s assistant - jobs that didn’t pay a whole lot - that weren’t exactly glamorous. And I’ve worked for some very “interesting” people.
We may not be working under the best of conditions but we’re still working for God and God always has our back. God will take care of us. His justice will happen.
That’s huge to hang on to. And to let soak into our hearts and attitudes. To be able to cry out to God and know that He gets it and He gets us. And that we can keep going and trusting Him for the outcome.
We will receive back from the Lord. And that is way greater than whatever we’re receiving from our master now.
Then - in verse 9 Paul moves on to masters. The masters were the people in authority - sometimes life and death authority - over the slaves.
Verse 9: Masters, do the same to them
“Them” is who? the slaves. In other words what we just looked at regarding slaves also applies to masters. Obedience - listening - submission - heart attitude - reverence for God.
Masters generally don’t obey their slaves.
But they can listen. They can honor them by caring about where they work and what that’s like for them - their needs - their safety.
Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening,
The verb “stop” has the idea of relaxing - lighten up - loosen up.
There’s a Greek proverb that goes “You will break the bow if you keep it always bent.”
The stress of working with someone standing over us with a whip.
Maybe today that’s like an employer constantly dangling a pink slip in someone’s face or threatening to cut their wages or refusing to pay them for work they’ve done. Say something and you’re gone.
Stop threatening them. Be concerned for them. Relax the bow.
The heart level motivation in that is - first - knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven,
We know that in the Roman Empire there were slaves and masters who were Christians. Who on Sundays they would come together for prayer and communion and instruction and worship.
But on Monday morning there was a real question in their minds. How do we continue this Christian relationship in our work? What attitude should I have?
There’s a huge understandable struggle in that relationship.
Paul reminds the masters that both of you are working for the same Master - capital “M”. Your God who’s in heaven.
By “heaven “ Paul doesn’t mean that God is way out there some place - completely detached from what goes on down here with mere mortals. It means that God is in heaven - God is in the office - very much aware of what is going on down here - very much involved in our lives.
That means that whatever the slave does or the master does needs to be done out of reverence for Christ.
How we treat our slaves - or those we have authority over - is integral to our relationship with God. We live out our relationship with Jesus - respecting and honoring and loving Him - through the way we manage others - respecting and honoring and loving them.
Paul’s second heart level motivation is that there is no partiality with him.
God is not partial. His justice is equally applied - fairly - to both slave and master. All of us are accountable to Him.
In Colossians 4:1, Paul writes, “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly.”
A Christian master is going to seek to treat his slaves with the same grace and mercy and love and concern that God has shown the master.
Bottom line: Slaves and masters are to submit to each other - to treat each other with honor and respect and maybe even love - because they honor and respect and love - because of their reverence for Christ.
Years ago Bob Philips wrote a book with the title “The Delicate Art of Dancing with Porcupines - learning to appreciate the finer points of others.”
It’s a good read and Bob has some helpful things to say about our relationships together and why we struggle and what can be helpful for us.
I love the title. Can you picture that. Porcupines - quills extended - trying to get close enough to each other to dance.
And so we are. With our quills - our issues and hang ups and wounds and weaknesses. What we do that hurts others. What keeps us distant from each other.
In some ways it would be easier if we could just go on social distancing from each other.
Children and parents and fathers and children. Slaves and masters - which is kind of like employees and employers - but way more intense. And last Sunday we looked at Paul writing about husbands and wives. Same teaching.
Those are some really difficult relationships that Paul uses to illustrate our life together as the Church - the Body of Christ - the family of God.
As difficult at the dance is, we are created to dance. That’s how God uses us in each other’s lives. That’s how God works through us to testify of what it means to live life because we are by grace in Christ. That’s how God uses us to push back the gates of hell and bring others into His kingdom.
Grab the astounding potential in that.
As difficult as the dance is - being together as a congregation honoring and respecting and loving and submitting to each other - we need to remember that Jesus is the Lord of the dance. To reverence Jesus means we can trust Him with each other.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.