15 September 2019
Ephesians is basically a book about doctrine and duty. What we believe in the first half, and then what we should do about it in the second. Last week Peter spoke about the whole ‘wives submit to your husbands, husbands love your wives’ thing. And when he started speaking, you could almost feel everyone tense up. But what he spoke about was partnership, and walking alongside each other, working towards the same mission. And this week is similar.
So this second half of the letter is about our horizontal relationships. How we deal with the people around us, how we live in this world. The series is called ‘Living your Best Life,’ and I think that’s a really good title for the second half of Ephesians. I think the actual instructions are less important here than the lessons we learn from them. Paul can tell us to obey our parents, and we can do it, but if we don’t understand why, then we’ll need a rule for every situation. Pete spoke last week about the 3-point sermon, and I felt a bit guilty, because I like my points, but I’ll try to stick to that. The first point is this- The Bible doesn’t have an answer for every situation, but it has an answer for the cause of every situation. This is what Jesus preached. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, he expanded and deepened our understanding of the Law of the Old Testament. The Jews at the time believed in a closed list of laws, and if we follow that understanding, then what about phones? What about Facebook? What about everything that is in the world now that wasn’t in the world then? What about everything the Bible doesn’t explicitly speak about? What about space travel? What about smoking? What about drugs?
I think that the most important take away from this series, is that the Bible does have answers, for all of these. But the answers aren’t in the Law itself, they’re in what it teaches. Jesus didn’t really expand the Law, he just revealed these lessons to us, the ones we should have learned. ‘Do not murder’ means do not murder, but the lesson there is do not hurt – do not hurt by your deeds or your words or your anger. ‘Do not covet’ means do not covet, but the lesson is ‘be content, do not be greedy.’ So that’s my first point- don’t walk away from here today and think – okay I’m not a child, I’m not a father, I’m not a servant or a master, so it doesn’t apply to me. Don’t restrict these words; there is a greater and a harder lesson in them than merely ‘obey your parents.’
Notice that these verses aren’t one-sided. Like last week, like the verses about husbands and wives, there is what we call in law a ‘reciprocal duty.’ “Children obey your parents, but fathers, don’t provoke your children.” Other translations say, “do not anger your children.” “Servants, or slaves, obey your masters, and masters, treat your servants well.” These are important on their own, and should be followed, but the deeper lesson here is harmony. That’s the second point. These rules are pointing us towards harmony, showing us how to live together, how to interact, how we as Christians should approach our different roles in life. For example, ‘obey your parents.’ When you are in a position where someone is in authority over you, obey them. Conversely, when you are in authority over someone, do not abuse that, do not provoke them. Don’t make it hard for them to obey you. If you are a servant, serve well. Jesus acted as a servant. Serve God by serving your master, wholeheartedly and sincerely, that’s your boss, your teacher, anyone you owe your service to. And when someone is serving you, don’t threaten, don’t lord it over them, because you both have the same Master.
These are showing us how to conduct our relationships with each other, how we should treat each other. It all comes back to the classic: ‘do unto others as you would have done unto you.’ And it all focuses on harmony, on how to behave in the way that best serves unity – that best serves peace. Because how can the Church exist effectively if it’s constantly at odds with itself. So the second point, and the main lesson from these verses, I would say, is Harmony. A well-oiled machine honours God.
It’s important to understand that there is no unilateral command here. Very often, I think that we like to choose one side over the other. We read only “Children obey your parents and servants obey your masters”, and we forget the other half. Or the opposite; we only look at the duties of parents and masters. And sometimes, we like to make our side conditional. I will obey my parents, but only if they do their part, only if they don’t provoke me. I will obey my master, but only if he doesn’t threaten me, and treats me right. We do these to remove the obligation on us. I am not obeying my parents, because they are provoking me. I am not treating my servant well, because he is not obeying me. This is blame shifting. We move the onus off ourselves. I am not to blame, because I would do this, if they did their part. The ball is in their court. That’s not how this works. These aren’t conditional rules. It’s not: do this if they do that. Its just do this. Just obey your parents. Just don’t provoke your children. What they do is not your responsibility. But what you do is. You can’t control their input towards harmony, but you can control your own. So the third point is this – Bring your part to the table. And remember that you have a part. None of these are one sided, and none of them are conditional. This is part of what it means to be a follower of Christ. It means acknowledging our duties to others, and carrying them out regardless of whether they carry out their duties to us. Christ doesn’t wait for us to love Him before He loves us. He didn’t wait for us to worship Him before He died for us. He did His part, and Now the ball is in our court.
I could have gone into the whole “first commandment with a promise thing” and “whatever good anyone does he will receive back from the Lord”, but this is more important. This is what Christians need to understand. No, the Bible doesn’t explicitly tell us how to treat the McDonalds employee. But it does teach us everything we need to know in order to figure out how to treat them. It’s not that hard. The God of Peace wants us to be at peace with each other. And we do that, by understanding these lessons.