53. Reassurance

Ephesians Meditations No.53

Eph  6:21-24 Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you. Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love

And so we come to the closing verses of this wonderful little book. We hope you have been blessed by it. Unlike many of Paul’s other letters, he doesn’t send  lots of personal greetings at the end, but if this was supposed to be a letter sent to Ephesus and then circulated among all the other churches of the area, that is understandable.

Only one person gets a mention here, the man who presumably was entrusted with actually taking the letter to them:Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything.” We find Paul referring to him when he wrote to Timothy: “I sent Tychicus to Ephesus.” (2 Tim 4:12). He also mentioned him when he wrote to Titus, “As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me.” (Titus 3:12) and also when he wrote to the Colossians: “Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.” (Col 4:7) Look at these descriptions of this man – dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord and dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. Wow! There is a clear sign of affection there. This man means a lot to Paul. His faithfulness or ‘stickability’ is mentioned twice as is his servant-heartedness. He’s a good man! Could those descriptions be applied to us?

What is intriguing is Paul saying he “will tell you everything,” implying there is a lot to be told, and as soon as he says that you realise that this letter (or book, as we have referred to it) is largely devoid of any ‘news’. If we were writing a letter to friends we would probably fill it with things that have happened to us, but this isn’t that sort of letter. It is virtually all teaching. Paul has been imparting understanding of doctrine for the church. If you want the ‘local news’ you’ll have to ask the messenger, which is why he adds, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing.”

Now Paul doesn’t just leave it there, he adds something that makes us think about the obvious depth of relationship that he has with the Christians in Ephesus: I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.” He anticipates the concern of the Christians at Ephesus for him. When he was with them he wasn’t some ‘distant’ or aloof preacher;  he got involved with them. Thus there was a mutual concern, and so he takes pains to acknowledge that concern and says that Tychicus will bring them up to date with all that has been happening to Paul so that they will not worry about him. That is pastoral concern. Tychicus will thus encourage them. Even more pastoral concern.

He closes his letter with a blessing: Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” See the things he wants for them: peace, love with faith and grace. Peace is the thing he almost invariably asks for whenever he writes to anyone, because he is aware that living in a hostile world means that there is often an absence of peace. Peace is an absence of worry or concerns. The causes may still be there, but peace means that we have come to a place of leaving them with the Lord (see Phil 4:6,7). But then there is love linked with faith that Paul says comes from heaven. Faith, we often say, is responding to that God says, and so here it is the recognition that true love comes through God’s revelation to us. Surely, reading this book, there must come that awareness, of God’s incredible love to us that has brought about all the wonderful things spoken about in the book. Our love comes through the knowledge of Him and all He has done for us!

Finally he asks for grace for all who love the Lord. Grace is simply the supernatural ability to cope in life, to live as Jesus. Note the little prod at the very end: this grace comes to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love. That love will imply a closeness, and grace is actually the expression of the Lord himself in us. The love we have for him came because of what he did for us, is experienced and expressed daily through the empowering and prompting of his Spirit, and will continue into eternity. It is simply part of who we are, united with him.

Well, there we are, at the end. May you be blessed by this book. To conclude, may we recommend that, if you’ve never done it before, you make some time and read it out loud in one go. Be blessed.

52. Prayer

Ephesians Meditations No.52

Eph  6:18-20 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Prayer is the greatest mystery in the Christian experience. Why pray? Why does God want us to pray when He knows every word before we utter it? Does Almighty God limit Himself according to our prayers or lack of prayers? We may have lots of questions and wonderings about prayer, but one thing that these verses tell us is that the apostle Paul totally believed in prayer. We’ve seen it earlier in this little book – he prays, he believes prayer is an essential part of the Christian experience. So let’s see what he says about prayer in these verses that continue on from this whole part that speaks about the body of Christ, the church, about unity, and about spiritual realities.

He starts, And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” This is about specific sort of prayer but applied in a variety of situations in a variety of ways. The specific sort of prayer? Prayer “in the Spirit,” or prayer led by the Spirit. Isn’t all prayer like this? Obviously not otherwise Paul wouldn’t describe it like this. How often do we ask the Lord to inspire and guide us in prayer, I wonder? Or do we just pour out prayers that are self-centred. Spirit-led prayer is first prayer that is submitted to God’s will and puts that first. It is prayer that is inspired, that flows out of a flow of the Holy Spirit from within us, and Spirit-led prayer is revelatory prayer that prays with God’s understanding. Spirit-led prayer emanates from heaven, is expressed through us, and sees answers. A variety of situations? Yes, because Paul says “on all occasions.” i.e. not just at special times, not just ‘in church’ but in a whole variety of places, anywhere you are in life, turn it over to God, seek His will and let Him inspire you to pray. This is a life of prayer, prayer in every areas of life, bringing God into every aspect of life. A variety of ways? Yes, all kinds of prayers and requests.” I’m not sure what this means but at least it means that there is not just one way of praying. Prayer as you feel inspired in whatever way it comes!

But then he says something quite significant that links this in with the context we have referred to already: “With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” This is about the body. “All the saints” are all the believers you know. See your praying as resourcing other people, being a channel through which God’s blessing can flow to other people as you pray. Ask the Lord to show you the needs of other people and also what He wants to do for them, and then pray it. I first saw this with Isaiah. He caught what God’s will was, and then prayed it. Well surely, if you know what God’s will is, what is the point of praying? Surely God will just bring it into being? That is how some people might respond to this. Well no, God seems to delight in involving His children in His activities, in helping them to come to understand His will and then in praying for it and perhaps even, sometimes, being the answer to it. He delights in making it a “God and us” thing. Our part is Spirit-led prayer. I wonder if the church is sometimes so weak because so many of His children don’t understand this and don’t pray?

He continues: “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” This is amazing. This is the great apostle Paul acknowledging that he needs God’s resourcing  and that he’s aware that that resourcing is enabled by the prayers of other people. I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve heard a testimony that says, “The situation just seemed impossible and then suddenly there was breakthrough and I later learnt that there had been people praying for me.” Coincidence? As a friend used to say, well all I know is that when I stop praying the coincidences stop happening. Within our own church I use a small band of faithful praying people with whom from time to time I share things confidentially and I know that that testimony above is true. I was without energy, or a situation seemed impossible and then something changed; energy flowed, wisdom was given, circumstances changed, and I later found out it was as the people had prayed. It’s a mystery but it’s a mystery that works! You need resourcing? Pray! You want a stronger, more united church? Pray!

51. Armour

Ephesians Meditations No.51

Eph  6:14-17 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Sometimes Christians seem to focus on the functions of armour rather than the actual things Paul is talking about, so let’s identify from the outset the things that Paul says comprise our armour: truth, righteousness, availability in the Gospel, faith, salvation and God’s word.

A belt holds everything else in place so truth is the essential element of the Christian’s life without which everything else is questionable. When the enemy attacks, simply ask, “What is the truth here?” That is important because one of his weapons is lies and he uses them to deceive us into wrong thinking. Thus focusing on the truth in any situation is vital. Watch out for half truths as well. Yes, I am a failure but that’s only half the truth. The other half is that despite that I have been saved by God’s grace and mercy. Yes, I do get it wrong but the other half of the truth here is that when I confess it, I am forgiven and cleansed (1 Jn 1:9). Truth also requires me to me real. If I pretend or put on a face, then I make myself vulnerable to the enemy, but when I am seeking to let God work in me and I am patently honest about who I am, then truth prevails and the enemy is thwarted.

A breastplate covers the heart and so righteousness, and the knowledge of it, protects and reassures my heart. There are two sorts of righteousness we need to be aware of. There is the righteousness that God declares over us because we believe Jesus died for us. Thus we ARE righteous in His sight. The other sort is the practical righteousness that is heralded by a clear conscience, the truth that we are doing all we can to live as God wants us to live.

The third thing produces a variety of suggestions from commentators. Shoes essentially let you walk on any sort of terrain. The ‘shoes’ that Paul has in mind, come in the form of readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace. We need to know the truth of the Gospel and that it applies to us and that it is needed by all people. When we are convinced, like Paul, that it is, “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes,” (Rom 1:16) then we can face up to all situations recognizing the needs of those before us, why they act like they do, and what is the answer for them.

A shield is held up before us and protects us and thus faith is the vital defensive weapon in our armoury. Faith is believing and living by the truths that God has spoken to us through His word and through His Spirit, and we have to learn to remain steady and declare to ourselves and to the enemy, “God said…” or as Jesus refuted the enemy, “It is written…” (Mt 4:4,7,10)

A helmet covers the head, the mind, and so my salvation, the truths of it and the facts of it, should cover all of my thinking. Do you notice how many of these things overlap? We’re talking about the truth here, about my state of righteousness, about the gospel that I believe by faith. All of these things protect my mind against the lies that the enemy seeks to bring against me. Oh yes, all the pieces of the so-called armour work together to save me from his attacks.

Finally the sword in my hand is to be God’s word. I should know God’s word and be able to quote it as the truth that cuts through the barrage of lies that he hurls against me. We are what we are because God has brought His word to us and we have believed it. Now we can wield it to counter the untruths spoken against us. The more we know of it the more convinced we can be that we have the truth. The more we learn of it the more we realise that it works, it fits life and it IS the answer to all the needs of the world.

Remember, don’t focus so much on armour so much as what these things are that Paul speaks about. The armour is only a visual aid. It is truth, righteousness, availability in the Gospel, faith, salvation and God’s word that help us stand against the enemy. However, even here there is a danger, that we try to make these things mechanical, whereas they should all come out of our relationship with the Lord. It is Him, and His presence with us, who will save us from the enemy. Yes the ‘armour’ is our activity, our responses to the enemy, if you like, but ultimately our safety, our protection and our security come from the Lord Himself. He is our rock, He is our shield, He is our fortress, as the psalmists tell us.

50. Stand Firm

Ephesians Meditations No.50

Eph  6:13,14 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place

We gave a hint in the previous meditation of where Paul was going with this. It impacts a key understanding for the Christian which radically affects their security. Many people don’t understand the enemy’s limitations – or what goes on in their heads!  We are actually going to deal with the subject of the armour in the next meditation and so, although it is mentioned in the verses above, we want to put it aside for the moment and focus on a different aspect of these verses. It is all about perspective.

You know about perspective don’t you? It’s not a ‘perspective’ that an artist or architect worries about, the depth of the picture; this is more about where you view the thing from. Now many Christians view the Christian life as something that is to be struggled for. They see it as a battle to achieve a place of love, joy, peace etc. etc., a place where they are loved, a place where they feel secure, a place of forgiveness, a place where there is no condemnation. In other words it is a case of having to work for all those things and the battle is to wrestle those things from the enemy. Now that ‘perspective’ is completely wrong!

The truth comes out in one word that Paul uses three times in these verses: ‘stand‘. ‘Stand‘ here means hold onto what IS yours now! I pictured it in the previous meditation as imagining that the Christian life that you have inherited is a plot of land. It is yours and the enemy has no access to it. If you are walking with the Lord with an open heart to Him then the enemy is allowed no access to your life. The worst he can do is scream at you ‘over the fence’. If you get thoughts that are negative, demeaning and which you find pull you down, recognise the source of these – it is him calling over the fence. He’s not there on your plot of land – he’s not allowed in. He can only shout at you from over the fence and you hear his words in your mind. But they are his words, not yours, so don’t put up with them.

The apostle James gave us the answer: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (Jas 4:7) Give yourself over to God and when the enemy turns up with his lies, turn away from him and turn to the Lord (who IS on your plot of land – because His Holy Spirit lives in you), share it with Him, worship Him, speaks the truth about your life, and then turn back to the enemy and tell him where to go! Then get on in peace and quiet enjoying your inheritance.

The apostle Peter also spoke in these terms: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.” (1 Pet 5:8,9)  He knew that Satan comes and roars over the fence at us sometimes and tells you how powerful he is or how powerful his minions are. Just remind him of the truth: “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 Jn 4:4) God is so infinitely greater than a single fallen angel (because that is all Satan is) so don’t let the enemy try and tell you anything to the contrary.

Let’s look at what Paul says here: “Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground.” What are we to do? Put on the full or complete armour that God HAS given us, which we’ll consider in the next meditation. When will we particularly need it? “When the day of evil comes” or when a particularly bad day comes. We do have such days. We feel tired or weak, people are nasty or unkind to us, and the enemy leans over the fence and screams at us about what a failure we are. Something goes wrong with the car or with a member of the family and stuff starts to build up. Things go wrong at work or you are involved in an accident driving in to work. All these things contribute to a bad or evil day. At such times the battle for your mind is on, and at such times you need to rely upon ‘the armour’. But when you do, what will be the outcome? You will “be able to stand your ground.” You will remind yourself who you are, a child of God, you will remind yourself that you are loved of God and that His Spirit lives in you, and you will remind yourself that His grace is there for you, and you will tell the enemy where to go, and you will shine in the darkness!

And then? “And after you have done everything, to stand.” This second ‘stand‘ implies ‘keep on standing’, keep on holding your ground. Having withstood the onslaught you hang on to the godly and righteous life that Jesus has given you, refusing to let go of it, refusing to let darkness enter it. Do you remember a verse we’ve spoken of a number of times previously: he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (Col 1:13).  It’s the same imagery, of land transference. We’ve been taken out of the land where Satan rules, where darkness (evil) prevails and we’ve been transferred to the land where Jesus reigns and (by inference) light (goodness) prevails. So, says Paul a third time, “Stand firm then,” and goes on to launch into descriptions of what the armour is, and we’ll see that in the next meditation. So, today, whatever the enemy says or does, hold on to who you are, and the life you’ve been given. Jesus earned it and it IS yours now – today, this moment! Enjoy it!

49. Warfare

Ephesians Meditations No.49

Eph  6:10-12 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Finally? When preachers say ‘finally’ they usually go on for another quarter of an hour! But this letter is drawing to a close and this is a key and crucial issue before Paul finishes. Remember the context has been the unity of the body of Christ, the church, and Paul has worked through a number of practical issues in the Christian life, things that should not be there and things that should, concluding with thoughts about family life and life working for another, all very practical stuff. Now, in the concluding paragraphs he wants to cover and remind his readers about spiritual realities, about the warfare that is constantly being waged and, as a good pastor, he wants to teach them how to overcome.

The overall call in the coming verses is a call to overcome and he tells us how to do that: “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” It is God’s presence and God’s strength that will help us overcome, not our own strength. This is the wonder of the Christian life, that God’s strength is available for us. However it is not like receiving an injection and suddenly feeling full of energy; very often God’s strength is there but until we get on and do what we are called to do, we’re not aware of the ability He gives us, His strength that always matches the need. That is the truth, His strength always matches the need that He gives us to do, and so we’re not aware of overflowing power, just power to do what needs to be done!

But then Paul uses the language of analogy. It is possible that he is in prison and in chains or at least (and I think this is more likely) that there are guards in the vicinity who wear armour and he likens the things we have from God to pieces of armour, as we’ll see when we move on in the next meditation. For now he gives us a simple instruction, which he will soon enlarge on: “Put on the full armour of God.” Note the word, ‘full’. Not just odds and ends, but the full covering that God has provided. When you put on armour you cover all parts of the body. God doesn’t leave us ‘uncovered’ in any way. He provides full protection for us in the things He has given us. Now comes the reason for this need of this armour: “so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

Yes, this is the truth, that we have an enemy, an adversary.  In many places the Bible testifies to the fact of this fallen angel called Satan, the Accuser, or the devil. His activities are most clearly seen in Genesis 3 where he challenges the truth and tempts Eve and Adam to disregard God’s words.  He tempts, he deceives, he accuses and he attacks (see Job 1,2). He schemes to bring us down, he plots to get us to stop following God and he sows discord and discontent and seeks to get us to lose our perspective. We will see as we go on that our call is to stand, and the picture is of us having being given ground to hold – the truth, the truth about ourselves, the truth about God and the truth of the Gospel. In the fight our enemy seeks to push us off this ‘plot of ground’ so we give up believing the truth and from then on we are vulnerable and will fall.

If we are uncertain of our perspective, Paul spells it out: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” We may think that the troubles we have, the situations we struggle against, are to do with people, but people are only the means that Satan uses to come against us outwardly. He also comes against us inwardly in our minds. This is a spiritual battle and the main part of it is fought in our mind. It’s not just people, it is all those who are ungodly and unrighteous, whether they be human or demon. When people come against us and challenge and oppose us with atheistic arguments, the origins for that are in the spiritual realm from our enemy, who rules their minds.

We need to be quite clear of this before we go on to consider the armour and the battle in detail: this is a spiritual battle, an unseen battle and therefore the answer is with THE Spirit, God Himself.  He is with us and He is for us and He will provide all we need. Remember, part of what we call the Lord’s Prayer says, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Mt 6:13). Do you see the need to pray that on a regular basis?  There is a very real need and we ignore it at our peril.

48. Employment Harmony

Ephesians Meditations No.48

Eph  6:5,6 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.

Perhaps before we get into the teaching of these verses we need to consider the subject of slavery and face the question why Jesus and the church didn’t speak against it. First of all, in Israel itself, the Law required that Israelites must not make their fellow Israelites slaves, and those slaves they had, should be well cared for. Second, and this is only a suggestion, I would suggest that God, Jesus and the early church did not approve of slavery but recognised that the world was not ready to abolish slaves. It would be many centuries before such a thing could come about. Even once men began actively speaking against slavery it took many years to abolish it (and it still exists in some parts of the world). Paul’s letter to Philemon is the only direct reference in the New Testament to the life of a slave and that sheds a very different light on such a life when Christ is involved.

Slaves were a fact of life and Paul recognises that some slaves had become Christians and so he gives very real advice to them. If we want to apply these verses to life today, let’s simply call them employees. Remember the context is the unity of the body of Christ, the church. He starts out: Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.” This is a very high calling so that, even though a slave, they were to obey their masters to the same level that they obey Christ – which would be wholeheartedly.  And note that he doesn’t say, “Obey them if they are good employers.” Our Law says that an employee should obey all lawful instructions of the employer, issued within the course of carrying out the business. Being a slave meant obey any and every instruction. Today we would be content to obey our Law but Paul wants us to have a different motivation: “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.” See your work as working out the will of God is what he has just said. You want to know what God’s will is in respect of your work?  Do it to the best of your ability; do it as if this is the pure will of God for you.

But Paul continues it beyond the verses we have at the top of the page: “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men.” (v.7) There, if it hadn’t been clear enough before, it should be now: work as if you are directly serving God. Then he gives a reason: “because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.” (v.8) Wow! Your working well, as an example of a child of God, will mean God will bless you as His child, because He blesses anyone who determines to do good, and so will especially bless His children. So when you go to work, see yourself first and foremost as one of God’s children and you are going off to live out the life you have been given at the moment in such a way that your heavenly Father will be blessed by you and will in turn bless you

For many of us, work can be tedious and boring and we see little value in it. See it now as an opportunity to shine as a child of God, being an example to the world, and particularly those you encounter at work. Be the best worker you can and bless those you meet in the course of your work so that their hearts may be touched by you but, even more importantly, your Father’s heart may be blessed because of you.

But this is a two sided coin, this employment business; there are ‘masters’ or employers. Our Common Law speaks of employers as ‘masters’, seeing them as those in charge of the business. Now you may the employer, the one who owns the business, or you may be his or her representative, their manager, responsible for people below you. So Paul now addresses these people: “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.” (v.9) Again, as we said above, he recognises that slavery was at that time a fact of life and so instructs them to deal well with their slaves. When he says, in the same way’ he means use them as if you were doing it before the Lord. The Lord sees slaves and employees as people, significant people, and so if we are an employer we too should treat them as significant people. If we are both Christians, we are to remember we are both members of the body of Christ – and that might throw a very different light on the situation.

The roles of employer and employee should, through Christ’s eyes, be seen as a relationship, a meaningful, mutual-blessing interaction. I wonder, if we were able to refresh our understanding of our work and see it in this light, what changes it might bring? Dare to think it through with the fresh eyes of faith.

47. Family Harmony

Ephesians Meditations No.47

Eph  6:1-4 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour 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. “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

The context you may remember is of submission creating unity in the church, the body of Christ. Paul developed that concept through the picture of marriage and now extends it into the whole family. It is a subject – and through these verses especially – that often raises a number of questions. Paul starts off, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” He is looking at the parent-child relationship and so starts with the child who is the one who is most likely to have difficulty with the submission concept. This especially comes so in teenage years when the young person is seeking to find their own identity, and part of that process involves temporarily drawing away from the parent. It is also difficult when the child is a Christian and the parent is not and the parent makes demands that conflict with the faith of the young person. It may also be difficult when the parent is a Christian and the young person has not made a decision for Christ themselves.

In the call to children there are two things that deserve particular attention. The first is the word obey’. The role of the parent in God’s design is to be there to provide for and protect the child and, if we follow Old Testament teaching, to train up the child (Prov 22:6). Part of those things will be to issue instructions which may vary from the mundane (e.g. please will you pick up that toy off the floor), to the more serious, (e.g. I really don’t want you mixing with those teenagers who are taking drugs). If we ever had a question of the reality of sin (rebellion), observe any child! The wilful refusal to do that which is asked (or required) leads us into discipline issues, which are beyond what we have space for here.

The second thing to consider is Paul’s use of the words, ‘in the Lord’. Now he obviously includes these for a reason and that, we suggest, is similar to our thinking when it comes to the requirements of the State. The Law, or the instructions of the parent, should never go contrary to God’s laws, instructions etc. Thus a non-Christian (although tragically this doesn’t exclude some Christian men), who brings instruction to a child that involves them submitting to abuse, is wrong and should not be heeded. Wisdom suggests that as the child gets older instructions give way to discussion, i.e. bald commands give way to explanation. It is always wise to put in some form of explanation with every instruction (e.g. …otherwise your toy might get broken if you leave it there) but in teenage years talking and discussing (in a family forum?) are much better and are an acceptance and recognition of the child’s growing responsibility.

Then Paul gives a reason for ‘obeying’ parents, and it is because it goes with the original Old Testament instruction as the fifth of the Ten Commandments: “Honour 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.” Honouring is slightly different from ‘obeying’ in that obeying can be an expression of honouring. Honouring is more about having an attitude of respect, a recognition of the role that God has given to this older person. It isn’t about how well they have performed it! So important did God consider this that He made it a condition of blessing, originally in the Promised Land, but now in life generally. I wonder how many young people DON’T realise this (or older ‘children’ too!) that God’s blessing on their life can be curtailed because of a bad attitude towards their parent?  Even when the parent has not been good, godly ‘honouring’ should produce a concern for (and prayer for?) that parent.

There is another side to this submitting which might be simply summarised as ‘don’t make it difficult to be submitted to’: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Why does Paul say this to fathers? First, because fathers, as the ones who have the responsibility before the Lord for the family, should be the ones taking the ultimate action to bring about the training in righteousness of the child and, second, fathers tend to be more heavy handed in these things than the mother. It is thus something that, for both reasons above, the father needs to give particular thought to.

A final comment: in all of these things pertaining to family relationships, legalistic demanding of them does no good. Whatever else is required of such parental leading, the primary thing is love and acceptance. Let those two things temper all you do with your child, and increasingly as they grow older. If there is a genuine loving relationship, there is more likely to be obedience that flows out in response to that love. You will also need to cry to the Lord for wisdom on more than a few occasions! May it be so!

46. Loving Unity

Ephesians Meditations No.46

Eph  5:29-33 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. “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

There are three facts of life that we, as Christians, would always do well to bear in mind, especially when we are faced with instructions in God’s word. The first fact is that God has designed this world – including us – and He knows best how we work. The second fact is that we are a sinful human race. Adam and Eve turned away from God and that tendency is inherent in every one of us since. Thus we tend to disregard God and do our own thing, living our own way. The third fact is that God has chosen Israel and then the Church to receive His Law or His instructions that reveal His ways for people to live in relationship with Him and according to His design so that what we call ‘blessing’ can follow. So, to recap and summarise it: God knows best, we don’t, and He’s given to us the ways to live so that blessing follows.

So, back in Ephesians, Paul has moved on in his letter to practical applications of the Christian life and has recently laid down the principle of submission to one another, which he has then applied to marriage. In the previous verses we saw his call to husbands to lay down their lives in sacrificial love for their wives, and in the way they care for their wives practically, will be an expression of how they care (love) for themselves – but that that is to be similar to the way Christ loves the church: “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. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (5:25-28) [sorry we need to recap that whole part to see it as an entire picture]

It is at this point that Paul elaborates on that but then swings back in to speak about the church again: “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.” He keeps on swinging back and forth between church and marriage, with the suggestion that there are similarities we need to consider. We are members of Christ’s body, the church and he, as our head, loves us because we are his body. If marriage is a unity with the husband as the head, he should surely love the ‘body’ part of the marriage, the wife, just as much.

As Paul thinks on this he reflects back to the Genesis mandate: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” which quotes Gen 2:24 and then he quickly adds, “This is a profound mystery,” which we might take to mean the mystery of oneness in marriage, but he immediately swings back to refer to the church: “but I am talking about Christ and the church.” What? Hold on!  But we thought you were talking about marriage?  He is but it is so interlinked with the picture of the church that the mystery of the one reflects on the mystery of the other. So what is the mystery of Christ and the church? Surely it is the wonder that the perfect Son of God, Spirit who took on a human body, can be united with a mass of human bodies that we call the church. It is that opposites can be joined to produce something even more wonderful. Thus in marriage the mystery is that two such incredibly different beings (and we are, and if you deny that you just don’t know male and female!) can be united into a oneness which, when it is working according to God’s design, is incredibly wonderful!

So he summarises his basic teaching: “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” The ‘however’ indicates that he is moving away from the big picture to the detail instructions again. The man is to express the same love to his wife as he does for himself. The wife is to respect (note the different word he now uses to clarify the teaching) the husband. Respect means to acknowledge the role and responsibility that God has bestowed on the man. As we’ve said previously, the buck stops with him. The Lord will be watching him to see that he brings death to self when necessary and lays down his life, his desires and wants, for the life and well-being of his wife (but never denying the truth). As a Christian he will pray for his wife and his family, recognising that their protection is his responsibility and it starts in the spiritual realm. He will not be casual as he takes the prayer structure that Jesus gave, that God’s name will be honoured in their family (Mt 6:9), for God’s will to be done in their family (Mt 6:10), that God will provide for their family (Mt 6:11), that right attitudes will be upheld in the family (Mt 6:12), and that sin and the work of the enemy will be kept from the family (Mt 6:13). Respect is earned, not claimed, and when the husband does these things, his headship will be seen for what it is, and he will be respected. Tough stuff! Men, are you doing it?

45. Sacrificial Love

Ephesians Meditations No.45

Eph  5:25-28 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. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

‘Love’ has a variety of meanings. In modern life it has acquired a strong link with sexual relationship but that is not the love that is referred to in the Bible. In the New Testament, there are two words used for love. One of them refers to brotherly love, the other, the main one, refers to a commitment; this is ‘agape’ love and it is the love of God and the love between Father and the Son, and it is the Son’s love for is. It is not about warm fuzzy emotional feelings, it is about commitment. Modern love goes through sexual relationship to friendship to commitment, but that is not the way God has designed us to work best and the numbers of cohabiting partnerships or even marriages based on this approach but which break up, are a testimony to this. God’s order is friendship first, then commitment, then sex as the outworking of that commitment. Real love, as the Bible sees it, goes through the phase of getting to know a person well and then, despite what you know (!) you come to a place of commitment. Yes feelings do have a part in it all but the feelings of love have content, first of all knowing about the person and then committing to that person.

Now what is interesting is that Paul in these verses in Ephesians, chapter 5, doesn’t ask the woman to ‘love’ the man, but to submit to him. Now that isn’t a cultural or simply historical reason, I suggest; it is to do with the fact that the woman, with her child-bearing capabilities, lives very much more on the basis of emotions, and of course emotions go up and down. So, implied Paul in the verses we considered previously, let the man take the responsibility before God for your lives together. Now when it comes to the man, the command is quite different: Husbands, love your wives,” and love here means be totally committed to your wife.

Now I have to suggest that some of our ideas about why ‘submit’ and why ‘love’ are purely speculation for Paul doesn’t really tell us why the distinction. It may be something quite different from what I have suggested above. It may be that Paul knows that the woman’s tendency (sinfully) is to seek to dominate her husband by words, and thus his call to submit, puts that tendency to death. It may be that Paul knows that men are far more open to be driven or motivated purely by sex and vulnerable to illicit relationships, and therefore to counteract that tendency, he calls for total commitment which gives no leeway for that to happen.

In case there is any question in the mind of the man reading Paul’s words, he makes it quite clear: “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.” In other words, men, if you want to know what Paul is calling you to, it is to a life that a) lays down self for the other, and b) is totally committed to working to bless the other to bring them into being the very best person they can be.

Observe, first of all, the first of those two things.  This love is sacrificial. It means that you will lay down your life for the wellbeing of your wife. That is the starting attitude that is required. This means that you lay down your own personal desires and preferences to bless your partner. But then I suggested that the second part, looking at what Christ IS doing for the church, means that your life is committed to be working to bless your wife so much that she is changed for the better. This is not you trying to get her to conform to your ideas of what makes a perfect wife, but you simply express your love for her so much that she is changed by the love.

Se how Paul finishes it off: “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” Perhaps Paul has in mind here the oneness that is found in Genesis: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24). Paul knows that we ‘love’ our own bodies, we care for them, protect them and look after them, so he instructs us men to love our wives in the same way as we love ourselves and because in marriage there is this oneness, when we love our wife like this, we love ourselves.

44. Submission

Ephesians Meditations No.44

Eph  5:21-24 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 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 Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Paul, in this chapter, has been covering aspects of the Christian life. He’s moved on from what God has done to what we must now do. He started with a call for us to imitate God (v.1,2), and followed it by a continuation of things that must not appear in the Christian life (v.3-7). He then went on to explain why, using the analogy of light and darkness (v.8-14), followed by a call to be wise as to how we live and to live a Spirit-filled life (v.15-20). Earlier on he had spoken about unity (4:3) because there is just one body (4:4).

This present paragraph is difficult because of what is viewed today as its contentious nature, as he speaks about husband and wife relationships. However, we should see it in the context of the unity of the body (which crops up within it) and it is clear that Paul has this in his mind when he writes. He starts out with a general call to all the church: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” We have commented in the past about the fruit of ‘gentleness’ which, when it is there, produces a pleasing, conciliatory approach to others. Submission has the same feeling behind it.

Taking the negative approach first, when you submit to another, there is no room for pride or arrogance and no room for you to push your will to the detriment of others. Now to be positive, when you submit to someone you make yourself open to them, to listen to them, to receive them and what they have to say. Submission is a practical outworking of love.

Paul had the same idea in mind when he said, “Honour one another above yourselves.” (Rom 12:10) and “in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3). Peter had the same idea when he said, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Pet 5:5) Submission and humility go hand in hand. Those who object to the concept of submission fail to realise that it is a call to humility.

We should note in passing that it is a call to “submit to one another,” i.e. it is mutual submission. This is a clever strategy for it does not mean, ‘be a doormat to all others’ because it is mutual submission and so NO ONE becomes dominant!  I have never heard this spoken about and so I conclude that it is something that is rarely realised. We are ALL to be servants of one another and therefore there is NO room whatsoever for anyone to dominate or domineer over another. The kingdom of God has only one master – Jesus! The rest of us are servants.

When Paul comes to the marriage situation, he realises that the sinfulness of mankind is given fertile ground in which to flourish. If these verses have been seen as contentious, it is simply because sin is lurking, waiting to rise up and make claims on behalf of ‘self’. Now we really do need to see this before we carry on, otherwise, depending on whether you are a man or a woman, you may take particular ‘sides’ and so generate or egg on what the world calls ‘the battle of the sexes’. This should NOT exist in the Christian world, and it is this very thing which works against unity in the body and works against harmony in relationships.

Now because we can only take a certain amount each day, we will only be touching on the woman’s side today, but any men reading this should realise that their part is coming soon and it speaks death to ‘self’ even more, so there is no grounds whatsoever for men to be able to take these words and use them as ammunition in the ‘battle of the sexes.’ You have been warned!

Paul continues: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” Ladies this is not to make you a grovelling heap, for the reasons we have given above – he is to submit to you as well! However, if you consider what we said initially about submission above, it does mean that “when you submit to someone you make yourself open to them, to listen to them, to receive them and what they have to say,” and “there is no room for pride or arrogance and no room for you to push your will,” and “Submission is a practical outworking of love.” (The same is going to apply to him so don’t get all defensive!).

In case you think this is just Paul, remember the apostle Peter has the same ideas: Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” (1 Pet 3:1,2). Notice the ‘without words’ – which means no nagging. Modern science suggests you are more capable with words but therein is a danger that you try to browbeat your partner with words – and that does nothing for harmony and unity. (Prayer does a lot more!)

Then Paul gives his reasoning: For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” The buck has to stop with someone he is saying. God looks to husbands to carry the can for what happens in the family.  That’s all that this ‘head’ language means. It’s all about responsibility. Women are often wiser than men, I believe, simply because they often also work on emotions, care, concern, and intuition, but each of those things also makes them vulnerable. Paul is trying to protect them at their most vulnerable point but sadly that is the opposite of how so many see it today (and yes, men have so often neglected their side – see the following meditations – and given cause). You may need a lot of grace to work through to the truth as God sees it, in the light of the pressures of ‘the world’ today, but there is something better than we’ve had in the past or that we’ve got today. There is God’s way.