Married to Jesus – Ephesians 5:22-33

In the midst of Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22-33 is an interesting comparison to Christ and his church.  Much of what Paul has to say to both parties in the marriage relationship is compared to the relationship between Jesus, as the husband, and the church, as his bride.  My previous blog post discussed the husband/wife relationship but I believe that the Christ/church relationship is also worth exploring.

While a certain amount of what Paul has had to say in Ephesians is directed at individual believers, he has also had a lot to say concerning the church as a body; much of it concerned with helping the church to mature.  And that is true in this passage as well.  It is the church, as a body, rather than individual members, being addressed in this passage.  But at the same time it is important to realize that I am a member of that body, and the body will only reach its potential as I, and others like me, commit to it and fulfill the role we were called to.

The role of the church in this relationship is simply to submit to Christ; in everything.  Paul has already shared with us that the church is central to God’s plan and that he has equipped the church for success.  All we have to do is submit to him.  But I have a struggle with that; submission requires me (us) to give up control, doing not what we think is best, or makes us most comfortable, but doing what Christ tells us to do.

For a successful marriage with Christ, the church needs to be united as one body, growing in maturity, seeing Christ’s direction for us, and then submitting to that direction.  Without unity, without maturity, without knowing the direction we should go, it will not be possible for us, as a church, to submit to our husband in everything.

But how does a church reach this unity and maturity?  I would not pretend to know all of the answers to that, but it seems to me that it will only happen as each of us, as members of that body, learn to submit to each other and to Christ; as we choose to take the role our Lord has given to us; and as we do our part in building up the body.

Christ is described as loving the church and giving himself up for her.  In doing so he made her holy and clean, and can now present her to himself as a radiant, holy and blameless bride.  Many of the Old Testament prophets painted a picture of Israel being married to God, describing what God had done in taking a poor, rejected, and often immoral, young woman, pulling her out of the filthy environment she was in, cleaning her up, giving her new clothes to wear, and then entering into a marriage covenant with her.  This is the same picture, in fewer words, that Paul is painting here.  Jesus paid the ultimate price to claim his church, cleaned her up, put her into beautiful clothes and claimed her as his bride.

To me, the most interesting part of this passage is in verses 21 & 22.  It starts off with a quote from Genesis that many people include in their wedding ceremony: “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 illustrates leaving the old life and family relationships behind, and becoming something new; two people becoming one flesh.  That becoming one flesh is the most intimate relationship we have.

And this is followed by: “This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.”  Could it really be that Paul views the relationship between a husband and wife as an illustration of the relationship between Christ and his church?  It would appear so.  Fortunately Paul says that it is a profound mystery, so it is probably OK if I do not fully understand all of the implications of this verse.  But at the very least it refers to an intimacy between Christ and his church, of which I am a part, which goes well beyond the master/servant relationship we more commonly think of.

A similar passage comes from John 17:20-22 and following: “My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”  Jesus prayer in this passage is that his future followers, us, would experience the same unity together that Jesus does with the Father.   And not only would we share that oneness with each other, but that we would also share it with God.

I honestly don’t know just what to make of these two passages.  But at the very least it seems clear that God desires an intimacy with his people, Christ’s bride, that goes beyond anything that we can experience apart from him.  The closest we can get is the intimate relationship between a husband and his wife.  But I suspect that is really just a shadow of the reality he is inviting us to be a part of.

So just how do I experience this intimacy with God and my fellow believers?  I believe the answer lies in the word ‘submit’.  The one thing I really don’t want to do, is the one thing I need to do to experience the joy of knowing my creator in a very personal way.

All In the Family – Ephesians 5:22 – 6:9

In Ephesians 5:22 – 6:9, Paul deals with some specific family type relationships.  Some of these are very challenging to 21st century westerners and are often the most controversial passages in Ephesians.  Wives submitting to their husbands as well as instructions for slaves and their masters just don’t seem to sit well with a lot of people.  But before sharing some thoughts on these passages, it might be useful to examine another issue first.

Does the Bible define an ‘ideal’ family relationship?  Or does it provide guidance for dealing with the family situation in the day that it was written in?  While there may be some element of truth to the first possibility, I believe the second is more realistic.  When Paul gives instructions to families in Ephesians, I believe he is recognizing the current socially accepted family life and is providing guidance to Christians who find themselves in any of those family relationships.  And if that is the case, then as the socially accepted family life changes over time, we may need to be a bit more careful how we apply the guidance provided.

So what was the family like in the 1st century Roman world?  While it consisted of a married man and woman along with their children, the resemblance to modern families in the western world ends there.  This was a very male dominated society where women and children are little more than property.  Marriages were most commonly arranged by the parents, for reasons other than love.  The oldest living male in an extended family had overall control, even over grown sons with families of their own.  Slavery was an accepted part of society and slaves were often considered part of the extended family.

To the believers in this type of family Paul gave the following directions:

  • Wives, submit to your husbands.
  • Husbands (man), love your wives like you do yourself.
  • Children, obey your parents.
  • Fathers (man), train your children in the Lord.
  • Slaves, respect and serve your masters wholeheartedly.
  • Masters (man), respect your slaves.

Notice here that wives, children and slaves and told only to do what they are already expected to do; submit, obey and serve.  But for all three they are to do it as if their husband, father or master was Christ himself.  Treat that one who is authority over you in the same way you would if Jesus was the one in that place.

It is when Paul turns to the man that things get dramatically turned around.  Rather than treat the other three groups in the family as property, we are to love as ourselves, train rather than frustrate, and treat with respect.  This is a pretty radical set of directions that, if followed, would work to transform the family life.

The onus of this passage is really on the man, the head of the family.  He was the dominate member of the family, and only as he changed could the family really become something different.  The others are encouraged to cooperate with him and make his task easier.

So how does this relate to family life today?  For most of us slavery is considered as barbarian with no place in our society.  And, while the western world still has some element of male dominance, it is no longer anything like it was in the first century.  So can we ignore the admonitions that seem at odds to our families today?  Or is it possible that there is something that we can still learn from them?

In particular, what about the direction for a wife to submit to her husband; something many men dream about and their wives laugh about?  Take a look at 5:21: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  This is a general guideline for relations between believers and would seem to include telling husbands to submit to their wives as much as wives to their husbands.  In submitting to each other as believers, as members of the body of Christ, we are putting each other’s interests ahead of our own; something that is challenging, but needful if we are to live in community as a body.  How much more important in the context of a marriage that the two put each other’s interests above their own?

In Matthew 20:25-28 Jesus responds to a request for prominence by two of his disciples with some direction concerning kingdom greatness: “whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.”  To live life as a disciple of Jesus, as a citizen of the kingdom of God, is to live as a servant.  Even Christ “did not come to be served, but to serve.”  Do you think it might be then that believing husbands might also reasonably be expected to serve their believing wives?

And that is really the instruction that Paul gives to us, to love our wives as Christ loved the church, and as we love our own bodies.  What a radical thought for a first century man; rather than be lord of his home, he is to love and care for his wife, as well as the other members of his family.  While our wives may be uncomfortable with this passage today, I would bet it was the men who were when Paul wrote it.  Regardless the social mores of your day and place, choose to submit to and serve each other within your marriage.  Work together for each other’s enrichment and for the strengthening of your marriage.

Before leaving this section on marriage, I believe it is worth noting that Paul’s instruction to the wife to submit is not the same thing as instruction to the husband to force submission.  Those who would seek to use this passage as an excuse to subjugate their wives, or women in general, are seriously misusing this passage.

In regards to slavery, are not the guidelines Paul gives useful in the employee/employer relationship?  As an employee, should I not try to be pleasing to my boss, not just when he is watching, but all the time; serving him as though I were serving God?  And as a manager, should I not treat my employees with respect and help them to be successful?

I believe it is OK, and actually preferably, if our home life does not model the first century home life that Paul is addressing.  But the direction he gives to those homes still has application to us today.  Treat each other with love and respect and seek the advancement of your family, even if it costs you personally.

 

Imitators of God – Ephesians 5:1-6

The fifth chapter of Ephesians starts off with an interesting directive: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children“.  If you are like me, your initial response to this might be something along the line of “Huh!  How could I possibly imitate the creator of this universe and all that’s in it?  I have a hard enough time managing my own life without attempting to manage a universe.”  But fortunately that’s not really what Paul meant, and he goes on to give us better instruction in the process of being a God imitator.

Live a life of love

The first clue in how to imitate God comes in verse 2; live a life of sacrificial Christ-like love.  If we are to imitate God, then our best example to follow is that of Jesus, who was God incarnate.  God loved me and gave himself for me.  If I am going to imitate him then I need to love those around me and be willing to give myself for them.

Sexual immorality, any kind of impurity, and greed are out.  And not only are these things to be avoided, we should not even give people a cause to suspect them in us.  They are improper for God’s holy people.  Paul goes so far as to warn us that if these things characterize our life, then we have no place in the kingdom of God.  We cannot be like God and be immoral, impure or greedy.  And note the connection Paul established between greed and idolatry.  Greed, the desire for more and more, is a form of idol worship; you are worshiping the god of materialism.

In verses 4 & 6 Paul again returns to our speech.  He has already told us that only things that are helpful to others should come out of our mouth.  And now he expands unwholesome talk (4:29) to include obscenity, foolish talking and coarse joking.  My mouth oftentimes seems to have a mind of its own, and I really need to guard against letting it run unattended.  Rather than speech that is hurtful or vulgar, focus on helpful and thanksgiving.  Paul also warns us against those who would come with deceitful and empty words.  Don’t be taken in by those would try to lead us astray (4:14).

Live as children of light

We used to live in darkness, separated from the light of Christ.  But that is our past and we should no longer live like that.  Instead we should shine the light of Christ into the darkness and expose those actions for what they really are.  Where the light shines, there is no place for the darkness.

Now we are light, children of light, and should live accordingly.  Imitate God, find out what pleases him, and do that.  If it is truly good, righteous, or true, then we can embrace it and know that it pleases God.  In any situation, we should be able to do what is right, what is good, hold to what is true.  If I am indeed a child of the light, then it will be clear to me what is right, good and true.  I should not be deceived about that by those who would draw me away from God to follow their own agenda.

Live with wisdom

While some will claim that our technological and societal advances are ushering in a new age of enlightenment and growth for humanity, Paul paints an entirely different picture; the days are evil.  Much of the so called advancements that we have made have come at the cost of leaving behind the supposedly old and outdated images of God that have tied us down for so long; a return to darkness.

Be wise and make the most of every opportunity.  Look for ways to allow the light of Christ to shine into the dark world around us.  Do not foolishly follow the ways of the world in its wisdom.  Rather know and understand the will of God and choose to follow it instead.

Be filled with the Spirit of God, and allow the Spirit to speak out through you.  Let’s sing together in praise of God, and give thanks to him, regardless what is going on around us.

How does one imitate God?  By living a life of love, by living as a child of the light, and by living with wisdom.

Out With the Old, In With the New – Ephesians 4:17-24

In the first part of Ephesians 4, Paul talked about life in the body and concludes with the importance of each body part effectively functioning within the body, helping the body to mature and grow into Christ, our head.  In the remainder of this chapter Paul gives us some practical ideas of how to live in community within the body.

In Eph. 4:17-19 Paul describes the life of unbelievers and challenges us not to be like them.  He has two primary negatives that he shares in relation to the Gentiles, or unbelievers.  The first has to do with their way of thinking.  It is described as futile, darkened, and ignorant.  I suspect that most unbelievers would take offense at this characterization of their thought processes.  But if God truly does exist and has a purpose for me, would it not be foolish and ignorant for me to consider life apart from him; to exclude him from my thought processes?  It would be to some extent similar to trying to plan a trip to the moon without taking gravity into consideration.  It would result in failure and would induce pity in those who knew better.

The second negative is that they have given themselves over to sensuality.  We oftentimes think of sensuality in terms of loose sexual morals.  But it really goes beyond that.    One definition of sensuality is “the condition of being pleasing or fulfilling to the senses.”  If you are living in the realm of the physical senses, looking for things that will be pleasing to them, then you are living in sensuality.  If good tasting food, hot cars, quiet and beautiful scenery, music, clothes, beautiful people, etc. are what you are living for, then Paul’s comments in this passage are directed toward you.  We should not live like that.

Instead, in Eph. 4:20-24 Paul tells us to put off that old person, who is living for self and leaving God out of the equation, and to be made new.  We are to be made new in the attitude of our minds, factoring God into the equation and recognizing his place in our lives and in the creation.  We are also to put on a new self, created to be like God, living for him in righteousness and holiness, rather than living for self in sensuality.  The new life we are to live deals with both of the negatives that Paul has described concerning unbelievers, being renewed both mentally and in our conduct.

The remainder of the chapter gives us some clues as to how to live this new life.  Included in this list are admonitions to:

  • Speak truthfully to each other within the body.  If we are going to be a body, we need to be able to trust each other.  And lying to each other will shatter that needed trust.  So why are we tempted to lie?  Seems to me it is mostly because I am either trying to hide something I did, or bring harm to someone else.  And neither of those is desirable for developing close personal relationships within the body.
  • We need to deal appropriately with anger.  Paul does not tell us to avoid anger, but rather to avoid sinning in our anger.  There are times when anger may be an appropriate response to some event or situation.  But we need to be careful how we respond when angry, and we need to deal with anger quickly.  Don’t allow it to fester and build up inside you.
  • Taking from others needs to transform itself into giving to others who are in need.  Stealing is a self first action, while giving is an others first action.  Which is better for life in the body of Christ, or in any other community?
  • Our conversation is another area of concern.  Take the time to listen to yourself.  How often is what you are saying helpful or useful to the ones listening to you?  It seems often that our conversation is ‘talking about’ other people, or something that really has no value.  How much conversation would survive the ‘helpful to others’ filter if we applied it to ourselves?
  • The Holy Spirit is actively at work in the life of the believer.  We can follow his direction, which is pleasing.  Or we can choose to do our own thing, which would grieve him.  This is really very similar to a parent and child.  How often does a child disobey and thus grieve their parent; although that does not make them any less loved, or terminate the relationship.  In a similar fashion, when I disobey God it causes disappointment, but does not necessarily remove me from his love.
  • And finally Paul gives us a list of things to avoid in our interactions as well as a sample of more positive approaches.  Bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander all serve to disrupt relationships in the body.  Kindness, compassion and forgiveness serve to build up those relationships.  If what you are doing or feeling hinders the life of the body, then stop it.  Look instead for ways to build up the body of Christ.

I do not believe that Paul’s list above should be taken legalistically or as a complete set of requirements.  Rather look at it as some general direction that will help us to live as members of the body.  All of these things will help us to live within the body.  But more important than just jumping on these few things is to adopt a new mental attitude and to try and live in a way that would be pleasing to God and helpful to your fellow believers.  Are you willing to subvert your own interests in favor of being a new person in Christ?  Are you willing to do what is best for the body regardless the personal cost?

Working Worthy – Ephesians 4:1-6

One of the most fascinating creatures to me is the Portuguese Man o’ War.  Many people mistakenly think of the Man o’ War as a jellyfish, but in reality, while bearing superficial resemblance, it is something else all together.

The Man o’ War is actually a colony of four distinct types of polyps.  The float/sail is a single polyp, and the original polyp of the colony.  Attached to the sail are collections of three additional polyps; one for food capture, a second for digestion, and a third for reproduction.  This colony of organisms are so tightly integrated together that they are unable to survive apart from the colony.  The only exception to this is the sail polyp from which all the others are formed.

So what does this have to do with walking worthy?  In Ephesians 4:1-6 Paul urges us to walk worthy of the calling we have received.  He then proceeds to tell us to be humble, gentle, patient, put up with each other, and to make every effort to live at peace.  Followed by a long list of things for which there is only one: body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, and God & Father.

Paul has been talking about what Christ has done to heal the division between Jew and Gentile, working to produce a single man; 2:11-22.  And then discussed the revealed mystery of Christ, that we are to be members of one body; 3:2-6.  And he is going to go on from here to challenge us to live as a single body growing and building itself up in love; 4:11-16.  The common theme to all of these passages is that the body of Christ, rather than being like a herd of zebras racing across the savanna as independent creatures who travel together, should seek to mimic the Man o’ War, to be a single body.

If I am called to be a part of a body, then how do I walk worthy of that calling?  Some will look at this expression and see in it a call to live such a good life that I become worthy of God’s calling.  But given the context I believe he means something else altogether.  I walk worthy of my calling as a body part by functioning as best I can as that part, losing myself for the good of the body.

The body parts for the Man o’ War are simple; you’re either transportation, food capture, digestion or reproduction.  There is no question about your role, and each member of the colony does its job to the fullest.  The body of Christ is much more complex, with many more parts, and each part with a history of acting independently.  But none-the-less, I believe the Man o’ War has a powerful lesson to teach the body of Christ in the unity we are called to achieve.

Walking worthy of being a body part is actually pretty hard for me, it is contrary to my nature.  So how can I pull it off?  By being completely humble, by being patient, by bearing with other body parts in love, by making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (4:2-3).  All of those actions are concerned with interpersonal relationship within the body, looking to put the interests of the body ahead of my own. The Man o’ War does that and prospers as a colony, resulting in the individual members also prospering.  Is it not possible that if we all put the good of the body ahead of our own good that the body would prosper, and that as it did we would also?

Stay tuned for part 2.

Prayer – Ephesians 1:15-23

Do you have a prayer list?  If so, what’s on it?  If you are like me, and most others that I know, it is filled with the personal and physical needs of self, family members, friends and others you have come into contact with.  And it will likely include some whose salvation you are praying for.  All of that is well and good, but how do you pray for a believer who does not have cancer or the flu, does not have any problems at work or at home, whose dog hasn’t run away and dad is alive.  How do you pray for one who is faithfully serving God and loving others around them?

In several of Paul’s letters he gives us an example of how to pray for each other and Ephesians 1:15-23 is one of those.  Paul prays that the recipients of this letter would be given a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they could know God better.  And I do want to know God better, both intellectually and relationally.  I want to know more about who God is, what he is doing in this world and what he has planned for me.  And I also want to have a more intimate relationship with him.  I am not satisfied with where I am in my knowledge of God.

Paul also prays that the ‘eyes of their heart’ would be enlightened.  Paul is wanting his readers to see some things, not with their physical eyes, but with a spiritual discernment.  The three things he specifically mentions will all enable them to be more effective and stand firm in the Lord’s service.  Having eyes focused where they need to be will help to prevent discouragement and side trips on the journey he has set before us.

The first of these three things is that we would ‘know the hope he has called us toward’.  God has called, or invited, us to an escape from a coming destruction and into an eternal future with him.  That is currently a hope for us since it has not happened yet.  But hope is not just a wish; it is a ‘favorable and confident expectation’, something we are confident will take place in his time.  What a difference it can make in my life when I know what God has invited me to experience with him.  How the appeal of this world should fade and my desire turn toward him.Paul gives an example of what knowing this hope can do for you in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.  Here Paul compares the light and momentary troubles he is experiencing with the eternal glory that awaits him and finds that there is no comparison.  All of the ship wrecks, beatings and abuse that he suffered in carrying out the Lord’s commission to him are nothing compared to the hope he has.  If we had that vision of the hope he had called us to, what a difference is would make in how we lived today.

The second thing Paul would have us know is ‘the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints’.  In the Old Testament, Israel’s inheritance was the land that they lived in.  It was given to them by God because they themselves belonged to God.  But for New Testament believers there is no promise for a land of our own or for earthly riches.  Rather we have a glorious inheritance that awaits us beyond this life; a place in the kingdom of God.  Membership in the kingdom is something we have now, but the glory to be revealed in us is still an upcoming event.  Why strive for the riches of this world that pale in comparison with the glory of the inheritance that awaits me.In Romans 8:15-17 Paul tells us that as children of God that we are heirs of God, co-heirs with Christ.  Our inheritance is not just a little pittance or after thought.  Rather we will be joint heirs with Christ.  I don’t know just what to make of being a joint heir with Christ, but at the very least it tells me that what awaits is going to be pretty special.  What is there in this world that is worth comparing with the inheritance that awaits.  Why should anything in this world lure my attention away from that.

The third thing on his list is that we would know ‘his great power for us who believe’.  God’s power is directed toward us, shaping and enabling us, conforming us to the image of Christ.  That same power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him above all things is also at work in my life.  Knowing that God’s power is at work within should keep me from discouragement and thoughts of “I can’t do that” when God calls me to do something.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.To know God better, and to have a better understanding of what he is doing within me and what he has prepared for me; this was Paul’s prayer for other believers.  And it is also my prayer for you as well as for myself.  What could be better that a closer and more effective walk with our Creator and Lord.

Spiritual Blessings – Ephesians 1:3

Ephesians is one of my favorite books in the Bible.  Paul packs an awful lot of material into such a short letter, and its hard to fully comprehend all that he is saying.  I started reading it through again a few days ago, this time spending time meditating on what it is that Paul had to say to me.  And it didn’t take long before it struck me with a new freshness.

There is an old song that I used to hear and sing a lot called ‘Count Your Blessings’.  I am sure Paul never heard this song, but he takes its message to heart at the beginning of Ephesians by offering a note of praise to God for his blessings and then shares some of them with us.  One of the things I find interesting about Paul’s list of blessings is that it bears so little resemblance to what most of us would likely come up with: sunshine, good health, recovery from sickness, great spouse, good job, pleasant experience, and most anything else that one finds to be positive.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realm with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” – Ephesians 1:3 NIV

Paul’s praise to God is for spiritual blessings rather than the physical things we generally identify as blessings.  And these blessings are in the ‘heavenly realm’ rather than in the physical world we see around us.  Those are the blessings he cares about, and maybe I should also learn to praise God for them.  Over the next 11 verses Paul identifies at least some of these blessings.  It is hard for me to know for sure just were to divide these verses up into specific blessings, and you may list them a bit differently, but I see at least the following:

  • Chosen to be holy and blameless in God’s sight.  God chose me, before creation, to be set apart for his purposes and he sees me as blameless.
  • Predestined to be adopted as God’s children.  Not only did he chose me to be holy and blameless, he planned on adopting me as his child.
  • Grace freely given to us in Christ.  God expresses his grace, or favor, to me freely in Christ.  I do not have to earn it, he freely gives it.
  • Redemption and forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ.  My brokenness and separation from God are dealt with through the blood of Christ.  It is not something I can earn; only accept through faith.
  • Grace lavished on us with wisdom and understanding.  God’s grace is not given sparingly, but is lavished on me.  And it comes along with wisdom and understanding to enable me to understand what God has done and how I can respond.
  • Revelation of his will; to bring all of us together under the headship of Christ.  God is not keeping his purpose in creation a secret; he has made it known to us.  He is creating a new body with Christ as its head.  And since his purpose is know to me, I can participate alongside of him.
  • Chosen according to the plan of God, a plan that will be fully executed.  While individuals may chose not to participate in God’s plan, his plan for creation will be fully brought to fruition.  We can trust God that he has been, is currently, and will continue to work out his plan, a plan that includes all who have trusted in him.
  • Being included in Christ.  To be ‘in Christ’: where he is, I am also; his experience is my experience; his future is my future.  What could be better?
  • Marked with a seal, the indwelling Spirit of God.  The Holy Spirit is God’s seal, or mark of ownership, on me.  The Holy Spirit is proof that I belong to God and am a part of his purpose.
I join with Paul is praising God for his indescribable spiritual blessings that he has given to us in Christ.
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