I’m excited about a group of verses in Ephesians, because it has answers to problems we face. It is not without controversy, for it cuts right across the thinking of today. I would like to remind you that we are still in the section that concerns turning doctrine into deed, the “Walk” section. The key to letting Christ live His life in you (see I’m Excited About Ephesians) and the need to renew your mind, is also the key to the relationships that come under divine scrutiny in Ephesians 5:21 to 6:9.
Let me read you something that I ran across recently. “When home is ruled according to God’s Word, angels might be asked to stay with us, and they would not find themselves out of their element.” So writes Charles Virgin. However, the writer goes on to say that “instead of angels being guests in some homes, it seems that demons are the masters. One marriage out of every three ends in the divorce court, and nobody knows how many husbands and wives are emotionally divorced, even though they share the same address. William Cowper, the poet, called the home the only bliss of Paradise that has survived the Fall. But too many homes are an outpost of hell instead of a parcel of paradise.”
So there’s the problem. We cannot deny that the problem exists, because it is evident to such a degree that many young people are no longer interested in the formal process of marriage. They can see the problems.
However, God’s Word has plenty to say about this, and when I teach through a book verse by verse I must take what comes next. Stay with me as we look at this section and try to understand it. There are three parts, because it talks first about wives and husbands, then children and parents, and finally servants and masters.
To all three groups, God is saying that they can enjoy good relationships that really work. You can have a good relationship between wives and husbands, you can have a good relationship between children and parents, and you can have a good relationship between servants and masters, that is, in your occupation. How you react to your occupation, whether you’re happy or not, has a tremendous effect on your life in the home. Let’s look at these three areas, and allow God to say to us what He wants to say.
Submit to one another
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21, NIV). What does “submit” really mean? Unless I clarify that, the moment I read the next verse about wives submitting to husbands, I’m going to get some opposition.
Let’s never forget the fact that Ephesians has nothing to say to a person who is not a Christian. Paul is writing to Christians, and says to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”. To “submit” is to respect the other person’s rights — that’s the best way I can define it for you. When you go to work, you submit yourself to your immediate superior, your supervisor or manager. You submit yourself in respect of his or her rights. You do not submit yourself to his knowledge — that does not always come into it. Many of you work with managers who know less about your task than you do. You submit and have respect for him because of the position he holds.
This is what submitting is all about. It is recognising that the other person has rights, and perhaps by reason of circumstances that you had nothing to do with, or by God’s appointment, has a position superior to yourself. Notice that it is an attitude of the mind. God is saying that if you want to live happily and make a success out of life, then respect other people.
Why should we respect them? “Out of reverence for Christ.” When we respect others, we revere or honour Christ. I certainly want to do that. So if I do not respect others, then I am dishonouring Christ. By changing my thinking to agree with God’s Word, I can get along with just about everybody.
Wives and husbands
Now we come to verse 22, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” In the case of wives and husbands there is a similarity with you and your boss. You see, you said you would work there. Probably you really didn’t say that; you might have said that you accepted the position. There’s a lot of difference. They say many people quit looking for work once they find a job! You said you would accept that position — therefore it is your decision to work under that system.
Now wives and husbands are in the same situation, and in every wedding ceremony, the one thing that you have to say is: “Will you take…?” “I do.” “Will you take…?” “I do.” That is required by law, and there is nothing a minister can do to take that out of the ceremony, even if you asked him to do so. It is the one thing the government demands in the marriage ceremony, that there is a public exchange of at least those vows.
So when wives take to themselves husbands, and when husbands take to themselves wives, they do it by a decision of their wills. Ignoring the fact that love is blind and all those sorts of things, you say, “I do”. And because you say “I do”, the Bible says to you, if you are a Christian woman, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” The statement is repeated in verse 33 as “respect” your husbands. “Adapt yourselves to your husbands”, as J.B. Phillips translates it, and that is a good translation, because marriage takes quite a bit of adaptation. If you are fortunate enough to be married, you will already have noticed this.
I remember one preacher saying that marriage was like tying the tails of two cats together. They’ll fight and scratch and scream for a while, but given time, they will get their heads together. Isn’t that true about marriage? Now I don’t know whether you’re at the scratching or screaming stage, or if you’ve gone beyond that, but nonetheless the teaching is very clear from God’s Word. Married couples have to learn to adapt. It is two people, two personalities, learning to adapt to one another.
Now, just so that we have no illusion about it, God gives this great illustration in verses 23-24, “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.”
Christ is the head of the church, and the church respects its head. This same relationship is to be present in every marriage. God never tells us to do something that we cannot do. Has God ever told you to touch your ear with your elbow? So when God says to you it is possible to live in harmony in a marriage situation, then it is possible. What we have here in Ephesians are down-to-earth instructions as to how to make it work.
My wife and I started our marriage on an agreed 51:49 basis. To us that keeps a scriptural balance. It’s 51% the husband and 49% the wife, since the husband is the head of the wife. We have practised that in our marriage, and many people are incredulous that I have been married for over a third of a century to the same woman. We must be doing something right, since that is not the pattern of society today.
Now, lest you think this is one-sided, the first word of verse 25 is “Husbands…”, so men, sit up and take notice. “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” (verses 25-27).
“Husbands, love your wives…” Now if those two parties would do those two things, we have the problem solved. Wives, respect your husbands. Husbands, love your wives. We are not talking about the puppy love of teenagers, and we’re not talking about sexual love either. We are talking about that deep emotional feeling that one person has for another — an emotion to the extent that when that other person is not present, they feel that something is missing.
“Husbands, love your wives…” You say, “What’s new about that?” Nothing. It has worked down through the centuries. It still works today. How much should you love them? It tells us, “… just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Jesus was willing to die so that the church could come into existence. Husbands, how much are you willing to love your wives?
Then verses 28-30 give another illustration, “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body.”
Most men are vain, let’s face it. The male of the species is a vain creature. This is true in the animal kingdom with few exceptions. It is the male bird that has the beautiful plumage. The female is usually drab grey or brown. That’s how it is in nature, and most men have a degree of vanity within themselves. The Word says to love your wives as you love your own bodies. As you comb your hair in the morning, just remember to love your wife, husbands. The degree of attention you give to your body is the same that God says you should give to your wives. I don’t need to say any more.
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (verse 31). In Genesis 2:18 God said that it was not good that man should be alone. He needed a companion, and for this reason a man will leave his father and mother… and the two will become one flesh. “This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church” (verse 32).
“However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (verse 33). Now when God wrote those words He knew the need of Christian people, and the best marriage counsellor in the world cannot better those instructions for a Christian marriage. I want to say this, and I really mean what I say, the most successful marriage is when you have two people who both have Christ in their hearts and are expressing Him in their lives. That is where success in marriage comes from. It will not come from a commonality of interest. For example, it does not come because you’re both mad about surfing, or you both love gardening, or even that you’re both working at the same occupation. The one thing that will produce a great marriage is because you both have Christ in your heart. You both have faith in God, and expressing the Christ within is what gives you common ground to make a success out of marriage.
I would go as far as to say to wives that you are not going to respect your husband unless you recognise the Christ that is in you and the Christ that is in him. And I would also say to husbands that you are not going to love your wives unless Christ is in you and you recognise Christ in them also.
I believe in Christian marriage. I see enough of the other kind to see that it has its problems. I can only teach what the Word of God says, and if both husband and wife recognise that they are children of God, that they both have the same power and ability, then they can work out the minor hassles. There always will be some. There will always be the discussions and decisions, and sometimes disappointments. But you can work it out, because you are going to rely on the Christ within you, and the other party is going to rely on the Christ within them. As both of you respect and love, you will make a success out of marriage.
I believe the truth of this passage, and also the parallel passage in Colossians chapter 3. It is introduced by these words, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). If you do that you will have a successful marriage. Base your marriage on what God says about you. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). That applies to marriage as well as everything else. “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:18-19). There are the instructions on how to have a happy marriage, and how to have a relationship that really works.
Children and parents
Let’s go back to Ephesians, because there are two other groups that are mentioned. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). Society today seems to have turned this right around to say, “Parents, obey your children. In this way they will be happy and you will have a peaceful home.” Someone has said that the problem is that our kids have done a bad job of bringing up their parents. As one parent questioned when talking about his teenagers’ problems, “Where did we go wrong?” And his friend replied, “You had children!”
Now God has an answer to the parent-child problem, and the answer is here in the Word. God wants the family unit to be a happy unit, one that is a blessing to every participant. So the instruction here is, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”
Notice that this statement is directed to children. In the early church the children would have listened to exactly the same teaching as the parents did. So there is a responsibility on the child’s part, and we must get our children to recognise that responsibility. It does not come naturally. Children are not naturally obedient. Very early in life they make it quite obvious that they have a mind and will of their own. We have to train them to be obedient; that is their part of the relationship.
Children were also reminded of the ten commandments, which they had been taught. “‘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” (verses 2-3). Again, we must teach our children to recognise their responsibility to do this.
Finally, some special words to fathers. “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (verse 4). Now why should it single out the fathers? This is a matter of the customs of the day. In the eastern culture, the responsibility of spiritual training was in the hands of the fathers. I think today we are justified in reading this as parents, because we live in a different social climate than they did. Both parents have the responsibility of bringing up the child — so it’s applicable to both. “Provoke not your children to wrath” (KJV). Some other translations are “Don’t over-correct…” (J.B. Phillips), “Do not irritate…” (20th Century N.T.), “Do not rouse your children to resentment” (Knox).
There are many practical areas here at which we could look. The instruction to parents is not to exasperate them. That does not mean to give in to them just to keep them happy. Parents must train their children to obey, but “do not exasperate” them, such as when they see continued inconsistency in your life. Once they do, they will write you off, and often the only hope you have for your children after that is that somebody else, outside the family circle, will reach them and guide them, and lead them in the right way in which they should go.
The command is clear, “Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” “Bring them up with Christian discipline and instruction” (20th Century N.T.), or “Bring them up in such training and correction as befits the servants of the Lord” (Conybeare), or bring them up “with the sort of education and counsel the Lord approves” (Williams). So the need is an educational programme, based on Christian principles. Bring them up on Christian principles; that’s our responsibility. Their responsibility is to obey. If children and parents obey these commands, you will have a relationship that really works.
Servants and masters
One final group is addressed in this section on relationships. “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 favour when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve whole-heartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free” (verses 5-8).
The interesting aspect of this passage is that while slavery was a widely accepted practice in Paul’s day, he does not advocate an uprising nor does he commend the situation. Rather, he suggests a change of mind, so that slaves should consider they were working for the Lord and not for their earthly master. At the forefront is respect, followed closely by integrity — working hard even when no-one is looking. What a difference our workplaces would be if everyone served wholeheartedly, as if they were serving the Lord!
“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 favouritism with him” (verse 9). “In the same way” masters were to have respect for their slaves and to be sincere towards them. They were to remember that they were also serving under an impartial Master. Could this be an answer to the labour problems in the workplace today? I believe so.
The verses I have covered in this chapter contain some tremendous, down-to-earth truths that you really must apply. God is saying that you can have a successful marriage, you can have a good life in your home, and you can enjoy your job. Read it again and get blessed by it, because God wants you to have relationships that really work.
Copyright © 1994 Peter Wade. The Bible text in this publication, except where otherwise indicated, is from the New International Version (NIV), Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. This article appears on the site: https://www.peterwade.com/
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