Well we are still in our series looking at the book of Ephesians. We’re in the final chapter this week and next week. Last week we looked at the controversial section from Ephesians 5 that talks to husbands and wives, and we saw the bookends for that section were “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” and then Paul’s summary at the end: “husbands love your wives and wives respect your husbands.”
This week we’re continuing in the controversy as Paul deals with children and parents and slaves and masters.
1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—this is the first commandment with a promise: 3 “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” 4 And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. 5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; 6 not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, 8 knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free. 9 And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.
Well this is our Mothers’ Day celebration, and I have two gifts for moms. The first was last week when husbands were reminded of their immense responsibilities from the Lord. Hopefully we did better at showing love this week. The second gift is maybe even better. In our text today, Paul has instructions for children. He has instructions for fathers. He has instructions for slaves, and masters. But guess who needs no instruction from Paul? Mothers. You get off scot free today! Apparently moms were already doing what they needed to do – pat on the back, moms. Here’s a high five from 2000 years ago! I’m going to give you a spiritual day off – celebrate what you do, celebrate what you’ve done, put your feet up on the pew, and let the kids and the dads hear how they’re supposed to support you today. In fact the only time moms get mentioned in this text is to point out how children are supposed to honor you. Happy Mothers’ Day.
Same Under the Lord = CHOOSE
But speaking of those children, what Paul is doing here with this instruction to children is a bit surprising for the ancient world. If this were any other writing addressing children, if another writer deigned to address kids at all, it would have stopped with, “Children, obey your parents.” But Paul doesn’t stop there, he says, “obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” No other writer would have given reasons for a child to obey their parents. But here Paul gives several reasons. Why is that important?
Well by way of contrast, here’s what the Salt Lake County sheriff’s office says about their prisoner handbook: “Prisoners must read this handbook and follow the rules. This handbook cannot cover every situation that may arise, but being familiar with its contents will help prisoners know what services are available and what is expected of them… Prisoners are expected to follow all orders and instructions from staff.”
Where’s the why? Why should a prisoner follow the rules? Because they MUST. End of story. That’s how most ancient writers would have thought about children obeying their parents – they MUST. But Paul gives motivation – it’s part of your faith in Christ, it’s actually helpful to you, God mentioned it in the Ten Commandments. By giving reasons, Paul assumes that children have the ability to choose. They don’t obey their parents because they MUST like prisoners. They obey their parents because they CHOOSE to. Big difference.
If you remember last week, we started our framing with “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” With that, husbands and wives were assumed to be equal in the eyes of the Lord. The same thought is carried forward here for children. Children and parents are equal in the eyes of the Lord.
Here’s the point – all of us are children of someone. Paul says here that we are equal to our parents in the eyes of the Lord. That means we can choose to honor our parents or not. But, he reminds us that doing so is part of our faith growth.
And so on Mothers’ Day, how do you CHOOSE to honor your mom? How is it a choice, not just a HAVE TO because Hallmark decided we needed another holiday to boost their revenue from cards and flowers? How do you honor your mother, not just today, but throughout the year? You can ask the same question with Fathers’ Day coming up, too.
The word “honor” means “to find value.” Where can you find value in your mom and your dad? If they are still with us, how can you let them know that you find some value in them? Today especially, how do you let your mom know you find value in her?
When I was a teenager I was blessed with ultimate knowledge and understanding of everything. It was quite a burden to carry. And the only thing I HAD TO do with my parents was remind them of how much smarter I was than them. Luckily that was a pretty easy job. One day my mom said to me, “If I were truly as mentally handicapped as you assume me to be, wouldn’t you treat me with a little measure of dignity? That’s all I’m asking for!” She reports that I did actually treat her better after that. I’m sure that won’t come back to bite me with Charlie or Caleb someday. I don’t think any amount of flowers or cards one day a year would make up for me not finding value in her throughout the year. Now that I’ve seemingly forgotten all that knowledge I had when I was 17 – I assume there was a head trauma that I don’t remember – now that I no longer know everything I actually call her for advice on things – I even got her advice on part of this sermon. I value her opinion.
How can you CHOOSE to find value in your parents, and let them know?
Since we have graduating students with us today, a brief word for you. Verse 4 says, “fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Here Paul is making the point that the goal of parenting is to raise children who follow Christ on their own. It’s not about blind obedience, but raising Christ-following children.
This is your challenge. Throughout your teenage years you have probably increasingly figured out that you don’t HAVE TO obey your parents in everything. You can pick and choose. Whatever comes next after graduating from high school, there will come a point where you realize there’s almost no area of your life that you HAVE TO do things your parents’ way. I knew a set of twins who were homeschooled, and when they went to college they had opposite reactions. One had blindly followed their parents’ rules, but without those rules she had no direction of her own. Her brother hadn’t always obeyed their parents, but he knew who he was. He did OK because he already knew who he was.
So graduates, the challenge for you is to decide who you are before your life’s events try to make you into someone else. You don’t HAVE TO become anyone else. You can CHOOSE who you are and what you stand for. What will you value moving forward?
Slaves = Honor Christ in Everything
Lastly let’s talk about slaves and masters. Paul gets one mark to his credit and one mark to his discredit in my book on slavery. The discredit is that he didn’t make an overt attack on the practice of slavery in Roman times. It wasn’t as bad as slavery in the Americas, but it was still a bad practice.
To his credit, however, Paul undermines the very concept of slavery by once again assuming that slaves and masters are equal under the eyes of the Lord. As with wives and husbands, as with children and parents, so too with slaves and masters – all are equal in the eyes of the Lord. He even reminds masters that they have a master in heaven!
My call to worship last week was from Chrysostom, the bishop of Constantinople in the 4th century, and here’s what he wrote about slavery after reading Paul’s letters – “It is an avarice that brought about slavery. It is acquisitiveness, which is insatiable. This is not the original human condition. Remember that Noah had no slave, nor Abel nor Seth nor those after them. This horrid thing was begotten by sin.” In the Americas slaveowners were originally afraid to teach Christianity because of Paul’s letter to Philemon where he asks for a slave’s freedom because he had committed to Christ. Eventually slaveowners created a truncated version of Christianity that left out key parts and they were OK teaching that. Some of the worst ideas in human history have come from taking the parts of the Bible that forward your agenda and throwing out the rest.
I think the main point, the one that applies to us today, is in v7-8 – “Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, 8 knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.”
Whatever your situation, you can CHOOSE to honor Christ in it. Whatever your station, you can CHOOSE to honor Christ in it. Whatever your role, you can CHOOSE to honor Christ in it. As with Mothers’ Day – how can we find value in Christ in our everyday lives and show that with our choices? The point isn’t blind obedience but a Christ-like life.
Sisters and brothers, we are all equal in the eyes of the Lord. That means we don’t HAVE TO honor our parents. We can CHOOSE TO find value in them. We don’t HAVE TO honor Christ regardless of our role, regardless of our situation, but we can CHOOSE TO show how we value Christ in everything. So the question I posed to the graduates I pose to us all – we can CHOOSE who we are and what we stand for regardless of what’s happening in our lives. What will we value? Who will we be, and how will we show it?