Thursday 3 December 2015

Practical love (Ephesians 5:22 - 6:9)

And live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:2
“I love going to church,” someone once said to me. “Which church do you go to?” I asked. “All of them,” he replied, “… every day!” “Wow,” I said, “Are churches open every day?” “Oh, I don’t go inside the church. I just stand outside. That’s enough for me to feel God’s love.”
Some of you laughed. But it was one of the most honest answers I have ever heard. You might think it strange seeing someone standing outside a church building soaking in God’s love yet many of us stand outside the church community – keeping a safe distance from other Christians - and say, “That’s enough for me to feel God’s love.”
In verse 2, where Christians are urged to live a life of love just as Christ loved us, Paul is not talking about being a loving person but loving actual people. We know this because verse 22 onwards applies this love of Christ to wives and husbands, to children and fathers, and to slaves and masters. The last couple of times I covered these verses were with college students and young adults – a common demographic in a place like Cambridge. This was challenging, as most of them weren’t married, all of them were adults and none of them were slaves. Most of them were thinking, “How does the bible apply to me?”
There are two things to notice - firstly, the recurring expression “in the Lord” or “just as Christ” in each command. Their love for Christ was being translated into real-life. The reason why Paul keeps using phrases like “in the Lord” is because loving a real person in real life is difficult. Paul is saying, “God’s love teaches us how to be loving in difficult situations.” Secondly, notice that the person they were commanded to love was very different from themselves. This wasn’t a shared love for Chinese food or Star Wars. That kind of love is easy and often selfish. No, this is a humbling love. This love takes us out of ourselves, focuses our love on the good of the other person at the cost of ourselves. Here in Ephesians, we find a love rooted in God’s love that teaches us to how love our neighbour.
We approach the passage under three headings:
1. The look of love
2. The word of love
3. The Lord of love
1. The look of love
God’s love is seen between wife and husband – in submission and sacrifice. Verse 22: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” Verse 25: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The marriage relationship between husband and wife mirrors the saving relationship between Jesus and the church. I’ve heard these verses appealed to as secrets to a happy marriage but I’m not sure that’s Paul’s intention. Rather, I think these verses show us what is distinctive – or even, unusual - about a Christian marriage. As the church submits to Christ, so wives are called to submit to their husbands. And as Christ loved the church, so husbands are called to die for the sake of their wives.
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.
Ephesians 5:22-24
I wonder which verse would get me into worse trouble: Verse 22 on submission, verse 23 on headship or verse 24 reminding wives to submit to their husbands “in everything.” Yikes!
Firstly, verse 22 clarifies that submission is an expression of the Christian faith. Wives are submitting to their husbands “as to the Lord.” The same motivation is given to children (Ephesians 6:1, “in the Lord”) as well as slaves (Ephesians 6:5, “as you would obey Christ”). Contrary to popular belief, submission in the bible is a good thing. Verse 21, which is the overarching command to the whole church, says, “Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.” God has placed each one of us in accountability relationships as expressions of our accountability before God. For wives, it’s to their husbands.
Verse 23 expands on this by introducing the notion of headship. Christ is head of the church because Christ died for the church, his body. Verse 23 is an obvious allusion to Ephesians 1:22 which says that God placed all things under Jesus’ feet and appointed Jesus as head over all things for the church. I doubt that wives have any problems with Christ being the head of the church except the same verse also states that the husband is the head over the wife. In effect, it is saying: Let the man be the man. The heart of sin is the desire to be God over our own lives. If so, the reversal of sin is the acknowledgement of God as God. Ephesians applies this to wives. Recognise the authority and role of your husbands to lead the family, to make decisions and to bear responsibility. Let the man be the man in your marriage.
If this is challenging for wives, the next verse says, “Look to the church as a model of your submission.” Verse 24: “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Wives aren’t the exception. Our submission to Jesus as lord over our lives – whether as singles, as students; as Christians – is meant to encourage wives that they aren’t alone in learning submission in their daily walk with Jesus. At least with wives, it’s clear. They are meant to submit to their husbands. What about you? Who are you accountable to for the way you spend your time, your money and your energies? God puts all of us in loving accountable relationships to reflect our submission to Jesus Christ as Lord.
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.
Ephesians 5:25-27
Husbands are called to love. Verse 25: “Love your wives.” Verse 28: “Husbands ought to love their wives. He who loves his wife loves himself.” Verse 33: “Each one of you also must love his wife.” In other words, love is manly. Why? Because to love as Christ loved the church means sacrifice. Notice that wives are not commanded to love in this way, only the men are (at least four times in the passage). A husband’s love should be costly. Loving as a husband means sacrificing your life for hers.
But at the same time, there is a purpose to this love. It makes her holy. In verse 23, Christ’s death cleanses the church through “the washing with water through the word.” It’s a radical transformation from unclean to clean; from sinful to holy; from rebellious to radiant. Most men seeking a wife look for chemistry or compatibility. Christ, on the other hand, came to save sinners and to sanctify them as his radiant church. If we are to love like Christ, husbands, this means loving our wives even more, not even less, when they are unloving towards us. Why? Because the day will come when we will have to present our wives to Jesus as his bride, not ours. Our privilege in this lifetime is not to enjoy all the loveliness we first saw when she walked down the aisle but to present her to Jesus on that final day, even more radiant as a result of our loving marriages. As a result of our sacrificial love as husbands.
This is what love looks like – loving submission and loving sacrifice between a wife who loves Jesus and a husband who loves like Jesus.
2. The word of love
Next, we hear a word of love to children and fathers.
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.”
Ephesians 6:1-3
All of us have parents and therefore all of us are commanded to honour our father and mother. Children, however, are commanded to obey their parents in the Lord, that is, to submit to their authority. On the flip side, fathers are counselled not to exasperate their children  - that is, not to provoke them to anger (or Singaporeans would say, “tekan them”) – but to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
What we see is God’s word being at the centre of family relationships. Don’t miss that. Children are not merely told to behave in church but commanded by God in his word to obey their parents. Honouring your father and mother is not a Chinese cultural hangover, it is God’s holy word. Those of you who know your bibles should recognise this as one of the Ten Commandments given by Moses. Paul is, in effect, preaching to the kids at this point, telling them to turn to Deuteronomy 5 and Exodus 20 to hear for themselves God’s voice speaking to them in church.
And notice the motivation why: “That it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” This is God’s promise of blessing first given to Israel in connection with the Promised Land (They would have heard this as “That you may enjoy long life in the Land,” referring to Canaan). This is not moralism (Be good or God will punish you!). Neither is it legalism (Be good so that God will bless you). It’s actually evangelism! The same God who spoke to the Israelites thousands of years ago to the Israelites speaks to them today in Jesus Christ.
We also see that the responsibility to teach these truths to kids rests on the head of the family – the Dad. Not the mum. Not the Sunday School Auntie. Not even a pastor like Paul. Fathers are to bring their children up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Notice how the husband and the Dad are repeatedly pointed to God’s word as the source of their authority. Back in Ephesians 5:26 (“the washing of water through the word”) and here in Ephesians 6:4. Again the bible is saying to men, “Know your bibles and make God’s word the foundation of your family life.” Fathers are not to exasperate their children. It’s a reminder how easy it is for the Dad to take advantage of his authority to “lay down the law” or to “put his foot down”. But if you put God’s word at the centre of your daily instruction, then the weightiness of obedience for kids is greater – not lesser – as they are then being commanded by God himself to honour their parents and to live in submission as a sign of their trust in a loving God.
3. The Lord of love
The most challenging form of headship and submission however comes in the last section – in addressing slaves and masters.
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.
Ephesians 6:5-6
The slave-master relationship was a working relationship. Furthermore, slaves in the ancient world were often economic slaves – that is, as a means of paying off a debt. Slaves could buy their freedom. Some could marry and have children.
Having said all this, our jobs today are not to be equated with slavery, even the most noble forms of slavery in the ancient world. Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul says, “Where you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you – although if you can gain your freedom, do so” (1 Corinthians 7:21) To a slave was to be stuck in permanent status of lowliness.
And Paul says to slaves, “Obey your earthly masters… just as you would obey Christ.” In a life situation that is a lot less than ideal, Paul says, “Serve God where you are.” And that’s the big principal for us. We do not need God to change our economic status for us to live for him. We can even be a lowly slave and “serve God from the heart.”
Many Asian students come to Cambridge on scholarship from their home country dreading the day they will have to report to their sponsors to serve out their bonds. I can’t think of a more practical passage in the bible to turn to. “Obey them not only to win their favour,” not merely as a stepping-stone in your career, “but like slaves of Christ,” Paul says. Your ultimate bond is with Jesus. He is your Boss. “Serve wholeheartedly,” verse 7 says, “because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.” God blesses even slaves while they are serving as slaves, so God can even bless bonded civil servants.
Masters have fewer words from Paul. But notice how they are words of warning not to take advantage of their slaves, especially if they are their brothers in Christ.
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 in him.
Ephesians 6:9
At the centre of the master-slave relationship is the Master (or Lord; same word). He has the final say in our status and our performance. You see, at least slaves understand practically what it means to please a master. We earthly masters, on the other hand, need clearer reminders about what it means to live under Jesus as our Boss. You don’t need to tell a slave that his money isn’t his money, his life isn’t his life and his time isn’t his time. But managers and directors and CEO’s are often not content with the money that they do have, the life and the time that is theirs.
Which are you in your relationship with Jesus Christ? Are you the slave or is he your slave? Are you lord over your life or is Jesus Christ lord over your life?
In conclusion, we have seen three things. Firstly, the look of love – which is not haughtiness or lust, but submission and sacrifice. We see this in the marriage relationship between husband and wife, both of whom love Jesus; both of whom love one another like Jesus. The wife submits to the husband – letting the man be the man, in the same way that the church submits to Christ – letting Jesus be Lord over everything thing. The husband loves his woman in a manly way – by dying for her, by making her holy, by making her radiant for Jesus’ sake.
Secondly, the word of love – which is God’s word, the bible. It teaches children obedience, making them wise for salvation in Jesus Christ. It tempers the discipline of the father, giving them the resources to bring his children up in the instruction of the Lord.

Thirdly, the Lord of love. Jesus is the ultimate boss – whether you are a scholarship student bonded to the government for the rest of your life or CEO of Fortune-500 company. He will write our final performance review and he judges the contents of our hearts. If we are to serve him, it means, serving one another in whatever situation of life he has placed us. Not despising the richer brother for his wealth. Not oppressing the slave because of his helplessness. But treating one another as Christ loved us – wholeheartedly, doing the very will of God.

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