-Best bumper sticker ever: Others
-As I drove down 21st thinking of…myself…there it was “others”
-If Paul had a pickup and he choose a bumper sticker I think he would have chosen this one.
-Not a cross, or a fish symbol…Jesus?
-Nah, probably “others”
-If hearts had bumper stickers then the human heart apart from the gospel would all have “Me” on them.
-The surest sign that Jesus has taken the wheel of a life is distinct movement towards love for others not self…so the heart where Jesus has moved in has a bumper sticker… “Others” on it.
All year we have focused on these three things:
It is a simple, but not a simplistic construct.
Simplistic is something so simple that it is not accurate
This is simple and its real.
What we believe is true, shapes what we wrap our hearts around(love)…and that then determines what we do in our lives.
So, what we find in the New Testament is:
Truth outside in (from God), shaping our hearts, hearts shaping our lives from the inside out
The Spirit of God…empowers this at every level…as we stay plugged into relationship with him.
Today we finish Ephesians with the gospel applied to some key relationships…then Paul sounds, “reveille” …a final wake up call.
It’s important to not lose the forest for the trees as we go through this section.
The “trees” are the husband/wife, parent/child, and master/slave relationships.
The “forest” is the gospel shaping normal relationships with others.
The forest, or big picture could be summed up:
4 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
And more concisely as:
5:21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
So, as Paul has built this gospel house from the ground up, we must NOT suddenly jump to the second floor and make applications that just hang there on their own.
You must not read this section out of its overall context.
For instance, , “Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord” must be understood in light of 4:1-3 and 5:21
What he says in these applications of the gospel to three different relationships in the first century was revolutionary.
In all three examples he ties behavior back to gospel truth.
In all three examples there is a call to put the interests of others ahead of your own no matter whether you are wife/husband, parent/child, slave/master.
In all of these Paul says “Others!”
I highly recommend Rebecca McLaughlin’s book, “Confronting Christianity”.
The whole book is excellent but her chapters:
-Doesn’t Christianity denigrate women?
-Doesn’t the Bible condone slavery?
Are pertinent to this section of Paul’s letter.
We are not going to get into the weeds on these three examples because we are going to stay with the macro point of Paul’s letter…the gospel truth and gospel power shaping every aspect of our lives.
We will address the topic of slavery more fully once we get to Paul’s letter to Philemon (next June)…it is a single chapter letter addressed to a slave owner, Philemon, regarding his run-away slave named Onesimus.
These three examples are given to demonstrate that the gospel is “real world” its application and power.
5:22-32 He describes how the gospel works in the most basic of human relationships, marriage.
He summarizes marriage with:
-Marriage is a picture of the gospel
Wives are called to “submit” three times in the N
Husbands are called to “love and honor” four times.
Mclaughlin wrote that she struggled with this passage until she focused on what Paul was telling the men.
“Love as Christ loved the church.”
Indeed, when I trained my lens on the command to husbands, the Ephesians passage started to come into focus. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). How did Christ love the church? By dying on the cross; by giving himself, naked and bleeding, to suffer for her; by putting her needs above his own; by sacrificing everything for her. I asked myself how I would feel if this were the command to wives: Wives, love your husbands to the point of death, putting his needs above yours, and sacrificing yourself for him? Ephesians 5:22 is sometimes critiqued as a mandate for spousal abuse. Tragically, it has been misused that way. But the command to husbands makes that reading impossible. How much more easily could an abuser twist a verse calling his wife to suffer for him, to give herself up for him, to die for him?
Clearly the call is for each to put the other first for the sake of one another and the glory of God.
5:31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Marriage (imperfectly, but ideally) points to a much greater reality than itself…our relationship with God.
Mclaughlin, points out that this takes the pressure off both single people and married couples.
Romantic and sexual love are presented as the highest good in our culture…miss out on sex/romance you are missing life.
In the life to come there is no marriage…it will have given way to something much, much higher.
In some religions the life to come is mostly about sex and physical pleasure…which reveals a lot about that religion.
For many Americans it is inconceivable to think of “heaven” without sex…which reveals a lot about many Americans.
If you are single, you are not cheated now, or in eternity…romantic love is a good gift of God…but it is not a greater gift that the gospel…not by a longshot.
And this takes the pressure off married couples as well.
Mclaughlin again writes:
“…we need not worry about whether we married the right person, or why our marriages are not flinging us to a constant state of Nirvana. In one sense, human marriage is designed to disappoint. It leaves us longing for more, and that longing points us to the ultimate reality of which the best marriage is a scale model. Ephesians 5 used to repulse me. Now it convicts me and calls me toward Jesus: the true husband who satisfies my needs, the one man who truly deserves my submission.”
No one will feel empty, cheated, or unfulfilled…regardless of what did or didn’t happen in this life..
Not when they are experiencing full relationship with the one for whom all pleasures now are but shadows.
In 6:1-4 he briefly addresses the parent/child relationship.
Again, he is not giving a NT law (or checklist) but real life examples of gospel truth and power in action in human relationships.
Children will thrive when they live in line with God’s will and ways.
Fathers(parents) are responsible to make the gospel appealing and give their children the best shot at this thriving life with God.
“So, Paul…give me some more details here.”
“What does this mean this Friday night when my teen wants to (blank)”
“What does this mean when my parents are saying (blank) and doing (blank).
Yeah, there are a bunch of details to be figured out in all this aren’t there?
Christy and I struggled, we prayed, we agonized over parenting, we made a bunch of mistakes…it’s hard…mentally, physically hard.
But none of this is a to do list…a paint by the numbers approach to life and relationships.
This is about what is true, what is valuable, and how we are to live by a focus on who we are becoming…inside out.
It is important to build application on principle.
What is true?
Where is my heart?
What do I do here and now?
It requires full use of God’s resources…Word (wisdom), Spirit (power), People (courage, endurance)
Children…since you want to have a good life(and that good life is found in relationship with God), then do what will help make that possible.
Don’t be a fool…you can get what you think you want…and it will not be what you really want…if it is not what God wants for you.
Parents…since you love your children and want them to have a good life, then do what will help make that possible.
Figuring out how to apply the gospel in real life situations is difficult…but not nearly as much when you start with the foundation.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength…love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love your neighbor (wife, child)…as yourself doesn’t mean “You must first learn to love yourself.”
It assumes that is already true…we do love ourselves (even if we don’t like ourselves)
We love ourselves in practical ways…we do things that we need to live, we do what we think will make us happy.
So, Paul wrote in Phil. 2 “Don’t just look to our own needs, look also to the needs of others.”
Children as they learn to honor their parents…bring joy to their parents (and themselves)
Parents as they love their children by training them (not exasperating them by being mean, moody, demanding, unreasonable)…they experience joy and bring joy to their children.
And by the way, what Paul said earlier about “forgiving one another as Christ forgave you”…certainly applies here.
I asked my kids to forgive me quite often when they were growing up…I made a lot of mistakes.
They forgave me.
Then in 6:5-9 he addresses what was a very common and complex relationship: slaves and masters
Again, we will look at this topic of the Bible and slavery when we get to Philemon.
If you don’t want to wait, get McLaughlin’s book and read that chapter.
She references the work of OU provost and professor of history, Kyle Harper.
He is an expert on the impact of Christianity on the rise of human dignity
In particular its impact on slavery.
Human rights were not the result, as is often believed, of the “enlightenment” of the 18th century…but the idea that all people have equal dignity has its roots in Christianity.
Slavery was in every society in the first century and in Rome it was complex
There were millions of slaves in the Roman empire.
They included prisoners of wars, debtors paying off financial debt (rather than going to prison), and household servants who were able to be free but choose to stay on.
But again, let’s look at the macro view…in 6:5-9 he tells masters that the same principles apply to them that apply to their servants.
Eph. 6:7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.
Imagine how revolutionary this was for a culture where slaves were property…to tell masters to serve their servants.
In fact, all the way back In Exodus, the law given at Sinai says that slave catching was a capital offense. (Ex. 21:16)
Historically, the Christian worldview formed the basis that led to the end of slavery.
Many professed Christians held slaves through the years…and this was wrong.
But it was Christians who led the charge (starting in the very early centuries) to end slavery.
More on that next summer.
So, Paul has given this young church:
-The truth and the power of the gospel that are able to shape our thinking, our values, and our behaviors in ways that lead to freedom and beauty in relationships.
He has given a wide range of examples and then these three big human relationships to demonstrate that this is all a “real world” possibility.
Now he will finish with a realistic and sober challenge.
A challenge that in itself indicates that none of this is going to be easy.
Peter, the Lord’s early on fickle, but later squared away close friend… was very frank about our tendency to be dismayed when this life of faith is hard.
“Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” 1 Peter 4:6
“What is going on here! I’m doing it all right. I’m trying to trust God. I pray. I give. I go to church. I live a moral life…but I’m having terrible problems!”
“So, is God not coming through on his end? Am I doing something wrong, what am I missing?”
Paul understands how this is most commonly where we go in our minds and hearts when things become hard and we are trying to do the right thing.
“Okay, Paul…got it…I’ll make my list…do all this stuff…and life will become a dream…right?”
As much as he tried to portray this as other than a “checklist” …he knows the human mind…he knows where our thoughts and emotions will go.
So, he rolls up his sleeves and writes…finally…let’s land this thing.
The gospel is the truth of God and the power of God.
It can and will shape our minds, hearts, and lives…it will lead to increasing freedom and beauty.
But this gospel life is lived in a war zone…he wants us to understand that and live accordingly.
When I say “war zone”…different images emerge in different minds…movie scenes, video games, terrible home life.
For me…I think of a base, in Iraq where we worked out, ate, had church services, normal sort of stuff…
And we had mortar attacks coming over the wall on a semi-regular basis…and we were not home.
There were foreign nationals doing work on the base, under armed guard…you didn’t know what they might do…you didn’t really know if they were friend or foe.
Soldiers in the dining hall, hung their rifles over their chairs before they ate.
There were reminders everywhere that we were in a war zone.
When we first arrived in Iraq, and the sirens went off signaling an attack…we would maybe overreact a bit.
Over time we began to underreact.
To the point that one night we were playing basketball outdoors in a mild dust storm and the alarms went off…the defensive weapons fired…and we stopped for a minute and then foolishly kept playing.
So, when I think of Paul’s war zone analogy…I think of the need to live regular life, but to live in constant readiness.
To not over react and to not under react.
And to keep that tension is tough.
Because we tend to either go to fear and anger or passivity and apathy.
Really hard to live with faith, love…and spiritual readiness.
But, that’s why we must walk in the Spirit to do so.
When I’ve read of people talking about the Christian life as a “battle”…it seems that the application is sometimes:
-You can’t live “normal” life…we are in a war zone
-Yes, but even there, people live a sort of normal…they must.
-They wash clothes, they exercise, they watch movies…it’s not all combat all the time.
-Be afraid…the enemy is going to “get you”
-Be ready…but living in fear is never healthy or helpful…you can’t sustain that.
-Be combative, be angry…ready to fight everyone about everything…including other Christians. There is too much at stake.
-Be ready…but don’t be a jerk. Don’t treat everyone as an enemy…don’t even Hate your enemy.
Paul’s analogy of living prepared for battle doesn’t indicate we are to throw away all the other things he has said about this life of faith…love, joy, hope, confidence.
This is about an attitude of personal readiness not about becoming a combative person.
Another thing about this passage that I have noticed…it can be made into something weird and overly “spiritualized.”
It is not weird…even though it is about a spiritual battle…but it is not impractical for our actual lives.
It is a summary, using a military analogy of what he has said in his letter…
Here is the truth of the gospel, here is the love of God that we are to embrace in our hearts, here is how this all works out in our actual lives.
Live in a state of readiness…live with hope, joy, love, confidence…but live ready…you are not home, you are in fact in a spiritual war zone
“Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”
Perhaps as Paul is finishing up his letter, thinking about how to drive home his points…
He looks outside the door and there…as would be true everyday…stood a Roman soldier…guarding, Paul the prisoner.
You might see someone in a Wichita restaurant wearing a military uniform…but they don’t have battle gear on…weapons, body armor, helmets.
In Rome, and in countries around the world today…battle ready soldiers would be everywhere.
We are used to living far from battlefields…we send military members over there somewhere, so we don’t have to fight over here.
I spoke with Kansas soldier a couple of weeks ago who works in the US embassy in Armenia.
Most people in America don’t know that last year Armenia was at War with neighboring Azerbaijan.
Thousands of Armenians were killed and injured out of a population of only about 3 million…very traumatic.
From the capital of Armenia to the capital of Azerbaijan is the distance from here to OK City.
So, for those nations the battle was not way over there.
And the Spiritual battle for us is not “way over there”
It is everywhere you go…including in your car all by yourself.
Again…we want to keep the tension…
We must not live in fear, we must not withdrawal from everyday life, we must not become combative.
We live with faith, hope, love…and in a state of readiness.
Most news thrives or prospers by making people feel afraid or angry…the two powerful emotions that drive people’s lives…fear and anger.
Fear and anger require an enemy…so news helps create enemies.
But the gospel doesn’t engage our hearts that way…it drives us by the engines of faith and love…the opposites of fear and anger.
SO with faith and love…we are to live with eyes open to the reality of the battle around us, lives prepared to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”
This is no game…what we talk about in here, what we do together in community small groups, everyday life…what we believe, value, and do…has high stakes…very high.
We are living together so that we stay ready…joyful, hopeful, faithful…and ready.
11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
The key word in this passage is “stand”
Plant yourself firmly in a place and don’t allow yourself to be moved from there
Not a hard head on every political, social issue…but a settled conviction regarding the gospel.
Michael Walsh has written a book entitled “Last Stands, why men fight when all is lost.”
From a human standpoint…Paul did take a “last stand” on the gospel.
He would eventually be killed by Rome.
But it was not ultimately a “last stand” in that real hope was never and could never be lost…all was not lost for him or us.
Look at verse 12-16
12 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. 13 Therefore put on the full armor 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. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Look at the points he makes using a military analogy:
- Don’t under estimate your enemy.
- Do live in a state of constant readiness by living in continually union with Christ.
- This is described as putting on the armor of God.
- Start with the truth of God.
-The belt was under the armor…a girdle of sorts.
-In the bible the metaphor of “girding” is used to describe a preparatory action.(tie up robe)
- Righteousness as our body armor is used here as “living a life of “right-ness” before God in our character…truth applied in the inner parts of us.
- Our battle boots are the readiness of the gospel of peace.
-it means that it is the truth of the gospel itself, the reality of peace with God that allows us to continually take our stand.
-Our position in Christ is secure.
- Then there is the shield which covered much of the soldier’s body…this shield is faith.
-Faith means reliance on God…confidence in him…covers all we do.
-The Romans had a system whereby they would lock many of these large shields together for corporate defense in battle.
*Last week we looked at 4:29…speaking words that reframe the conversation to include the reality of God.
-We lock shields by reminding each other of the truth of the gospel in our day to day lives together.
- Helmet of salvation…our salvation is the hope of final deliverance.
-Our past sins are forgiven
-Our present failures are covered
-Our future hope is secure
- The Spirit uses the Word of God as a defensive and offensive weapon in this fight.
18 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.
This isn’t some kind of special prayer (as opposed to “regular prayer”)…it is how all of our praying is supposed to be.
As we live connected to the Spirit.
We are able to move through life praying as we go, with all kinds of prayers and requests
-What’s the difference? Prayers and requests.
Probably just repletion for emphasis…but…
“Prayers” is generic for thanks, praise, questions…everyday conversations, talking to God.
“Requests” is a word that means to ask for specific things.
We are to move through life connected to God, talking to God…about ourselves and others.
Then, Paul personalizes this…
19 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, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
He is God’s ambassador in Rome…but he isn’t living in an embassy, he is in chains.
Twice he asks that they would pray for him so he would speak the truth of the gospel fearlessly.
Why would he ask this if it were not a challenge for him?
This is hard, all of this is.
Being a husband or wife and trying to figure out how to honor Christ in those roles.
Being a parent or a child.
Being a master or a servant.
Living in a highly sexualized culture…living in an idol worshipping culture…like they did and we do.
Living in a highly contentious, divided culture…like they did and we do.
It’s tough…so why try?
Because it is true.
Because it real.
So, if you consider this life of living in a state of readiness…and begin to think…
“Why keep pushing so hard to live this life?”
“Why give effort to living in line with the faith?”
“Why keep forgiving, trying to love God and others…why give the effort?”
“Why not just do what others are doing, why not just do what I want?”
You can…but don’t be fooled.
We cannot trade hard for easy…we can only choose whether we want:
“hard and good” or “hard and bad”
“Hard real” or “hard not real”
“Hard with hope” or “hard without hope.”
The gospel is the truth of God AND it is hard to live it faithfully.
So, Paul wrote… “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”
But please, don’t think you will find an easier or better way…you won’t.
This is the better way…so “be strong in the Lord and in his might power.”