Reordering Our Relationships

Sermon Series: Ephesians: Removing the Barriers to God’s Family

By: Donnell Wyche – March 3, 2019

We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space. Together we’ve been welcomed into God’s family through Jesus. As we become the people of God and learn how to neighbor, we choose to reflect God’s love in our gratitude, in our joy, and in our generosity as we navigate the complexity of our daily lives. We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you’ve been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision. If you are looking for a church home, we would love to be your church home, and I, in particular would love to become your pastor.

We are wrapping up our sermon series  Ephesians: Removing the Barriers to God’s Family” this morning. We have spent time here in Ephesians learning about Paul’s view of the family of God and the work that Christ performed on the cross to remove the barriers to God’s family so that we can be given over to good works.

Reordering Our Relationships – Husbands, Wives, Children, Slaves
We have come to some of the most controversial parts of Ephesians, and for that part, the places where most people have “issues with Paul.”

Submit to one another.

21Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

Wives submit to your husbands.

22Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22)

Children submit your parents.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. (Ephesians 6:1)

Slaves submit to your masters.

5Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. (Ephesians 6:5)

Submit,” Paul says.

This call to submission is offensive because submission is often about power, who has it, and who doesn’t. We also have to acknowledge the ways that women, children, and those enslaved have been exploited, oppression, and dehumanized both by the church and by the culture. What do we do with these passages? The easy thing to do here is just to dismiss this section of Ephesians. Write it off as antiquated, antithetical to the Gospel, and a distorted understanding of the new multi-ethnic family that God is creating and forming.

You could do that. I’m not sure I would blame you.

Dignity, Equality, Unity – A New Way to Be Human
But, what if we tried to understand Paul in his own context? As we have made our way through Ephesians, I have requested that we read Paul in context because doing so helps us understand Paul and put into practice what he is offering. As process and interpret these verses let’s do so in a way that honors what has gone before, if your interpretation of these verses results in permission to subjugate women or children, and if it gives you a license to enslave others, then let me humbly offer that you have missed the point. You also threaten to undo the work of the cross of Christ which destroyed the dividing wall of hostility that previously separated us and held us in bondage.

Here in chapters 5 & 6, Paul is primarily concerned with the reordering of the human family and the world using an understanding that God is offering: dignity, equality, and a new way of being human (Ephesians 1-5).

Paul has said that we are blessed (1:3) because we have been adopted (1:5) into God’s family. God is restoring dignity to those of us who have been discarded, marginalized, and ignored (1:4). We are co-heirs with Christ and God has seated us in heavenly places (1:3). God is offering us equality, something no God in the ancient world was offering (1:20). We belong to one worldwide multi-ethnic family (1:10). We are invited to live a life that incorporates the four graces: humility, gentleness, patience, and love. As we work all of this out, we will join God in reordering and restructuring the world (4:2).

With all of that in mind, let’s dive in!

Wives submit to your husbands.

22Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22)

Paul is borrowing from the Greco-Roman moral writing of his day, down to even following their sequence: wives, children, the enslaved. But Paul changes the basic premise of these codes, everything is structured under the authority of Christ and the church is the bride of Christ. This is about reordering our relationships.

Writing in a culture that had low views of women, children, and the enslaved, Paul is communicating dignity, equality, and unity to those who belong to the family of God.

In Jewish law a woman was not a person, but an object, something to be possessed. She had no legal rights, she was her husband’s possession to do with as he willed. This was captured in the daily prayer of male Jews,

“Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler of the universe who has not created me a woman, a Gentile or a slave.”

This was a prayer that Paul certainly heard and likely prayed himself.

In case you were wondering, the philosophical thought leaders of antiquity were no better. Here’s a prayer of thanks attributed to Thales, Socrates, or Plato,

“Thank Fortune that I was born a human and not a beast; a man, and not a woman; a Greek and not a Barbarian.”

In the Greco-Roman world, a wife was expected to run the household, care for her husband’s legitimate children, but her husband found his pleasure and companionship elsewhere. This lack of fidelity threatened the very existence of the Greco-Roman family and home life.

Given the moral failure and lack of fidelity in the ancient world, Paul is saying again, “Not so with you.” This instruction for wives to submit to their husbands, follows a call for mutual submission, easy to ignore, but important because most household codes focus on how to obtain obedience. Here, Paul focuses on instructing husbands how to love their wives and not to frustrate their children. In giving these instructions on the Christian family, Paul is resisting the culture and prevailing way of life which might threatened the family. Paul shapes the whole instruction in view of Christ’s love for the church. Just as the church submits to Christ and Christ loves the church and gave up his life for the church, so to should wives submit to their husbands and so should their husband love, support, mutually submit to their wives. This is a rebuke of the Greco-Roman and Jewish world where women were the property or possessions of their husbands.

Children submit your parents.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. (Ephesians 6:1)

In Greco-Roman world infants were not considered a legal person until fathers officially recognized them; children could be abandoned if not recognized; killed, if deformed; and disciplined was distributed through beatings.

Paul having been impacted by Jesus who welcomed children, compared us to little children if want to inherit the kingdom of God takes a different view of children. Parents aren’t suppose to exasperate (irritate) their children and parents have an expectation to instruct their children in the family of God. Paul is attempting to bring dignity, equality, and unity to the family of God.

Slaves submit to your masters.

5Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. (Ephesians 6:5)

Then we get to the enslaved. This scripture, among others, have been abused and misused both by the church and the culture to subjugate and oppress people. As I noted in our fall sermon series, “Exodus: From Slavery to Freedom:”

God never intended for humanity to be enslaved, and our willingness to allow slavery to exist in any form reveals our participation in an active rejection of God and God’s vision for humanity, which is centered in abundance, generosity and human flourishing.

God never had to be convinced that slavery was wrong, so God rejects Pharaoh’s vision of the world, a world of scarcity, a world of fear, a world of anxiety. God responds to Pharaoh by partnering with those under foot, with those who are marginalized, with those who are enslaved. God calls for their liberation and this theme of liberation started in Genesis, is finished in Jesus.”

Slavery is always anti-human (Genesis 1:26-28), anti-God (Isaiah 58), and anti-Gospel (Luke 4). I wish that Paul would have condemned the system of slavery that existed in his world. But he didn’t.

Greco-Romans were willing to enslave anyone because slavery wasn’t raced based. Scholars tell me that it would have been impossible for Paul to condemn slavery because slavery was the very lubrication of the Greco-Roman economy. All of this contributes to a limited prophetic vision because Paul wasn’t able to imagine a world where slavery did not exist much like we cannot imagine a world without electricity. In my most critical view of Paul, I would say that Paul doesn’t take up God’s view of humanity and human flourishing in this letter offering a view that would condemn slavery in all of its forms and that demands liberation. In this way, Paul falls short of what I want. Paul does, however, call for equality between slaves and their masters, something unimaginable in the Greco-Roman world. Exactly like what he did in the letter, Philemon. Paul gives us a kingdom’s trajectory which allows us to stand on his shoulders as we work towards the liberation of all of God’s people and creation.

Paul is focused on resisting and rebuking the Greco-Roman answer to the question, “What’s the meaning of Life?” by offering a new view of humanity and the multi-ethnic family of God. Paul is describing what life in the Spirit looks like. The family becomes Paul’s focus because it’s so easy for the family to become a place of fear and exploitation because family is supposed to be a place of love, security, acceptance, and empowerment.

The Armor of God – Resisting the Powers
We will experience resistance, Paul says. You will b This is what I call the powers. We will encounter the rulers, authorities, and powers of darkness. What Paul is describing is what we might call spiritual resistance to the expanse of the kingdom of God in our midst.

10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For 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. (Ephesians 6:10-12)

In order to resist the powers, we take up a defensive posture. We put on the full armor of God because this armor is intended to protect us. The enemy mainly attacks us through a campaign of misinformation about God, ourselves, the world in which we live. This was the attack of the enemy in the garden with the first humans. “God can’t be trusted.”  The armor of God helps us fight against the campaign of the enemy that pushes lies to us about ourselves, God, and creation.  We have to have an active stance; because to be passive is to be swept up in the campaign of lies from the enemy and to be dehumanized by the liturgy of Empire that participates in the schemes of our enemy.

13Therefore 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. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:13-17)

Scholars and theologians have broken down each aspect of this armor, describing each piece and its purpose. When we consider the armor, most of it is defensive. The armor is defensive because it is the powers that attack us. As the people of God, we don’t attack the powers. We are called to love our enemies. This love includes us naming the places of pain and harm. We love by the power of the Spirit. When we consider each piece of the armor, we are reminded of the truth of the Gospel that we are called by Jesus to participate with him and the Holy Spirit in his work of liberation because we already belong to God, who goes before us. We do this by carrying the gospel of peace, which announces to those who are near and far that there is peace, peace that tears down the walls of the hostility. That we have to activate our faith to accept the gift of grace which is the salvation that Jesus won for us on the cross. Finally, our only offensive tools is the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, which empowers and animates us to perform the good works that God predestined for us to accomplish.

Paul concludes in prayer for us,

18And 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 Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:18)

Prayer Senses
God wants to offer hope and forgiveness for broken relationships
God wants to offer Clarity and focus in the midst of confusion.
God is inviting someone to relinquish bitterness in exchange for hope.
Healing for… Chronic back pain, Pulled muscle, Asthma attacks
Money for a new car.
God wants to minister to wounds of neglect and rejection.
God wants to offer freedom from panic attacks and nightmares.