In our Scripture for today we have an incredible opportunity to learn about the transformative power of the Holy Spirit upon the relationships we share in our household. Paul talks about the relationships of husbands and wives, parents and children, and “slaves and masters,” or in our day, we could say, “employers and employees.” Dr. Craig Keener, in his book, Paul, Women & Wives, discusses what was known in the ancient world as “household codes.” These household codes set the course for how members of a household were to relate to one another and they were developed to try and maintain the social structure of ancient societies. Dr. Keener writes,
The Roman aristocracy felt their power base increasingly threatened by social changes occurring around them. These changes included the upward mobility of socially inferior elements, such as former slaves, foreigners, and women. Foreign religions were sometimes suspected of aiding what the aristocrats viewed as a subversion of the appropriate moral order. (Kenner, Craig. Paul, Women & Wives. pg. 139.)
The Romans were especially sensitive and agitated by foreign religions, like Judaism and Christianity, that they felt were a threat to upsetting the social structure of their society. As I’ve been studying Paul’s teaching, and learning about the lengths that the Romans, Greeks, and other societies of old went to in trying to maintain the social order of their day, it caused me to think about our own society.
Today, we often hear feminists talk about the subjugation of women, the difficulties of living in a patriarchal society, and the need for women to rise up and exert their own authority. At the same time we hear others in our society talk about the evils of feminism and maintaining the traditional roles of women. Some of you were around back in the 60’s when the youth of our nation decided to “rise up” against the teaching and direction of their parents. Instead of pursuing the “American Dream,” many of the young people decided to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” The subversive influences of folks like Dr. Timothy Leary were railed against by those in authority who wanted to maintain the social structure of American society. When the Industrial Revolution built up a head of steam in our country, there began to be tension between laborers and management. Workers felt taken advantage of, they worked too many hours, oftentimes in deplorable conditions, and weren’t paid enough money, so they began to form Unions to demand better conditions. All of these are examples of the social order being challenged.
Whether we are talking about Egyptian, Roman, Greek, or modern-day American society there have always been voices challenging life as we have grown accustomed. Solomon was so right when he wrote,
9 What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NIV)
In Paul’s day, Judaism and Christianity were a threat to the Romans. Many women were converting to Christianity and this irritated their husbands. A wife who would not follow her husband’s religion was viewed as rebellious and the religion to which she converted was viewed as trying to undermine Roman society.
Much like our own day, there was a variety of ideas about how society was to be structured, but when it came to the home there was a firm belief that the man of the house was the authority of the house. Aristotle even compared the man of the house to the king because he saw the home as a microcosm of society.
This is the kind of situation the Apostle Paul found himself in as he sat down to write the folks in Ephesus. Paul knew full well the social structures of Roman society, he was a Roman citizen, but more important than his Roman citizenship was his calling as an Ambassador of Jesus Christ. Paul knew that God called His people to live first as citizens of His Kingdom so he sat down to write what God’s “household code” looked like for the followers of Jesus. Craig Kenner writes,
This passage addresses an ancient sort of writing called, “household codes,” by which Paul’s readers could try to convince their prospective persecutors that they were not subversives after all. In Paul’s day, many Romans were troubled by the spread of ‘religions from the East’ (such as Egyptian Isis worship, Judaism, and Christianity) which they thought would undermine traditional Roman family values. Members of these minority religions often tried to show their support for those values by using a standard form of exhortations developed by philosophers from Aristotle on. From the time of Aristotle onward these exhortations instructed the male head of the household how to deal with members of his family, especially how he should rule his wife, children, and slaves. Paul borrows this form of discussion straight out of standard Greco-Roman moral writing, even following their sequence. But unlike most ancient writers, Paul changes the basic premise of these codes: the absolute authority of the male head of the house. That Paul introduces the household codes with a command to mutual submission (5:21) is significant. In his day it was customary to call on wives, children and slaves to submit in various ways, but calling all members of a group (including the pater familias, the male head of the household) to submit to one another was unheard of. (Dr. Craig Keener, Bible Background: Research and Commentary by Dr. Craig Keener. http://tinyurl.com/afrmzad)
It is important for us to understand this background information about the Scripture we are studying in Ephesians 5:21-6:9 this morning so that we can understand the radical nature of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the followers of Jesus in every aspect of our lives. With that said, let’s read our Scripture for today.
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church– 30 for we are members of his body. 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. 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” 4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. 5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. 9 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 favoritism with him. (Ephesians 5:21- 6:9 NIV)
This is the “household code” for the followers of Jesus. Paul has been writing about the relationship of believers as the Body of Christ and now he turns his attention to the relationship of the followers of Jesus within the home. Verse 21 sets the tone for all of the relationships that he will discuss. Paul writes, 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21 NIV)
Verse 21 is a transitional verse that links what it means to be “filled with the Spirit” with what the Spirit-filled life looks life when lived out in the context of the home. Let’s take just a minute to review what it means to be “filled by the Spirit.” Turn to Ephesians 5:18-21 and let’s read together.
18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-21 NIV)
We are not to get drunk on wine, but we are to be filled with the Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit we are to overflow with songs of praise. Being filled with the Spirit we are to always give thanks to God the Father for everything. Last of all, being filled with the Spirit we are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
“Submission” is a word that has fallen on bad times in our day. We aren’t going to willingly put others before ourselves—we are going to stand up for our rights! The American mindset is contrary to the mind of Christ who, though He was God, willingly humbled Himself. Paul writes,
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8 NIV)
Paul used the example of Jesus’ life to reinforce his command to all Christians to put others before themselves. In other words, to submit to one another. The idea of submission, or of putting others above ourselves, is a universal principle of our faith. Paul told the folks in Rome,
10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10 NIV)
We’ve already run into this “other oriented” mindset that we are to embody in our study of Ephesians. In Ephesians 4:29 we read,
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)
The idea of “submission” in the Scripture we are studying today flows throughout each of the relationships Paul lists for us. The relationships of believers in the family setting, as well as in society, are relationships that are lived out under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. In verses 21-22 we read,
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:21-22 NIV)
All we have to do is examine these two verses to see that submission is the theme that is established in verse 21 and flows through all of the relationships that Paul describes. In verse 21 we are told to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The Greek verb for “submit” is “ὑποτάσσω” (hupotasso) and it means, “to arrange under” or “to subject one’s self.” When we come to verse 22, Paul addresses wives, and in the English translations of the Bible we read, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” The truth is that the Greek verb is not found in verse 22 which leads us to believe that verse 21 sets the scene for the series of teachings that follow.
Some of you ladies, who have sat under the teaching of Ephesians 5:22 and been told that you must submit to your husbands and it rubbed you the wrong way, are probably letting out a collective sigh of relief now that you have learned that the word, “submit” is not found in verse 22. It’s not found in verse 22, but it is found in verse 24 where Paul writes,
24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:24 NIV)
We’ve learned already that submission means to place the other person above yourself, but this is the call of all believers. Submission does not mean “obedience.” There is no place in the Bible where wives are taught that they must obey their husbands. I know that there are some who teach this, but I will assure you that the command for wives to “obey” their husbands is not found in God’s Word. Those who teach this error quote verses like Ephesians 5 and I Peter 3 and are quick to point out that Peter said that “Sarah obeyed Abraham in everything.” The truth of the matter is that God told Abraham to do what Sarah told him to. Do you remember the story?
In Genesis 21, after Sarah had given birth to Isaac and he was weaned, Sarah noticed that Abraham’s son born to Hagar, Ishmael, was mocking Isaac. You and I both know that you would be better off wrestling a Grizzly bear than being mean to momma’s child. Sarah told Abraham to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael. Kick them out of the house. We read in Genesis 21:11 that what Sarah wanted Abraham to do “greatly distressed” Abraham. He could have put his foot down and she would have had to submit according to those who teach such things, but that’s not what happened. Listen to this.
12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” (Genesis 21:12-13 NIV)
The relationship of husband and wife under the “household code” of the Holy Spirit is not a “ruler and subject” relationship, but it is like that of Christ and the Church. In Ephesians 5:22-33, as Paul writes about the relationship of husbands and wives, he refers to “Christ and the Church” five times.
• Verse 23—The husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the Head of the Church.
• Verse 24—The wife should submit to her husband as the Church submits to Christ.
• Verse 25—Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church.
• Verse 29—Husbands are to care for their wives just as Christ does the Church.
• Verse 30—The unity of a husband and wife is a profound mystery, just as the unity of Christ and the Church is a profound mystery.
If we model our relationship as husband and wife after the relationship of Jesus and His Church then we will experience an unimaginable transformation in our relationships. We will not be fixated on figuring out the details of the responsibilities of the husband to “love” and the wife to “submit” if we model our relationship as husband and wife after the relationship of Jesus and His Church.
It is true that the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the Head of the Church, but the biblical definition and description of “headship” is so far removed from what we know as being the head of anything that we need to be reminded of Christ’s “Headship.” Jesus is the One who, even though God had put all things under His power, lowered Himself to the position of a servant. John writes about how the Disciples experienced Jesus’ “Headship.”
3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:3-5 NIV)
The Head of the Church is the One who willingly gave Himself up for us, who died in our place, and who is present with us through His Holy Spirit to lead us, guide us, correct us, and love us until the day that He presents us holy and spotless before the throne of God. The Church, the Body of Christ, are those who love their Lord, seek to serve their Savior, and fully desire to follow His lead because they have experienced His infinite love.
Now, there is no question that husbands, even the best of husbands, fall far short of the call of God to love, serve, and lead their wives as Christ loves, serves, and leads the Church, but He is our Model. There is no question that wives, the vast majority of wives, struggle with submitting, putting their husbands needs above their own, but this is the call of God for wives. Not obedience, but humble service. Why do husbands and wives fall so far short? Simply put, we are self-centered, self-seeking, and self-driven in our desires and devotions. Stop and think about it, doesn’t it make sense that if we as individuals struggle with “doing” God’s will, if we struggle with serving God instead of serving our own self-interests, then don’t you think we will most certainly struggle with putting our husband or wife’s needs and welfare in front of our own. If we aren’t willing to genuinely love, serve, and submit to God then why would we ever think that we will genuinely, selflessly, love, serve, and submit to a person who is just like us?
We don’t like God’s design for the home, for the relationship of husbands and wives, so instead of making the decision to never marry, or have a relationship with a person of the opposite sex, we decide to be creative and come up with our own way of doing relationships. If we think that living out the “household code” of God is tough for us as husbands and wives, then we really need to rethink these options that we’ve created in its place.
We are use to hearing preachers like me talk about how our homes are in trouble, but we aren’t accustomed to hearing academics and scientists speak with such alarm. I read a long study this past week, The State of Our Unions: Marriage in America 2012, done by the National Marriage Project, based at the University of Virginia. The study is over 100 pages long and it is filled with statistics and the insights of dozens of sociologists and thinkers. Let me just share with you the summary of the study found in the opening of the report.
What is the state of marriage in America? On the one hand, as a culture we seem fixated on marriage, from the extravagant $50 billion we spend annually on weddings to our active debate about same-sex marriage. Yet we are also witnessing a striking exodus from marriage, especially among high school but not college educated young people, for whom raising children amid unstable cohabiting relationships and serial partnerships is in danger of becoming the new norm. This rapid decline of marriage among the almost 60 percent of the nation who are high school educated but not college educated, those whom we might call “Middle America,” has been dramatic. As recently as the 1980s, only 13 percent of the children of moderately educated mothers were born outside of marriage. By the late 2000s, this figure rose to a striking 44 percent. And in marked contrast to past calls for attention to changing trends in family structure, today almost none of our political and social leaders are talking about this dramatic change. (nationalmarriageproject.org)
The study chronicles the sad, startling demise of marriage in our society for the middle 60% of our citizens. God has given us guidelines as to how to form relationships, how to form families, and how to love, care for, lead, and serve those in our homes, but we would rather do things our way. Our way consists of co-habitation, serial relationships which leave serial babies in their wake, gay marriage, and a new trend that I just learned about this past week called “polyamory.” What is it? I’ll let those who are choosing to live this lifestyle describe it for you.
Polyamory means different things to different people, but it generally involves honest, responsible non-monogamous relationships. This could take the form of an “open” relationship, or a group of three or more adults who are “monogamous” within their group (sometimes called polyfidelity), or a limitless set of other situations. The word polyamory means “many loves.” (unmarried.org)
All of these are our inventions to do relationships in the way that we want because we don’t want to do relationships as God desires. And yet, I’ve got to ask the question, “How is that going for you?” People talk about the sad state of marriage in our society, but I would go further than that and point out to you the sad state of relationships in our society. Why are we failing miserably to enjoy fulfillment and peace, unity and a sense of belonging in our homes? I believe it is because we’ve forsaken God’s design for us and come up with our own plan.
You may be here this morning and you’ve given up on relationships. You’re in a dead-end marriage, the love has faded, and the fire has gone out. You’re so tired of arguing and fighting that you’ve resigned yourself to simply co-existing. You’ve given up hope. Or maybe you’ve decided to never marry. You watched your mom and dad fight like cats and dogs and decided that you don’t want any part of that so you’ve determined that you will never marry. You may hold true to your promise, but you are not going to stop relating to others. You need God’s wisdom on how to do so. You may be here this morning and you’ve been deeply hurt in the past by men, or by women, or you just feel more attracted to those of the same sex as you. I have friends who are gay, I’ve spoken at the funeral of a dear friend of mine who died of AIDS, and I can tell you that homosexuality is not the answer. Maybe you are here today and you just don’t want to be tied down to any one man or woman. You’re a player and proud of it. Seems glamorous and exciting, but I’ve got news for you…you’re going to get played.
You know what we need more than anything? We don’t need to write our own “household codes.” We need to humble ourselves before the Lord, confess that we fall so far short in seeking to live out His design for our homes, and pray that He will strengthen us, equip us, correct us when we get off track, and keep us mindful of His call upon our life. None of this is possible outside of Christ living in us. Won’t you invite Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
January 13, 2013