There is an ever-growing awareness in our society of a general malaise that has left us feeling uneasy about our lives. We are unfulfilled with our present situation and uncertain about our future. We are not content with who we are or what we are doing. There is a gnawing feeling that there has to be more to life than what we are experiencing. We are disillusioned because the things, people, and experiences that we thought would fulfill us, that others told us would fulfill us and make us happy, have failed to do so.
I’m not talking about a mid-life crisis. I’m not describing the angst felt by those who have lived more than a few years, looked back on their lives, and concluded that they’ve failed to accomplish what they had hoped to accomplish. I’m not referring to those who are entering the last season of life and feel like their best years are behind them. I’m talking about a pervasive problem, a persistent emptiness that plagues the young as well as the old, the rich as well as the poor, and men as well as women. It is the kind of emptiness and discontentment that leads an 8th grader, with the best years of his life in front of him, to kill himself in the hallway of his school. Anyone who is contemplating taking their own life has come to the place where they feel utterly alone in a world of seven billion people. As Cade Poulos pulled the trigger this week he was surrounded by a sea of students in the hallway of the Junior High in Stillwater. Alone in a sea of people. Isn’t that a tragic irony of our time?
The malaise is unmistakable. The restlessness of the human heart cuts across cultures, socio-economic lines, racial lines, and religious circles, but what are we to do? Where can we turn to escape this feeling that permeates so many hearts? Well, I believe we can do one of two things.
First of all, we can believe that we just haven’t found the “right” person yet, we haven’t yet encountered that one experience that is going to bring fulfillment and satisfaction, or we haven’t achieved what it is that will transport us to a place where we will know that we’ve arrived and finally experience contentment for the rest of our days. Maybe this is the track that you want to choose for your life. I don’t believe that people, experiences, or achievements will ever satisfy our deepest longings, but I have to admit that the majority of people are traveling this course in life.
There is a second option. We can recognize that we’ve been sold a bill of goods. We can conclude that the definition that society has offered us concerning “success” and “fulfillment” is fool’s gold. We can recognize that our best efforts, our best attempts to find someone, some “thing,” or accomplish some goal that will bring lasting peace, contentment, and fulfillment have miserably failed. Once we face the facts and acknowledge the truth then we can throw up our hands in surrender. I don’t mean “give up” or “throw in the towel” on life, but I’m talking about a two-fold process of surrender. The first step is being intentional in our willingness and commitment to stop trying to describe and define our purpose and plan for life. The second step is being intentional in our willingness and commitment to seek God’s purpose and plan for our life with passion and enthusiasm.
During the past several weeks we have spent our time taking a look at Paul’s description of the Spirit-filled life in his letter to the Church in Ephesus. Throughout the last three chapters of Paul’s letter he describes and defines what the new life in Christ, led by the Holy Spirit, looks like and how it contrasts with the life we once lived before Jesus saved us from ourselves. In Ephesians 4:22-24, Paul writes,
22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24 NIV)
The contrast of the “former way of life” with the new life we’ve been given in Christ is a theme that Paul shares over and over again throughout his letters. When Paul wrote to the Church in Rome, he was quick to point out the two contrasting lifestyles. In Romans 8:5-9, Paul wrote,
5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. 9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. (Romans 8:5-9 NIV)
For those who are in Christ, those who are being led moment-by-moment by the Holy Spirit, we are not to live by what comes naturally to us any longer. We are to be controlled by the Holy Spirit—not by what we want or what we feel or what we think we need.
As Paul wrote to the folks in Galatia he once again put forth a contrast between the lifestyles of those who are controlled by their “sinful nature” with those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit. Read along with me from Galatians 5:19-23.
19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:19-23 NIV)
So, I hope that you are beginning to see that the life that is controlled by the Holy Spirit is not just different in a moral sense or a values sense, but it is a life that is radically different in every way.
We have been learning, as we’ve worked our way through Ephesians 5, that Paul is describing for us what the Spirit-led life looks like. In the opening verses of the chapter Paul says that we are to “imitate God” in the way that we have been loved by God. Because He has loved us, we are to love others. He contrasts the love that we are to live out with the pseudo love that was so prevalent in his own day and which is still with us today. It is a contrast of the love that is “other oriented” with the natural “self love” that comes so naturally for every one of us. This “self love,” what we call “self-centeredness,” is characterized by the descriptive words Paul uses in verses 3-4. “Sexual immorality, any kind of impurity, greed, obscenity, foolish talk, and coarse joking” –all of these describe a person who only takes their own wants and needs into consideration.
Paul goes on to say that we were once “darkness,” but now we are “light in the Lord.” We are to “live as children of light.” Paul tells us that the fruit of this kind of living is “goodness, righteousness, and truth.” Anyone can understand the contrast of light and darkness and the byproduct of living as children of light with the characteristics of the natural man or woman. We are to live as children of light!
The contrast continues in Ephesians 5:15-17. Paul says that we are not to be unwise, but wise. We are not to be foolish, but we are to seek to “understand what the Lord’s will is.” Let’s read it together.
15 Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. (Ephesians 5:15-17 NIV)
Last week we took a look at the contrast of the lifestyle of those who are filled with wine, which “leads to debauchery” and excess in a myriad of ways with those who are led by the Spirit and produce the fruit of the Spirit. Following Paul’s command to be continuously filled with the Spirit we find a series of phrases that describe the Spirit-filled life. The defining phrases have to do with our fellowship, worship, and attitude of gratitude. Paul says that we are to…
19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:19-20 NIV)
What’s interesting about this section of Scripture is that in many Bible translations verse 20 marks the end of the section of teaching and verse 21 begins the next section of Paul’s teaching. The truth of the matter is that there is no “period” at the end of verse 20. Verse 21 is the conclusion of this whole section of teaching about the Spirit-filled life. And you are wondering, “Why is this important?” I’m so glad you asked. Let’s take a look at verse 21.
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21 NIV)
One of the characteristics of the Spirit-led life is a willingness to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. John Piper writes,
The purpose of verses 19-21 is to spell out what happens when you are filled with the Holy Spirit. In verse 19 your heart overflows in song to each other and to the Lord. Verse 20 says that thankfulness is at the center of those heart songs. And verse 21 says that when you are filled with the Spirit, you will submit to one another. (Piper, John. Jesus is Precious as the Foundation of the Family. March 21, 1982)
The mere mention of the word, “submit,” makes us cringe, our backbone stiffens, our jaw juts out, our nostrils flare, and before another word can be said we are quick to interrupt whatever may come next. There is nothing in us that is naturally drawn to submitting ourselves to another person, to counting others as more important than ourselves. Everything in us, in our natural state, wants others to meet our needs, wants others to submit to our wishes and whims, and wants others to cater to us. This is the order of our day. John MacArthur writes,
Conflicts in the church, in the home, and in marriage always result from hearts that are directed by the self rather than by the Spirit of God. When self insists on its own rights, opinions, and goals, harmony and peace are precluded. The self-centered life is always in a battle for the top, and pushes others down as it climbs up in pride. The Spirit-centered life, on the other hand, is directed towards lowliness, toward subservience, and it lifts others up as it descends in humility. The Spirit-filled believer does ‘not merely look out for [his] own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.’ (Philippians 2:4) (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians. pg. 276)
A willingness to submit to one another, to make others well-being more important than our own, is a sign of the Spirit-led believer as much as a heart overflowing with praise and thanksgiving.
We’ve been talking about the contrast between living the life that comes naturally to us, the life lived apart from Christ, and the life lived and directed by the Holy Spirit. I don’t know that there is a greater contrast between the two than this one characteristic of submission. In the Scripture that we will study over the next few weeks we will examine the relationships of wives and husbands, children and parents, and slaves and masters. In each and every relationship that we will examine we will learn about Paul’s call of submission. If Paul were to say “wives submit to husbands, children submit to your parents, and slaves submit to your masters” with no further direction then the vast majority of people would balk at the command and dismiss it as a relic of an ancient, patriarchal society. We will see, as we take a look at each of these relationships, that Paul sets a precedent for our willing submission and our loving concern by constantly pointing us to Jesus. If you will take a look at verse 21 you will see what I am talking about. Paul writes,
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21 NIV)
The call goes out to all of those who are in Christ, to all of the brothers and sisters, to all of the members of the Body of Christ—“Submit to one another…” Paul finished his sentence by providing our motivation for submitting to one another when he says, “…out of reverence for Christ.” Literally, this phrase reads, “Submitting yourselves in fear of Christ.” We do not submit to one another because it is the right thing to do or because it is what society expects from us or because we gain some good feelings by doing so. Some of those outcomes and motivations may be true for some, but our motivation for willingly submitting ourselves to one another is because of our relationship to Jesus. Let me add, it’s not just our submitting to one another that is done because of our relationship to Jesus. Everything we do, we do because of our relationship to Jesus. Listen to this.
23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men… (Colossians 3:23 NIV)
31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV)
7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. (Romans 14:7-8 NIV)
Our singular motivation in life is “unto the Lord.” Why do you do the things you do? We do them to honor the Lord, we do them to glorify the Lord, and we do them to please the Lord. He is our motivation, He is our Guide, He is the filter we use to determine what we should or shouldn’t do. This is so important for you and me to understand.
We will see this in the Scripture we will be taking a look at concerning our relationships. Paul says, 22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22 NIV) He doesn’t mean for wives to submit to husbands as they do the Lord, but to submit to their husbands because of the Lord. Then, in verse 25, Paul says, 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church… (Ephesians 5:25 NIV) Once again, why are husbands to love their wives? Because Christ loved the church. Not only because Christ loved the church, but husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. In Ephesians 6, Paul, in writing about the relationship of children and their parents says, 1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord… (Ephesians 6:1 NIV) “In the Lord.” This is the motivation of children. You honor your father and mother because you want to honor the Lord. Last of all, the final relationship that Paul highlights in Ephesians is the relationship of slave and master, or we would say, “employee and supervisor.” Paul writes,
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 like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, (Ephesians 6:5-7 NIV)
By submitting ourselves to one another we are only doing what Jesus has already done. In Mark 10, Jesus was talking with His followers when He pointed out that those who were in authority over the Gentiles used their positions of power to “lord it over” them. Jesus said that it was not to be that way with His followers. Jesus said,
43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. (Mark 10:43-44 NIV)
You want to become great then stoop to serve, make yourself a servant of everyone. Now, let’s be honest. That doesn’t get any of us fired up. We want to be the big man on campus. We want to be the Top Dog. We don’t want to be the low man on the totem pole. What motivation do we have for seeking to live this kind of life? There is nothing in us that desires to be last, we want to be first. Jesus didn’t stop with telling His followers to be a servant. He continued by saying in the very next verse.
45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45 NIV)
Jesus says that His mission statement is to serve. Not to be served, but to serve. When you stop to think about the fact that the One who spoke these words is the same One who knit you and me together in our mother’s womb, the One who lifted the mountains, filled the oceans, and dotted the night sky with stars beyond number—He is the One who says, “I’ve come to serve.” He didn’t just say it, He lived it.
At the Last Supper, while the disciples were waiting on the lowliest slave in the house to come and wash their feet, Jesus was preparing a tub of water. He knelt down and washed the feet of His disciples. Once He finished, He said,
14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:14-17 NIV)
The One who calls us to submit to one another understands submission more than all of us combined. He not only put Himself “beneath” His disciples and washed their feet—He submitted Himself into the hands of those He had created, those that He had given the breath of life, and they beat Him and nailed Him to a cross…and He let them. If being a servant of all would bring glory to my King then why would I not want to follow in the steps of my Lord? If I can honor Him by submitting myself to you, by making your needs more important than my needs, by counting you as more important than me, then Lord let me be as nothing.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
September 30, 2012