(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)
“Benjamin West was just trying to be a good babysitter for his little sister Sally. While his mother was out, Benjamin found some bottles of colored ink and proceeded to paint Sally's portrait. But by the time Mrs. West returned, ink blots stained the table, chairs, and floor. Benjamin's mother surveyed the mess without a word until she saw the picture. Picking it up she exclaimed, "Why, it's Sally!" She bent down and kissed her young son. “In 1763, when he was 25 years old, Benjamin West was selected as history painter to England's King George III. He became one of the most celebrated artists of his day. Commenting on his start as an artist, he said, "My mother's kiss made me a painter." Her encouragement did far more than a rebuke ever could have done. “It's easy to notice the wrong in a child, but difficult to look beyond an innocent offense to see an act of creativity and love. What a challenge to raise our children according to God's standards, knowing when to say, ‘It's a mess!’ and when to say, ‘Why, it's Sally!’"
-D. C. McCasland at https://www.preceptaustin.org/ephesians_sermon_illustrations_6
CONTEXT = In Matthew 12:46-50, Jesus demonstrated that our relationship with God trumps family, church, and all human relationships. In v. 21, Paul reminds us that mutual submission is to characterize all relationships in the Church. Our other relationships flow from our relationships to God and the Church.
Notice a pattern in the three sections of our passage; Paul addresses the follower first, the leader second: the marriage section begins with the word WIVES, the parenting section begins with the word CHILDREN, and the slavery section begins with the word SLAVES. The Greek adds the article before the noun, but is otherwise exactly the same. Listing the subordinate member first may be Paul’s way to equalizing their status a bit.
Authority is redeemed when leaders and followers live as disciples of Jesus.
1. In redeemed marriages, the cultural model was challenged and changed.
In redeemed marriages, wives were to submit to the husband’s authority. Verse 22 plainly states WIVES, SUBMIT TO YOUR HUSBANDS AS TO THE LORD. No one would seriously claim equality with Christ. (Although, Romans 8:17 tells us we are CO-HEIRS WITH CHRIST.) Paul considered submission a “given” and offered this example to illustrate the principle. He didn’t argue against the cultural norm, but redeemed it.
An equally plain statement was made in verse 24: NOW AS THE CHURCH SUBMITS TO CHRIST, SO ALSO WIVES SHOULD SUBMIT TO THEIR HUSBANDS IN EVERYTHING. Paul was always an advocate of order and here he calls for orderly marital relations by bringing an end to competition between husband and wife. The standard he describes here is theological as it is based on the Church’s submission to Christ, and it is total, as the word EVERYTHING indicates.
In verse 33 Paul added respect to submission: THE WIFE MUST RESPECT HER HUSBAND. This does not mean that RESPECT only goes one way. Paul’s inspired command challenged a culture where the wife’s only recourse was passive-aggressive forms of disrespect. RESPECT is commanded for all relationships in the church: 1 Peter 2:17 said, SHOW PROPER RESPECT TO EVERYONE: LOVE THE BROTHERHOOD OF BELIEVERS, FEAR GOD, HONOR THE KING.
In redeemed marriages husbands were to temper the exercise of their authority. The command to love appears in verse 25; HUSBANDS, LOVE YOUR WIVES, JUST AS CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH. Paul directly opposed a Grecian culture that had removed love from marriage and a Roman culture that had made marriage a revolving door. He held husbands to the highest possible standard of love; the same love that Christ showed His Church, as described in detail in vs. 26-27.
As verse 25 is the maximum standard for love, verse 28 is the minimum: IN THIS SAME WAY, HUSBANDS OUGHT TO LOVE THEIR WIVES AS THEIR OWN BODIES. HE WHO LOVES HIS WIFE LOVES HIMSELF. Paul’s appeal was directed at men, who tend to be self-centered. But they can be counted on to care for themselves. In this sense, the husband is to love his wife no less than he loves himself. Paul is not herein approving self-centeredness, he is effectively saying, “If loving your wife the way Christ love the Church seems too difficult at the moment, then at least show here as much care and you show self-care.
2. In redeemed families, the cultural model was challenged and changed.
In redeemed families, children (a term which included people of elementary age to early 20s) were to honor and obey their parents. (vs. 1-3) A qualifier is given: IN THE LORD. Obedience is best realized in the context of our relationship with Christ, subject to Him.
A reason is given: FOR THIS IS RIGHT. Obedience to one’s parents is simply the correct way to treat them. SUBMIT is not as strong a word as OBEY.
Another reason is given: honoring one’s parents is one of the Ten Commandments, the only one with a promise attached; long and productive life. Thus, a motive for honoring your parents is for your own blessing.
Obedience characterizes the childhood years and fades when our kids become adults. However, the command to HONOR one’s parents is a life-long directive.
In redeemed families, fathers were to temper the exercise of their authority. (The Greek word for FATHERS could also be translated as “parents.”) Specifically, FATHERS were not to EXASPERATE their children. Children can become exasperated when their will is thwarted; that is natural and is not the responsibility of the parent. The child is morally responsible for their exasperation on that occasion.
However, exasperation also appears when authority is abused or unfairly applied; when parents are insensitive to the feelings of their children, being legalistic or harsh. Instead of exasperation, fathers are to give TRAINING AND INSTRUCTION based on the Lord’s teachings. Parents are to teach the biblical and moral reasons behind the rules so their children’s hearts are attuned to the Lord.
This affirms the teaching set forth in Deuteronomy 6:7, that the family is the primary means of instruction in the faith. God puts families together (Psalm 68:6) for several reasons; it is the basic social unit of civilized life.
3. In redeemed households, the practice of slavery was challenged and changed.
In redeemed households, slaves were to obey their masters. It is estimated that 35% of the people in the Roman Empire were slaves. Slavery then was practiced in significantly different ways than it was practiced here, but it was no more humane.
Paul qualified obedience 5 ways.
- WITH RESPECT.
- WITH SINCERITY OF HEART.
- AS YOU WOULD OBEY CHRIST
- WHOLEHEARTEDLY or “with goodwill.”
Paul explained the depth of obedience. It is not superficial, but supernatural. First, obedience is given even when the master is NOT watching, when it will not guarantee a favorable outcome. Second, obedience is to be given because doing so earns us an eternal REWARD, not the earthly reward of the master’s FAVOR.
In redeemed households, masters were to treat their slaves with respect out of fear of their MASTER IN HEAVEN. For Paul to command slave owners to have this kind of attitude was directly contrary to the attitudes and actions of non-Christian slave owners; very radical of Paul. Notice that even though there is a huge inequality between masters and slaves, masters were ordered to treat their slaves IN THE SAME WAY that the slaves were to treat the masters! This implies an equality of RESPECT, FEAR, and SINCERITY.
There is a theological reason for this deferential treatment of slaves; SINCE YOU KNOW THAT HE WHO IS BOTH THEIR MASTER AND YOURS IS IN HEAVEN, AND THERE IS NO FAVORITISM WITH HIM. You could understand if a slave or master felt that God showed FAVORITISM, but Paul assures us that is not the case. This fits perfectly with Paul’s important statement about equality in God’s sight: THERE IS NEITHER JEW NOR GREEK, SLAVE NOR FREE, MALE NOR FEMALE, FOR YOU ARE ONE IN CHRIST JESUS (Galatians 8:28). In the Old Testament slavery was regulated in a comparatively more benevolent way, but Paul’s teaching here goes beyond that. He’s saying that in Christ - in every way that really counts - slaves and masters are equals. Mutual respect should characterize their relationship as well. A master is not allowed to use threatening or abusive behavior toward his slaves. His authority is tempered by the love of Christ in his heart.
Authority is redeemed when leaders and followers live as disciples of Jesus.
Throughout this section, Paul wrote candidly about the culture within which he lived. He did not approve the culture’s practices, nor did he express disapproval. This is true even in the section on slavery.
Instead, he challenged the Christians in that culture. Those who follow Jesus Christ were to live to a higher standard, one that was divine in origin. When the worldly culture left wives no other recourse but passive-aggressiveness, God called wives to win love with respectful submission. When the worldly culture gave the husband unlimited authority, God’s word challenged husbands to temper their authority with love.
When the culture gave children no protections, God promised a long life to those who obeyed their parents. When the culture gave fathers absolute authority, God commanded them to be sensitive to the feelings of their children, in keeping with the ultimate aim of bringing them to maturity in life and faith.
When the culture put slaves at the absolute bottom rung of the social ladder, God commanded them to render service to their master by the measure of the service they owed Jesus Christ. When masters were given the authority of life and death, God commanded them to treat their slaves just as their heavenly Father treated them.
I believe we trivialize this passage when we search for legalisms. There’s something much more profound at work here than settling the question of who’s in charge. In this passage, the existing culture is merely noted as inadequate. God revealed to Paul that there is a higher standard to which God’s people are called. The principle behind the teaching on all three kinds of relationships is made obvious in verse twenty-one: SUBMIT TO ONE ANOTHER OUT OF REVERENCE FOR CHRIST. That is the portion of the passage that applies to all relationships and is portable to all situations. If we seek to know how to order our marital relationships, family relationships, and work relationships, we must start there and find ways to apply the general principle to our unique situations.
Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold