We have been exploring the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus so that we might be able to better understand Christian Spirituality and its distinctives from other forms of spirituality that we will most assuredly encounter.
We have learned quite a bit about Christian Spirituality from Paul’s letter. We learned that Christian Spirituality is all about:
- God, the Creator, blessing people because He loves loving us.
- God making himself known in the person of Jesus Christ, His son.
- God giving us His Holy Spirit to guide us, challenge us, comfort us, and correct us.
- Accepting Jesus as Savior and imitating Him.
- Acknowledging Jesus unites followers by tearing down the walls that divide us and giving us peace.
- Building up other followers of Jesus.
- Living a life worthy of the love God has invested in us and the peace Jesus has given us.
We have learned a lot about the distinctives of Christian Spirituality. In Christ, we can live a new life completely unencumbered by traditions and religious rules. Christian Spirituality gives us a freedom to be the people God made us to be.
Freedom was very much a foreign concept to the people of Ephesus. The people of the ancient near east were bound in many ways. For the most part each person was known by their father, their tribe, or their hometown. We see evidence of that in the Bible.
- There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher (Luke 2:36).
- “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20)
- Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17)
- The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.” (Acts 9:11)
- Finally, send a few minutes with the genealogy of Jesus found in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke.
There are many examples of people being known by their father, tribe, and hometown.
People were known by the customs of their people. Consider just a few examples.
- 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) (John 4:9)
- He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. (Acts 10:28)
- 35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” (John 18:35)
Yet into all these differences and divides, Jesus came with the message, “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus’ words and actions caused the Apostle Paul to write to the Ephesians that, “14 For he himself (Jesus) is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations” (Ephesians 2:14-15). Paul saw that Jesus destroyed all the divides in life for those who would follow Jesus. That, dear friends, was freedom in ways people had not previously imagined.
Jesus made people truly free. What then were they to do with that freedom? How were they to conduct their affairs? To whom were these new Christians accountable? These must have been pressing matters for the early church because Paul felt compelled to answer them. In answering these questions, Paul said to the Ephesians, “21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).
What did Paul just say? “Submit to one another.” Was Paul really telling the Ephesians to take all that newly given freedom and give it away? Not exactly. Paul, speaking to followers of Jesus, said that followers of Jesus ought to “21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Paul was asking followers of Jesus to make mutual submission of their freedom to one another as a sign of their individual and mutual trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. What Paul had in mind was that each Christian would reject the idea that their freedom meant they were now free to be concerned only or primarily about themselves. Instead, Paul wanted Christians to reject self-centeredness and to adopt the idea of working for the good of other believers.
Paul was not talking about equality here. Equality necessarily carries with it the idea of making things equal and continually checking the scales to make sure that things are properly balanced. Equality means we are constantly keeping track to make sure that we get at least 50% of whatever it is that concerns us, whether that is power, purse, or pie. Mutual submission is a much stronger relationship in which we willingly give up rights to support and encourage the other, even if the other receives more than 50%. Why would we do such a thing? Paul said do it out of reverence for Jesus.
What Paul was saying here, when followed, was earth changing. We see glimpses of this behavior among the early church. In the Book of Acts we would read, “42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47). These people were submitted to each other in reverence for Christ.
Paul’s point was that mutual submission among Christians in reverence to Christ was the clearest way to show the distinctive and transformative nature of being in Christ. What Paul asked for apart from Christ was illogical. With Christ, what Paul asked was a wonderful expression of love.
From this foundation of mutual submission, Paul then wanted to help Christians understand how this new Christian Spirituality should play out in the home. In Paul’s day, there were formal household codes that existed as to how a home ought to be run and how husbands, wives, and their children ought to relate to one another. In Paul’s day, woman and children were often regarded as property with which the man of the house was free to do with whatever he pleased.
With freedom in Christ, those rules no longer applied. What did Paul say would be a fitting replacement for all those rules? Paul began with, ““21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). Paul then followed up with specific charges on wives and husbands.
Paul said, “22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord (Ephesians 5:22) and “25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). What Paul’s words meant was that first both the husband and wife were to live in, to, and for the Lord Jesus. And second, mutual submission means that decisions are to be made by both partners for unselfish reasons.
I do not think Paul’s words were as radical for the women as they were the men. Men held all the power and many saw women as property. Paul said Jesus changed all that. Men, husbands, were now to love their wives. Love is a voluntary giving of yourself to another. Secondly, the love a man must now give to his wife is like that that Jesus did for his church. Jesus gave sacrificially to the church, to his followers. Men must be givers and not takers.
Paul continued with more detailed instruction for the men, more so than the women. Paul said, “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” (Ephesians 5:25-29).
Why did Paul feel the need to be more specific with men? I think Paul did so because Paul understood the facts of life. Men have a much higher capacity and propensity toward brutish and violent behaviors as takers, particularly behind the closed doors of the home. Sadly, as many as 1 in 4 women will experience some form of abuse in their relationships with men. Even sadder, far too much of that abuse occurs at the hands of men who claim Christ. We must not equivocate on the sin of spousal abuse. Men cannot abuse women and claim Christ. Paul makes it clear that cannot be. Men are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and in doing so, please God. It follows then that men who abuse women necessarily abuse Christ. Men who abuse Christ make themselves an enemy of God. I believe on the day of judgement men who abuse women, will hear Jesus say to them, “‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:23).
Paul challenged the men of Ephesus and said, “Each one of you (men) also must love his wife as he loves himself” (Ephesians 5:33). Paul was making clear that a Christian marriage was far different from anything anyone had thought about. A Christian marriage was not about rights and laws. A Christian marriage was not about working hard at equality, a 50/50 proposition, if you will. A Christian marriage, a true Christian marriage, was to be a partnership of each giving the other 100% because doing so honored their love for Christ and one another. You know the ideal for a true Christian marriage is still far different from any other form of marriage.
Having asked husbands and wives to submit to each other, Paul turned his attention toward the children of a Christian family. Paul said, “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” (Ephesians 6:1-4).
Again, the command is that children submit to their parents and fathers do not exasperate their children. Exasperate here means that men are not to provoke, antagonize, and cause their children to become angry. Instead, men are to give instruction to the Lord.
Paul knew something about the significance of fathers, faith, and children. Recent studies show that, if a father does not go to church, even if his wife does, only 1 child in 50 will become a regular worshiper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of what the mother does, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will attend church as adults. Fathers are not to exasperate their children telling them to go to church. They are to instruct them by leading them to church.
Out of what Paul shared with the church in Ephesus about Christian Spirituality, what then can we draw out for ourselves? I think there are three points for us today.
First, in Christ we are made free, really free. We are new creations who are made free to be the person God intended for us to be. We maintain that freedom not by force but by following the lead of Jesus Christ and imitating Jesus at every turn.
Second, in Christ we are free to mutually submit ourselves to be part of the body of Christ, the church. Our submission means that we can work together to build each other up and do good for each other simply because it is good. We don’t do good for credit by anyone. We do good because it is our way of showing our love for Christ.
Third, in Christ, we are free to mutually build a home where wives, husbands, and children are built up in faith through love. Our home can be shaped by Christ into the ultimate sanctuary from the world. Our home should become the place of greatest refuge from the storms and disappointments of the world. Home should not be a place of misery or captivity. We, working with Christ, can make that happen.
Being a Christian, living in Christ, is a wonderful and fulfilling experience. When living as a Christian first appeared on the scene it captivated people’s attention because Christians were so unlike the world. We still are called to be unlike the world. It is for that reason I am glad to be here with you today seeking a life of a submission to one another in, through, and for Christ. Let us pray.