At least two matters should not be missed in the last chapter of Ephesians.
First, there is the matter of how to treat slaves.
I know . . . we don’t have slaves. But that is really irrelevant here. The “how we treat one another” lesson actually begins in 5:22. Wives should live with their husbands with the same respect they have toward the Lord. Husbands are to care for their wives with the same commitment as Christ had for the Church. Children are to respect their parents because of their (the children’s) relationship with Christ. Parents are to bring up their children with the same kind of discipline given them (the parents) by the Lord. Slaves should obey their masters with the same respect they give Christ. Masters are to treat their slaves with the same respect Jesus gives masters. In every way, we are called to behave toward others as the Lord behaves. The “how would Jesus respond?” issue is paramount in guiding our lives.
Second is the call to rely on the Lord.
The command of this letter is to “live as children of light”!
But that is a difficult command to follow. We need help. As the letter comes to a close, Paul, in dealing with the Christian’s armor, calls on us to trust in the Lord. Note that we put on the Lord’s armor, not our own. Note also that most of what is mentioned here is defensive in form, not offensive, and the one offensive weapon is not our own, but the word of God.
The Christian life is under attack by powerful dark forces in heavenly realms. We need the protection of God, and that is what the armor of God provides. If we want to make headway against our enemy, let it be with the unity Christ has called us to, the word He has given us, and the protection of His care.
Wherever Christianity goes, God intends that unity follow.
In chapter 3 Paul mentions a “mystery,” something not revealed or made plain before. But the mystery has been revealed to Paul and it is his job to reveal it to the world. The mystery is this: God has opened his kingdom to all mankind – no matter what race or ethnicity. Paul’s job was to make this truth known.
But preaching a message is one thing. Living it is another, and the problem is that while the kingdom doors are open to all who trust in Jesus, those who trust in Jesus are often more discriminating in their associations than God and the Church gets divided.
It is the duty of all Christians to live in such a united way that the dark powers of the universe see it and are awed. In our unity, we may approach God with freedom and confidence, and only as a unified people may we ever be seen as God’s people. This is what it means in chapter 3 to be “filled with the fullness of God.”
Sometimes Christians get caught up in a grander, but less important, picture. We talk about “Christian unity,” the notion that all denominations should get along and work harmoniously. Or, we worry over “diversity” and how much of it is present in our local congregations. What Paul was dealing with was neither of these things – both of which make us look good to fret over but are efforts doomed to failure because we lack one essential element: the blessing of unity within our own congregation. I know of church leaders who whine incessantly over congregations failing to have fellowship with one another. But their own churches are consumed with division. The focus should be on the unity of the local church. When we get that one down, perhaps we can move to the next level. Who wants to be a part of a divided church that bears no resemblance to the body of Christ?
Ephesians chapter five contains a tough command, more than a little counter-cultural in our time: “Wives, submit to your husbands.”
A couple of points are worth considering.
First, all of Ephesians is counter-cultural. In fact, all of Christianity is counter-cultural. If you expect to fit in with worldly friends and embrace the liberality of the world – Christianity won’t be your cup of tea.
Second, in Ephesians chapter, Paul begins the practical side of the book in which he requires his readers to “live worthy of their calling (4:1), become “imitators of God,” and live like the “children of light” they have become (5:8). Drunkenness is not an acceptable part of the Christian’s life. Rather than engage in the bawdy songs of the tavern, the Christian should sing spiritual songs – to one another and to the Lord.
And that brings us to our text, which is not just about wives submitting to husbands. While it includes that, it’s also about how Christians regard one another. The text begins with this often overlooked line: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The chapter returns to this mutual submission at the end when Paul specifically says: “I am talking about Christ and the Church.” Respect and submission begins at home, with family members looking out for one another and paying deference to one another, putting one another’s interests above the interests of self. But this respect extends to the Church.
There is no way around this really. Husbands must love their wives as Christ loved the Church, giving themselves for their wives. Wives must submit to their husbands. Children must submit to their parents, and parents cannot treat children as they please, but must bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. There is no room in the Kingdom of God for anyone who seeks to “go” or “have” his or her own way. Submissiveness to authority and place is a defining characteristic of Christians.
“For he [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made the two one, and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations” (Ephesians 2:14).
Here we have a problem: more than one, actually.
Jesus specifically said: “Do not think I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets: I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).
So did he abolish the law or not? And if he did, precisely what law was it?
Jesus did not come to do away with rules. Paul goes on in Ephesians to law down a bunch of them:
* “Put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires” (4:22).
* “Stop lying” (4:25).
* “Stop stealing” (4:28).
* “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality” (5:3).
These are just a few.
And incidentally, all of these come from the Old Testament, so what Jesus “destroyed” cannot be the Old Testament.
You should have noticed by now in reading through the New Testament that there was a strong ethnic rift between Jewish and gentile Christians. You see it plainly in Romans and Galatians. Paul maintains that the distinctions between the two have been removed. The identifying characteristics of Judaism (things like circumcision, holy day observance, and dietary laws) have been abolished so that the two, Jew and gentile, could become one. Both have access to the Father precisely the same way – by the Holy Spirit. All these distinctive regulations were in the Old Testament. They are even called “the law” by Paul in Galatians and Romans. But they were not the totality of the law, nor, when they were abolished, did that remove the authority of the Old Testament for Christian living. This becomes evident as Paul cites the Old Testament as the authority for mandating a change of lifestyle when one becomes a Christian (5:14).