Husbands, Love Your Wives! (Ephesians 5.25–33)


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SCRIPTURE READING

Ephesians 5.25–33

DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT

In the Roman Empire, men held tremendous power over their households. According to Charles Seltman, “A girl was completely under her father’s, a wife completely under her husband’s, power. She was his chattel … Her life was one of legal incapacity which amounted to enslavement, while her status was described as ‘imbecilitas,’ whence our word [imbecile].”

With Seltman’s statement in mind, we can see that what Paul writes about a wife’s submission to her husband (Ephesians 5.22–24) expresses the classical world’s traditional wisdom. But do we also see that what Paul writes about a husband’s relationship to his wife (5.25–32) was and continues to be a revolution in marital relationships? He replaces a husband’s power over his wife with a Christ-like love for his wife: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church” (verse 25).

How does Christ love the church? And how does this affect a Christian husband’s love for his wife? Look at verses 25–27: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” In theological terms, Christ sacrificed himself to sanctify us. He died so that we could live. And that life he died to give us is not mediocre. It is “radiant,” “without stain or wrinkle or blemish, and “holy.” We might say that Christ gave his whole self that we might become our best selves.

In the Roman Empire, a wife served her husband’s whims. But in a very real sense, Christ serves the church’s needs. And this service is what gives him authority over us. For in contrast to worldly notions of power and authority, Jesus says: “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant … just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20.26–28). Paul commands Christian husbands to love their wives “just as Christ loved the church” (verse 25), that is, by serving them.

Paul also writes that Christian husbands “ ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body” (verses 28–30). Roman husbands may have had the legal power to abuse and neglect their wives, but in doing so, they were only abusing and neglecting themselves and making their own lives miserable.

Paul concludes his teaching with this summary statement: “each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (verse 32). Men, if you want your wife to respect you, then love her. Devote yourself to her best interests. Take care of her better than you care for your own body. As you do, you will find that a happy wife makes for a very happy life.

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Wives, Submit to Your Husbands? (Ephesians 5.22–24)


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SCRIPTURE READING

Ephesians 5.22–24

DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT

Ephesians 5.22–24 reads: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

This is one of my least favorite passages in the Bible for several reasons: First, it seems to teach a hierarchical model of marriage that makes basically egalitarian husbands such as me very uncomfortable. Second, it is sometimes misinterpreted as tacit permission for husbands to bully their wives. And third, as a man and as a pastor, I feel uncomfortable telling wives that they need to be submissive to their husbands.

Whether or not Ephesians 5.22–24 is my favorite passage, it is still God’s Word to us (2 Timothy 3.16–17), so how should we interpret it? Here are a few guidelines:

  1. Do not interpret it away. Yesterday, I wrote about how we complexify the Bible’s simple moral commandments, rejecting black and white for hazy shades of gray. The temptation to do this here is strong, and it should be strongly resisted. Why? (a) Through Paul, God has spoken straightforwardly, and it is our duty to listen humbly. (b) If we interpret away the force of this passage to wives, then logically, we must do the same to Paul’s instructions to husbands in verses 25–33. But what those verses say about a husband’s responsibilities to his wife are revolutionary! If for no other reason than to retain what Paul says to husbands, we must listen to what he says to wives.
  2. Read these verses in their spiritual context. English translations of this passage hide the grammatical connection between verses 15–21 and verses 22–24. From verse 18, the passage reads: “And do not get drunk with wine…but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another…, singing and making melody to the Lord…, giving thanks always and for everything to God…, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, to your own husbands, as to the Lord….” In Greek, there is no verb in verse 22, so English translators rightly carry the one over from verse 21. But this means that if a person is filled with the Holy Spirit, he addresses, sings, gives thanks, and submits. In other words, submission is a general characteristic of all Spirit-filled Christians, including men. Wives submitting to their husbands is merely a specific example of this general principle at work in household relationships.
  3. This passage is about voluntary submission, not involuntary subordination. Paul directly addresses women in this passage, not men. He does not say, “Husbands, subordinate your wives to yourselves,” or “Husbands, bully your wives into submission.” AND NO MAN SHOULD READ THIS PASSAGE AS PERMISSION TO DO SO. Jesus is not a bully to the church. We husbands should not be bullies to our wives.
  4. And finally, read this passage together with Paul’s instructions to Christian husbands (verses 25–33). The relationship between Christ and the church is the proper model for husband-wife relationships. If husbands acted more like Christ, perhaps wives wouldn’t have such a problem acting more like the church.

I’ll say more about a husband’s responsibilities to his wife in the next Daily Word.

Black and White Morality in a Gray Culture (Ephesians 5.15–21)


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SCRIPTURE READING

Ephesians 5.15–21

DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT

The Bible portrays morality in black and white, but our culture sees morality in shades of gray.

Take sex, for example. In the Bible, sex outside of marriage is immoral (Hebrews 13.4). But in our culture, it is routine, even among Christians. We know what the Bible teaches, but we prefer to ignore its teaching and/or generate rationalizations for our disobedience. (Someone has said that to rationalize means to offer “rational lies.” How true!)

Or take anger. Jesus clearly teaches that anger is a form of murder deserving judgment and that it should be replaced by reconciliation (Matthew 5.21–26). But how many of us offer rationalizations for our anger, insults, and mean-spirited actions? Too many, I fear.

Or finally, take alcohol. Paul writes: “do not get drunk with wine” (Ephesians 5.18). And yet, how many of us turn to drink at the end of a long, hard day at the office? (Or to drugs, legal or illegal, or to some other substance or activity?) We offer reasons: “I need to steady my nerves,” “I need to forget my troubles,” “I need a little pick-me-up.” But those reasons quickly become rationalizations for excess and addiction.

We human beings are excuse-making factories, you see. Rational lies pour out of our brains like water rushing through a broken levee. To plug the hole, we need to constantly remind ourselves of the Bible’s simple (though never simplistic) moral teaching. Consider Ephesians 5.15–21:

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Paul teaches us three things in this passage:

  1. The Christian life requires a choice between black and white. Notice the polarity in his words. He starkly contrasts being “wise” and “unwise” (or “foolish”). He offers a clear alternative between being “drunk with wine” or “filled with the Spirit.”
  2. The Christian life replaces bad with good. Following Christ entails being against certain actions, behaviors, and forms of speech. But Christians are also in favor of other actions, behaviors, and forms of speech. It is not enough to stand against sin, in other words. We must walk in Christ’s stead.
  3. The Christian life results in positive regard for God and others. What does it mean to be “filled with the Spirit”? Paul answers with four verbs: addressing, singing, giving thanks, and submitting. Through our words, attitudes, and actions, we are supposed to love God wholeheartedly and our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22.37–40).

How much better would our lives be if we lived according to these simple principles?

The Indicative and the Imperative (Ephesians 5.7–14)


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SCRIPTURE READING

Ephesians 5:7–14

DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT

In Ephesians 5.7–14, Paul makes two kinds of statements. The first is indicative; it states who we are. The second kind is imperative; it tells us how we should act.

Indicative statements include the following:

  • “You were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (verse 8).
  • “The fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true” (verse 9).

Imperative statements include the following:

  • “Do not associate with them” (verse 7).
  • “Walk as children of the light” (verse 8).
  • “Discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (verse 10).
  • “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (verse 11).
  • “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead” (verse 14).

For Paul, there is a logical connection between the indicative and the imperative. Notice the conjunctions “therefore” (verse 7) and “for” (verses 8, 9, 11, 14). In each case, they link who we are and how we should act. “You are light in the Lord,” Paul says, so “walk as children of the light.”

Unfortunately, far too many of us Christians act in very dark, un-Christ-like ways. What is the solution to this problem? What is the remedy for our hypocrisy?

The first remedy is association. “Birds of a feather flock together.” This proverb states a sociological principle: We act like those with whom we associate, whether positive or negatively. If we want to become like Christ, we must associate with people who have a similar goal. This does not exclude friendships with people of other faiths, of course. It simply means that our primary relationships should be with people who will encourage us in our relationship with God.

The second remedy is proactivity. Paul tells us, “Walk as children of the light.” Moral transformation does not happen passively, any more than weight loss happens by sitting on a couch. We must take action, and that action must aim toward one goal: continuous moral progress.

The third remedy is discernment. We often make decisions about what to do based on what pleases us. We are self-centered that way. Continuous moral progress begins when we center our lives on Someone other than ourselves, our Creator, Judge, and Savior. We will become more Christ-like when we “begin to seek what is pleasing to the Lord.”

The fourth remedy is negation and exposure. “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” Negation and exposure are a single action. We summon the courage to call what is displeasing to God “sin,” and then we refuse to do it.

The final remedy is alertness. “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Too often, we become complacent about the process of moral transformation. To become like Christ, we must be constantly alert to the obstacles in our way, as well as to the opportunities Christ gives us to shine.

We’re Christians—“little Christs.” Let’s act like it!

God, Sex, and Popular Culture (Ephesians 5.3–6)


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SCRIPTURE READING

Ephesians 5.3–6

DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT

We live in a sex-obsessed culture.

Turn on the television during prime viewing hours, and you’ll see advertisements, entertainment news shows, sitcoms, and hour-long dramas awash in sex. Unfortunately, very little of the sex takes place in the context of marriage, and almost none of it has real-world consequences. When was the last time you saw a realistic portrayal of sexually transmitted disease, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, or the financial disadvantage of single-parent homes?

But sex, like every other human behavior, has consequences. Why don’t television and other popular media deal with those consequences realistically, instead of just portraying sex as a harmless free-for-all? I would suggest that it is because they—as well large chunks of our culture—are committed to an ideology of sexual liberation whereby any sexual choice is moral (and therefore above criticism), as long as it is freely and authentically chosen. Call this the subjective theory of sexual morality.

By contrast, Christianity operates according to what you might call an objective theory of sexual morality. On this theory, sexual choices are moral insofar as they conform to God’s design plan for sex, which was first articulated in the creation stories of Genesis 1.27–28 and 2.18–25, and then reaffirmed by Jesus in Mark 10.2–12 and Matthew 19.3–9. In that design plan, a man and a woman freely choose to unite themselves in marriage for life.

Marriage is about far more than sex, of course. In the words of the Book of Common Prayer’s wedding service, “The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord.” But in God’s design plan, marriage is the moral context in which we experience true, lifelong sexual fulfillment, precisely because marriage includes far more than just sex.

Contrasted with the popular media portrayals of sex, the Christian view of marriage is radically countercultural, in at least two ways. Consider what light Ephesians 5.3–6 has to shed on this subject:

  1. Popular culture views sex as a free-for-all; Christians place moral limitations on sexual expression. “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (verses 3–4).
  2. Popular culture refuses to evaluate freely and authentically chosen sexual behaviors; Christians point out the spiritual consequences of violating God’s design plan. “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (verses 5–6).

“Let no one deceive you.” In our sex-obsessed culture, where just about anything and everything goes, those are five good words to keep in mind. In our sex lives, as well as in every aspect of our lives, God has a far better plan than what you see on TV.

Imitating God (Ephesians 5.1–2)


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SCRIPTURE READING

Ephesians 5.1–2

DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT

When I was in high school, I played basketball. One afternoon, my coach decided to forego practice and take us to see a movie instead. The movie was Hoosiers. Set in 1951, it told the story of Coach Norman Dale, who led a small, ragtag team of Indiana farm boys to the state championship.

My coach took us to see Hoosiers for two reasons: inspiration and imitation. We, too, were a small, ragtag team that regularly played larger, more talented teams, and coach wanted to inspire a fighting spirit within us. But he also wanted us to imitate Jimmy Chitwood, the star player on Coach Dale’s team. Jimmy always squared up for his shots. He always tucked his elbows in when he shot. He always followed through with his wrist. He always went to the boards for a rebound. Coach wanted us to do the same.

In life, as in basketball, we learn by imitation. As young children, we imitate our parents. As adolescents, we imitate our peers. As adults, we imitate—or at least try to keep up with—the Joneses. Imitation is inevitable. The real question is not whether we imitate, but who we imitate.

As Christians, we are expected to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4.1). Whose “walk” is worth imitating? God’s, of course! Consider Ephesians 5.1–2: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

How do we imitate God? Certainly not by becoming gods ourselves! There is an infinite, qualitative distance between Creator and creature that simply cannot be bridged. We are not eternal, for example, and we cannot become all-powerful or all-knowing. Some Mormons proclaim, “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may be,” in the words of LDS Apostle James E. Talmage (1862–1933). Some New Agers speak of the “divine spark” within us. No Christian says these things. We simply cannot become God. But we can become like God, at least in terms of our moral character.

How so? Paul commands us to “walk in love, as Christ loved us.” Implicit in this command are two profound theological ideas. (1) God is love (1 John 4.8). And (2) his love is most fully expressed through Christ’s death on our behalf (Romans 5.8). The more we imitate God, therefore, the more loving, self-giving, and forgiving we should become.

My basketball coach wanted my team to shoot like Jimmy Chitwood. Square up. Tuck your elbows in. Follow through with your wrist. Hit the boards. Shooting like Jimmy Chitwood didn’t happen overnight, however. We had to unlearn bad ways of shooting and learn new ways.

Walking like Jesus Christ isn’t easy either, and it doesn’t happen overnight. But every time we love a little more, give a little more, and forgive a little more, we become more and more like God.

P.S. If you want to know how Jimmy Chitwood shot, watch this video:

Five Case Studies in Change (Ephesians 4.25–32)


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SCRIPTURE READING

Ephesians 4.25–32

DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT

Yesterday, I wrote about the three-stage process of change Paul teaches in Ephesians 4.17–24:

  1. Put off your old self (verse 22).
  2. Be renewed in the spirit of your mind (verse 23).
  3. Put on the new self (verse 24).

In Ephesians 4.25–32, Paul applies this process to five case studies.

First, lying: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (verse 25). Dishonest speech violates the Ninth Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20.16). It also violates Jesus’ commandment to speak with absolute integrity: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matthew 5.37). Lying is an old-self behavior that needs to be exchanged for new-self truth telling. Why? A renewed mind understands that truth telling is indispensable for building strong relationships, and in the church, “we are all members of one body.”

Second, anger: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (verses 26–27). Anger is a legitimate response to injustice, at least initially. But it is possible for “righteous anger” to become “unrighteous rage,” which is why Paul writes both “Be angry” and “do not sin” in the same sentence. Unrighteous anger is the old-self behavior that needs to be put off. Quick resolution of grievances is the new-self behavior that needs to be put on. Why? A failure to deal with anger allows a little bit of hell into your heart.

Third, theft: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (verse 28). Paul is most likely referring to individuals who are freeloading off the church’s generous social welfare programs. Such freeloading by able-bodied workers is tantamount to theft. The antidote to freeloading is hard, honest work. Why? We work to provide our own needs, as well as the needs of others.

Fourth, unwholesome speech, that is profanity, obscenity, sarcasm, and insult: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (verse 29). The antidote to unwholesome speech is praise, encouragement, sincere compliments, and constructive criticism. A renewed mind recognizes that our words are means of divine grace to others.

Fifth, divisiveness: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (verses 31–32). Notice the stark choice: The old self divides a community through malice, but the new self unites it through kindness. A renewed mind knows that we must pass along to others the very same forgiveness God has given us through Christ.

Let us strive to change every behavior that grieves the Holy Spirit (verse 30), whatever that may be!

Three-Stage Process of Change (Ephesians 4.17–24)


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SCRIPTURE READING

Ephesians 4.17–24

DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT

A group of young men once asked me to talk to them about the use of pornography. They knew that using porn was unworthy of the life to which they had been called (Ephesians 4.1), but they felt unable to give it up. Why didn’t God answer their prayers and take away their desire for it?

I asked them a series of very simple questions: Have you thrown away your magazines? Have you destroyed your DVDs? Have you asked someone who does not struggle with this issue to hold you accountable? Have you asked that person to install Internet filter software on your computer? For the most part, their answers were, “No.” They had prayed, but they had not taken practical action.

Prayer is obviously an important tool God has given us for experiencing moral change in our lives. So, whenever we face temptation to sin—whether that sin is using pornography or anything else—we ought to ask God for help to resist temptation, and he will provide it. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10.13: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” But keep in mind that “the way of escape” involves practical action on our part.

Consider what Paul writes in Ephesians 4.17–24:

 17Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.  20But that is not the way you learned Christ!—21assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Verses 17–19 contain a diagnosis of the sinful condition. Notice that it is rooted in wrong thinking (“futility of their minds,” “darkened…understanding,” “ignorance”) and a spirit closed to God’s influence (“alienated,” “hardness of heart”). Wrong thinking and a closed spirit are not Christian (verse 20)! Instead, Paul instructs us to do three things (verses 21–24):

  1. Put off your old self. Take active measures to eliminate sin from your life.
  2. Be renewed in the spirit of your minds. We need to view sin from God’s perspective, as something that hinders us from being what God created us to be.
  3. Put on the new self. Bad habits must be actively replaced by good habits.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at how Paul applied this three-stage process of change (put off, be renewed, put on) to several areas of Christian behavior.

Spiritual Gifts (Ephesians 4.7–16)


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SCRIPTURE READING

Ephesians 4.7–16

DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians naturally divides in halves. In the first half (chapters 1–3), Paul’s overarching theme is “by grace you have been saved, through faith…not by works” (2.8–9). But in the second half (chapters 4–6), Paul’s overarching theme is “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (4.1). If I had to summarize the entire message of Ephesians, I would do so this way: Jesus Christ saves us by grace through faith for works.

So, as we begin to study Ephesians 4–6, it is helpful to keep in mind that this half of Paul’s letter deals with works, that is, with Christian behavior. Yesterday, I wrote that a life worth of Christ’s calling includes humility before God, patience with others, and unity with fellow believers. Today, I want to show you how using your spiritual gift is an essential part of the grace-filled life.

Please read Ephesians 4.7–16. The key verse is verse 7: “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” The grace Paul writes about here is not the grace of salvation. Rather, it is the grace of using your spiritual gifts. Citing Psalm 68.18, Paul argues that when Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, he poured out the Holy Spirit on believers, spiritually equipping them for ministry (verses 8–10). Using your spiritual gift, in other words, is a way of demonstrating Christ’s lordship over your life.

There are a variety of spiritual gifts. In verse 11, Paul lists those spiritual gifts usually associated with clergy: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Notice, however, that this list of spiritual gifts is not exhaustive. In verse 12, Paul writes that God gives these spiritual gifts “to prepare God’s people for works of service.” In other words, the spiritual gift of the clergy is to train the laity to use their spiritual gifts. As Pastor Rick Warren likes to say: “The people are the ministers. The pastors are the administers.” And the people’s ministries take a variety of forms. See 1 Corinthians 12.7–11, 27–31, and Romans 12.3–8 for illustrative lists of these ministries.

What is the purpose of all these spiritual gifts? Verses 12–13 state it: “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” In other words, when you use your spiritual gift as God intended, you become more Christlike, people within your sphere of influence become more Christlike, and your church as a community becomes more Christlike. A lot rides, then, on whether you put God’s grace to work by using your spiritual gift.

So, do you know what your spiritual gift is? Are you actively involved in a lifestyle of serving others and meeting their needs? If so, keep up the good work! If not, why not?

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