Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.2 “Honour 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.
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 favour when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.
9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favouritism with him.
I have read this passage often and heard people preach on it. I tend to skip past it quite quickly because I feel convicted by the children honour your parent’s part and mostly I feel confused about the slaves and masters part. So I have spent some time this morning trying to get into the story and understand what is going on here. The first thing I remember is that most of the letter to the Ephesian Church talks about who Christ is. We learn about how we have been set free from the system of this world and have been called to live a different life. We have been called to live in unity as a new creation in Christ. There is so much good theology in the letter but then it gets applied to these seemingly obvious or trivial issues…why?
Clearly these issues about husbands and wives, slaves and masters and parent child relationships needed to be addressed in the Ephesian church. However, instead of writing a letter saying stop your nonsense and start living like a Christian – which is A, B and C. Paul approaches the church by showing them God, reminding them about Jesus and the wonderful salvation that they received. He then points out areas of human relationships that this gospel message needs to be applied to. If we were living in Ephesus in this time we would have laughed at Paul for suggesting that slavery needs to be abolished and that men and women should be treated with equality. These were just not done; slavery had been the norm for thousands of years…and was common practice for a thousand years after this letter. What I see now and believe is that Paul has called this church to a better way by showing them Christ…he then honours their right to follow Christ and allow those details to work themselves out.
So for us here and now we need look at the areas of life that are our common practices…accepted by the church but are not really the picture of who Christ is and what He calls us to. If I had to look at a few they would be; the we spend our money, what our measure of success is, the inequality of service provision, education, transport and access to health care. I imagine people reading about our church a thousand years from now and being confused by the fact that people in the same church did not have the same access to health care or education as other members in the same body…and why did the leaders stand against it. These are the heart issues that Paul is dealing with. What we believe about Christ and what he has done should match the way we live from day to day.
I would like to be part of a church that strives for that…who is with me?