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'The Blessings of God's Grace - An Exposition of Ephesians'
Children of God Continued.
Children and Parents.
In every Christian family, God expects parents to bring up their children to know the Lord Jesus Christ and to follow His ways and will for their life. One important way to do this is by instructing children in the Word of God, as Paul wrote to Timothy:
"From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:15 NKJV™).
The Bible makes clear that it is the duty of parents, and not merely Ministers or Sunday School teachers, to instruct their children in the ways of God. "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children." (Deut. 6:6-7 NKJV™).
1. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
Children are to obey their parents, for this is right and pleasing in the sight of God.
Paul does not consider the case where a parent's wishes oppose those of Christ, a very difficult situation for any Christian child to face; particularly when the parents do not share his or her faith. Clearly, the general rule even in these situations is that children must obey their parents; but God upholds the liberty of every person (including children) to resist what they consider to be wrong. The law of Christ in our hearts is greater even than the law of our parents.
A good example of childhood obedience is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, for when He was twelve years old His mother Mary and Joseph, who did not understand His mission, or what He had come to do, scolded Him for remaining behind in Jerusalem without their consent. On this occasion, "He returned with them to Nazareth and was obedient to them" (Luke 2:51). Yet He was not deterred from living His life for God His Father, and obeying His commands. In the fulness of time, He began His earthly ministry.
It is also to be noted that Christ took His responsibility to care for His parents very seriously. Even as He died on the cross, He made provision for His mother Mary to be cared for by the apostle John (John 19:26 - 27). This is in fulfilment of the commandment which Paul discusses in the following two verses.
2,3. "Honor your father and mother"--this is the first commandment with a promise: "so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth."
Paul appeals to Ex. 20:12 to show that obedience to parents has always been God's will, and was one of the ten commandments. The other commandments demanded obedience without reward, but here God promises a blessing for those who will obey, "that all will go well with you and you will have a long life." To be in harmony with God and with our parents is to experience a sense of peace and well being which will prosper our lives and lengthen them.
The words "to honor" mean more than obedience, for they also denote to care and to provide for, especially in old age. Just as parents look after children when they are young and unable to care for themselves, so it is expected of Christian children to do the same for their parents when they are old and no longer able to care for themselves. Paul's teaching on this subject is expanded in his first letter to Timothy:
But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God. (1 Tim. 5:4 NKJV™).
This teaching has become quite alien to modern Western Culture, where people increasingly expect health care professionals to look after their elderly parents. Of course, there are times when it is in a person's interest to be cared for by professionals, but the Christian child of elderly parents should allow his or herself to be challenged by the standards of the New Testament. We must all ask ourselves the question, "Am I doing all I can to help my parents, when they can no longer help themselves?"
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their practice of encouraging people to make gifts to the Temple from the money which should have been used to financially support their parents (Mark 7:9 - 13).
4. And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
In return, however, parents are to be careful how they bring up their children. The word translated "fathers" is "pateres", which according to Vine can be used to denote both parents. In the parent-child relationship the obedience of the children must be won by the loving nurture of the parents. As Bruce says, "If children are to obey their parents, then parents should deserve their children's obedience."
Parents who make unreasonable demands on their children are likely to find them becoming frustrated, irritated, or angry. It is tragic that some children find it almost impossible to please their parents.
One mistake which Christian parents commonly make is to expect their children to behave like adults with regard to their faith. A child may have a genuine Christian faith, but is still a child. Clearly we must be careful not to impose adult expectations on the hearts and minds of children, for this would "provoke", or rather "discourage" them - the expectations set for them being too high.
Similarly, if parents are not consistent in their demands, their sanctions, or their praises, then the child begins to wonder whether it does any good to obey at all. Behavior problems will be the result. The wise Christian parent will obey God's word to correct and discipline their children in a way that is both right and fair. Under all circumstances, the child should never be made to feel unwanted, or that his parents' love depends on his behavior. The "discipline and instruction" spoken of here are "of the Lord", which means that Christian parents are to discilpine their children in the way that God does; for God disciplines and teaches His children, but never in anger, only for our benefit. Not for a moment does God stop loving or withdraw His favor as a sign of His anger. On the contrary, His correction is a sign of His loving favor (Rev. 3:19). He corrects us so that we might live in the right way; and He does so because He loves us (Heb. 12:6).
The result of a Christian marriage should be children brought up to follow God's ways, for children are a heritage of the Lord (Psa. 127:3), belonging to Him. God's "reward" for bringing together a man and wife as a Christian family is that the children may come to know Him at an early age and go on to love and serve Him throughout their lives.
Servants and Masters.
We must remember that at the time of Paul's writing there were many slaves who were completely owned by their masters. Many were ill treated. Rather than try to overthrow a corrupt political system by revolt or protest, Paul instructed the Christian slaves to obey and serve their owners as if serving Christ. In this way the trade, and the distorted ideology behind it (that all men are not equal), would be overcome one heart at a time, as men were led to Jesus Christ by the godly influence of their slaves; whose captive dignity and love for their Lord could not fail to be recognized.
Paul also instructed Christian masters who owned slaves to treat them fairly, not harshly; more as equal partners than as possessions, for he says "you also have a Master in heaven."
Today, two hundred years after the abolition of the slave trade in North America, the battle against slavery world-wide is by no means over. Pino Arlacchi, director general of the U.N. Office of Drug Control and Crime Prevention "estimates that some 200 million people may now be in the hands of traffickers". (Source: San Francisco Chronicle, July 02 2000).
Paul is often criticized for apparently condoning the slave trade by his teaching. Nothing could be further from the truth. What Paul did by his teaching was to come alongside slaves and minister to their personal and spiritual needs. He could not overthrow the slave trade, but he could encourage his brothers and sisters in Christ to live each day for the Lord, in spite of their situation. He taught them how to live for Christ and to find His presence and peace in the midst of trouble.
Paul's attitude to the emancipation of slaves is clearly seen elsewhere in his letters. For instance, in his letter to Philemon he appeals for the emancipation of a newly converted runaway slave. To those slaves who are able to gain their freedom, he writes "if you can gain your freedom then do so - and then use your freed life in Christ's service" (my own paraphrase of 1 Cor. 7:21).
Paul's overarching message was not that men must to submit to evil, but rather that evil must be always be resisted with good. "Do not be overcome of evil but overcome evil with good." (Rom. 12:21)
Since the situation of many readers today is, thankfully, very different to that of slaves, we will apply the spirit of Paul's teaching to the role of employers and employees.
5. Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ.
As Christian employees we must be ready to follow our employer's instructions, giving due respect to their position, and ready to please them with hard work, being punctual, reliable, and trustworthy. "In fear and trembling" means that we work with a sense of duty to God, not the fear of man. "In singleness of heart" means that we work sincerely - not pretending to work when really we are idle. We are to work with our whole hearts as if we were serving Christ Himself and not men.
6,7. Not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women.
We are not to work only when we are being watched by our bosses, to please them, but to work as if we were working for the Lord who is watching us all the time. As we work with a goodwill, we will not find it a drudge, but a joy to serve our Lord through our work all day long.
8. Knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.
As servants of Christ we look forward, not only to our wages, but to an eternal reward in heaven, for whatever good we do in this life will be rewarded by Christ, and this is true for all, whether masters or servants.
9. And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with Him there is no partiality.
The same obligation to serve Christ with the whole heart is placed on Christian employers. Since they have a master above them, Jesus Christ, they are to treat their employees as they would wish to be treated; since one day they will answer to the Lord of both bosses and workers. They should try to be fair, since Christ will side with the right and not show respect of persons (Rom. 2:11).
The Christian Warfare.
10. Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His power.
How can we ever hope to fulfil the demands Christ makes of us in the Christian life? Only as we share God's strength and power, being "strong in the Lord". As we avail ourselves of God's power to strengthen us, He will enable us to live for Him. The greatness of His mighty working in us will cause us to be spiritually strong to stand against the forces of darkness and overcome the wiles of the devil (Philip. 4:13).
11. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
In the following verses Paul compares a Christian to a soldier who has been well equipped for battle. No soldier would ever go into battle without putting on his armor or taking his weapons. So the Christian must put on the full armor of God as he faces the evil in the world and takes his stand for Christ. God has provided all we need, but only as we partake of it (put it on), can we overcome evil (1 John 4:4).
There are many ways in which the devil tries to gain an advantage over God's people. For example, the persecution of Christians is increasing in the modern world. In Western countries, this persecution often takes a darker, more subtle form, as laws are passed to challenge God's law and believers find themselves with a choice: to disobey Christ or face civil lawsuits and even criminal charges. The devil also tries to cause division among Christians; to lead into backsliding; to split up Christian marriages (1 Cor. 7:5); or lead God's people into sin and error (2 Cor. 11:3). If we are going to overcome these diabolical strategies we must be strong in the Lord's supernatural power.
12. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
God wants us to know who our enemies are. They are not flesh and blood, but spiritual powers of evil at work in the world. Since our war is a spiritual one, it requires spiritual weapons and protection.
Satan is not an idea or a personification of evil on whom can be placed the blame for man's calamities. Satan is a fallen angel, having a supernatural force of great cunning and power, and is an actual personality at work in the world today. A list is given of the various ranks of angelic beings who joined Satan in his rebellion against God and his attempt to incite a similar rebellion among men. The distinctions among them are not of great importance, but they are all led by "the god of this age" (Satan) to carry out his wishes (2 Cor. 4:4).
It ought not to be surprising that the children of God come under the particular attack of demonic forces, since these are led by Satan, who is God's enemy and therefore ours. The warfare is so personal that it is described as "wrestling", which is hand to hand combat. Yet Paul wants the child of God to see that he begins this fight from a position of victory. Christ has already overcome the forces of evil, so that all must submit to His authority. Christians are made to sahre in this victory by virtue of their union with Christ. The armor of God, which Paul delineates, is actually an expression of our vital union with our triumphant Lord.
As Bruce writes:
"(They) launched an assault on the crucified Christ, but He, far from suffering their assault without resistance, grappled with them and overcame them, stripping them of their armor and driving them before him in triumphal procession (Col. 2:15). Thus (these) powers are already vanquished, but it is only by faith union with the victorious Christ that Christians can make His triumph theirs."
13. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
Because of this present onslaught against the Church, we need to put on all the armor of God; availing ourselves of all the God in Christ has done and given to us; so that we might be able to resist the devil and stand our ground in these evil days. As we do, we are promised God's strength, which is sufficient to enable us to stand firm and not give in.
14. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.
The first piece of armor is "the belt of truth". A wide belt around the back and stomach strengthens a man to stand straight and carry heavy loads. In our spiritual war, we must clothe ourselves with God's truth if we would know His supernatural strength.
The rest of a Roman soldier's armor would be ineffective without the support provided by his belt. The armor of God is remains ever effective because God cannot lie, and therefore His armor cannot fail to be sufficient. In order to "wear" this belt, we must have a living acquaintance with the truth that is Jesus Christ (John 14:6). God's Word is truth, and as believers we must know the truth, believe the truth, and live the truth.
The word "truth" also includes the thought of loyalty. No Christian soldier can stand who is not loyal to the Lord Jesus Christ, and as we take our stand for Him we will find that He is always loyal to us.
Next on the list is the "breastplate of righteousness". Being justified (made right with God in Christ), we have the power to live a righteous life, and develop a righteous character. Living right is one of the greatest weapons a Christian has, keeping a clear conscience helps us to silence the accuser. To walk with God, in the center of His will, is indeed the safest and best place for any one to be.
15. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the Gospel of peace.
Our feet must be shod with "the preparation of the Gospel of peace". We must prepare ourselves by becoming familiar with the Gospel message, so that we are able to share it with others and lead them to the Lord. We should always be prepared to witness: ready and able to share the good news with others we meet (1 Pet. 3:15).
16. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Next is the "shield of faith". Paul considers this to be of great importance, since all the rest of the armor would be useless without it. The term used is for a full length shield that covers from head to toe. The armor which faith provides is all inclusive:
We are saved through faith (Eph. 2:8).
Faith gives us the victory (1 John 5:4).
Without it we cannot please God (Heb. 11:6).
We are justified by faith (Gal. 2:16).
We live by faith (Gal. 2:20).
We are to pray in faith (James 1:6).
And so we are able to quench all the devil throws at us by faith. It appears that "fiery darts" would have been used by Roman soldiers to set fire to their enemy's defences. Satan tries to set a sinful fire in our hearts and minds through many temptations to sin. God's provision of the shield of faith indicates that it is not by our own strength that we can overcome temptation, but by the keeping power of God and our faith in His ability to keep us (1 Pet. 1:5).
17. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Next (fifth) on the list is the "helmet of salvation". We ought not take this analogy to the soldier's armor too literally, for salvation encompasses our spirit, soul and body, and is not confined to the mind. Yet surely the head is the most important part of the body to defend, and this is why the helmet is a figure of our salvation, which provides us with sufficient protection for the whole man in every circumstance. Just as being ready to proclaim the Gospel is not a matter which concerns the Christian's feet, so the helmet of salvation does not merely protect his mind, but his soul.
It remains true, however, that the devil continually attacks the Christian's mind. The helmet of salvation will protect from his accusations and onslaughts (2 Tim. 1:7).
Finally, the only attacking weapon the Christian has been given is "the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God". We must use God's Word as we strive in prayer just as the Lord did during His temptation in the wilderness. For example, when Satan asked Christ to prove His divinity by turning stones into bread, Jesus replied, "It is written, 'man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.' " (Matt. 4:4 NKJV™)
The Lord Jesus Christ overcame by the power of His Word, and that same powerful, living word is available for us to use.
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb. 4:12)
Our Personal Prayer Life.
18. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.
Although prayer is not mentioned directly as part of the armor, it is essential to our spiritual warfare. We are to persevere in praying in the Spirit, using the Word of God in the way described in the previous verse. The believer must pray regularly, at all times, without missing a single daily prayer time and without giving up on prayer. We are to pray with a purpose, aware of the needs of God's people as we intercede on their behalf, especially for their spiritual needs.
19,20. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the Gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
Paul asks the Ephesians to pray for him that he might have the freedom to preach the Gospel without fear. It was for preaching the Gospel that he was in prison, but rather than ask prayer for his release, he asks them to pray that he might courageously use this opportunity to speak for God, since he already knew that to be God's will (Acts 23.11).
21,22. So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus will tell you everything. He is a dear brother and a faithful minister in the Lord. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, to let you know how we are, and to encourage your hearts.
Tychicus, who is faithful in the ministry given him by the Lord, was trusted by Paul to deliver this letter and to report on his personal situation to the church; about which situation Tychicus would encourage and comfort the Ephesians believers; since spiritually, if not materially, Paul was doing fine.
23,24. Peace to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen. (NKJV™).
Paul ends his letter with a benediction: that grace, peace, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ would be given to all those who know and love Him sincerely.
Copyright (2009-2014) Sharon Full Gospel Church, United Kingdom. Reg. Charity No. 1050642 www.sharonchurch.co.uk