The Fourteenth in a Series of Sermons on Ephesians
According to the Apostle Paul, God has built a certain order of things into creation so as to illustrate the way in which Jesus saves us from our sins. Because of this, Christians are to submit to Jesus Christ who is both our creator and redeemer. This is why Christian wives are to submit to their husbands, because in doing so, they imitate the sacrificial humility of Christ, as well as model the church’s submission to its bridegroom. Husbands are to love their wives as they love their own bodies, so as to to imitate Christ’s sacrificial love for his church, which is his body. Children are to submit to their parents as they would to the Lord, while slaves are to submit to their earthly masters just as they would to Jesus himself. Not only does this divinely-mandated submission to proper authority arise from the way in which God has ordered creation, but the submission of wives to husbands and the requirement that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church is intended to continually keep before our eyes the relationship that Jesus Christ has to his church, his bride. In all of this, we are reminded of Christ’s sacrificial love for his people.
As we continue our series on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we are making our way through the so-called “household code,” which runs from Ephesians 5:21 through Ephesians 6:9. Last time we took up Paul’s discussion of the duties of Christian husbands and wives, now we take up the two remaining aspects of a Christian’s submission to divinely-ordained authority in the household; children’s submission to their parents, and slaves’ submission to their earthly masters. While much attention is directed to Paul’s discussion about husbands and wives, we need to remember that this entire section is a one running discussion about the nature of proper submission. What Paul says in the second half of this section about children and parents and slaves and masters flows out of the groundwork laid down in the earlier verses of this section. Therefore, we’ll need to do a brief bit of review of Paul’s discussion of husbands and wives, before we take up our discussion of children and parents and slaves and masters.
As we saw last time, before Paul gets into any specifics about the order of authority and submission within the Christian household, he begins in Ephesians 5:21 by reminding us that all Christians must submit to Jesus, imitating his example of self-sacrifice in the Christian home. Just as Jesus humbled himself and became obedient unto death, so too Christians are to keep Jesus Christ’s self-sacrifice and humble obedience to his heavenly Father as the example of all conduct within the Christian home.
I also spent a fair bit of time on what I consider to the primary error when handling a passage such as Ephesians 5:22-33–confusion between the indicative mood (which is a statement of fact) and the imperative mood (a command) which mirrors the distinction between the law (what God commands of us) and the gospel (what God freely gives us in the gospel). Failure to consider this distinction between indicative and imperative too often leads to this text being presented as some sort of a general ethical discourse on Christian marriage, without any regard for the fact that no one can truly obey Paul’s command to submit to Christ. Not one wife here has ever submitted to their husbands as Paul commands. Not one husband here ever loved his wife as Christ loved the church. Children do not submit to their parents as they should, nor do slaves truly submit to their earthly masters. So, on the one hand, the imperatives in this passage end up condemning all of us because not one of us has ever done that which God demands of us.
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