Ephesians 5 v 21 – 32 and 6 v 1 – 4
“There are unbelievable forces at work today in our society, forces that are committed to the destruction of the Christian concept of the family. It is crumbling all around us, and some of the most vulnerable people are those who a few years ago are those who would have said, “ It won’t and it can’t happen to us.” What needs to happen is for Christians to stand up and be counted. Christian men and women, husbands and wives who are not willing to throw in the towel and give up, should be prepared to fight for the family.” (Cliff Barrows in “Fight for the Family” by Jill Briscoe – Kingsway.)
So reads the foreword of a book by a Pastor’s wife that was published 21 years ago. Almost a generation later today the words ring even more true than they did then.
Divorce statistics continue to rise. The number of children raised in single parent homes continues to increase at an alarming rate. The social services are at crisis point struggling to deal with cases of neglect and abuse, finding it difficult to locate foster homes that can redress the balance and care for unhappy children, made unhappy by a society that has lost its way.
What has gone wrong? Why do we find ourselves wringing our hands in despair?
There is a simple answer. The Maker’s instructions have been lost; the recipe for living has been rejected and thrown away; and the society in which we live has disowned the Creator God who gave it life and health, gave it a blueprint for the human family, provided it with resources, and the resources have been sacrificed in favour of so called modern and better ways.
So before we embark on a study of the Christian wearing the armour provided by our Captain the Lord Jesus Christ as contained in Ephesians Chapter 6, we must return to the section at the end of Chapter 5 and beginning of Chapter 6 that deals with the Family.
Paul has already told us much about how Marriage and Parenting should work in a Godly way.
In Chapter 5 v 21 the Apostle introduces us to SUBMISSION in the fear of God. We were all challenged last autumn and since then, as we thought deeply about this area of Mutual submission within church life and all the responsibilities that it brings to us. We must trust the Lord to help us to work these things out week by week not only in our Church relationships but in other relationships too.
There are a few more things to consider as we draw to a close this section on submission between wives and husbands, parents and children, employees and employers, or slaves and masters as Paul puts it.
But whereas those earlier studies looked at the individual roles of Wife and then Husband; Child and then parent; we can think about Paul’s teaching in a wider context – that of Families which of course comprise all of those roles – not just a wife and husband – but a couple. Not just children and parents, but a family.
The effect of redemption, conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ, is a powerful change to any human individual whatever their age. But it must be said that becoming a Christian from a pagan or heathen way of life does not break up relationships and produce disorder, and lawlessness and insubordination. Some leading figures in Ephesus would have accused Paul and the Apostles of this. But on the contrary Christianity confirms legitimate authority and brings order and happiness to social life. This is why the family is worth fighting for. This is why we as Christian people must lead the way and show the world around that there is a much better way to live, centred in faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and adherence to His blueprint.
1. Some more thoughts about Marriage.
A wife according to verses 21 – 24 is to submit herself to her husband for 3 reasons –
1. Because God created her to be a suitable helper for her husband;
2. Because God commanded men to rule their wives and
3. Because a wife’s submission reflects her submission to the Lordship of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Headship of the husband is not dictatorship but each for the other and both for the Lord.
Wives need to love their husbands enough to live for them.
Husbands on the other hand are to love their wives enough to die for them. According to verses 25 – 33a husbands are to love with a
1. A SACRIFICIAL LOVE. Verse 25.
2. A SANCTIFYING LOVE. V 26 – 27.
3. A SATISFYING LOVE. V 28 – 30.
4. A SEPARATED LOVE.V 31 – 32
But how are they to live together as husband and wife giving honour to the Lord?
1. They are to live together as heirs of the grace of God.
1 Peter 3 v 7 Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.
What does this mean – heirs together of the grace of life? It means that the unit called the husband and wife has the right to enjoy the benefits of the grace of God while here in the flesh, and as individual Christians will have glory when they get to heaven. God’s own people equally share in grace, as it signifies the love and favour of God – men and women, husbands and wives.
Marriage enables two people to enjoy grace TOGETHER.
How is this worked out? It is worked out in their spiritual lives together. The husband acts as the wife’s Pastor. He makes sure that not only does he make time for private worship, prayer and Bible Study to benefit his own soul with grace; but also he must always make sure that his wife is provided with time and privacy to devote to personal worship. This is especially important when there are children making demands on time and attention. How many husbands, pillars of the church, active in ministry, valued as spiritual men, have wives at home who are starving spiritually because they never get the essential alone-ness that they need to talk to and listen to the Lord Jesus.
This then extends to prayer together as a couple which should be initiated by the husband – if there is that regularity of the family altar where the Lord is consulted every day by husband and wife together, then when crises come, when decisions are to be made or even when a major purchase must be considered, then prayer is the first consideration. It should be a natural action to turn to the Lord together. Sadly it is so often the case that prayer between couples is confined to the emergency times – the illness, the accident, the bereavement and so on, when God is called to. Heirs together of the grace of life glorify the Lord together when they pray about everything. It leads to honesty; it promotes harmony; it ensures that the sun does not go down on wrath.
There is not a marriage in the world, Christian or otherwise, that is free from disagreement, argument and difference of opinion. That is because a marriage is between two sinners who each have their own ideas about things and they are bound to clash at some point.
How then are heirs together of the grace of life in the Lord Jesus Christ to deal with this?
Albert Barnes the Bible Commentator says this,
“ If the wife is constrained to differ with her husband it should be with mildness and gentleness. There should be no reproach and no contention. She should simply state her reasons and leave the event to God.” Then he says, “The husband’s command and authority should be reasonable and proper not requiring his wife to do anything wrong or contrary to the will of God. But where an overbearing command (by which he means a tyrannical rule ‘I’m the boss and you have to obey me’ attitude) is in place happiness usually ends.” Then he makes this remarkable statement “The moment a husband REQUIRES a wife to do anything, it is usually a sign of departing affection and peace.”
What does he mean? It appears that he means this regarding mutual love and confidence in each other as husband and wife.
The KNOWN wish of the husband should be the guiding law for the wife. She will know her husband and his desires and plans for her and the family and their welfare so well that she will make it her business and her delight to do what he asks without him asking – that will be her law. From the husband’s point of view it should be like this –
The KNOWN desires of his wife should be the rule which will drive him to anticipate her needs – her comfort, to save her from danger, protect her from harm – and again all without her having to ask him.
Now this is something that grows in a marriage and is often very underdeveloped in young marrieds. But all should be striving to achieve this in any marriage. It is a growth process. It demands thought and time to work it out. A selfish lazy husband will rarely give time to ask himself, “In what way can I bless my dear wife today?”
In fact men, including Christian husbands, do not give enough time in such thinking and feeling.
On the other hand Christian women DO spend time thinking how they may further their lot in life – but their difficulty is that that begin to think bitter thought about their husband’s weaknesses and failings.
And both of these are wrong and not the characteristics of those who enjoy the grace and happiness that the Lord gives.
Let us expand this point for a moment so that all in the congregation may share in the principle.
The relationship between the saint and his or her saviour the Lord Jesus Christ is also one that should be of mutual love and confidence. The believer is as the bride, the wife of Christ. We said a moment ago that the known wish of the husband should be the guiding law for the wife. For the believer, in order to prove our love for the Lord Jesus Christ and to express that love, it will be in the context of obeying Christ’s Laws and falling over ourselves to please Him, our husband.
Do we know His laws my friends? Is there any excuse for us NOT to know them? Are they not all here written in His book? When we act selfishly and break His commandment to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, heart and strength are we not acting like a bad wife, a rebellious spouse? Yes we are.
But look at the Lord Jesus Christ as the perfect husband that He is! It is said that there is no husband in danger of loving his wife too much! The Lord Jesus Christ denied Himself and went to the cross. He bore hardship and trial in order to promote the church’s happiness. He denied his own rest and ease for her. Oh how much he loved His bride the church. And let all of us who are believers here know this morning that we are all HEIRS TOGETHER OF THE GRACE OF LIFE. Heirs together with whom? We are heirs together with the Lord himself! Does that not stagger you? We, the Church, will inherit glory with Christ our husband, and we share grace in this life in the same way. What an amazing privilege we have. What a mighty position we are in! Oh let us never minimise what we are.
But my friend, are you a believer today? Are you part of the Church the bride of Christ? Is Christ your saviour, your shepherd, your friend, your husband? You will know nothing of grace and nothing of eternal life unless and until you repent of your sins, turn to God, confess those sins and be converted – saved. Will you know Christ today?
One more thought before we move onto wider family issues – if husbands and wives live together to God’s glory
2. They are to live together as one in the Lord.
Malachi 2 v 14 yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. 15 And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.
There is a lovely thought that flows from these verses – a man should choose his love and then love his choice.
This is Malachi’s thought
yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. 15 And did not he make one?
The covenant in marriage is two way – choice is involved from both sides even though it is the man who asks the lady. She chooses him in her acceptance of his proposal.
There was a married couple that were having an argument over a particularly irritating habit that the wife had and which was getting on the husband’s nerves. Glaring at her husband over the kitchen sink she came out with a quick flash of grim humour – “ Harry – you had all the world to choose from, and you chose me – now be satisfied!” The wife was right. He had had the entire world to choose from and he had freely chosen her as his life companion, for better or for worse – there was no argument about that! It was the “now be satisfied” bit that needed thinking about. (Briscoe ibid page 22)
Christians believe that there is no easy opt out clause in the marriage covenant. Sadly it does happen that the covenant is broken sometimes leading to divorce. But if we would seek to honour God’s Name, then we have to work out in our families what God works into our hearts. God is on our side – marriage was His idea – therefore He stands behind it and gives the power in every Christian marriage to “now be satisfied.” Adaptation, acceptance of each other and working on the differences is the stuff that Malachi had in mind.
yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. 15 And did not he make one?
Yes it is the Lord that makes us one and He blesses our attempts to “love our choices.” This fits in so well with what God thinks about divorce – in Malachi’s next verse –
16 For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.
Even though the Lord hates divorce He makes it legally possible for those who refuse to deal with the obdurate hardness of their hearts. The sad reality is that marriages, even some Christian marriages, have fallen apart, yet life must go on. And there are often messes to clear up – my friends let us face this. We are not in some impregnable castle in our churches where everything is beautiful and nice. Sometimes we as Christians have to reassess our relationships. We need to walk around our family relationships just like Nehemiah walked around the broken down walls of Jerusalem and check the damage. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that we referred to earlier has the power to enable rebuilding to happen.
More than this, as a Christian church we are likely to be involved with unbelieving people, seeking the Lord, whose families are in a desperate state. This teaching of the Scriptures can give them hope – that the family, and marriages within the family, CAN and must be repaired – for their own sakes, the sake of society at large and for the glory of God eventually. Are we prepared to welcome and help struggling friends – with sympathy and warmth – and then point them to God’s blueprint for the family?
2. Now some more thoughts about children and Parents.
Ephesians 6 v 1 – 4 taught us that there are duties of children towards their parents and that there are duties of parents towards their children. Children should obey because the good order of society depends on it, as well as the welfare of the children; because the mind and character development of a child depends on obedience – the home is the best place for the development of reasoned thinking leading eventually to independence. But children should obey most of all because the family is a pattern for the government of God. God is our Father and He reflects this fatherhood in the appointment of parents to teach children about Him.
Parents should not provoke their children by unreasonableness, overprotection, favouritism, and harsh or inconsistent discipline or by being poor examples in the home. Rather they are to nurture and admonish – train, instruct, discipline and love.
The practical outworking of nurture and admonition needs to be expanded a little.
We go back again to the text from 1 Peter 3 v 7
Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.
What mattered to Peter more than anything else was that Family Prayer should not be hindered. Earlier we referred to a husband and wife praying together. But when children come this extends to Family Prayers – an extension of what the husband and wife have been doing in the time before the children. Can babies join in with Family Prayers? Of course – right from Day One an infant is soaking up every sound sight smell and other feeling. Even though sense is not made of it at first, even a young child can get used to the Father’s reading of the scriptures and prayers and begin to breathe in the atmosphere of prayer. Young children of course cannot take a half hour Bible study followed by a trip round the family in prayer. But gradually they will learn how important reading the Word and talking to the Lord is in the family. Father’s need to know how great is their responsibility. Proverbs 4 has the details – verses 1 – 9
1 Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding. 2 For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law. 3 For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. 4 He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live. 5 Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth. 6 Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. 7 Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. 8 Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her. 9 She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee.
King Solomon was fully aware of the vitality of a family that centred its thoughts and activities around God’s word. Consistency is one of our biggest failings in many habits of life, including Family Worship.
One little three year old was most upset one day and was being difficult when being prepared for a family outing. “What is the matter with you?” asked her Mum. “We haven’t had the reading – we can’t go till we have had devotions.” How one’s children can shame us into the regularity that we say we want to teach these little ones! Of course the best way to ensure that the Family Prayer time is maintained is to make it a daily rule in the home that at one of the meals when all the family is together it will be a time for family communicating. Sometimes it is necessary to find a time and make a time when everyone is together which may differ during the week.
Why is this Family devotional time so important?
1. Because there is no better way to lay a foundation for the spiritual life of the family.
The family that prays together stays together. And it is not only the daily family prayer time that gives this opportunity. We all no doubt say grace, give thanks before meals – but how many of us pause for prayer before setting off on a long journey? And then thank the Lord at the end of it? Praying often together means that the whole family will talk often about the Lord Jesus Christ and His love and dealings with them. Once more Proverbs 4 has some good direction for us – verses 20 – 22.
20 My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings. 21 Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart. 22 For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.
The well being of a family depends on what place God’s word has in it.
2. Because there is no greater cure for family rows and disagreements.
JB Phillips has a paraphrase of Ephesians 4 v 26 – “Don’t go to bed angry.” It is very difficult to thank the Lord for forgiveness of our sins when we are not forgiving each other, whatever the problem. When a child has needed correction what a joy it is to lead that child in a simple prayer seeking God’s forgiveness, teaching the child to apply to the Lord for His mercy as well as learning to apologise when appropriate. And at the end of each day when the parent prays individually with the children what wonderful opportunities there are to assure of the parent’s love and of the saviour’s love for that child – through prayer.
3. Because there is no more valuable way to instruct the children in the Christian faith than regular family prayers.
Christ should be the centre of the home and will be seen to be the centre – not in the text card or picture hanging in the hallway but in the daily family devotional time. (Thanks to Brian Edwards – No longer Two page 36, Day One.)
This is the place where children learn the lessons of Christian submission and the place where it is reinforced as families, all the members of families, learn through their submission to each other, to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ their Master.
Nurture and Admonition therefore can occur in the Christian home as naturally as having regular meals.
For some of you these things belong to your past experience of child rearing. For others it is all in the future and needs to be stored away in the spiritual memory. And for others there are nephews and nieces, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to pray for and the desire to seek to be involved in their nurturing and admonition, assisting parents in their awesome task. We refer back to Proverbs 4 again where we can see 3 generations addressed in Solomon’s words in verse 1- 4
1 Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding. 2 For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law. 3 For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. 4 He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live.
– Grandfather, father and mother and child.
My friends these practical areas should be the basis of our society’s return to the order and stability that once it knew. We know the problem amongst the secular and humanistic partnerships and so-called families around us – they have lost their way – they do not know God’s way. We need to lead by example and show others how good our God is to us. Heirs together of the grace of life – making sure that prayer is not hindered – may the Lord Jesus help everyone in the congregation to see the relevance of this need in society today. You may not be in what is called a family – but are your prayers hindered? Have you let slip your own regular devotional time? Can you encourage someone to pray together or to read God’s word together? May the Lord help us all.