Good morning. My name is Bobby Gilles, and I’m a deacon here. This fall we’ve been journeying through the book of Ephesians, which is a letter that the apostle Paul wrote to Christians in the city of Ephesus. The first half of this letter reminds us of who we are in Christ. We are citizens of God’s Kingdom, adopted into His eternal family. We’re built on the cornerstone of Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit.
The second part of this book says, “In light of who you are, this is how you should live.” Today, God’s Word provides instructions for how we should live in four stages, or roles, of life. I’m humbled to preach this to you, because I’ve sinned numerous times in each of these roles. But through the Holy Spirit, through God’s Word, and through the support of God’s community, I’ve gotten better – it’s a gradual process, but I’m becoming more like Jesus.
And I believe that you, my brothers and sisters, are becoming more like Jesus, too. You will feel convicted by today’s text, but don’t feel condemned. Let the Spirit do his work of convicting you of sin and empowering you to confess it in your heart and in community. Then press on.
First, let’s take a close look at Ephesians 6:1-3
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 6:2 “Honor your father and mother” – which is the first commandment with a promise – 6:3 “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” – Ephesians 6:1-3
Nothing makes for an unpleasant family time around the dinner table like disobedient kids. When I was a kid, I wasn’t considered especially disobedient, but I was very mouthy, and I always had to have the last word. I ruined a lot of family dinners with my sarcastic comments.
I also learned that it was actually easier in some ways to say, “Jesus is Lord” than to say, “Yes Mom, I’ll take out the trash,” or “Yes Dad, I’ll cut the grass.” But if we’re to believe today’s Scripture, each statement is an act of worship that God loves.
These verses seem very clear, but they bring with them a host of questions. I’ve heard some of you ask these questions:
First, what if your parents aren’t Christians? For some of the teens in our student ministry, this is the case. Does “obey your parents in the Lord” mean “Obey the parents who are Christians?”
No. The phrase “in the Lord” modifies the verb “obey.” In other words, “Obey because you belong to the Lord,” not because your parents do. Or to put it even more clearly, “Obey your parents because Jesus says so.”
But what if your parents ask you to sin? Throughout the New Testament, the apostles command us to obey those in authority. But when the authorities commanded the apostles to stop preaching the gospel, they said, “We will obey God rather than you.” This is a very clear example: obey your parents unless they ask you to do something in violation of God’s Word.
But how long do we have to obey them? As long as you’re a child, under their care. But notice, today’s reading doesn’t just say “obey,” but also, “honor.” This means to show respect, to treat graciously. This goes back to the 5th Commandment, which God expects us to keep as long as we’re alive.
But what if your parents don’t deserve respect? It’s not about what they deserve, but what God asks of you. This is a hard, sad thing for some of you, because your parents sinned against you. Maybe they still sin against you. They’ve let you down so often, and hurt you so badly. Maybe they’ve let other people hurt you. Maybe nothing about their words or deeds is admirable.
But the God who forgives you, in Christ, will enable you to forgive them. Your family in Christ can journey through this with you. Pour out your heart to your Community Group. Ask them to pray with you.
One final question that I know some of you have, regarding this passage: what about the promise “Honor your father and mother … that you may enjoy long life.” What about our children who have died?
First, Paul is quoting this as a proverb, a paraphrase adapted from the 5th Commandment. Proverbs are statements that are generally true. This should make sense – if your parents say, “Don’t do drugs,” and then you do drugs, you are increasing your chance of having a short, unhappy life.
If they say, “Look both ways before crossing the street,” and you do not look both ways, you are increasing your chance of being killed by a car.
But in the two years since mine and Kristen’s son Parker was stillborn, many of you have comforted us and we’ve comforted you, as this community has shared in suffering the loss of many children, grandchildren, siblings, cousins – whether due to miscarriage, or car accidents, or freak illnesses.
Remember that God delights in fulfilling every Old Testament promise in a much greater way than the Old Testament saints anticipated. At this time of year, Advent, we sing,
“O come, o come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”
Israel was expecting a messiah who would deliver them from a political and military power. They wanted Jesus to defeat Rome. But Jesus knew that Rome was just a pawn in Satan’s game. He said, “I’m here to deliver you from Satan, sin, and death, so you can live forever, in a kingdom made up of all tribes and tongues.”
Children, because we live in a fallen world, you might do everything right and still die tomorrow. But if you live for Christ then you’ll only die once. After that, you won’t just enjoy long life; you’ll enjoy eternal life.
Beginning in Verse 4, Paul addresses parents:
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. – Ephesians 6:4
Why “fathers” and not “mothers” here? First, it would be bizarre to think that mothers should exasperate their children because they aren’t specifically told not to, here. And there are plenty of admonitions and examples for mothers in the Bible, such as Proverbs 31.
Second, remember last week’s sermon from Ephesians 5:22-33. Paul has just written about the husband’s role as head-of-household, so the potential is greatest for him to abuse his role by exasperating the kids.
To “exasperate” means to provoke to anger, which leads to rebellion. You’re causing them to rebel, to sin. And Jesus had serious words for this:
“But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. – Matt 18:6
This abuse usually takes one of two forms:
Absentee fathers neglect their duty. This is a big problem in our culture. Think of the stereotypical workaholic, who feels like his role is to work for his family’s financial security. He abdicates all parental authority to his wife, so he can stay late at the office. Then he comes home, sapped of all stamina, and crashes on the couch with a beer and the remote control.
The kids learn that if dad disciplines them at all, it’s not consistent. Dad is like a bomb, and you never know when he’s going to blow up. His only standard for discipline is to go crazy on the kids when they’ve been so loud, rebellious or destructive that they’ve interrupted his alone time. And sometimes, the kids will become rebellious simply to get Dad’s attention, even though it’s bad attention.
Other fathers are not absentee but oppressive. Home is not a place of love and grace, but of millions of rules, and a drill instructor for a father. Dad never gives his children any space. Nor does he allow them to follow any interests of their own. Think of the ex-jock who forces his son onto the basketball team, when his son would rather bake cakes.
Both absentee and oppressive fathers provoke their children to anger, causing their hearts to grow rebellious. This is the exact opposite of God’s Word to us – to bring our kids up “in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
When my boys were younger I decided to start each of them in music lessons before they began school. Garrett took piano lessons, and seemed to enjoy them. I started Logan on violin lessons. He did not enjoy them.
Now, parents need to pray for wisdom because of course most children, even if they enjoy music, don’t want to practice. Where do you draw the line between instilling the needed discipline to practice, without forcing them to do something that they hate, and that isn’t vital to their wellbeing?
I probably kept Logan in his violin lessons a year longer than I should have, because I was trying to fulfill my vision for him. At the end of the day, who cares? Why is violin important?
I’m thankful that God didn’t let me get too hung up on that. How many family dinner tables become war zones, and neither Dad nor the kids really want to be there? And Mom certainly doesn’t.
In how many of these situations does the conflict stem from Dad’s habit of provoking his kids about things that shouldn’t matter?
Instead of getting hung up on molding kids in our image, we need to raise our kids with eternity in mind. I tell our boys, “I have two jobs as a parent. The first is to teach you how to live. The second is to teach you how to die. In other words, as Verse 4 says, instead of exasperating our kids, we need to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
Our SojournKids servants do a wonderful job on Sundays, but they have our young children one hour a week. That’s not enough. Parents, don’t cede your obligation to teach the gospel to your kids. Kristen and I do this in many ways.
For example, we pray for each of them, every day, and we pray for each other, that we’ll parent them well.
We lead them in family devotions, reading psalms to them, leading them in Bible study, teaching them to pray. For instance, instead of letting them get away with saying a prayer before dinner like, “Lord thank you for this food, amen,” we encourage them to pray using the A.C.T.S. model, which stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication (a big word that means, “this is the part of the prayer where you make your requests known to God).
And we teach them, in light of the gospel, about things like finances, and getting good grades.
Finally, prepare your kids for the work force. If you can, take them to your job with you. I’ve taken my sons to the Sojourn office, to show them what I do, and I look forward to taking my baby daughter there one day, too. Teach your kids how to do well in a work environment. Which leads us to our next verse:
5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6:6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 6:7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 6:8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. – Ephesians 6:5-8
Yikes. Does the Bible condone slavery?
In 1 Timothy 1:9-10 Paul lists “slave traders” alongside murderers, liars, adulterers, and other lawbreakers. So why doesn’t he take a stand against slavery here?
First, this word translated as “slave” here is more accurately understood as “bondservant.” About 1/3 of Ephesians were bondservants, and it wasn’t a case of one race enslaving another. This is a different institution than the slavery that existed in the American south. Bondservants worked for pay, and could save the money to buy their freedom. There were very few old bondservants. Over half gained their freedom by age 30.
But since we don’t have bondservants and masters anymore, is today’s passage relevant? How could we honor God through these words today?
We can apply these words to any relationship in which one has authority over another. The most common is our work relationships. God has always valued work because he is a worker. In Genesis he works to create the universe. After each thing he creates, he steps back and says, “It is good.”
Then when he creates Adam and Eve he immediately gives them a job to do – caring for the earth.
Jesus often used workplace illustrations to talk about how we’re supposed to labor in the Kingdom of God. And the apostles set our example. Paul writes,
“Don’t you remember the rule we had when we lived with you? “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” And now we’re getting reports that a bunch of lazy good-for-nothings are taking advantage of you. This must not be tolerated. We command them to get to work immediately—no excuses, no arguments—and earn their own keep. Friends, don’t slack off in doing your duty.” 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 (The Message)
So let’s get very practical. How do you behave on the job? First, be on time. And don’t sneak out early. Maybe the best way you can show Jesus to your boss and coworkers is to actually stay till 5pm. Want to know how you can be a witness for Jesus at work? Get your coworkers to ask you why you work so hard, why you won’t engage in office gossip, why you won’t talk about confidential things like how much pay everyone makes. Be a team player. And when they comment on your attitude, tell them it’s because work is a way in which you worship Jesus.
But it’s about more than efficiency. It’s about loving and honoring your boss. Paul uses three words here in Ephesians: respect and fear (which mean “honor”), and sincerity. Ours is a culture that doesn’t like to sincerely honor those above us, and it’s reflected in our entertainment. My favorite comic strip is Dilbert. Who is the dumbest character in Dilbert? The pointy-haired boss.
One of my favorite sitcoms is The Office. Who is the dumbest character in The Office? The boss, Michael Scott.
Do we treat our boss as if he’s Michael Scott? For that matter, if our boss was Michael Scott, should we treat him in the manner he deserves, or in the manner God prescribes?
Just like we raise our kids with eternity in mind, we should treat our boss with eternity in mind. Here is what I mean. This passage says to work for our boss as if working for Christ. You may ask me, “Are you saying that I should treat my boss as if he or she is Jesus?”
Yes. Because guess who looks at you and treats you as if you’re Jesus? God.
And this is of eternal consequence. One day you’re going to die. You’re going to stand in the judgment hall, with every thought, every word, every deed of your life exposed. And heaven or hell rests in the balance.
And what’s going to happen? We sing about this, here:
“Because the sinless savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him, and pardon me.”
Don’t treat your boss according to what they’ve done or how well you’re paid. Treat them according to what God has done for you, and according to your riches in Christ.
Just like the family dinner table is often a war zone, we often bring disrespectful attitudes to business lunches and office parties. Have you ever said to your spouse, “Honey, we have to go to the office Christmas party on Friday. I can’t believe I’ve got to waste a weekend evening with these people, but the boss expects it. I’ve got to play the office politics game.”
And once again, we’re in a situation where we’re breaking bread, but we’re resenting every second of it. God’s Spirit is calling us to a different attitude.
But what if you’re the boss? Let’s look at the last verse:
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 favoritism with him. – Ephesians 6:9
So you’ve finally done it. You’ve worked hard, you’ve been promoted, and now you’re the boss. Now you set the agenda. Now, you’re in charge. How do you treat your employees?
What did Christ our Master do, even shortly before he knew his servants would all betray him? He washed their feet! — John 13.
What did he do after he rose from the grave, proving that he is all-powerful? Did he say to his disciples, “Now it’s payback time. You shouldn’t have deserted me”?
No … he served them breakfast! – John 21
This final word for masters is the final word for this whole section – for everyone. Christ in heaven is our Master, and he doesn’t play favorites. Paul is saying, “My main point in all of this is that you all love each other and honor each other, in whatever role God has given you, because God loves all of us.”
In Galatians he says it like this,
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. — Galatians 3:28
In the Book of Revelation, John saw a vision of our Happy Ending, which proves God doesn’t play favorites. He says,
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” – Revelation 7:9-10
Then later he describes the Feast that Jesus will host for these people. And the atmosphere is a lot more like the world’s biggest tailgate party than a quiet, formal dinner. This is nothing like the family supper where Dad exasperates the kids, or the office party that no one really wants to attend. This enormous multitude is partying so loud it sounds like “the roar of rushing water and loud peels of thunder.”
For this joy set before Him, Jesus died for us on the cross. And he connected these two events – his cross and our future feast – with a simple meal. On the night that He was betrayed, after giving thanks, Jesus took a loaf of bread and broke it, saying, “This is my body, broken for you.”
Then he took a cup of wine, and said, “This is my blood, shed for you. Drink this in remembrance of me until I come again.”
And he promised he wouldn’t drink from the fruit of the vine again until he breaks bread with us at the feast of all feasts.
Communion isn’t just about remembering what happened; it’s about remembering what to expect, because of what happened. What do you expect?
I’m expecting the crippled to dance, the blind to see, the mute to sing and the dead to rise. I’m expecting a feast with kids and parents, servants and masters, the great and mighty and the down-and-out — all because of Jesus — making so much noise together it sounds like a gale storm on the ocean.
Remember what Christ has done and where it will lead as you come forward, tearing off a piece of bread and dipping it into either wine or juice as your conscience permits. The cups with wine will have twine tied around them. And we have a gluten-free station right over here.
If you’re not a Christian, we ask that you don’t come forward to take this symbolic meal, because it symbolizes a reality you haven’t accepted yet. Instead, I invite you to walk up to someone with a lanyard that says “Pray,” in the back of this room. Accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, and ask them to pray with you. Then we can prepare you to join us in this feast in the weeks to come.
As for the rest of you, if you feel convicted by the Word of God today, take a moment to pray at your seat or with our prayer team in the back. God offers forgiveness for the rebellious child, the exasperating parent, the unprofitable worker and the bad boss. And the ultimate proof of that forgiveness is the cross, symbolized in this meal. Let’s pray.