“How does it work?” When’s the last time you asked that question? You’re going to laugh, but I recently asked that question when someone lent me their cell phone. I wasn’t sure how to turn the phone on, how to place a call or end it. “How does it work?” I had to ask. Pretty pathetic, huh? But I thought it was better to ask than to start pushing random buttons lest I mess something up.
“How does it work?” It’s a question more people should ask about society. How is life in families and life at the workplace supposed to work? But many don’t bother to ask the question and instead push random buttons making a mess out of things. Today, in our continuing study of Ephesians we’ll be given a God’s-eye view of society. We’ll see how life in the family and at the workplace is supposed to work so that we not only honor one another and our God, but so that we also enjoy the blessings that come from living God’s Word.
Paul begins our text with these words: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 ‘Honor 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’” (Ephesians 6:1-3). Before we take a closer look at these verses, let me comment on how Paul simply assumed that children would hear these words which he expected to be read as part of the Ephesian congregation’s worship service. Kids, do you sometimes wonder why you come to church so often? I mean isn’t church really more for adults and since your parents can’t just leave you at home alone they bring you along? No! Church is for everyone—for adults, for children, and even for infants. In fact in the first part of this sermon God will be speaking directly to you children so listen carefully to what he has to say that you may enjoy the blessings that come from hearing and putting into practice his Word.
So back to our text. How is the family supposed to work? Well, we heard last week Paul explain that the husband is to be the servant-leader of the family, and the wife is a servant-helper to the husband (Ephesians 5:21-33). But what role do the children play? Paul says that you children are to obey your parents. Actually, what Paul said was that you are to “bend your ear” to their words. It’s what you do when you can’t quite hear what your friend is saying to you. You get a bit closer and turn your ear to her so that you don’t miss a word.
Is that a posture you regularly adopt with your parents? Do you do everything you can to catch all of their words? That’s often not the case is it? Instead we close our ears to what they tell us because we think they are old fashioned and out of touch. I mean what can you expect from a father, for example, who’s not even sure how to use a cell phone? A father might not know how to use a cell phone, but there’s plenty of other things he does know that his children may not. He knows that being on time for a job interview is important. He knows how life will be simpler if you just memorize your times tables. He knows how crucial it is to save money and not to spend it all on stuff you want right now. Bend your ear to him when he speaks about these things. Because if you do, God says that you will enjoy long life on the earth. That’s not a guarantee that you’ll live to be 80 or 90. It is, however, a general truth that when we listen to our parents we will avoid making a lot of mistakes they may have made and in that way life will be much better for us.
And it’s not just your father that you want to bend your ear to. Paul reminds us that it is God’s will that we honor both our father and mother. So children, don’t take advantage of your mother’s kindness and patience. Listen to her as quickly as you would listen to Dad when he’s in one of those “I mean business” moods.
And speaking of that mood, Paul says this to us fathers. “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Although our children are to bend their ear to us, that doesn’t make them our slaves. We are not to make life difficult for them by simply demanding they do what we tell them. That’s especially difficult for children to take if we’re not practicing what we preach. If we tell the kids to help Mom around the house, but then don’t model a servant-like attitude towards our spouse, why should our children listen to us?
Paul also reminds us fathers that we are to nurture our children’s faith. That’s not a job we are to leave to Mom or to Grandma. Fathers and Grandfathers, what is it that you can do better to raise your children and grandchildren in the fear and the nurture of the Lord? You could make going through the sermon notes a regular part of your Sunday dinner. You could also make it a point of being the one that helps your child with his or her confirmation homework. Why not even learn the Faith Finder memory treasures together with your children? Sure, you may have taught your children how to change the oil or how to balance a checkbook so that you’re preparing them for life. But what are you doing to prepare them for eternal life? Bringing your children to church is an important step, but Paul urges you to do more than that—to teach them the Word at home and model it in your daily words and actions.
When children honor their parents, and when parents (especially fathers) teach their children God’s Word and model it for them, families work more like God intended them to work—to be an oasis of safety, learning, and loving.
Paul then turns his attention to how society is to work outside of the family. Paul wrote: “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 favor 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” (Ephesians 6:5-8).
Does it bother you that Paul tells slaves to obey their masters rather than to run away from them? Slavery in the ancient world was not like slavery in the U.S. 150 years go. Slaves in ancient times could own property and in many cases were so well educated that they were teachers. Some were even advisors to emperors. Sure, slaves could be mistreated, but Paul urges masters against such behavior as we’ll see in just a little bit. But first let’s take a closer look at Paul’s advice for the slaves.
Slaves were to serve their masters to the best of their ability—and not just when the master was watching. They were to do this as if they were serving Jesus himself. It’s this passage that has made tough jobs and tough bosses manageable for so many Christians. When we think of how wholeheartedly Jesus served us when he gave his life on the cross to pay for sins, we want to show Jesus our thanks. Paul is telling us how we can do that—by serving wholeheartedly those who are over us in the workplace even if they don’t deserve such respect. And it shouldn’t surprise us that our bosses are not perfect. They’re like us: sinners. But for the sake of good order and so that society clicks the way it should, we are to obey and work hard for those who are over us. We can do this trusting that Jesus knows the situation we are in. He will give us the patience to handle a difficult boss, and turn that experience into a blessing for us no matter how difficult it may seem to us.
Of course if your job really is intolerable, you have the right to serve notice and to look for another job since you are not slaves. But just remember that you will never find the perfect job or the perfect boss. There will be challenges wherever you work, but your Jesus also is with you in every situation. Just keep reminding yourself that it is he that you are serving.
Now if you are in a managerial position at work, listen to what Paul says to you: “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). Because you are in a position of authority you could threaten and cajole your workers to get done what they need to. But Paul says there’s a better way: encourage! You will be more apt to do this if you take to heart Paul’s last point. Although you may be over your workers, that does not mean that you are better or more important than they. God does not have favorites says Paul. The lowest slave is as precious to God as the most powerful king or CEO. Keeping that God’s-eye view of society will help us from thinking too highly of ourselves.
And why do we want to adopt this God’s-eye view of society? Not just because it’s what is best for us, but because it is a way to please our Savior Jesus. Look at how he served perfectly—not just his parents but also those in authority—those who treated him like a slave. Jesus humbled himself so low that he gave his life to save us sinners. Can you imagine the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company doing that for one of his assembly line workers? Wouldn’t he make front page news if he not only assumed the debt of that assembly line worker but also gave him the keys to his mansion? That would especially be incredible if this assembly line worker was known to regularly bad-mouth the CEO and had often cost the company money because of his sloppy workmanship. Jesus, the CEO of heaven, has done exactly that for us. He traded places with us and gave us the keys to his mansion even though we often complain and gripe about what we perceive God is or is not doing in our lives. Sure, it might still feel like we’re nothing more than slaves here, but the reality is that we belong to Jesus. He died for us and now lives for us so that we may live with him forever in heaven. Until then, take to heart this God’s-eye view of society. Children, obey and honor your parents. Parents, love and nurture your children. Workers, obey and serve faithfully your bosses. And bosses, treat your workers with respect. For this is right in the Lord. Amen.
The Apostle Paul begins our text with the words, “Children, obey your parents…” Why is it worth noting that Paul addresses children directly instead of saying, “Parents, tell your children…”?
Children are to obey their parents. What does the word “obey” really mean? In what ways can you personally “obey” your parents better?
Paul repeats the promise given in the Fourth Commandment that those who obey their parents will enjoy long life on the earth. So why doesn’t every obedient child live to be 100 years old?
According to Paul, what is the Father’s responsibility to his children? How can you better carry out that responsibility (or help your father or husband do so)?
What does Paul say is the slave’s (and a worker’s) responsibility in society? How can he/she carry this out under any circumstance?
How are masters (and managers) supposed to treat those under them?
What is our motivation for wanting to adopt the God’s-eye view of society presented in our sermon text?