Ephesians 6

The start of Ephesians 6 follows the idea of family relationships that chapter 5 ends with. However, this time it is the relationship between children and their parents. It begins with what is stated in the Ten Commandments, that children are to obey their parents.

Now, when we think of this commandment, we probably think mainly of Sunday school children learning to listen to and obey their parents as little kids ought to. However, when we have grown up, it seems we feel that as if that commandment is obsolete and we don’t have to fulfil it anymore. This isn’t the case. In Mark 7, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for the way their practices fail to honour their mother and father. Those Pharisees were adults being rebuked. This commandment is for adults too.

Maybe in society, we think that it’s automatic and if you did a good job when they were little, they will do it when they are older. But then the command should be “teach children to honour your father and mother”. Also, there aren’t commands in the Bible for things that are genuinely automatic, such as “Breathe.” The Bible, authored by God, speaks into the hearts of humans. Our bent is to be independent, stubborn and self-serving and honouring others often gets in the way of that. Honouring our parents requires consideration, thoughtfulness and care. I know I often fail to do it; it isn’t as habitual as it ought to be.

The next part also balances the relationship. Parents need to be good to their kids too.

The next part of Ephesians 6 feels a little off for our times. It’s about slaves serving masters well. However, in the Romans Empire, slaves made up a huge percentage of the population. Paul is simply speaking into the genuine reality of his day. He’s not turning a blind eye to it.

Paul also reminds slave owners that both they and the slaves are actually under the ultimate authority of God and it would be wise to remember that.

In all the relationships mentioned from the end of chapter 5 to chapter 6, Paul shows how there is a balance. Wives, honour your husbands; husbands, lay down your life for your wife. Children, honour your parents; parents, be patient and kind to your children. Slaves, obey your masters; masters, be kind to your slaves. In relationships that are often imbalanced and hierarchical (especially historically), Paul reminds us that God rules over us all and that his love, grace, mercy but also his power, might and wrath is the ultimate equaliser in all this.

Lastly, Ephesians has the famous Sunday school favourite, the armour of God. It makes a nice visual metaphor. However, sometimes this section can be delivered in a way that makes us seem like we are at the helpless mercy of the devil’s schemes and we need to hide and cower away. This isn’t the whole truth. Of course, on our own, we are helpless. But we’re not on our own. For the passage tells us this:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

Ephesians 6:10.

We have nothing to fear because we have God and his mighty power on our side. However, we need to make the most of it and not forget to use it!

So, I pray that I continue to go on in the Lord’s prayer.

Ephesians 5:1-2

Again, Ephesians 5 exhorts us to live carefully and wisely. Here, we follow God’s example because we are dearly loved children. That’s a really beautiful image. We are loved by God, and that love compels us to look to God and obey him and follow him. This very much reminds me of John 14.

In this chapter of John, the idea that obedience and love for Jesus and love for and from the Father are interconnected. Jesus’ words reminds us that we need to love him and that love is shown in keeping his commands.

“If you love me, keep my commands … Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them … Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”

John 14:15-24

This passage in John also talks about how Jesus will send the Spirit to be with us. These ideas are also repeated in 1 John 4:

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:13-19

When we reread the first part of Ephesians in light of these verses, it’s easy to be encouraged.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:1-2

Therefore, it shows the importance of Paul’s prayer in chapter 3 for the Ephesians. So, again I pray that we can “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that [we] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Yes, I pray that day by day I know more and more the love of Jesus and the love of the Father. And because of this knowledge of this love, I can follow God’s example and live a life of love. I pray that, through the power of the Spirit, I know the Father more deeply and completely. May my life be given up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

For the glory of Jesus’ holy name,

Amen.

Ephesians 3

Ephesians 3 again holds many blessings. The first section, which the NIV versions titles “God’s marvellous plan for the Gentiles”, is again a great encouragement. The main reason of this: I am a beneficiary of this plan. I am a Gentile. (I do in fact have some Jewish ancestry, but not enough to count.) Without this plan and without it being revealed to Paul, I would not have known the grace of Jesus. It’s wild to think that my parents, who told me the gospel, were told by someone else, who in turn, heard the gospel. Someone told them, and someone told them, and someone told them. If you go far back enough, it would have been the first missionaries around Europe that told them the gospel, and then eventually to the first Christians and perhaps even Paul. Isn’t it mad that nearly a thousand years ago Paul could have initiated the chain of people that would eventually reach me?

It’s perhaps why I think missionary work is so important, because we all can all thank a missionary at some point for spreading the gospel. I just wonder how my contribution in this chain will continue.

When I think of that, it becomes so much more personal when I read the following verses:

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ.

Ephesians 3: 7-8a

So tonight I am grateful for all the people who were servants of this gospel before me.

Then Paul prays a prayer and asks for various things for the recipients of the letter:

  • strengthened with power through the Spirit
  • Christ may dwell in their hearts
  • to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ
  • to know this love that surpasses all knowledge
  • to be filled with the fullness of God.

What amazing things to pray for! I definitely pray for them for myself!

Then this chapter ends with some very famous verses. These verses are such an encouragement, reminding us of the sheer, incomprehensible goodness of God and that his power is in us. He is definitely deserving of the glory.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever! Amen.

Amen, indeed.

Why democracy will always fail us

I am sat in Cambodia, seven hours ahead of the UK, watching the general election results roll in. I’m also hovering on social media watching responses to exit polls and election predictions. Having been in Cambodia for the run up to this election and having not been living in the UK for quite some time, I’ve been really surprised by the intensity of people’s social media posts. They speak of depression, despair, broken friendships, lives changed irreversibly for the worse. Now, I’m not saying these elections are not significant, but I’m really shocked at the emotional weight of yesterday. I perhaps understand it from my friends who are not Christians, but I’m probably seeing it more from my Christian friends. They’re writing about dashed hopes and painful fears of what these results will mean.

Before I go further, I want to deflect the potential barrage of complaints and questions and accusations. I do believe Christians should be involved politically. I do think we should exercise our right to vote. (I had to organise a proxy vote to get my ballot in the box.) I do think that Christians should speak God’s truth in the public sphere. I do think we should fight against injustice and fight for mercy. And here’s the massive “but”…

Christians should not misplace their hope in political systems.

There will always be blurred lines between political ideologies and faith. But we should not get the two confused. Faith is for our belief in Jesus. Do not put faith in the people and the powers of this world. There are a few interesting reasons for this.

The knowledge of good and evil

In the Garden of Eden, there were two fruit trees. One was the tree of life. The other was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The former, humans could eat from; the latter would result in certain death. It’s interesting to think that before Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit, they were innocent of the distinction between the two. God had that knowledge. (He had called his creation “good” after all.) Man did not.

A lot of our political intentions or ideas are born out of our view of what is good and what is evil. Yes, we can believe we have a biblical perspective on our politics, but our wisdom is limited. It was the arrogance that man can be like God and that they could possibly know what is truly right that led Eve to reach for the fruit. It is the same arrogance today that is dividing friends and communities. Despite having tasted the fruit, we will never know good and evil as God does and we should humble ourselves and remember this. Furthermore, partaking in the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil only heaped calamity and despair upon humanity. Why, then, are we so surprised that our political attempts to discern good and evil result in much the same?

Human sin

After the fall, sin entered humanity. Every heart is full of it. We are all destitute and depraved. As a result, every human system, institution, ideology is flawed. Sin runs through it like a seam through marble. Sin, therefore, invades our politics and parliaments, our chambers and churches, our banks and our ballot boxes. No where and nothing is free from the blood-red stain of sin.

We can see how sin is infiltrating our politics each day. Deceitful campaigns, Russian hackers, sleazy candidates all point to a fallen humanity. This is by no means a new thing in politics.

Just take a look at the Old Testament leaders: Abraham, Moses, Saul, David, Solomon. Each of these people were sinful and flawed. They lied, murdered, jealously clung onto power, and had multiple sexual scandals. If the Twitter witch-hunt existed back then, they would have descended on them like a pack of ravenous vultures. Even though many of these people were seen as good, God-honouring leaders, they still had massive moral failures. If the Israelites could not place their certain hopes on these political leaders, how can we be expected to do the same to the leaders of today?

Saul, perhaps, is the most obvious example where political hopes fell gravely short. The Israelites were desperate for a change in their political system. They wanted a monarchy, just like all the other countries around them. God gave them what they wanted; he gave them Saul. Saul was a cowardly, insecure, jealous, bumbling fool of a man. The hopes of the Israelites were gravely misplaced.

The Christmas Story

So, what then do we do with this? Where do we place our hopes? Well, as the UK prepares for Christmas, they need to look no further than the story it celebrates.

Jesus, the King of kings, was not born into a palace (like the Magi assumed he would). He was born into a dirty stable in some provincial backwater. Jesus, vulnerable and lowly, was twice victim of the political world around him. First, he had to flee to Egypt in his infancy; second, one of the world’s greatest political machines churned him up and spat him out in a humiliating and horrific death. Jesus did not ride into Jerusalem on a warhorse, victorious and glorious. Instead he trotted in on a juvenile donkey. Jesus did not challenge Caesar or bring an end to the oppressive rule of the Romans. Instead, he ushered in a mustard-seed kingdom, no bigger than a widow’s coin.

Jesus’ kingdom is political but never in the way that we imagine it to be. It is subversive and upside-down and defies systems and party lines.

So, rather than putting your hopes in an election, or dwelling on fears caused by the future government, remember the Christmas story.

Remember the lines from O Little Town of Bethlehem:

The hopes and fears of all the years, are met in thee tonight.

Remember what that little baby came to do. For it is not the cross on a voting slip that can save the world. It is the cross on which Jesus died that has already accomplished this.

Let us pray:

Our Father who is in Heaven,

Your name is holy; you alone are good.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
We do not rely on earthly kingdoms or pledge allegiance to human flags. Instead, we humbly kneel by a lowly manger and declare we will follow you and your ways.
We come now to adore you. We place our hopes in you. We give our fears into your hands.
Forgive us, Lord, for the times we have been arrogant. Forgive for when we desired to taste of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Forgive us when we have been unkind in our words and deeds. Teach us your ways. Help us discern your plans in all this.

In Jesus’ name,
Amen.