Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ephesians 6:5-9 The Spirit-Filled Workplace

Audio can be found here (click to stream, right-click to download) or on our iTunes podcast.

The Bible tells us plainly in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 that if a man is unwilling to work, then he is not to eat. It seems there was one guy in New York some years ago who found a way around that. The 36 year old man who often lived on the streets would sometimes wander into an exclusive restaurant and order the most expensive items on the menu. When the check arrived, he simply shrugged his shoulders and waited for the police to come and arrest him. He didn’t mind going to jail – he’d pled guilty to stealing restaurant meals some 31 times by the time the Associated Press ran his story. In jail he knew that he would have a roof over his head and three meals a day. The story reported that because of his unwillingness to work and his attempts to manipulate the system, New York taxpayers had spent upwards of a quarter-million dollars feeding this man who refused to work to feed himself.

We were made to work. Work is not something we do because of the fall into sin. The fall affects the returns and satisfaction we get from our work, and it affects our ability to work, but it does not create the need to work. God created work. Before sin ever entered, God gave Adam work to do in the garden. Children understand this. When there is a job to be done around the house or in the yard, kids are eager to help out. They get excited about “Bring a Kid to Work Day.” Left to play among themselves, they will quickly begin playing pretend, and one will be a shopkeeper, or a police officer, or a soldier, or a chef, or the like. But something happens along the way of life wherein work becomes dreadful. We get to the point where we don’t enjoy it, but merely endure it. The words of Scripture here in this text, and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives can transform that and turn our everyday work into something significant and of eternal value.

I am sure it has not escaped your notice that I am talking about work, and the passage is talking about slavery. I certainly do not mean to make light of slavery. Slavery, as it was practiced in America and elsewhere in recent centuries, is one of the most abominable institutions ever undertaken by depraved men, as its contemporary cousin—human trafficking. However, slavery as we have come to know it in our culture is different from the slavery that was practiced in the Roman Empire. For instance, the kind of slavery that Paul was addressing was never based on ethnicity or skin color. Slaves consisted of people from all sorts of backgrounds. Also, though certainly many slaves had been taken or purchased against their will, there were many people who voluntarily sold themselves into slavery in that day. They did this by entering into a contract with their masters which stipulated the terms of the arrangement and set time limits on their service. Why would someone do this? For some, the ancient life of slavery promised the individual a better life than they knew as freedmen. It may have offered them better (or at least guaranteed) housing and food, medical care, and opportunities for education and social advancement. Many slaves in the Roman Empire learned to read and write, and became educators, physicians, accountants, and overseers of tremendous estates. Certainly however there are cases in which slaves even in that day were treated brutally and deprived of basic human rights. Still, so common was slavery in those days that it is estimated that approximately half of the population of the Empire was enslaved to the other half, and we know that many of those became enslaved by choice. Nowhere in the New Testament is the institution of slavery endorsed or condoned, but its reality is not avoided. In fact, over time, the institution of slavery was radically transformed by the Christian worldview with its high ideals set forth in this and other passages of Scripture. After all, this passage assumes that both slaves and their masters are brothers and sisters to one another in Christ, and are fellow participants in the same congregation. We must remember that though Christianity has transformed cultures in history, its aim has always been to first transform individuals. Transformed individuals change societies. Transformed societies are limited in ability to transform individuals.

So with these things in mind, it seems to me that the common workplace of our day is the right locus of application for these verses. None of us are likely to be legally enslaved to another person, and those who are in some form of slavery today or in recent history, are not in a similar situation to what Paul was addressing. Yet all of us to one degree or another find ourselves as laborers in another’s employ or as managers who oversee a laboring force, or in many cases, as both. This is the last of the sections that flow out of Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 5:18 to be Spirit-filled, or controlled by the Holy Spirit. Having been born-again by faith in Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God, Christians are able to live under the Spirit’s control as we surrender ourselves to Him. As we have seen, this has a transforming effect on churches, marriages, families, and if the principles of these verses are rightly applied and obeyed, on workplaces as well. So, what are the mandates found here for the Spirit-filled worker and the Spirit-filled manager?

I. The Spirit-Filled Worker Labors Ultimately for Christ (vv5-8)

I guess it is sort of customary to complain about work. Everyone does from time to time, and some seem to do so all the time. We complain about supervisors, subordinates, schedules, expectations, and any number of other things that surround the workplace. Many of these things are outside of our control, but one thing we can control is our own attitudes. I would even say that, when it seems impossible for us to gain or retain control of our own attitudes, this is a reminder to us that we need to be under the Spirit’s control. I recall a conversation I had about work with my pastor over 15 years ago. I was complaining about my job and told my pastor that I couldn’t wait to leave that job and begin a career in ministry. My pastor lovingly corrected me and said, “Have you ever considered that your job is your ministry? So, why not do the best you can there for the glory of God, and try to make a difference in the lives of the people you work with, and work hard like you are going to be the next president of the company?” I took that advice to heart, and my attitude began to change, the environment began to change, and my job performance and the performance of those around me began to change. I attribute all of that to the work of the Holy Spirit as I surrendered more and more control over my own attitude and actions to His power in my life. When the day came that I did leave that job, the owner of the company pleaded with me to stay, offering me raises and promotions, and promised me an open door to return at any time in the future. The Holy Spirit’s control had transformed my own attitude, my work, and my working relationships.

This is precisely what the Apostle Paul is saying here to those who are laboring in the service of others, be they servants (in this context) or employees (in our present context). He says that we are to be “obedient” to those who are our “masters according to the flesh.” In saying “according to the flesh,” he is pointing out that they have oversight over us in a limited way, but there is someone else who is our Master in a greater way. Our obedience to our bosses, managers, or supervisors is a reflection of our obedience to Christ. He says that these “slaves” are to be obedient “as to Christ.” Jesus is our ultimate Master and Lord, and whatever work we do, we ultimately do for Him. We need to think of our work as if Jesus Himself was the one who signed our paychecks, and carry out our responsibilities in the workplace to the best of our God-given, Spirit-empowered abilities. He is glorified through this. Christians ought to stand out in the workplace for their performance and their attitudes.

The attitude of the Christian laborer is to be one, Paul says, of “fear and trembling.” This is not in the sense of paranoia or trepidation, but respect for authority and recognition of God’s sovereign authority over our lives and the lives of those for whom we work. And this is not just something external or done for show, but it is done “in the sincerity of your heart.” It is not “by way of eyeservice as men-pleasers.” In other words, we don’t just work hard and perform well when others are watching, but all the more when no one is watching. We do it because it is right for Christian people to live this way. It is the “will of God,” he says here, for us to work this way “from the heart.”

Some of you surely remember the TV show “Leave It To Beaver.” If so, you remember that Wally had a friend named Eddie Haskell. Eddie is a good example of what Paul is talking about here. When he came to the door of the Cleaver household, he was always very kind and respectful toward the parents, but as soon as they left the room, he began trying to persuade Beaver or Wally to do something wrong. His good attitude and good behavior was only for “eyeservice” to please people. It was not in the sincerity of his heart. We are not to be like Eddie Haskell in the workplace. If we speak well of the boss when he’s around, and then tear him down when he’s not around, then we are hypocritical. If we enthusiastically affirm our responsibilities face to face with the boss, but then grumble about what we have to do once we are alone or with coworkers, then we are not working with sincerity. The tasks we are assigned, no matter how menial or difficult, are opportunities for our Christian character and the power of the Holy Spirit to be put on display. Our attitude about these things will speak loudly to those we work with and work for about our commitment to Jesus as Lord over our lives.

We have to remember ultimately God is the one for whom we do whatever we do. That is why Paul says in v7, “with good will render service as to the Lord, and not to men.” The boss may be unfair, unreasonable, unrealistic, and a genuinely bad guy, but ultimately we don’t work for him. We work for God, and God is good – all the time. It is by God’s grace that we have the ability to work and the opportunity to work. And it is for God’s glory that we work. Our work is His means of providing for our needs and our means of proclaiming His truth through our words and way of life. And in the end, we have to keep in mind v8: “Whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.” Your hard work and positive attitude may go unrewarded and unnoticed at work, but it won’t in heaven. God will see to it that you receive the full benefit of every good thing you’ve done with the right attitude and for the right motivation, even if the boss doesn’t. And He will also carry out vindication for you when you are treated harshly by unbearable managers. So we have to work with that eternal perspective.

That sounds all well and good here in the sanctuary on Sunday morning. But how will it be come Monday morning? It will be downright hard, if not impossible, to carry out unless we are walking in the Spirit’s power. But as we are filled with the Spirit, we will remember the truth of God’s word, we will remember His ultimate purposes in what we do, and we will be able to work hard with the right attitude even if others try to make that difficult for us. He will enable His people to labor diligently for His own glory. The Spirit-filled worker labors ultimately for Jesus.

Now, people in management will say a hearty amen to all of this. They will like the fact that Christian employees are being called to work in this way. But, there are implications for them here in this text as well in v9.

II. The Spirit-Filled Manager Is Accountable to Jesus (v9)

The 19th Century British historian Lord Acton is perhaps most famous for this saying. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The truth of Acton’s words is readily apparent, as all of us have seen how a good man and his morals are soon parted when he comes into a position of authority. But the Christian worldview turns this on its head. Jesus said, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.” This matter of the greater serving the lesser was not just something Jesus said. He lived this, even as He proclaimed, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mark 10:42-45). It is this example of Jesus, and His teaching on the matter, that informs Paul’s instructions to Christians in authority.

Speaking to the masters of slaves in his day, Paul’s words are fitting for those who find themselves in positions of management, supervision, and authority in the workplace today. Having already admonished Christian servants or laborers to obey their masters as they obey the Lord, with a willing and sincere heart, doing good to them, he now says to the masters, “Do the same things to them.” In other words, the greatness of a person in authority is demonstrated in his or her willingness to serve the best interests of those under them on the ladder. Leaders who profess faith in Christ and walk in the Spirit’s power do not have to mistreat those under their authority, but through kindness, mercy, and gentleness, they are able to bring out the best in those who are in their employ. So Paul says, “Give up threatening.” History is filled with examples of those who exercise their authority through threats of violence or harsh treatment. These are not marks of one who follows the ultimate Master, nor of those who walk in the fullness of His Spirit. Just as the servant cannot control the attitudes and actions of his master, so the master cannot control that of his servants. He or she must do what is right in the sight of God, by the Spirit’s power, and entrust the results to God without resorting to corruption, manipulation, or harshness in the treatment of others.

Absolute power would indeed corrupt absolutely if anyone really had it. But the fact is that no human being has absolute power. All power or authority that we have is limited and subordinate to the ultimate authority of God. And this is the basis of what Paul says to those in authority. The command to abandon threats and treat servants with kindness is based on the knowledge that “both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.” If the work or attitude of the subordinate is negative, they will give account to God. But so will the manager. The manager will account for how he or she has treated those who work for them. And there will be no partiality. God is no respecter of persons or offices. He will not always side with management, nor will He always side with labor. He will judge based on what is right, and He will do so perfectly. And there seems to be an important precedent found in Scripture that the one who has been entrusted with more authority will bear greater responsibility for what he or she does with that authority. If those under our authority are fellow-Christians, then we are brothers and sisters in God’s family and we should treat them accordingly. And if they are not believers, well, the likelihood of finding anything attractive in the Christian faith will diminish if we who proclaim to serve this loving Savior demonstrate a very unloving spirit toward them. We are all stewards – managers of what God has entrusted us with. And we will all give account to Him. So, if your boss is unbearable, rest in this promise that he or she will answer to God for that, but you continue to work well with a positive attitude as the Spirit empowers you. And if your employees are irresponsible, that may be cause for termination, but it is never cause for harsh treatment of them as persons. Even if discipline must be exercised in the workplace, it can still be carried out in a way that pleases the Lord. The Spirit-filled manager can abandon wrath, knowing that the laborer will account to God as well. Our responsibility, whether we are in authority or under authority, is to always do what is right, and leave the others in the Lord’s hands. He will judge perfectly and each will reap what they have sown.

Neither the worker nor the manager will be able to carry out the principles of this text apart from the Spirit’s power at work in and through them. We must be Spirit-filled people. We may not be able to control others or our circumstances, but we can surrender control of ourselves to the Holy Spirit and leave all the rest to God. Of course, before one can live under the control of the Spirit, one must possess the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God’s promised gift to all those who belong to Him by faith in Jesus. He comes to dwell within us when we receive the gracious salvation promised in the Gospel. None of us deserve this; all of us are sinners. But God, in His great love for us, offers us forgiveness of sins and the promise of the Spirit’s presence, and the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ. He died to bear the penalty of our sins on our behalf so that in exchange for our sins, we may be clothed in the righteousness of Christ and empowered to live for Him. So, the Gospel calls us to turn from sin and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in our lives. Perhaps someone senses the need to do this even today.

For those of us who have, there is no promise that all of our circumstances, at work, at home, at church, or in society, will always be pleasant. In fact, over and over again Scripture promises us that we will feel the force of life in this fallen world in unpleasant ways. We will be treated harshly. We will deal with the incompetence of others. But it is how we deal with these things that matter. If we deal with them in our own strength we will do what comes naturally: we will slack off, we will become hypocritical, we will grumble under the authority of others; or we will become angry and harsh toward those under our authority. But God has provided us with a supernatural power not our own that can enable us to overcome these tendencies. By yielding ourselves fully to His Spirit’s control, by being Spirit-filled, our workplace and working relationships can be transformed into something that will bring glory and honor to Christ. He is our ultimate authority and Master, no matter what role we occupy in the workplace, and it is to Him that we will all give account.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Clergy in Crisis

Earlier today, our congregational nurse left some information in my inbox that was shared at a recent meeting she attended concerning "Clergy in Crisis." Several studies are cited in this information that provide some interesting and alarming statistics about the wellbeing of those who serve churches in vocational ministry.

A study done by Duke University concluded that people who attend church regularly, pray and read their Bibles consistently have lower blood-pressure, are hospitalized less often, are less likely to suffer from depression, more likely to recover from illness, and have stronger immune systems than those who do not. The paper also states that since 2000, 130 separate studies document the increased wellness of those who practice spiritual disciplines. This is certainly good news for Christian people growing in their faith. However, this information is followed by some very alarming statistics about spiritual leaders in full-time ministry.

The studies are not cited, but conclusions are listed which state that Clergy are in the top 10 occupations of people dying from heart disease. Almost half (48%) of ministers surveyed indicated that their occupation was hazardous to the well-being of their families. Nearly as many (45%) will experience burn-out or depression. This figure seems a little low to me, probably because many who were surveyed were not honest about their own experiences of burn-out and depression. A great majority (70%) stated that their self-esteem is lower now than it was when they began their ministerial careers. One in five claim to be at the end of financial collapse (again, maybe a low figure). Most disturbing is the admission that more than one in three (37%) admitted to being involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in their congregation.

One figure that is easy to misinterpret states that for every 20 people who enter vocational ministry, only 1 will retire from the ministry. This may mean that people in ministry are so committed to it that they do not consider retirement an option. R. C. Sproul recently stated that he will retire "when they pry my cold, dead fingers off of my Bible." If that is what this study affirms, then it is commendable. However, I do not think that is what the study reflects. Rather, I believe that this figure indicates that fewer than 5% of people entering ministry will endure in the ministry. Many will abandon the work for other careers for a variety of reasons.

So, why do these things happen? Two statistics are stated which shed some light on possible reasons. First, research indicates that weight, mental health, heart disease, and stress are among the most pressing issues facing ministers today. Second, the average pastor spends about fifteen minutes a day in personal worship (however that is defined). Most pastors would not be content to know that this was the case among his congregants, so why is it so with the pastors themselves? The paper that was presented at this seminar indicates that clergy are faced with greater demands today than ever before, and with less support. A study is quoted which reveals that clergy work on average 21 hours more per week than members of their congregations. This means there is little time left for personal spiritual development or much needed rest. Other contributing factors cited are inadequate resources and a lack of social and/or peer support.

To put this into historical perspective, three studies are cited from various periods of the 20th Century. In 1950, clergy had lower rates of disease, longer lifespans, and healthier lives than those in other careers. In 1983, Protestant clergy had the highest overall work-related stress of professionals with a low availability of resources. By 1999, clergy were found to have the highest death rates from heart disease of any occupation!

So what can be done about this? Though the paper suggests many things, it seems to me that there is a great need for pastors today to be transparent with their congregations about their very real human struggles. Also it seems that pastors need to become more intentional about setting boundaries in their lives to protect themselves, their families, and their spiritual well-being. But there is also a responsibility on the part of congregations, lay-leaders in particular, to be understanding and realistic with pastors. Expectations may need to be adjusted in many cases; support may need to be offered in a wide range of ways. Churches need to ensure that their pastors are getting the family time and rest that they need by providing regular, protected days off for pastors, and offering periods of paid sabbatical leave. One thing is certain from these statistics: if these conditions do not change in the near future, clergy and congregations alike will be facing a crisis of monumental proportions. If you are a pastor or a member of a local church, I hope these figures will raise our awareness of the contemporary trends, and perhaps spark some conversations that need to take place for the well-being of our leaders, our churches, and the work of the Kingdom.

Ephesians 6:1-4 - The Spirit-Filled Family

Audio can be found here (click to stream, right-click to download).

Children, we are told in Psalm 127, are a gift of the Lord. This is a truth that bears on children, on parents, and on societies. In the providence of God, we come to this text on the date Christians recognize as “Sanctity of Life Sunday.” A foundational element of a Christian worldview is that all human life bears the image of God from the moment of conception, and each life has precious value in the sight of God. Children, born and unborn, are a gift from God, and biblical Christians must not only understand this and its implications for ourselves, but must also speak out prophetically to our culture that devalues life. Among the many ills of our society, the holocaust of abortion is paramount. The sanctity of human life has implications that go far beyond the issue of abortion, but this issue is perhaps most pressing for us today as people of God, for if we fail to speak out, the unborn have no other voice. It is up to us as God’s people to remind the world that children are a gift of the Lord, and this means my children, your children, and every other child born and unborn alike. This is not the point of our text, but it is assumed in our text, and we would be in error to avoid that subject on this day as we come to this text.

Not only is the Bible clear about children being a gift of the Lord, but it also clearly declares that parents have a tremendous responsibility. When I think about the awesome responsibility I have as a Christian father to the precious children God has given me, it is enough to buckle me at the knees. Hardly a week goes by that I do not interact with a person whose life has been negatively affected by the failures of their parents. And when I look at my two children, I am overwhelmed to think that their entire future depends in large part on my stewardship of the brief time that they are under my care at home. A day will come when they go out on their own. It is my job to make sure that when that day comes, they are ready to do so as mature adults who are ready and able to live their lives for the glory of God.

Thanks be to God, He has given us some priceless resources to help us. First, He has given us the ultimate example in that He is a Father to those who come to Him by faith in Jesus. I learn a lot about being a dad as I look at God as my Father. Secondly, He has given us each other in the church. As we fellowship with each other, we see the examples of other godly parents and their children. Many Christians have even found in the church a mother or father figure that they lacked in their biological families. And many who had no children of their own to raise were blessed by having children in the church to minister to in formative ways. Thirdly, God has given us the perfect treasure of wisdom in His Word. The Bible is full of instruction and examples for parents! But perhaps most important is the resource that we most often overlook. He has given us His Spirit. At the moment we become followers of Jesus, God comes to dwell within us in the person of the Holy Spirit. He does for us, in us, and through us, those things which we cannot do in our own strength, including parenting, when we allow Him to have full control over us. We call this being Spirit-filled, and in Ephesians 5:18, all Christians are commanded to be filled with, or controlled by, the Spirit. This passage follows closely on the heels of that one, for the instruction given here depends on us being Spirit-filled Christians. This goes for the children and for the parents. So, let’s explore this brief text and find the characteristics of the Spirit-filled family.

I. Spirit-Filled Children Obey and Honor Their Parents (vv1-3)

Nowhere does one’s worldview, particularly as it relates to the nature of human beings, become more apparent than in parenting. Some parents mistakenly assume that their children are born innocent and pure, and that they only go bad when something in the environment affects them negatively. Certainly there are many negative influences in the world that can affect children in harmful ways. However, we must understand that corruption is not only something that affects us from the outside. We are corrupted internally from birth. Children are born with a sinful, corrupted nature, and must be nurtured by the Gospel of Jesus Christ if there is to be any hope of overcoming this corruption. No child has ever had to learn how to do wrong. That comes naturally because we are all born in sin. Rather, it is with much loving patience that godly parents must cultivate a heart that honors God in their children.

Now before we get into what Paul says to children, I want to point out some unstated assumptions that the Apostle Paul has about children. First, the Apostle appears to assume that children can become fully devoted followers of Christ even in their youth. We know this because Ephesians is addressed in 1:1 to “the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus.” And from 6:1, we can conclude that Paul assumes these faithful saints to include some who are “children.” All children are different, and we mustn’t set hard and fast rules as to how old one has to be to understand and respond to the gospel. Rather, through investing time with our children conversing about the gospel, we can detect if they have a proper understanding of sin, the person and saving work of Jesus, and the biblical call to repentance and faith. And certainly a number of factors affect this, but it is possible that some children can grasp these truths at a very young age. After all, Jesus said that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all. (Mark 10:15). Jesus did not bar children from His presence, and we must not either.

A second assumption Paul has in mind here is that children can be filled with, or controlled by, the Holy Spirit. He is speaking to those whom earlier he has commanded to be Spirit-filled, and apparently this includes children. So we must not give children a license to live for the satisfaction of the desires of their flesh, for it is apparent that they can live in the Spirit’s power. Third, it seems that Paul assumes that children are participants in the life of the church, and even that they will be present in the main gathering of the church, for that is where this letter would have been read aloud. Paul does not say here, “Parents, tell your children these things,” but rather he addresses the children directly. There is a place for age-appropriate activities for children in the church, but too often these things are scheduled on top of the primary church activities so that children are never exposed to “grown-up” church life and never sit under biblical exposition. No wonder, when they reach 18 years old, so many leave the church for good. I advocate being a “Family-Integrated Church”, meaning that the right place for children to be in church are by their parents’ sides in worship, Bible-teaching, and serving. This may be supplemented by age-appropriate activities, but it must not be supplanted by those things. Again, we don’t want to set hard and fast rules, but a good guideline for integrating children into the worship services is by school-age. Some children will be able to sit and listen earlier than that, and some a little later, and parents and the rest of the church need to be sensitive to families preferences in this regard.

Now, with those assumptions in mind, we come to what the Apostle says under the Spirit’s inspiration to children. First, there is a command for children to obey their parents “in the Lord.” This phrase “in the Lord” is virtually synonymous with what Paul earlier said to wives about submitting to their husbands “as to the Lord.” Children are to obey their parents as they obey the Lord. In fact, it seems that children will have a very hard time growing up to obey the Lord if they do not learn to obey their first known authority figures, namely their parents. And if they are not obeying their parents, then they are not obeying the Lord. The family is the place where God intends to instill the idea of respect for authority and obedience so that as children mature they are able to live under God’s authority even as they graduate from mom and dad’s authority.

In almost all of the TV shows and movies aimed at children, the main character is a child who rebels against authority: at home, at school, and in the community. So children are constantly bombarded with role models who teach them that the way to success, the way to be cool, the way to find acceptance is to rebel against authority. This is a destructive pattern that has to be countered by biblical truth! Children must learn by example and instruction that authority is not a bad thing, and that obedience is good and right. That is what Paul says here: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”

The only right way to live is under God’s authority, and we are all, children and adults alike, trained to live under His authority by living under the other authorities that He sets over us in His providence. So, when children disobey their parents, they are actively rebelling against God and the rightful Lordship of Jesus Christ. And if the child does not learn obedience in the home toward parents, then it is very likely that the child will disobey God’s authority and the authorities He establishes or allows in other areas. Respect for authority is a mark of Christian discipleship for followers of Jesus regardless of our age, because the Bible teaches us that the only authorities that exist are those which God has allowed in His providence.

Then Paul says, quoting the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and mother.” Now, honoring one’s parents implies obedience, but honor goes beyond obedience. Obedience is about behavior, but honor is about attitude. It is not possible to honor without obedience, but it is possible to obey without honor. A child can perform outward tasks of obedience, but internally harbor hostility and anger toward a parent that festers into hatred, resentment and extreme manifestations of dishonor. A good indicator of a child’s honor for his or her parents is how they speak of them when they are with their peers. Get a group of kids together, and invariable one or more of them start trashing their parents. A child who honors mom and dad doesn’t follow along with this, but speaks with respect toward them even when they aren’t around to hear it.

So parents must not only confront their children’s behavior, but also the underlying attitudes that provoke the behavior. Often times, disobedience is born from dishonor, and if the dishonor is not addressed in a careful, gospel-centered way, we can end up with “well-behaved pagans,” who do all the right things for all the wrong-reasons. After all, we do not want our children to only grow up to keep a list of rules, but who also honor God with their lives. This begins at home very early as a child learns to honor his or her parents in such a way that obedience is a natural result. It matures into a lifestyle that honors God and that honors Jesus Christ as rightful Lord over one’s life, and manifests obedience to Him as an act of love.

There is a promise attached to this commandment: “Honor your father and mother so that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.” In other words, children who honor their parents generally find that their lives are enriched in terms of both quality and duration. They experience God’s blessing not only in their childhood, but in their adult lives as well. Now, this is a proverbial truth, not a guarantee. Exceptions can be found in which children who honor their parents die young or have hard lives, and rebellious children prosper and live to an old age. But all things considered, on the whole it is generally true that children who grow up in rebellion find that things do not go well in life, and their lives are often shortened by the consequences of their rebelliousness.

Now, that seems like very simple instructions for children: Obey and honor your parents. However, because we are all born with a fallen, sinful nature, these things do not come naturally to anyone. This is why it is important for parents to instill the truth of the gospel into their children from birth, so that at the first moment of understanding, a son or daughter may come to know God personally through faith in Jesus Christ and become indwelled by His Spirit. The Holy Spirit can empower a young Christian to do what doesn’t come naturally. And parents must not make excuses for children who dishonor them and disobey them, or seek to supply their children with false assurances of their spiritual condition. Dishonor and disobedience in children who profess to be Christians are indicative of, AT LEAST, a failure to live in the Spirit’s power, or worse, a false profession of faith. So, rather than reminding children of a past profession of faith, parents should talk to their children about their present position in the faith, and return regularly to the basics of the Gospel. Do you believe that Jesus died for you? Do you believe He is risen from the dead? Have you put your faith in Him to save you? Is He truly Lord over your life? Are you surrendered to His control? If so, then why do you seek to live outside of His commands? And these are questions that children need to revisit on their own frequently as well. After all, Paul commands us in 2 Cor 13:5 to examine ourselves to see if we are in fact in the faith.

Now, of course all of this begs the question, what is a child to do when their parents are not “honorable” or when a parent demands obedience to a command that is evil, immoral, or unbiblical? First, simply speaking, the decision to honor one’s parents does not entail an endorsement of the parent’s attitude or actions. In fact, it appears to be unconditional. Thus, while it is not necessary to approve of dishonorable things in the parent’s life, the child who professes faith in Christ should seek to always give as much honor as possible to his or her parents out of devotion to Christ, if not to the parent. Honoring one’s parents is a choice that must be made. Secondly, in terms of obedience, we would not counsel a child to endure or tolerate something that is harmful, wicked, or sinful. In severe cases, we would want to rescue a child from some settings. But in less severe cases, we would counsel a child to obey the parent unless the parent commands something that God forbids, or the parent forbids something God commands. This can still be done in a spirit of honor, in which the child must say, “Mom, Dad, I love you. I thank God for you. But I am a follower of Jesus and I cannot do this. I know that under your authority there will be consequences for my decision, and out of respect for your authority I accept those consequences.” Thus a child learns through these experiences the high cost of following Jesus and how to be faithful to Him in adversity. That is something that will most certainly be required of them as adults who live for Jesus.

Now we come to the second characteristic of a Spirit-Filled Family:
II. Spirit Filled Parents Nurture Their Children In Christlike Ways (v4)

The address is made here to fathers, and the role of a father in the home is vital. However, the exhortations here are equally applicable to both parents, even as in a single parent home, the mother may have to engage these responsibilities alone. Still, fathers in particular must not buy into the lie that the raising of children is the primary job of the wife. The Bible places a tremendous responsibility on dads for the nurture of their children. So where a dad is present in the home, he needs to take the lead in nurturing the kids, and mom needs to encourage this to happen.

The word translated “bring up” in v4 is perhaps best translated as “nurture.” And how are parents to nurture their children? First is the corrective measure of discipline. “Bring them up in the discipline … of the Lord.” Discipline is not a bad word. It means training or teaching, and it is related to the word disciple, which we are all called to be. God demonstrates that discipline is not unloving in that He disciplines us. Hebrews 12 teaches us that God disciplines those whom He loves, and if we aren’t disciplined by God, then we do not belong to Him. His discipline is a manifestation of His Fatherly love for us. And so it is with parental discipline. So Proverbs 13:24 says, “He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.”

Now, this is not a license for child abuse. There are those who say that spanking and certain other forms of discipline are abusive to children and should not be practiced. Certainly any form of discipline can be carried to an excessive and dangerous extreme and here the parent must exercise caution. We must remember that there is a difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment is an extraction of retribution or revenge. You did this, so I am going to do this to you. But discipline always has correction at the heart of it. You did this, and you need to learn to not do that. And it is accompanied by instruction and reassurance of affection, and it is saturated in the gospel and followed up by forgiveness. It is, after all, the discipline of the Lord, in which parental authority is being exercised to instill a regard for God’s authority in the life of the child. And here’s the thing … a parent who uses this kind of discipline doesn’t have to constantly spank their children. If they are effective, the actual physical act of discipline will become increasingly rare as the child grows and learns. Because they are being trained, not punished, they learn from these experiences as their hearts are nurtured in sensitivity toward the Lord. Aside from the Bible, I have been greatly helped in this area of parenting by a book called Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp that I would recommend to any parent or grandparent as a biblical guide to gospel-centered discipline.

In a typical discipline encounter, a father or mother confronts the child about the attitude or behavior in question, and the conversation goes something like this: “Do you understand what you did here? Do you think that was right or wrong? Why or why not? Do you remember what Mommy and Daddy have said the rule is about this? And do you remember what we said the consequences would be? Do you remember why it is important for you to obey Mommy and Daddy? What is the word that God uses for disobedience? And what has God done about our sins? Have you confessed this sin to Jesus and asked Him to forgive you? OK, now because I love you, I have to follow through with the consequences, but I want you to know that I forgive you too.” And then once the discipline has been applied, Mom and Dad should give the child a hug and show them that they are loved and forgiven. See, this is how God disciplines us, and it is how we must nurture our children with the discipline of the Lord. We can even explain to them how we experience that kind of discipline from God when we sin, and we have consequences for our sin, but we are loved and forgiven by God because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. So we aren’t just preaching the Gospel, but practicing it as we do this.

So, that’s the corrective side of nurture: the discipline … of the Lord. But there’s also an informative side, and that is the instruction of the Lord. I have said before that husbands are like pastors in their own house-church. Here I will go farther and say that fathers in particular, and both parents generally speaking, are the “youth pastors” of their children. You are not doing your Christian duty as a parent if you only entrust them to others for spiritual development. The PRIMARY responsibility for the spiritual instruction belongs to parents, and the primary place for it to occur is in the home. The ministry of the church is important, but it is supplemental to what takes place at home. Deuteronomy 6 lays out an important principle concerning this. Here parents are commanded to take the instruction they receive from Moses and “teach them diligently to your sons and … talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” The church has a child for a couple of hours. But parents have them all week long. If they are going to be nurtured in the Lord, then it will require the repetition of biblical instruction and consistency in teaching and modeling the Christian life in the home and daily activities of family life.

This means that mom and dad have to be growing in their own faith, sitting under the preaching and teaching of the Word, feeding their souls with regular intake of the Bible and good biblically based books, etc. Parents ought to sense a calling to be like amateur theologians, because their kids are going to learn more about God from them than from any other source. And what they learn from their parents in both their teaching and their lifestyle will either impart truth or lies about God to the kids.

Now, those are the exhortations: Nurture your children in two ways – the discipline and instruction of the Lord. But here’s the caveat: in so doing, do not provoke your children to anger. We must avoid overprotection, overindulgence, favoritism, unrealistic expectations, unfair comparisons, mean-spirited words, intentional discouragement, neglect, excessive and baseless punishments, and anything else that will inevitably produce anger in the heart of a child and destroy any vestige of honor that the child may have for his or her parents. Certainly there are times when a child’s selfishness or immaturity stirs up anger toward a parent, and in these cases the sin is on the part of the child. But when the parent’s thoughtless and insensitive words, attitudes, and actions are the direct cause of the child’s anger, then it is the parent who has sinned. And as Paul stated earlier about anger, both parties have a biblical mandate to seek reconciliation without delay. When a parent provokes anger, he or she must not only seek God’s forgiveness but the child’s as well. And when a child finds anger arising against the parent, he or she should bring it to the parents’ attention and try to work through it before it festers into a deeper level of resentment.

So, parents, don’t provoke anger, but nurture your children with the discipline and instruction of the Lord. And as any parent can tell you, that is a lot harder than it sounds. And that is why it can’t be done apart from the power of the Holy Spirit at work in and through us. These things will only be carried out faithfully by a Spirit-Filled mom and dad who regularly come before the Lord to be emptied of self and filled with the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit as He takes control in our lives.

I know there may be some today who say, “Is it too late? My kids are grown now, and I made a lot of mistakes. What can I do about it now?” First, I’d say, we all make a lot of mistakes. It’s called being human. So, do with those failures what we do with the rest of them and take them to Jesus and receive His forgiveness. But secondly, I’d say it’s never too late to have a heart to heart talk with your kids, no matter how old they are. Ask their forgiveness for things you may have done wrong along the way, and speak to them about where your heart is now in terms of your walk with Jesus, and allow the Holy Spirit to use that in your life and in theirs. Thirdly, some of you may have somewhat of a second-chance at some of these things with your grandchildren, with children in the church, or with other children in your life. Here is an opportunity for you to be involved in the spiritual nurture of a precious young life that you may have missed earlier. Then finally, I’d just encourage you by saying that your success as a parent is based on what you do, not what they do. You do what you can do in the Spirit’s power to follow these biblical instructions, and pray for them and stay connected to them, and you leave them in God’s hands concerning their decisions and the outcome.

Likewise there may be someone who would say, “I blew it as a kid! I disrespected my parents and disobeyed them,” and maybe the Holy Spirit is convicting you about that. Well, again, maybe it isn’t too late. You can have that talk with them, seek God’s forgiveness, seek their forgiveness, and begin today to honor them as you should. And if death has taken them, and it is too late to have that talk with them, you can still find forgiveness from God and honor them. And maybe God can use your experiences to talk to kids or adults who have bitterness toward their parents and God may yet do something good with it.

The bottom line here is that none of us are perfect. All of us blow it, as parents, as kids, and as people. And God’s solution for my sins as a child of my parents, for my sins as the parent of my kids, and for my sins as a person in every other realm is the same: Jesus Christ. I am not going to make myself right with God by perfect obedience, perfect parenting, or perfect living. I am incapable. But Jesus Christ has lived the life of perfection on my behalf and yours, and He took our sins upon Himself in His death on the cross and conquered them in His resurrection. So today, regardless of whatever failures are in your past, and we all have them, you can turn from those and place your faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior and receive His forgiveness, His perfect righteousness, and the power of the Holy Spirit to live for Him now and with Him forever.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

February 1

February 1 marks a significant milestone for our city and our nation. On this day, 50 years ago, the Sit-In Movement began at the Woolworth store in downtown Greensboro when 4 young students from A&T University courageously and peaceably defied the cultural norms to insist on equal treatment. Though sit-ins had taken place elsewhere before this one, it was the Greensboro Sit-In that brought national attention and raised awareness to the African-American struggle for civil rights. Some call the Greensboro Woolworth building "The Birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement." In the days, months, and years following this event, Immanuel Baptist Church under the pastoral guidance of Dr. Paul Early began to increasingly expand its vision for the inclusion of all peoples. By the middle-1960's, Immanuel had become "a church for all people," one of the first Baptist churches in the city to integrate. Greensboro and Immanuel should be proud of our past histories of racial progress, but we cannot rest on the events of the past. In many ways, our city and our nation remain divided along lines of skin-color. Politicians and sociologists know this, but don't know how to fix it. Laws, policies and regulations cannot transform the human heart. This is where the church of Jesus Christ comes in. We have the answer in the Gospel. The Gospel informs us that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God is making for Himself a new people which consists of those from every tribe and nation, language and people. We are brought together as brothers and sisters in God's family through faith in Christ as our Lord and Savior. However, the world does not see this answer that we have to racial division because churches remain one of the most segregated sectors of society. Our segregation is one of preference and choice. In our flesh, we enjoy the comforts of being around people who are just like us. But in so doing, we miss out on the richness of God's glory that is displayed through a unity of diverse peoples and cultures. So, we must challenge ourselves to get out of our comfort zones, sacrifice our preferences for the sake of each other, and reach out to those who may have a different color of skin or speak a different heart-language, inviting them into the fellowship of God's family through the Gospel of Jesus. What the church of yesterday had failed to obey and proclaim from Scripture, God taught to the nation through the Sit-In Movement and larger Civil Rights Movement. May we as God's people not fail this generation as we deal with issues today.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Spirit-Filled Marriage (Ephesians 5:22-33)

Audio can be found here (click to stream, right-click to download) or on our podcast on iTunes.

The first Southern Baptist Convention I ever attended was in 1998 in Salt Lake City. You might say that it was a baptism by fire. Internally, it was one of the best Conventions I have ever attended. Externally, however, Southern Baptists were ridiculed in the media, in the culture, and even by other Christians over an amendment to the Baptist Faith and Message, our confession of faith. That amendment sought to set forth a biblical understanding of the Family. At that crucial juncture of American history, many Baptists were aware that the Christian understanding of family was under fire from many sides, and it seemed important for Baptists to set forth exactly where we stand. Of course there were many who took exception to the statement’s wording, because it speaks against homosexuality, divorce, sex outside of marriage, and abortion. It should not surprise us to know that the secular media and cultural forces who advocate for all those things disagreed with Southern Baptists on these plain Biblical teachings. But what was surprising was the outcry of criticism launched against Southern Baptists from unbelievers, Christians, church leaders, even some other Baptists and Evangelicals, about the statement’s position on the roles of husbands and wives in marriage. Overlooking a majority of the surrounding context, critics focused on one sentence which reads: “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.” As noted in a recent article in SBC Life, “The outcry was immediate, profuse, and often vitriolic. Secular and religious critics alike accused the SBC of embracing male chauvinism and promoting misogyny.”

The wording of that amended article, which remains unchanged in the present, 2000 edition of the Baptist Faith and Message, did not fall out of the sky. It is a precise restatement of what the Apostle Paul writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the passage before us today. And, much to the chagrin of our critics, the controversial sentence of the BFM does not occur in isolation, nor does Paul’s statement here. There is a surrounding, supporting context in both which, when properly understood, helps us understand exactly what is being taught here about Christian marriage.

Before we dive into the text, though, I want to address a common misconception whenever we talk about specific roles for males and females in society, in the family, and the church. There are two primary schools of thought on this subject: the most popular position held by most people today is that of Egalitarianism; the other is Complimentarianism. There are Christian people in each camp. What is interesting is that both groups look at the exact same Scriptures. Those Scriptures include Genesis 1-3; Galatians 3:28; and Ephesians 5. The Egalitarians, whose label is rooted in the word “equal”, see no distinctions in gender roles at all. They say that Genesis 1 and 2 teach that God created male and female equally in His image, and that gender roles were introduced after man’s fall into sin. But, because of what Christ has done in redeeming us from the fall, the roles are now erased, as stated in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Therefore, what matters now is not the gender roles specified in Ephesians 5:22-33, but the general principle of Ephesians 5:21, “Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.”
That sounds convincing, and seems to be supported by an abundance of biblical support. But I am not convinced that the egalitarian position does justice to those texts in either interpretation or application. First of all, we complimentarians agree with egalitarians that both male and female are both created in the image of God, and are therefore of equal worth to God. Neither is more important or greater than the other in essence, dignity, or value. However, we disagree on the origin of gender roles. While the egalitarian says that specific roles for males and females are a product of sin, complimentarians find Scripture affirming that God created man and woman with unique roles. In Genesis 2:15 we find that God gave Adam a specific job description: “to cultivate and keep” the garden, before ever Eve was created. In addition, Adam had a responsibility to name all the animals. This naming places Adam in a position of authority, exercising the dominion that God had given him over creation. But Eve, we are told, was created to be “a helper suitable for him” (Gen 2:18). Though Adam recognized that they were equals in substance and worth, saying “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23), he also recognizes his own headship in giving her a name as well: “She shall be called Woman” (Gen 2:23).

So, complimentarians do not see gender roles as being created in the fall, but rather as being corrupted by the fall. This is precisely what Genesis 3:16 is speaking of when God says to the woman, “Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” This means that sin has now corrupted their relationship and complimentary roles by introducing an element of usurpation, control, and competition between them. The “desire” is not a romantic one, but is one like that which sin is said to have for Cain in 4:7, a desire to control or to undermine. This is the desire that sin has infected Eve with. And rather than lovingly guiding as a family leader, Adam will now “rule” over her because of sin, in the same sense that Cain is admonished to “master” sin in 4:7. So, sin did not create gender roles, but corrupted them radically.

But thanks be to God, in redemption, Christ sets us free from sin and its effects. Galatians 3:28 does not promise us that Christ has come to erase gender roles when it says that there is “no male nor female but we are all one in Christ Jesus.” Rather it means that God does not show preferential treatment to one over the other in terms of who may receive His saving grace. The Jews have no advantage over the Greeks; the free have no advantage over slaves, and the males have no advantage over females. All have equal access to the grace of God offered in the gospel. And once set free from sin and indwelled with the Holy Spirit of God, we are able to live our lives in the way God intended us to live as we surrender ourselves to His control. This includes proper and harmonious service to God and each other in our specific roles as Christian men and women. So, while Ephesians 5:21 states a general truth that all Christians should be willing to submit to one another in the fear for Christ (another way of saying, “love your neighbor as yourself”), Paul goes on to say in the verses immediately following that there are specific implications for this in the home. Because sin has so radically affected even the most intimate of human relationships, we are under biblical admonition here to allow the Spirit to control us in our relations within marriage. This means that each one has a specific role to play in the Spirit-controlled family.

Now, with that lengthy introduction out of the way, we are ready to dive into our text. This text follows two specific statements that are important to a right understanding of the passage. The first is in Ephesians 5:18, which says “Be filled with (or controlled by) the Spirit.” The second is in Ephesians 5:21, which says, “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” And verses 22-33 now deal specifically with how this works in a marriage when both husband and wife are walking in the Spirit’s control. The implications include the specific responsibilities of the spirit-filled husband and wife, but also go beyond this to speak of the importance of a spirit-filled marriage. Because so much of the criticism and controversy surrounding these verses center on what it says to wives, I have chosen to begin with what it says to husbands because these verses are often ignored in the discussion when in fact they are perhaps the most important truths contained in the passage.

I. The Spirit-Filled Husband is a Loving Shepherd of His Home (25-31)

It should go without saying that husbands are expected to love their wives. It would be hard to imagine a couple ever proceeding with marriage in the first place if there was not mutual love between the partners. However, our society has so maligned this word “love” that it has become relatively meaningless, and nowhere is this more evident than in marriage.

Some of us have just completed a reading of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. It may have come as a surprise to anyone reading this book on the essentials of the Christian faith that Lewis devotes an entire chapter to the subject of marriage. More surprising perhaps is that Lewis was not married when this chapter was originally written, and wouldn’t be for another 14 years. In this chapter on marriage, Lewis sets forth a helpful and much needed distinction between “being in love,” and “loving.” While couples may originally decide to marry because they are “in love,” an ecstatic state accompanied by all sorts of wondrous sensations, they also make a promise to love one another even should the day come when those sensations subside. Lewis even says that this kind of love, that is exercised in spite of feelings and in faithfulness to this promise, is a better kind of love. He says that this kind of love “is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by … the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other.” Lewis says that being “in love” was the explosion that started the engine of marriage running, but that this kind of love is the fuel on which marriage runs.

And this is the kind of love that Paul is commanding Christian husbands to have toward their wives: not one based on how he feels at the moment, but a love that is born of a decision and an action. And there is a model for this love. Paul says that we are to love our wives “as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” The love that Christ showed us on the cross is our model for how we are to love our wives. He put our needs above any need of His own. He could have determined to preserve His own life and spare Himself the misery of the cross, but He endured the cross for our sakes, so that we benefit from His great sacrifice. By His “giving up” of Himself, we are “sanctified” and “cleansed” (v26), meaning set apart and made holy, in order that the bride He presents Himself with is a glorious church without spot or wrinkle, but holy and blameless. This is the way spirit-filled husbands are to love their wives. We are to put her needs above our own, and love and serve her in such a way that she benefits and thrives as a person under the shepherding care of our loving leadership in the home. Notice that Christ is the model for all that the husband does. Christ makes the church holy by the washing of water with the Word. Husbands, you are the representative of Christ in the family structure—the pastors, if you will, of your homes. How much time is spent in your home discussing God’s word with a view toward bringing those under your care into spiritual maturity? This is our job, and it is one I fear too many of us often neglect.

So Paul says, “husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies” (v28). Just as we nourish and cherish our own bodies, preserving and providing for the needs of our bodies, so we are also to nourish and cherish our wives by preserving and providing for them in love. And there is a biblical basis for this. Paul cites Genesis 2:24, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So, you are no longer two separate individuals, but one unified whole, and we give to our wives the same kind of treatment that we would give to our own bodies, for we are one flesh.

Now there are two errors which a husband may commit in the exercise of this leadership in the home. First is to become dictatorial, and this is why so many people fear the admonitions of this passage. However, if Christ is our model, how can this happen? He did not come into the world to find the most comfortable seat and demand to be waited on hand and foot. He came to serve and to make those whom He loved better by meeting their needs, including their greatest need of salvation from sin. So, this is in no way a license for husbands to become dictators in the home, and any attempt to justify such an attitude will surely be taken into account at the judgment, for Christ has been heinously misrepresented by these husbands. But I fear that the second error, which is seldom discussed, is in fact more commonly practiced. This is the error of passivity. Here, husbands make one authoritative decision – that they will not make any more decisions or take any more leadership in the home at all. As one Christian wife said to me a few years ago, “I know what the Bible says about submission, but there can’t be no SUB-mission where there ain’t no MISSION.” By necessity, she and countless wives like here are thrust into leadership roles they were never intended to occupy because their husbands refuse to lead in the Christ-like way. Remember that Jesus’ leadership which we are called to emulate was not one of comfort, ease, and the path-of-least-resistance. It was hard and costly. So will our leadership be in the home. We will have to make difficult and costly decisions, we will have to sacrifice for the benefit of others, and we will have to love and forgive even when we don’t feel like it and when everything in our human nature is telling us not to. But if we keep Jesus at the forefront of our minds and remember that as husbands we are following in His pattern of shepherding, loving, leadership, we will avoid these errors.

Does that sound like a difficult task. It is. In fact it is impossible. That is why it can only be done when we are yielded to the control of the Holy Spirit in our lives. That is the reason why this command for husbands follows the command in Eph 5:18 to be filled with the Spirit. We cannot love this way and lead this way in our strength. We must have the Spirit’s power working through us and continually be being filled by Him to be effective at what God has called us to do in the home.

Now, with these things set forth, we come back to the opening verses of this section, vv22-24. Here we see that …

II. The Spirit-Filled Wife Submits to Her Husband as to the Lord (vv22-24)

Having said what we have about the expectations of the husband, we are able to understand that these verses are not calling Christian women into some kind of degrading servitude or slavery. Any husband who would use these verses to justify that kind of attitude is in sin and will be held accountable by Christ. But when a husband loves and leads like Christ, like what is spelled out in this passage, submission is not something that has to be demanded of his wife. She recognizes his Christ-likeness, and as one who is devoted to Christ, so she will surrender to her husband as to the Lord if she is also walking in the Spirit’s control.

It is said here that the husband is the “head” of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the Church. There has been much ink spilled by scholars over the meaning of this word, with a popular common view being that it means “source” or “origin” rather than “authority,” and refers to the fact that Adam was created first, and then Eve created from Adam. However, there is not one shred of evidence in the ancient language to indicate that this is what this word means. The best argument for this interpretation comes from an appeal to a lexicon of Classical Greek edited by the scholars Liddell and Scott. However, scholars have concluded that if this word ever had this meaning, then it has only surfaced in once ancient writing, and there it is a similar word, but not the exact same word, as is used here. In every other existent ancient Greek writing, the word seems to carry the sense of “authority.” This is undisputed when we deal with other New Testament passages which speak of Christ as the head of the church, and it should be undisputed here as well. Yet, as we have seen, this authority is not one of cold and cruel tyranny, but like Christ’s is one of loving, shepherding nurture.

In 1998, when our statement on the family was being debated at the SBC, one well-intentioned messenger approached the microphone to object to the wording of the wife’s submission, offering instead to change it to “mutual submission” between husbands and wives as supported by Ephesians 5:21. This was countered by the late Dr. Adrian Rogers, who cited v24: “But as the church is subject to Christ.” Dr. Rogers said, “My dear brother, Christ is not subject to the church.” So, as the husband has a model to follow in Jesus Christ, so the wife has a model to follow in the Church of Christ. Like the church, the wife does not follow in a servile way as a result of domineering dictatorship, but willfully out of devotion and trust, believing that the husband will care for her needs and lead her responsibly in the right direction.

Now, two needful words here to undergird this. First, does this idea of headship mean that one is of greater importance or worth before God than the other? Absolutely not. Both are co-equal bearers of the divine image. In fact, what is called for in marital harmony is the same thing demonstrated within the Triune Godhead Himself. Theologians speak of intertrinitarian functional subordination, which is a fancy way of saying that though the Father, Son, and Spirit are co-equally and co-eternally God, there is a submission which is voluntarily rendered by each member of the Trinity. The Son submits to the Father and the Spirit to the Father and the Son. Is one more important or better? No, but each has a specific role in the outworking of the divine will. So it is with marriage. Neither partner is more important or qualitatively better, but each has a specific role. Leadership is necessary, not for those moments where everyone is in agreement, but particularly when husband and wife cannot reach an agreement. At this point, a husband’s role is to evaluate his own position and make sure he is taking a Christlike direction, and a wife’s role is to trust him even if she disagrees with him.
This brings us to the second needful word. What if she doesn’t trust him or disagrees with him, or what if he turns out to be wrong. We all know that this means the wife gets the eternal satisfaction of saying to her husband, “See, I told you so.” No, in fact, that would be counterproductive to whole enterprise. The wife is in a position of great liberty here, for she is not accountable to God for the decision or its outcome. Having stated her concerns, her responsibility before God is now to yield the decision making over to her husband. If she does that, she has nothing to answer for. But the husband has a much weightier burden of responsibility, for if he misleads her or violates her trust, or if he stubbornly refuses to give ear to her input, then he is accountable to God for his poor leadership in the home. Ladies I can assure you that this is a much more severe consequence than hearing you say, “I told you so.” So, having submitted, you can leave your husband in God’s hands with the outcome.

Does this sound difficult for you to do? It surely is, and that is why you must be continually Spirit-filled to live out this mandate in your marriage.

Alright, now finally we come to the crux of the matter. It’s all well and good to talk about husbands and wives and their roles in marriage. We need to hear that. But Paul is getting at something far more important here.

III. A Spirit-Filled Marriage Communicates the Gospel to the World (v32-33)

After reading verses 22-31, the most practical teaching on Christian marriage in the New Testament, we come to verse 32 in which Paul surprises us by telling us that his primary point here is not marriage. His main point is the relationship between Jesus and His Church. In v33, he reassures us that the instructions for marriage hold true: a husband is to love his wife even as himself, and the wife must respect the leadership of her husband. But when this happens, something greater than simple marital harmony is taking place. When Spirit-filled husbands and wives live out this marriage mandate, marriage becomes what God truly intended it to be: an earthly picture of the spiritual reality of His loving relationship with His people.

When a Spirit-filled husband leaves the comforts of his parent’s shelter to take a wife into union to himself, he is acting out a parable of Jesus Christ, leaving the glory of heaven to come and dwell among us to bring a bride, the church, into union with Himself. When a husband lovingly leads his wife and his family by putting their greatest needs above his own earthly desires, he demonstrates in a small way the sacrifice Jesus made for us, giving up the comforts of earthly life for the death of Calvary’s cross in order to save us from sin. When a husband shepherds his wife into spiritual maturity and personal growth, he reenacts before the watching the sanctifying work that Jesus is carrying out in His people through the ministry of His Spirit and His Word. And when a Spirit-filled husband unconditionally loves his bride with an unbreakable faithfulness, he demonstrates to the world the unbreakable covenant with which God has bound us to Himself through Jesus Christ. And as Spirit-filled wives submit in love and trust to the leadership of their husbands, they are showing the world what it means to be a follower of Jesus. His ways are seldom our ways, and we often misunderstand His purposes, but we yield to His Lordship over us because we love Him and trust Him. This is depicted when godly wives carry out the principles of this passage.

As Sinclair Ferguson writes, “A Christian marriage thus has great evangelistic power in and beyond the home. Among other married couples a Christian marriage can witness to the grace of Christ on which it is based. Christ’s love for us is displayed through the husband’s love for his wife, our submission to Him in faith through the wife’s loving submission to her husband. Children should be able to see the Gospel in their parents’ lifestyle. By God’s grace the Christ-like love and Christ-centered devotion seen in their parents will encourage them to trust and obey Him as Savior and Lord.” I would add to what Dr. Ferguson has said that in addition to one’s children, one’s neighbors, coworkers, and others who observe a godly marriage see an illustration of the gospel which will awaken them to their need for Christ and open their hearts to receive the gospel we speak to them.

Recent studies have shown that the divorce rate is as high among professing Christians as it is among any other segment of society, and that Southern Baptists in particular have a higher rate of divorce than any other group of Christians. This tells me two things: First, and most obvious, we are not living Spirit-filled lives. He is not controlling us. These alarming studies are a wake up call reminding us that we cannot live the life God has called us to on our own resources. We need the daily, moment-by-moment empowering of His Spirit if we are to live out His mandates for our lives and Christian service, including our marriages. But secondly, it seems that these realities may have some correlation with the fact that people today seem uninterested in the Gospel. When they look at our lives, they do not see any qualitative difference between the way we live and the way they live. So, we must pause to consider these questions: What does my way of life in general, and my relationship with my spouse in particular, say to people I know about Jesus Christ? Do they see the power of the Holy Spirit transforming my life to a higher plane of living than the rest of the world? What changes need to be made in my life?

If we are married Christians, perhaps we need to be reminded again that we are desperate and dependent upon the filling of the Holy Spirit. We must yield control of our lives over to Him and stop living according to our natural instincts, impulses, and inclinations. That is spiritual bankruptcy! We must live in the power He has provided. Secondly, it may mean that this afternoon, we need to have a long, Christ-centered conversation with our spouse about our own sins in this area, and seek his or her forgiveness and prayerfully seek the transformation of our marriages as we surrender ourselves afresh to the Spirit. Thirdly, unmarried Christians here see as well the need for a continual filling of the Spirit, because God uses the ordinary things of our lives that we take for granted to make Himself known to others as the Spirit works in and through us. Finally, perhaps someone today realizes that they have never come into a relationship with Jesus Christ, accepting Him by faith as Lord and Savior. Therefore, this day, we would invite you to believe upon Him who died for your sins, so that you could be forgiven and united with Him in a relationship that will last for all eternity.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Ephesians 5:18 - Living Under the Spirit's Control

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Living Under the Spirit’s Control
Eph 5:18

Have you ever felt like life offered you more than you can handle? I imagine if we are honest, we would all admit that we often feel this way. Who among us have never uttered in desperation, “When it rains it pours!” Things begin to pile up on us, and a new crisis arises at every turn. Suddenly we feel that we are no longer in control of our lives, but are rather being controlled by the circumstances around us. This is troubling for us, because deep down, all of us desire to be in control of things. As children we longed for the day when we could get out from under our parents’ control, thinking that ultimate liberty was waiting for us, only to find that we are under more outside control at that point. We watch sports on TV, and we question the calls made by the officials or the plays selected by the coaches. “If I were in charge, things would be different.” We watch the news and dare think that our city or our nation would be better off if we were the ones in charge of it. We go to work and second-guess the boss’s decisions, convinced that if we were the ones who had control of the company, things would change for the good. On and on it goes. And if another person desires control moreso than we do, we call them a “control-freak.” We just don’t like to be controlled. It’s part of our human nature.

When we go back to the beginning and find Adam and Eve living under the perfect conditions of Eden, we find the serpent appealing to this desire for control in the initial temptation of humanity. As Satan tempted Eve, what did he promise her if she ate the forbidden fruit? “You will be like God.” No longer will you have to live under someone else’s control, but you can control your own life. And Eve surrendered to that temptation, and Adam did as well. Immediately, things changed, and not for the better. Adam did not gain control of his environment, but rather became a slave to it. The ground he used to tend with ease became infested with thorns and thistles, and was cultivated from then on by the sweat of his brow. And Eve became frustrated with an insatiable desire for control. In Genesis 3:16, God said to her, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” The language used there is the same that is used in Genesis 4:7, where God says to Cain, “Sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Sin’s desire was to overtake Cain. That is what God says Eve’s desire will be – to overtake control from her husband. And she will be forever frustrated because he will rule over her; not in the loving way she had experienced before sin, but in a never-ending battle for control. The desire for control had led them astray into sin, which destroyed the environment and human relationships from that day until the present. To this day, we still despise the notion that something or someone else will control us.

This is partly what makes the Christian message and worldview off-putting to so many, even many who claim to be followers of Jesus. We speak of a Christ who wants to be Lord over your life. We like the idea of Jesus being a friend, a helper, and a companion, but Lord? That means that He is in control. That means that I am not. We speak of respect and submission for the authorities that have been set in place over us by the sovereignty of God, even when we do not agree with them. Human beings don’t like the idea of a sovereign God who is in control of everything, yet who does not always place my happiness at the top of His priorities. And we don’t like the idea of submitting to someone else’s control when it inconveniences us or makes us uncomfortable.

The fact of the matter is that life does bring us more than we can handle and is often outside of our ability to control. But the liberating reality is that God never intended for us to be in control. His intention is for Himself to be in control, and for us to trust Him completely. He who orchestrates all the circumstances of our lives also can control us in the midst of those circumstances for His glory if we will surrender that control to Him. Once we come to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, God moves into our lives to take up residence in the person of the Holy Spirit. In fact, we cannot come to Jesus by faith until the Holy Spirit moves upon our hearts in His gracious work of conviction and regeneration. He makes us aware of our sin and our need for a Savior and opens our understanding and receptivity to the Gospel message. When we speak of a person being “born again,” we refer to that act by which the Holy Spirit makes us a new creature in Christ. This is called regeneration. At that moment, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives.

In Jn 7:37, Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” John adds to this an explanation that Jesus was speaking of the Spirit, “whom those who believed in Him were to receive.” Paul goes on to explain the indwelling of the Spirit in many passages of his letters. In Romans, we find much about this, like in Romans 5:5, where he writes, “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” In Romans 8:9, Paul says, “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” In 1 Cor 3:16, he writes, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” In 2 Cor 5:5, he says that God has given us the Spirit as a pledge. This is the same language that Paul uses earlier here in Ephesians 1:13-14, “In Him [Christ], you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory.” So, from these, and many other passages, we have the promise of Scripture that if we have been born-again, the Holy Spirit has permanently indwelt us.

His presence within us means that we have God’s power available to us for living holy lives, serving the Lord, withstanding temptation, and for presenting a witness for Christ. Some Christians debate with one another about the indwelling of the Spirit. Primarily, our Pentecostal and Charismatic brethren often question us about how much of the Spirit we have within us. Their church teaches that all who have the Spirit within them also speak in unknown tongues. However, this is plainly not true when we see what Scripture says. In 1 Cor 12, Paul says, “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” And he says, “By one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body,” but he goes on to say that “all do not speak with tongues.” Thus, even if their practice of tongue-speaking were biblically legitimate (and I do NOT believe that it is), then we should not expect every Christian to practice that gift as evidence that the Spirit of God indwells him or her. The question is not “How much of the Spirit do you have?” If you have received Christ, you have received the Holy Spirit, and He is not divided up into portions. You have received all of Him. The question rather is, “How much of you does the Holy Spirit have?” This is where we come to this issue of His control and the teaching of Ephesians 5:18.

Before our Advent break, we covered this passage in its larger context. However, since the passages that follow this one depend strongly upon a proper understanding of what it means to be Spirit-filled, or Holy Spirit-Controlled, then I felt it best for us to address the subject afresh today on this first Lord’s Day of 2010. Perhaps, if you are one to make New Year’s Resolutions, this should be a resolution worth making: that in the coming year, each of us will give more of ourselves over to His control. In particular today, I want to address three important truths about living under the Spirit’s control that are contained in this one verse, Ephesians 5:18.

1. We are commanded to be filled with, or controlled by, the Holy Spirit.
· Be filled with the Spirit

It is interesting and informative that Paul contrasts the filling of the Spirit with being drunk with wine. We get some sense of what he means here from this contrast. A person becomes drunk as he or she drinks alcoholic beverages to the point that the alcohol begins to control their behavior and their thought processes. The more he or she drinks, the more completely the alcohol controls them. Paul says here that when a person is under the control of alcohol, it is dissipation. It is wasteful and destructive. Of course, alcohol is not the only controlling influence in our lives. A person may become intoxicated on any number of chemicals, but also by one’s own desires: lust, covetousness, pride, sensual pleasures, etc. The point is that anything we allow to control ourselves can become destructive and wasteful. Thus, in 1 Corinthians, Paul gives several warnings to us about the things we engage in. He says in 1 Cor 6:12, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” And in 1 Cor 10:23 he adds, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.” By this, Paul means that the Christian life is not a list of things to do and not do, but a life lived under the Lordship of Jesus in which we evaluate the choices we make on these criteria: Is it spiritually profitable to me and others? Is it going to lead myself and others toward spiritual maturity? Does it have the potential to become a controlling factor in my life? So, taking alcohol as an example because it is what Paul speaks of here in the text (though we could use any number of other examples), does it profit me and others spiritually? Does it edify myself and/or others, or might it cause spiritual harm in our lives? Does it have the potential to control me? I think the answers to those questions are quite obvious.

This decision is so important because God has already given us the most important controlling factor possible: Himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit. When we control our lives, or allow our lives to be controlled by any other influence, we are depriving ourselves of the blessing of God’s control over us. Therefore, Paul issues a command here: “Be filled with the Spirit.” It is best not to think of this filling like the filling of a glass, but rather like the filling of a sail. When a sail become filled with wind, the wind pushes the vessel wherever it blows. This is the command: be fully surrendered, fully yielded, willing and available for the Holy Spirit to control and direct your life and use you however He desires. And as He directs, you obey. And this is not a hard kind of obedience … it is a joyful obedience; one that flows forth from gratitude for the salvation that the Spirit has accomplished in your life; and one that flows forth from complete trust that God’s plan for you is better than your own plan for you. Do you really believe that? If so, then obeying Him is an act of joyful and grateful worship, not intolerably servitude.

So we are commanded to be filled with, controlled by, the Holy Spirit. That means that if we are not allowing Him to control us, then it’s not just a matter of missing out on God’s best, though it is certainly that. But it is also an act of willful rebellion and disobedience against God. It is a demonstration of a lack of faith and trust, and more severely, it is idolatry of the self. To resist the Spirit’s control is to deny the rightful Lordship of Christ over us and to insist on our being our own Lord. That’s idolatry. Jesus said no one can serve two masters. We cannot serve God and mammon, we cannot serve God and self. Serving God under Christ’s Lordship and the Spirit’s control means that we trust Him more than we trust ourselves and willingly give Him full control of the reigns of our lives. You’ve seen those bumperstickers that say, “God is my Co-Pilot.” I’d say too many people have God as a Co-Pilot. Better to let Him be the pilot, give him the wheel, and move aside.

So, understand from this text, that we are commanded to be filled with, or controlled by, the Holy Spirit. Then secondly, …

2. The filling of the Spirit is the gracious work of God
· Be filled
Notice that this is a passive verb. It is something that happens to you, not something that you do. God is the one who does the filling, we are the recipients of His action. You may be able to resist this filling, or control, but you cannot accomplish it on your own. The only “action” on our part is to cease striving against God’s control, and to cease trying to “work up” the Spirit’s filling. Thus, our work is to stop working and start trusting that God is the one who will accomplish this in our lives.

Some Christians believe that if they do certain things, the instant automatic result will be that they are Spirit-filled. I know Christians who believe that praying in a certain way, or having certain people lay hands on you, on listening to a certain kind of music, worshiping in a certain kind of atmosphere, etc. results in the filling of the Spirit. This is just not true. If it were, then you could “fill yourself” with the Spirit. You can’t. I can’t fill you with the Spirit, and no one else can. Only God can. We must be willing and available for Him to take control, and trust by faith that He has when we surrender ourselves completely to Him.

So, from this we can learn something very practical and helpful. All of us have either said or heard someone say when they leave a worship service something like this: “Oh that service was so great! I really came away from it filled with the Spirit.” Or the opposite is often said and heard as well: “That service was boring, and I really didn’t get filled-up there.” Can I just say with loving honesty that statements like this say more about a person’s bad theology than they say about the service they attended. First of all, the filling of the Spirit is the work of God and it cannot be manufactured in a worship service. It can take place in a worship service, or at your desk at work, or in your living room, or in your bathroom, or in your car. It happens whenever we release control of ourselves to God and allow Him to control us and accept by faith that He has. Second, becoming Spirit-filled can be a very exciting experience, but it is not always exciting, fun and happy. Sometimes it is a painful period of breaking, a mournful season of repentance, or even a difficult time of overwhelming crisis. Not every exciting moment of our lives is the work of the Spirit. Our emotions can be manipulated by the right kind of environment, the right kind of music, the right tone of voice, and other factors. And not every encounter with the Spirit of God will be an exciting, hair-raising adventure. But we accept by faith that when we have surrendered ourselves to God and asked Him to take control of us that He will. And we proceed forth in faith that we have been filled. It’s His work, and we can always trust that He will do what He has promised to do.

Now finally, …

3. The filling of the Spirit is an ongoing process in our lives

Our English Bibles are translated from ancient languages: the Old Testament from Hebrew, and the New Testament from Greek. Teams of well-trained and capable scholars labor diligently to ensure that we have accurate and readable copies of God’s Word in our own language. But as any student of foreign language knows, sometimes there are nuances that get lost or obscured in translation. The language of this verse is one example. What is not plain to us in English is the force of the present tense verb here. This is not a command to be filled with the Spirit one time. It is a command to be continually filled with the Spirit. There are many things that God does one time in our lives. Salvation is a one-time experience. The baptism and indwelling of the Spirit happen once. But the filling of the Spirit is not a one-time event. We might paraphrase this statement as, “Be always being filled with the Spirit,” or “Keep on being filled with the Spirit.” As Tony Evans says, “Don’t get filled with Spirit today and expect the filling to cover you from here on out.”

We are fallen human beings, and our inclination toward sin is strong. There will always be the need for a fresh filling of the Spirit. Moment by moment, we will take the Spirit’s control for granted and find ourselves grasping for control yet again. So, we must be aware of this, and continually alert to our need to surrender more of ourselves over to His control. In God’s kindness He leads us to repentance. When we find ourselves discouraged, frustrated, feeling spiritually empty, and defeated, God is reminding us in those moments that we need to once more come to Him to yield control of ourselves over to the Spirit who dwells within us.

The Christian life is not difficult to live. It is impossible to live in our own strength and power. God has called us to do the impossible: to live out the righteousness He has given us; to serve Him with the gifts He has given us; to make His glory known to the ends of the earth. God calls us to love our enemies, to forgive as we have been forgiven, and to glorify Him in all that we do. But thank God, He has not left us to do these things on our own. He has given us His Spirit to empower us, to guide us, and to control us. And moment-by-moment of each day, we must continually seek His empowerment in our lives to experience the fullness of life that He has prepared for us. Too often, we allow the busy-ness and strain of our daily lives to blind us to our need for the filling of the Spirit. We need to return to God and confess to Him: “I’ve been trying to do all this on my own. I’ve taken control away from you. But I can’t do it anymore. I need Your Spirit to fill me.” And God will do this.

Jesus says in Luke 11:11-13, “Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” If you are a follower of Jesus, He has given you His Spirit. And He is willing and able to take control of us when we ask Him.

As we conclude today, I want to ask you, Are walking in the power of the Spirit? Are you living in His fullness? Who is in control of your life? You? Other people? Circumstances? If so, then you know full well that you have more than you can handle. Why not today, come to the end of yourself and your own efforts and ask God to fill you, to control you by His Spirt, and trust that He has. There may be no fireworks, no goosebumps, no spine-tingling sensation; just the simple faith that God will do what He has promised. And believing that, walk in His power, live in His fullness, and enjoy the life God intends for you under His Spirit’s control.

I’m speaking of course to Christian people today. If you are here and you have never put your faith and trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then you do not have the Spirit of God within you. But if you believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins and is risen again, and you turn from sin and call out to Him to save you, then He will; and He will take up residence in your life in the person of His Spirit, and enable you to experience the fullness of His power as you yield control of your life to Him.