Not Quite the End: Five Pastoral Lessons from the End of Ephesians

jakob-owens-298335-unsplashI love the end of Paul’s letters. Why? Because there is so much missions-mindedness in them. For instance, in Romans 16, Paul lists a few dozen of his gospel associates. In Titus 3 he shows how he is making plans for the gospel to go throughout the Mediterranean. And in Colossians 4, he is again speaking of the laborers who are both faithful and dangerous.

This week our church finishes up the book of Ephesians, and again Paul is demonstrating the way that he scheming for the gospel’s advance and shepherding the church in Ephesus he knows and loves. Though the content of Ephesians 6:21–24 is considerably less than other letters, we can see that his closing words do more than just conform to the epistolary conventions of his day.

In fact, there are at least five ways Paul’s closing words in Ephesians 6:21–24 display his pastoral heart. Continue reading

“As Unto the Lord”: Work with Christ at the Center (Ephesians 6:5–9)

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“As Unto the Lord”: Work with Christ at the Center

Paul is unashamedly Christ-centered. And it seems that in whatever subject he is discussing, he brings it back to the Lord who saved him and commissioned him to preach his gospel.

On this note, we see in Ephesians 6:5–9 how Paul teaches us to bring Christ to work. In five verses written to slaves and masters, he gives us at least five motivations for the workplace. While we have to think carefully about how Paul’s context is similar and different from our own, these verses give us many practical applications for doing work to the glory of God.

You can listen to the sermon online. Discussion questions and additional resources, including how to think carefully about Paul’s approach to slavery, are included below. Continue reading

Paul, Slaves, and the Church: How the Gospel Creates a People Passionate for Love and Justice

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In Washington, D.C. the Museum of the Bible has an exhibit tracing the impact of the Bible on slavery, and the impact of slavery on the Bible. Tragically, as the artifact above reveals, slave holders invited God’s judgment on themselves (see Revelation 22:19), in order to control their slaves and defend their institution of slavery.

In another exhibit, Ephesians 6:5 (“Slaves/Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ”)  is cited as one verse among many that were used out of context to control God-fearing slaves. In reading this verse by itself, you can see how it could be misused to do horrendous damage. But how should we understand this verse? Did Paul condone slavery? Are his words to be ignored, rejected, or attributed to some cultural blindness of his day? Why didn’t he speak against slavery?

To be sure, questions like these need answering. But denying the veracity of God’s Word, as some like to do, is not the answer. Rather, we need to understand Paul’s words in their historical context and how his commitment to the gospel both liberated individuals from slavery to sin/death/hell and, in time, led to emancipation for slaves across the Mediterranean.

To get at his historical context, lets consider two questions:

  1. What did slavery look like in first century Ephesus?
  2. What did Paul think of slavery?

By getting a handle on these two questions, it will help us understand Paul’s words and how his witness shows how far pro-slavery Christians deviated from God and his Word. At the same time, by considering Paul’s unswerving commitment to the gospel, we will see how that message (alone) forms a foundation for all genuine pursuits of love and injustice, liberty and emancipation. Indeed, by understanding more clearly the way the gospel works, we can see more clearly the wisdom of God, the goodness of Paul’s words, and the reason why he, as God’s chosen apostle, addressed slaves and their masters as members of Christ’ church, rather than a class of people suffering under an unjust system. Continue reading

Serving Two Masters: Does Ephesians 6:5 Contradict Matthew 6:24?

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No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
— Matthew 6:24 —

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, . . .
— Ephesians 6:5–6 —

Ephesians 6:5–9 calls “slaves” to obey their earthly masters, which at first sounds like it contradicts Jesus words in Matthew 6:24, where our Lord states that men are not to be divided in their allegiance and service—you can either serve God or money.

A careful reader may ask, Does Paul’s instructions contradict Jesus’ words? Or does he help the worker go further in understanding how our primary allegiance to Christ leads to improved service to earthly masters?

I believe it is the latter.  And on that point, Wolfgang Musculus, a sixteenth-century pastor-theologian, answers well: Continue reading

Seven Ways to Glorify Christ in Your Work

pexels-photo-313773In Ephesians 6:5–9 Paul finishes his “household codes” by addressing slaves/bondservants and masters and how they ought to work as unto the Lord. In fact, in five verses Paul makes five explicit references to Christ. Thus, as with marriage (Ephesians 5:22–33) and parenting (Ephesians 6:1–4), he gives hyper-attention to the way Christ motivates Christians in the marketplace.

Acknowledging the cultural differences (and challenges) between masters and slaves in Ephesus and our own modern free-market, post-slavery context in America, there are numerous ways Paul’s words continue speak to marketplace Christians today. In what follows, I’ll list seven ways Paul puts Christ in the cubicle, the shop, the council chamber, and the medical office.

Indeed, by walking through these five verses, we can see how Christ motivates, supervises, evaluates, and coaches his followers. Rather than bifurcating Sunday from the rest of the week, Paul teaches us how Christ should be present with believers as they enter the work week.  Continue reading

“In the Lord”: Children, Obedience, and the Gospel (Ephesians 6:1–3)

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“In the Lord”: Children, Obedience, and the Gospel (Ephesians 6:1–3)

In Ephesians Paul calls the church to walk in wisdom by the power of the Spirit. This includes children. And in this week’s sermon, we saw how children in the Lord (believing children) are motivated to obey and honor their parents.

Indeed, in only three verses (Ephesians 6:1–3) there are a lot of things to consider, especially with the way Paul uses Exodus 20:12 to motivate children to obey their parents. Take time to listen to the sermon online, as it considers how the promise of inheritance in Exodus 20:12 is applied to believing children. You can read the sermon notes here. Discussion questions and further resources can be found below.  Continue reading

Living Long in the Land: Reading Ephesians 6:1–3 through the Lens of the New Covenant

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Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
— Ephesians 6:1–3 —

In preparation for this Sunday’s sermon on Ephesians 6:1–3, I have spent considerable time thinking about the way Paul is quoting the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12 LXX). And in my week of study, I have not found a satisfactory answer to the question of how he’s applying the law to the new covenant people of God. Many believe Paul is directly applying the law without change; others suggest he is altering it as he leaves off God’s specific promise of land to Israel; still others, just develop principles from Ephesians 6 without consideration of the covenantal structure of the Bible.

In all, no one I found wrestled with the way in which the commandment to honor father and mother was and is changed by the finished work of Christ. Therefore, in what follows I want to consider Ephesians 6:1–3 in light of the shift from the old covenant to the new.

But to do that, it is important to see how Paul’s words build upon the matrix of wisdom, righteousness, and reward (i.e., inheritance) that are outlined in the law and especially in the Proverbs. In the context of Paul’s letter, he gives instructions to wives and husbands (5:22–33), children and fathers (6:1–4), and slaves and masters (6:5–9); these are all application of Spirit-filled wisdom (see Ephesians 5:15–21). Likewise, his instructions continue to apply the righteous standards of God’s people outlined in Ephesians 4:17–5:14. And finally, he seeks to motivate children by the promise of inheritance, a long and well-pleasing life in the land. In short, like the Proverbs wisdom, righteousness, and blessing are found together in Ephesians.

From these contextual observations, then, it makes sense to turn to Proverbs.In Proverbs, “sons” are called to walk in the way of wisdom and righteousness, such that they might enjoy the blessings of the covenant. That is, inheritance promised in the law is conditioned on wise and righteous living. Therefore, to grasp the fullness of what Paul is saying in Ephesians 6, I believe we should spend ample time considering what Proverbs says (with a little help from Psalm 119) about wisdom, righteousness, and reward.   Continue reading

How to Apply the Land Promise to Children: A Case Study in Ephesians 6:1–3

aaron-burden-236415In Ephesians 6:1–3 Paul calls believing children (i.e., children in the Lord) to obey (v. 1) and honor (v. 2) their parents. In verse 1, Paul gives the motivation, “for this is right,” and in verses 2–3, he motivates children with the fifth commandment, ‘the first commandment with a promise.’ And importantly, the promise says, “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land [or, on the earth].”

Because this promise is rooted in the covenant Yahweh made with Israel at Sinai (see Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16), it’s worth asking, “How should we apply this to the church today?” This is especially worth asking, when we see how Paul has applied the work of Christ to Jews and Gentiles (see Ephesians 2:11–22) and how he has intentionally left off the words “that the Lord your God is giving you”—words that specified this promise for Israel.

Indeed, as many commentators have observed, Paul seems to be enlarging God’s promise to Israel for all those who are in Christ—both Jews and Gentiles. Therefore, we are helped to see how Paul cites this verse, as it sheds light on this passage to children, and it helps us to better read our Bibles.

Therefore, with that in mind, I share a handful of quotations that help us think carefully about this passage.   Continue reading