The Gospel Applied to Work (Ephesians 6:5-9)

We’ve been looking at the book of Ephesians for months now. We’re now in the part of the book in which Paul is applying theology (what has been revealed about God) to how we live - including, as we’re going to see today, to our work lives. This is so important because preachers like me often talk about a lot of things, most of which have to do with how to be a Christian on weeknights and weekends. Today, though, we’re going to see that the gospel applies to our vocations as employees, employers, students, and so on as well.Now, if you’ve read this passage, you may be thinking, “What does this passage have to do with my work life?” It’s a fair question. It’s troubling, isn’t it, to read about slaves in this passage, especially since this passage doesn’t condemn slavery. But to really understand what’s going on here, we have to see what Paul is talking about, and how subversive this passage really is.So let’s try to figure out what Paul is talking about here. It’s very difficult to read a passage about slavery because our minds immediately go to the African slave trade from the 17th to 19th centuries. In fact, people have taken this passage and others to justify the slave trade. But the slavery that Paul talks about is very different.On one hand, this type of slavery was still a bad thing. The slaves Paul talks about here did have limited rights, and they were subject to exploitation and abuse. They were seen as property and weren’t viewed as legal persons. But despite this, it was much better than our more modern form of slavery - which shows how things degraded over the centuries.The slavery that Paul talks about was much better than American slavery for four reasons:
  • It was non-racial.
  • It was temporary. Slaves could expect to be emancipated by the age of 30. You could save and buy your own freedom. Very few reached old age as a slave. In fact, so many slaves were being freed that Caesar introduced restrictions. It was not the lifelong thing that it became later.
  • It involved different occupations. You could fill almost any role: civil services, medical care, teaching, accounting, business, domestic work, and agriculture.
  • It led to economic advancement. It was often a way of achieving Roman citizenship. It allowed you to obtain a position you couldn’t as a free person, and often enjoy a better standard of living.
If you walked down the street of Ephesus, you could not tell by looking at someone if they were a slave or not. When slaves became free, they often voluntarily chose to keep working for the same person. I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture here, but we do need to recognize that this was nothing like the slavery that developed later. What Paul writes here is much closer to employer-employee relationships than we often think.Before we look at what Paul says, we need to deal with why Paul didn’t attack or overturn slavery. And it’s here that we see the utter brilliance of what he writes. Paul was writing to a small group of Christians who really had no hope of overturning something like slavery if they wanted to. And he was much more focused on telling them how they were to live tomorrow than he was about the big issues of society in that day. There were up to 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire. About 1 in 3 in Ephesus would have been slaves. Paul was writing to give them help in understanding how the gospel applies to their lives. He was more concerned with that in this letter than in solving the bigger issue, which wasn’t even a remote possibility at that point.Yet what he wrote was so subversive that it did eventually lead to the elimination of slavery. You see, what Paul did here was put slaves and masters on equal footing. He relativized their position and overturned the common way of thinking. Here and in other places he addresses them as equal before Christ, valued members of the people of God. He says they have a higher allegiance than their own masters, that they didn’t really have to please their masters, but they had to please God. He instructs masters to treat them in a completely countercultural way. He gave them a reciprocal duty to their slaves.Even though Paul doesn’t address the bigger societal issue of slavery here, what he writes is so subversive that it led to the elimination of slavery. This is why it was eventually Christians who led in overthrowing slavery. Slavery has been a fact of life throughout history in all cultures. It was as Christians absorbed the biblical teaching that they worked to end slavery, which contradicts biblical teaching.So although this passage isn’t about how to change society, following this passage did in fact change society. And it will continue to do so today as we apply it to a context that, in many ways, is very different.So how do we apply this to our lives today? We can apply this passage, I think, to our vocations, our work lives. We are not in exactly the same situation as the people Paul wrote to. Our situation is probably better. And we can learn three things from what Paul says. First, how the gospel changes our view of work. Second, how the gospel changes our standards. Finally, how the gospel makes this possible.

First, let’s see what Paul says about how the gospel changes our view of work.

There are actually two very common views toward work, and Paul challenges them both in this passage.The first view of work is that work is a necessary evil, that we have to work but we should do as little as possible, and if we ever get a chance to escape work and live a life of leisure that we should take it. You see this view in this passage in verse 6, in which Paul says, “Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.” The picture you have here is of someone who only works when the boss is looking, and who otherwise does as little as possible.You may know the Greek myth of Pandora, the first woman, in the Greek myth, who ever lived. Zeus ordered that Pandora be created, and gave her a large jar that he told her not to open. But of course, her curiosity got the best of her, and she opened that jar, and out came evil and disease and work. The Greeks believed that work is part of what’s wrong with this world, especially manual labor, and that that we should aim to do as little as possible. This attitude lives on today when we say we live for the weekends, when we complain about having to work, and when we dream of winning the lottery so we can tell the boss - well, you know the rest. You may have thought or said it sometime.If anyone should have such a negative view of work, it should be the slaves that Paul writes to. If anyone should hold this Greek view of work as a necessary evil, it should be these people. And yet Paul tells them that their work is holy, that their work in some way is doing the will of God. He says that their work - as slaves! - is in some sense service to the Lord, and will be evaluated by him. “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people,” he says (Ephesians 6:7).Why does Paul say that work is holy? What Paul is saying here is that your profession, as a teacher, doctor, laborer, student, whatever - is part of your service to the Lord. You can serve God by cleaning or cooking or lawyering as much as any missionary or pastor, Paul says. Your vocation is holy. You can say that you are in the Lord’s service.And you see, the reason why is because Scripture teaches us something completely different about work. Work isn’t part of the curse. Our work has been affected by the curse, but it isn’t part of the curse itself. Before sin corrupted this world, God gave Adam the responsibility to subdue the earth, have dominion over it, and be fruitful within it. This is part of what it means to bear the image of God.That is why there is, within each of us, a desire to contribute and create, to order and to add value and meaning to what’s around us. This means our work is part of what it means to bear God’s image in this world. Every time we weed a garden, teach a child, sell a product that will benefit others, or bring order to a set of finances, we are doing our image-bearing work in this world. Your work isn’t a necessary evil. It’s holy and part of your service to the Lord. God has chosen us to care for and cultivate his creation. Martin Luther said, “God milks his cows by those farmers he has assigned to that task.” Our work is part of how God intends to care for and cultivate this world.But some people go to the opposite extreme and get their meaning and identity from their work. Paul corrects those who devalue work, but he also corrects those of us who get too much meaning from our work and who define ourselves by our careers. The masters that Paul wrote to would have been tempted with feelings of superiority from their status as masters, just like today we get meaning from our place on the totem pole. When you’re above others it’s tempting to see them as your inferiors and to treat them as means to an end.But Paul says in verse 9: “And masters, treat your slaves in the same way.” This would have been shocking. The reasons why is twofold, in the rest of verse 9: “Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” Paul tells us two things here, specifically to those of us who tend to overvalue our work:
  • First, no matter who we are or what our status is, we are all fellow-slaves of Jesus Christ. Our identity does not come from our vocation; it comes from the fact that we are servants of Jesus.
  • Second, God is completely impartial, and a higher social status or more prestigious position carries no weight with him. God is not as enamored with our resumes as we are.
This completely changes our view of work. You’ll sometimes hear pastors and missionaries say that they’re in full-time Christian service. That’s true, but if you ever hear a pastor or missionary say this, you need to say, “I am too.” When they ask what it is you do, then you can tell them your career. Whatever you do as a living is your full-time Christian service. Theologian Mike Wittmer says:
If we do our work as unto the Lord, then our work pleases God just as much as if we were preaching a sermon or evangelizing in a Third World nation. Whether we are a lawyer, engineer, entrepeneur, or janitor, we must recognize that our job, too, is a calling from God. (Heaven is a Place on Earth)
Do you see how the gospel changes our view of work? We won’t devalue our work, nor will we make work our idols. We’ll see it as important but not ultimate. We won’t hate work, but we won’t idolize work either. We’ll see our vocations as holy, as another way that we can serve God and others.It also completely changes the way that we see others. No matter who you are and what job you have, we all tend to look down at those who have lesser jobs. But if we really understand a biblical view of vocation, we won’t be able to do this anymore - nor will we be intimidated by those with better jobs. The gospel changes our view of work.But that’s not all.

The gospel also changes the standards for our work.

When you’re at school, you get report cards. When you get a job, you get performance reviews: 360 degree reviews and so on. But this passage tells us that our work is ultimately evaluated by God, because he is the one we are working for. Verses 7 and 8 say:
Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one of you for whatever good you do, whether you are slave or free.
Do you see what this does for a slave? He can look at his master and say, “I may work for you, but I’m not ultimately working for you. My real master is the Lord.” The ultimate performance review for our work will come to all regardless of what job we held, and we’ll all be judged by the same criteria.What difference does this make? Verse 6 gives us a hint: “Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.”When we work for people, then the quality of our work will depend on how much we think of those people. Has anyone here ever worked for a boss or company that wasn’t very good? I have. Our work for them won’t be very good either. When we work for people, we’ll work harder when they’re looking and not as hard when they’re away. But when we work for Christ, we will be working for one who is ultimately worthy of our best work, and who is always watching. That’s why Paul says that we’re to serve with respect and fear, with sincerity of heart, from the heart, wholeheartedly. It’s because we’re ultimately serving God in our work rather than people. You are not mowing lawns or building websites for clients; you are mowing lawns and building websites for God.If we really worked this way, this alone would cause a lot of people to ask what it is that causes us to live this way. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said:
The Christian should always be the best in every department. I am not suggesting that the Christian is always the most able man of his group. He may not be; there may be others, who are not Christians, who are much abler...[But] the Christian should be ‘all out’, always industrious, always honest, always truthful, always reliable, always helpful, always trustworthy. That is what should always stand out in the Christian. You cannot give him new ability, or new propensities; but a Christian, however unintelligent he may be, can be an honest man, an upright man, a reliable man, a man who keeps good time, a trustworthy man, a truthful man, a man whose word is his bond—always, a man upon whom you can rely. And all this, because he is a Christian.
Paul tells us that the one who will judge us is God. “The Lord will reward each one of you for whatever good you do, whether you are slave or free” (Ephesians 6:8). “The homeliest service that we do in an honest calling,” said one puritan, “though it be to plow, or dig, if done in obedience, and conscience of God’s Commandment, is crowned with an ample reward” (Joseph Hall).If you’ve been paying attention, I hope you’re a little overwhelmed. We’ve seen that the gospel changes our view of work: that it’s important but not ultimate. We’ve seen that the gospel gives us a new standard for work, and that from Monday to Friday we’re really working for God, and not others. But there’s one more thing that we need to see.

We need to see how the gospel makes this possible.

The only way we will ever be able to do what Paul says here is through the gospel. It’s easy to forget in chapter 6 that Paul is applying the gospel. The only way we will be able to keep the commands of Ephesians 4-6 is if we understand the gospel of Ephesians 1-3. This passage is part of how Paul says we apply the gospel to our lives as we are filled with the Spirit.In other words, the only way we will be able to work in a way that pleases God is if we see Christ’s perfect work. The only way we’ll be freed from idolizing either our leisure or our performance is if we’re worshiping God through Christ. The Spirit will apply the gospel to our lives so that we will not only be able to live out what Paul describes; we will also want to. We can only live out what Paul says as we apply the gospel through the power of the Spirit to our lives.What could take a group of slaves and help them see that their work was holy? Because they saw the ultimate servant, Jesus Christ, who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). What would allow masters to treat slaves with unparalleled respect, humbling themselves to them and even calling them brother or sister? That they saw Jesus humble himself, to leave the riches of heaven and make himself of no reputation. Jesus is the ultimate servant and the ultimate example of love, and when we grasp what he has done, we will, with the Spirit’s help, see our work transformed through the power of the gospel.
Father, I pray that you would help us have a biblical view of work that sees our vocations as part of our Christian service, as what it means to serve you in this world. I pray that you would free us from devaluing work, and that you would also free us from idolizing our work. Help us to see our work as a way that we serve you.I pray that you would also change the standards for our work. May we work wholeheartedly and with sincerity of heart, knowing that the Lord will reward each one of us for whatever good we do, no matter what our job.Most of all, help us see Jesus, who knew what it was to work with his hands, who knew what it was to become a servant, who was willing to serve others even to the point of death. I pray that Jesus’ gospel would become so real to us through the power of the Spirit that it will change the way we see work. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

The Gospel Applied to Parenting (Ephesians 6:1-4)

This morning we're beginning the final chapter of the book of Ephesians, and we're covering a topic that is very appropriate for Mother's Day: parenting. As Paul writes his letter, he is applying the gospel to every part of life. We've been looking for two weeks at how Paul applies the gospel to marriage, and today we come to how Paul applies the gospel to children, and then to parents. This is a very practical and necessary lesson for all of us - as we're going to see, even for those of us who don't have young children anymore.

What in the world does the gospel have to do with parenting? According to Paul, everything. The gospel is what God has done through Jesus Christ at the cross, which is the culmination of history. Paul has explained in the first few chapters how God has reconciled all creation to himself and is creating a new people to himself in the church out of people who were formerly enemies. This is why Ephesians is so relational. In fact, somebody has said that Ephesians is essentially a book about relationships: our relationship with God, and then our relationship within the new humanity he is creating. God is not just reconciling people to himself; he is also creating a new people here and now. Paul says that the way that we relate to each other as the church is a demonstration of his wisdom to angelic beings. When angels want to see how smart God is, they look at the church, at the way that we care for and relate to each other as people who would otherwise have nothing in common with each other.

So the gospel changes our relationships. As we live under the influence of the Spirit, it changes our most intimate relationships - not only in the church, but also in our homes. The best way to transform your marriage, your relationships with your parents or children - any relationship - is to be transformed by the gospel. Understand what Christ has done in making dead people spiritually alive, and it changes everything.

So today isn't for anyone. You can't write a parenting book for everyone based on this passage, because it's really for people who have been transformed by the gospel and are living in the power of the Spirit. But if you have been changed by the gospel, then the gospel is going to change the way that you relate to both your parents and to your kids.

Now, I want to pause here and say that what I want to do is preach what Paul says, not what I think about parenting. A lot of pastors have been humbled in preaching this text. I never knew so much about parenting as before I was a parent. Now that I've been a parent for over 14 years, I'm starting to learn what I don't know. Today I really don't want to talk to you based on my own experience as a parent, because I am well aware of where I have failed as a parent. I hope that by God's grace I have also succeeded as a parent in many ways, but let's not hear me talk about parenting today. Let's hear from the Lord through the apostle Paul.

I also want to say that this passage is going to be challenging. This is an in-your-face passage. I hope that you will be challenged as we look at this passage, and also encouraged that with the Spirit's help, you can make the changes necessary in your own life to put this passage into practice.

Let's look first at how this passage uncovers our sins. Then we're going to look very briefly at how the gospel shapes the relationship of kids to parents, and parents to kids.

First, let's start by looking at how this passage uncovers our sins.

Sometimes when people study Ephesians, they think that Paul is reenforcing traditional family values of that day. They think that Paul is just echoing what was common in that day, and that now things have changed so we don't have to listen to him anymore. But if you look a bit more carefully, you begin to understand that Paul is actually uncovering the sins of parents in that day. And not only this, but he's uncovering the sins of parents today as well.

What specifically does Paul uncover? In that day, the rights of fathers were staggering. Men in general had a lot of rights, but children could change all of that. They tied you down. They were considered a nuisance. They were expensive, inhibited sexual promiscuity, and made easy divorce a lot harder. As a result, many in that day did not want children. But even if you did have children, the father's rights would be almost unlimited. A father could sell his children as slaves. He could make them work in the field, even in chains. He could punish them how he liked, and could even inflict the death penalty on them. And this power extended over the life of his children no matter how long they lived. A Roman son never came of age. His father had rights over him as long as the father lived.

When a child was born, the child would be placed before the father. If the father stooped and raised the child, the child was accepted and raised as his. But if he turned away, the child was rejected and literally discarded. Sometimes the baby would be picked up by those who trafficked in infants; and raised to be slaved or to work in brothels. Other times they were left to die. One Roman father wrote to his wife, "If - good luck to you! - you have a child, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, throw it out."

And then Paul comes along and, like Jesus, elevates the value of children in an extraordinary way, so that fathers have a sacred responsibility to their children. Paul revolutionizes the relationship between children and parents. You'll remember that Jesus did the same as well, welcoming them when the disciples tried to turn them away. He warned that it would be better to be drowned with a millstone tied to your neck rather than to cause a child to stumble. He said that we have to become like children ourselves. The gospel completely overturns the culture's views on children, completely turns them upside down.

I know that you are probably thinking that you're glad we are more progressive today, that we finally understand the value of children. If that is what you are thinking, you are both right and wrong. In fact, we not only face the danger that Paul corrected in this passage, we face a new one too. As much as we recoil against seeing children as impediments to the lifestyle we desire, and the barbaric treatment of children, this happens today as well. This is why we can't be smug. We still decide whether or not we're going to have children based on how well the children will fit into our lives. This is still an issue today, in which children are seen as something that will interfere with our lives. This is still very much an issue today.

But not only do we suffer from this, but we also suffer from the opposite as well. We also end up idolizing our children. It's strange: we don't want children until they will fit into our lives, but once we have children, we face the very real danger of centering our lives on them. An idol is a good thing that we make an ultimate thing. It's anything we look to apart from Jesus in order to be happy. And today we face the very real danger of turning our kids into idols, of looking to them for our ultimate happiness. Not only does this lead us away from loving God above all, but it ultimately crushes our kids. It places a weight on them that they simply can't bare.

The good news is that Paul not only uncovers these sins, but he gives us hope. Let's look at what he does.

So let's look at how the gospel transforms the relationship of children to parents.

Paul says in Ephesians 6:1-2:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother"--which is the first commandment with a promise-- "so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth."

Here Paul gives us a general principle and an application of this principle. This principle, when we understand it, corrects both traditional and modern views of children and parenting. It's something that the Ephesians needed to hear at a time when they undervalued children, and it's something we need to hear today when we both undervalue and overvalue children.

What is the underlying principle? It comes from the fifth of what we call the ten commandments - "Honor your father and mother." What does honor mean? John Calvin said it really involves three things: reverence, obedience, and gratitude. Reverence means that we respect our parents with our hearts, honoring them appropriately. Honoring them means something even more practical: that we support them in practical ways, even financially. Paul says this in 1 Timothy 5:

But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God...Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame. Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:4-8)

This is very strong language - not at all an optional thing. We have a responsibility to care for our parents, even our grandparents, in practical ways, including financially, as well as housing, health care, mental stimulation, and emotional support.

What about "obey"? Paul gives this as an application of the principle that we honor our parents, and it's going to look different depending on our age. The word Paul uses in verse 1 is usually for little children living at home. When you're a child, it really does mean obey. But as you grow, the Bible teaches that you do leave your parent's home and form a home of your own. In Genesis it says that you are to leave father and mother and cleave to your wife. There is a bit of a change in the way you relate to your parents. As an adult, obedience means more an attitude of general submission, faithfully listening to the wisdom that your parents have.

I hope you see how this is a challenge to both traditional and modern views of family. In Paul's day, the traditional view said that you obey your father because your father has all the rights and you have no choice. Paul says no to this. You obey and willingly submit to your parents because it is right, because it is pleasing to the Lord, and because things generally go well with you when you do. Obedience to God leads to blessing.

It also challenges modern views of family. Today we teach our children that submission to authority is a bad thing, and to challenge others and to think for themselves.

Paul says that both the traditional and modern views are wrong. Children are to honor their parents as part of their duty to the Lord. This means obeying when you're young, but even when you're older it means showing respect and appreciation for your parents, as well as looking after them, not only on Mother's Day but all year long. When we do this, things go well.

The difficult part comes when this is costly, and it can be costly in two specific ways. For some of us it's costly because our parents may not have been what we had hoped for. Some of our fathers, for instance, were not the fathers we would have liked. Paul says that we are still to find ways to show them respect and honor, not because we agree with them and not because we want to ignore all that they did wrong, but because this is right and pleasing to the Lord.

It's also costly because it takes time and money. I keep telling my mother not to get old. So far it's working. But there may come a day when honoring her costs in some very practical ways. I keep telling my kids to get ready for when I'm old. It's going to be a doozy!

What gives children the desire to honor imperfect parents, to care for them even at great cost? The gospel does. The gospel gives us the ability to forgive the sins of our imperfect parents, because we see how much we have been forgiven. It gives us the selflessness to care for our parents at great cost because we see how much Christ has sacrificed for us. It lifts us out of our selfishness, so that the way we treat our parents becomes a reflection of our love for the Lord.

But Paul's not done here in this passage.

Let's look at how the gospel transforms the relationship of parents to children.

Paul says in verse 4: "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord."

Parents usually go wrong in one or two ways. Some parents are too strict. Paul addresses this in the first phrase: "Fathers, do not exasperate your children." It's significant, but the way, that he mentions fathers here. Don't let anyone tell you that parenting is a mother's job! But then Paul corrects a mistake that is common in parenting: that parenting can be so strict that children are exasperated and crushed by the demands. Paul doesn't want this. He wants an atmosphere of grace in which our kids are allowed to flourish.

The distinguished painter Benjamin West tells the story of one day when his mother went out, leaving him in charge of his younger sister. While she was out, he discovered some ink and decided to paint his sister's portrait. When his mother came back there was an awful mess. She walked in, said nothing about the ink stains all over. She picked up the paper on which he had drawn the portrait and said, "Why, it's Sally!" and then she stooped and kissed him. Benjamin West said, "My mother's kiss made me a painter."

Paul says, in essence, "Don't err by being too strict and exasperating your children." But then he confronts the other way that parents go wrong: by being too lenient. "Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord."

Training is a word that refers to discipline. Some parents err by not being disciplined appropriately. Paul has already said not to be too harsh, but here he says not to go to the other extreme and let your children do whatever they want either.

But Paul doesn't stop there. He also mentions the instruction of the Lord. What does this mean? A lot of us want our kids to learn about the Lord. That's why we bring our kids to church and to Sunday school. But Paul here says that the primary responsibility for this belongs in the home. It is ultimately the parent's job - ultimately, according to Paul, the father's job - to instruct children in the way of the Lord.

A pastor - formerly a youth pastor - complained that parents would often call him in frustration, wanting him to do something to fix their teenagers. He grew increasingly frustrated, because for years these parents had been teaching them that church and the Lord come somewhere on the list after sports and school and everything else. For years, these parents had been teaching their kids that God is not a high priority. These parents had been instructing their children, but not in the way of the Lord.

Paul says that it's our job to instruct them in the Lord. This means making the Lord a priority in our schedules, and also in our home lives. This means that your kids will know whether your faith is genuine or not. They're more likely to be excited about the Lord if you are excited about the Lord.

It also means that we will learn family worship. Most parents today don't take the time to read the Bible, pray, and worship with their children. In 1647, Christians were so concerned about this that they raised the alarm and said, "If we don't start worshiping at home, we're going to lose our kids!" And they were right. So they instructed pastors and elders to begin inquiring about family devotions. If they found out that a father was not leading his children in family worship, they would talk to him privately. If he didn't respond, they would actually begin church discipline against him.

Were they fanatics? Maybe - or maybe they were just on to something. Maybe they knew that parents are responsible for disciplining children, and instructing them in the Lord, and that failure to do so is catastrophic. We should care about our children's relationship with the Lord just as much as we care about any other area of their life. It's more important than almost anything. It's got to be a priority.

Paul says that the gospel changes families. Maybe today you've been challenged as a child - even a grown child - about honoring your parents. Perhaps you've been challenged as a parent. You may be too harsh. Or you may be too lenient. You may not be teaching your children about the Lord. You may be neglecting meeting as a family around his Word on a regular basis. Some of you may have to go out of here and repent and make some specific changes.

But this morning I would fail in preaching this text if I did not bring us back to the gospel. The gospel is not that we are worthy and therefore deserve blessing, but that we have sinned and failed and need forgiveness. And better yet: we have received it. The gospel is the good news that before the foundation of this world, God chose his people to be holy and blameless before him. The gospel is the good news that God takes people who are spiritually dead and saves them because of his great love. The gospel is the good news that although we all had imperfect fathers, and many of us are imperfect fathers, that we have a heavenly Father who has made provision for our greatest needs through what Christ has accomplished for us.

Today we move from our inadequacy to the perfection of Jesus, trusting in the power of the gospel to reverse the effects of sin and change us so that we can become who we were meant to be. In invite you to come to the Table this morning and find all that you really need.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

The Gospel Applied to Marriage, Part Two (Ephesians 5:22-33)

We are looking at a somewhat controversial topic today. I don't normally enjoy talking about controversial topics. But that's one of the beauties of working through sections of God's Word: you don't get to pick the topics you cover. We're addressing this topic because, like Mount Everest, it's there.

But the truth is: we also need to hear what God's Word says on the topic of marriage. I am so glad that the Bible is so practical in how it applies to every area of life. We need to hear from God, because marriage is too important and too difficult without his help.

So we're going to get very practical today. My goal is to say all that this passage says, and to say as little as possible outside of what this passage says, and to be very practical in how we apply this to our marriages today. I think you're going to find that while we may struggle with what this passage says at first, it is written for our joy. This comes from the God who made us and who knows us, and it brings us in touch with who he made us to be. It will actually be something that frees us rather than something that binds us.

I want to look at three things today: that there is a difference between men and women, how this difference is to work itself out in our marriages, and finally, how we can get there.

But first we have to see that there is a difference.

Paul says in verse 22-24:

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

We read this and say, "What in the world? That may have been fine back then, but why should wives submit today? And how are husbands the head?" It's very easy to dismiss this out of hand as being outdated and oppressive, and to think that we're more enlightened now.

But there is an underlying assumption that we need to examine. Paul is teaching here that men and women have overlapping but distinguishable ways of being human. In other words, men and women are equal, but not equivalent. We are both human, but vastly different. And our marriages are transformed as we rediscover the joy of being male and female together in our marriages in a way that completes us and that fulfills us.

Let me back up a little. When God created the world, he created Adam first. It's fascinating that God evaluated everything that he had made, he saw that it was good. But even before sin entered the world, even when the world was perfect, God looked at the single male he had created and said, "It is not good for the man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18). Think about this for a minute. The world was perfect, but even in a perfect world, it was not good for male to be without female. And so we read in Genesis 2 that God said, "I will make a helper suitable for him."

A lot of people have misunderstood what this phrase "a helper suitable for him" means. What it means is that Eve has something that Adam lacks. She has a strength in an area that he lacks, and he needs her. Women were created because men lacked something that only females can provide. Eve is not a clone of Adam, but rather somebody like him but different. And when Adam saw this blend of "same as but different from" he was very happy and breaks into the first poem in the Bible, and therefore the first poem we know of in history:

The man said,
"This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh..."
(Genesis 2:23)

It's interesting to note that the Bible often talks about humans being made in the image of God. Whenever it does so, it is clear that it refers to both males and females. For instance, Genesis 1:27 says:

So God created human beings in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

What this means is that men and women are made equally in God's image. It takes men and women together. If we lived in a society with only men or only women, we would not have as full a picture of what God is like than when we see men and women together reflecting the beauty of God's character.

So we see this beautiful picture of the only perfect marriage that has ever existed before the Fall, and there were differences, and the differences were amazing. The differences were for their joy. We see the differences all over the first few chapters of Genesis, in the order of creation, the naming role of the man. God had Adam name all the creatures, and indeed he named Eve as well, not because God got tired and couldn't come up with any names, but because he wanted Adam to take some sort of authority in naming. Naming something, even today, implies some kind of authority over what is named. There were no tensions between Adam and Eve. There was no oppression. This was the only perfect marriage that ever existed. But there were differences between them, even somewhat of a leadership role for Adam. And these differences were for their joy.

We read that one of the consequences of sin entering the world is that these differences became sources of tension as well as sources of joy. God said to Eve in Genesis 3:16:

Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.

What this means is that as a result of sin, we no longer enjoy the differences as we were intended to. Men were supposed to exercise loving, humble, and considerate leadership, but are now prone to becoming harsh and emotionally distant. Eve was intended to intelligently and willingly complement Adam and his leadership, but now wants the leadership for herself. Both Adam and Eve fall into sinful patterns. Eve wants to reverse God's plan and lead Adam; Adam stops lovingly leading and caring for his wife. Their desires were distorted, and we live with the results today.

But I'm so glad we get a picture of what marriage was supposed to be. We were designed to be incomplete as males and females, but together there is completion. We were designed to be different, but complementary. We are equal, but not equivalent. There is an irreversible and wonderful difference between men and women that was supposed to be for our joy, not for our conflict. There really is a difference between us, and before sin distorted us, this difference was all good.

By the way, it's not just Christians who are noticing that men and women really are different. All kinds of research shows that men and women are both similar and vastly different in how they approach everything. Our brains and how we wire are very different. Whether as young children or in how we clean or as presidents of corporations, we approach everything differently. Even if we do the same thing, there is often a different thinking process that leads us there. Anthropologists have done studies and have found that the same patterns of male and female behaviors are found throughout all cultures and times that can't be explained merely by socialization. God really has made us as male and female, equal, incomplete without the other, and different.

So let's look at how Paul applies this.

Here is what I really want us to understand. Paul does not want to take us back to a traditional, patriarchal view of marriage. That's what so many people think that he's doing here in this passage, and that makes it easy to write it off as being outdated. But that's not at all what Paul was doing. What Paul wrote here, and elsewhere, is actually against both traditional and modern forms of marriage. It corrects both our tendencies toward male domination and toward obliterating the differences between us. You don't find what Paul wrote here anywhere else. It's because the gospel sets us free both from traditional distortions of marriage as well as modern ones.

No, what Paul wants to take us back to is the only perfect marriage that ever existed. You see this in verse 31, which speaks of that perfect marriage, which is a pattern for all of our marriages today. We now have the power to follow this pattern because of the gospel.

Paul is saying here that our marriages can, because of Christ, start to look like what marriage was meant to be before sin entered the world. Men can start to learn how to lovingly lead without domination; women can start to enjoy - key word, enjoy! - lovingly affirming her husband's leadership in a way that provides strength where he lacks it. There is no power struggle, no putting down of the other. There is a beautiful coming-together of two people who would be incomplete without the other, and an enjoyment of the differences.

So Paul doesn't want to take us back to traditional marriages. It's much better than that. He wants to take us back to who we were supposed to be in the first place. He wants us to enjoy something like the only perfect marriage in history. Not only that, but he wants our marriages to be parables of an even greater marriage that will take place one day: the marriage between Christ and his church.

So let's get very practical here. The two commands to women are to submit in verse 22 and to respect her husband in verse 33. We have to be clear about what this does not mean. This does not mean to become a doormat or to agree with everything your husband says, or that you stop thinking or do all the cooking and cleaning. All of those are distortions that have nothing to do with what this text says.

The principle that it gets to is this: the gospel allows you to become a wife who overcomes the distortions of sin and willingly rejoices in your husband's loving leadership in your marriage. You are still equal in every way to your husband. Your way of approaching the world is vastly different from your husband's, and he needs your ways of thinking. He needs your input. It would not be good for him to be alone! But you will become like Eve before the Fall: different, providing what your husband lacks at his very core; equal; without a power struggle; honoring and affirming your husband's loving leadership.

Notice that this doesn't say who will do the dishes. It leaves many of the implications of how this works out in everyday life up to you. But what it does say is that the gospel makes it possible to overcome the sinful effects of the Fall that caused women to start to hate their husband's loving leadership. It allows women to enjoy the differences.

But it doesn't end there. Paul spends most of his time talking to men, and this is what he says. Men, love your wives. Don't be emotionally distant or domineering. Love your wife and care for her so sacrificially that you start to remind people of how Jesus loves the church. Make your marriage a one-flesh partnership so that the two of you really become one, and so that you nourish and care for her as much as you care for yourself.

In other words, the gospel counteracts the effects of sin, which cause men to become domineering and emotionally distant, and women to not want their husbands to lovingly lead. We are different, and the gospel allows these differences to be sources of joy in our marriages rather than sources of tension.

I want to get very practical here about making decisions. Does this mean that the man always gets to make the decisions, and the woman has to follow whatever he says? Absolutely not. Almost every decision can be made together. But there are times when the two of you can't agree, and to not agree is in itself a decision. Somebody's got to break the logjam. It's rare, but it happens.

So here's how it could work. You want to buy a car, but you can't agree. You talk about it for ages, but you don't get anywhere. So eventually the husband says, "I'm sorry, dear, but someone's got to make the decision. I'm afraid I've got to make the call." He is exercising his loving leadership. And so he makes the decision, and they buy the car that his wife wanted. He leads, but in a radically selfless way that puts her well-being first.

Let me give you a real life example. Wayne Grudem is a theologian who is known for his beliefs that men and women are complementary but different. His views are sometimes controversial. They're afraid that his views will lead to male domination. Grudem had a prestigious post at a major school in Chicago for twenty years. He was chair of a department.

There was one problem. As a result of a car accident, his wife was in chronic pain. That pain was aggravated by cold and humidity, which mean that Chicago was not the best place to live.

After a couple of trips to Phoenix, he realized that the climate there would be much better for his wife. So he phoned the dean of a smaller seminary there and asked if there might be a job possibility there. It was a much smaller school, a much less prestigious post, but he took it. He says:

I came to Ephesians 5:28 in my regular schedule of daily Bible reading, and the Lord used this verse strongly in my own decision process: "In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself." After reading that, I thought it was important for me to move for the sake of Margaret's physical body, her physical health.

This highlights a little of what marriage is supposed to be: a coming together of two different and complementary people who need each other, in which both are equal and both contribute. The wife willingly and joyfully respects her husband's leadership, and the husband uses that leadership to love and sacrifice for his wife.

Paul doesn't want us to have a traditional marriage, or a modern one. He wants us to have one that resembles the only perfect marriage in history, and one that reflects the upcoming marriage of Christ to his church.

Let me close this morning by asking how we can get there.

I realize we are all in different places this morning. I may have sparked a lot of questions, not least of which is "how do we get there from here?"

I want to close by asking you to do three things.

First, it's tempting as we read this to wish that our spouse would listen to the part that applies to them. But the reality is that you can't change your spouse. This passage is written for your benefit. Don't focus on getting your spouse to obey this passage; focus on you applying this passage. Your spouse may never change, but you, with the help of God, can. I realize that this is incredibly difficult for some of you who are in difficult marriages, but please work on understanding what this passage means for you rather than worrying about how it applies to your spouse.

This doesn't mean that you won't have discussions about how this applies to both of you down the road. You may need to talk about this together, or even begin enlist the help of brothers and sisters. You may need marriage counseling. There is no shame in that. But don't begin by applying it to your spouse. Begin by applying it to yourself.

Secondly, begin to rejoice in the differences. The Bible tells us that some of the things that cause tension in marriage are differences that were originally meant to give us joy. As you begin to think biblically about your marriage, you may begin to see the differences between you as gifts from God. Begin to rejoice in what it means to be men and women, and instead of letting those differences frustrate you, see them as gifts from God. We are incomplete without the other.

In music, two notes that are different from one another can clash. But there are notes that are quite different that, when brought together, create an amazing sound. There are chords and harmonies that we can only enjoy when our differences are sounded together, and these can bring us great joy.

Finally, don't lose sight of where this comes in Ephesians. Chapters 1 to 3 of this book are about the gospel, what God has accomplished through Christ for us. Chapters 4 to 6 are about how this changes our lives. The type of marriage that Paul describes here is only possible because of the gospel, through the power of the Spirit.

I used to watch shows as a kid that would have this disclaimer: "Don't try this at home." This passage should come with a disclaimer: "Don't try this without the gospel." This passage is all about God restoring the male-female relationship to what it was supposed to be, which is only possible through the gospel. So experience this gospel. Learn what Christ has done for you. Turn to him and trust in him, and it will change every part of your lives.

My prayer for you is that you will begin to apply this to your lives and marriages; that you will learn to be fully male, fully female, and that you will enjoy the differences. My prayer is that your marriage will begin to overcome all the sinful distortions that entered the world as a result of sin, and that through the gospel it will start to look like the only perfect marriage in history - and even more importantly, like the upcoming marriage between Christ and his church.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.