A sermon on Ephesians 6:1-9 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 11 October 2020
Who do you belong to? Who owns you? Who has a right to your complete and unreserved obedience? Whose will is supreme and pre-eminent in every facet of your life? Today’s message is that it is not your parents. It is not your employer. Your only Lord and Master is Jesus Christ.
Today our message come from Ephesians chapter 6. It’s about children and parents and slaves and masters. It finishes a long passage that started back in chapter 5, showing how the gospel effects every relationship in the household. Now, you may not have a husband or a wife or a child or any slaves. And that’s always a good reminder that this letter wasn’t written
just for us. But it was written for us and we must do our best to apply it to what relationships we have.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord,
writes the apostle Paul in verse 1. In chapter 5 we saw that wives are not commanded to obey their husbands, and husbands are not told to obey their wives. Wives and husbands have a different kind of relationship. They are equals told to line up their will with each other for the sake of their unity. But children are told to obey their parents. It is enshrined in the fifth commandment, the first of the ten commandments to deal with our responsibilities and obligations towards each other.
Honour your father and mother. We see here that the family is built into the very fabric of God’s plans for his people. It is a
sacred institution to be treated with respect by all its participants. Parents, mothers and fathers, have not only been given the privilege to bring new life to a new human being, but they have the responsibility to cherish that life and to help their children take their first steps through life to its appointed goal with God. And to seal the deal, children are commanded to
honour their parents. To respect them by obeying them. Of course, children are not to obey their parents if the parents command them to do something wrong or illegal or if what they say conflicts with what the Lord requires. And yet at the heart of this fundamental relationship there is to be respectful obedience. To do what they’ve been told, just as the Lord Jesus obeyed his Father in everything and lived to do his will.
The apostle Paul justifies this instruction not because “Father knows best” or because children should be seen and not heard, but on the basis of the promise. The fifth commandment is the first commandment with a promise. In fact, it is the only commandment with a promise, that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. Here we see that obedience is blessing, just as the relationship between a child and parent mirrors the relationship between the children of God and their heavenly Father. Obedience leads to blessing as it cements the relationship which is its own reward.
In fact, children, Paul says in verse 1, are to obey their parents in the Lord. Our message today is about children and slaves. But a key point in it is that children aren’t slaves. They don’t belong to their parents. The parents can’t do with them whatever they like. They don’t own their children. Children aren’t just labourers who work for free until they are too old, and too big to boss around. Even as children who love the Lord Jesus and trust him for salvation,we are free. We have been set free from sin and death and from every oppressive power in the world. We don’t belong to anyone so they can control us. Instead, we are free to serve the Lord.
But that freedom does not release us from our responsibilities. Instead it means that we can fulfil our responsibilities freely and willingly. In a spirit of love and trust and obedience. And so we obey the Lord by obeying our parents. Not because we have to. Not because we are slaves, but because we are free.
And so parents too have responsibilities towards their children. Paul says in verse 4,
Fathers’ do not exasperate your children.
Don’t provoke them. Don’t make them angry. Don’t wear them down with your continual petty demands. Don’t bring them to the point that their obedience is grudging and resentful. Don’t bully them so that they are conditioned by fear. He doesn’t mean that fathers can’t, but mothers can. It’s just a recognition that males are more prone to anger and to use violence to
solve their problems. The baby won’t sleep. The baby won’t stop crying. The toddler won’t eat its food. The child won’t get ready for school. The teenager never comes home. Many fathers will just start yelling and pushing and shoving and shaking and hitting. But instead of solving anything they just make it worse. The problem either escalates or gets smothered so that the child grows up unable to respond to the challenges of life with anything but violence. Instead, fathers are instructed not to exasperate their children. To look for solutions other than yelling, scolding and hitting. Like explaining and negotiating. Treating them as truly free agents with a mind and will of their own, setting firm boundaries and guidelines, with clear and reasonable consequences, but giving them real freedom within those boundaries. Or as Paul says, bringing them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Not just telling their children about the Lord, but bringing them up in a way that honours the Lord. The Lord who says, “Thou shalt and thou shalt not”, but who grants his children real freedom to choose and every resource they need to choose wisely. Who forgives your mistakes and is patient with your weakness. And who expects you to treat your children in the same way.
As parents it’s important to remember that we aren’t raising children. We are raising adults, the future citizens of our nation. And with everything we do and say we are teaching them how to bring up our grandchildren.
In verses 4 to 9, Paul gives his instruction to slaves and masters. None of us are slaves, and none of us own any slaves, and so Paul’s teaching is only generally applicable to our work places as long as we remember that employees are paid for their work and are free to leave at any time if they want to. Paul says,
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for
whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favouritism with him.
The two key thoughts in this passage are that, firstly, slaves are really free, and, secondly, that masters are really mastered. Slaves are free. They may be bound to their masters by economic and legal chains but in their hearts and minds they are to consider themselves free. That their work may be offered not under compulsion or to avoid a punishment but freely and
willingly. They are to obey their masters as they would obey Christ. They are to do their master’s will as they would do God’s will. Because Christ has set them free, not so that they can do whatever they want. No, that is the attitude of sin. Instead, he has set them free to bind them to himself, so that he belongs to them and they belong to him. Christ has set them free
for true service which is true freedom. Because in their hearts they are not slaves of men, but we are all slaves of Christ.
With the benefit of 2000 years of hindsight, we have to confess that although the Scriptures of the New Testament brought God’s grace into a world with emperors and kings and masters and peasants and slaves, the church was slow once it had influence in society to put an end to institutions like slavery that were evil. Even in Australia, Pacific Islanders were forced to
work in sugarcane farms and Indigenous Australians were treated as commodities, tied to a farm and expected to work for the privilege. It is a kind of slavery without chains that treats human beings like things. God has made us to be free and in Christ he sets us free.
It is important to remember to take this spirit of freedom into the work place. We should work like those who are not in bondage to money or to the clock or to outward appearances, but that we should work in order to express our free service to God in the service of others. It is a way of loving others.
Secondly, masters are really mastered. They may think they own the people who are beneath them, but they are to remember the master who is above them. Our only Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Master of slaves and masters alike who treats all people the same. It’s interesting to note that although the Scriptures do not forbid slavery, the gospel planted the
seed that brought an end to slavery. And we should honour that legacy today by treating no one as our slaves, or as our personal property. We should treat people who work for us with dignity and respect as people who will have to give an account for our actions to the Lord.
Who do you belong to? Who owns you? Who has a right to your complete and unreserved obedience? Whose will is supreme and pre-eminent in every facet of your life? Today’s message is that it is not your parents. It is not your employer. Your only Lord and Master is the Lord Jesus Christ who sets you free for service.