May 10, 2020 – Dave Fields

Today we’re looking at the power for any thriving relationship and the pattern set by Jesus in how to live it out.

I. Overview of the Household Code in Context

Ephesians 5 contains the longest, sustained description of marriage in the Bible – but there are some really key elements of this text that we need to recognize to set us up to really understand what God has for us.

1. This section is a “household code” which was, in the ancient world, a typical part of moral instruction dating all the way back to the time of Aristotle in the 4th Century BC.  So Paul connects with this common form of writing, but then totally spins it in this radical, counter-cultural way.  He shows us what happens when the Jesus-way of life begins to transform a home.

2. Ancient household codes addressed in detail only those who were subservient in the Greco-Roman culture – wives, children and slaves.  They typically only said to husbands, things like: “Well, don’t abuse your power.”  This text is a significant departure from that form – and that should tell us something.  The fact that Paul says anything to the husbands – that would give first century readers whiplash.  This text gives far more instruction to husbands than anyone else.  Husbands, then, they are the primary focus of this text

3.  Verse 22 doesn’t have a verb in it – it has to be supplied from verse 21.  Some translations of the Bible start the paragraph at verse 22 – with the word to wives about submission – which is a very strange decision.  Verse 22 isn’t even a complete sentence in the Greek text – so verse 21 and 22 are bound up together.

Paul begins this household code by speaking of mutual submission, and then goes on to give details of what that will look like in practice.

He’s saying: “Every believer is to submit to every other believer in the community – and that includes husbands and wives, who also happen to be brother and sister in Christ because of their shared faith in Jesus.  Now, here’s that that will look like in your setting…”

4.  The section actually starts in v.18.  See, v.18 through v.23 form one sentence in the Greek.  So, we can’t start reading this section without seeing Paul’s bigger argument – and it’s awesome.

5.  The main imperative – meaning, the “command” mood in Greek Grammar – comes right at the beginning: “Be filled with the Spirit…”  What follows, including the word “submit” are a string of participles – words that have an “ing” ending in English.  “Speaking to one another…making music in your hearts…giving thanks…submitting to one another…”   All of these are instructions, but they are beginning with the ‘head’ term “Be filled with the Spirit…”

II. The Power for Marriage (and Rich Relationship of Any Sort)

“Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit…”        – Ephesians 5:18

Who is the Holy Spirit?

God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  One divine essence but three persons.  The Spirit, then is God, along with God the Father and God the Son.  Christians use the word “Trinity” to say that God is Father, Son and Spirit.  

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”  – Genesis 1:1-2

Jesus describes the Spirit as the “Spirit of Truth” (John 15:26), who would ultimately help make sense of the words and deeds of Jesus to his first followers – enabling them to remember and record what Jesus did, and what it all means.  Jesus says of the Spirit: “He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you” (John 16:14).

One of the main ways the Spirit works in us is to unfold, to make known, to enable us to come alive to the glory of Jesus and what he’s done. See Ephesians 3:16-18.   

When we are drinking deeply from life in the Spirit it makes our hearts sing; literally, to praise Jesus, to delight in Jesus (“speaking…singing…giving thanks”), and that flows out into the desire for the Jesus-way to shape our relationships: “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Paul says that we need to continue to be “filled” with the Spirit: to adopt a posture of openness toward God – toward the Spirit working in our hearts. 

III. Mutual Submission

“Submitting to one another…”

The participle “submitting” is in the middle voice in Greek. 

We don’t really have an English equivalent to the Greek “middle voice” – so translating can be tricky.  The middle voice ‘expresses more involved participation, specific involvement, or even some form of benefit of the subject doing the action’ (Stanley Porter, Idioms, 67).  

“Submitting” it’s something a person does of their own choice – it’s not imposed from the outside.  I could translate it like this:

“…willingly submitting yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ”

(Eph 5:21b.).

All believers are to submit to the others – meaning, to seek the benefit and the good of the other, even above your own desire, wants and, at times, even your own good (See Philippians 2:1-5; Romans 15:2).

IV. Spirit-Filled to Live the Jesus-Way of Self-Giving

“We love because he first loved us.” – 1 John 4:19

When Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross, to win us back for himself, he was simply acting in character – he did “in the wild weather of his outlying provinces

[speaking of here, in his coming to earth]

” that which for all eternity “he had done at home in glory and gladness.”  – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

V.  How To Sabotage Your Marriage (Or Not)

Counseling psychologist from Vancouver area, Joan Schulz, put it like this:

“If I were to teach a class on how to sabotage your marriage – which I would never do,” she adds “– but if I were, here’s what I’d say.”

  1. Take your spouse for granted.  You’re not polite to them anymore.  You don’t thank them anymore. You don’t acknowledge them when they come home from work or after being apart.  “They’re there.  So what?”  And that can be the case for friendships or other relationships.  A loving relationship reverses this.
  2. Be quite satisfied with complacency.  You become apathetic.  You don’t talk about how you could be having more fun together. You don’t enter into deeper conversation. 
  3. Be negative. Make no effort to overcome your irritableness or grumpiness first thing in the morning.  Just be ‘unhappy’ around your spouse.  John Gottmann, a marriage researcher, noted that he could predict that a couple’s marriage would be healthy and strong when there were 5 times as many positive things said to the spouse for every one negative thing.  That’s about the right ratio of positive to negative in the communication between spouses.
  4. Misplaced priority of the spouse.  If your spouse knows that they are less important to you than something else in your life: your career, the kids, the home, the sports – that will lead to a sense of loveless-ness in the home.  The most loving thing you can do for your kids is love God first, and your spouse next. That provides the stability and security your home and kids need.
  5. Disparage your spouse in front of others. This is incredibly disheartening and erodes a sense of honoring the other.  Speak well of your spouse in public
  6. Allow secrets and ‘little-white lies.’  Lies are seldom little and they are never ‘white’.  If there are any patterns of being untrustworthy that will erode the trust that a marriage needs to thrive. 
  7. Allow domestic chaos to reign.  When one or both spouses don’t feel it’s their responsibility to create an orderly environment in the home that easily leads to a sense of difficulty in a marriage as well

By the indwelling power of the Spirit, God enables us to reverse these negative patterns. 

VI.  Where to Start?  Repentance and Forgiveness

1.  No one will get their relationships perfectly right this side of eternity.  Be gracious with others – and recognize that God is gracious with you. 

2.  Invite God to forgive and empower you. 

To repent means to recognize those areas we are drifting from God’s design, and then to say: “Ah, I need to change course – God help me to do that!”

3. Seek and grant forgiveness readily in your relationships

Life Group Discussion Questions

1.  If you had a chance to listen to the message this week, what is one or two things that stood out to you and why?  How might that be working itself into your life? 

2. Read Ephesians 5:18-25

Paul draws a tight connection between the Spirit-filled life and the ability for Christians – including husbands and wives – to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:21).

a.  Why do you think Paul wants to make this connection, between Spirit-filled life and mutual submission?

b. How has it made a difference for you in your marriage (if you are married) or other relationships when you are living “in step” with the Spirit (or not in step with the Spirit)?  

3.  Paul writes the following in Romans 15:2-3: “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself…”  Why is this challenging?  How does/might dwelling on how Jesus loved us first (see 1 John 4:19), and inviting the Holy Spirit to make that news of Jesus love ‘sing’ in our hearts address that challenge for you?

4.  Dave provided a list of “what not to do” in the message (printed above).  Were there parts of that list that stood out to you or challenged you – perhaps not just in marriage relationships, but others as well?  How are you addressing some of those challenges this week?  

Prayer:  Take some time to simply thank Jesus for his love, inviting the Holy Spirit to make these realities true to your heart again.  Pray that we, as a community, would more and more be those who ‘please our neighbours for their own good, to build them up.’