Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong
Text: Ephesians 6:1-9
· Obedience as a Child (6:1-3)
· Submission as a Father (6:4)
· Obedience as a Worker (6:5-8)
· Submission as a Boss (6:9)
· As a child, do you believe that obedience to your parents is right? How will you grow in that area?
· As a parent, how can you avoid provoking your child to anger?
· As an employee, do you see your work as working for the Lord? How can you build that perspective?
· As a boss/superior, how will you resist “lording over” those under you, and do good to them instead?
First off, Happy Father’s Day! I’ll try as much as possible for today’s sermon to be catered to Father’s Day, and so I’ll spend the bulk of the time on verses 1-4, and I’ll cover the essence of verses 5-9 as best I can in the time I have left.
Let us pray before we begin.
Gracious God, give us humble, teachable, and obedient hearts, that we may receive what you have revealed, and do what you have commanded. Amen.
So, a boy came back from school one day, and his father said, “Come here son, tell me what you learnt in school today.” And the boy said, “We learnt about the 4 parenting styles:
There is the Permissive style of parenting, where the parents don’t believe too much in rules and they try to encourage their children towards doing what they enjoy. There is the Uninvolved style: Where the parents aren’t really parenting at all, and don’t care much about how or what their children are doing. There is the Authoritarian style: where the parents set all the rules, and the child is expected to simply obey and not question anything. And there is the Authoritative parenting style: where the parents seek to develop a positive relationship with their children, by combining rules with communication and concern.”
The father listened, thought about it, and said, “Son, out of the four parenting styles, do you know why the Authoritarian parenting style is the best of them all?”
The boy said, “Errr, why?”
The dad replied, “Because I said so!”
Some of the younger ones won’t get the joke. You have to be there to fully appreciate it. It comes from a patriarchal household structure. Where the dad is at the apex of authority, you lived under his roof, you eat the bacon he brings home, and you do what he says.
And if you’re not happy with this arrangement, that’s fine, not to worry, no one is forcing you to be happy. Besides, the front door is always open, you’re free to leave you want. Just know this, if you walk out, there is no coming home.
I’m not advocating a return to that sort of old-school parenting of course, there is a massive potential of abuse in that system, it’s not the most nurturing. But let’s not also throw the baby out with the bathwater. Children who grew up in that environment did understand one thing. They understood that they are not in charge, they understood what it meant to obey their parents.
Fast forward to today, and parenting has taken on a entirely different complexion. Remember this post? A mother wrote to the Minister of Education to complain about how the PSLE Math Paper last year left her son “crushed and defeated”.
“An exam paper”, she believes, “is supposed to give hope and encouragement to the kids who take them”. If only my Chinese teacher thought the same way.
“You and I can never understand the shoes of these courageous kids who have spent their entire upper primary education practising and learning for this one-off high stakes exam.”
How did we come to the point where studying for the PSLE came to be seen as courageous? Courage is word used to describe soldiers fighting for their country during war. How can the same world be applied to students studying for their exams? So if they fail what happens, we award them a Purple Heart for suffering a wound to their feelings is it? Courageous.
In my household, when I was growing up, courageous is me not studying for my exams. Except my bravery won’t earn me a Silver Cross; just a Wooden Cane.
So what happened? What happened, is that we went from a Patriarchal family structure to a Pediarchal family structure, where the child is at the apex of the family hierarchy. You can have three generations under one roof, but everyone, grandparents, parents and domestic helper, all see themselves as servants of the happiness, the comfort and the well-being the of the child. The schedule of activities in the house, the mood of the house, the amount of noise within the house, are carefully ordered around the comfort and happiness of the child. That’s a Pediarchal family. In a patriarchy, the duty is to please the father. In a pediarchy, the duty is to please the child.
And it is a culture like this that created a post like this, where the poor mother feels like she has failed in her duty to protect the feelings of her child from the cruel PSLEs.
When I was in school and I came back from an exam and confess to my mom that I was “crushed and defeated”, I would be crushed and defeated for real. And If I say, “Hey why you blaming me? I’m the victim here. Go blame the Minister of Education, mom”. Now, that my friends, would be courageous.
Parents, the greatest failure of parenting, is instilling in our children a sense of unwarranted entitlement. Children do not have a right to be happy (no one does); they do, however, have a duty to be good. They don’t have a right to our respect (respect doesn’t work that way); they do have a duty to honor us. They do not have a right to be served; but they do have a duty to obey. Instil in your children a sense of duty, not a sense of entitlement.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. (Eph 6:1)
In a Spirit-filled family where members submit to each other out of reverence for Christ, children have one primary duty: to obey their parents.
Which means, parents don’t flip it upside down. Parent’s, don’t obey your children. What I mean is this: When you want your child to eat his vegetables, and he refuses, are the vegetables eventually eaten or not? When you ask your child to get off his video game and do his homework, and he does not, are there consequences or not? When you are at the shopping mall, and he insists on buying a toy, and you say no, does that toy eventually land up in the shopping cart or not? In other words, when your child pits his will against yours, whose will gets done? Whose will carries the day? In short, in your household, who actually obeys whom?
A teacher once asked a 4 yr old kid, when you want something, what do you do? He said, “I ask my mummy.” What happens when your mummy says ‘no’? The kid said, “I ask again.” Because he knows the mother will eventually give in to his demands if he just keeps insisting. And what this means is that his mother isn’t raising him to be obedient; she is raising him to be insistent.
Does that mean that parents must never give in? Not at all, you can have a 100 good reasons for changing your mind about what you want to do, but it cannot be about obeying the will of your child.
So, the first application of our text today is this: Parent’s don’t obey your children. Teach your children obedience, raise your children to obey, because that is their duty of submission in reverence to Christ.
Now children, obey your parents. Why? Because it is right, and Paul uses God’s word to support God’s word. It’s the biblical equivalent to “because I said so”. Why does God not give his moral reasoning? Because he is less interested in your understanding and agreement, than in your trust and obedience. And parents ought to expect the same.
But if I were to guess the mind of God, then based on the book of Proverbs, I think the reason is this. It’s because just as a stream of water flows naturally from high ground to low, the stream of wisdom, flows from naturally from old to young, from parent to child. Granted, the stream is not always pristine. It will occasionally carry with it debris and mud and other impurities. But that’s not to say the stream should flow upwards.
Children of Hermon, your parents have lived longer than you, and that counts for something. There is a wisdom, insight and perspective that comes with age, and by no other means. Your parents, by virtue of being older than you, know something that you will never know. They know what it is like to be your age. You will never know what it is like to be theirs.
They know what it was like to be 12, and feel like the PSLE was the all-consuming goal in life, but they have lived beyond that, to see education for what it is, it will help you, but it will not define you. They know what it was like to be 16, and believe with all their heart that romantic love can fulfil its promises of infinite happiness. But they lived past that, they have loved and lost, and found themselves again, and are able to see more clearly the true face of true love. They know what it was like to be 24, they know the exhilaration of receiving the first paycheck and embarking on a career and thinking, this is worth sacrificing for, but then you came along, and they discovered that there is a meaning and purpose and joy that far outstrips anything that money can offer. Your parents, children of hermon, have a clue about what it means to be in their shoes; you have no clue what it means to be in theirs.
I was watching a documentary on the Vietnam War, and in the final episode, they interviewed a lady who was in her 60s. She had been an anti-war activist. And they would go to the airport, and scream obscenities at the soldiers coming home from war. They were shouting, baby-killers, rapists, murderers at them. she was expressing her remorse at they things they said. She said, “I, you know, I feel very sad about that. Um, I can only say that, you know, we were kids, too, just like they were. And I’m sorry”.
Do you see, adults take the reason “we were kids”, to be a valid explanation for why people did stupid things. Being young a reasonable explanation for being dumb. It is an explanation that even the legal system accepts, which is why we don’t try juveniles as adults. Do you see? So children, if you are smart, you would assume you’re dumb. So listen to your elders.
There is something to be said, for the advantage that comes with age. Plus your Christian parents have likely followed Jesus for longer, and that is something too. It is right that you submit to them by obeying them.
So then, the Christian household, the Spirit-filled family unit is not a democracy, it’s not pediarchal, it is a wise, benevolent patriarchy. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
What’s the reward of honouring your father and mother? You will live long in the land. What does that mean? Longevity? Could be, but I don’t think so. Because the apostles themselves had their lives cut short, though you can be sure they obeyed the 5th commandment. And also, obedience to Christ, confessing faith in Christ, and doing the will of Christ, was, in the 1st century Roman Empire, a recipe for an early earthly death. It’s difficult to reconcile a promise of longevity with the context.
What I believe it means, is that you can be assured of an ongoing relationship with God. Because the promise of living long in the land in the 5th commandment refers in its original context, to the promised land. And what sets apart the promised land from regular land is the fact that God is there. Yes, God is everywhere, he is the Lord of all the earth, but he is uniquely present with his people Israel in the Promised Land. The Promised Land and the Presence of God are so intertwined that the earthly consequences of separation from God is exile from the Land. So living long in the land, as I understand it, is another way of saying, you will be assured of a ongoing relationship with God.
And why not? Because God is in a real sense, your Father. So if you are the sort of child that honours your father and mother, that is a good indication that you will be the sort of Christian who will honor God. Of course, the reverse is also true: that if you show no evidence that you know how to honor your parents, then what assurances are there that you will know how honor your Father who is in heaven? These things go hand in hand.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your earthly parents, and you will enjoy a relationship with your Heavenly Father.
Submission of a Father
Let’s turn to the fathers.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Eph 6:4)
My godson Kian has taught me more about this verse than all my exegesis and commentaries ever did. You see, he has a very keen sense of justice. I remember reading to him the story from Exodus, he was 4 years old, and we came to the 10 plagues. There is a picture of Pharaoh with this fingers in his ears. Pharaoh didn’t listen to God, so God brought 10 plagues to Egypt. He turned the river into blood. He rained frogs onto the land. He sent gnats, and then flies, and then he killed all the cows and sheep. “Wait Godpa, one question.” “Yes, Kian, what is it?” “Who didn’t listen to God? Pharaoh, yes?” “Yup, Pharaoh didn’t listen to God.” “So why did God kill all the animals, they didn’t do anything wrong. Why did God kill them? That’s not nice. That’s rude, yes?” I’m like, “wow, wait till he hears about the 10th plague, do you think he’ll notice if I flipped the page past it?”
He’s very concerned about justice and fairness. And that applies to how I discipline him as well. If he feels like he’s being unfairly disciplined, it can be as something as slight as raising my voice. But he won’t take it lying down. He’ll get indignant, angry and protest the discipline, and he’ll ask me to apologise.
But if I disciplined him according to the rules we had established. And I explained to him where he went wrong, gave him a chance to explain himself, and then told him why I have to punish him, I can smack him, and he won’t get angry. In fact, he will apologise.
You see, fathers, there are two responses that a child can have to your discipline. Your discipline can either make them feel sorry, or it can make them feel angry. It can make them better or it can make them bitter. It can make them regretful or it can make them resentful. Fathers, ensure that it leads to the former. In your discipline, model justice and love; model grace and truth. In other words, discipline them in a way that reflects the character of their Heavenly Father. Bring them up in the discipline of the Lord. That is your spiritual duty of submission to your children out of reverence for Christ.
But fathers, you are not called simply to discipline your children, you are also called to instruct them in the Lord, which is spiritual education. Because do you realise that the mind is the key battlefield of the spiritual war for our souls?
Let’s recap the language of knowledge in Ephesians:
“which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will” (1:8-9)
“the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know” (1:17-18)
These are knowledge words.
See how Paul contrasts our old self and our new self:
“you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them… corrupt through deceitful desires,” (5:17-18, 22)
“But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus… and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds.” (5:20-21, 23)
The difference is in how we think!
And the blueprint for Christian maturity?
“by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love” (4:14-15)
“having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth” (5:25)
So much of our spiritual battle is a battle for the life of the mind.
That’s why the Spirit is called the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation”. That’s why the sword of the Spirit is the “word of God”. Do you see?
So fathers, instruct your children. God has entrusted the spiritual education of your children to you. Instruct them, teach them, train them. And your textbook, your curriculum, is the Gospel.
I’ll use an analogy that fathers can understand. In a sports organisation, suppose your children are the players. Who are you supposed to be? You are not the owner – your job is not primarily to pump in money so that others can train your players. You are not the cheerleader – your job is not primarily to boost the morale of the players. You are not the concierge – your job is not primarily, to heed the beck and call of the players.
Fathers, you are the coach. You will ensure that your players are paid, and you will cheer and support your them, and you will take care of their needs, but those are not why you are appointed as coach. Your job is to teach, to train and to develop the players, and if they do not follow your instructions, you discipline them, because that’s part of coaching as well.
The coach’s job is to make the player better than they were before, better than they were last week. You’re not there to keep them happy, you’re not there to win a popularity contest, you are there to make them better.
But how do we measure better? That’s depends on what game are we playing, what’s the goal? What are we playing for? Fathers, the goal here is unity. We’re on God’s team, and we’re playing for unity.
“making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph 1:9-10) That is the purpose for which God predestined, chose and called us in Christ – to unite all things in Christ.
Fathers, is that your ambition for you child? There is no point coaching your kid to be the best basketballer on the planet, if he’s being called to play football, don’t you think? Are you disciplining and instructing your child to grow up as a uniter? A truth speaker, a gospel-teller, a lover of the other, rather than the self? Are you bringing your child up to be a uniter? Because Unity is the name of the game, Unity is the game-plan for the fullness of time, and fathers, you are the coach of your children.
Fathers, I hope you see that you are burdened with a glorious purpose, for this unity will be to the praise of God’s glory, and it is our eternal hope. Fathers, embrace your high calling in Christ.
Slaves and Masters
Now, just a word about slavery in the Roman Empire in the 1st Century. It’s not the same picture as slavery in the Confederate States of America in the 19th Century. It wasn’t based on race, it wasn’t a permanent condition (slaves were expected to be set free after 7 years), slaves could apply for Roman citizenship, they were free to marry, accumulate wealth and run businesses. They could even initiate legal action against abusive masters. Slaves in the 1st Century were generally treated with respect, some were well-educated, and they held a variety of respectable jobs, such as teachers, accountants, and physicians.
What I mean to say, is that slaves in the 1st Century weren’t very different from the average employee in our 21st Century. So these verses can be legitimately applied to those of us who are employees today.
And the first thing I want us to notice is how Paul connects so tightly, the relationship between our earthly master and our heavenly master.
“Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling (but fear and trembling is the attitude reserved for our human response to God, the Israelites reacted to the theopanies of Yahweh with fear and trembling; we work out our salvation with fear and trembling because God works in us), with a sincere heart, as you would Christ not by the way of eye-service, [not] as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, (wait a minute, are we bondservants of our earthly masters or of Christ?) doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, (Paul makes it explicit now, your work is rendered to your Capital M Master, not your earthly master) knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.
In summary, Paul is saying, when we work, think of it as working for Christ, rather than our bosses. And so we obey our earthly masters just as we would obey our heavenly Master. How do we make sense of this?
Martin Luther offers a suggestion. He describes human work as the “Masks of God”, and I’ll draw on this idea. Let me ask you, “who provides food for the creatures the world?” God, Jehovah Jireh. Right, but how does he do it? By raining manna down from heaven? No, he uses the farmer to sow the crop and reap the harvest, to provide food for mankind. So when the farmer works, he wears the mask of God. If God wants to establish justice in the land, how does he do it? Send angels to arrest criminals and execute judgment on the guilty? No, he dispenses his common grace of justice through the police department and the judicial system. So when cops and judges do their work, they wear the mask of God. If God wanted me to preach his word to Mt Hermon today, how does he do it? Appear to me in a dream? No he gets Ps Daniel to schedule me into the preaching calendar. So when Ps Daniel does his work, he wears the mask of God.
All legitimate, moral work on earth are the Masks of God. When a farmer asks his farm-hand to help him water the crops, the farm-hand is responding to his earthly master who wears the mask of God. When the lieutenant asks a police corporal to go on patrol, he ought to view that duty as ultimately coming from God.
Which means that when your boss assigns you work, receive it as though it’s an assignment from God, obey your master, do your work, knowing that you are doing the will of God, and render service as to the Lord and not to man.
Christian workers, bear in mind who you are ultimately working for, and obey your earthly master as you would obey your heavenly Lord.
Christian bosses, you wear the mask of God. But never mistake yourself for God, and never disfigure the mask. No matter your position in the company’s hierarchy, you are under the authority of Christ. Treat your employees as Christ would treat them. If Christ would insist on a day of rest for your staff, don’t you dare work them 7 days a week. If God is a God of justice and compassion, don’t you dare underpay your workers. If God supremely uses love rather than fear to motivate obedience, don’t employ threats as a management technique. If every human being, slave or free, is made in the image of God, we ought to treat them as such. At the end of the day, Christians bosses, you are not the lord of your workers. God is Lord over all.
“Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.” (6:9)
Masters, you too owe a duty of submission to your bondservants out of reverence for Christ.
Finally, look to the Gospel, friends, in the Gospel, behold Christ, behold our God.
Children, behold the ultimate Son, who obeyed his Father to the point of death on the cross.
Fathers, behold the ultimate Father, who so loved the world he gave up what was dearest and precious to him to make us his children.
Employees, behold the ultimate Servant, Jesus Christ but took the form of a servant to obey the will of God.
Masters, behold the Lord of lords, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light, who promises rest and reward to those who serve him.
And so, with the eyes of our hearts fixed on the Gospel, and according to the immeasurable at work within us may we glorify our Lord and God, who is over all and through all and in all.