Christian Reciprocal Relationships
Ephesians 6:1-9
By Paul Robison
 

Let's begin with a story, some statistics, and an observation.  “Many of today's children are like the little boy who was given an orange by a man.

The boy’s mother asked, 'What do you say to this nice man?'  The little boy thought, handed the orange back, and said, 'You need to peel it'” (Floyd).  Welcome to modern America!  Did you know that in the U.S., every 8 seconds of every school day, a child drops out of school?  Did you know that every 26 seconds, a child runs away from home?  Did you know that every 47 seconds, a child is either abused or neglected? (Taylor)?

Welcome, to modern America!  Here's some more statistics dealing with labor.  Only 10% say they are satisfied with their jobs, and only 30% say that they are loyal to their companies.  About 45% don't trust their co-workers, and about 40% don't trust their subordinates.  About 15% of workers say that employers intimidate or threaten them regularly (Patterson and Kim).  Welcome to modern America!  Now what is at the root of all this?  Listen to this wise observation: “Turning away from God, men are obsessed with the notion that, in themselves, they can make everything all right, with their laws, social gains, and planned programs of all kinds; but it is no more possible to accomplish worthwhile human societies away from God than it is to produce a crop of apples from uprooted trees” (Coffman)!  The real problem behind all these attitudes and statistics in modern America is that people have turned away from God and away from following what the Bible teaches.  Beloved members, we have a message that modern America desperately needs to hear, and to heed, and to put into practice.  We're not producing good apples; we're producing bad apples!  “It is no more possible to accomplish worthwhile human societies away from God than it is to produce a crop of apples from uprooted trees!”  Beloved members, if we could just put into practice and live out the text that was read and penned by the inspired apostle Paul, it could turn our world right side up, just as did in pagan Ephesus among the audience to whom it was first written!

Did you know that wives, children, and slaves in the first century had little real security?  Husbands and wives could divorce one another just by saying: “Pack up your things and be off” (Carcopino).  In fact, almost “every Roman [male of noble birth in] the two centuries on either side of Christ's birth was divorced and remarried at least once, often to women who had been previously married” (Bell, Jr.)  And what happened in the noble class also carried over into the lower classes.  So, wives had little security.  The Roman father had absolute power over his children: he could sell them as slaves, work them to death in his fields, put them in chains, punish them as he liked, and even inflict the death penalty upon them (Barclay).  And that father's power over his child continued in effect regardless of the child's age (Bell, Jr.).  So, children had little security. 

And slaves were no better, even though there were about 6 million of them in the Roman Empire.  They were often treated as animals and starved to death; their masters could legally kill them, beat them, abuse them sexually, and brand them with hot irons (Barclay).  You see now, this was the indulgent and immoral world that the members in Ephesus had been a part of before they became Christians.  This lesson is called “Christian Reciprocal Relationships.”  It started with the husband and wife last week, and it continues today with the child and parent and slave and master or employee and employer relationships.  In all these relationships, notice how Christ and His teaching made a world of difference!  And if we'd put them into practice, it would turn modern America right side up!

Now the first group that the apostle Paul addressed in today's reading was the children.  Now if you're in our audience today, and you are from ages 3 to age 17, please stand up for just a moment!  Yes, the preacher is giving you permission to move around a little bit while you stand up. 

Alright, thank you, you can sit back down.  Now, children, Paul's words here in the New Testament are written just to you!  So, you need to pay very close attention right now to what he says.  That's great!  I see that most of you have your ears turned on and are listening.  Here's what Paul told the children in Ephesus: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  'Honor your father and mother,' which is the first commandment with promise: 'that it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth.'”  What does Paul tell you to do?  He says that you need to obey and to honor your parents.  Now obey means that you mind them and live by the rules that they set up for you.  Honor means that you regard your parents with great respect and you don't see them as dumb or stupid.  Now notice something else here.  How are you supposed to obey and to honor your parents?  Paul says that you are to do these things “in the Lord”.  The word “Lord” is another name for “Jesus.”  So, the idea is that you are to obey and to respect them in the same spirit as Jesus would.  Jesus always did what His mother and father told Him to do.  Let's get practical here.  “Children, if your parents ask you to do something, and you storm out of the room in a huff, saying: 'All right!  I'll do it!', then you are not obeying your parents with the spirit that Jesus would have” (Bullard).  Teenagers are you listening too?  “If your parents set down some rules and you argue with them over those rules, or break them because you think they'll never find out, then you are not obeying your parents in the Lord” (Bullard).  Now why should you obey your parents?  Paul gives us three reasons: it's right, it's required, and it's rewarding.  First of all, Paul says it's right.  Remember, Paul said: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”  Sometimes, you might wonder, “Is it wrong or right if I do this action?”  Well, obeying your parents is something you do not need to question.  The wise Paul tells us that it's always right to obey your parents.  Why don't you just make up your mind now and say, “I'm going to try to obey my parents and follow their rules, even if I don't always agree with them or even if don't like them.  I'm going to do what's right.”   Then notice that Paul says it's required.  Required means that this is something we must do.  You know, when you see a traffic light, and it's red, you mom or dad is required to stop the car, aren't they?  Well, see Paul goes back to some of rules that God set up for His people long ago.  Have you ever heard of the Ten Commandments?  These were some of God's most important rules for the people called the Jews.  Now do you know what the fifth commandment or rule was?  It's exactly what Paul says is required of us.  Here's what we must do: “We must highly respect our parents.”   We should try to remember that they have lived longer than we have and have had more things happen to them than we have.  Have you teenagers ever noticed that if a teen doesn't respect their parents, they are likely to badmouth their teachers at school and even say hateful things about their coaches, principals, and policemen?  Sure, you're parents will make mistakes at times.  After all, they're human, but Paul says that we still need to have great respect for them.  And finally, Paul says it's rewarding.  The rule to have great respect for your mother and father ends with this promise: “that it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth.”  Did you hear that?  When you highly respect your parents, it will go well for you, and you will have long life.  When you are older, you won't have bad memories about how life was in your family, and you just might live longer because obeying your parents will help you to stay out of a heap of trouble!  So children, obey and honor your parent like Jesus because it's right, it's required, and it's rewarding!  Alright kids, thank you for that great job of listening extra hard to me!  Feel free to ask me any questions after the service if I wasn't clear about something.  Now adults, here's a question for you concerning this passage: How can our children learn obedience if we aren't obedient ourselves?

The next group that Paul addresses is the parents, and especially the fathers.  Paul exhorted: “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”

What a revolutionary statement this was in Paul's world!  Roman fathers may have had absolute power according to society, but Paul says that they are not to treat their children like dictators.  They have some responsibilities as well.  What does Paul tell parents (and especially fathers) to do?  They are not to provoke their children to wrath, and they are to nurture them tenderly!  One version states: “You must not goad your children to resentment” (NEB).  There's lots of ways we can do that: smother your kids and never let them takes chances, use physical and verbal abuses, use favoritism and compare your children against others, push your child to perform beyond reasonable bounds, tell your kids that you don't have time for them, make promises to your child that you never keep, tease and taunt them regularly, make all their decisions for them, never admit that you could have been wrong (Taylor and Bullard).  Then Paul gives the flip side and says that we are to nurture them tenderly. “Nurture” has the idea of feeding and caring for, just like we saw when Paul explained earlier in 5:29 how a man treats his own body—it's the exact same word!  And we do this with tenderness and kindness, and not harshness and brutality.  It's a lot easier said than done, huh?  It's a personal struggle for me too.  Now dad, mom may be feeding them meals each day, but you are to be feeding them God's word and spiritual direction for their lives.  Dad, what is your number one goal?  Listen to this: “You should care more for the loyalty of your children to Jesus Christ than for anything else besides, more for this than for their health, their intellectual brilliance, their material prosperity, their social position, their general well-being” (Dale).  The three greatest gifts that you can give your children are: loyalty to Jesus, love and kindness to their mother, and forgiveness for their sins against you!  In Ramsey County, Minnesota, ninth and tenth graders were interviewed recently about their dads.  They were asked this question: "What comes to mind when you think of the word ’Dad’?" Answers came immediately from both ends of the spectrum. One end of the spectrum said, "I think of the word jerk," and others added the words “angry, mad, and absent.”  On the other hand, some of the young people said, "I think of wholeness, kindness, security, and safety." “Dad” is still an immensely powerful word, even in modern America (Taylor).  Well, how are we to nurture them?  Paul responds: “In the discipline and admonition of the Lord!”  What did Jesus do when He disciplined His disciples?  Didn't He rebuke and point out when they were wrong and then explain the behavior that they should be doing?  Isn't that what we need to be doing with our children too?  And the sooner you start such a process in a child's life, the better off the whole family will be!  “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).  Let's get back to the Bible!  How did Jesus admonish His disciples?  Didn't He give them verbal information along with warnings?  There is the idea of both instruction and confrontation when necessary.  “We must share with our children both the blessings of serving Jesus and the hazards of failing to do so” (Anselmi).  “Parents, there are only two directions in which you can choose to rear your children: in the Lord or out of the Lord.  You rear them by biblical principles from God's Word or by humanistic principles from Satan's world.  The former way brings joy, peace, and harmony in the home, but the other way teaches a child to live for himself without thinking of others.  One leads to a life of no regrets; the other brings many a heartache throughout life.  It is your responsibility, especially fathers, to use Christ's discipline and admonition with your offspring!  Listen now: That task is not to be delegated to the school teacher, the politician, the church, or your television set, computer, or Hollywood!  The obligation to bring divine nurture and direction to your child's life is primary yours alone” (Bullard)!  Rise up and fulfill that role!  What a wonderful glory to God and to the church it brings when you do it to the best of your ability!  By the way, your heavenly Father is always a great example to follow in dealing with your family! 

The next group Paul addresses is the slave or the employee.  He admonishes in verses 6-8: “Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill and doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.”  What does Paul say to do?  To be obedient and to do God's will.  “Paul lays down the requirement that slaves be obedient, and the principle still stands.  If you are an employee, you are to obey in everything—not just when your boss is monitoring your work.  You are to obey all the time with but one concern: 'Am I pleasing Christ?'  After all, you are His representative in that office or on that assembly line. ... When you are willfully disobedient or disrespectful to your employer, you destroy two things. 

First you destroy God's principle of authority and submission which He has built into the universe.  Paul shows us that He wants that principle to be upheld in husband/wife relationships, in parent/child relationships, and in employee/employer relationships.  Secondly, it damages your Christian testimony.  How can you ever hope to share your faith with your boss, supervisor, or foreman if he sees you as an apple-polisher, a goof-off, or a rebel?  You just can't do it” (Bullard).  If you struggle with respecting the person over you, then concentrate on trying to respect the responsibilities involved with their position (Taylor).  Godless workers have bumper stickers that say things like: “How can I soar with the eagles, when I work with turkeys all week?” or “I’m so broke I can’t pay attention to my boss!”, but Christian workers have bumper stickers that read like this: “The stage where God allows me perform each day is my job” and “My real boss is a Jewish Carpenter” (Taylor)!  How are we to do our jobs?  Paul says that we should do them respectfully, sincerely, willingly, and zealously (or maybe even religiously)!  “We ought to do our tasks as though Jesus were our supervisor.  Type that letter as though Jesus were going to sign it; build that house as though Jesus were going to buy it; make that piece of machinery as though Jesus were going to use it” (Bullard)!  There is only one secret for quality productivity, and only Christians know it: “Good workmanship is that you do your job for God” (Barclay).  “If you cannot show a readiness to obey your employer, then you need to do one of two things: either change jobs or change your attitude.  If our brothers and sisters who were slaves in the first century could serve those cruel masters as though they were Jesus, you can serve your cantankerous boss too” (Bullard).  Why should you work in this way? 

Verse 8 states: Christ will return your good (6:8)!  Now “your boss may underpay and overwork you, [but Jesus is very aware of what's going on].  You see, the paycheck is not all of your salary, [and the Lord is keeping records of your hours as well]. ... Whatever inequities you may experience from day to day, do not let them control your behavior!  Serve with a full heart—sincerely, willingly, zealously—and Jesus will see in due time [or at the end of time] that you are fully rewarded. ... Don't do wrong on the job.  There's no excuse for it” (Bullard).  Christ will reward if you will keep on doing what's right! 

Now Paul addresses the masters or the employers with these words in verse 9: “And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.”  “How hard these words must have been for Christian masters to put into practice. ... Paul instructs [the members at Ephesus] that the [Christian] master will be unique.  He will treat his slaves with fairness, in a way that is just and equitable.  What are you to do today as an employer?  What is the principle from Christ that operates here?  It is nothing less than the Golden Rule.  Employers are to deal with their employees exactly as they would want to be treated if their roles were reversed.  The Spirit-filled Christian manager has a deep responsibility to those who work for him.  He is to seek his employees' welfare, for Paul says, 'Do the same things to them.'  If you expect your workers to do their best for you, then you must do your best for them” (Bullard).  Well, how do you put this into practice?  “You're not to verbally abuse your employees, for Paul says, 'Give up threatening.'  That is no way to really motivate a worker.  Jesus never dealt with His [disciples] in that way” (Ibid.).  Why should you keep the Golden Rule and leave off threats?  To be an effective employer, remember that you have the same Master in heaven that your employee does.  You will stand in judgment before the same [Lord, Who will judge all with fairness]” (Ibid).

As you follow through with God’s calling upon your life, your employees will begin to wonder about some things: “Hey, why does he treat me so well?  Hey, why is she so helpful?  Hey, why did he give me that time off even though he knew it would put him in a bind?”  And you'll one day have the chance to respond: “Hey, I was just taking care of my Lord's business, and I know that He is taking care of this business” (Taylor). 

If your life is surrendered to Christ and to His Holy Spirit, it will make a difference in how you do your management.  Christianity is not just for the pew, it is also for the production line and supervisor too!  If you'll let Jesus be seen in your life during the 40 hours that you work, then your coworkers will not have such a hard time accepting your message to them about Sundays” (Ibid.)!

“On February 19, 1979, a small plane crashed into Ontario Peak in the San Gabriel Mountains, and a ten-hour story of death, courage, and survival began.  The passengers of that Cessna 172 included the pilot, a young woman, an attorney, and his eleven-year-old son.  The pilot and the attorney were killed in the crash. The boy said he knew his father was dead when he tried to rouse him and 'he wouldn’t wake up.' 

The boy and the young woman huddled in the snow near the plane for seven hours, hoping to be rescued.  Finally they decided they must attempt the treacherous descent of the mountain or freeze to death.

Shortly after they began, the woman fell 350 feet to her death. The boy, all 75 pounds of him, was lost—what was he to do?  He decided to slide most of the way down the mountain on the seat of his pants, clutching a stick in his fractured hands.  Whenever he began to slide too fast, he wedged the stick in the snow as a brake.  About 5 p.m. he was found near a village at the foot of the mountain and rushed to a hospital.  Wet, bloody, and exhausted, he was still very much alive.  Before his release from the hospital, there was a news conference.  The boy encountered a barrage of questions about his ordeal.  How did he find the courage to go on?  Didn’t he feel like quitting?  He answered simply, “I’m alive today because my dad taught me never to give up” (Floyd quoting Discipleship Journal).  Today, so many children and workers have an uphill battle to survive in our humanistic culture.  Wouldn't it be great when they are asked, “How did you hold on?”, they could reply: “I'm here today because my dad or my supervisor taught me never to abandon the Lord Jesus Christ!”  Christ made all the difference in Paul's world, and He can make all the difference in ours as well!  He can make you a better husband or wife!  He can make you a better child or parent!  He can make you a better employee or employer!  Your living each day “in the Lord” can turn our modern America right side up! If you want to see “good apples” in our society, then you had better be planting your trees in the soil of Jesus!  With roots in Him, they and you will stand against Satan's attacks!  Won't you be immersed into His name or ask Him to help you to be a better child, parent, worker, or supervisor?