The following blogs are the talks I gave at a weekend away for a church in Leeds called ‘Four’. The theme was idenditity and we worked through the book of Ephesians to see what Paul had to say on the subject…

Identity: It’s all about acting like God’s people – part II

Ephesians 5:22-6:9

We saw last night that the new community that God is shaping is to act like the new community that they are.
They are God’s people and so like Father, like Son.
They are to be a united people, a people who are holy and righteous, loving God and loving each.
They are to be a people who build each other up with their words, who are full of thanks and who are humble and submissive.
And this brings glory to God.

So we come to 5:22, and Paul says this is how you need to act as God’s people in specific relationships. This passage has caused controversy over the years and no less recently.Some suggest that Paul has gone back on what he said in Galatians where he said there is no male and female, slave or free etc., and has reverted to a patriarchal system of his day.
They suggest that he didn’t have the bottle to follow through on his radical teaching, and so softens it bit.

But is that what Paul is doing here? Far from it.What Paul is teaching these young churches in chapters 5 and 6 is in fact the very logical conclusion of his teaching that some suggest he’s trying to avoid.
And it is extremely radical.

But before we look a bit deeper into what he is saying we need to back track a bit and have a look at chapter 2 again.

A new household

There is something very significant about the wording of chapter 2:19-22 that is lost in our English translations.
In the ancient Roman Empire the household was the bed rock of society.Non-Christian ethicists believed the stability of society as a whole was dependent on well-run households, which of course included slaves as well as extended family.
Indeed the empire itself came to be viewed as one massive and all-encompassing household with the Emperor as its patriarch.

The greek word for ‘house’ is oikos and Paul uses that to great effect in verses 19-22.
This section contains 6 oikos-related words:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens [paroikoi], but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household [oikeioi], 20 built on the foundation [epoikodomēthentes, being housed on] of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building [oikodomē] is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together [synoikodomeisthe] to become a dwelling [katoikētērion] in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 19-22)

Paul is doing two things here.1. He’s explicitly using Old Testament language of the temple.He’s saying that this new people, both Jew and Gentile united in Christ are the new temple.They are where God dwells.

2. He’s using this metaphor from Graeco-Roman daily life and the imperial metaphor.

Caesar, the patriarch of the household of the Empire was called its Lord, as was the patriarch of any household.
But now Jesus is called Lord.
Aliens in 2:19 is paroikos, people without home, or outside the household.But now they have become people with a home, inside the household, not of Caesar, but of God.

Yet again we see this new identity.
We’ve moved from one household into another.
What follows then in chapter 4 is how we live in God’s household.

Loving him and each other are the house-rules if you like.

So when we come to chapter 5 where Paul addresses more specifically actual households all of these images should be resonating in our minds. Living in God’s household, having our identity as members of his household with Jesus as Lord, impacts how we live in our daily households. In fact the cross-over was even more obvious in Paul’s time as it was likely that whole households would have been converted at once.
The house churches were more like house-hold churches.

So let’s have a look in more detail at how our households are to be impacted and shaped by having our new identity as part of God’s household, the church.

Husbands and wives (v22-33)

I mentioned earlier that some non-Christian ethicists at the time believed the good running of households to be essential for the health of society.
Because of this they drew up what’s known as household codes or tables.
Some people suggest that what Paul is doing here is simply copying these. Indeed there are some parallels.
For instance he uses the three relational categories of husband/wife, father/child, master/slave.
He also emphasises submission and also uses the household as a metaphor for a wider body, i.e. the church.

However that’s about as far as the parallels go. For instance a major difference is that Paul addresses both parties in the three relational categories.The Hellenistic teaching of the time only addressed husbands, fathers and masters.They do not tell the wives to submit but instead tell the husbands to make their wives submit. You see the primary influence for what Paul is saying is not pagan literature.Like with all of what Paul writes the primary influence is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Discussion groups:

· What behaviour is commended in each relationship?

· What reason is given for this behaviour?

· How does this section fit into the wider context of the what we’ve been learning in Ephesians?

All three relationships are pictures of God or Christ’s relationship to his people.
That’s explicit in the first one: wives and husbands.
The emphasis, as in the whole of Ephesians is not what the other person does for you, but what you do for them.
That is the way of God’s new community.
Their identity no longer revolves around them and so they are not always about what everybody else should be doing for me.
Instead our identity is now as the redeemed, reconciled people of God who love God and love each other.
Now the question we ask should be ‘what should I be doing to serve the other person?!’

And so Paul tells them.
We’re blokes and so the bit we need to be reading is v25.

We’re to love our wives as Christ loved the church.
Christ’s concern for his people was so great that he went to the cross for them. Why?
So they could fulfil their potential and be who they want to be?
Because that is not what it’s about.

The reason he died was so that his people could become holy, washed clean as they listen to and obey God’s word, everything that Paul was spelling out in chapter 4-5.
Jesus died so you could be that radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, holy and blameless.

Jesus wants you… to be like him!
And on that great day, when he has completed that work he will present us, as his people, looking like the people described in the rest of Ephesians.
We will look beautiful, stunning, gorgeous, like when you see your wife to be walking up the aisle in that gleaming white dress that cost a bomb!
And Jesus will look at you and say – I paid for you to be like that with my blood.
And how great you look.

28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.

That’s how we’re to love our wives.
We’re to be as passionate about their godliness, their good as Christ is about us, his people.
We’re to be willing to go to any lengths to present her as a beautiful trophy of God’s grace.
Do we have that passion for our wives?

It’s all about identity again isn’t it?
Paul says we’re to love our wives like we love our own bodies.
Christ loves his church because she is his body.
And Paul says, when you got married you became one, it’s like she is your body.
That’s your identity in marriage. But we always act in line with what we believe.
If we don’t love our wives in the way described by Paul then clearly we don’t think that we have become one flesh.
If we did think we’d become one flesh then of course we’d love our wives because who doesn’t care for their own body?!

And when the husband does care for his wife, seeing her as his responsibility to love to the point of death, and when the wife submits lovingly to her husband, what’s the result?
You’ve got a fantastic display of the gospel, being played out before your eyes.
God’s household is where Christ loves his people, cares for them and is about the business of presenting them holy and blameless on that great day.
God’s household is about his people, the church, humbly submitting to Jesus as the head of that household.
That’s what marriage is all about, according to Paul.
The mystery of marriage is the mystery of the gospel.

When a husband loves his wife like Christ loves the church, and when the wife submits to her husband like the church submits to Jesus you’ve got the gospel, God’s household being acted out like a miniature play.
What a fantastic responsibility!

Children and Parents

Then we come to 6:1-4.This is not so explicit about its connection with God’s household, but it’s there.
V2-3 are a quote from the ten commandments:
Deuteronomy 5:16 “Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord you God is giving you.”
The question is, why does this commandment have a promise with it?

Why does obeying parents lead to living long in the land?
Read Deuteronomy 5:32-33‘So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. Walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.’
God’s people will live a life of blessing in the land if they obey God and follow him.Anything else will just lead to chaos.
That’s true in families.
It’s chaos when children don’t obey their parents.
It can be down right dangerous if children don’t obey their parents, like when the parent may tell the child not to walk out into the road on their own.
So it is with obedience to God.
Submitting to God’s authority leads to a good life and eternal life.
So where better to learn obedience than in the home?

The family is the place where you learn to submit to authority instead of living for self.
It is interesting that Israel was seen as God’s son in the Old Testament.
Long life in the land was linked to parental obedience because it was as God’s son that Israel needed to obey their father.
It was vital for children to learn the importance of obedience to parents in the home so that they learnt obedience to God himself. Parents are thus God’s gift to children to teach them how to live under authority.
In the family people learn how to submit their will to that of others; how to live alongside others in tolerance; how to respect authority; how to express their views while valuing the views of others.
The puritan Thomas Manton said: ‘a family is the seminary of Church and commonwealth. A failure in the first area will not be mended in the second.’ So yet again the child’s obedience to his parents is inextricably linked to being members of God’s household, learning to obey our father. What about v4?

What has just been taught to children does not mean that parents can just get kids to do what ever they as the parent want them to do.
Let’s not confuse ends with means.
Obedience to parents is the means God uses to teach children to submit to God’s authority.
Obedience to parents, though, is not the end.
We are not trying to teach our children to obey us.Our desire should be to teach them to obey God.
So Paul writes: 4Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Why are children exasperated?
It’s when parents discipline them out of clearly wrong motives.

There are various motives we may have:

· The desire for a quiet life

· The desire for respect or appreciation

· A fear of being embarrassed

· Wanting to have our own way or be in control

· Out of anger or irritation

But who’s at the centre of all of these motives?
They belong to the old identity where it was all about me.

Wrong motives will lead to wrong methods.
If it is about getting them to obey me then I will do anything to get them to obey.

For example:

· Manipulation – your sister did it ok

· Fear – you won’t know what’s hit you

· Bribery – I’ll give you a sweet if you shut up

· Emotionalism – after all I’ve done for you

· Inconsistent – just this once

But the new identity we have as the people of God is now all about loving him and each other.
Thus our motives and methods for disciplining our children change.
We now want to ‘bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.’

So we will:

· Discipline them calmly, clearly and consistently

· Talk to them about the motives of their heart, and teach them to obey God

So again we see how our new identity as members of the household of God shapes how we act as parents and children.

Slaves and masters

Finally Paul turns to the workplace, which in this situation was in the household, but in ours is likely to be separate from that. But we see the same principles applied.
The behaviour that is commended for the servant is obedience, service, sincerity, pleasing work when seen and when unseen and enthusiasm.
And this is shaped yet again by our new identity in the household of God. The master of the earthly house is no longer the ultimate master, but Jesus is.
So it is for that master we are now to work, even when working for an earthly one.

The same goes for the master in v9.
Workers are to treat managers well because workers are under God’s authority.
Managers are to treat workers well because managers are also under God’s authority.
Their new identity shapes how they act, with a lord that is over the new household that they are in.
There is no favouritism with this new master, so don’t think because of your earthly privileged position you can get away with exploiting your workers.


In God’s new community, his new household relationships matter.
They matter because they all teach us about Christ’s relationship with his people.They display this relationship and they also display where our identity lies. You see if we are actually still all about us, and we in fact stand outside of God’s household then we will not act in the way that Paul describes. Our actions always reflect what we believe. But if our identity has changed then we will be a people who are seeking to live that out all the time, because it impacts the whole of life.
You don’t stop being members of God’s household once you’re in!

This new communal identity shapes and changes relationships.
All the time now we are displaying the gospel, showing what it is that God has done in Jesus in reconciling broken people, who now look not to their good but the good of others, who are submissive, loving, who are passionate about people obeying God, not so we get an easier life, but so that they have life, so that God is glorified as his church becomes what he wants it to be – that holy, cleansed, radiant bride of Christ.

Is this our identity?