Last time, I suggested that we aren’t prepared to come to the Paul’s controversial instructions to Christian families in Ephesians 5 until we’ve taken in the message of his earlier chapters. Paul is in awe of the mystery of God’s eternal plan to restore wholeness and unity to a broken creation.
Gentiles, and not just Jews, are part of that plan. And though many of us might take that fact for granted, imagine what a transformation of imagination it would have taken for Paul the Pharisee to embrace that mission. He’s stunned by the turn in his own biography and wants his hearers to share his sense of wonder.
That wonder, in fact, expresses itself in prayer and praise:
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Eph 3:16-21, NIV)
Isn’t that amazing? he seems to ask. Can you begin to grasp how wide the love of God is in Christ? How long, how high, how deep? We must be able to say yes, in some way, to be ready to take in what Paul says next:
I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph 4:1-6, NIV)
One body, one hope. One faith, one baptism. One Spirit, one Lord, one God and Father over everything everywhere, calling us to live in unity and peace.
That life requires being humble, gentle, and patient. Bearing with one another in love. And Paul goes on in chapter 4 to say that we need to put aside our old ways and be made new in our attitudes and behavior. Speak the truth. Don’t let the sun set on your anger. Say only the things that build others up. Get rid of bitterness, rage, and malice. Don’t slander other people. Be kind and compassionate. Forgive each other as God has forgiven you.
Can we say amen to all that?
Can we praise God for the mystery of being chosen to be part of his body, part of his work? Do we desire to live a life worthy of that calling? To be made new, rooted in love? To be a people characterized to the core by humility, gentleness, patience, truthfulness, self-control, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness?
Because frankly, unless the answer is yes, we’re not in right frame of mind to wrestle with what Paul says about Christian households.