Friday, April 8, 2016

Under His Armor

Paul takes a very didactic form in this chapter, the first part being something of a catchall segment.  Children, parents, slaves and masters are all provided with instructions for living.

Sometimes people joke that they wish life came with instructions.  The 10 on stone tablets seemed too hard, the other 513 even more difficult, and the extra regulations heaped on top of these by the religious hierarchy made living by the rules seem to be insurmountable.   But then came living by faith, but in our faith, Paul adds some specific counsel.

Children, obey your parents.  This following Jesus stuff doesn’t get you off the hook for obedience.  It is obedience that leads to a good life.  This goes all the way back to the fifth commandment.

This honor your father and mother stuff is good stuff with the promise of a good life.  Parents wish this had been hard-wired into our kids in the womb.  Our parents probably had the same thought.  But parenting is about bringing up children in the way they should go.  God’s design is that our children learn his ways from us.

So Paul’s counsel shifts to the father.  He says do not exasperate your children.  There’s a fun word:   παροργίζω (parorgizó) and it comes with a variety of meanings--Irritate, agitate, provoke, provoke to anger, annoy, vex, and many others.

The Greek roots mean “from close beside” and “become angry.”  Someone very close to another person knows exactly what buttons to push to move them to anger.

Fathers—parents—don’t’ push your kid’s buttons.  This does not mean do not discipline.  It means do not use manipulation to parent.

As parents, we all know that one thing that our child really values, and threatening to take it away all the time just keeps them on edge.  Our children should never doubt that God loves them and their parents love them.

There will surely be consequences for inappropriate behavior; but as parents we don’t push their buttons to produce the most antagonizing response.  Our goal—remember, we are the parents in this equation—is to lead our children to be the people that God made them to be, not to get caught up in some competition with them.  We are the parent.  We lead them, bring them up in the way they should go.

Many parents say or think, “But my kids surely exasperate me!  I ought to be able to get them back.”

We need to remember that we are the parents.  We can put our kids on restriction any time we want on some trumped up charge, but we must not provoke them to anger by pushing their buttons.

In defense of some bad parenting, but not in favor of its continuation, we must acknowledge that we live in a society that rejects most authority and the authority that we often accept is ungodly.  Sometimes parents feel like all they can do is push their kids buttons to get any sort of compliance from them.

Compliance is a long way from honoring your father and mother.  But remember mom and dad, our children are either learning from us or from the world and if our model is the same as the world’s model, then they are not learning God’s model.

In the previous chapter, we were counseled to be wise.  We were admonished not to live as the world lives.  We were charged to make the most out of every opportunity, and the biggest opportunity to put God’s wisdom into practice is with our children.

Don’t push them to the limit of what they can handle; lead them in God’s way.

Don’t provoke them to anger; guide them to understanding.

Be the wiser person in your relationship with your children.

Next we come to a part of Paul’s counsel that doesn’t seem to apply today.  He talks about slaves and masters.  Slavery is a concept that seems repugnant in this 21st Century, but it is still widespread.

In Paul’s day, some were slaves because of wars and the spoils of war.  Some became enslaved because of indebtedness.  Ouch!

The latter case seems to have not only survived but thrived in modern times.  The borrower is slave to the lender.  The average American family is $131, 000 in debt.  About $15,000 of that is in credit cards and the rest for our home, vehicles, and for many student loans.

Don’t think that slavery has left the building.  It has adapted most adeptly to the modern century.

So how do we apply Paul’s counsel to our debt to banks and corporations?    How do we live as slaves to our financial masters?

We do it in the same way as men and women were counseled to live 20 centuries ago.  We live to honor Christ in our servant and slave relationships.  We do not want to maintain our slave status.  Paying off our debt surely honors God and the financial masters of today.  We live up to our side of the agreement into which we entered and we do it with goodwill knowing that how we live has more to do with our relationship with Christ than it does with the lender.

Does this pairing of teachings seem interesting to you?

First Paul talks about bringing up our children and then about slavery, which in our time generally translates to debt.  Read the proverbs sometime and note this pairing (Proverbs 22:6-7)

Train children in the right way,
    and when old, they will not stray.
The rich rule over the poor,
    and the borrower is the slave of the lender.

Perhaps one of the best things that we can do for our children and their children is to bring them up in the way they should go to include the wise and godly use of money.
While it would be quite unusual to meet a slave owner in this nation, we do have instructions for these folks that likely apply to anyone who has subordinates.  Be good to them.  No abuse or threatening language.

Remember both master and servant, supervisor and subordinate have the same Master in Christ Jesus.  Our rank and authority here is very temporal.  Jesus reminded his closest friends and followers that if we want to be great in the life to come, we must be the servant of all in this life.

Paul changes gears from specific counsel to specific groups of people to some general counsel to everyone that has said, “I have decided to follow Jesus.”

We need to understand that we wrestle with our own human nature.  We struggle with the temporal pressures of the world—job, traffic, budget, family conflicts, busyness, and slow download speeds.

We need to understand that Jesus told us ahead of time that we would have trouble in this world and that we would be persecuted because we follow him.  In fact, Jesus said that we are blessed to be persecuted for following him.

So we wrestle with our own nature and the sinful nature of others that don’t like the fact that we follow Jesus, but we also must be ready to contend with evil.

Previously, Paul counseled us not to let the sun go down on our anger so as to give the Devil a foothold.  That was a single strategy for a single avenue of approach for combating the enemy and not giving in to sin.  Now Paul tells us to be ready for every form of spiritual combat.

 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.   Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.    For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

How do you fight against spiritual forces of evil?  You gear up, cowboy up, and saddle up, that’s what you do.  Those terms are common to the world, so let’s say we Christian Up!

We put on all of our gear before we head out to face the day.  What gear is that?
·      Belt of Truth
·      Breastplate of Righteousness
·      Combat Boots are the Gospel of Peace
·      Shield of Faith
·      Helmet of Salvation
·      Sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.

This is an integrated system of body armor with a sword to boot.  It is integrated.  Any one item provides some capability but we are counseled to put on the whole armor of God.

Obviously, Paul is using figurative language to explain this integrated defense system; otherwise after someone confessed their faith we would hand them a helmet.  

Sometimes we do give them a sword but Paul counsels all of us to put on the complete armor of God.

Christian up and put on all of your combat gear.

The armor is not all that is integrated.  Our prayers are to be mutually supporting.  Yes, we pray for ourselves, but we also pray for each other. 

We are not just praying for people who have heart attacks, are pending surgery, or who have lost a loved one.  We pray that we may not only survive but that we may stand and stand strong against whatever attacks come our way.

We pray for each other that we may advance the gospel, that we will proclaim it boldly whatever our circumstances.

We must understand that even on days where we just expect the typical level of insanity that we know in the world; we dress for full scale attack. 

We must also understand that we go into a godless world on a mission every day from now until Jesus comes to claim us or these bodies give out.  We take the gospel and God’s love into the world every day.

On most days, we face apathy and ambivalence as our main adversaries.  On some days, we may be ridiculed; and on some days, we may be opposed by evil.

We are charged to dress for spiritual combat every day. We put on the full armor of God daily.

Paul wraps up this chapter and this letter telling those in Ephesus that Tychicus is headed their way.  He probably brought the letter and his coming permitted Paul to stick to mostly instructional matters in his letter.

The saints in Ephesus would want news of Paul and even something of an in-person assurance, but that would come from Tychicus and not this letter.

Paul concludes his letter with a benediction of peace and grace.  He has issued some serious counsel in this chapter and this letter, but it is counsel to fellow believers who are ready to grow in grace.

Paul’s counsel to children, fathers, and those in debt or in authority is about growing in grace.  Whatever roles and position that we have in this life, we can all grow.

So we conclude this letter understanding where we began—assured of being holy and blameless before the Lord and ready to grow in grace as we head into the trials and blessings of our days spent in this age, on this earth, as God’s kids who take a wonderful message of love into the world.

So let us consider Paul’s counsel, dress properly for the day ahead, and make the most of every opportunity to share God’s love and grow in his grace.


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