Paul focuses on personal relationships

given on Sunday, February 12, 2017

Scripture foundation: Ephesians 5:1-5, 21-6:4 (NLT)

Living in the Light

5 Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us[a] and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.

Spirit-Guided Relationships: Wives and Husbands

21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.[a] 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body.

31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”[b] 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Children and Parents

6 Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord,[c] for this is the right thing to do. “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.”[d]

Fathers,[e] do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.

Reflection: Paul focuses on personal relationships

Today would be my Uncle John’s 81st birthday, not to mention it is also President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. For me, today is a significant day and it is quickly followed by Valentine’s Day on Tuesday. By the social buzz about Valentine’s Day, one might think it is the most important special day in our lives because it focuses on those most intimate personal relationships in our lives.

A trip through the greeting cards these last few weeks reminds us of all the possible special people there are in our lives: husband, wife, daughter, son, grandchildren, grandparents, parents, step-children and step-parents, teachers, students, even neighbors. The list of special people seems endless.

Paul’s love letter to the Ephesians did not get delivered with a box of chocolates or a bouquet of roses. His letter was not filled with gushy endearments, yet his letter was filled with love. He used his words to remind the church that all who believe in Jesus Christ are one; the relationship with God places us in a loving relationship with each other, too.

Paul, though, acknowledges that even with God at the center of our life, we do have personal relationships: husband and wife, parents to children, siblings to each other, and the list grows much like the list on the Valentine cards. In Paul’s letter, he reminds the Ephesians of how God expects us to apply unconditional love in those relationships, too.

Have you ever asked yourself how you would answer Paul’s love letter if he wrote it to you personally? Could you say to Paul that in your life you do express unconditional love to others regardless of race, color or creed? Could you say that the Valentine’s you have sent over the years speak the truth that you do live out God’s love in all your relationships?

Or, if you read Paul’s letter as though he were writing it to you personally, would the letter leave you feeling uncomfortable? Would you end up in tears because you realize that some things you have said or done damaged personal relationships? Would you put the pen down, turn away from Paul’s letter and ignore what he says?

            In today’s Bible translations, a subheading Spirit-guided relationships: Wives and Husbands, Paul begins, “21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” He begins his instruction with Christ at the center of all relationships, not the ancient cultural norms of a husband dominating a wife.

         Reading Paul’s letter literally clashes with our culture today. The term ‘submit’ frequently is negative in a society that values equality in relationships. Submit! No, that is not appropriate in today’s culture, but what if ‘submit’ was not emotionally charged in conversation about human relationships?

In the ancient setting in which Paul was teaching, submission was a form of honoring the authority of ruling governments, bosses, and heads of household. Paul was addressing the newest Christians in terms that matched the culture in which they were living.

Today, Valentine cards would not use the word ‘submit,’ instead the emphasis is on healthy, respectful and caring terms. Many sentiments include references to friendship and Paul’s letter would agree. The new Christians were encouraged to value each other despite their cultural history. The new Christians were told to love one another, as they wanted to be loved. Study notes explain Paul’s message in today’s viewpoint:

Submitting to another person is an often misunderstood concept. It does not mean becoming a doormat. Christ—at whose name “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil. 2:10)—submitted his will to the Father, and we honor Christ by following his example. . . . In a marriage relationship, both husband and wife are called to submit . . . willingly following [the spouse’s] leadership in Christ. . . . Submission is rarely a problem in homes where both partners have a strong relationship with Christ and where each is concerned for the happiness of the other.”

 

Paul’s love letter covers the most important relationships in our lives. He tackles the relationship of husband and wives, but he also includes advice on relationships between parents and their children. He tells the children to ‘honor their mothers and fathers’ as the Old Testament commandment said.

Even when our children are grown, maintaining a positive relationship depends on keeping one’s self Christ-centered. As parents raising our children, decisions are challenging. The relationship begins with total dependence upon the parent, but as the child develops, independent thought absorbs influences from outside of the home.

Paul knew that Christ-centered parents understood how to develop positive relationships that honored their children; and sons and daughters raised in that home learned to honor their parents. In Paul’s letter, Ephesians 6:4, parents are cautioned:

Fathers,[e] do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.

Reading Paul’s letter challenges us to check our own relationships.

Any answer we have to Paul’s letter should provide clear examples of how we do love one another. The self-evaluation may be painful, but it is also necessary. If we have lived a God-centered life, then we can be confident our personal relationships are healthy. If we determine a relationship failed, the cause may be due to the lack of keeping God in the center of the relationship.

         Are we living with Christ at the center of our lives and our relationships, or are we living under our culture’s influences? The greeting cards you select may give you a clue to that answer. Therefore, if you are looking for a Valentine’s card for Paul, think about whether or not your relationship reflects God’s love?

         A Valentine’s card that keeps Christ in the center of any relationship reflects the sender/giver really does care to “send the very best.” (Sorry for the cliché based on Hallmark’s reputation in the greeting card industry.) God asks us all to demonstrate love in all relationships. Today, even if we live independently and the kids are grown up, we still maintain relationships with family and friends. Do you keep that relationship strong because you are centered on Christ? Today’s Valentine’s cards need some editing. The sentiments need to say thank you to the special people in your life for loving you as they love Christ. What a compliment that is!

Closing prayer

Dear loving Father,

Thank you for sending your servant Paul

To teach us about loving one another.

His words of encouragement reaches

Across the centuries through the words of Ephesians.

 

Open our hearts, minds and souls

To Paul’s advice,

Keeping relationships centered

Around the example of Jesus.

 

Guide us in living God-centered lives

So we can celebrate personal relationships

That enrich our lives

As we love one another. –Amen

 

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