At Home and At Work
Topic: Expository Scripture: Ephesians 6:1–6:9
Synopsis: In Ephesians 6:1-9, Paul urges us not to leave our faith at church, but to take it home with us and to take it to work. What does being filled with the Spirit and “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” mean to children at home? To parents? And what does it mean to us at work. In this message (At Home and at Work) we find out that the truth that Christ is Lord has implications in every arena of life.
The Bible is a deeply practical book. It is also a holistic book. Its teachings and instructions extend into all of life and its various facets and arenas.
Too often, we tend to divide life up into different categories. Secular and sacred; mundane and spiritual. We believe in God. But God is primarily confined to Sunday (or, in our case, Friday) and to church and to Bible reading and prayer, to evangelism and the time we spend in volunteer work at church. We perform our spiritual duties in our spare time – and then we get back to everyday life and doing whatever we have to do to survive.
The Bible does not recognize or acknowledge such categorizations or dualistic divisions in life. If we truly understand the Scripture in its totality, we will recognize that every arena of life, every relationship, every responsibility we carry should be informed, shaped and influenced by our faith.
We come to one of those holistic and deeply practical sections of Scripture today in Ephesians 6:1-9. The teaching, the theme that binds all of life together is the Lordship of Jesus Christ and we see that theme being worked out in very practical ways in this passage. We could summarize it this way: At home and at work, Christ is Lord. Would you say that with me? At home and at work, Christ is Lord.
As Christians, we all recognize that Christ is Lord at church. We get that. We sing songs about it. We listen to sermons about it. Christ is the head of the church. And then we go home. Or we go to work. And we put Christ on the shelf along with our Bibles. But the passage in front of us this morning will not allow us to do that. It is not just at church. At home and at work, Christ is Lord.
In a real sense, we started this message last week, in Ephesians 5:22-33 and the section on marriage and husbands and wives. What does the Lordship of Christ look like in a Christian marriage? If you missed that message, I would encourage you to read it or listen to it on the church website.
In chapter 6:1-4, Paul turns his attention to parents and children. Remember this is all an outworking of a fundamental command that Paul recorded in Ephesians 5:18: Be filled with the Spirit. Live under the influence and control of the Holy Spirit. One of the marks of the Spirit’s influence is then recorded in verse 21: “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Reverence for Christ is another way of expressing that we are to recognize his Lordship in our lives. As we recognize Christ’s Lordship, we will submit to one another. Now Paul is fleshing that out by describing what that looks like in the different arenas of life and chapter 6 opens by addressing the second most significant of all human relationships; the relationship between parents and children.
It is a crucial relationship that affects us deeply, for good or ill, all of our lives. And it is relationship that is full of dangers and pitfalls. I remember reading the words of one aging cynic who said, “The first half of my life was spoiled by my parents. The second half of my life was spoiled by my children.”
Let’s look at what the Bible has to say:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4)
I want to point out something interesting. Whom does Paul address in the opening verses of this section? That’s right. Children. In fact, 3 of the 4 verses here are addressed to children. I find that significant. I also find it quite the opposite of the emphasis of today’s literature. If you walk into the typical Christian bookstore and go to the section on family living, you will find shelf after shelf of books on parenting and books for mothers and fathers on how to be good parents. But how many books do you find addressed to children on their responsibilities?
Today’s emphasis seems to put the whole weight on the parents’ shoulders. After all, children are just innocent little blank slates on which the parents write. So if there is a problem there must be a problem with the parents. They messed up. After all, the assumption goes, “Perfect parents produce perfect children.” So if there is an imperfect child, it is the fault of imperfect parenting. At least that’s the current thinking.
Yet, that is not where Paul starts. He addresses the children first. And he addresses them as free, responsible, moral agents, and he gives them a direct command. A moral responsibility lies on them.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord.
Children, this is what “mutual submission” looks like for you. This is what submission to the Lordship of Christ means for you. “Obey your parents.” At home…Christ is Lord. And submitting to Christ as Lord means obeying your parents.
Why? Because “this is right.” This is the right thing to do. This is what God wants. Colossians 3:20 says it this way: Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. If you care about pleasing the Lord, you will obey your parents.
Now, why did God set it up this way? I think the reasons are pretty obvious. This isn’t rocket science. A child is born without a knowledge of the world around him. There are lots of things a child doesn’t know. So God places the child under the authority of parents to teach him/her and to guide him. As young children, the lessons are pretty obvious. Don’t touch the hot stove. Don’t stick a fork into the electric socket. Don’t run near the edge of the cliff. Don’t play in traffic.
Soon the teachings move into less immediate and less tangible lessons against other very real dangers in all the complexities of moral choices; using drugs, relations with the opposite sex, the choice of friends, the use of online media. It will also extend to positive teachings and commands: discipline, hard work, studying and doing your homework, telling the truth and being a person of integrity and honesty and the list goes on and on.
There is another reason for this command. When children are born, they are not only ignorant of the world around them and its dangers. The Bible also tells us that every child is born with a sin nature. Every child is born with a bent toward sinning. The Book of Proverbs tells us that “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” It takes parental instruction and discipline to shepherd a child from the excesses and selfishness of his or her own heart. And so this command is given. “Children, obey your parents.”
The child’s responsibility to parents is not a new, or even a specifically new covenant or “New Testament” teaching. This responsibility is clearly spelled out in the Ten Commandments, given by God to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai. Paul points this out in verses 2-3 and quotes from the Ten Commandments: “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
God’s divine order in the home has not changed. Submission to the Lordship of Christ will mean submitting to the authority of parents. And it is a responsibility and command that is given with the child’s own welfare in view. There was a TV show on American TV way back in the 1950’s with the title: “Father Knows Best.” People make fun of the title and of the show today as being anachronistic and out of touch. Today’s TV producers prefer to portray fathers as dithering idiots. But “Father knows best” is God’s ideal. And if father knows best, then we do well to obey him and it will “go well with us.” Parents are God’s primary way of directing us in early life. You ignore them at your peril.
Not only is obedience to parents important in the practical realms of life. Response to parental authority is a clear indicator of one’s response to God’s authority. Remember our theme: At home and at work, Christ is Lord. Respect for parental authority is how we yield to Christ’s authority in the home.
Now, having said all that, I do recognize the reality of dysfunctional homes and families and parents. This raises special concerns and many questions. Home is not always the safe place that God intends it to be. A sermon like this is not the place to address all the complexities that can arise. If you are a child or a teen-ager who is suffering in such a family, I would urge you to seek out a trusted Christian adult to talk to; someone who can provide counsel and support in how to respond to your situation.
Paul now turns his attention to parents, and specifically to fathers in their role as head of the home. Once again, keep the context in mind: submitting to one another. What does that mean for parents? Obviously it does not mean that parents should do what their children tell them to do. That would be great, wouldn’t it kids? But that’s not what it means. It means that fathers and mothers are to exercise “servant leadership”. Their authority in the home is not to be exercised for their own convenience or pleasure – but with the best interests of their children in mind.
The verse actually begins with a negative: What not to do.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, (v. 4)
That is going to take some unpacking. Because, frankly speaking, some anger is always going to be a part of the equation in parenting. In fact, I would go so far as to say, parents, that if you never make your child angry – then you are not functioning as a parent at all.
Why do I say that? In my studies on the emotion of anger, I have discovered that one of the primary causes of anger is a blocked goal. And one of the primary tasks of parenting is to block the child’s goals when those goals are sinful or potentially harmful. So anger is going to be present, because children don’t like the word “No.” Any parent who is operating in fear that their child might get angry is going to be at the mercy of the child’s every whim.
So what does this mean? I like the way John MacArthur explains it: “a repeated, ongoing pattern of treatment that gradually builds up a deep-seated anger and resentment that boils over in outward hostility.”
What kinds of treatment might produce this long-term, deep-seated anger? We could do a whole seminar on this one. Let me just mention a few obvious ones.
First is an arbitrary use of parental authority for personal convenience. This is where the “mutual submission” principle comes into play. Children can very quickly sense when a parent is issuing decrees and making decisions based on selfishness, and not based on the welfare of the family as a whole and the child in particular.
The second one is inconsistency. Children feel safe when boundaries are clear and rules are spelled out and enforced consistently. They become frustrated when what is allowed to one child is not allowed for another, or when something is permitted sometimes but the punished at other times.
The third behavior that can cause unhealthy anger in our children is identified in Proverbs 15:1: A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. As parents, we are often called on to say, “No.” But we should strive to say it softly even as we say it firmly. A home in which there is a lot of yelling, especially on the part of the parents, is not a healthy home.
Well, as I said, there is a lot more that could be added. But that’s all the time we have today. In summary, parents, especially fathers: analyze your pattern of parenting. Are you producing unnecessary, deep-seated anger responses in your child? If so, you need to take a good long look at your parenting style and try to identify the root causes that need to be addressed.
From the negative to the positive, we find these instructions in the rest of verse 4: but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. As parents, you have God-given authority in your home and over your children. But with that authority comes this responsibility and this goal. To “bring them up”; to raise them; to shepherd them to maturity and adulthood. How? In the discipline and instruction of the Lord. That involves teaching. That involves correction when they are wrong. That will require a liberal use of this book (the Bible). It’s never too early to start. And it’s never too late.
I am reminded of this saying. “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is today.” It is the same for parenting.
Well, we still have some more ground to cover, so let’s move on. What is our theme? At home and at work, Christ is Lord.
That is where the next few verses take us. Sociologists tell us that the second biggest block of time in our lives (next to sleeping) is spent working; on the job, engaged in whatever career or vocation we practice. What is the relevance of our faith to our work? Very simply summarized – Christ is Lord – even at work!
You will notice that this section is addressed to slaves and masters. In the Roman world, slavery was an accepted reality of life. The entire economic and social order was organized around it. In some of the large cities of that time, it is estimated that over half of the population was comprised of slaves. There were a variety of ways people became slaves. Some were born slaves. Some were sold by parents or relatives into slavery. Some were taken into slavery because of unpaid debts. Many became slaves through the conquest of wars. To the victor belonged the spoils, including subjecting conquered people to slavery.
There were different categories of slaves: household slaves, field slaves, public slaves, private slaves. Some slaves were well-educated, sometimes even more so than their masters. The conditions of their servitude also varied widely, depending on their master. Some slaves were well-respected and well-treated, almost as members of the family. Others were brutalized and subjected to unbelievable conditions and treatment.
In writing to the Ephesians, Paul knew that there would be some listening to his letter who were slaves. He also knew that there would be others who were slave owners. While Paul did not directly confront the institution of slavery, he did offer words of instruction on how to live as a Christian within that system.
We might wonder what the relevance is for us today. None of us are slaves or slave owners in the classic sense. But there are similar situations when we boil it down to two fundament issues: work to be done and authority to be exercised or responded to. We find these issues all around us today; on the job, in school, even in church. There is an assignment to fulfill. We under someone’s authority – or we have others who are under our authority. And often times we have people both above us and below us in the chain of command. How shall we respond?
Let’s start with slaves; when we are under the authority of another.
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.
Do you see the principle running through that passage? At home and at work, Christ is Lord. Christ cares about our work. He cares about the 40 or 50 or 60 hours we spend working. It matters to him! He wants to be Lord of those hours. And what is more, he promises to reward us when we work hard and work well. “Doing the will of God from the heart…” That is our calling. When we understand this, we begin to realize that there is no real distinction between secular work and spiritual work. There is no distinction between “the Lord’s work” and “work”. It is all “the Lord’s work” when we do it for his glory and from the heart. When we work, not to please men but to please the Lord.
I remember the story of a farm foreman or overseer whose job it was to supervise the field laborers on a large farm. He had difficulty, because he found that as long as he was present, the workers worked. But as soon as he turned his back or went to another field, they would slack off and nothing would be done. Finally he hit on a clever solution. This particular man had lost an eye in an accident, and wore a glass eye. So one day, he dramatically popped his glass eye out and placed it on a fence post. “Even while I am gone, my eye is watching you,” he warned the workers.
His strategy seemed to have the desired effect. He came back a few hours later and all the laborers were hard at work, glancing nervously at the eye on the fence post every few minutes. Then one day he came back unexpectedly to once again find the workers relaxing on the job. There on the fence post was his glass eye, carefully covered by an upside down tin can!
That’s eye-service. That is not how we are to work. Even at work, Christ is Lord. He is the one we are serving. He is the one we must strive to please. And he promises to reward us for work well done; if not in this life, certainly in the next.
There is instruction here for the masters as well. For all of us when we find ourselves in positions of authority over others.
"Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him."
At home and at work, Christ is Lord. And that means that Christ is the Lord of the lords. He is Master of the masters. He is the Boss of the boss. Every one of us is under Christ’s authority and therefore accountable to him. Just as the slave, the worker, will ultimately answer to Christ for his work, so the master, the boss, will ultimately answer to Christ for his conduct and the way he exercises his authority. Was it just? Was it fair? And know this. Our Master in heaven does not judge by a double standard. He does not have one standard of judgment for labor and another for management. “There is no partiality with him.” He is Lord of all and he is fair to all.
Christ is Lord. We sing it. We proclaim it when we are at church. But then we go home to our marriages, to our homes, our families, our children. And we go to our work or to school, to our desks, to our assignments, to our responsibilities, and we relate to our bosses and to those who work for us. Don’t forget, Christ wants to be Lord there as well. He is Lord there as well. The only question is whether we acknowledge his Lordship and live accordingly.
Say it with me one more time: AT HOME AND AT WORK, CHRIST IS LORD!
- Read Ephesians 6:1-4 together.
- Why is it significant that this passage first addresses “children”? How does this contrast with present day emphases and approaches to teaching on the family?
- Explain the promise referred to in verses 2-3.
- “Some anger is inevitable in parenting.” Do you agree or disagree? Why? How do we reconcile this with the command in verse 4?
- Pastor Cam mentioned 3 potential causes of “deep-seated anger” in children: arbitrary use of authority, inconsistency and “harsh words”. Can you think of others?
- Read Ephesians 6:5-9.
- What are the similarities between “slaves and masters” in Paul’s day and “employees and employers” in our day? What are the differences?
- How should Paul’s instructions to slaves in verses 5-8 inform our working lives today? Does this passage encourage you or discourage you?
- What are the implications of Paul’s words in verse 9 for those in positions of authority?
- At home and at work, Christ is Lord. How will this theme statement influence you in the week ahead?