Today I preached on Ephesians 5:21-6:9 (but mostly 5:21-33). This is the passage where the apostle Paul famously tells wives to submit to their husbands. (There are some other troubling bits in the passage as a whole, and I touched on those, but, like I said, today the focus was mostly on the first part.) A few weeks before I preached on this, knowing I was going to preach on it, I wondered how I would. There is a lot of baggage associated with a passage like this, including very current baggage for actual individual people. People I know–both at church and On Pilgrimage.
But during those weeks I have been preaching on the parts of Ephesians leading up to this and what I have discovered is that in Ephesians as a whole, Apostle Paul is writing a letter to newly minted Christians in Ephesus, describing how being part of God’s family is different than being part of any other family (or, arguably, institution, except AP probably would’ve been horrified at the idea of God’s family becoming an institution) in the world.
He describes God’s family as being different by virtue of
- our having a genuinely good Father who dearly loves us.
- our having been reconciled with that Father by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and our trust in Him.
- our having been reconciled to each other without distinction (including the distinctions of gender, age, race, social/wealth status and maybe even–gasp–religion) through Jesus Christ.
- our having God’s own Spirit merging with ours to empower us to live like Jesus
- our being empowered to live lives from a basis of humility, gentleness, patience, love, and peace
- our learning to steward our words well, keeping control of our anger, being kind and generous, having authority over the Powers and no longer answerable to any idol including sex, obscenity, lust, or substance abuse, with God’s help (and arguably things like meds and therapy, but those weren’t around in Apostle Paul’s day, so let’s not fault him for not mentioning those).
So why, I asked myself, and then asked the church this morning, in the whole wide earth, after telling us ALL that, would Apostle Paul suddenly contradict it all and tell a patriarchal enslaving society then (followed by other patriarchal, enslaving societies ever since, including our own) to do what they were already doing before they trusted Christ? That is, being misogynistic, badly-parenting, slave-holding jerks?
To get a glimpse of what I now think this passage more closely means, you’ll have to listen to the audio which I hope to post soon, but my question right now is how and why in the heavens and on earth God has allowed us to get Him so wrong for so long? After spending a few months in Ephesians, the question in the paragraph above seemed glaringly obvious to me when I finally sat down with this week’s passage, but I have literally never thought to wonder it before.
Every week I have one or two people come to me after the sermon and challenge some perspective or something I said, and I think that’s probably good for me–and them–but you can believe if I hear that they’ve misunderstood what I meant, I do whatever I can to correct them. Being misunderstood or misinterpreted is one of the worst feelings I can think of. I understand that God is mind-blowingly humble, but that He just let’s us go on for over 2000 years making a hash of what He meant through His writers just seems crazy to me. Especially when the fallout is that people get hurt and God gets blamed for something He never said or intended.
I wrestled with God in my 30’s and this doesn’t feel like the onset of a new wrestling match, but I do think I’m going to be sitting with this question for a long time. Why do you think God lets us get so many things about Him wrong for so long?