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Bible GenevaThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry.

Ephesians 6:1-9

Children and Parents

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Bondservants and Masters

Bondservants,[a] obey your earthly masters[b] with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master[c] and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

————————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed St Paul’s proscription of lewd and foolish behaviours. They bring no glory to the Lord and can bring His righteous wrath.

Regrettably, I have no commentary from John MacArthur because, at this time in 2022, he is currently preaching on Ephesians.

The first three chapters of Ephesians deal with the privileges that God gives Christians through their faith in Jesus.

The last three chapters deal with the responsibilities of Christians to each other and, ultimately, to the Lord.

In Ephesians 6, Paul begins with God-honouring guidance to families as well as to servants and employers.

He begins with children, exhorting them to obey their parents, as it is the right thing to do (verse 1). Jesus obeyed His Father in all things, most importantly, in His agonising death on the Cross for our sins.

Paul reminds the Ephesians that the Commandment to honour one’s father and mother is one that comes with a promise (verse 2), that life may go well with the child and that they might live long in the land (verse 3).

Paul cited Exodus 20:12:

12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

The next chapter of Exodus contains judgement on this subject (Exodus 21:17):

17 “Whoever curses[a] his father or his mother shall be put to death.

‘Curse’ in that context also means ‘dishonours’ and ‘reviles’.

Jesus cited both verses in Matthew 15:4:

For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’

Matthew Henry’s commentary offers the following analysis (emphases mine):

I. The duty of children to their parents. Come, you children, hearken to me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord. The great duty of children is to obey their parents (v. 1), parents being the instruments of their being, God and nature having given them an authority to command, in subserviency to God; and, if children will be obedient to their pious parents, they will be in a fair way to be pious as they are. That obedience which God demands from their children, in their behalf, includes an inward reverence, as well as the outward expressions and acts. Obey in the Lord. Some take this as a limitation, and understand it thus: “as far as is consistent with your duty to God.” We must not disobey our heavenly Father in obedience to earthly parents; for our obligation to God is prior and superior to all others. I take it rather as a reason: “Children, obey your parents; for the Lord has commanded it: obey them therefore for the Lord’s sake, and with an eye to him.” Or it may be a particular specification of the general duty: “Obey your parents, especially in those things which relate to the Lord. Your parents teach you good manners, and therein you must obey them. They teach you what is for your health, and in this you must obey them: but the chief things in which you are to do it are the things pertaining to the Lord.” Religious parents charge their children to keep the ways of the Lord, Gen 18 19. They command them to be found in the way of their duty towards God, and to take heed of those sins most incident to their age; in these things especially they must see that they be obedient. There is a general reason given: For this is right, there is a natural equity in it, God has enjoined it, and it highly becomes Christians. It is the order of nature that parents command and children obey. Though this may seem a hard saying, yet it is duty, and it must be done by such as would please God and approve themselves to him. For the proof of this the apostle quotes the law of the fifth commandment, which Christ was so far from designing to abrogate and repeal that he came to confirm it, as appears by his vindicating it, Matt 15 4, etc. Honour thy father and mother (v. 2), which honour implies reverence, obedience, and relief and maintenance, if these be needed. The apostle adds, which is the first commandment with promise. Some little difficulty arises from this, which we should not overlook, because some who plead for the lawfulness of images bring this as a proof that we are not bound by the second commandment. But there is no manner of force in the argument. The second commandment has not a particular promise; but only a general declaration or assertion, which relates to the whole law of God’s keeping mercy for thousands. And then by this is not meant the first commandment of the decalogue that has a promise, for there is no other after it that has, and therefore it would be improper to say it is the first; but the meaning may be this: “This is a prime or chief commandment, and it has a promise; it is the first commandment in the second table, and it has a promise.” The promise is, That it may be well with thee, etc., v. 3. Observe, Whereas the promise in the commandment has reference to the land of Canaan, the apostle hereby shows that this and other promises which we have in the Old Testament relating to the land of Canaan are to be understood more generally. That you may not think that the Jews only, to whom God gave the land of Canaan, were bound by the fifth commandment, he here gives it a further sense, That it may be well with thee, etc. Outward prosperity and long life are blessings promised to those who keep this commandment. This is the way to have it well with us, and obedient children are often rewarded with outward prosperity. Not indeed that it is always so; there are instances of such children who meet with much affliction in this life: but ordinarily obedience is thus rewarded, and, where it is not, it is made up with something better. Observe, 1. The gospel has its temporal promises, as well as spiritual ones. 2. Although the authority of God be sufficient to engage us in our duty, yet we are allowed to have respect to the promised reward: and, 3. Though it contains some temporal advantage, even this may be considered as a motive and encouragement to our obedience.

Paul then tells fathers not to provoke their children to anger but bring them up in discipline and instruction in the Lord (verse 4).

Henry explains the importance of wisdom, reason and godliness in raising children:

II. The duty of parents: And you fathers, v. 4. Or, you parents, 1. “Do not provoke your children to wrath. Though God has given you power, you must not abuse that power, remembering that your children are, in a particular manner, pieces of yourselves, and therefore ought to be governed with great tenderness and love. Be not impatient with them, use no unreasonable severities and lay no rigid injunctions upon them. When you caution them, when you counsel them, when you reprove them, do it in such a manner as not to provoke them to wrath. In all such cases deal prudently and wisely with them, endeavouring to convince their judgments and to work upon their reason.” 2. “Bring them up well, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, in the discipline of proper and of compassionate correction, and in the knowledge of that duty which God requires of them and by which they may become better acquainted with him. Give them a good education.” It is the great duty of parents to be careful in the education of their children: “Not only bring them up, as the brutes do, taking care to provide for them; but bring them up in nurture and admonition, in such a manner as is suitable to their reasonable natures. Nay, not only bring them up as men, in nurture and admonition, but as Christians, in the admonition of the Lord. Let them have a religious education. Instruct them to fear sinning; and inform them of, and excite them to, the whole of their duty towards God.”

Bondservants were slaves. Slaves in that era were often, although not always, treated well and many were reasonably educated. Some slaves were what we would consider as people with a profession, e.g. accountants.

Paul tells bondservants to obey their masters as if they were obeying Christ, with fear and trembling (verse 5).

Henry reminds us that, whether bondservant or free man, all believers have freedom in Christ:

The duty of servants. This also is summed up in one word, which is, obedience. He is largest on this article, as knowing there was the greatest need of it. These servants were generally slaves. Civil servitude is not inconsistent with Christian liberty. Those may be the Lord’s freemen who are slaves to men. Your masters according to the flesh (v. 5), that is, who have the command of your bodies, but not of your souls and consciences: God alone has dominion over these.” Now, with respect to servants, he exhorts, 1. That they obey with fear and trembling. They are to reverence those who are over them, fearing to displease them, and trembling lest they should justly incur their anger and indignation.

Servants are to obey their employers not with eye-service, i.e. when they are physically present, or with people-pleasing but as if they were serving Jesus Himself, doing God’s will from the heart (verse 6).

Henry says that considering our employers as Christ’s representatives can make our tasks easier:

4. They must not serve their masters with eye-service (v. 6)—that is, only when their master’s eye is upon them; but they must be as conscientious in the discharge of their duty, when they are absent and out of the way, because then their Master in heaven beholds them: and therefore they must not act as men-pleasers—as though they had no regard to the pleasing of God, and approving themselves to him, if they can impose upon their masters. Observe, A steady regard to the Lord Jesus Christ will make men faithful and sincere in every station of life. 5. What they do they must do cheerfully: Doing the will of God from the heart, serving their masters as God wills they should, not grudgingly, nor by constraint, but from a principle of love to them and their concerns.

Paul says we should do our work with a good will towards the Lord and not to man alone (verse 7).

Henry explains:

This is doing it with good-will (v. 7), which will make their service easy to themselves, pleasing to their masters, and acceptable to the Lord Christ. There should be good-will to their masters, good-will to the families they are in; and especially a readiness to do their duty to God. Observe, Service, performed with conscience, and from a regard to God, though it be to unrighteous masters, will be accounted by Christ as service done to himself.

Paul says that the Lord will reward any good work or service that people perform, regardless if they are slaves or free men (verse 8).

Henry says that this should be encouraging, even when our temporal work situation is not:

6. Let faithful servants trust God for their wages, while they do their duty in his fear: Knowing that whatsoever good thing (v. 8), how poor and mean soever it may be, considered in itself,—the same shall he receive of the Lord, that is, by a metonymy, the reward of the same. Though his master on earth should neglect or abuse him, instead of rewarding him, he shall certainly be rewarded by the Lord Christ, whether he be bond or free, whether he be a poor bond-servant or a freeman or master. Christ regards not these differences of men at present; nor will he in the great and final judgment. You think, “A prince, or a magistrate, or a minister, that does his duty here, will be sure to receive his reward in heaven: but what capacity am I, a poor servant, in, of recommending myself to the favour of God.” Why, God will as certainly reward thee for the meanest drudgery that is done from a sense of duty and with an eye to himself. And what can be said more proper either to engage or to encourage servants to their duty?

Paul ends his instructions by encouraging masters to treat their servants honourably and not with threats; both master and servant share the same divine Master, Christ Jesus, with whom there is no partiality (verse 9).

Henry says that we will be judged according to how we treat those who work for us:

IV. The duty of masters: “And you masters, do the same things unto them (v. 9); that is, act after the same manner. Be just to them, as you expect they should be to you: show the like good-will and concern for them, and be careful herein to approve yourselves to God.” Observe, Masters are under as strict obligations to discharge their duty to their servants as servants are to be obedient and dutiful to them. “Forbearing threatening; anientesmoderating threatening, and remitting the evils with which you threaten them. Remember that your servants are made of the same mould with yourselves, and therefore be not tyrannical and imperious over them, knowing that your Master also is in heaven:” some copies read, both your and their Master. “You have a Master to obey who makes this your duty; and you and they are but fellow-servants in respect of Christ. You will be as punishable by him, for the neglect of your duty, or for acting contrary to it, as any others of meaner condition in the world. You are therefore to show favour to others, as ever you expect to find favour with him; and you will never be a match for him, though you may be too hard for your servants.” Neither is there respect of persons with him; a rich, a wealthy, and a dignified master, if he be unjust, imperious, and abusive, is not a jot the nearer being accepted of God for his riches, wealth, and honour. He will call masters and servants to an impartial account for their conduct one to another, and will neither spare the former because they are more advanced nor be severe towards the latter because they are inferior and mean in the world. If both masters and servants would consider their relation and obligation to God and the account they must shortly give to him, they would be more careful of their duty to each other. Thus the apostle concludes his exhortation to relative duties.

Paul’s next discourse is on spiritual warfare. The following verses will be familiar to many:

The Whole Armor of God

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

What a beautiful passage that is, containing Paul’s marvellous imagery of doing battle for the truth, against the worldly powers of evil.

Next week’s entry concludes Ephesians.

Next time — Ephesians 6:21-24

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