Wednesday 28th September 2022

EPHESIANS 6

Human relationships are the acid test of what goes on in our hearts.  At the end of chapter 5 we read about the relationship between husband and wife.  Now we learn about how to live out the gospel in other relationships that are perhaps more ‘hierarchical’, such as parents / children and masters / slaves.

“Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right”.  Compare this with Colossians 3:20.  Given that all the other relationships included in Ephesians 6 and Colossians 3 are normal human ones, I believe that the term ‘children’ means ‘children’ – i.e. biological offspring, rather than ‘children of God’.  In today’s society, it would probably represent children under the age of eighteen, rather than adult children; those under the authority of the parental household.  One of the more serious sins in scripture is to ‘disobey your parents’ (Romans 1:30; 2 Timothy 3:2).  However, the command to “Honour your father and mother” is universal and not age-limited.  Disobey that and it may not: ‘…go well with you’ and you may not: ‘…live a long life on the earth’!!

Fathers should not ‘wind up’ their children, abusing that authority, but use their authority wisely to train, to instruct, and to disciple their children in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.  Colossians tells fathers not to ‘embitter’ their children, perhaps by the excessive use of power or physical force.  Over-use of authority can alienate our children just as much as under-use can.  

Slavery in Roman times was not the horror that it was in later times in the New World.  Most slaves were well looked after and given their freedom by the age of 30.  Nevertheless, since Christianity is all about ‘freedom’ in Christ, Paul always used to encourage slaves to earn their liberty if at all possible.  What we read about ‘slaves’, we can equally apply today to Christian employees.  Work for God and be aware that he always has his eye on you!  Show respect to your employer, just as you would for the Lord.

Employers must treat employees fairly and kindly – just as you would want the Lord to treat you.  In all these human relationships, Christian believers should aim at representing Christ and his values to an intently watching world (1 Peter 2:12). 

The chapter then ends on a ‘grand finale’ with some strong advice on spiritual warfare.  To me it is highly significant that Paul insists that we make all our relationships holy before we begin to take our full place on the spiritual battleground – although we cannot avoid spiritual warfare if we are ‘in Christ’.  Psalm 133 tells us that it is only when God’s people live together in unity that God can pour out his blessing.  Conversely, a godless, disunited marriage severely hampers the believer in his prayer life (1 Peter 3:7). 

On the topic of the battle that we all find ourselves fighting, Paul, who is probably under careful house arrest with a soldier standing nearby, uses the Roman fighting equipment as a useful visual aid for his spiritual teaching.

  • Know your enemy: not human opposition, but layers and levels of demonic heavenly powers who control and influence mankind.  These powers are all under the Devil’s authority and control
  • To confront all these, only God’s armour will be sufficient.  This includes…
  • TRUTH, like a belt around us, acting as an anchor point for all other weapons and armour
  • RIGHTEOUSNESS, as a breastplate, protecting the heart against guilt and shame
  • PREPAREDNESS for the GOSPEL, like strong sandals that will take you everywhere
  • FAITH, like a shield, to deflect the false accusations of the Evil One
  • SALVATION, as a helmet, to protect your mind from futile thinking and selfish motives
  • The HOLY SPIRIT, like a sword, to attack and speak words of life to many, rescuing them from evil
  • PRAYER, which is like nothing else!  Pray according to the Spirit’s will – and sometimes in the Spirit’s tongue – for all kinds of people, for all kinds of things, especially for Christians to be bold.  Today, an army which ventures into battle without air power and superiority is doomed to failure.  Prayer is our ‘Royal Air Force’, and it is vital to secure control of the heavenly ‘skies’ before attempting to put ‘boots on the ground’; let’s be more ready to pray in advance of moving in to take territory.  See Exodus 17:10-13.

These pieces of imagery are also found in Isaiah:  Belt (11:5), Breastplate (59:17), Feet fitted (52:7), Shield (21:5), Helmet (59:17), and Sword (49:2).  Perhaps Paul had these in mind too.  Many of these are messianic references, and perhaps our greatest protection in this world is to live with Jesus and to live like Jesus.

So Paul ends this great epistle.  It is about the church, the Body of Christ, united with him and living for him on earth.  Our primary response should be to love the Lord with an undying love.

NAHUM 1, 2 and 3

‘Nahum’, whose name means ‘Comfort’ has written a prophecy that is entirely about judgment.  Is that a weird contradiction – set in a world of contradictions – or can the two be reconciled?  Perhaps.  The target of the prophecy is Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire, whose fall Nahum is prophesying about; as the wickedness and harsh tyranny of the Assyrian empire is judged by God and dismantled, then comfort will fall upon Judah again.  The date of the prophecy is reckoned to be between 663 and 612 BC.  Nahum would therefore have lived under the rule of Josiah (after evil King Amon had died), at the same time as Zephaniah and Jeremiah.  The Northern Israel kingdom, with its capital Samaria, had already been destroyed by Assyria in 722-721 BC, so we are now talking about events 110 years beyond this.

Assyrians were perhaps the most brutal and cruel of all conquerors, inflicting gruesome punishments on their beaten foes, and routinely torturing and mutilating the enemy kings and city rulers as ‘examples’.  Entire populations were uprooted and deported to the other ends of the empire.  The fiercest and most terrifying time was from 669–627 BC under a king called Ashurbanipal, and after that the power of the empire diminished until in 612 BC when Nineveh was overthrown.  It is hard to imagine another regime so cruel and totalitarian, whose behaviour cries out urgently to heaven for justice.

God is a God of Justice; he has expectations of the behaviour of every human being, regardless of whether they know or worship him.  He had used Assyria more than a hundred years previously as an instrument of his judgment over Northern Israel and its kings for their own rebellion and idolatry.  But the evil empire had drastically exceeded its heavenly brief, and needed dealing with to curb its malign influence on the surrounding nations.  “The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished” (Nahum 1:3).  God had already given Nineveh one chance – under the ministry of the prophet Jonah, when it had repented and so had been reprieved – but it had fallen back into its old ways of misbehaviour again. 

God himself displays the multi-faceted aspect of his nature: “Who can withstand his indignation?  Who can endure his fierce anger?  His wrath is poured out like fire: the rocks are shattered before him”.  Compare this with: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble.  He cares for those who trust in him…”  (1:6-7).  He also promises Judah: “Although I have afflicted you, Judah, I will afflict you no more.  Now I will break their yoke from you neck and tear your shackles away”.

In Chapter 2, the method of Nineveh’s destruction is explained: “The river gates are thrown open and the palace collapses”.  This may refer to dams on the Tigris River that, when released, would have brought a damaging flood to the city walls.  “Nineveh is like a pool whose water is draining away” – may be taken literally, therefore, or metaphorically.  Certainly, a large attacking force (the Babylonians) would have crossed the 150 foot (50 metre) wide moat before reaching and breaching the walls themselves that were almost 8 miles long.

So the “City of Blood” (whose massacres of her rivals were legendary) would soon fall.  Nineveh is compared also with a prostitute who tempted the nations, promising much but delivering total disappointment.  The ‘prostitute’ would certainly be punished!  “There (in the palace) the fire will consume you; the sword will cut you down – they will devour you like a swarm of locusts”.  It is documented that the king of Assyria died in a fire in his palace.

“Nothing can heal you; your wound is fatal.  All who hear the news about you clap their hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty?” (3:19).  The so-called fatal wound is again mentioned in Revelation 13:3,12 about another empire.  Here, Nineveh was so completely destroyed that it was never rebuilt; its endless cruelty resulted in its endless ruin.  This is the ultimate destiny of all the enemies of the Lord!

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