Sermon delivered by David Hughes, pastor of First Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., on May 3 2009.

Ephesians 5:21-6:4.

          Anybody who thinks parenting children is a piece of cake probably hasn’t had any. Parenting children is definitely not for the faint of heart!
          Take that dad who while passing by his son’s bedroom, was astonished to see the bed was nicely made, and everything was picked up. Then, he saw an envelope, propped up prominently upon the pillow. It was addressed, “Dad.” With trembling hands the Dad read the letter.
          “Dear Dad. It is with great regret and sorrow that I’m writing you. I had to elope with my new girlfriend, because I wanted to avoid a scene with Mom and you. I’ve been finding real passion with Stacy, and she is so nice, but I know you would not approve of her because of all her piercings, tattoos, her tight motorcycle clothes, and because she is much older than I am. But it’s not only passion, Dad. She’s pregnant. Stacy said we’d be very happy. She owns a trailer in the woods, and has a stack of firewood for the whole winter. We share a dream of having many more children.
          “Stacy has opened my eyes to the fact that marijuana doesn’t really hurt anyone. We’ll be growing it for ourselves, and trading it with other people in the commune for all the drugs we want. In the meantime, we’ll pray that science will find a cure for AIDS, so Stacy can get better. She sure deserves it!
          “Don’t worry, Dad, I’m 15, and I know how to take care of myself. Someday I’m sure we’ll be back to visit, so you can get to know your many grandchildren.
          “Love, your son, John.
          “P.S. Dad, none of the above is true. I’m over at Tommy’s house. I just wanted to remind you that there are worse things in life than the school report card that’s on my desk. I love you! Call when it is safe for me to come home.”
          I’ve always thought that marriage and parenting are the two most rewarding and most challenging tasks any of us every face. And I’m always amazed at how casually we stroll into both. Looking back I freely admit I was mostly clueless about how to maintain a good marriage and be a good parent. And it’s only by the grace of God that my marriage and children have done reasonably well. The truth is, those of us who are married and those who have children need all the help we can get, including from scriptures like Ephesians 5 and 6. 
          From time to time we need to talk about the traditional family at church because it still exists as the most important formative human influence on our lives. Jarrett Stevens writes, “Whatever your definition of family…it is the central building block of our relational world. What we learned in our families we’ve carried with us throughout life…How your family handled love, responsibility, independence, guilt, physical affection, finances, punishment, trust…combines into an often unseen relational matrix that can’t help but affect who we choose as friends, how we do friendship, who we are attracted to, who and how we date and marry.”
          So, being that family is so critical to our lives, we’re asking ourselves on this Children’s Sunday, “What does the Bible have to say about family?”
In his book, The Christian Family in Changing Times, Robert Hicks undertakes a careful study of the scriptures to see what they have to say about the family. Near the end of the book, he admits to being surprised at what his study reveals. As a pastoral theologian and therapist, Hicks expected the Bible to emphasize marital communication and intimacy when it comes to family. 
    Instead, what he noticed was a consistent emphasis on respect in every human relationship, including the family, beginning with respect and honor for God. The clear biblical message is that every person regardless of age, gender, race, or status is valuable and deserving of respect because every person is made in the image of God. Disrespecting another person is a big deal because the moment you do it, you disrespect the Creator of that person, the Lord God of the universe.  
          So how does this ethic of respect apply to the family? Let’s start with the relationship between husbands and wives.     
When the Apostle Paul writes about marriage and family in Ephesians 5, he’s assuming the reader knows and remembers a few things. For example, the reader will hopefully remember that in Genesis 2 Adam and Eve were created as different in gender but equal in status and responsibility. Before the Fall, Eve was called a “helper” for Adam. But there was no hint that Eve was less than Adam because both shared dominion over the world. Husband and wife were equal partners. 
          After Adam and Eve sinned and creation fell, Adam and Eve lived under a curse, and the situation changed dramatically. Death became a reality. Work became a chore. Childbearing became painful. And Adam became the ruler over Eve. Remember, this is not what God originally intended. But it’s what happened after creation fell.
          And it kept falling. In short order, men began to marry more than one woman. Soon, men were collecting wives like cattle, and women were viewed as property. Solomon had no less than 1,000 wives to his credit. Along the way came divorce, and since it was a man’s world, a husband could divorce his wife if she burned the toast or talked too loudly. Women were second-class citizens, inferior in every way to men. Their role was to be seen and not heard, serve and get out of the way.  
          Paul also hoped his readers would remember how this cursed inferiority of women was vigorously challenged by Jesus. Sweeping aside centuries of tradition and prejudice, Jesus related to women as he did to men—as persons created in the image of God, worthy of radical respect. Not once did Jesus treat women as inferior. 
          Paul is assuming his readers have read the first four chapters of Ephesians that describe how Christ came to eliminate the old barriers between people, and put an end to power and domination in relationships in the new Kingdom of God. He assumed that a believing husband and wife would accept his challenge in Ephesians 5:18 to be filled not with wine, not with their own egos, but the Holy Spirit who would bear the fruit of gentleness and kindness in their marriage. 
          Assuming all these things, listen again to what Paul writes in Ephesians 5:21: Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another. Paul is assuming we know this verse mandating radical, mutual respect is the key that interprets everything that follows. Out of radical respect for Christ, Paul is says, we are to have radical respect for one another. 
          Are wives to respect their husbands? Absolutely. Wives are to follow the leadership of their husbands, especially in those areas where their husbands have more expertise. 
          By the way, husbands, before you get too cocky about being the head of your wives, remember that great disagreement exists about the meaning of “headship.” In fact, I thought I’d take an informal poll of the husbands sitting here in the congregation. Please vote for one of these three optional definitions for headship in the secrecy of your own hearts, because otherwise I cannot guarantee your safety! 
          Option 1: Headship in marriage means the husband should retain total control. His wife should obey his every whim and desire.
          Option 2: The husband should retain majority control. Maybe not total control, but at least majority control.
Option 3: The husband should at least retain the remote control.
Enough of that! The truth is, Greek scholars caution us that the word headship did not mean then what it means now. Besides, submission biblically understood is always voluntary, always mutual, and the ultimate head of every Christian home is Christ.
Are husbands to respect their wives? Absolutely. Husbands are to follow the leadership of their wives, especially in those areas where their wives have more expertise. This means in one Christian marriage the husband directs the finances, and in another Christian marriage, the wife directs the finances. Even then decision-making isn’t unilateral, it’s bilateral. When husbands and wives respect one another, they consult, pray, and decide—together. 
          By the way, Paul applies this ethic of respect to sex in marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7:4, Paul writes, The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but to her husband… But then Paul adds:  In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Even in the most intimate areas of our lives, radical, mutual respect is the name of the game.
          By the way, notice that Paul indicates a man (and a woman) will leave their parents and cleave to each other. When a man and a woman marry, their relationship to one another is primary, and their relationship to their parents becomes secondary. Parents, if your children are married, you cannot respect them and interfere in their marriage at the same time. On the other hand, Paul calls upon married children to honor and respect their parents—even if they carry wounds from their childhood. Many aging parents sit lonely in their own homes or nursing homes because disrespectful children refuse to honor them. 
          Paul has more to say about children and parents. Paul does not hesitate to instruct children to obey their parents. If there are any kids still listening, hear me when I say you cannot raise yourselves. I know you think you can, and you don’t like it when parents set limits and serve out punishment.  But believe me when I say the worst thing your parents could do is leave you alone as you make life choices. Having a firm but loving parent is a gift from God that you may not appreciate now, but you will later! 
    Parents, notice that Paul has plenty to say about parental abuse of children. We insist that our children respect us, and rightly so. But we are called to return the favor. Parents who respect their children will not “exasperate” their children. They will never abuse them verbally, physically, or sexually. Wise parents will always balance their authority with respect for their children’s need to be their own persons. 
    By the way, what our kids need from us more than anything besides respect is our never-ending love. For a long time I was puzzled that Paul doesn’t urge parents in Ephesians to love their children the way he urges husbands to love their wives. But I have concluded that Paul simply assumes we will love our children the way God loves his son, and the way Jesus loves us. We are not charged to approve of all our children do. But we are charged to love them almost irrationally, no matter what they do. Studies show that the best-adjusted children get a steady supply of irrational, sacrificial love. Children thrive on this kind of love.
          I love the story of Dr. Olin T. Binkley, former President of Southeastern Seminary, who decided as a boy that he was called to preach. So he set off to Wake Forest College to get his education many years ago. He stayed through the better part of a semester when he realized he simply could not continue because he did not have the money to pay his bills.
          With a heavy heart he left Wake Forest and went home and announced to his impoverished parents and family that he was not going to be able to continue with his preparation to preach the gospel. That evening, as was the custom, the Binkley family gathered around the supper table with plates turned bottom side up. After someone said the blessing, they seated themselves around the table and each person turned his or her plate over. When Dr. Binkley turned his plate over, there was a stack of money — seventy-five dollars — which in that day was a huge amount of money.
    Binkley couldn’t imagine where his folks got that kind of money. When he asked about it, he learned that his mother had stayed up after the day’s work was done and the children had been put to bed and at night had picked seventy-five dollars worth of black walnuts in the hills of North Carolina, and had brought every bit of that money to give her boy to enable him to stay in school. Olin T. Binkley returned to Wake Forest, and the rest is history — because of the loving sacrifice of a mother.
          Want to have a great family? It’s nothing radical love and respect won’t deliver.

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