Sunday, June 21, 2009

Trinity Series - Sermon #12, Our Great God!

This post marks the final offering in a series about the Trinity that began on January 22 and includes both Sunday morning sermons and small group notes. If you have not been following this series and are interested, you may want to go back to the first post and procede. For those of you who have persevered to the end, I do hope it has been profitable! God bless!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
Our Great God!
Hebrews 1:1-14

Earlier this morning, our children’s ministry held its annual Promotion Sunday, complete with breakfast – although when Keisha told me they were having muffins and fruit, I thought maybe it was a Senior Citizen promotion of some sort with bran muffins and apple slices. Hey, promotion Sunday is a big day, especially for the 8 to 10 5th graders that will be moving up to the youth group. Now, that’s big time for those guys! A whole new world is opening up to those moving up to the youth group with activities and adventures heretofore unknown, especially since most of the ones moving up come from such boring families. Just kidding!

Along with the new privileges and opportunities that await these young students, there will be a higher level of expectation for their knowledge and behavior. With maturity comes responsibility. That’s the way it always is, is it not? The more we know the more is expected of us.

This morning will be my last message on this series about the wonder of God found in the Trinity. We will be reviewing some of what we have learned and also thinking about the responsibility that accompanies our newly acquired knowledge. The more we know about God, the more we are expected to apply what we know.

Hopefully today’s message will be easier on your ribs than last week’s message was! Our text will be the first chapter of Hebrews, and while I will refer to it, we will not spend a great deal of time here, although we may revisit it in a few weeks because of its connection to the psalms.

Just a heads up, our next series is entitled, Pain, Praise, and Peace: A Summer in the Psalms. Many of us have experienced a great deal of pain this year, and in the psalms we will find God right in the middle of our mess. For this morning, I chose Hebrews 1 for our text as we review what we have learned about the Trinity because it points to the awesomeness of our great God – God the Father and His Son, Jesus. Even though the Holy Spirit is not mentioned here, He led the author to write these words and He is present in the work of salvation that is expressed at the end of the chapter.

As we read together in just a moment, look for the following truths:

Ø The awesomeness of God the Father (His transcendence)
Ø The awesomeness of God the Son (His immanence)
Ø God’s communication to us through His Word (as the prophets were led by God’s Holy Spirit to write – 2 Peter 1:19-21)
Ø God’s communication to us through His Son
Ø The deity of Jesus
Ø Jesus’ present glorification
Ø God’s gracious salvation to those who believe

I have learned so much about our triune God these last four months – and I already knew a pretty good amount! I imagine you have learned more than you think you have. A lot of our knowledge of God builds upon what we already know, and in many case the new truths we learn are actually making our understanding of God more precise. As your understanding of God has grown this spring, I trust that God Himself has also grown in your mind and your heart. Let’s read about our great God in Hebrews 1. Would you please stand for the reading of the Word?

1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,
2 but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world.
3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
4 having become as much superior to angels as the name He inherited is more excellent than theirs.
5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You”? Or again, “I will be to Him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?
6 And again, when He brings the firstborn into the world, He says, “Let all God’s angels worship Him.”
7 Of the angels He says, “He makes His angels winds, and His ministers a flame of fire.”
8 But of the Son He says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness beyond Your companions.”
10 And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of Your hands;
11 they will perish, but You remain; they will all wear out like a garment,
12 like a robe You will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will have no end.”
13 And to which of the angels has He ever said, “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet”?
14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

Have you ever considered your biblical knowledge and understanding of God to be a burden? Of course not! Wait a minute. Have you ever had a discussion with a co-worker or an aunt or a neighbor about God and had your friend or family member say something like, “Well, I just believe God is love and He is not going to send anybody to hell,” or, “I just believe that God helps those that help themselves”? When you try to point out that God is not that way, they are offended. Even if you show them Scripture to refute their claim, they fall back on, “Well, my God isn’t that way.” Hmm.

This is a good place to start our review. Our God is three, yet He is one. Not only does Deuteronomy 6:4 tell us so, but so does Romans 3:29-30. It would have been much easier for the apostles and early church fathers to declare that we serve three gods – after all, they lived in a polytheistic age where most people worshiped multiple gods. But, the early Christians understood that not only was Jesus sent by God, but He was, as He claimed, God Himself! Jesus also made it quite clear, as did the apostles in Acts 5, that the Holy Spirit is God. Thus, three Persons, one substance, one nature. When someone asks if we all worship the same God as other religions, our response should be, “Only if they worship the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: three in one.”

Three, yet one. This was difficult to swallow for a number of people in the early church who thought deeply about God. You will recall that it was not until the fourth century that the church agreed on an orthodox position about God, about the Trinity. Why did it take so long? Essentially because there was no need for orthodox doctrine until a heresy about God gained enough traction to require a response. Heresies developed because theologians wrestled with the difficulty of explaining three in one. Rather than accepting the teaching of Scripture by faith, these theologians sought ways to explain how “God works.” They ended up with a theology that was based more on “I just think such and such about God,” rather than one based on what God said about Himself in His word. There were two primary heresies in the early church.

The first heresy was modalism. This was the idea that God exists in all three Persons – but since even the NT is clear that He is one God, He can only be Father, Son, or Spirit at one time – it is not possible to be all three at once. This heresy was dismissed fairly early because of Jesus praying to His Father and the presence of all three Persons at Jesus’ baptism and a host of other texts that render this heresy untenable. Amazingly, there are modalists today. In fact, I received a nasty response from a pastor in Mississippi on my blog when I preached and wrote about modalism earlier this year.

A far more dangerous heresy in the early church was a belief that came to be known as Arianism, named after Arius, a 3rd and 4th century North African priest who could not accept the notion that Jesus was co-eternal and equal in nature with God the Father. He believed that Jesus was created by the Father, and thus was only able to remain sinless by the Father’s power. Arius ended up not being the primary spokesperson for his heresy, but his ideas gained a fair amount of support and had to be addressed. God raised up a theologian named Athanasius who fought Arianism through much of the first half of the fourth century. Later in the century, there were three other men known as the Three Cappadocians who helped to bring us to the place of understanding of the Trinity that we accept today and, frankly, tend to take for granted. I hope this study has raised your level of appreciation for those who have fought for truth through the centuries, particularly those in the fourth century.

If you are here today for the first or second time, you may be lost. I hope this short review on the Trinity will whet your appetite to go our website and either listen to the sermons from this series or click on the link to my blog where you can find the written transcripts of the messages to this series. The title of the series has been All of God: Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity. Indeed, the idea of the Trinity can seem mysterious when you recognize that God is three Persons, one nature. But the use of the word “mystery” in the title does not refer to that which is mysterious or unknowable.

There is a difference, theologically, between a secret and a mystery. A secret is something we cannot know because God has not revealed it to us. There is much about God we do not know because He has chosen not to reveal Himself fully to us. Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” But, a mystery in the NT is different than a secret. A mystery is something that was previously hidden but has now been revealed to us by God. Romans 16 25-27 helps us understand this theological principle: “Now to Him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages, but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith – to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” And, Amen indeed! God has told us much more about Himself than He did before Christ. That is what the author of Hebrews was telling us in our text.

So, can we know God or not? Yes – and no. God is both transcendent and immanent. He is transcendent, or far above His creation. God doesn’t need us to be fulfilled, or for anything else. He is self-sufficient. Furthermore, if God did not choose to reveal Himself to us, we could not know anything about Him. But He did choose to reveal Himself to us. In addition to being transcendent, God is also immanent, or, close at hand. He remains in and interacts with His creation. He has done so in two ways, as we were told in Hebrews 1 – through his Word and through Jesus.

For the first 1800 or so years of the church, God’s transcendence was emphasized. Oh, there was a great deal of talk about Jesus, but people had a respect for God that kept Him high above us. The problem was that sometimes people were led to believe that God was so distant that He set the world in motion and has little to do with it because He can’t be bothered with unimportant matters, really. Some of our founding fathers believed that, even though they talked about God.

The last 200 years have seen a shift to an emphasis on God’s immanence, or His nearness. We saw that this morning as we sang worship songs and some of you, I imagine, raised your hands in praise to a God who is near and who loves you deeply and who is concerned about the intimate details of your life. Is that wrong? NO! Unless we lose our awe of a holy and majestic God. It is best to acknowledge and approach God with both His holiness and His accessibility fully in our hearts.

There is danger in emphasizing either extreme. Since the church is currently riding the pendulum on the side of God’s immanence, we need to be aware of potential theological errors about God on that side of center. When God’s immanence is emphasized, there is a tendency to focus on experience. Now, once again, referring back to Hebrews 1, we are told that God has revealed Himself through His word and through Jesus. But, since we were not alive when Jesus was on earth, we must depend on God’s word to tell us about Jesus, who told us specific information about God, the three in one, the triune God. When people begin to rely on personal experience or personal thoughts about God rather than on the truth revealed in Scripture, it is easy to get off course. And though an error about the nature of God may seem small, if it is pursued to its logical end, it can be quite troubling theologically. Is this making sense?

All this leads us to take a few minutes to think about the popular book by William Young, The Shack. Although it is a work of fiction, Young very much wants to teach us about the Trinity. The main character in the book is a man named Mackenzie Phillips whose daughter, Missy, was abducted on a family camping trip while Mack was rescuing one of his other children from a canoe accident. When Missy’s bloodstained dress was found in an abandoned shack in the Oregon Mountains, it was assumed that she had been murdered. As you can imagine, Mack, who is a Christian, struggles emotionally and doubts God’s love and goodness. Three years after his daughter was abducted, Mack receives a note in the mail saying he should come back to the shack for a talk. The note is from Papa, which is the name that Mack’s wife calls God the Father. When he arrives at the shack, Mack is met by an African-American woman who represents God the Father. She calls herself Papa. A Jewish carpenter, naturally, represents Jesus. A mysterious Asian woman, who wisps in and out, represents the Holy Spirit.

Before Mack ever gets to the shack, William Young lets us know that God reveals Himself to us in new ways and He does not limit Himself to the pages of Scripture, especially to the interpreters of Scripture like Athanasius, the Three Cappadocians, and theologically trained pastors around the world today. Of course, Mack has been to seminary so he is qualified to make the following statement as he muses about God:

“In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any covert communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen and follow sacred Scriptures, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners’ access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?”

This stops just short of expressing contempt for biblical teaching by trained pastor/teachers – or, does it stop short? The result is a fictional book about God that has very much the feel of, “Well, I just think this about the Trinity.” Oh, Young uses Scripture and theological terms in the book, but ultimately he has come to specific conclusions about God based on what he wants God to be. It is the classic error of man making God in man’s image.

To be sure, some of the things Young says about God are extremely well said. As someone whose heart has been broken in recent days, I understand why it is so appealing. When Mack first gets to the cabin and sees Papa, before he can turn around and run, she has enveloped him in her arms, saying, “Mackenzie Allen Phillips!” She then pulls back and grabs him by the shoulders and says, “Mack, look at you! Here you are, and so grown up. I have really been looking forward to seeing you face to face. It is so wonderful to have you here with us. My, my, my, how I do love you!”

I understand how that appeals to a broken heart. But, at the same time, there are problems galore, and the ideas taught about God in this book are especially dangerous because when people get emotionally attached to something said about God, it is very easy for truth to take a back seat to emotions. First of all, I have a problem with God the Father being represented by a woman of any kind – or a man like Morgan Freeman, for that matter, but especially by a woman since God is always represented as a male in Scripture. God is said to have characteristics of a loving, compassionate mother, but He is always presented to us in masculine terms.

Second, as appealing as this scene is, it speaks only to God’s immanence and says nothing of His transcendence. Remember how we have studied in this series that God the Father is never clearly seen? He is seen in visions in Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4, but both Ezekiel and the Apostle John had trouble describing Him and their visions indicated a great distance between God the Father and man. Thank goodness for Jesus!

The last problem I have with this portrayal is that Papa is entirely too familiar for the role of the God the Father. As much as you want the word “Abba” to mean “Papa,” it doesn’t. It is the Aramaic term for Father, and if anything it is a tad on the formal side, not the other way around. It is a term of respect. Don’t ask me how it got so confused. Within the past year or two, I was going to emphasize the intimacy we can have with the Father and use the term “Abba” in a sermon, but something told me I had better check it out before I used it. I looked at several sources and every one said the same thing – it is a term of respect for one’s father. That is not the sense one gets in the Shack.

So, if you have been using the term “Papa” for God the Father, He has probably been standing with arms folded saying, “Don’t use that term for Me,” right? Of course not! God looks at your heart! BUT – when you have the knowledge, you are responsible to act accordingly. It is like a baby in a family – he or she is quite comfortable coming up to Dad or Mom at anytime with a request. As the child grows, though, respect is learned and he or she approaches with more caution – not out of fear, but out of respect.

Well, in order to keep from going all day, I will just give two more examples of concerns in the book and then we will close, though there is much more about the book and about the Trinity that I want to say. At the shack, Mack notices that Papa has scars on her wrist. He says, “I thought Jesus died on the cross” and she says, “When one of us suffers, we all suffer – I was there.” “But,” Mack protests, “What about when Jesus said, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” Papa answers, “I didn’t forsake Him, just like I didn’t forsake you when Missy was taken. I was at the cross”

This is a problem. As we discussed last week, each Person of the Trinity has a specific role, and these roles include authority-submission relationships. These authority-submission roles are intentionally blurred in the book where mutual submission is the order of the day, even to the point that God is said to submit to us in love. Bizarre. At one point, Mack is having breakfast with all three Persons of the Trinity and the Holy Spirit says to him, “Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are a circle of relationship, not a chain of command.” That is just blatantly wrong. Past sermons give ample Scripture to contest the idea of no authority-submission roles within the Trinity.

As for the Father bearing the scars of the cross, think about it. What happened on the cross? Jesus took our sin upon Himself as our substitute to absorb the wrath of God against sin. He bore the equivalent of an eternity in hell for us while He was on the cross. For that time, He was separated in every way from God’s favor. God’s wrath was fully poured out on sin and Jesus was bearing our sin, so the Father’s wrath was poured out on Jesus, and that included turning His back on the Son. Jesus will bear the scars of the cross for eternity, which will serve as a reminder to us of God’s great love for us, but I can assure you that there will be no scars on the wrists of God the Father. In fact, there is no indication in Scripture that we will ever see the Father in a form that allows us to discern where His wrists are.

One last problem with the book, and there are many more that I do not have time to mention. William Young admits that he has nothing to do with the institutionalized church because he has been hurt by the church. In an exchange between Jesus and Mack, Jesus says, “I don’t create institutions; that’s an occupation for those who want to play God. So, no, I’m not too big on religion . . . and not very fond of politics and economics either. And why should I be? They are the man-made trinity of terrors that ravage the earth and deceive those I care about.”

So, Young takes a shot at the organized church by saying that Jesus is against it. Doesn’t add up with Scripture, though. In Matthew 16:17, Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” As we read last week in Ephesians 5:23, “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, His body, and is Himself its Savior.” Every time that the church is addressed in the NT epistles, a local church – or, an institutional church, Young would say – is being addressed. Jesus loves the church! He loves this church - Grace Community Church!

Well, I have to stop, and it seems a strange place for me to conclude several months about the Trinity. Our God is an awesome God – but a lot of people do not want Him to be as awesome as He is. When we make God in our own image, it really works for us for a time, but since we are imperfect, when we succeed in making God in our image, the end is always bad. The only way we will ever know the full blessing of this awesome triune God is to know as much as we can about Him and to interact with Him on His terms.

God the Father, the ultimate authority in the universe and the grand architect of the plan of salvation. Jesus, God’s Son, our Redeemer, the perfect substitute, dying in our place and taking all the righteous wrath of God upon Himself for those who believe. The Holy Spirit of God, author of God’s word and servant to the Father and the Son and the primary agent of God at work in the world today. Praise the Father and the Son. Praise the Spirit, three in one. Let’s pray.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Trinity Series - Small Group Notes #12

If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
Order in the Trinity, Order in the Court:
Applications from the Trinity
Week of May 17, 2009

Ø Order in the Trinity is seen over and over in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 15:26-28, we are told that God has put all things under Jesus’ feet – except for the Father Himself, that is – and that one day all will come under God the Father’s rule, even the Son. John 14:26 and 15:25 tell us that the Father and the Son sent the Spirit. How does the order in the Trinity speak to order in the home, church, and society?

In addition to thinking about how authority/submission structures in life reflect the structure of the Trinity, consider how our obedience to God in our various roles of leaders and followers points others to Jesus.

Ø Husbands and wives have distinct roles in the home, as described in Ephesians 5:22-33, Colossians 3:18-19, and 1 Peter 3:1-7. After reading these passages, carefully discuss tangible ways that husbands can love their wives and wives can show respect to their husbands. DO NOT “teach” your spouse in this time – in fact, list the ways your spouse has wonderfully fulfilled his or her biblical responsibility.

Ø Read the following passages that instruct the Christian with regard to his/her responsibility toward government: Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-3; and 1 Peter 2:13-17. Remember that these words were initially written to men and women living under a rather heavy-handed government. Discuss the unique challenges we face in a democratic society in which we have a say in who our leaders will be and in the laws and policies that will be enacted. When is it right to refuse to obey government rules and regulations?

While it is a blessing to live in a nation in which we are afforded free speech (for now, at least) and many other basic liberties, the lines of authority and submission can be blurred in such a society. We value our independence and are tempted to think that when we consider laws to be immoral, we do not have to obey them.

Some refuse to pay taxes on the grounds that tax dollars are being spent to fund organizations that promote and practice immoral behavior, such as abortion. Jesus’ admonition to render unto Caesar what he is due seems to indicate that even in a nation that is led by those who think little or nothing of God, we are called to submit to governmental authority.

There is a time, though, when we must obey God over civil authorities. In Acts 5:17-42, the story is told of the arrest of some of the apostles for preaching in the name of Jesus. When they were warned not to speak in Jesus’ name, Peter told the religious leaders (the apostles’ governmental authorities) that the apostles would obey God rather than men in this matter and that the gospel would be preached. Many early Christians were martyred because they refused to say, “Caesar is Lord.” It is not that they were executed because they proclaimed “Jesus is Lord,” but because they refused to also proclaim that Caesar was a god. There can be no compromise on our primary allegiance to Christ, even as we obey our government and live as the best citizens we can be. We are never to seek out persecution, but when we are called to deny Christ (whether outright or in sharing His glory with another), we must refuse and be willing to suffer the consequences. This is the exception, though, not the rule.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Trinity Series - Sermon #11

If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
Order in the Trinity, Order in the Court:
Applications from the Trinity

I am a child of the 60’s. I was a teenager in high school in those days, not a college student, but I consider myself, nonetheless, a child of the 60’s. Many times, when my children were growing up, I heard these words: “Dad, turn the radio down!” I am not bragging, nor am I confessing – it is just a fact, I grew up in the 60’s, and like most of us, whether we admit it or not, I was affected by the spirit of the day. What was the spirit of the day? Rebellion and rejection of established authority.

I would say that is the spirit of this age, also. Even though we don’t see protests and riots of the magnitude of the late 60’s and early 70’s, the radical ideas of those days left an indelible imprint on our national psyche. We tend to dislike and/or distrust those in authority. Americans tend to be very individualistic, anyway, and our “I will take care of it myself” mentality also tends to breed a spirit of “leave me alone and let me get the job done my way.”

My way. That, in a nutshell, is why we bristle against authority. We want to do it “my way.” Now, your way may very well be better than your boss’s way or the government’s way, or your husband’s way, or your parents’ way, but there is a problem with insisting on bucking against authority, even if your way is clearly better. Before you turn me off, please know that I am not saying you should always be quiet and let anything and everything go. We are blessed enough to live in a land where opinions of those under authority are often valued. What if we lived in a totalitarian society? Well, whether we live in a free or oppressive society, there is much we have to learn from the structure of the Trinity, and I want to get into some biblical meat before we read our text because after we read our passage we will be thinking about human relationships as an application of our knowledge of God.

There is order within the Trinity. Authority and submission are found within the Trinity without the slightest hint of resentment, jealousy, or bitterness. Bruce Ware said, “One of the lessons of the Trinity is that God loves, exercises, and embraces rightful authority-submission relationships. In the very eternal relations that are true of the Persons of the Trinity, authority and submission are lived out with love and joy.”

We spent a lot of time earlier talking about the order that exists in the Trinity. The Father is the ultimate authority and the Son is submissive to the Father, and the Spirit is submissive to the Father and the Son, though when Jesus was on the earth He was led by the Spirit in all that He did. These roles are eternal, both in eternity past and eternity future, and are irreversible – the Son never exercises authority over the Father, nor is the Father ever submissive to the Son or the Spirit. Does this mean the Father is greater than the Son and the Spirit? No. The three all have the same identical nature, they are equal in divinity and all three are eternal – for, they are one. So, there is no rank in the Trinity that would show that the Father is on a different plane than the Son or the Spirit, but there is clear order.

I will not take time to review the numerous passages we have read that establish this truth, but you can find all of the messages in audio form on our website and the written transcripts on my blog, which you can also access from our website. The truth that we have learned about order in the Trinity serves as the foundation for God’s teaching about authority and submission in human relationships. You will see just a little of that in our text, but the main focus after we read Ephesians 5:15-6:9 will be to think about our responsibility in authority-submission relationships in our lives. Let’s look at our text – please stand for the reading of the Word.

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,
16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,
19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,
20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, His body, and is Himself its Savior.
24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her,
26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
27 so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,
30 because we are members of His body.
31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

1 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.
5 Slaves, 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 servants 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 slave, or free.
9 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.

I suppose one of the first objections we might raise to the prospect of submitting ourselves from the heart, as in children to parents, a wife to a husband, employees to their boss, and as citizens to a government whose policies we consider irrational at best and immoral at worst, is that even though there is order in the Trinity, the three Persons of the Trinity are perfect. We are called to submit to imperfect humans, and, I might add, humans with only half the sense that God has given us! We all get that, don’t we? We see the problem, and God addresses it by saying – well, God doesn’t address it. He just calls for submission to authority, whether it is Christians to whom we are called to submit, or it is unbelievers who are our authority figure. How can we do that when we are, in effect, a rebellious people? By being filled with the Spirit.

It is significant, don’t you think, that the long section about all kinds of authority-submission relationships is prefaced by the challenge to be filled with the Spirit? Interestingly, the Spirit knows how to submit. We refer to the Holy Spirit as the third Person of the Trinity, not because He is ranked below the Father and the Son, but because His role is one of submission. He gladly does the Father’s business and glorifies the Son.

As we have repeatedly observed in other NT texts, once again we see all three persons of the Trinity in Ephesians 5:18-21. Notice that when the Spirit is in control of our lives, we will dwell together as a church in unity and with love for one another, love that goes so far that we submit to one another, or, in other words, we live in humility and treat one another with deference.

There is debate about whether verse 21 belongs with the section before it or the section after it. Do we submit to our brothers and sisters in the body, or are husbands and wives called to live in mutual submission to one another? Verse 21 is most likely a bridge between the two passages, but it is more in the sense of, “Submit to one another – and while we are talking about submission, wives, submit to your husbands.”

Now, this is a structure that is widely accepted in society today. Hardly! In fact, what are your emotions when you hear these words spoken – “Wives, submit to your husbands?” Red flags, alarm bells, words of warning. We all have examples that would nullify this command and so we are tempted to make the monumental mistake of wanting to let the exception serve as the rule. “Wives, submit to your husbands – as long as he is a godly man and he loves you like Christ loves the church and he is a good father to your children and he fulfills your emotional needs.” Doesn’t say that, does it? It is amazing how many Christian women want a divorce from their husbands on the grounds that “he keeps me from being all I could be and surely God would not want me to live in a relationship in which I am hindered from being the best Christian I can be. Right?” No, it is not right!

Now, please understand that I believe, though some of you will disagree, that in Matthew 19 Jesus stated that divorce is an acceptable course of action when one’s spouse commits adultery. What you may not know is that in so saying, Jesus was not giving people an out, but rather He was actually seeking to put a stop to the ridiculous reasons men were giving, with rabbinical approval, to divorce their wives. Offenses such as putting too much salt in the food or talking too much were all men needed to put their wives out. God makes it clear that He hates divorce and we are called to do whatever we can to keep our marriages intact. In the cases of infidelity or abandonment, as detailed in 1 Corinthians 7, divorce is allowed, and I understand why! Also, I would not want a woman or children to live in a home where physical or extreme emotional abuse puts them in danger. I say “extreme” emotional abuse because it would be so easy to overstate an unhappy relationship.

If God’s order for the home is the same as it is the Trinity, a leader and a follower, is it any surprise that Satan would want to cause us to question that order? For decades, almost all secular entertainment depicted husbands and fathers as ignorant and/or tyrannical, either buffoons that deserved scorn or bullies that required being put in their place. Guys got tired of such treatment and thus the sports/beer drinking crowd put men back in control. Neither picture is biblical.

What does it mean for wives to submit to their husbands? There is not a whole lot of explanation given here, though other NT texts talk about a gentle quiet spirit, pure conduct, and a godly heart. In verse 33 of Ephesians 5, wives are told to respect their husbands. I suppose the best example I have ever seen of that is my own dear wife. When I doubted myself, she did not. Ever. Not in my worst moments, and believe me, there were times that I made life less than wonderful for her and probably didn’t deserve her respect. It is not that she never raised her voice at me, she did – but, she always, always, always respected me, and her respect made me a far better man, husband, father, and minister.

God’s design for wives is that they submit to their husbands, giving them honor and respect. It is counter-cultural. Bruce Ware says that “we live in a culture that despises submission as much as it does authority.” You know that is true. But, we are not going to answer to society at the end of this age – we are going to answer to Jesus. That’s why, in verse 24, spiritual accountability is brought into the command to submit – in the same way the church is to submit to Christ, wives are to submit to their husbands.

So, husbands are probably feeling pretty good about things right now. Unfortunately, God’s word is quite clear, both here (Ephesians 5:25-31) and in other places, such as James 3:1 and 1 Peter 3:7, that those who have leadership responsibilities have the greater responsibility and are more accountable than those they are called to lead. The kind of leadership to which husbands are called is one of absolute sacrificial love. It is compared to the kind of love that Jesus exhibited for the church when He died for us. We are called to be the spiritual leaders of our homes, just as Christ leads the church.

1 Peter 3:7 is one of those verses that will make you wince, if you care more about what is culturally acceptable than what is biblical: “Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” In other words, if you mistreat your wife, don’t waste your time in prayer. That’s pretty blunt, but it is the heavy responsibility put on husbands as leaders of their homes. Within the Trinity, God the Father’s plan and His love are perfect. Men, as leaders of their homes, must be filled with the Holy Spirit if they are to have any hope of being the kind of husbands God has called them to be.

I know a lot of husbands who love their wives – on their own terms. 1 Peter 3:7 commands husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way – in other words, love them the way they need to be loved. With words that would be most controversial today, Peter describes women as the weaker of the two. Probably Peter means that men are stronger physically and emotionally, and certainly they have more delegated authority, so the temptation to abuse is significant. Most men would hurt their wives in a physical struggle, they can damage their wives’ spirits greatly with careless words, and they can take advantage of their spiritual authority given to them by God. If they do, they have forgotten that there is someone to whom they are accountable who is much bigger than they – God. Along with leadership comes great responsibility.

Well, now that we have looked at Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3, you have all the answers you need for a long and fulfilled marriage, right? We have not scratched the surface! I want to recommend a book that I admit I have not yet finished. In fact, I bought it several weeks ago, but because of a very busy schedule and the Carolina Hurricanes’ quest for the Stanley Cup, I have not been able to finish it. I am discovering as I read it, though that what I have heard from a number of people that I highly respect is accurate – this is a great book! Love and Respect, by Emerson Eggerichs, is saying something quite well that needs to be said and that we need to hear. The subtitle affirms what we have been discussing: The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs. Rush out to a bookstore in the next few days and pick up this valuable help for your marriage.

Order in the Trinity, order in the home. In addition to wives being submissive to their husbands, children are called to submit – or, more precisely – to obey their parents. Children are called to honor both father and mother. In so stating here in Ephesians 6:1-3, the Apostle Paul looked back to the Ten Commandments and pointed out that this commandment carried a promise with it – a prosperous and long life. Once again, the order in the Trinity is our model. Just as Jesus said that He did what the Father told Him to do, we are called to obedience. Children are called to obey from the heart – that is what it means to honor our father and mother.

This does not mean that parents get a free pass. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” It is the role of the parents – and, especially the father – to point children to Jesus. This requires that we are consistent in our lifestyles – not perfect, but consistent. It means that we instruct them rather than bully them. It means that we love them deeply and recognize that it is our responsibility to prepare them, as we were told in Ephesians 5, to leave our homes ready to serve the Lord and love their wives and respect their husbands.

Before we conclude this text and message in the next few verses, I want to point out that Romans 13:1-7, 1 Timothy 2:1-3, and 1 Peter 2:13-17 are quite clear that we are to submit to governmental authorities, thus the title of this message – Order in the Trinity, Order in the Court. Please write these passages down and study these texts. You will think more deeply about this command in Home Fellowships this week. God makes it clear that if we want to be in obedience to Him, we are to be subject to every human institution – even to the point, we are told in 1 Peter 2:17 honoring the emperor. Remember, the Roman Emperor was hardly a godly man when Peter wrote his letter. In fact, many were about to be put to death for their refusal to worship the emperor. Peter – and, thus, God – distinguished, though, between worship and honor. Our submission to government is a matter of our testimony – so says God’s word. That’s hard, as is the call for employees to submit to employers.

Well, OK, Ephesians 6:5-9 says that slaves are to submit to their masters and masters are to treat their slaves with dignity, but since we are thankfully devoid of such in our society, we will make application to bosses and workers. It certainly fits. Once again, both authority and submission are shown to be matters of the heart. Workers submit as unto Christ and bosses lead recognizing that they have a boss in heaven, and this boss shows no partiality. He has no favorites. He is not inclined toward certain personalities or physical appearance. He created us all and He expects us to fulfill whatever role to which we have been called with love from the heart, and we are to live our lives seeking to please Him, not men.

That does not mean that we give no thought to others – indeed, the whole lesson has been that we treat others with love and respect. But, we do not do what we do in order that others will commend us and treat us well. We lead and follow with our eyes on heaven – and that brings us full circle, with our eyes on the Trinity.

We are made in the image of God. As we learned last week, the Father, Son, and Spirit dwell in perfect unity and express perfect love for one another. To be made in God’s image means that as the people of God, we called to live in community with love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have talked today about the authority-submission structure in the Trinity and how it should translate to our human relationships where we gently lead in love and submit, first to Jesus, then to those in authority over us with honor and respect.

I began this message by saying that we are a rebellious people. That is true. When God is absent from our lives and we are allowed to go our own way, we really want to go our own way. But, since we are made in the image of God, there is a part of us that very much craves order, including proper leadership and proper submission. If you think government should stay completely out of our lives, what will you do if and when there is anarchy in the streets? You will desire for order to be restored. Of course, the ultimate answer is for Jesus to be in control of this world. That will happen, regardless of your beliefs about end times – whether it is a thousand year reign on this earth or in the new heavens and new earth. For now, though, we can clearly give people a glimpse of God as we agree with and embrace God’s design for authority-submission and as the Spirit of God fills us with His power to live for Him, not for ourselves. His plan is perfect. Let’s pray.