“Come Together: Family”
June 10, 2018
Pastor Lucas Bitter
Intown Lutheran Church (Atlanta, GA)
Ephesians 5:21-23, 25-28, 6:1-4
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
6 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Welcome to Sermon #2 of our preview series! As you saw in the video, this series is about “Coming Together.” This week we focus on coming together as a family. And we’ll start off by focusing on the very first family ever to live: Adam, and Eve, and their kids.
Like we said last month, that first family had it made. Adam and Eve were created in a perfect world. No sunburn. No bug bites. No gray hairs. No wrinkles. They had a perfect marriage relationship, and they were going to have a bunch of perfect children, and everybody would live happily ever after. But then the Fall into Sin happened, and everything in that perfect world fell apart – including that perfect first family.
When you read Genesis 2 chapters 2, and 3, and 4, it’s kind of like watching a car crash in slow motion. It’s disturbing. It’s scary. You don’t really want to watch but you can’t look away, as sin works its way through and blows up every relationship in what was supposed to be a perfect family.
It all starts with the relationship between Adam and Eve. It’s often been noted that at the very instant they fell into sin, they had already stepped out of their God-given roles. God had created Adam to be the leader and Eve to be the helper, and they had been the perfect dream team right up until this point. But now, Adam, instead of leading, passively sits back and watches Eve do something wrong. And Eve, who is supposed to be helping, does something very unhelpful and leads her husband into sin. As Adam and Eve bite into that forbidden fruit, you can tell that something is already “off” about their relationship – but it just gets words.
Now God comes into the Garden of Eden and says “What’s going on here? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” And suddenly we realize the depth to which Adam’s heart has changed. Because instead of being honest about what has happened and admitting his role in it, he decides to throw Eve under the bus. “The woman you put here with me – she gave me the fruit and I ate.” It’s her fault! But God says, “That’s not the way it works. You were the leader and this happened under your watch – so it’s both of your fault. And this sin will have consequences for both of you.”
One of the most painful consequences would be the continued erosion of that marriage relationship. God tells Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” In other words, even though Eve will deeply desire that perfect marriage bond that she and Adam once enjoyed, she’s never going to have it back again. Adam will never be a perfect husband again. Instead, his selfishness will lead him at times to try to rule over his wife and make her feel tiny and insignificant, like she doesn’t even matter. And Eve will resent it and lash out to try to get some kind of response out of him and all it will do is make it worse. There will all kinds of be arguing and fighting and conflict. The perfect marriage will not be perfect anymore.
And neither will be their relationship with their kids. Have you ever imagined what it might have been like if Adam and Eve had said no to this temptation and raised perfect kids in a perfect world? Imagine a perfect dad who is so manly he could chop down a tree with his bare hands, but he would never do something so foolish that could possible endanger the woman and children whom he loves. Imagine a perfect mom who is so cheerful and patient and good-natured and kind that everyone who meets her falls in love with her immediately. Imagine perfect kids who love each other and have so much fun together, and the best way they have fun is to obey Mom and Dad and help them in the garden and serve God to the best of their ability. This would have been the happiest and healthiest and most productive family ever! And since it’s the beginning of the world, these would be the people who are learning how grow crops and raise animals, and inventing technology, and creating language systems and financial systems and all the different types of technology, and doing it all perfectly without sin. . . just think what our world would be like today!
But it didn’t happen, because of the Fall into Sin. Now Adam and Eve did have kids; two of them were named Cain and Abel. “Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”
This is a sad story for so many different reasons. It’s sad, of course, because Adam and Eve lost a son, murdered by his own brother. It’s sad because God warned Cain ahead of time about it, and he still didn’t listen. It’s sad because Cain left the Garden of Eden and we don’t know if he ever saw his parents again. But you know the saddest thing of all about this story? It’s that we recognize this kind of family dysfunction far too well. Husbands and wives who can’t get on the same page. Parents and children who grow so embittered that they don’t even talk anymore. Siblings who over the years have seen their love and friendship turn into jealousy, or even hatred. Children who grow up so embittered with their parents that they become estranged and have no contact with them anymore. Siblings who over the years have seen love turn into simmering hatred.
The Fall into Sin turned the family unit, which had been the world’s greatest opportunity for love and unity between people, into the world’s greatest opportunity for pain and suffering. And it’s still true today. In nearly all cases, the greatest sadness a person experiences in their life comes at the hands of the family members who are closest to them.
Do you know why? It’s because ever since Adam and Eve, every single one of us has been born inherently selfish. And that selfishness displays itself in unique ways for each member of the family.
Dads, I don’t want to rip on you with Father’s Day coming up, but each of you knows what your own selfishness looks like. You know that inner conflict of being torn between providing for your family and providing for yourself. You know that sinful feeling of being “trapped” and “tied down” – and wondering if you’d be happier without a wife and kids to worry about.
Moms, I don’t want to rip on you a few weeks after Mother’s Day, but each of you knows what your own selfishness looks like. You know that inner conflict of trying to work as a team with your husband when you know you could just do it so much easier by yourself. You know what it’s like to Ping-Pong back and forth between ignoring your kids for your own peace of mind, and obsessing over your kids to the point where you try to control everything in their life. You know that neither one of those is healthy but sometimes you’re just too tired to find the middle ground.
Kids, I don’t know how many of you are listening today, but each of you knows what your own selfishness looks like. You know how hard it is to do what other people want instead of what you want. You’ve had your parents remind you time and again that “the whole world doesn’t revolve around you.” And yet you need to hear it again and again.
Every single one of us has been born inherently selfish. And that selfishness displays itself in unique ways for every member of the family. Which means, that our families are often not very good teams. Can you imagine a basketball team where all the players are really selfish? Where everybody is trying to score a basket on every single play? It would be a disaster! No defense. No passing. No rebounds. Just a bunch of players arguing with each other. Not only would that basketball team be ineffective, it would be downright embarrassing to watch. And it is the same thing with families. When a family is running on selfishness, it’s not only ineffective – it’s downright embarrassing to watch.
But here’s the amazing thing. God is not embarrassed to deal with us, just like he wasn’t embarrassed to deal with Adam and Eve. God does not turn his face away from us in disgust. Instead God loved us so much that he decided to restore our families by dismantling his own. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
God the Father and God the Son operate unlike any human family we have ever seen. They are totally unselfish! They make a plan of salvation that has nothing in it for them and everything in it for us. The Son does not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but makes himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant. He humbles himself so that he becomes to become obedient to death – even death on a cross. “This is what real love looks like: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. . . .and John goes on, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
God loves us so much he doesn’t just want us to “come together” with him in his family. He also wants us to “come together” with each other in our families. God wants to restore the role of a family to the world’s greatest opportunity for love and unity between people. And the way that God wants to make is by teaching us to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” And in our Ephesians text today, Paul gives examples for every member of the family.
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” Ladies, before you stop listening I want you to notice two things. First, you’re not the only ones asked to submit. God tells the whole family to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” And second, as Innigo Montoya once said in the Princess Bride, “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”
When we hear the word “submit” in English, we immediately think of a bunch of negative things. One country invading another country and forcing them to submit to their rule. A wrestler or MMA fighter putting their opponent in a “submission hold” until they tap out. But that’s not what God is talking about here.
In Greek (which is the original language of the New Testament if you’re wondering), “submit” is not a negative term. It simply means to do your job, to fit into your role, and to take care of your responsibility for the good of the team. I’m going to use another sports analogy, so bear with me. This one is for you baseball fans. Consider the role of a pitcher and a catcher in a baseball game. Do you know who decides what pitch to throw? The catcher! He gives the signal, and the so the pitcher submits to that decision (fastball!) and throws the pitch. Now, occasionally the pitcher will shake a pitch off because he doesn’t think it’s a good idea. Occasionally the catcher will come out to the mound and they’ll have a little conference about what the should do. But in general, the catcher calls the pitches. Now, this isn’t an insult to the pitcher. It doesn’t mean he’s inferior to the catcher or has no worth to the team or couldn’t call the pitches perfectly well on his own. It just means that they have different roles, and it takes both of them working together to strike the batter out.
It’s the exact same thing between a husband and a wife. They have different roles, but they’re on the same team. And they work together to conquer whatever projects might be in their path – taxes, finances, home improvements, parenting, bringing their kids up in the training and instruction of the Lord. God wants the husband and wife to be teammates. So he says “Wives, submit to your role of helper.” But he also says “Husbands, submit to your role of leader!” And God sets the bar for a husband’s leadership to be very high indeed.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy.” He goes on to say, “Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.” God is talking about a special kind of love here. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s another Greek word called “agape.” The whole point of this kind of love is that it is selfless. It is unconditional. It does not depend whatsoever on the response that it gets but it thinks 100% about the good of the other person. This is the kind of love that would make somebody lay down their life for another person, in an instant, without even thinking twice. This is the kind of love that Jesus had for us, when he came into the world and died on the cross for our sins.
And men, this is the kind of love that Jesus wants you to have as the leader of your family. Yes, if it were necessary, Jesus would want you to die for your family. But more importantly – and probably even harder – Jesus wants you to live for them. To daily and consistently put their needs ahead of your own. To protect and provide, to nurture and encourage. To teach them about their Savior not only with your words, but with your actions. This is the role of a husband.
God has a role for kids too. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” Kids, your role is listening to mom and dad, and learning the lessons that they have to teach, showing them love instead of driving them crazy.
And yet there is one more role within the family. “Fathers (and I think we could add mothers), do not exasperate your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Be patient. Be kind. Teach them to make decisions that will result in them having a long life on the earth. And above all forgive them, forgive them, forgive them, just as in Christ God forgave you.
This might be the biggest question of the day. How can any of us do any of this? We’re sinful! We’re selfish! We all struggle to submit to all of our roles. But. . . .we also have Jesus. We have Jesus, who died on the cross to forgive us for not being the kind of husbands and wives and parents and children that he wants us to be. We have Jesus, who gave himself up for us to make us holy, cleansing us by the washing with water through the Word, and to present us to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. We have Jesus’ blood atoning for our sin and Jesus’ perfect life lived in our place and you know what that means? It means that each one of us, in God’s sight, is already holy. You’re a perfect husband. A perfect wife. A perfect parent. A perfect child. A perfect single person. And you’ll get to spend eternity in a perfect heaven.
You know what means for your time here on earth? You’re not under pressure to come together as a family. You are at peace to come together as a family. As a Christian family. God grant it, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.