These are chapters I’m familiar with. Words I’ve read before that have encouraged me, maybe irritated me and that I’ve pushed up against. Something I love about rereading the Bible is how it speaks to you in different tones in different times of your life. Truth doesn’t change, but the way we receive it does, based on our maturity level, softness of our heart and what the Spirit is wanting to tell us.
This time around, instead of getting stuck on the details of the text, I was struck by the sequence of Paul’s message. I read it fluidly, instead of yanking out a particular verse from it’s context. Chapter five and most of six seems to be setting up his point in the last couple paragraphs of the letter.
First, he tells us “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”. Assuming that this might lead to entitlement, he clarifies that husbands are to love their wives as much as they love themselves. Then he tells children to obey their parents, putting extreme emphasis on it. He urges fathers to take on an active role in bringing up children.
He zooms out more. Slaves, obey your masters. Is slavery okay? No. But we are to imitate Christ, who served humbly and enthusiastically in a position he wasn’t suppose to be in.
Then, he wraps it up perfectly with a remind that our battle is not with each other. Don’t get hung up on all this stuff. Don’t get distracted by bickering with your spouse. Don’t resent your parents. Don’t fixate on hating your boss at work. These are all distractions perfectly crafted by Satan to keep us focused on ourselves and out of the real battle. “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rules and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” 6:12
Paul covers some major issues in these chapters, and I deeply appreciate that he acknowledges them. 13 year-old me needed to hear that obeying my parents had eternal weight to it. Newly-married me needed someone to address submission. These are great verses and topics to push up against and unpack in a godly, productive manner. But we are so distracted by these dynamics. The last thing Paul wanted was us to take a sentence or two out of the message and get hung up on the specifications of it. It’s the opposite. These aren’t blanket statements about how God feels about oppression. Paul is addressing our earthly relationships and the tension that comes from them to say stay strong, it’s not about that.
In the past, these verses have made me feel like God doesn’t care about my freedom. I only saw Christians twisting these words, leaving people oppressed and hurt. But really, he cares quite deeply about our freedom and gave himself up for it. He’s just not guaranteeing earthly freedom. People mistreat each other, lord power over one another and enslave their peers. Paul instructs us how to live properly in these relationships and waves us over to where the real freedom is: in Christ.
Paul tells us, gear up for spiritual battle. “Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” 6:18
Is there someone you need to approach? A feud you need to end, an apology you need to make, reconciliation to achieve? Something that’s distracting your prayer life, taking your time away from loving your neighbors? Don’t give these things power to distract you and take up room in your heart.
Let’s aside time to pray for others, clothe ourselves in the spiritual armor we have and untangle ourself from Satan’s distractions. We have much, much bigger battles to fight.