Given as a Ransom

I’ve probably seen too many kidnapping movies. Anytime I see this word ransom, I think of the movies that I have seen where someone has been kidnapped and taken away. There is always a tense scene where the family waits for a phone call. They wait to hear from the kidnapper to understand what it is that they want. They need to learn how much money the kidnapper wants so that their loved one will be returned.

From there, of course, the negotiator steps in and works with the kidnappers to determine the amount of money that will be paid, the way that the exchange will work, and the the logistics of how the person will be returned to their family.

In our case, though, we weren’t kidnapped. We gave ourselves willingly into slavery. We enjoyed the temporary pleasures of sin, even getting used to them despite the fact that its after-effects may be hurting us. And that continues until one day, we wake up and realize that this isn’t the life that God wanted for us. We realize that this isn’t how we should live, that we don’t have to continue this way.

Maybe that happens because of the consequences of our sin. Or maybe we realize it because someone explains to us where our sin will lead us. However it happens, we often suddenly find ourselves in a situation that is difficult to leave. We are bound to this old life, sold into a type of slavery to the sin that we have enjoyed, and become used to, including it’s consequences, over a period of time.

Paul says that Jesus came to be a ransom for us. Jesus is the payment that will set me free free from my captivity. Here is what he says:

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.

1 Timothy 2:5-6

Jesus willingly gave himself as a ransom for all people. All people. Past present and future, so that they can be set free and returned back to relationship with God, to their rightful place, to their rightful home.

As we are held in captivity, as we are held as slaves to sin, we need someone to come to rescue us. Just like in the movies, or even in real-life situations, when we are held in captivity, we need someone to come to rescue us. To pay for us. To set us free. And that is what Jesus has done. He himself is the payment to set us free. Blood is required as the payment for sin, and Jesus’s sinless blood is that payment. It is the ransom. He didn’t deserve punishment. He didn’t deserve to be the one to give his blood because he hadn’t sinned. But he became the ransom. He willingly gave himself to set me free.


Glory Forever

In his letter to Timothy, Paul acknowledged that he was once a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent man, all sins for which he should have been condemned. But Paul gives thanks to God because he wasn’t condemned, but instead was shown mercy and grace.

And so the first thing that I want to note here is that we often think that we can come into relationship with God once we have “gotten right”. In other words, we come into relationship with him once we have cleaned up our lives.

However, the truth is that God has already acted, even before we even began to think that we should clean up our lives. God acted thousands of years ago, and he spoke of his plan thousands of years before that. And he made his plan somewhere in eternity past. So what does that mean? God knew what was going to happen. He knew that you were going to sin and rebel against him. He knew that Paul would be a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent man, and yet out of his grace and mercy, he came to save him anyway.

This is what Paul acknowledges as he writes to Timothy. He tells Timothy that this is a trustworthy statement:

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners —of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Timothy 1:15-17

Paul says that he will be an example to others, that because he was the worst of sinners, others could also believe in Christ because if Jesus came for him, Paul, then he would have also come for other people. If Paul was the worst of sinners and yet Christ saved him, then clearly he would also be both willing and able to save others.

God gives glory to God

And yet there is a reason for Christ to do this, and we see this same reason throughout the Bible. God doesn’t only do the things that he does to please us. Yes, it does please us – very much! – that God sent Christ for us. But Jesus did not only come to save us. He came for an even bigger reason.

God receives honor and glory for what he has done. For his great mercy, his great love, his great grace, God is honored and glorified. God does the things that he does so that he will receive glory. This, in fact, is the primary reason that Christ came: that God would receive glory.

Jesus himself, in fact, said this very thing and God confirms what he says. As Jesus was preparing to go to the cross, he acknowledges the anguish that is within him and we see this interaction between he and the Father:

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

John 12:27-28

Jesus’s anguish is connected to the fact that he has been sent to die and he knows that the time is soon coming for him to be killed. Should he ask God to save him the pain and anguish that he is about to go through? As much as he might want to do that, he says No. He won’t do that because he came for this. It is his blood that will purchase the people back for God. It is his bride that he is ransoming back from the clutches of sin and death.

But let’s note that, while all of these things are true, Jesus doesn’t say this. Instead, he says “Father, glorify your name!” And the Father says that he has glorified his name, and he will continue to glorify his name.

And that is the reason that God does what he does. He does what he does to bring glory to his name.

God did this in creation by making man and woman in his own image and telling them to multiply and fill the earth. He was bringing glory to himself by having his image fill the earth.

God did this in making a people for himself so that he would be known among all nations.

God did this by establishing a Kingdom for himself and declaring that his Kingdom would never end.

God sent Jesus to give glory to him by mercifully purchasing a people for himself even though they had rebelled against him.

And God finishes his plan by bringing glory to himself forever as his people worship him around his throne, as we see in Revelation 5 and 7.

So yes, God came for each of us. God came to save sinners, just as Paul said that he did. But let us not forget that God has done all things that he has done so that he will receive glory. This is how Jesus lived, so that the Father would receive glory, even though it meant that he must die. And now for us, we have important decisions to make each day. Will we also live to bring glory to God?


The Open Door of Opportunity

“Sharing the Gospel and making disciples should be a lifestyle, not just an event that we go to do from time to time.”

“Unfortunately, evangelism, if it is done, is frequently an event in our churches today.”

“God will give us opportunities every day if we will just pay attention to what he is doing around us.”

These are a few quotes from a conversation that I had with a friend of mine recently. We were talking about how we should conduct ourselves and look to take advantage of the opportunities that we have on a daily basis with the people that we come into contact with, even as we go about our regular lives.

I recounted to my friend something that I realized a few months ago as I had determined to go to a particular piazza to meet people there and share the Gospel. As I was on my way, I was stopped by 3 people asking how I was or asking for directions. Did I intentionally consider talking to any of these people about Christ? No, I didn’t. Why not? because I was on my way to do that in the piazza.

But why would I try to make an event out of sharing the Gospel with others in the piazza when I had people right here in front of me that I could connect with and share with them? It was because I was thinking of evangelism as an event, as something I was going out to do instead of just doing it as a normal part of my daily life. Ugh!

I was reminded of this as I read what Paul had to say this morning in Colossians 4:

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Colossians 4:2-6

The first thing that Paul tells the Colossians to do is to pray. They should be watchful and thankful in their prayer. They should be looking for, and asking for opportunities to proclaim Christ in their daily lives, and Paul asks them to pray also that God would open opportunities for him to proclaim Christ.

It is important to note here that Paul is in chains because he has been proclaiming Christ everywhere that he has gone. And now he asks the Colossians to pray that he would be able to continue to preach and proclaim the good news of Christ, just as he should, presumably even if it means that he would remain in chains even longer.

Next, Paul tells the Colossians to be wise in the way that they connect with outsiders. In other words, nonbelievers. They should look for the opportunities to be able to proclaim Christ to them, and they should look for ways to make the most of those opportunities.

Note that Paul doesn’t tell them to be ready or some other way that we frequently say this in our churches today. He says do it. He says that they should be wise and use their conversation. They should be thinking about how they can intentionally proclaim Christ in their conversation. They have watched and prayed for God to open doors for the message to go forward. Now, they should wisely use those open doors that God has provided to be able to share with others.

When they share, they should speak with grace, but season the conversation with salt. The conversation is “flavored” with the message of Christ so that others will know him through their everyday meetings. They should be intentionally flavoring those conversations and they should be ready to give answers for their faith when the questions come up. At the least, they should be ready to speak about what God has done in their lives. And we should do the same, and what is more, we should understand the scriptures so that we can explain the message of God’s redemption for each of us through Christ, giving answers for the questions that will likely come.

This is the mandate that we all have. We must look for the opportunities to share Christ with others through our normal lives. Not as an event. Not even as something that we go to do. And probably not even something that requires additional time, but done with the people that we meet every day. We should look for opportunities that God provides because he provides them each day. May we watch and give thanks for them as we pray.


A New Understanding of Idolatry

As God brought the Israelites out of Egypt and then subsequently gave him his law, that which today we call the Ten Commandments, the first two were:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

God is serious about having any other gods, or anything representing other gods, put before him. In fact, just before giving the commandments, he told the Israelites:

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

In case you were wondering, he is the One with the power. And he is the One now speaking.

This is important. God is God and there is no other god. In fact, we find out that God is a jealous God and he will not only punish those who worship these other gods, or these other idols, but he will punish their children as well down to the fourth generation. This is no joke.

So that puts into a new light what Paul says to the Colossians:

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

Colossians 3:5

Paul says that practicing each of these things is considered to be idolatry:

  • Sexual immorality
  • Impurity
  • Lust
  • Evil desires
  • Greed

So anytime that we are practicing any of those things, it is the same as making gods and worshiping them, just as if we were fashioning idols and giving worship to them.

But how can that be? Surely these aren’t the same things, are they?

Paul says that these are idolatry because these are sins that raise up the self. It lifts me up, and takes primarily into consideration what I want.

It gives glory to the created object instead of the Creator. In the same way that someone glorifies an object that was made with human hands out of metal, wood, or stone, we also can lift up in our own eyes what was made out of flesh for our own edification and glory.

If I make another human, or even the image of another human a simple object of my sexual pleasure, if I lust after it with my eyes or my heart, I give glory to that object above God. If I greedily desire money, I am giving honor to my own desire for power or fame for my own self.

In both cases, I am exalting myself. I am making a determination of value between myself and my desires vs. God and his glory and giving a higher value to me, the created person rather than the value of God and his glory. So I set myself above him and I my worship goes to what I want, what I desire.

And consequently, that is idolatry.


God in the Flesh

Very often we speak of us having been made in the image of God, and this is a true statement according to the recounting of the story of creation in Genesis 1. However, in the book of Colossians, Paul is going into some significant discussion of who Jesus is, and that is God himself in bodily form.

This is extremely important to understand. God decides to show himself in a way that we can understand, as a human being. I say “understand” somewhat loosely because, in reality, very few of the people that Jesus met actually understood him for who he was and who he claimed to be, but in any case, God decided to show himself in the flesh.

So how did this happen?

First, in John 1, we see that Jesus was there at the beginning of creation. John says that through the Word, a name that John uses for Christ, all things were created. John says, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” so Jesus was there in the beginning, although not yet in the flesh.

After the fall of Adam and Eve, God told the serpent, who was Satan, that the woman’s offspring, who we, including Satan, would eventually come to know as Jesus, would crush the serpent’s head even though the serpent would strike at the offspring’s heel.

Moses would then write about a Prophet who would come to whom the Israelites must listen. And the prophets then wrote of a Messiah who would come to free God’s people. God even told of how David’s kingdom would be established and reign forever.

All of these prophecies came true in Christ as Jesus comes as God in the form of a man. Paul says:

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form

Colossians 2:9

And in the chapter before he said:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

Colossians 1:15

Jesus came to earth as part of God’s plan. God’s Spirit came upon Mary, who was a virgin, and placed Jesus within her, making Jesus a human but with God alone as his father so we can understand that Jesus is the human form of the invisible God and the Deity who lives in bodily form.

Jesus is not only our Creator but because he came in bodily form, he is also our Savior and King.

He is our Savior because we could not, and cannot, pay for the sins that we have committed. God planned a perfect sacrifice that would one and for all pay for the sins of all people of the world. He took our place by taking our punishment for the sins that we have committed as he died on the cross. But Jesus didn’t remain dead but instead was resurrected, defeating death to live forever. This is the core of our faith, that through his sacrifice and subsequent resurrection, that we also will live eternally, following in the footsteps of Christ who was bodily resurrected, and so we also will resurrect to live with him.

When we are resurrected to live with him, it will be under his rule and reign as King forever. Jesus was given all authority in heaven and on the earth. He is the King over all of us and over all things. Following his rejection by the Israelites, God came to earth in the form of Christ to re-establish his rule and reign amongst his people, those who would be considered the true Israel. By saving us, we were purchased to be Christ’s subjects in the Kingdom of God where Jesus will rule and reign forever.

God himself came to earth and Jesus is his true image in bodily form. We can know God by knowing Christ. We can understand his words. We can follow his footsteps as he led his disciples. And we can know him because he promises to be with us, even living inside of us through his Spirit.


Do not be anxious

Recently as I’ve talked with friends here in Catania and we have shared with one another the areas in our lives that we have had difficulty, both I and the others have talked about something that we have held in common. I wish I could say that it has been a good thing that we have in common, but unfortunately it isn’t. It is anxiety.

Our anxiousness has generally been over what is happening in our lives. For example, how am I going to pay for this or that? Or what will come next for me? What will my livelihood look like in 6 months? How am I going to move forward in my ministry work so that it becomes what I hope for it to be?

These can be natural and healthy questions…but they can also be sources of consistent concern and worry, leading to anxiety when we don’t have answers to those questions.

That anxiousness has characterized my life, certainly, and in our recent discussions, I discovered that I am not the only one. Instead of depending on God to answer the questions, instead of continuing to put the questions to him and waiting for him to answer, my mind – our minds – have continued to swirl to look for answers to the questions ourselves.


Today as I opened the Bible and read, I read this from Paul:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

There is an antidote to anxiousness. It is that we should rejoice in what God has done for us. What could come against us that could truly hurt us if we are in the Lord? He is near, so we shouldn’t be anxious but instead continue to pray and ask God for each thing that we need. He knows what we need and he an fulfill each request if it is his will and the timing is what he desires.

So today is a reminder to me. Don’t be anxious, but rejoice in what he has done and put every request before God until he answers.


Righteousness from God

Paul was a man that had a lot of reason to be able to boast and brag about his background. He was a zealous Pharisee with all of the right pedigrees, background, and upbringing. From a human perspective, he would have had a strong case to tell people why they should follow him. He had figured it out. He had done it all. He was prepared and ready and now he was ready to be rewarded by God in finances, in power, in fame, and certainly in reward from God from heaven.

God owed him for this, didn’t he?

At one time, Paul may have thought this. In fact, it was very likely given the extent to which he is aware of his pedigree. He knows where he comes from, and if he was a man that looked for praise from other men, or if he was a man to expect that God would reward him because of the righteousness that he had built for himself, his pedigree could be easily flaunted before others.

But now, having come into relationship with Christ, he knows that it all means nothing. In fact, he calls it all garbage. It means nothing when compared to being found in Christ. In fact, this is how he said it:

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:7-11

Our own righteousness

Paul warns the Philippians that they should watch out for the people who would come to tell them that they should be circumcised to fulfill the law. Why would they need to do fulfill the law? Because, according to those that advocate this idea, the people need to be righteous before God.

But what is that righteousness based on? It is based on religious actions that we take so that we can build our own righteousness.

Or in reality, so that we can appear that we have been righteous people.

In fact, they would only be appearances because our actions have been evil. Have we lied to other people? Have we stolen from others in some way? Have we been unfaithful? Have we broken any of the other commandments?

Yes, of course we have and it is because our actions on the outside come from a heart that thinks of the needs of our flesh. Our hearts are far from God and are evil and need to be renewed by God through his Holy Spirit. This is a righteousness that comes from God, not from us. Otherwise, our “righteouness” that is built by us is only an appearance of righteousness in front of other people, not a true righteousness that we would be able to stand before God and proclaim that we have truly been the people that He has called us to be.

Boasting in Christ Jesus

There is only one way that we can be considered righteous before God and that is by taking on the righteousness of Christ in faith. Jesus died as a sacrifice for our sins and was resurrected by God, defeating death. He did this to purchase, to ransom them away from captivity to sin, many people from many nations so he could give glory to God.

And so Paul is saying that there is only one way that we can be considered righteous: Through faith in Jesus’s death in resurrection.

What does that mean?

It means that we trust that Jesus will keep his promise. His promise is that his blood that was shed on the cross was the payment that makes us righteous, and so any righteousness that we have hasn’t come from us or anything that we have done. Instead, the righteousness comes only from Christ. Only in him can we have any confidence that we can stand before God and declare ourselves righteous. We will say that it is because of Christ that I am clean.

Not because of anything that I have done. My righteousness comes only through Christ.


To Die is Gain?

There are several statements in the Bible, I find, that people will often say, “Yes, of course” when they read it. On first glance, they see it and, when read theoretically, it is something that we can agree to, primarily because we realize that we should agree to it.

Let me give you an example. Here is a simple, one-verse, two-sentence parable that Jesus told his disciples:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

Matthew 13:44

So for many years, I read that parable and I thought: Oh, that’s nice… the man found the treasure. Isn’t that just great for him?

But then one day, a year or two ago, I read it and I saw these things in a new way:

The Kingdom is like a treasure.

In this man’s eyes, it is more valuable than everything else in that man’s life. All of his possessions, everything.

In fact, it was worth so much more that the man sold everything just to be able to buy the field and get the treasure. He understood the value of the treasure and it was worth more than all of the rest.

OK, so before, as I read that story, I thought: Great, I’m happy for that man.

But now, the question that I had to put to myself was, and still is: Am I like that man? Have I exchanged everything to have the treasure? Or am I still holding on to my old way of thinking, my old life and its sin, my – my – my… Am I holding on because I see those other things as more valuable than the Kingdom of God?

Do you see the problem? I had been reading Jesus’s parable in theory. Instead of seeing myself as that man, instead of seeing the cost, I just saw the gain. For him. For that other person.

But for me?

To live is Christ

So now let’s fast-forward to our present day where I read another verse that is a little bit like that one. In this one, Paul says:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Philippians 1:21

So I see this one, again, as a simple statement. But let’s not let the simplicity fool us. This statement is packed with all sorts of implication.

Paul is writing to the Philippian church from Rome where he has been wrongfully imprisoned because of the accusations of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Now, he is waiting to see what is going to happen to him, whether he will continue to live and go on with his work, or if he will be executed for his “crimes”. And he is weighing these potential options and the implications of each.

I think it would be fair to say that each of us, if we were in that same situation, would think that we want to get out of prison and go on with our lives, right? Well, Paul is fine with this. He told the Philippians that it is better for them if he lives so that he can go on teaching and encouraging them.

But Paul is also fine with the possibility that he dies. In fact, for himself personally, he seems to indicate that it would be even better. Why? Because he would be with Christ at that point. What would be better than that?

So what does that mean? What could Paul not risk at that point? He can risk anything because what is the worst that they could do to him? Kill him? I imagine, based on what Paul says here that he might think:

OK, fine. Go ahead. For me to die is gain. I’m not asking to die, but if that is the consequence of what I’ve done, do it. It is my gain.

Whoa… Are we there? Do we live like this? Are we certain that we could say the same things?

To live is Christ.

And to die is gain.

What couldn’t we do for Christ? How would our lives change? What would our priorities be if we actually thought like this? What would we do as a result of those new priorities?

Paul was sold out for Christ, but if we read this “in theory”, we might respond something like, “Well, yes, of course. I agree with that.”

But let’s make sure that we understand what Paul is saying. To die is gain. Are we sure? If so, then most of our lives should radically change. If we actually did this verse, not only understand it theoretically, but actually lived out the meaning of this verse, our lives would turn around 180 degrees and change in an instant. I believe that we would repent immediately. Like the man in Jesus’s parable, we would recognize the value of the treasure that we have and sell it all to obtain it. Completely and fully. Everything gone to have that one thing.

Because to die is gain.



I remember a few years ago, there was a West African man who wanted to meet with me and had expressed a concern to me that the Bible taught that slavery was a fine and accepted practice. He had read some scriptures, some similar scriptures to what I read today, and thought that they meant that people should be kept in slavery.

In fact, I believe that it means the exact opposite, but you have to understand the context of the time and situation that Paul found himself to understand what he is saying.

For the captives

The story of how God set the Israelites free, who were slaves in the land of Egypt at the time, has been told, and will continue to be told, both by the Israelites and at least by everyone who follows them in the Abrahamic religions, namely the Jews, the Muslims, and the Christians. It is one of the most famous stories in the world.

The Israelites had been held as slaves for 400 years in Egypt, but God had heard their groaning, their desire to be set free. So God chose Moses, an Israelite who had been adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and had grown up in the company of royalty in Egypt. God sent Moses to have Pharaoh let the Israelites go so that they could worship him in the desert. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened so he was unwilling, but through the plagues, and finally the killing of the first-born sons amongst the Egyptians, Pharaoh relents and more than a million Israelites escape across the Red Sea into the wilderness.

So here we see that God works to set his people free from slavery. In fact, there were festivals that were appointed as a result of what God had done amongst his people to remind them of how he had freed them. The Passover, for example, is a holiday that is still celebrated today as a reminder of how God set the Israelites free in Egypt. The night before God would send the Israelites out of Egypt, his Spirit would enter the houses that did not have lamb’s blood wiped along the door frame. For those that did, which were only the Israelite homes, the spirit would “pass over” those homes and not enter to kill the first-born son.

From slavery to sin

Poetically, it was the celebration of the Passover that Jesus chose as the “Last Supper”. It was at this celebration that Jesus gave his disciples the bread and the wine while they were eating dinner together saying that they represented his body and his blood, that they should take them, eat them, and remember his body that would be broken for them and his blood that would be shed for the forgiveness of sins.

We have been subjected as slaves to sin, but in a similar way to how God would send Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, God would also send Jesus to lead the new Israel out of slavery to sin through the New Covenant that God was now establishing with his people. For those that would put their faith in the sacrifice of his blood, God would give freedom from their sin, making them clean and righteous as they stood before him, allowing his people to enter into his Kingdom, to come into communion with him again.

As stated purpose

Jesus, in fact, even stated his purpose at the synagogue in Nazareth as he read from Isaiah 61. Jesus said that he fulfilled these verses right there, in their hearing of him reading these verses:

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Luke 4:18-19

Jesus states his purpose to proclaim freedom and to set the oppressed free. How is he to do this? His Kingdom was not a kingdom of this world. His Kingdom was a heavenly kingdom. His freedom was for prisoners to Satan, those that were oppressed by him, those that had been held captive in their sin.

From slavery

So with this as the background, understanding God’s heart and desire to set slaves free, both physically and spiritually, I think that we can begin to see Paul’s discussion about slaves in a new light. Here is what he said:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.

Ephesians 6:5-8

We can see that Paul tells slaves to obey their masters, even going so far as to obey them as they would obey Christ.

But why? Shouldn’t they instead be resisting, declaring their rights before God and before their masters? Hasn’t God made each man and woman in His own image? Hasn’t God determined to make a people for himself from every tongue, tribe, and nation without favoritism.

Yes, of course he has. But Paul also knows that the best witness for Christ is to treat the other person well, not to demand rights, especially amongst people who do not believe the same as you believe. This will never be considered to be right before other people, neither as a master treating his slave badly nor as a slave working badly for his master.

Ambassador in chains

In fact, in an ironic twist, Paul is actually writing this letter to the Ephesians from Rome where he is in chains. In verse 20, Paul says that he is an “ambassador in chains”. He isn’t a slave, but he is a prisoner without true reason and yet he goes ahead to declare Christ amongst those that he is with and continues to encourage other believers and other churches even though he himself is unjustly kept from his freedom, similar to many slaves.

By living this way, the Gospel undermines the institution of slavery. Paul is, of course, teaching each person to live as God has called them to do, but he is approaching each person, and calling each person to approach others, in love and grace and mercy. Slavery generally assumes a power-based relationship, but the Gospel does not call us to power relationships between each person, but instead to undeserved love and grace, to freedom in Christ as he has given to each of us who believe.


Husbands, Love Your Wives

When we consider where we have come from, and how the relationship started, you can begin to get an understanding of how astonishing it is that Paul tells husbands that they should love their wives just as they love their own bodies, even going to the extent to give themselves up for them.

Here is what I mean:

If you look all of the way back to the Fall, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s commandment to not eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we can immediately see where both sin entered the world as well as the problems started between men and women.

God asks Adam whether or not he has eaten from the tree that he commanded him not to eat from. Adam’s answer?

“The woman you put here with me —she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Did Adam not know God’s commandment? No, of course he knew it. He and Eve both knew God’s command.

So why would it be that Adam would blame Eve for disobeying God’s command? Because Adam felt ashamed and didn’t want to solely take the shame upon himself. He wanted to deflect it onto Eve and to prevent the blame from resting upon him. He didn’t want the punishment that would come from God for what he had done.

Rewriting the story

But of course, this is the opposite of what Jesus did. Jesus didn’t have a reason for shame, and yet instead, he stepped forward to take the blame and the punishment. Jesus knew that it would be too much for his bride to bear.

Who is Jesus’s bride? It is the church. The people that he came to win. He would win them through his sacrifice and they would become his bride. He took the blame and punishment for them even though he didn’t have the shame of having sinned. The bride consists of the church, the people that deserved the shame, the blame, and the punishment.

Jesus, instead of turning to blame his bride as Adam did instead took the blame upon himself and received the punishment that came from God.

Radical love

So now we can begin to see how radical of a statement this is when Paul calls husbands to love their wives. Here is what he says:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

Ephesians 5:25-32

Clearly, Paul isn’t just saying that we should be nice. Nor is he calling husbands to be a little bit better husbands…maybe we bring flowers from time to time. Paul is calling husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church.

Jesus put himself in harm’s way and took the full brunt of the harm that came so that the church, his bride, would be unharmed. The church, instead, would receive grace and mercy through Jesus’s actions. This is the level at which Paul is telling husbands to love their wives… just as Jesus loved the church. A profound mystery indeed!