Chapter 6

6:1-9 These mutual submissions belong in the section that begins in the previous chapter. "Be subject to one another out of reverence for the Messiah" (5:21). The subjection of each to the other is not the world's idea of the hierarchical submission of an inferior to a superior. It is patterned on the mutual submission of every part of the human body to every other part. I burn my hand, some muscles instantly pull it back away from danger, my heart keeps pumping blood loaded with the healing agents produced somewhere else, and the skin regrows over the wound. So a local church functions like a "body, joined and knit together by every ligament (muscle, bone, gland, brain cell) with which it is equipped" (4:16). That requires a submission of every member to each other but in hundreds of different ways.

In the previous chapter we saw the kind of mutuality that is required in marriage (5:22-33). Paul then wants us to picture the mutuality in a child-parent relationship. Obviously little children have to submit to their parents, but the subjection of a mother is infinitely more costly (up at all hours, feeding, changing diapers, talking to the doctor, listening to childish chatter). Similarly we all know that a slave who disobeys gets beaten, and an employee who does not function is fired. But the submission of an employer can also be very costly. "Masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them." As opposed to ruling by terror, a Christ-like employer exercises servant leadership. "It shall not be so among you; but whosoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant" (Mark 10:42-45). As in the early churches of the Spirit, the work of the Messiah's Kingdom is forwarded by creating a team that enjoys their work, where people are valued, their gifts are encouraged, dependents are cared for.

6:1-2 The submission of children to their parents was part of the moral law (Exodus 20:12) among all nations. But Paul adds "in the Lord" to reflect the fact that children were now full members of the church. When the Philippian jailor had an earthquake repentance in the middle of the night, "he and his entire family were baptized without delay (before breakfast), and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God" (Acts 16:33-34). I assume that, just as Jewish children had their part to play in the annual Passover ritual, children were included in the weekly Christian gatherings. So I was delighted when Canadian Anglicans began welcoming children to communion, and I have been impressed by all the good things that have resulted from this. When we adopt a child into our family, the first thing he or she experiences is the right to eat at the family table. If we have to become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven, why should children have to become like adults before they can eat with us?

6:3 But full membership in the Christian body does not encourage disrespect. Honoring one's parents is a foundation of health and wholeness. At least we can honor the fact that every gene in our body comes from our parents, as does most of what we learn in our first seven years. Even if we have been given defective genes (as with Thalidomide deformities), badly treated, abused, educationally deprived, all that is an essential part of us. Those who refuse to honor where they came from seem condemned to a lifetime of psychological problems. That does not mean submission to the whims of parents throughout life. And marriage requires new loyalties: "a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife (forming a new family unit), and they become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).

6:4 But there is also the costly submission of parents to their children. Mothers knew this already from long hours of caring for their babies. But the idea that fathers should not provoke their children to anger was a radically new idea in the ancient world. As with slaves and servants, we are not to use threats to terrify into submission (as in 6:9). Children are irritated by bossiness, fussiness, hypocritical, unjust, harsh treatment (see Colossians 3:21). Rather than the translation "bring them up," the first meaning of the Greek word ektrepho was "nourish and cherish" which gives a beautiful picture of fathering. And rather than "discipline" which has a note of Victorian fierceness about it, Paul uses the terms paideia which means "upbringing, training" and nouthesia which includes the idea of imparting practical skills and warning of danger. By adding "of the Lord" Paul makes clear that parenting is not just a human function, but part of the Messiah's purpose for his church.

6:5-7 Slaves were bought and sold to do whatever the owner appointed for them to do. But when they were baptized and joined a Christian community, they still served their "earthly masters", but their status changed to being "family." As Paul wrote to Philemon, "no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother" (Philemon 16). That did not mean being less useful as slaves, in fact they now served "with enthusiasm" as they viewed service as for the Messiah (6:5, 6, 7, 8, see Colossians 3:22, 1 Peter 2:18-21). We can imagine the impact on slave owners as lazy slaves who did shoddy work were so radically changed. In many cases in a Christian household they were given their freedom. This probably occured in the family of the Philippian jailor (Acts 16:33-34) as it did in the home of Philemon.

6:8 "Whatever good we do" is noted by the Lord, and Jesus talked about the rewards of faithful service (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18, 24:47, 25:19-23, Luke 6:35, 12:44). Some think these rewards will give us better places in heaven, but how could there be first and second class citizens in the family of heaven? The context of the teaching about rewards suggests that the Messiah knows how to bless us in this life in all sorts of unexpected ways. There are references to reward are in the light of the parousia (coming to be with) which was the predicted coming of the Lord (Matthew 24:3, 27, 30, 37, 39-39, 42, 46, 50) to destroy Jerusalem and change the whole world situation, as happened in AD 70 (Romans 16:20, 1 Corinthians 1:7-8, 3:13, 7:26, 29, 31, Philippians 1:10, 4:5, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 2:19, 5:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3, 8, 2 Timothy 1:18, Titus 2:13, Hebrews 9:28, 10:25, 36-37, 12:27-28, James 5:7-8, 1 Peter 5:4, 10, 1 John 2:18, 28, Revelation 22:12, 20 - these verses are usually assumed to refer to a future second coming, but in their context they seem very imminent and the intervention is to be followed by a new era when the faithful church will be vindicated and given new opportunities). Such interventions to end persecution and reward God's people can again and again be illustrated in the story of the church among all nations. We too can look to our reigning Messiah to intervene in our world and restore and reward us in due course.

6:9 Turning to slave owners, Paul says "do the same to them" which refers to service "with enthusiasm." Servant leadership requires the costly submission of listening and caring about those under one's authority. It results in employees growing as persons, becoming healthier, wiser, freer (Robert Greenleaf, Servant Leadership, Paulist Press, 1977). Dag Hammarskjold called it "living your life so that others can receive your orders without being humiliated" (Markings). That means not forcing submission by threats of dire punishment (see Colossians 4:1). And again this kind of service is done in the Spirit of, and for Jesus the Messiah. It does not deny the fact that some workers will need to be disciplined by assigning consequences, and if necessary dismissed. But hopefully they will remember that they were cared for and loved as responsible persons.

6:10-18 Weapons for the spiritual battle that we will face

Paul has set out some very revolutionary changes in relationships between races (2:11-16), in marriage (5:21-33), parenting (6:1-4), and between slave owners (employers) and slaves (employees). This is what the Body of Christ, the church in every city, is actually doing. We can imagine the implacable enmity among those who wanted to retain their traditional power structures. And Paul explains that the devil will use every kind of lie (John 8:44, Revelation 12:9) to keep people in subjection and misery.

Satanic assaults (all he can do is lie and deceive, create doubt, guilt and despair) can only be countered by "the whole armor of God" (6:11). To help his readers picture this, Paul makes a comparison with a Roman soldier preparing to go into battle. First there is a broad leather belt to protect the stomach, then a breastplate to cover the chest, and tough boots are needed to run across rocks and through thorny areas. The left hand held a shield which could be held up to stop arrows and spears, and there was a helmet with the insignia of the soldier's legion. Those were all defensive armor, and for attacking the enemy the soldier used a sword. As we will see, each of these items of armor had a spiritual equivalent to protect us and enable us to triumph in this cosmic battle.

6:10-11 It is impossible to be strong in our own strength. But God has provided the armor we need to fight against the deceiving trickery of Satan. The devil encourages people to say "I have never seen a guy with a red suit and a forked tail." But Paul explains he has many disguises including that of an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). And the proof of his presence is the lies that he insinuates to destroy our love and create doubt, division, and discouragement in every situation. And if that fails the opposite lie is to make us imagine the devil is under every bed and every happy creative situation.

6:12 "Blood and flesh" refers to other humans (John 1:13) who may oppose us in various ways. We also have problems with our own flesh (the instincts that we received through our genes as they have been twisted by our upbringing and child abuse of various kinds, as explained in Romans 7:14-24). But the cosmic battle is against the powers of darkness that inform and control all the institutions of the city we live in. These powers are personal, and they work by telling lies about God, lies about us as Christians, and lies about other brothers and sisters in the body of the Messiah.

6:13 By the armor that God provides for us we can resist these forces. In another Epistle Paul says "The weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds" (2 Corinthians 10:4). Every city has hundreds of Christians who still believe in God, but many of them have unfortunately have been disarmed and become useless for spiritual warfare.

6:14 Our basic defense is truth (pictured as the wide leather belt that protected the soldier's stomach, liver and spleen). We need the certainty that we are honest (not hypocrites), speak the truth with other Christians (see 4:25), and have the truth to proclaim (2 Corinthians 4:2, 6:7). We are hopelessly vulnerable if we are living a lie, and need lies (the devil's own weapon) to protect us. We also need dikaiosune (the breastplate that covered the heart and lungs). This is not a legal imputed righteousness, but the uprightness (a genuine, reliable character, but without any pretense of sinless perfection) that gives us confidence before God and in the company of others.

6:15 A soldier's boots should give him the confidence to run over sharp rocks and jump through thorn bushes. We have many reasons that make us afraid of proclaiming "the Gospel of peace." So we need the assurance that God will be with us wherever we have to go with the good news (Isaiah 52:7, Romans 10:15).

6:16 The "flaming arrows" were dipped in tar and set on fire to terrify those who were besieging a city. Satan has no physical power to harm us (except by permission, Job 1:12). But he can use others to tell lies to divert us away from our task. In the case of the woman who was bent over for eighteen years (Luke 13:16) it is possible that Satan had paralyzed her with guilt.     ( It is wonderful to see someone who has been bowed down by depression suddenly straighten up as he or she is filled with the Holy Spirit). As each lie comes flying towards us, we hold up our faith shield to quench it. "I know God is my Father, and he loves me. I know the Son of God has come and died and defeated death. I know the Holy Spirit can empower me for every eventuality." As we declare our faith, Satan's arrows of doubt are extinguished.

6:17 The soldier's helmet protected his head from danger. But the insignia (in the form of an eagle) also gave him the confidence that he belonged to a famous legion, and his fellow soldiers were with him in this battle. We need the sense that the church is the Lord's own regiment, and "he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet" (1 Corinthians 15:25). There will be casualties, but we are not alone in the battle, and the final victory is certain. The final item of armor is the Word of God which is the sword that the Holy Spirit wields powerfully in every battle. "Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces" (Jeremiah 23:29). "The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword" (Hebrews 4:12).

6:18 The Roman soldier did not have rockets that could reach beyond the enemy lines, or bombers that could fly over to destroy his supplies and command centers. But this is what prayer can do for us. We can call in air support at any time. But this is not prayer as a formality but prayer in the Spirit. "Likewise the Spirit also helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words" (Romans 8:26). That suggests we do not know where the air support is needed at this point in the battle, but we can trust the Spirit to guide us to pray "according to the will of God" (Romans 8:27). For effective artillery and air support there have to be those who will observe and direct the fire, and in prayer it is important to watch and see what the Lord is doing as we pray. In the heat of the battle Jesus said "Keep awake and pray" (Mark 14:38).

6:19-23 Final greetings

Paul often ended his letters with a blessing (Romans 15:13, 1 Corinthians 16:23, 2 Corinthians 13:13, Galatians 6:18, Philippians 4:23). Here he preceded the blessing with an invitation for them to pray for him in the tough situation he was facing.

6:19-20 Paul calls himself an ambassador for the Messiah, but as he writes he is imprisoned (3:1) and in great danger of being taken out any moment to be martyred (see the Introduction). He does not ask for release, but for the Spirit to help him make his defense with boldness (as in Acts 4:13, 29). The boldness is needed to present the mystery of the good news working through the church (for this mystery see 1:9, 3:3, 4, 5, 9-10).

6:21-22 Paul sent Tychicus as the bearer of this letter, and the companion letter to the Colossians (Colossians 4:7). For his faithful service as a member of Paul's apostolic team see Acts 20:4, 2 Timopthy 4:12, Titus 3:12).

6:23 Paul prays for peace (shalom) for the whole community. The blessing of peace and grace (charis) had introduced the letter (see the comments on 1:2, 2:5-10, 2:14, 17, compare Romans 15:13, 1 Corinthians 16:23, 2 Corinthians 13:13, Galatians 6:18, Philippians 4:23, Colossians 4:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:28, 2 Thessalonians 3:16-17).

6:24 This epistle has a unique ending. The translation "undying love" is meaningless, and in the Greek the word aphtharsia (immortality) is connected with the Lord, not our love. A literal translation might be "Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus the Messiah in his immortal nature." That suggests that God's grace does not come by a sentimental love for Jesus in his earthly life and sufferings, but by love and commitment to him as our reigning King of kings and Lord of lords among the nations (see Revelation 4:11, 5:9-13, 11:15-18) and head of the church (4:16, Colossians 1:18-20).

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