Hey, Dads: Discipline, discipleship go hand in hand
Alright, Daddios, moms got their turn last month, but now it’s Father’s Day, and it’s your turn.
I picked these verses just for you. I actually thought about reading two whole chapters here, just for you, but I know you got a barbeque to fire up at home, so I kept it brief. You’re welcome.
But I was tempted, because we are in Ephesians today, the back half of Ephesians, what are called the household codes.
And dads, these codes, enshrined in Scripture, might as well have been tailor made just for you.
Ephesians 5:22: “Wives, be subject to your husband as you are to the Lord.”
Good news for God’s people this Father’s Day.
Then there’s our verse today: Ephesians 6:1: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord.”
You make that your bedtime story tonight, dads.
Not as relevant these days but there’s also Ephesians 6:6: “Slaves, obey your masters with fear and trembling.”
And hey dads, as head of the household, you’re the masters in that verse.
So, congratulations dads, today we enshrine you above your wives, your children, and any slave you have the opportunity to purchase down the road.
Men of God, today we celebrate your supreme authority over all others within the walls of your home.
What? You look suspicious. It’s like you’re not taking what I’m saying at face value.
Maybe because your wife is sitting next to you glaring at me, or at you.
Or maybe it’s because you know me, and all this seems out of place from your pastor.
Or maybe it’s because this is a series called “Stories We Don’t Tell Our Kids,” and at first glance the verse “children obey your parents” seems like the first story you would want to tell your kids, so you know something’s going on.
And yeah, ok. You got me. There’s more going on here than it seems.
After all, as an old professor of mine once said, “a Bible text, without a context, is just a pretext for whatever you want to say.”
Or to use the more snarky version, “I can do all things through a verse taken out of context.”
We have to understand the context of Scripture in order to understand Scripture, right?
And after all, it is the Apostle Paul writing here.
The Apostle Paul who in his letter to the Galatians said that in the body of Christ there is no male or female, no slave or free.
So yes, perhaps when we hear that same Paul place men and women and parents and children and slaves and masters in a strict authoritarian hierarchy, maybe there is something more going on here than meets the eye.
And there is.
And dads, brace yourself, because by the time we are done here today, you are definitely not going to want to tell this story to your kids.
To get us started, I want to show you a picture: this is an image of one of the original seven wonders of the world: the temple of Artemis in the city of Ephesus.
Nowadays, it’s in ruins, but this is what it may have looked like when Paul wrote his letter to the Christians in Ephesus.
And if you can’t tell, this temple was gigantic, eight times as large as most other temples.
To imagine a modern-day equivalent of this temple in Somerset, you need to forget our beloved church building, forget First Baptist’s building or the Creek.
To get a Somerset equivalent to the Temple of Artemis we’d have to tear down all of Citizen’s Bank, the Journal offices, our newly renovated Virginia theatre, Yellow Bird Bakery, Serendipity, Zilla, and the Chamber of Commerce and all their parking lots and erect a massive church over it all with a roof twice as high as the one here where I’m standing.
Can you imagine?
And the priests and staff that maintained that temple, who were collectively known as the Artemis cult- that’s not a bad word, it’s just what religious groups were called back then — they had power and influence in proportion to that massive temple.
But there’s else something interesting about the Artemis cult in Ephesus.
Permit me to geek out for a second, here.
See, in the wider Greek and Roman world, Artemis was the goddess of chastity, hunting, wild animals, and forests.
So you might think that the priests of this massive temple would be a bunch of perpetually single forest rangers or something.
It turns out, the Artemis cult in Ephesus had been influenced by the Eastern cultures on this edge of the Roman Empire, and so the Artemis worshipped in Ephesus was rather different from everywhere else.
Keep up with your geeky pastor, now.
This Eastern-influenced Artemis, called Artemis Ephesia, was not the goddess of chastity and forests, she was the goddess of fertility, fruitfulness, and family.
So this massive cult, based in this massive temple in the city of Ephesus, was devoted above all else to the flourishing of the Roman ideal of the family.
And understand that that Roman ideal of the family was a hierarchy: the husband on top, wives below him, children below that, and slaves below that.
It was an ideal almost identical to the household codes in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
And that’s a really interesting coincidence.
You still with me? Good.
Because it gets more interesting when you realize that Paul knows the power of the Artemis cult first-hand.
See, Acts chapter 19 tells us how Paul lived in Ephesus for two years spreading the Gospel and planting a church, the church he’s now writing to.
But Paul’s stay in Ephesus ended when a group of silversmiths whose trade depended on the Artemis cult felt threatened by this new Christian religion and incited a mob against Paul and his friends.
Paul was lucky to get out of there alive.
So Paul, above all others, knows the power of the Artemis cult, and knows the precarious situation the Christians in Ephesus are in.
If the Christians in Ephesus are even suspected of undermining the Artemis cult in any way, they will be persecuted, exiled, or even killed, just like Paul almost was.
All that is our context.
And I know it was a lot, but I also know that you’re attending church in the Summer, which means you really want to be here, so I’m trusting you to keep up with me.
If you can’t, you can go back and watch this video again.
Because now Paul is writing to the Christians in Ephesus, and he wants to tell them how to live as Christians in the day-to-day.
But Paul has to do that knowing that if the Christians in Ephesus start going around promoting anything contrary to the Artemis cult and the Roman ideal of the family that cult promotes, they will be attacked, just like Paul and his friends were.
So what’s Paul to do?
Well, the first thing Paul does is affirm the Artemis rule for the family: husbands, wives, children, slaves.
Paul, the same man, remember, who wrote that there is neither male nor female nor slave nor free in the body of Christ, tells the Christians in Ephesus to live according to the Artemis rule where there is very much male and female and slave and free.
And that’s just a fact, however you may feel about it, it’s right there in our Bible.
But Paul doesn’t just leave it at that; no, the second thing Paul does is add to the Artemis rule
“Wives, obey your husbands” was the Artemis rule, and Paul affirms it.
But he adds, “husbands, love your wives as you love your own body.”
“Children, obey your parents” was the Artemis rule, and the Jewish rule too, by the way, and Paul affirms it.
But he adds to it, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger.”
“Slaves, obey your masters” was the Artemis rule, and Paul affirms it.
But Paul adds to it, “masters, stop threatening your slaves, for you both have the same master in heaven.”
Paul makes the decision that living according to the Artemis rule for the family was necessary for the Christians in Ephesus for their own safety.
But Paul also makes an addition to it.
Call it the Jesus rule, summarized by the first verse of chapter 5, “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
And dads, that brings us back to you.
Because I hate to tell you this, but you don’t live in first century Ephesus.
There’s not an Artemis cult that’s going to come after you if you don’t live according to their rules.
Now, I will say, many Christians still affirm those rules, and I respect that.
I mean, children should, generally speaking, obey their parents, right? That rule’s true.
But on the other hand, those rules do affirm slavery, which as I was privilege to help celebrate at our local Juneteenth festival yesterday, has been rightly abolished and now regarded as absolutely evil.
So it’s at least an open question what other Artemis rules- like say that wife one- might no longer be valid for Christians today.
But regardless of your opinion on the Artemis rules, the Jesus rule is clear. In the Christian household, each person in the household belongs to each other.
And dads, this changes everything for all of us, but especially for you.
Because the Artemis rule, which many in this world still follow, it’s all about people doing what you say
But the Jesus rule it is all about everyone belonging to each other.
About us loving and encouraging each other and helping each other grow in love and faith
And I can’t describe in one morning everything that the Jesus rule is going to change for you dads, but let me give you one example that I experienced just this week.
My family went out for dinner the other day. We thought it’d be fun. But it quickly became apparent on the ride to the restaurant that this trip would not be fun. One small person in particular was against the whole idea.
There was arguing and screaming and pouting and wailing, and all of that was just in the car. It only got worse when we arrived at the restaurant.
Now, the Artemis rule, as well as my own anger, demands simple obedience from children, right?
So the Artemis rule and my anger wanted me to focus on what I could threaten my daughter with that would get her to do what I want: namely, stop screaming and crawling under tables and just sit for a second so I can stuff some fries in her face.
And again, let me affirm with Paul that just letting her just keep screaming isn’t the right choice, either
children should obey their parents.
But since I was writing this sermon that day — love coincidences like that as a preacher — I tried to shift my focus. Because I belong to my daughter, I am there to serve her as she grows into a person of faith and love.
Now, again, a person of faith and love doesn’t generally scream in restaurants, so we do have some work to do here.
But now I’m asking a different question. I’m not asking “How can I enforce obedience?” Instead I’m asking, “What’s hurting in her and how can I help heal it?” And the answer to that was pretty obvious once I asked the question.
See, we’d just been traveling for two weeks solid. And now my girl was finally home and yearning for a normal routine. So going anywhere, even a restaurant, was upsetting because she just wanted to be home.
So, knowing that, what does belonging to her look like?
Well, it looked like assuring her that we’re headed right back home, that Mommy and Daddy will stay with her all evening long, that we will sit on our normal couch and watch our normal TV shows when we get there. And then it looked like saying if she didn’t stop screaming she would get one fewer book at bedtime — which is the worst punishment as far as my girl is concerned.
Dads, do you hear this word today?
You belong to your kids, you’re responsible for them growing in love and faith.
So when it comes to your kids, the Jesus rule puts even discipline in the context of discipleship.
But the same rule also affects your relationship with your partner or spouse and, while we don’t have slaves anymore thank God, it does apply anyone you have any authority over, from employees to servers at a restaurant.
You belong to each and every one, serving them so they can grow in love and faith.
And all of that would be really bad news this Father’s Day, except for one thing: it’s just so much better.
Discipling others instead of disciplining them is better.
Serving others instead of being served is better.
Belonging to others instead of sitting on the top by yourself is better.
Because it’s all being like Jesus.
Jesus who said that the first will be last and the last will be first.
Jesus, who said “Not my will but thine be done.”
Jesus, who gave up his life so we all could belong to God and each other.
That’s what Jesus was like.
And there’s nothing better than being like Jesus.
As we say around here, it’s the only life worth living.
Happy Father’s Day.