Last Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching on Ephesians 5:21-33. Whenever I preach, there is always material that I have to cut—no matter how much I love it! Below is one lengthy “rabbit trail” I went down. It didn’t ultimately fit in this sermon, but it’s worth sharing here.
In Ephesians 5:21, Paul tells us to do something very difficult: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (NRSV). In Greek this verse is part of a subordinate clause in a sentence that begins in verse 18. The ESV, always more literal than the NRSV, puts it as follows:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
When we see it in the context of the full sentence, the command of v. 21, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,” is made possible in part by the doctrine of God’s sovereignty that is implicit within v. 20: “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Give thanks always… and for everything?
Is Paul kidding? How do we do that?
I mean, I’m thankful when things are going my way; when things are working out for me; when I’m getting what I want. By contrast, I’m not usually thankful, for example, when I’m in pain, or when I’m sick, or when I’m suffering in any way. I’m not usually thankful when I’m experiencing a setback, or when I’m dealing with disappointment, or when I’m going through hard times.
In fact, when I’m going through hard times, I can usually only be thankful in spite of the hard times. So my prayers sound something like this: “I give you thanks, God, because as bad as these circumstances are right now, at least I still have these other good things going for me. Or at least it could be so much worse. Or at least I have it better than that other guy over there.”
But is this the kind of thankfulness Paul is talking about?
By no means!
If we are God’s children through faith in his Son Jesus, we never merely have it “better than” someone else or “better than” some possible worst-case-scenario we might imagine. No… In Christ there is no “better than”! In Christ, we have it exactly as good or exactly as bad as it needs to be in order for God to give us something better… to give us more of our heart’s deepest desire; more of our life’s greatest treasure; more of the best thing we can ever receive…
Which is what? More of his Son Jesus Christ!
Don’t you want more of Jesus in your life? Don’t you want more of his Holy Spirit in your life? Don’t you want more of his power in your life—more of his presence, more of his victory, more of his blessing, more of his favor? Aren’t you tired of feeling defeated all the time? Tired of feeling discouraged? Tired of feeling disappointed?
Jesus wants more for you than that! Jesus promises more for you than that! And Jesus always keeps his promises!
You say, “Where are you getting this, Pastor Brent?” Many places throughout the Bible. But let me show you just one place, from the words of Jesus himself. See Luke 11:11-13. Jesus is assuring his disciples that his Father is faithful to give his children only good things when they pray—and if he doesn’t give us what we ask for, it’s only because it wouldn’t be good for us. Jesus says,
What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
Look at that last sentence: We expect Jesus to say, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him!” But he doesn’t say “give good gifts”; he says “give the Holy Spirit.” Why? Because the Holy Spirit is the greatest gift of all—and the Holy Spirit is elsewhere in scripture called the Spirit of Christ; Jesus says that the Holy Spirit makes Christ present to us.
So we can be confident—no matter what we’re experiencing—that when we earnestly pray, our heavenly Father will always give us whatever we need in that moment to have the best thing of all… which more of Jesus.
So when you’re hurting, tell yourself something like this: “This bad thing I’m going through—it’s really bad, and it hurts—but it’s exactly what I need right now to have more of the best thing of all—more of Jesus!”
If you want more of Jesus, this ought to be really good news, because this is precisely what you’ll get!
And this is the principle underlying Ephesians 5:18-21. This is the basis on which we can give thanks to God “always and for everything.” Indeed, this is the basis on which we can fulfill verse 21 and “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Because we know that, even if it hurts us in the short run, in the long run it will ultimately be good for us; it will lead to greater happiness and joy; it will lead to experiencing more of Jesus in our lives!
And when that happens, how can we not do what verse 19 says and “sing and make melody to the Lord with your heart”? That’s what it means to be happy!