These are some ideas that were going through my head as I was mowing my lawn the other afternoon. Yeah, it gets boring just going round and round in circles, and usually I am just bored. But for some reason the other day my thoughts turned to the Bible and spiritual things. I am sharing with you some of the thoughts that were going round in my head while I was going round and round on my mower. (Of course I have filled them out a bit since then). By titling these musings “What if…” I am merely posing the ideas for your consideration.
I believe the book of Genesis is foundational to our understanding of very much of the Bible. Jesus used it that way as did the apostle Paul. (See the first article in this series.) Every time the idea of new creation is used in the New Testament the first creation is the backdrop for understanding what it is all about. Our understanding of what God has in store for us at the culmination of his purpose for us as his “new creatures” is ultimately rooted in the first creation story.
2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Galatians 6:15 “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.”
Our understanding of what God’s purpose for what we are to be and do in this present life must be based on his original design for us stated in the account of the creation of man in Genesis 1:26-28.
Could this be what Paul has in mind when he wrote in Ephesians 2:10?
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
If Paul had the creation mission/directive in view this is what he means by the good works we are to walk in. We are simply to get back to the business we were created to do. The “good works” then would not be some sort of extraordinary “religious” service or performance, but simply the real business of being creatures made in God’s image, caring for his good creation, seeing to it that things are in balance, operating like everything was designed to work. According to Paul, this new creation is not a concept but the rule by which we as God’s people are expected to walk.
Galatians 6:15-16 “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.”
Let’s follow this thought just a bit further. Going again to the book of Ephesians, look at chapter 4. In verses 22-24 the apostle tells these Gentile Christians …
“…to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:22-24).
Here again is the creation motif. Following this through the remainder of the 4th chapter, the fifth chapter and into the 6th chapter there is a contrast between the former corrupt manner of life these people had lived and the life of the new creature that God had made them to be. Paul tells these people to …
“…put off your old self…” and “…put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22,24).
As Paul continues this contrast of the old and the new – the things to be put off and the things to be put on – he presents in the 5th chapter a series of “not-but” statements – “do not” do this “but” do that. These things have to do with how the Christian is to “walk” or conduct themselves in the world and among themselves – the rule by which they – and we are expected to live.
Eph. 5:15-16 “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”
Eph. 5:17 “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
Eph. 5:18 “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,”
Following the last exhortation of what TO do he then gives a list of things that will result from being filled with the Spirit.
Eph. 5:19 “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,”
Eph. 5:20 “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,”
Eph. 5:21 “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
In these three things there is nothing negative – no “do nots.” Here are things that are “good” or positive. They are things that are consonant with the new creation. (def. consonant: being in agreement or harmony: free from elements making for discord) They harmonize. They are functional. How so?
That last item listed by the apostle – submitting – is extended through the remainder of the 5th chapter and into the 6th chapter. In these verses three relationships are described. In each of the three, the second person is the same. The husband is the father is the master. What is he doing in each of these three relationships? He is as Christ in each. To the wife he submits by giving himself for her interests and needs as Christ gave himself for the church. To the children he gives himself to bring them to fullness of life through lovingly teaching and training. He submits to the servant by lifting him up the and treating him as an equal just as Paul instructed Philemon to receive Onesimus, his runaway slave “as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” (Philemon 1:16). In all these relationships he does not demand that the others submit to him for his pleasure and benefit. He submits to them to serve and to benefit them for their good.
In each of the three relationships, the first person – the wife, child, servant – has the responsibility of submitting also. This is not the cowering submission as to a tyrant, but the glad, willing submission that receives the love and service and that responds with love and respect. What Paul has just described is the ideal intended by God from the beginning of creation.
Now for a little side excursion. We will eventually get back on track to where want to go, but I think there are some things we need to think about here for just a moment.
When we understand that Ephesians 5:21 – “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” is the basis of everything said from there on in terms of the relationships described it will go a long way toward explaining just what the apostle’s meaning is in all he says in the following verses. Everything that follows flows out of this verse just as this verse flows out of verse 18 about being filled with the Spirit. This reality, first of becoming a new creature, of being regenerated by the Spirit (Titus 3:5), radically changes the way we are to look at other people. That is what is being demanded in this verse and the following illustrations.
When we understand that when Paul says wives are to submit to their husbands that does not indicate her inferiority or inequality. Remember that as Christians men and women are on equal footing with God (Galatians 3:26-28). As some have said, the ground is level at the foot of the cross. To submit here simply means that she is to allow her husband to love her and to do for her what is best. Husbands and wives are not independent of one another. They are mutually dependent, together completing the good, functional creation as it was at the beginning of creation. It takes both functioning together to complete creation.
The requirement that children be obedient surely is self-evident. Children do not know how to behave nor how to make the best choices until they are taught. Even when they are older they still have a need to respect the wisdom and advice of the father. When they obey they allow the father to be the father – that is to love them and provide for them what is best.
As to slavery, understand that God did not create any man to be a slave. Again the principle established in Galatians 3:26-28 comes into view. Slavery was, however, a reality in the Roman world at the time the apostle wrote this. Slavery originated from war, the conqueror taking captured people as slaves. It also came about as a result of economic necessity when a person could not supply his own need or because he was in debt and could not repay his creditor and bonded himself to another to repay his debt.
Paul is not condoning slavery. In fact, it was this and other teachings in the New Testament that eventually brought the understanding to society that the enslavement of one human being by another was not God’s will for man. The condition described here, however, would likely have existed in many households in Ephesus and indeed all over the Roman world. Paul was dealing with a likely situation among many of those people who happened to be Christians. To have just outrightly condemned slavery would have built a barrier against the gospel. It would have only meant confrontation on a social and political level and not engagement on a deeper, spiritual level. Slavery was so imbedded in society in those days that it was not going away any time soon. But if the conditions could be ameliorated, the slave respected and thought of as an equal made in the image of God instead of property to be used and exploited having his needs considered and met it would go a long way to ending the institution. In this way Christians would be leaders in their society instead of being seen as radicals, rebels and revolutionaries. What they were doing was radically revolutionary, but theirs was a peaceful revolution!
There is in the background of these exhortations the story – the standard – of the original creation. But there is also the forward view to the restoration of the ideal, the new creation that is to be brought in when the Lord returns. What the apostle is arguing for is a present day – then and now – manifestation of that ideal of the new creation.