Vocation: God At Work In The Family (Ephesians 5:22-33, 6:1-4)

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother" (this is the first commandment with a promise), "that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land." Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

As you can recall, vocation means calling.  Each and every one of us has been called into a particular vocation.  In fact we all walk in several different vocations throughout our days and lives.  Vocation is a matter of you and I being called to a particular office.  Keep in mind that our vocations are avenues for us to do good works towards our neighbors, good works that have been prepared in advance for us to walk in. 

Now with our vocations we need to keep in mind that these vocations are gifts from God.  They are ways in which God cares for his creation.  The vocations are holy and divine.  However, we must never forget that these vocations are filled by sinners like you and me.    In other words, what makes the vocation holy is not the person but the office or calling itself.  For example, a parent might be economically poor, feeble and out of touch with reality, but they still hold the office of mother and father.  A judge may have faults, yet when he is clothed by the rob of the law he executes his calling.  A pastor may be weak in the faith, lazy, and spiritually apathetic, but by the virtue of his office the weddings he performs, the baptisms that he does and the communion he serves are still valid and important.  People hold these offices and people are sinners through and through.  Yet, these offices are good and true, holy ways in which God serves his creation.

Today, we are looking at the most basic of all vocations, and that is our calling to the family.  Every human being has been called into a family. The family and our vocation as family members is the most basic of all vocations.  Our calling as citizens and workers has its foundation in the family.  Across the world literally billions of people are called to families. Within this family now, we have 3 different levels, roles, or we could say relationships.  We have marriage, parents, and children. 

First, in the area of marriage we see that scripture says that it is not good for a man to be alone.  Therefore, marriage is good.  It is good when a person gets married.  Within marriage though, husbands and wives have callings towards each other.  Paul says that wives are to submit to their husbands and husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church.  In our day and age it isn’t popular to tell a woman that she is to submit to her husband.  In fact, this will often get a very hostile response.  Furthermore, it is very easy for a husband to hit his wife over the head with Ephesians 5:22 saying, “Wife, you need to submit!”  Now obviously, we need to put this into proper context.  If we back up to Ephesians 5:21 we see that out of reverence for Christ that husbands and wives are to submit to each other.  In other words, in the context of who Christ is and what he has done we walk in our vocations as husband and wives.  What this looks like is that the husband is called to love his wife like Christ loved the church.  So how did Christ love the church?  He died for her.  A husband is not to lord himself over a battered spouse.  A husband is not to be a lazy slob, reclining in his sofa demanding that his wife wait on him hand and foot while he neglects his vocation as a husband and father.  This is not how Christ treats his bride, the church.  Jesus didn’t stand by and let his church go to hell.  Rather, he fought the evil one, sin and death by giving himself for His bride. The passage gives us a picture of a husband that sacrifices himself—his wants, his needs, his strength, his very life if it comes to the good of his wife.  Furthermore, this passage calls for the wife to submit to her husband.  A wife is to respect, lift up, and speak highly of her man rather than ripping him a part and disrespecting him when she is out for coffee with her girlfriends. 

When I do marital counseling and premarital counseling I am constantly bringing forth this passage.  The reason being, it is all too easy to fall into a law based marriage where the husband says, “I will show my wife love when she starts respecting me,” and the wife says, “I will start showing my husband respect when he starts loving me.”  No, my friends!  Our vocations of being a husband and wife operate out of the context of the Gospel not each other.  We walk in our vocations as husbands, serving our wives and even dying for them if necessary because of what we have been given by God.  Because God respects us men to the point of dying for us on the cross we get to walk in our vocations and we get to love our wives unconditionally.  Conversely the same is true for you wives.  You derive your love first and foremost from Christ.  Your identity is found in who you are as a child of God.  Then out of this context you are called to freely respect your husband.  In our vocations as husbands and wives it is all about granting and gifting love and respect out of reverence for Christ. 

From the context of marriage obviously come forth children.  Parents are vehicles in which God brings forth life.  Furthermore, parents not only bring forth life, they sustain the life of the children.  Now, what makes this so amazing is that the spiritual well-being of a child is definitely impacted by the church, but often times more so by the family. Awhile back I was visiting with a parishioner who was reflecting that if it wasn’t for his grandfather being a Christian and teaching his father about Christ, that he and his extended family and his nieces and nephews and so forth wouldn’t probably be Christians either.  In other words, we can’t diminish the power of the family in the ministry of the Word of God.  You see the family is kind of like a mini-church unto itself.  The father is kind of like a mini-pastor to his family, leading, teaching and sharing the Word with his family.  The magnitude of the parent’s role to the children is amazing.  Fathers and mothers create, nurture and shape their children, both physically and spiritually.  This is how God works through parents.  Just think about the blessings of how you bring your children to baptism, promise to give them access to the church and then by bringing them to church, saying your prayers with them and reminding them of the promises of God.  Your ministry to your children can very literally extend through the next half a dozen or more generations.  The Gospel that we minister to our children now, will echo throughout the generations to come!  What a profound vocation that you and I have in being parents to our children.  What a gift it is to bring them to the waters of baptism, to give them access to the church, and to minister forgiveness to them. 

Pastor Todd Wilken from Issues, Etc. once said, "The center of the family is not discipline, but the forgiveness of sins."  It isn't that we as parents are not to discipline our children nor teach them what is right and what is wrong.  Remember that order is good.  The Law keeps us from doing stupid stuff to ourselves and others!  Rather, Pastor Todd's point is that there is something truly more essential and fundamental for our families than discipline, and that is the Gospel (i.e. forgiveness).  You see, simply focusing on discipline without the foundation of forgiveness of sins will only address the outward actions of our children and thus create a family that is pharisaic at best.  

Now, not everyone is called to be a parent, of course, but everyone has a parent.  Being a child is also a holly calling, a profound vocation!  In the vocation of being a child we are called into the realm of honoring our parents.  There is honor to be given to parents because of their vocation.  Our parents took care of us-while we were lying helplessly in our cribs, dirtying our diapers and needing to be cleaned and fed, we were utterly dependent on them.  Through parents God takes care of children, he took care of us.  However, there may come a time when our parents become similarly dependent on us.  Thus there is something profound that children repay their parents when they become dependent and helpless.  There is a sense of role reversal.  Yet it is in the family that parents are called to take care of their children and in the vocation of being a child we are called to respect and ultimately take care of our parents when they grow older. 

The family is a foundational vocation.  It is one where we are taken care of when we are baby all the way where we are taken care of when we are old.  The family vocation is also a place for us to be nurtured and taken care of spiritually. 

Now as we think about the vocation of family it is easy to jump to the conclusion that these vocations are simply authoritative roles.  In other words, it is easy to look at the vocations in the family and think it is about parents authority over children and the husband’s authority over his wife and so forth.  Even though these vocations do possess a sense of authority and roles, to reduce the idea of vocation down to matters of obedience is to see this idea of vocation in the realm of Law when it is also a matter of Gospel.  You see, the essence and purpose of Christian vocation is that it is a vehicle in which God loves and serve his creation.  In well-functioning families, the parents are loving and serving the children.  The children are loving and serving their parents.  The wife loves and serves her husband.  The husband loves and serves his wife. The authority is given so that we can serve and love. 

There is a reality though that we need to address.  The reality is that parents were not called to the high office to neglect or spoil or be cruel to their children.  God did not bless a man with a wife so he could dominate and misuse her.  A woman was not called into motherhood to abort her child.  Child abuse, mental cruelty, neglect, coldheartedness, domestic fighting, provoking children—these have nothing to do with God’s intentions and vocations, for they are sins against vocation. 

So what is a person to do when they find themselves devastated by an unhealthy family?  One can take comfort not in their physical family but that they are a part of a spiritual family, and that is the church.  They are called out of the world and into the church where they can be fed the Word of God.  For it is in the church that God feeds, nurtures and heals. For it is in the church that we hear about the forgiveness of sins and the hope of the resurrection.  

Note:  Portions of this sermon are taken directly from Gene Edward Veith's book, "God At Work."