Be Strong in the Lord
1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
2 HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise),
3 SO THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH.
4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
5 Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; 6 not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.
7 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8 knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.
9 And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.
The Bible was not written for the Christian to sit and read in an armchair and then do nothing. Instead, God gave it to us to help us in our lives. He speaks in the word to us, because we are his dearly loved people. Both the doctrinal and the practical sections were written to help us live. In a general sense the doctrinal sections help us understand God and ourselves, and how to relate to God; the practical sections help us please God in our relationships with other people and with the world. To look at this from another angle, the Bible in a way is the Christian’s “battle plan”, because we, whether we like it or not, are part of a war. We are in a tough fight, a terrible conflict. All followers of Jesus Christ must confront enemies that totally hate us, and we are called to engage the enemy. For this reason, I thought it would be wise for us to consider this spiritual warfare and how we ought to conduct ourselves in the war.
Let’s start with the form of this verse. The Holy Spirit presents a way of life that will please the Lord. God’s commands describe how his obedient children are to act. Military commands are not options; neither is God’s word! “Be strong” is in the imperative mood. You must be strong. This command flows from the teaching of Ephesians 4:1,17, which flows from the prayer of 3:14-21, which flows from the reality of relationship with the living God presented in 1:3-2:22. (In other words, remember the context of the whole letter. Think of how you are richly blessed in Christ. Our way of life develops from who we are in Christ.)
The Holy Spirit directs us to precise activity: “be strong in the Lord”. However, we can too easily be diverted from the Spirit’s guidance. One diversion is to seek strength in our natural abilities and achievements. We wrongly suppose we can figure out “how to live a successful Christian life” and once we know that, we assume we have the capability to do it. Neither should we be diverted to seek strength in our spiritual growth, nor to seek strength in our spiritual gifts. Both are traps to those who rightly sense that they are growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior (2 Peter 3:18). You must not depend on your progress or gifts. You need what is much more powerful.
We must only seek strength from the Lord.
Compare John 15:5. (Yes, Mission FifteenFive.) How do we receive strength? Since we are united to Christ through faith, we also receive strength from the Lord Jesus through faith—not through works, rituals, or “spiritual disciplines”. Rely on his more than sufficient resources; commit yourself to him (2 Corinthians 12:9). You might be in a very hot part of the battle at this moment. Evil desires might be alluring you, while you’re trying to focus on Christ. You might feel that you can’t cope, that it’s easier to yield to them. I understand, and so does our Lord. Yet the Spirit appeals to you through his word to “be strong in the Lord”. Go to the Ascended Jesus and draw from him by faith the strength you need.
The Holy Spirit presents confident expectation (hope) to us. How much we need hope! We can be strong in the Lord. To help us realize the benefit God offers to us, let us think about three factors that demand strength from the Lord. A strong enemy opposes us (6:12), our adversary, the devil (1 Peter 4:8). We have a traitor within (1 Peter 2:11). Sinful desires wage war against us. The standard for successful obedience is high, which is likeness to Jesus Christ (John 13:34; Romans 13:14; Ephesians 4:13). We can become too easily discouraged, if we consider any of these apart from our greatest resource. The Lord Christ wants us to know that his mighty power is more than adequate for us in all these.
The Lord promises himself and his strength to encourage us.
Knowing the difficulties will only magnify our appreciation for the help we receive in him. However, what we must understand is that his power comes through our union and fellowship with him, not in the endless processes that Christians seem to love to develop. Christians seem to like or even prefer some kind of stern spiritual regimen to a daily walk by grace through faith with the Lord. If the routine makes them feel or seem like they are making painful personal sacrifices to get close to the Lord, so much the better. “I get up at five… I have a long prayer list… I gave up such and such for Lent… I read ten chapters a day… I serve in a ministry in my local church, and no one says ‘thank you’… etc.” But this might be only playing around with a spiritual regimen instead of sharing one’s life with the Lord and actually depending on him. Please don’t misunderstand. I do read the Scriptures and pray and meditate and fellowship with other believers and so forth. I am saying don’t confuse doing them with the practical friendship with God that is worship. Know this: the Lord wants us to draw near to him personally and joyfully. “Be strong in the Lord.”
The Lord’s mighty power is sufficient to live on (Hebrews 11:13; cf. Exodus 6:3). The Lord’s strength is a remedy in the face of fear (Isaiah 8:11-9:7; 43:2). The Lord’s strength will refresh us (Romans 8:31-32). “He that was willing to expend his Son’s blood to gain them, will not deny his power to keep them. (Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armor).” Press this hope home upon your soul until your doubts and fears in this matter are settled. The Lord’s strength will be our joy (Nehemiah 8:10), because he wants us to rejoice (Philippians 4:4).
Consider the power that God pledges to help us—“his almighty power”.
Here is the vitality of our hope. When we seek to obey God, his omnipotence comes to our aid. The power he promises is awesome (Ephesians 1:19-20). By God’s power Christ was raised to life. By God’s power we were raised to life (Ephesians 2:5). You and I are living witnesses to the reality of the Almighty God. We live within the sphere of Christ’s resurrection.
However, we must guide our thoughts about this promise to conform to the Scriptures. We can err in various directions, but let us avoid them all. Do not imagine that resurrection power provides you from an escape from difficulties in this present age. A careful reading of Romans 8:18-39 should be enough to convince you that following Christ does not mean “your best life now” or other such silliness. Yet do not limit God’s power in your thoughts. “We are not… to limit and restrain it in our narrow and shallow thoughts, and to think in this, or in that, the power of God may help or secure us; but to believe that he is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think” (Flavel, Works, Vol. 3, p. 345). Compare Ephesians 3:20. However, understand that God’s power will help you to live godly as a partner with Christ in his mission. And do not bog yourself down with incomplete evaluations. “All things seem to be working contrary to my hope in Christ!” Every believer will struggle with incomplete evaluations, as Abraham did (Romans 4:18-22).
So then, rest and rejoice in God’s power. Act this way in the struggle with remaining sin. We may feel like a whole marine division of the spiritual forces of evil is coming against us and is about to overrun our position. We may feel powerless against the attack. But do we believe in the power of God (Genesis 18:14)? “Though sin be too hard for thee, yet not for him… Set his power to work, by faith and prayer.” (Watson). Recall that God is greater in the face of strong temptation (1 John 4:4).
As we strive to serve God, determine to go forward in his strength (Acts 18:9-11).
How many people does God have in the area in which you live? Do you want to give up or go find them? “Oh pastor, we can’t do it!” But God can. “We can’t solve this family problem!” But God can. “I can’t defeat this sin I’m struggling with!” But God can. Some writer in earlier times said, “Assure thyself when thou art at the greatest pinch [that] strength shall come.” Remember Elijah beside the dried up brook (1 Kings 17:7-24). When the water dried up, God made a way. But it didn’t look like it at first, for the widow had very little food. But God supplied. Whew, that was a close call! But then the widow’s son dies anyway. What is God doing? Never had anyone been raised from the dead. But God gave life from the dead. How much strength do you need? How much strength does your local gathering of Christ followers need? God’s almighty power is sufficient. Therefore, let us rely on the Lord!
Grace and peace,