She was five and I was seven. The sun had just set, but there was light enough for our tasks. We had rhubarb leaves to gather, Rose of Sharon flowers to collect, and lightning bugs to catch. She ran back and forth with a run as cute as it was enthusiastic. I sat enthroned on an industrial wood spool and shouted orders: “Not those flowers, those are Queen Anne’s Lace!” We were storing up treasures and there was a lot of work for us to do. Well, work for her to do. Someone had to manage the operation, and if seven years had taught me nothing else, they had taught me that I loved to be the boss.
My little sister has always been game to help me achieve my goals. Whether I’m filling baskets with pink flowers or purchasing a new sofa, she’s got my back. But it’s taken me a long time to learn how to fully appreciate our relationship and not turn it into a power play.
We all have a little megalomania in us, whether we are the big sister or not. We all have an impulse to control. Henry Cloud points out that “all people were designed by God to be control freaks. But because we shy away from controlling what we are supposed to control (ourselves), we resort to controlling what we are not supposed to control (others).”
When Paul addressed the Ephesians, he wasn’t just delivering a few tips for getting along with friends and coworkers; he was revealing how the gospel transforms all of our relationships. The gospel takes the power struggle out of the equation.
Our sinful hearts are naturally inclined to rebel against authority. It’s (profoundly) hard for wives to submit to husbands, children want to rebel against parents, and who hasn’t had a hard time respecting a boss? (Ok, I know this passage also talks about slaves and masters, but I just can’t even right now with the complex issue of Old Testament slavery.) We squirm and wiggle to get out from under authority.
On the other side, our sinful hearts are inclined to control those under us. Husbands control and hurt wives, and wives undermine and control husbands. Parents try to control and micromanage their children, and employers steamroll workers all the time. We don’t want to submit, and we don’t want to lead with mercy.
Here’s the good news: the gospel actually does change our relationships. It changes the nature of both our intimate and professional bonds. Yes, our sinful hearts want to control others and rebel against authority, but God only calls us to control ourselves (Galatians 5:23).
How can we control ourselves and understand this mystery of love, submission, and authority? Two ideas from scripture: Do a good job with a good heart.
Paul encourages us to do a good job by enjoining us, “Don’t work only while being watched, in order to please men, but as slaves of Christ, do God’s will from your heart” (Ephesians 6:6).
And Paul invites us to have a good heart: “Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord” (Colossians 3:23-24).
But our hearts are precisely the problem! How can I do a good job with a good heart when my heart so bent on controlling others? The gospel never sets works before the transformed heart. It begins with Christ’s transforming work in my heart. Christ is the one who does all this.
Why does Paul go to all this trouble? To help us sort out little peccadillos with coworkers? To keep kids from getting out of hand in the grocery store? To help me not be grouchy to my husband?
Yeah, actually. Yes. All our relationships are about Christ. They mirror different facets of our connection to Him, so these interactions with other folks are like a training ground. We are learning to love Christ better through our relationships on earth. This mystery is profound (Ephesians 5:32).
Help your little sister when she’s gathering rhubarb, and listen to your mom if she calls you inside. God gave these people to you. When that old impulse to control strikes, use it to control yourself by submitting your heart to Christ.