I was in San Diego recently, where I entered a conversation about music with some friends. One of my friends (let’s call him Tom) has seen Dépêche Mode 84 times—yes, 84. How could he not be an authority, right? So Tom was asked which album of theirs was his favorite. Music for the Masses. This choice wasn’t a complete shock, but one of us (let’s call him Simon) was surprised, in part because Tom’s favorite songs are not on there. So why the choice? That album, Tom said, does a great job representing the band (for him). It also represents a complete work from start to finish.
Everyone has his or her own criteria about what best represents something they care about. Apparently the Book of Ephesians, which is another one of Paul’s letters to the residents of a city, is considered a “summing up” book of the Bible: everything you need to know about Christianity in one tight book. Apparently, if you need to know what’s in the Bible, start with this book. True, there is a lot here that consolidates Christianity’s “main ideas”; however, there’s an odd tenor to some of Paul’s points. Given this, Ephesians seems like an odd choice to represent this religion.
Paul covers similar ground as earlier books, by mentioning how special Christians are to have been chosen by God (1:4) and how Christ unified people, etc. But then he qualifies his relationship to Jesus and God: he considers himself a “prisoner” (3:1; 4:1).
To be devoted is one thing—you choose to embrace the faith, right? Calling someone a prisoner, however, suggests that you had no choice; that you are there against your will. Is this really how Paul sees himself—and perhaps other Christians? This is just like telling someone who is about to get married that marriage is great, you’re chained to your spouse for the rest of your life and have no hope of getting away. Ever.
But perhaps this feeling of imprisonment is apt, for again he revisits a tiresome point: sexual immorality. Yet Paul’s discussion of this issue should give pause to those who use this book as evidence of what should and should not be allowed in society—I’m alluding here, of course, to anti-homosexuality thoughts. Here, Paul equates sexual immorality with being as bad as obscenity, foolish talk and coarse joking (5:4). He also cautions people to not get drunk on wine, as this creates a gateway to debauchery (which is, of course, bad) (5:18).
So again, if sexual immorality should not be tolerated, we should also cut everything else, which suggests that our First Amendment should be curtailed in the name of Christianity. We should also re-evaluate other aspects of our social conventions. Several people have used the idea that marriage is meant to be between one man and one woman, as evidence by the line that a man leaves his parents when he is going to wed a woman (5:31).
But if you examine what is involved in this concept, it suggests that the only reason a person would move from his parent’s house is due to marriage. Do all the people who believe the anti-gay marriage line so deeply that they want to curtail their children moving out of their parent’s house? There’s no mention of leaving for college here either—which usually creates the first opportunity for kids to live on their own—so we should also get rid of that, too, right?
But perhaps the most troubling point comes in the last chapter: slaves, you need to obey your masters (6:5). Specifically, you need to serve your master as if you were serving god (6:7). And for this, naturally, god will reward you.
Sure, I get that this addresses a way to maintain the slave system favored at the time, but slaves should be happy about their situation? Do people really want to go back to this way of treating other human beings? I doubt it. So why adhere to the sexual immorality issue without the slavery issue? Clearly, we’ve grown past this in society—or at least we should have.
Everyone is entitled to his or her own impression of what represents the “best” of something. The great thing about music is that your taste dictates your own choice. The problem would be if you determined for everyone what that best should be—and by extension how another person is supposed to live their lives according to your choice. When people use the Bible to restrict the lives of others, this is what they are doing, whether they realize it or not.