We're looking at the obligations of the church in response to God's offer of spiritual blessings to all who come to Jesus. These included the pursuit of unity and personal righteousness. We are in the process of studying the various features of the righteous lifestyle described in chapters 4:17- 6:19. So far, Paul has described three of these: a loving attitude, a life beyond reproach and piety which is best seen in the virtue of prudence, and the practice of spirit filled living and submissiveness among the brothers and sisters in the church. At this point let us look at the fourth element of righteousness described by Paul, an ordered life.
The three previous features had to do with a person's individual character and attitude. This last feature describes the Christian's relationship with family and society. When it comes to these, God has established a desired order according to His will.
22Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.
- Ephesians 5:22-23
Paul begins with the description of the orderly family because it is the basic unit in society. If there is disorder here, there is disorder in society. Paul does not cover every detail of a woman's role in marriage; instead he establishes the one attitude that will guide all others. Wives should submit to their husbands (military term meaning to rank under, to yield). Wives are to do this voluntarily because it is not a question of superiority, it is a question of faith (obeying God).
Paul says that in the same way you submit to Christ, submit also to your husband. One can't be done without the other. Paul also answers the question, "why is this necessary?" The answer is that God has given the leadership role in the family to the husband, just as He has made Christ the head of the church. There can only be one head, just as there can be one body. God has created marriage in such a way that it is an instructional copy of the relationship between Christ and the church.
That a wife willingly submits to her husband is a spiritual idea not grasped by the carnal mind, nor the world in general. The point Paul makes is that when this takes place, it creates harmony between what is seen and what is not seen in the spiritual world.
Of course, this is not always possible where the husband is dead, the husband is an unbeliever, and/or abusive, the husband refuses leadership, or the wife is evil/refuses role/etc. Just as other things mentioned (loving attitude, piety, etc.), submissiveness is a goal one strives for through practice and prayer, but it should be a goal for all Christian wives.
Some say that this was a social thing in the first century, not valid for today, but Paul confirms: the church has this relationship with Christ forever. In the same way, so long as there is the marriage relationship (until we are in heaven) this is the way God intends for it to remain. Marriage will always reflect the church. There is no confusion, the wife should be prepared to yield completely to her husband.
This is what young women should consider before marrying, "is this the kind of man I would be willing to submit to? (Not just where we would live, work, wedding dress, etc.) Am I willing to put my life into his hands?" If you are not willing to do this then don't marry this person!
This is a major cause of marital conflict and divorce: the confusion of the roles within the marriage. Some have the attitude that says, "I will submit only when and where I feel like it. I want my independence." The mistake in thinking like this is the fact that there is NO independence in marriage! Marriage is the opposite of independence; it is a mutually dependent state where each partner strives to serve the other in love. Of course, some reject this notion of submissiveness because they are afraid of abuse and with good cause. Abuse comes from sinful men who do not understand their role in Christian marriage. This is why you should only consider marrying a faithful Christian.
This brings us to husbands. Again, Paul mentions only one thing about them but it describes the attitude towards their wives that will set the "tone" for the entire relationship. Love your wives!
Love has many expressions and words that describe it. In the Greek language, which is the original language of the New Testament, there are various Greek words that are translated into the English word "love." For example, the Greek word "eros" refers to love in a sensual way; sexual love, the love of art and music are described by this word. The Greek word "phileos," on the other hand, describes the non-sexual love that two friends might share, or the emotion that drives philanthropic giving. Another Greek word, "storgos" describes the love that exists between family members. Now these three types of love exist in most marriages and describe how relationships evolve.
However, the word that Paul uses to describe the love that a man must have for his wife is the Greek word "agapao," a word that describes the type of love that is sacrificial in nature, and in the next verses he gives Jesus as the example of this kind of sacrificial love. Jesus' love for his bride, the church, included: His death to save her, His teachings to guarantee her life, and His care to completely purify her and give her an irrevocable position next to Him in heaven.
Every husband has a degree of sensuality, friendliness and sense of belonging in a family, but for his attitude to be raised to a spiritual level, there needs to exist a readiness to love his wife in a sacrificial way. This is what Christ demands of husbands in a marriage. Why? Because in the marriage the two become one, and when a man loves his wife he is loving himself.
Again, Christ is the example. As the head of the church, He loves and cares for the body in all patience, tenderness and necessary sacrifice. That is why the church happily submits to Jesus. This is what young men should look for and consider before they marry: is the girl ready to submit to him in marriage? Is he prepared to provide leadership? Is he able to sacrifice himself for her? Provide for her and family, place her needs before his own, and able to treat her as a special gift from God, give her honor and respect? Or, does he only want her because she will satisfy his needs (especially sexually), take care of his home (spoil him), and replace his mother? If men knew how to be the head of their wives as Christ is head of the church, women would happily submit themselves to their leadership.
Paul summarizes God's plan for orderliness in marriage. The original plan requires that the couple stop relying on their parents and begin relying on each other. It also demands that the marriage be contracted as one man and one woman faithfully married to one another for life. This model for marriage is heavenly in nature because it reflects the union that Christ has with His church. Within that relationship the basic attitudes are: the wife submits to her husband in all things, and the husband loves his wife with a sacrificial love as he loves himself.
Paul has spoken to wives and husbands, and now addresses the third part in the family unit: the children. Order in a family requires that the mothers and fathers maintain certain attitudes and rules, and that children obey these rules. Again, Paul doesn't give all the details about the children's role and obligations, just the basic one found in the Old Testament. This is a variation of the commandment in Exodus 20:12. Children are to obey their parents (because of the Lord and according to the Lord). The obedience to parents is limited to those things that the Lord would require. In Exodus the promise is that those who do obey would have a long life in the Promised Land. Paul revises this promise so that it will include Gentiles.
Paul then adds an exhortation to fathers in the way they bring up their children. The command for children to obey is tempered with an appeal to fathers not to use their authority in such a way as to provoke their children to become angry or discouraged. Children have feelings and to provoke them to helpless anger is wrong. Instead, Paul says that fathers should raise their children according to the discipline and teachings of Christ.
In those days the father had the power of life and death over their young ones, and the children had no rights. Paul urges fathers to actually direct the upbringing of their children according to the practice and teaching of Jesus, and not according to the social customs of the time or their personal whims. The same holds true for today where the cardinal sin of fathers is not harshness or cruelty, but neglect and a poor example. So Paul concludes his instructions for an orderly family by stating that the duty of children is to obey parents, and that of fathers is to lead in the raising of children.
This is contrary to the pattern we too often see in today's society where the wife and mother becomes a type of matriarch, and dominates both her husband and children contrary to God's will.
Orderly Society - Ephesians 6
As I mentioned before, the fourth requirement of righteousness is ordered living and Paul breaks this into two main components: ordered families and ordered society. A righteous man or woman will strive to pattern his/her family according to the order that Christ provides in His word. That same person will also strive to pattern his position in society according to the will of Christ as well. In these few verses, Paul will explain the responsibility of the two main positions within the society of that era: masters and slaves. He will show that regardless of one's position in society (master/slave), a righteous person conducts himself in the order that Christ has given.
5Slaves, 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; 6not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.
- Ephesians 6:5-8
Again, Paul does not give all the details concerning the life and work of a slave. There were various classes of slaves in that society, and each had their own degree of responsibility. The key ingredient Paul urged them to cultivate was "sincere obedience." This required them to obey with the knowledge that their masters were masters of only their bodies, not their souls.
He instructs them to obey with respect and with the same enthusiasm that they would obey Christ. They were not to act as hypocrites towards their masters by feigning outward submissiveness while despising them in their hearts. Paul says that they should obey with sincere good will knowing that serving in this way fulfills the will of God in this matter, and that God will reward both slave and master in the end.
Paul doesn't promote or defend slavery (I Corinthians 7:21), he simply gives those in that position the way to live so as to please the Lord, and in doing so demonstrate their righteousness, even as slaves. In the end, history demonstrates that the rise and practice of Christianity, and not open rebellion, did away with slavery in most countries.
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.
- Ephesians 6:9
Paul finishes with a word to masters. There were Christians who owned slaves in those days (i.e. Philemon). This was the structure of that society. A "household" included family and slaves as part of one unit. To the masters Paul gives one reminder and that is that everyone (slave or master) has the same "Master" in heaven who will judge all. A judge who will not be favorable to one or the other. All will be judged according to the same standard and righteousness according to God's word. If this is so, then they should stop using coercion and violence to motivate their slaves. Again, an attitude of fairness and respect carried over to today's employees. The unsaid idea is that they should use what the Master uses to motivate us: kindness, teaching, encouragement, generosity and not just authority.
With this, Paul completes the information concerning the final elements required in order to live a righteous life before God, an ordered life in one's family and society. He will complete this section by explaining one more obligation that the church has in response to God's blessings: faithfulness.