Theme: A Biblically Ordered Household Consists of Three Paired Authority Structures in Which Specific Duties are Delegated by God to Distinct Members of Each Pair.
I. Wives and Husbands
II. Children and Parents
III. Slaves and Masters
Prelude to Household Authority: Wisdom and Fulfillment in Christ Eph. 5:15-21
Wisdom: Eph. 5:15-17 - Biblical wisdom is knowledge applied to life; it produces skill for a Godly life; this requires that one is willing to think seriously about the nature of God, of the world around us, and about how we can best use our time for the Lord.
Fulfillment: Eph. 5:17-21 - The phrase normally trans. "filled with the Spirit" is prob. better as "fulfilled in the Spirit," the word "filled" or "fulfilled" being the normal word which the NT uses when OT prophecy is fulfilled by Christ. It stresses completion of a goal rather than some spontaneous work of the Spirit. The four items listed under "be fulfilled"--speaking, singing, giving thanks, and submitting--are ways in which one achieves this goal as the gathered church, as well as logical activities associated with being "fulfilled." The fourth, "submitting yourselves" in 5:21, is conspicuously placed right before the "household" section. The logical conclusion is that three authority structures in 5:22-6:9 should be viewed as ways in which believers can be "fulfilled" in their daily lives at home and work.
Detour #1: The Biblical Concepts of Submission and Obedience
To submit = "place under" - when submission is commanded in the Bible, a voluntary response is expected in attitude and action, based on understanding of God's will; being available is essential.
To obey = "hear under;" assumes one is already in submission and ready to hear and respond to specific commands;
I. Authority Structure #1: Wives and Husbands
- Eph. 5:22-33
A. Wives Give Voluntary and Willing Submission to Husbands - Eph. 5:22-24
Wives are given this command directly. Husbands are not told to make their wives submit. This is the voluntary aspect. The reasoning is simple: the husband is the leader of the household, the "head" of his wife in the same way Christ is the head of His church.
Now the word "head" has been debated in evangelical circles, with some scholars claiming even that calling Christ head of the church does not imply authority over the church! What nonsense, and what frightful ignorance of the way the word "head" has been used to denote leadership in numerous cultures and languages over thousands of years.
But head isn't the only significant term. The very word "Christ" is loaded with authority. Christos is Greek for the Hebrew Messiah, Who is God's "Anointed One." Two categories of men were considered "anointed ones" in the OT: priests and kings; and Jesus Christ is both the final Priest and the final King. Paul uses the title "Christ" 5 times in this passage when talking about His relationship to the church. Christ as Head of the Church is God's High Priest and Anointed King over the church. And husbands are said to be the heads of their wives in the same way!
***Please note: the Bible does not teach "mutual submission" between husbands and wives here or anywhere. First, the three "structures" are given as primary examples of "submitting to one another" with some kind of order, since logically it cannot mean all Christians submitting to all other Christians, all the time. Chaos: get it? Second, if you want to advocate "mutual submission" in human marriage, you must logically apply the same standard to Christ and the church, and thus claim that Christ submits to the church, because, somehow, the church is the head of Christ. Let me say that again: If you ever try to say that a husband submits to his wife, you MUST say that Christ submits to the church; that Christ places Himself under the authority of the church. That's the logical result of supporting "mutual submission."***
But, then, an explicit reason to reject mutual submission is that husbands are given a distinct and forceful command of their own.
B. Husbands Give Sacrificial and Protective Love to Wives - Eph. 5:25-33
Actually, husbands are given the love command in two ways: love your wives as Christ loved the church (v25) and love your wives as your own bodies, as yourselves (vv28,33). The idea of sacrifice is clear in the comparison to Christ's love, whereas the ideas of protection and feeding and generally caring for our wives is clear in the comparison to how we take care of ourselves. The idea is so similar to Christ's command that all Christians "love your neighbor as yourself" that Dietrich Bonhoffer suggested that husbands cannot love their wives as wives until they learn to love them as their neighbors!
Now you could look at this kind of love as a type of submission, but again, since the husband is compared to Christ, a husband's submission is therefore the same as Christ's submission: Christ submitted to God the Father; a husband loving his wife in this deeply sacrificial and committed manner is also submitting to God the Father - - but, in Biblical language, he is not submitting to his wife.
If husbands are not told to submit; we also must note that they are not told to command: which is what we might expect as the counterpart to submission. But strikingly and forcefully, husbands are told to love! Verse 28 lit. says husbands are obligated to love their wives as their own bodies. Love that is total and uninhibited; love that ultimately produces in the wife a Godly fear, or better, a righteous awe of their husbands. The kind of love that astounds and overwhelms and communicates the very presence of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself to a wife. What wife can truly believe that she won't or can't submit in the wake of that kind of love? A wife communicates her recognition of her husband's authority by submission, but the husband communicates his authority by love.
II. Authority Structure #2: Children and Parents-Eph. 6:1-4
A. Children Give Trusting Obedience and Honor to Parents - Eph. 6:1-3
Again the person responsible for living out the command is addressed directly. We assume, therefore, that these are children old enough to understand a command to obey and honor their parents. Now this is an authority structure that overlaps the first and primary structure of marriage, and children are told to obey both parents. Also, we notice that children are not told to submit, since they are judged as in submission to their parents by birth until they become adults and marry. They are already in submission, therefore they are told to obey. The promise for obedience and honor to parents is a long and well-lived life. We don't have to go very far to discover that the opposite is also true: children who disobey and dishonor and alienate parents usually find out that life is a lot tougher without them.
B. Fathers Give Godly and Patient Training to Children - Eph. 6:4
Here's another twist; children are given instructions regarding both parents, but only the father is given instructions regarding the children. Why? Are mothers not involved. We know the book of Proverbs has as many warning about paying attention to Mom as to Dad, so why single Dad out? It's actually quite simple if you accept that the man who is husband and father has been delegated real authority by God to lead the household. The buck stops with Dad, and it is dad's responsibility to establish a structure and atmosphere in the household that encourages children to respond to God and to both parents. Although both parents raise the kids, the father has the primary responsibility.
Again though, he is not charged simply to instruct, but to avoid angering, or exasperating, or frustrating his children. We've got to be reasonable and patient and vitally aware of God's grace to train our children, especially when that training involves discipline.
Before moving to the third structure, let's take another detour:
Detour #2: The Biblical Concept of Slavery Today
Slaves are here connected to the household, to the family. These were not Roman galley slaves, but individuals, and sometimes whole families, who served the households of their master families in various ways. Many of them lived better than those who were "free" but poor. Most "wage-earners" who are bound to show up at a certain place at a certain time, or lose income, would probably be considered slaves by Paul and his co-workers. This is why we so often hear this passage applied to employee/employer relationships. NOTE also that attempts have been made to get rid of submission in marriage by arguing that we have gotten rid of slavery. This is intellectual thievery; there are still "masters" and "slaves" in every aspect of life. Paul was not a Marxist trying to get rid of household structures; he is simply insisting that their relationship to Christ brings new responsibilities to the members of those structures.
III. Authority Structure #3: Slaves and Masters - Eph. 6:5-9
A. Slaves Give Sincere and God-fearing Obedience to Masters - Eph. 6:5-8
Within that understanding of slavery [above] we see that slaves, or employees, are to work honestly and single-mindedly (which is what simplicity of heart means) and with an attitude that their work is to have the ultimate purpose of pleasing God, not simply human masters. The motivation is the knowledge that the ultimate salary, the ultimate reward, will come from God for all in heaven, whether they were slaves or master on earth.
B. Masters Give Reasonable and God-fearing Treatment to Slaves - Eph. 6:9
Masters, or employers--'bosses" are to "do the same things," not in the sense of "mutual obedience," or some such nonsense. but in the sense that they too must remember that God is the ultimate Master of both slave and master. This means that they are to motivate slaves, workers, not by threats and intimidation, but by encouraging words and good treatment and fair wages and reasonable hours and, certainly, by demonstrating the love of Christ. Again, for the third time, the "masters" are the husbands and fathers who are the heads of households, even though, in a household slave situation, every member of the slave family obeyed every member of the "master" family, still it came back to the head of the household to make sure the right things happened.
Postlude to Household Authority:
As we come to the end of this study, I want to summarize, briefly, another "anti-submission" statement, but this time not from an anti-Christian editorial, but from a Christian writer who represents what is sometimes called the "Biblical feminist position."
***In a nutshell, the writer argues “submission was all right for those poor unenlightened first century Christians, but we 20th C. Christians are so much more advanced and superior and enlightened by science and psychology and humanism and feminism, we just know better than poor old Paul."
Well, that not only begs the question of inspiration of Scripture by God, but 1800 years of consistent testimony by Christian scholars and pastors that this passage means exactly what it says.
So… there is one sociological observation that is clear and constant:
The Overall Biblical Order of Authority is Properly Named Patriarchy.
1 Corinthians 11:3 says it in a nutshell: “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” (RSV)
(Also "secular" accounts supports this, since there have been no true “matriarchal” societies in recorded history.)
Other Relevant References:
Genesis 2:18-4:8 / 1 Cor. 11:1-12 / Col. 3:12-25 / 1 Tim. 2:8-15 / Titus 2:1- 10 / 1 Peter 3:1-7
Genesis 2:18-4:8 / 1 Cor. 11:1-12 / Col. 3:12-25 / 1 Tim. 2:8-15 / Titus 2:1- 10 / 1 Peter 3:1-7