“Word for Today” – Ephesians 5 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

November 4, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

House 2“A man has the rule of this household by nature, for the deliberative faculty of a woman is inferior, in children it does not yet exist, and in the case of slaves, it is completely absent” (1 Hezekiah 14:7).  Actually, Hezekiah didn’t really say this.  In fact, the book of 1 Hezekiah doesn’t even exist.  Rather, these words were said by Arius Didymus, the great Stoic philosopher, who is here quoting Caesar Augustus’ position on how a household is to be ordered.  And Didymus’ delineations for a household are clear, crisp, and concise:  The man is at the top and everyone else is beneath him.

Such instructions were not unusual in and were widely accepted by ancient Roman society.  What is unusual, however, are the instructions that Paul offers concerning the first century, and twenty-first century, household in our reading for today from Ephesians 5:

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (verses 22-28)

Paul continues in Ephesians 6 by speaking to other members of the family:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” – which is the first commandment with a promise – “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (verses 1-9)

A few things are notable about the way that Paul addresses a family’s order compared to how others addressed this same order.  First, Paul addresses all the members of the family, not just the father.  Because it was assumed, as demonstrated by the quote from Didymus above, that only the father had the rational abilities necessary to keep his family in order, only fathers were addressed. In Paul’s delineation of household duties, however, each member is addressed as a competent, rational human being who has something to contribute to the harmony of the family.

Second, Roman household structures assumed that a man was fit for command over his house simply by his natural aptitude as a male.  As Aristotle says, “The male is by nature fitter for command than the female” (Politics 1.12).  Paul says that a man is head over a household not because of some sort of innate superior aptitude, but because God has placed him there.  Thus, a man is answerable to the God who places him in such an important position and thus ought to discharge his duties carefully and with much grace, following the lead of his heavenly Father.

Finally, we must not overlook how Paul opens his instructions concerning Christian households:  “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (verse 21).  For Paul, a healthy household is built not on power, but on loving submission – a desire to consider the needs and prerogatives of others before considering your own.  For this is what Christ has done with us.  He willingly submitted himself to the tortures of the cross so that we could be reconciled to God and be reckoned as “fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19).

So today, give thanks to God for your family and ask yourself, “How can I discharge my duties toward my family in a godly, faithful, and loving way?”  It won’t always be easy, but it will always be worth it.  For we each have a roll to play in our families.

Entry filed under: Word for Today.

“Word for Today” – Ephesians 4 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com “Word for Today” – Ephesians 6 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

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