Life at Home

Week of May 7, 2017

The Point:  Home is where our identity in Christ is clearly lived out.

Relationships Within the Christian Household:  Ephesians 5:22-6:3.

[22] Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. [23] For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. [24] Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. [25] Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, [26] that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, [27] so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. [28] In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. [29] For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, [30] because we are members of his body. [31] “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” [32] This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. [33] However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. [6:1] Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. [2] “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), [3] “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”   [ESV]

“The duty of wives [22-24].  Two reasons are given, or at least implied, for the wife’s submission to her husband. The first is drawn from creation and concerns the husband’s headship of his wife, while the second is drawn from redemption and concerns Christ’s headship of the church. The origin of the husband’s headship is not elaborated in these verses. For a fuller understanding of Paul’s argument we need to turn to 1 Corinthians 11:3-12 and 1 Timothy 2:11-13. In both these passages he goes back to the narrative of Genesis 2 and points out that woman was made after man, out of man and for man. Paul’s emphasis is on the order, mode and purpose of the creation of Eve. And since it is mainly on these facts of creation that Paul bases his case for the husband’s headship, his argument has permanent and universal validity, and is not to be dismissed as culturally limited. The cultural elements of his teaching are to be found in the applications of the principle, in the requirements of veiling and silence. But the man’s headship is not a cultural application of a principle; it is the foundation principle itself. The new creation in Christ frees us from the distortion of relations between the sexes caused by the fall, but it establishes the original intention of the creation. It was to this beginning that Jesus Himself went back [see Matt. 19:4-6]. He confirmed the teaching of Genesis 1 and 2. So must we. What creation has established, no culture is able to destroy. The biblical perspective is to hold simultaneously the equality and the complementarity of the sexes. Partnership is a good word so long as it is remembered that the contribution which each brings to it is not identical but distinctive. What then are the complementary distinctives of the two sexes? The biblical teaching is that God has given to man a certain headship, and that his wife will find herself and her true God-given role not in rebellion against him or his headship, but in a voluntary and joyful submission. In order to understand the nature of the husband’s headship in the new society which God has inaugurated, we need to look at Jesus Christ. For Jesus is the context in which Paul uses and develops the words headship and submission. Although he grounds the fact of the husband’s headship in creation, he defines it in relation to the headship of Christ the redeemer. It is from Christ as head that the church derives its health and grows into maturity. His headship expresses care rather than control, responsibility rather than rule. If the husband’s headship of the wife resembles Christ’s of His church, then the wife’s submission will resemble the church’s. There is nothing demeaning about this, for her submission is not to be an unthinking obedience to his rule but rather a grateful acceptance of his care. Whenever the husband’s headship mirrors the headship of Christ, then the wife’s submission to the protection and provision of his love, far from detracting from her womanhood, will positively enrich it.

The duty of husbands [25-33].  If the word which characterizes the wife’s duty is submit, the word characterizing the husband’s is love. Paul uses two analogies to illustrate the tender care which a husband’s love for his wife should involve. The first is that the husband must love his wife as Christ has loved His church. Already in the Old Testament the gracious covenant which God made with His people Israel was many times referred to as a marriage covenant. Jesus took over this teaching and boldly referred to Himself as the Bridegroom. What stands out in Paul’s development of the theme is the sacrificial steadfastness of the heavenly Bridegroom’s covenant-love for His bride. It is this which husbands are to imitate. It will be observed that Paul uses five verbs to indicate the unfolding stages of Christ’s commitment to His bride, the church. He loved her, gave Himself up for her, to sanctify her, having cleansed her, that He might present her to Himself. These five verbs trace Christ’s care for His church from a past to a future eternity. The tenses of the verbs suggest that the cleansing of the church precedes her consecration or sanctification. Indeed, the cleansing seems to refer to the initial purification or cleansing from sin and guilt which we receive when we first repent and believe in Jesus. It is accomplished by the water and the word. The washing of water is an unambiguous reference to baptism, while the additional reference to the word indicates that baptism is no magical or mechanical ceremony, but needs an explanatory word to define its significance, express the promises of cleansing and new life in the Spirit which it symbolizes, and arouse our faith. The sanctification appears to refer to the present process of making the church holy in character and conduct by the power of the indwelling Spirit, while the presentation is eschatological, and will take place when Christ returns to take her to Himself. He will present her to Himself in splendor. Glory is the radiance of God, the shining forth and manifestation of His otherwise hidden being. So too the church’s true nature will become apparent. On earth she is often in rags and tatters, stained and ugly, despised and persecuted. But one day she will be seen for what she is, nothing less than the bride of Christ, without spot or wrinkle, beautiful and glorious. It is to this constructive end that Christ has been working and is continuing to work. The bride does not make herself presentable; it is the bridegroom who labors to beautify her in order to present her to Himself. His love and self-sacrifice for her, His cleansing and sanctifying of her, are all designed for her liberation and her perfection, when at last He presents her to Himself in her full glory. This, then, is Paul’s exposition of the implications of Christ’s headship. The church’s head is the church’s bridegroom. He does not crush the church. Rather He sacrificed Himself to serve her, in order that she might become everything He longs for her to be, namely herself in the fullness of her glory. Just so a husband should never use his headship to crush or stifle his wife, or frustrate her from being herself. His love for her will lead him to an exactly opposite path. He will give himself for her, in order that she may develop her full potential under God and so become more completely herself. Paul then moves from the sublime heights of Christ’s love to the more mundane level of self-love. Hence the practical usefulness of the golden rule Jesus enunciated that we should treat others as we would ourselves like to be treated [Matt. 7:12]. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it [29].  A mystery is a revealed truth, and the profound mystery in verse 32 refers to the church’s union with Christ. Paul thus sees the marriage relationship as a beautiful model of the church’s union in and with Christ. When applied to Christ and His church, the one flesh is identical with the one new man of 2:15. Indeed, the three pictures of the church which Paul develops in Ephesians – the body, the building and the bride – all emphasize the reality of its unity on account of its union with Christ. Verse 33 is a succinct summary of the fuller teaching which Paul has been giving to husbands and wives. Paul began with one couplet: love and submission. He ends with another: love and respect. We have seen that the love he has in mind for the husband sacrifices and serves with a view to enabling his wife to become what God intends her to be. So the submission and respect he asks of the wife express her response to his love and her desire that he too will become what God intends him to be in his leadership.

The duty of children [6:1-3].  Here is another example of that general submissiveness which according to 5:21 is expected of all members of God’s new society. But this time the requirement is stronger, namely obedience. For wives were not told to ‘obey’ but to submit. The concept of a husband who issues commands and of a wife who gives him obedience is simply not found in the New Testament. Children, however, are to obey their parents. Although Paul goes on to restrict parental authority and to guide it into the channel of Christian education, it is still clear that parents’ authority over their children is distinct from and stronger than the husband’s headship over his wife. Yet Paul does not take it for granted. His teaching is always rationally argued. As with the wife’s submission, so with the child’s obedience, he builds his instruction on a carefully laid foundation. He gives three grounds for the obedience of children in a Christian home: nature, the law and the gospel. First, nature.  Children, obey your parents … for this is right. Child obedience belongs to that realm which came in medieval theology to be called ‘natural justice’. It does not depend on special revelation; it is part of the natural law which God has written on all human hearts. It is not confined to Christian ethics; it is standard behavior in every society. Virtually all civilizations have regarded the recognition of parental authority as indispensable to a stable society. We experience no sense of surprise, therefore, when Paul includes disobedient to parents as a mark both of a decadent society which God has given up to its own godlessness and of the last days which began with the coming of Christ [Rom. 1:28-30; 2 Tim. 3:1-2]. Second, the law.  If the obedience of children is part of the natural law which God has written on human hearts, it belongs also to the revealed law which God gave on stone tablets to Moses. So Paul goes on to quote the fifth commandments in verses 2-3. Many Christians have divided the Decalogue into two uneven halves, the first four commandments specifying our duty to God and the remaining six our duty to our neighbor. But the Jews regularly taught that each of the law’s two tablets contains five commandments. The significance of this arrangement is that it brings the honoring of our parents into our duty to God. And this is surely right. For at least during our childhood they represent God to us and mediate to us both His authority and His love. We are to honor them, that is, acknowledge their God-given authority, and so give them not only our obedience, but our love and respect as well. It is because parental authority is divinely delegated authority that respectful obedience to parents was invested with such great importance in the life of God’s covenant people. Reverence for parents was thus made an integral part of reverence for God as their God and of their special relationship to Him as His people. Hence the extremely severe penalty (death, in fact) which was to be inflicted on anyone who cursed his parents in the Old Testament. The apostle Paul, however, prefers to enforce God’s commandment with a promise than with a threat. He reminds his readers that the command to honor parents is the first commandment with a promise, and he goes on to quote the promise of prosperity and long life. Probably we should interpret this promise in general rather than individual terms. Then what is promised is not so much long life to each child who obeys his parents, as social stability to any community in which children honor their parents. Certainly a healthy society is inconceivable without a strong family life. Two practical questions arise from the requirement that children obey their parents. Is the command unconditional? And to whom is it addressed? Many Christian young people, who are anxious to conform their lives to the teaching of Scripture, are perplexed by the requirement of obedience. Are they to obey absolutely everything their parents tell them to do? What if they have themselves come to know Christ, while so far as they know their parents remain unconverted? If their parents forbid them to follow Christ or to join the Christian community, are they obliged to obey? In reply to such questions, I think I need first to say that during a young person’s minority obedience to parents should be the norm, and disobedience the rare exception. For example, supposing you are a young person who, having been brought up in a non-Christian home, have recently come to Christ and now desire to be baptized, but your parents are forbidding it. Personally, I would not advise you to go ahead in defiance of your parents’ expressed wishes. Even baptism, though Jesus commanded it, can wait until you are older. If, on the other hand, your parents were to forbid you to worship and follow Christ in your heart, this you could not obey. It is quite true that in the parallel passage in Colossians children are told to obey parents in everything [Col. 3:20]. But this is balanced in Ephesians by the command to obey them in the Lord. The latter instruction surely modifies the former. Children are not to obey their parents in absolutely everything without exception, but in everything which is compatible with their primary loyalty, namely to their Lord Jesus Christ. This brings us to the second practical question: who are these children who are to obey their parents? And when do they cease to be such? Is Paul addressing himself only to infants, and to young boys and girls? Or does he include all young people who are still unmarried and living at home, even though now they may be grown up and may long since have left their childhood and their teens behind? All one can say in relation to such situations is that either law or custom in every society recognizes at least a measure of independence for young people when they attain a certain age, or when they leave home or marry. Christians should not defy the accepted convention of their own culture in this matter. So long as they are regarded in their culture as children or minors, they should continue to obey their parents. One other important point. Even after we have attained our majority, are regarded in our culture as being no longer under the authority of our parents, and are therefore no longer under obligation to obey them, we still must continue to honor them. Our parents occupy a unique position in our lives. If we honor them as we should, we will never neglect or forget them. Third, the gospel.  Paul’s third argument introduces the gospel and the new day, which dawned with Jesus Christ. This is implied in the injunction that children should obey their parents in the Lord, namely, in the Lord Jesus. They bring child-obedience into the realm of specifically Christian duty, and lay upon children the responsibility to obey their parents because of their own personal relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is He who as Creator first established order in family and society, and in the new society which He is now building He does not overthrow it. By His reconciling work, God’s new society has begun. For now all our relationships are transformed precisely because they are in the Lord. They are purged of ruinous self-centeredness, and suffused instead with Christ’s love and peace. Even obedience to parents is changed. It is no longer a grudging acquiescence in parental authority. Christian children learn to obey with gladness, for this pleases the Lord [Col. 3:20].”  [Stott, pp. 220-244}.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What are the two reasons Paul gives for the wife’s submission to her husband? Explain how Paul uses each of these reasons in developing his teaching on this subject. What does Paul mean by submit?
  1. What is the husband’s duty concerning his wife? What is the model and ground Paul uses to define that duty? What five verbs does Paul use to describe Christ’s commitment to His bride, the Church? Note that these five verbs are used in three purpose clauses in verses 26-27 (that … so that … that). What does the husband learn from Christ concerning his commitment to his wife?
  1. What three grounds does Paul give for the obedience of children in a Christian home? Why does Paul change the command from submit to obey when discussing children and parents instead of husband and wife?


The Letter to the Ephesians, Peter T. O’Brien, Pillar, Eerdmans.

The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

Ephesians, Frank Thielman, ECNT, Baker.

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