We Are the Lord’s

Paul now follows his admonition of subjection to one another (5:21) by applying it to three relationships: wives and husbands, children and fathers, slaves and masters.

  • In each instant he first addresses the one in the relationship whose responsibility it is to be subject. Then he addresses the one in the relationship who should manifest orderly and godly authority.
  • The first two relationships are built into the order of creation and are protected in the moral law as set forth in the Ten Commandments—the fifth commandment and the seventh commandment. In addition, the marriage relationship was initiated when the world and humanity still was unfallen (Genesis 1:27 and 2:20-25). Though children were not born until  after the fall, the provision, nevertheless, in the union of the man and the woman was for populating the earth—“Be fruitful and multiply.”
  • The third is an accommodation in a fallen world. It does not exist naturally as a part of the created order but came into being only as a result of sin, poverty, debt, disorder, and enmity. The relationship itself, however, is not evil, though it can be grossly abused as can the first two in this text, but must be handled with a sense of divine providence and grace.
  • The first two can never on this side of eternity pass away but are built by God’s design into the very fabric of human relationships. The third can be dissolved because freedom is a preferable condition to slavery, in most cases (1 Corinthians 7:20-24; Exodus 21:5, 6; Deuteronomy 15:12-18).



I. Walking Wisely as Wives and Husbands- (5:22-33)

A. Paul gives a word to the wives.

  1. As a manifestation of the order and intention of creation, women are instructed to “submit to your own husbands.” This is to be done in obedience to the Lord who made them. The woman was created as a “help meet for him,” a person fitted purposely to secure the full end for which humanity was created. Neither in procreation nor in subduing and gaining dominion over the creation could this be accomplished apart from the complementary traits and roles of male and female. This purpose of God’s creation of two genders should neither cause shame nor be shunned. Male and female bring different strengths to the God-ordained task and each should embrace their respective strengths and complementary gifts with delight, neither coveting the roles of the other.
  2. An even more compelling and endearing aspect of submission is found in the husband’s headship over the wife, not only in creation, but in analogous relation to Christ’s headship over the church.
  • Christ has established his headship first of all in being the Savior of the church, the implications of which are teased out more in instructions to the husband. This means that the wife finds her motivation for submission in the husband’s role of protecting her and providing for her, even as Christ has given “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places” (1:3) to his church.
  • There is no such thing as a church that is not subject to Christ. The very nature of saving faith, worship, teaching, and ministry all flow from Christ and do not exist apart from his gifts (4:4-7). So it seems that the wife is to look to the husband as the provider and the guide to the family.

B. Paul sets a standard for the husbands. Paul gives a lengthy discussion to this issue (9 verses). It places a deeply spiritual and redemptive responsibility on the husband.

  1. The husband is to love his wife. Though this will certainly involve the deep sense of affection, delight, and joy in the presence of the wife, it also involves a more determined purpose to give oneself to loving actions that defy mistreatment, isolation, or separation.
  2. Christ gave himself up for the church. This refers specifically to his sacrificial intent in his coming into the world. “For this reason, the Father loves me,” Jesus said, “because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10: 17, 18). God’s purpose in marriage must so delight our wills that not only can husbands say that they love their wives in obedience to the Father but as a manifestation of their own fully-engaged will and affection.
  3. (Verses 26-30) Christ loved and loves the church with the intent of its eternal well-being and suitable character for the pursuit of eternity in the presence of God. The church is his body and he cares for it, therefore, even as he cares for himself.
  • Not only has Christ justified the church by his death, but he continually moves her toward real holiness through the word of God. When she appears with him in glory, she will be unblemished in every way, because she—in all her members through all the ages—will see her husband, Christ, as he is in his majesty and will be transformed to the beauty of holiness in the presence of God. “It was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (Revelation 19:8). From where do these righteous deeds come? From anticipation of that event of the coming of the Lord in his glory. “We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2, 3).
  • Even so must the husband inspire a desire for holiness in his wife. His love of God’s word, his application of it to his own life, and his desire for her scripturally based holiness must inspire in her a desire for that same grace in her life. This is a high calling and difficult to attain, but sets forth a clear challenge for the husband in his leadership of his wife.
  • Like Christ does not hate his body, the church, and the husband does not hate and abuse or ignore the safety of his own body, “so husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies.”
  1. (Verses 31-33) Here Paul quoted Genesis 2:24 where God, at creation, ordained this primary human relationship.
  • Even as both were made in the image of God, so the complementarity of the sexes in marriage gives a more expanded and grand display of the divine image. From the beginning, marriage was intended as a picture of the union between Christ and the church—“I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” That such ultimate purposes were established in the earliest relationship of image bearers is a great mystery, for it implies that redemption, Christ’s death for sinners, his sending of the Spirit for spiritual life and sanctification were intended to be pictured at the moment that God brought Eve to Adam.
  • Even though the typology of the creation mandate is staggering in its implications, nevertheless, it carries with it real, this-worldly application in the way that husbands should love and care for their wives. With the example of the love of Jesus as the model to which they aspire, they must love their wives with the beauty of that final goal well-entrenched in their minds and affections.
  • Returning to the admonition of the wife’s submission, Paul reiterated that the wife must respect her husband. When this is put in the context of how the church is to submit to Christ, we realize that “respect” involves a firmly-implanted admiration of the work and calling of the husband.



II. Walking Wisely as Children and Parents (6:1-4)

A. Paul gives a command to the children (1-3). Paul gave a command to the children of the church and related it to the fifth commandment of Exodus 20. “In the Lord,” does not mean that a child is to obey only Christian parents, but “as a manifestation of obedience to the Lord.” It seems to me that the fifth commandment is the final command of the first table of the law. In this commandment, we see the first earthly test of how one will respond to the authority of God over the lives of his creatures. First, confess that the Lord alone is God. Second, do not make attempts to trivialize or minimize his infinite glory by creating an image of him. Third, do not take his name on your lips in a vain or empty way. Fourth, honor the day set aside by him for intentional worship. Fifth, obey the earthly authority under which he has placed you. Learning such submission will provide a habit of discipline of self-will, respect for authority and will set the stage for a successful life.

B. Paul gives a challenging goal to the parents (4). Fathers in particular can have a tendency to harshness and impatience in their discipline of children. Mothers in general have greater tenderness and patience but, nevertheless, should pay attention to the real point of this command. Unreasonable prohibitions and incommensurate punishment can give rise to resentment and develop a spirit of rebellion. Children can develop a feeling that authority is not for their good but for the thriving of the authority figure. They must see, therefore, that discipline and instruction aim far beyond that self-centered purpose and seeks to promote their eternal well-being in addition to their success in this life. Since the command is an extension of the commands that point to worship of God, its result must be biblically grounded, “discipline and instruction of the Lord.”



III. Walking Wisely as Slaves and Masters (6:5-9). Slavery was not established as an original intent of the creation of humanity. It came into being as a result of the need of paying debts, the spoils of war, the economic gain from trafficking in human beings. Slaves worked in homes as teachers of children, managers of estates, trainers of animals, cultivators of land and crops, and all kinds of difficult menial work. Neither Paul nor Jesus condemned it as an existing institution, but treated it as an accommodation in human relations to be governed by the principles of the gospel.

A. Paul commands a God-centered obedience of slaves to their masters (5-8)

  1. They were to approach their work for their master as a matter of God-ordained worship. They were to do it with “fear and trembling,” not in fear of the master but in reverent fear of God. Even in the human destitution of slavery, God’s grace had reached them and given them freedom from the curse of the law and the promise of eternal life. Verse 6 expands the God-centered character of their obedience—“not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” Even in the position of slavery, Paul told them to look at their obedience as “doing the will of God.”
  2. Their obedience was not to be a mere external show, but as a matter of the heart. Their status was God-given and their delight was to do, not only the will of the “earthly master,” but the will of their Father in heaven.
  3. Five phrases indicate that slaves were to regard their status as given by God and as an opportunity to show the sincerity of their faith in him and their devotion to his will: “as to Christ,” “slaves of Christ,” “doing the will of God,” “as to the Lord,” “he will receive back from the Lord.”
  4. When working “as to the Lord,” one will look for his reward, not from men, but from the Lord. In this way, all that the slave does is done at an equal level with those who are free: “whether slave or free.”

B. Paul commands God-centered kindness from masters to slaves (9). In the same way that parents do not have a right to provoke their children to anger, masters do not resort to unreasonable or condescending methods of assigning tasks to their slaves. They are to be treated as fellow human beings but much more as fellow Christians. Both in fact, have a common master who will bring each, whether slave or free, to give an account of their actions. Even as Paul encouraged the slave to hearty obedience by reminding him, or her, that ultimate accountability was to the Lord, so Paul reminded masters that earthly status did not move the Lord to partiality.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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