Paul was offensive. But probably not in the way you think.
We’re looking at the Ephesian letter each Sunday morning during our sermon time, and Wednesday nights we’re diving a little deeper into questions from those sermons, as well as trying to get our minds wrapped around Paul’s way of thinking. We spent our last two class sessions talking about “the powers” that Paul writes about in this letter (Eph. 1:19-21, 2:1-2, 3:10-11, 6:12, etc.)
Without reteaching those classes here, let me summarize by saying that Paul, his audience, and those who wrote the Bible as a whole recognized that there are many powers at play in this world that are either good, or evil. And when we get tangled up in serving those powers rather than serving Christ, it’s a huge problem. Though you and I probably aren’t tempted to wander into a pagan temple, we do dedicate a lot of time and resources to serving our own comfort, entertainment, hobbies, etc. Paul would refer to these things, as well as other spiritual and cosmic forces, as “the powers.” And sadly, sometimes we do serve the powers over and above serving Christ.
One of those powers is culture. For Paul’s original audience, your home would be structured in a certain way because the powers that be have mandated it. Let’s look at a couple of examples from names you will recognize that will teach us how a household should be structured in Paul’s time.
“Seeing then that the state is made up of households, before speaking of the state we must speak of the management of the household. The parts of household management correspond tot he persons who compose the household, and a complete household consists of slaves and freemen. Now we should begin by examining everything in its fewest possible elements; and teh first and fewest possible parts of a family are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children.”Aristotle, Politics, 1:3
Aristotle makes it clear that the “state” must be run a certain way to survive and function properly, and the key relationships within the home are “master and slave, husband and wife, father and children.” Paul addresses these exact relationships in Ephesians 6, but I want us to understand what “the powers” of the day believe concerning the household. Let’s turn once again to Aristotle for clarity.
“Of houshold management we have seen that there are three parts: one is the rule of a master over slaves, which has been discussed already, another of a father, and the third of a husband. A husband and father, we saw, rules over wife and children, both free, but the rule differs; the rule over his children being royal, and the ruler over his wife is based on natural constitution. For although there may be exceptions to the order of nature, the male is by nature fitter for command than the female, just as the elder and full-grown is superior to the younger and more immature.”Aristotle, Politics, 1:12
The Jewish historian Josephus takes a slightly different view than Aristotle.
“The woman…is in all things inferior to the man. Let her accordingly be obedient, not for her humiliation, but that she may be directed; for God has given authority to the man.”Josephus, Against Apion, 2:24
Now that we know the views held by “the powers” of Paul’s day, let’s hear the Holy Spirit’s wisdom on how a household should be viewed, as relayed to us by the Apostle.
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”Paul, Ephesians 5:21 NIV
As I said before, Paul was offensive, but not in the way you think. The idea that everyone in the household would submit to the other because of Christ is scandalous! This flies in the face of the structure of the Empire. According to “the powers” of the day, everything is for the man’s benefit. Wives, children, and slaves all serve at the pleasure of the man of the house and only exist to bring him comfort. Nobody structures their relationships this way! But for Paul, it’s crucial to understanding and living out the Gospel in our lives.
Authoritarian hierarchy is the way of the powers. But that’s not God’s way. That’s not Paul’s understanding of the world. All household codes were written to the male explaining how they should rule/control those in their household. But Paul takes a different approach. Paul will speak directly to women, children, and slaves, instantly elevating their status! And notice how Paul speaks: first to the wife, then to the husband. First to the children, then to the father. First to the slave, and then to the master.
Do you see how upside down Paul’s approach to the household is when compared to the household dictated by “the powers?” Paul’s words are shocking and scandalous in an empire that is sustained by keeping power through the structure of the home. When the house operates like the Empire, you support and perpetuate the Empire.
But that’s not the way of Christ. That’s not the way of God’s Kingdom. That’s not the leading of the Holy Spirit. Paul tells his readers that every relationship with every man, woman, and child, regardless of class, or status, is filtered through the understanding that we all submit to one another because of Christ. This is the Christian household. This is life in the Spirit.
Join us Sunday at 8:30am or 10:00am at Countryside Christian Church as we worship together, eat the Lord’s Supper together, and unpack these relationships further. You can also join our 10:00 service online.
In the meantime, consider what it means to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”