Spirit Guided Relationships of One Another Reverence
Scene 1. On a number of occasions in my pastoral ministry I have had husbands say to me that their wife won’t submit.
In those cases I have so far always found that what the husband really wants is a housekeeper, cook and concubine.
A woman who will please him and meet his desires, not a wife who is an equal partner in the true biblical sense.
Ephesians Chapter 5 verse 22 is the most misquoted and abused verse in the whole of the Bible.
All to often a verse is taken to mean what ever the reader wants it to mean.
It suits the person quoting the verse to not take the time to really understand the context it is in or what the verse meant to those to whom it was originally written
One of the essential points of Biblical interpretation is to ask the question, what did the writer intend this verse say to those to whom it was originally written.
Only when you have answered that question is it appropriate to ask what does it say to us today.
So let’s take a look at the situation when Paul wrote this letter and what it was that he was addressing.
Scene 2. The first thing we need to understand is that the culture then was very different.
Paul is writing to Gentiles, people who where not Jewish and who lived in an area renowned for the worship of a female goddess.
Also within this area there were a lot of magic practices and an incredible mix of secret religions.
Overlayed across all of this was the power of the Roman Empire.
Many Romans were troubled by the spread of “religions from the East”
Among those were included the worship of female deities, Judaism and Christianity.
The Romans feared that these religions would undermine traditional Roman family values.
Specifically the values of order and structure and the absolute authority of the male.
Roman and before them Greek philosophers had developed a standard set of instructions for how the head of the house should relate to each member of his household.
Often the minority religions would copy these household codes in order to show that they were not seeking to undermine the “good order” of society.
These household codes were broken down into three areas of husband-wife, father-child and master-slave relationships.
In terms of the husband wife relationship there is no record of a husband being told to love his wife.
It was almost certainly assumed that a husband would have strong feelings for his wife.
But the closest these codes came to valuing a wife was the instruction to the husband in some of the codes to treat your wife well, so that things went well for you.
The Greek and Roman philosophers had an appreciation of the idea of “Happy Wife, Happy Life” but they certainly didn’t see this in terms of equality
Most ancient writers expected wives to obey their husbands, desiring in them a quiet and meek demeanour; some marriage contracts even stated a requirement for absolute obedience.
This requirement made sense especially to Greek thinkers, who could not conceive of wives as equals.
Age differences contributed to this disparity:
Husbands were normally older than their wives, in Greek culture men frequently married around age thirty and women in their teens, often between the ages of 14 to 17.
The central theme in every one of these household codes was control and rule.
A man who didn’t run his household well held no respect in society.
And even more concerning was the potential that if a man didn’t keep his wife, children and slaves under control there could be a general rebellion amongst the slave population and as slaves outnumbered free people in many places that could be disastrous.
Scene 3. Into this situation comes the apostle Paul.
Concerned with two things.
Firstly the transforming Gospel of Christ.
Secondly that his churches would live out this transforming gospel in a way which didn’t bring unnecessary condemnation from the society at large.
So in a number of his letters Paul addresses the household and how each person is to live within the household relationship.
Paul’s letters and specifically his instructions to members of households on the surface look very much like those of the culture around him.
In fact he uses the standard familiar from of the household code.
But he totally transforms their meaning.
What we have here is revolutionary.
Paul undermines the basic premise of these codes: the absolute authority of the male head of the house.
And he replaces it with the husband’s responsibility to love his wife self-sacrificially.
In the same way that Christ loves the church.
Make no mistake here.
What Paul proposes was absolutely unheard off.
Love your wife.
As much as Christ loves the church.
As much as you love yourself.
She is not just to obey you but you are to submit to one another as a mark of your submission to God.
This mutual submission in verse 21 is the foundational principle of household relationships.
Not just the wife to the husband, but also the husband to the wife.
It is a revolutionary concept.
Scene 4. But what does it mean?
It is not about rule or authority.
The actual verb, which we translate as submit in verses 21 and 22, is Phobos as in phobia, fear.
And it doesn’t actually appear in verse 22.
Literally wives are not told to submit to their husbands, the literal Greek reads Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives to your husbands as to the Lord.
That is the wife in verse 22 is the first of three examples of mutual submission.
The second is children in chapter 6 verse 1 and the third is slaves or servants in chapter 6 verse 5.
Remember Paul was firstly addressing the culture of his day.
So how does it all work?
As I have just said the verb used in this command is fear.
It cannot mean fear in the sense of being afraid; the context of love doesn’t allow this.
It is fear in the sense of reverence, honour, respect for the wishes and needs of the other.
A willingness to put the other first.
But it is mutual.
Husband reverence, honour, respect the wishes and needs of your wife.
Wife reverence, honour, respect the wishes and needs of your husband.
While the command of verse 33 is definite, the husband is to love for the wife is to phobos fear, in the sense of honour and respect her husband.
It is in the context of love.
Take note of this very simple fact.
In these verses.
The majority of the commands are addressed to the husband.
How he is to love his wife.
The minority are addressed to the wife, how she is to respect her husband.
The central point is to not read this passage in terms of authority.
But in terms of responsibility towards your spouse.
Men need to be reminded to love, women do it naturally.
If you look at the words of Ephesians chapter 5 verses 21 to 33 I think you will see that the commands to men are designed to fulfil the needs of a wife.
Things such as Affection, Communication, Openness, Support, Committment.
Men your responsibility is to love your wife, not rule over her or see her as the way to fulfil your desires.
Women it is about meeting the needs of your husband.
If he is making a genuine effort to love you as Christ loved the church.
Even though he will fall very short.
Then loving him won’t be a problem.
The command to you is to respect, meet his needs.
Give him the honour, reverence and encouragement that builds him up.
Let him know that you believe in him, he is capable and even when things go wrong you will be with him.
Avoid the criticism that tears him apart.
Mutual submission is after all about doing what is best for your spouse
Pauline Thomason said, “Love is blind – marriage is the eye-opener.”
Within our marriages we are called to mutual submission.
Nor dominion or manipulation
Where each supports the other
And is a picture to all of Christ and the church.
For this passage is not only an instruction to husband and wife.
It is also is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church.
Our marriages provide a glimpse to non-Christians of Christ’s treatment of his bride the church.
Or at least they are meant to be a witness of how Christ loves us.
Scene 5. This concept, that within the christian community relationships are to be different, carries across to the 2nd and 3rd example of mutual submission.
When we look at Ephesians 6:1-4 there is again a difference of tone and intent.
You could read the passage as just a reflection of the household codes of the day and miss the point.
The Apostle Paul refers children to the ten commandments, specifically the fifth commandment and ties it to a promise.
For the children of Israel this promise related to the land.
For the children of Paul’s day and indeed ours this promise is more general, but equally important.
Stability of families and their ability to thrive depend on respect and order.
Without respect for parental authority and good order within families an entire society will soon collapse into chaos.
Rarely will a child do well if they don’t have this concept of respect for authority as it not only destroys their relationship with society it destroys their ability to relate to God and have any concept of obedience to his commands.
The primary concern here is not then on the rule of a parent over a child, instead the primary concern is the child’s ability to live in relationship with the Lord and society.
This is why verse 5 focuses on discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.
There is a clear purpose in the relationship of parent to child and child to parent.
This purpose is far beyond simply maintaining the good order of society in order to maintain power structures.
For Paul the purpose always comes back to the relationship of people one to another and to the Lord.
Which is why the 3rd example calls on slaves to serve their earthly masters as they would Christ.
Paul is not concened here to challenge the evil of slavery directly, that is a battle which the early church would have not only lost, it would have resulted in the complete destruction of the early church as a threat to society.
Instead relationship with Christ transforms the relationship of master and slave, employer and employee in our modern concept.
The example of service and concern for the other, even if the other is exploiting you, is a witness to Christ.
Anger, bitterness and hostility have never won someone to Christ.
Service and love have won many.
In the same way Paul is not telling Christian masters to immediately free their slaves, this would have resulted in financial ruin for many and certainly would have brought the early church additional persecution as a threat.
Instead the relationship is transformed.
You and your slave both have the same master and you are not better in his eyes than your slave.
In essence Paul has turned the normal household codes and the structure of society upside down.
Within the church things would be forever different and in time, based on this passage and especially Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11, Christians would work to abolish slavery.
In the mean time Christians are to be different, because they serve the Lord and their lives are to be a witness to him.
Masters are to treat slaves as they would a brother or sister in Christ, as one who before God is their equal and worthy of care and respect.
Slaves are to serve willingly and enthusiastically, not out of fear of punishment but as a gift of love.
As husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves the relationship to one another is built upon our relationship to Christ and that means that there is a mutuality of love for one another, respect towards each other and loving service of each other.
Authoritarianism is replaced by love, rule is replaced by respect and servitude by service, for this is the way of Christ.