“Wives, constantly subordinate and adapt yourselves to your husbands, for the Lord has given you this responsibility. Husbands, show affection to your wives and be neither harsh nor bitter toward them. Children, always obey your parents in all things, for this is commendable in the Lord’s sight. Fathers, avoid overcorrecting and exasperating your children, lest they become frustrated and disheartened. Servants, be continually obedient to your earthly masters, not only when they are watching you as if you had only to please men, but with pure motives based on reverence for the Lord. Whatever your task, do it wholeheartedly, for you are not working for men but for your heavenly Master. Think of Christ as your Employer, for from Him you will receive remuneration in the form of an inheritance. But the wicked will be punished for his misdeeds, for God shows no partiality. Masters, deal fairly and justly with your servants, knowing you also have a Master in heaven.” (3:18 – 4:1, paraphrased)
Paul now applies his doctrines to familial situations. This pragmatic section addresses reciprocal household duties which he divides into three pairs:
1. wives and husbands (vv. 18-19)
2. children and parents (vv. 20-21)
3. servants and masters (vv. 22-25 & 4:1)
Because Jesus is central to harmonious domestic life, the home setting serves as a microcosm of true Christianity. Paul therefore lays down principles that can transform domestic relationships. Familial duties may differ, but the cooperative attitudes of individuals are reciprocal.
The Stoics and Greek philosophers also have lists for adherents regarding domestic duties, but there are major differences. Christ requires His disciples to live their lives for the glory of God and promises the power to carry out His teachings through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).
In the Greek and Roman society of Paul’s era, a man’s wife was considered the husband’s property. Far from being his equal, she was regarded as very inferior. But the influence of Christianity eventually began to change this view.
The wife is to “submit” (hypotasso) to her husband. Hypotasso means “to adapt one’s self to” or “to arrange one’s life according to” another person. However, the submission of the Christian wife does not imply blind servitude. Christianity raises the wife to full partnership with her mate. Neither spouse dominates the other as they exhibit a mutual spirit of submission and cooperation (Eph. 5:21). Paul calls this “fitting in the Lord” for it is in harmony with His will. In the ideal Christian home, a wife will happily submit to the desires of a godly husband.
Bible doctrine is consistent regarding domestic constituted authority (Gen. 3:16 & Rom. 7:2). It is God’s clear directive the spiritual leadership in the home is placed squarely upon the shoulders of the husband (Eph. 5:25). The wife’s voluntary submission is to be counterbalanced by the husband’s selfless love. Even though every member of the Body of Christ has different responsibilities, each is accountable to the same Lord (Rom. 12:4-5).
The word Paul selects for “love” is neither phileo (familial affection), nor erao (deep sexual passion), but agapao, the highest and purest form of love. Paul exhorts the husband to demonstrate his love consistently. He should not be “habitually harsh” (pikrainesthe) with his wife. This is a negative way of expressing the need for compassion and understanding. A husband and wife should submit to each other in the fear of Christ for they are “heirs together of the grace of life” (I Pet. 3:7).
The same basic term Paul uses concerning the wife’s obedience and submission (hupakouete) is also used regarding children. However, in this case the word implies a willingness to habitually obey parental advice.
Obedience to parents is perfectly modeled by Christ Himself. Luke records “He was subject to them” (Lk. 2:51). Jesus stresses the importance of child-like faith and submission to His heavenly Father as He ministers to children (Mt. 19:14). His parable of the prodigal son is a tender story of the familial relationship between father and son (Lk. 15:20-24).
The word “everything” is subject to scriptural restrictions and guidelines. No Christian parent would order his child to violate God’s will. Paul is addressing Christians and assumes they understand obedience cannot countermand God’s Word. Duties of children include a willingness to accept correction from parents and to exhibit gratitude and respect.
Paul does not quote commandments regarding parental authority, but stresses that a child’s obedience is commendable and pleases God (Ex. 20:12).
Paul’s brief familial admonitions are balanced by reciprocity. If the child must obey, the parents must not discourage them by making unreasonable demands. Rather than placing undue blame on rebellious children, the father is made aware of his own responsibilities. The term “father” (pateres) includes motherly concerns because both share in child rearing.
A man must take care not to “provoke” or “embitter” (erithizo) his children. Erithizo bespeaks exasperation and discouragement. Such frustration is a barrier to paternal bonding. An overbearing, fault-finding parent who over-corrects his children will dishearten and emotionally damage them. Parents must not humiliate and crush a child’s spirit lest he becomes disheartened (athumeo). This may lead him to believe he can never please his parents regardless of how hard he tries. Such children face life discouraged and fail to develop their full potential.
A godly father should create an environment in which obedience comes easy for his children. A good dad spends quality time with his kids, encouraging them and nurturing them “in the admonition and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
Slavery was a socially accepted institution in Paul’s era. About half of the inhabitants of Rome were slaves. This population grew as Rome conquered and brought back prisoners of war. Others were enslaved as convicts, through purchase, or having been birthed by slave parents. Paul accepted the social structure he was born and did not promote emancipation, abolitionism, or suggest that slaves revolt against their masters. His view of the slave trade is summed up by picturing them as “men stealers” (I Tim. 1:10).
The practice of slavery was doomed by the precepts laid down in Scripture. Christianity so affected the collective conscience that slavery was abolished in the Roman Empire within a few centuries. But in that slave economy it was necessary clear Christian doctrines be established concerning their treatment. Servants are to be regarded as persons rather than property.
Servants should “obey in all things,” whether their duties are pleasant or not. Status as a Believer does not exempt one from honest service. Paul coins the word “eye service” (ophthalmodouleia) to refer to those who only exhibit diligence when their superiors are watching (Eph. 6:6). The tendency to perform slovenly when the eyes of his master are not upon him should be replaced with an industrious, god-fearing attitude. “Singleness of heart” (haploteti kardias) pictures a focused determination to fulfill tasks to the best of one’s ability.
In God’s sight, there is no distinction between master and servant. The Gospel message extends to all ethnicities and social classes. Because of their spiritual equality before God, Paul could wholeheartedly encourage servants to obey masters and for masters to deal fairly and kindly with servants. Although both have different responsibilities, their relationship with Christ changes attitudes. The overbearing master will become kind and considerate as he allows the Holy Spirit to guide his attitude and actions. Slothfulness on the part of the slave will be replaced by integrity and industriousness.
Servants are encouraged to put their soul (psuches) into their work. New Testament passages regarding the treatment of servants are relevant in the 21st century. These timeless principles of fair treatment can be applied to employer/employee relationships. No boss appreciates a “clock watcher” who lacks enthusiasm but is industrious when under observation. Knowing the Lord watches us with loving eyes should change our demeanor (II Chron. 16:9). To labor honestly and faithfully for a paycheck elevates menial and mundane work to a much higher level. Doing everything “as unto the Lord” eliminates ulterior motives and serves as a witness of the love of Christ to others.
The source of eternal blessing is not a servant’s earthly master but his heavenly Master. Although treated unfairly as servants, God treats them as sons (Heb. 12:7). All that is relinquished on earth will be recompensed in heaven. Paul tells the church in Rome that the sufferings of this life are not worthy of comparison with the glories of the next life (Rom. 8:18). Every Christian is encouraged to look past their current situation, enduring present discomforts for the sake of future rewards. Remuneration is their share of the inheritance laid up for all Believers (II Tim. 4:8).
Regardless of title, position, rank, or wealth, there will be no favoritism at the judgment seat of Christ. Retribution for disobedience is as certain as rewards for faithfulness. The master who cheats his servant and the servant who cheats his master are both subject to God’s indictment. The actions and attitudes of each will be judged, for the maxim of “reaping what you sow” applies to everyone (Eph. 6:8 & Gal. 6:7).
The phrase “respect of persons” is prosopolempsia and means to show partiality. Christ renders only unbiased and equitable justice.
Treating servants with “equality” (isotes) does not imply they now share equal status with their masters, but refers to fair and impartial treatment.
Paul’s warning extends to masters and he is quick to remind them they are not exempt. A master will be held accountable for anyone under his care who is treated inhumanly or unjustly. Earthly masters also have a heavenly Master. The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant is a graphic illustration (Mt. 18:23-35). Knowing all Believers have the same Savior should keep a boss mindful of his obligations to those under his authority.
Tychicus is the “postmaster” who carries this epistle to Colossae (Col. 4:7-8). He is accompanied by Onesimus, the runaway Colossian slave, who is now returning to his master Philemon. Tychicus also carries a short letter from Paul to Philemon, a masterpiece of diplomacy picturing the treatment of born-again servants as brothers in Christ. His plea on behalf of Onesimus verifies his heart of compassion for such men. Onesimus is to be considered a slave no longer, but “a beloved brother” (Philemon 16).
Points to Ponder
1. List the instructions given to wives in Ephesians 5:22-24 & 33; I Peter 3:1-6 & Titus 2:4-5.
2. Summarize Paul’s instructions to husbands in Ephesians 5:25-33 & I Peter 3:7.
3. What reciprocal advice is given to both husbands and wives in I Corinthians 7:3?
4. Summarize Paul’s instructions to children in Ephesians 6:1-3.
5. What does Paul say is a marked sign of evil regarding the attitude of children (Romans 1:30 and II Tim. 3:2)?
6. Summarize Paul’s instructions to fathers in Ephesians 6:4.
7. Summarize the instructions given to servants in I Timothy 6:1-2 and I Peter 2:18-19 & Ephesians 6:5-8.
8. Servanthood is a theme among the writers of the New Testament. What is true in each of the following verses? Romans 1:1
II Peter 1:1
9. Summarize Paul’s instructions regarding masters in Ephesians 6:9.
10. In Lev. 19:15, what rule is established? Paraphrase this rule by using Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11 and Ephesians 6:9. Why is this guideline especially important today concerning soul winning?