Author: Ron Graham
A verse by verse study of Ephesians 6:1-9, about the Christian household and how its head ought to behave toward his family members, and they toward him and one another.
Everyone in a family or household is created by God as equally human. All members of the household should be treated as such, including the bondslaves. None should be mistreated or disadvantaged, and all should live with dignity.
However there is a household hierarchy. The husband and father is at the top; then the wife and mother; next the children; then the slaves and their children.
Paul has discussed the husband-wife relationship in some depth (Ephesians 5:22-33). Now in chapter 6,he talks about how their children and bondslaves should behave and be treated.
Paul takes a very old fashioned view of family life and relationships. You might say, “Of course he does —he wrote this stuff 2000 years ago!” But there were “modern” people then who had all the same ideas as today. And children disobeyed their parents just like they do today.
¶“1Children, obey your parents in the Lord. This is the right thing to do. 2'Honour your father and mother' is the first commandment with a promise 3—'that things may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.' 4Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger. Instead, bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:1-4).
In Paul’s time, as today, some children had "a reputation for being wild or rebellious." (Titus 1:6). Paul instructs children not to be like that. Children, especially the teen-age variety, have a responsibility to conduct themselves honourably, and most do. You just don't see them on the news.
The nurture of children in the wealthier households of Paul’s day was often left up to the slaves. The fathers and mothers were busy with their businesses and social life.
It is reasonable, of course, to leave children in the charge of carers and teachers for part of the day some days. However the primary responsibility for upbringing should not be delegated. Paul places that responsibility on the parents, especially the fathers, and no doubt expects them, if at all possible, to put considerable time and effort into it.
You will recall how Paul balanced a woman’s subjection to a husband with a husband’s self sacrifice for his wife. In the same way, childrens’ obedience to their parents is balanced by a fair and nurturing discipline on the parents’ part. "Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4).
Of course children will always say, “It's not fair!” when they are denied permission or punished for something. It's up to the parents to ensure that it is fair, always. Children think about things, and can see whether or not they are victims of real injustice.
Although Paul tells children to obey their “parents”, both mother and father, he lays the main responsibility for upbringing on the “fathers”. This applies not only to the head of the household but also to any other fathers in the household.
Fathers not only take the primary duty, but support the mother in her part in bringing up the children. Of course, a child may be fatherless, and the mother will have to take on the primary responsibility.
Slavery is no longer practised in Australia —although a host of overworked and underpaid people might say we are still not far removed from it. In any case, we can still learn from what Paul says
¶“5Slaves obey the masters of your flesh with fear and trembling. Serve them with a sincere heart, as you would Christ. 6Don't serve well only when the master is watching. Don't be people-pleasers. Be slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7Serve with good will as to the Lord and not to man. 8Know that whatever good you do, this you will receive back from the Lord, whether you are slave or free. 9Masters, do the same to your slaves, and stop your threatening. Know that they and you have one Master in heaven, and there is no partiality with him.” (Ephesians 1:5-9).
The Bible does not encourage slavery, and its teaching seeks to stop exploitation and mistreatment of slaves. First, slaves are told to do good work and show good attitudes. Second slave masters are told to treat slaves kindly and decently before God as members of their household.
Paul says, "Were you a slave when Christ called you? Don't worry about that. But if you can be made free, rather take advantage of it." (1Corinthians 7:21). Paul makes this an exception to the principle, "Let each one remain in the same calling in which you were called" (1Corinthians 7:20).
We also note that Paul says to those who aren't slaves, "You were brought with a price; do not become the slaves of men" (1Corinthians 7:23). So being a bondslave is something for a Christian to avoid. However, if one is already enslaved and cannot secure freedom, then it is something to accept cheerfully and make the best of.
We've looked at what Paul says about wife and husband (Ephesians 5:22-33), children and parents (Ephesians 6:1-4), and slaves and master (Ephesians 6:5-9).
In these categories, one man, namely the master of the house, has the three roles of husband, father, and slavemaster. He has much to consider.
¶“25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the called out people. He gave himself up for them...4Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord... 9Masters, do the same to your slaves, and stop your threatening. Know that they and you have one Master in heaven, and there is no partiality with him.” (Ephesians 5:25, 6:4,9).
The master of the house has authority balanced by responsibility. The larger his household, the more responsible he needs to be. However the principles are not difficult to grasp. He needs to be...
You will observe that these principles are not for the master alone. They are for everyone in the household. This includes members not mentioned above, such as grandparents, other relatives, and long-term guests. Troubles in any household are most likely caused by a breach of these principles. Any household, large or small, should make these principles their mutual charter.