Scripture Reading—Ephesians 5:21-6:9
This section of the letter to the Ephesians is called a household code. It was not uncommon in the ancient world for philosophers and teachers to instruct people on how to order their relationships with one another. For a household—or a society—to run smoothly, people need to understand their role, as some people might say more pejoratively—their place. If everyone knows and keeps their place, then things in a home usually run smoothly. It probably wouldn’t have been unusual in first century Rome to think that as long as husbands controlled wives, parents controlled children, and masters controlled slaves, everything would run along smoothly. I know that this passage doesn’t sound revolutionary to those of us who value living in a world where everyone’s rights are equally protected. But in the first century, it must have sounded revolutionary. These intimate relationships of the household, the writer instructs, are not to be governed by a hierarchy, but are to be lived out in mutuality. Wives are not merely to submit to husbands—but husbands are also to submit to wives. Children are not merely instructed to obey their parents, but parents are instructed not to provoke children to anger. And though I wish the institution of slavery described in this passage had been eradicated, so that there would be no need to tell slaves to obey masters, the very institution itself is undermined by the simple statement in verse 9 that “both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.” Hierarchical relations are still prevalent in our world—just look at the organizational chart of any university, government agency, or denomination! But, the truth is, the most democratic and egalitarian movement in the world should be the church. Here in the body of Christ, we are of equal worth and importance in the eyes of God. The foundation for Christian relationships is the notion that we are each called to seek the welfare of the other. If only one party yields her or his will, relationships become exploitative and even abusive. But God intends for each of us in all our relationships to seek one another’s mutual benefit. Our model is God made known in Jesus, for Jesus surrendered all the authority, prestige, and power that rightly belonged to him to serve, suffer, and even die for us. What would our homes, our churches, and our world begin to look like if that became the model for our relationships with each other? It just might be revolutionary!
Thought for the day: The model for all Christian relationships is the self-giving, sacrificial love of God revealed to the world in Jesus Christ. Practicing that kind of love would revolutionize our homes, churches, and the world.
Prayer: O God, help us to seek relationships where we neither exploit others for our gain, nor allow ourselves to be exploited because of fear or weakness. But help us to model our lives together after Jesus, who showed us truly how to love one another. Amen.