As we get close to the New Year, it’s interesting to hear about what sort of New Year resolutions people come up with. With my birthday being yesterday, I sort of feel like I get a double whammy with this sense that I need to do something different this year. So I usually start my New Year resolutions before Jan 1st. I start them on my birthday. And like most people, from what I hear, I tend to think along the lines of getting more disciplined in my daily exercise. After all the rich food and cakes and cookies consumed over the holidays I feel like I need to do something drastic to counterbalance all of that.
I suppose we make these New Year resolutions because we think that with the start of a new year, there is an opportunity to start fresh. And perhaps that analogy can be applied to our spiritual life as well. Paul says that now that we are made new, since we have new birth, since we have new spiritual life, we need to put away the old and put on the new. There should be a new resolve to live differently now that we are Christians. Our life is not the same and so our behavior should not be the same. Furthermore, Paul says that in this new life we should emulate Christ in our attitudes, in our actions, and our behavior.
As Christians we have a new life in Christ, and so we must begin a new way of living. Our relationships with others is going to be changed. Our actions towards others will be different. And in this context Paul through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit lays out our duty as Christians in our relationship to our spouse, to our family, and in our work environment. These areas of our lives are ones which should be most impactful as Christians. I believe that the foundations of society are the home and the workplace. And so as Christians if we want to change society, if we want to impact the world for Christ, we start in these areas first.
You know, there are many husbands who have testified to the fact that when his wife became a believer, she changed. And many wives have testified that when her husband became a believer, he started acting differently. The same can be said concerning children. They may have been rebellious, always getting into trouble, but when they became saved, there was a noticeable difference in their behavior and the way they responded to their parents. And vice a versa for the parents who may have been saved. The children noticed a big difference in the home. And many an employer has been able to say, “You know that guy that worked for me? Something happened in his life. I don’t know what it was. It seemed to have had something to do with religion. But, boy, is he different on the job.” And many an employee has said, “Something happened to my boss when he became a Christian.”
So when there has been a change spiritually, then there will be a change in behavior, and especially that will be evident in the nature of relationships. In this passage of scripture, Paul talks about a new kind of wife in vs 18, a new kind of husband in vs 19, a new kind of child in verse 20, a new kind of father in verse 21, a new kind of servant in verse 22, and a new kind of master in chapter 4, verse 1. All of a sudden, a person’s whole orientation to society is dramatically changed, because Jesus Christ has entered his life. There is a new, controlling authority in their lives which dramatically affects the way that they live.
Now today there is a lot of pushback on some of these principles because society believes that there is no place for submission to authority anymore. They especially don’t like to hear that wives are to be in subjection to their husbands. And young people don’t like to submit to the authority of their parents, or to the government, or even to the law. Look at what’s going on in Portland and other major cities. They want to overthrow any semblance of authority.
But there are many institutions of authority which God has established in the world. Whether you like it or not, there are certain authorities and they are established by God. There is the authority of government which is spelled out in detail in Romans 13. There is the authority of the church and it’s leaders as indicated in 1 Peter. And here we see that God has established authority in the home, in marriage, and in the workplace.
Now our scripture passage starts with a word a word to wives concerning submitting to authority in verse 18. Notice, it does not say “women.” Of course, to be a wife you must be a woman. That should be understood. But the admonition is not to women in general to submit to men in general. That is not what this scripture is teaching. It is an admonition to wives. So it is an admonition to women in a marriage relationship with their husband.
So verse 18 says, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” Notice that it says to your husbands. The KJV says to your own husbands. My wife is not being told to submit to another man who also happens to be a husband. It’s not a general admonition for women to submit to men, but in the marriage relationship, the woman is to take the role of submission to the husband’s role of authority.
The word “hypotassō” was a Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military use, it meant “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”.
But let’s be clear; submission doesn’t mean inferiority. It doesn’t mean you’re inferior to your husband, not at all. Jesus wasn’t inferior to God; but He submitted to the authority of the Father. Christ is equal to the Father, yet He submitted to Him. In Phil. 2:5-8 it says, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped (held onto), but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, [and] being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” So Jesus, though equal with God in divinity, submitted Himself to the Father by becoming obedient even to the point of death. Equality does not negate the imperative to submission. God has ordained the husband to be the leader in the marriage and in the home.
Notice what be says at the end of verse 18, “as is fitting in the Lord.” The only justification for submission is because this is the way God intended marriage. I think it might be helpful to remind ourselves of how God designed marriage in creation. Starting in Genesis 2 vs18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought [them] to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”
So the order of creation should teach us the nature of marriage, and the nature of the relationship between husband and wife. The wife was made for man, and made from man. She was made to be a helper to him. And in creation, God established that authority of the husband and the submission of the wife. They have different roles in marriage. Even as Christ was submissive to the Father, yet equal in divinity.
It’s also helpful to consider what it says in Eph 5:22-24 “Wives, [be subject] to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself [being] the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives [ought to be] to their husbands in everything.” So the wife is to have the same relationship to the husband as the church has to Christ. That’s an astonishing principle.
It also puts a tremendous responsibility on the husband to be like Christ. Eph.5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” And that brings us to the admonition to husbands in vs 19, “Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.” Now these commands to the husband and the wife are not contingent upon the other party keeping their part of the deal. Love is not contingent. Agape love is not reciprocal. But the command is for the wife to be subject to her husband’s authority, and for the husband to love his wife. The command is to continue acting in love. A lot of men are all lovey dovey until they get what they want. And then they are self serving. But agape love is focused on serving the other to the point of self sacrifice. Love is not simply an emotion. Love is action. Love is the act of putting aside your prerogatives for the sake of another, to see them built up and edified. To see them benefitted.
If husbands truly loved their wives with a self sacrificing love, seeking their benefit and not his own, then I don’t think there would be a lot of problems concerning the wife being subject to him. The problem is that too often men seek their own benefit, and demand the wife submit to that. But as each serves the other then both are benefitted.
The second part of this admonition is “do not be embittered against them.” Some have suggested that this word “embitter” should be translated “harsh.” “Don’t be harsh toward them.” Well, either word emphasizes a harshness of temper. Harshness produces resentment that leads to misery, and often leads to divorce. In the Greek it’s pikrainō that is the verb here, it could be translated as “exasperate” or “irritate.” “Don’t irritate your wife. Don’t exasperate your wife. Don’t be harsh towards your wife.” I would suggest that the way to not exasperate your wife is you don’t lord your authority over her. You don’t treat her less than an equal. You may not be equal in size or strength or practically any physical characteristic, but you treat her as an equal in consideration of her dignity as a person, in her intelligence, in regards to her opinion.
You know, with authority comes responsibility. And in marriage the man is given a grave responsibility. Your family is going to follow your lead. They are going to follow your wisdom or lack of it. If you make a mistake, they are going to suffer with you. It’s a great responsibility to have authority in the family. You better lean on God’s word for wisdom. And if you’re smart, you better lean on your wife for advice.
But I will also say this. I think a lot of men shirk their responsibility to lead in the family, especially in the realm of spiritual things. And so the wife dutifully picks up the slack, and the man is actually relieved that he doesn’t have to make those decisions. But there are consequences to that dereliction of duty that may take years to come out, but they will eventually hurt the relationship. One thing for sure, is it will hurt the man’s relationship with the Lord. Wives, you need to support your husband in becoming the spiritual leader in your house. He may not be as smart as you in things of the Lord. He may not be as spiritually mature as you. But if you don’t encourage him to accept that responsibility then you damn him to be forever immature and unspiritual. And that’s going to work against your home and your marriage more than you can possibly know at this point. Don’t fall for that lure of the devil to overstep his authority and take the lead. Eve took the lead, and Adam was willing to submit to her. And look what happened as a result to the human family.
As archaic as this may sound today, I would suggest that the Christian husband should be chivalrous towards his wife. He should protect her, cherish her, honor her, give preference to her, serve her. If we loved our wives that way, I don’t think there would be too much problem with the wife not being submissive to the husband. I think that part would come naturally.
The next admonition is directed to children. Vs 20 says, “Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.” Now one question that immediately comes to mind is who qualifies as children here in this verse? “Children,” ta tekna, is a very general word for a child, an offspring. It could be any age. What it basically means is, anybody who is still under parental guidance. You stop being a child biblically in terms of this word when you go out to establish your own independence and your own life. As long as you’re in the home, as long as your parents are responsible for you, as long as you’re under their leadership and authority, you have one command.
You know there’s only one command in the entire Bible given to children or young people living in their home with their parents. That one command and the only command is to obey your parents in everything; that’s it. Ephesians 6: 1 states it even more clearly, tying it back to the Old Testament commandment. Eph 6:1-3 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise), SO THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH.”
One of the hallmarks of the last days, according to 2 Timothy 3:2, is that children will be disobedient to parents. Children today are taught to think that authority is something terrible, as unnecessarily restrictive. And parents contribute to this by focusing on trying to be their child’s friend, rather than being their parent. I think a lot of parents fail to properly exercise their authority, to properly maintain any discipline or control over their kids, and then because they are such poor parents, they then try to mollify the situation by overcompensating in terms of permissiveness and lack of authority in the kid’s lives. They excuse their own lack of discipline as a parent by saying “Well, I just want them to be happy.” But when there is no discipline, no boundaries, no guiding influence, then the child just ends up miserable and feeling like the parent doesn’t love them.
The unspoken command in this verse is actually directed to the parents. To exercise their authority and their responsibility to raise their children in the admonition of the Lord. So that the child will live in such as way to be well pleasing to the Lord, according to vs 20. In Ephesians 6:1 notice that it says obey your parents in the Lord. That’s the same idea. According to the desire of the Lord, to be pleasing to the Lord.
And I would remind you that Jesus when He was a child was under the authority of His parents, and He was obedient and submissive to them. The Holy Son of God, God Incarnate, subject to Mary and Joseph. And yet it was God’s will. It was pleasing to God. In Luke 2:51 it says, “And [Jesus] went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” So no matter how smart little Johnny may be, if Jesus could be subject to the authority of his parents then so can he.
Then Paul addresses the other side of the coin in child rearing in vs 21, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.” There are some commentators who say this word translated “fathers” is broad enough to cover both parents. That may be so. I think though it is given to fathers especially because it is their responsibility to raise the children. It’s not something that should be shifted to just the mother. The fathers are the governing authority so to speak. I remember well my mother saying, “Just wait till your Dad gets home.” And I remember thinking, “I am happy to wait.” I knew that when he got home there would be a reckoning, and I didn’t look forward to it one bit.
But this admonition to fathers not to exasperate, or irritate some versions translate it, is a pretty broad statement. It doesn’t mean that we don’t exercise authority, or administer discipline. But perhaps it means that we do not use a heavy hand in doing so. It’s not always conducive to have the attitude that it’s my way or the highway. I have talked to a number of fathers that thought that they had to lay down the law and then issue and ultimatum, either do what I want or hit the road. And sometimes the child hit the road and was never heard from again. You can’t raise a child you don’t have.
I remember the worse whipping I ever got when I was a boy. My father thought I had tried to run away from home. And he never gave me a chance to explain. I’ll never forget that. Parents, fathers especially, talk to your children. LIsten to them. Don’t just administer your authority without considering their feelings and what they might be going through. You know the Lord is our heavenly Father. And if He always gave us what we deserved when we break HIs law then who could possibly stand? But He forgives. He is gracious. He loves us and administers discipline for our good, not for punishment’s sake.
The last category Paul addresses is employee, employer relations. Let’s read the part applicable to employees first starting in vs22 , “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who [merely] please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.”
Now Paul addresses this section specifically to slaves or servants. But I think the admonition is applicable to employees. In ancient Rome it is estimated that there were 60 million slaves in that society. It was a vital part of the economy, it was a vital part of society. 60 million slaves would have been a very large segment of the population. And it is a certainty that a large part of the church were in fact slaves. By the way, historically, slavery wasn’t restricted to only certain races. In fact, the Jews as a nation were enslaved for 400 years. That’s longer than slavery was practiced in this country. In Rome, practically all nationalities of people could be slaves except Roman citizens. Even doctors and teachers were commonly slaves. It has been said that the Christian church was one of the only places in the known world in which slaves were considered to be on equal footing with slave owners. In the church, in Christ, there was neither slave nor free. But in society, it was a part of life which was not able to be easily done away with.
It’s also been suggested that the spread of Christianity was the primary means by which slavery was eventually done away with throughout the world. The Great Awakening spawned a realization that slavery was something that needed to be abolished, and within less than a century it had been outlawed in both America and England and soon throughout the civilized world.
But I really do not want to make this about the evils of slavery today, and what the Bible says and doesn’t say about it. I think the primary point Paul is making here is in regards to employee relations. When you agree to work for someone for a wage, you in effect are serving that person or that business for the hours that you have committed to. Some employers demand more than others. But for the most part, it’s safe to say that you abrogate a lot of your freedom and your rights when you go to work. The business, or the boss, is now the governing authority over that part of your life. In the manner of Paul’s speech, to some extent you are a servant and they are your master on earth.
So what does it say regarding employees then? To obey those who are your master, or your boss, or your employer. And not with just external service as those who merely work to please men. In other words, don’t just work for the eyes of men who may be watching, and when they are not watching then you have a different work ethic. But work as unto the Lord who is always watching. Do your work as unto the Lord. It goes back to vs 17, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
I told the story of the cobbler last week. I won’t retell it. If you missed it, you missed one of my very few illustrations that aren’t found in the Bible. But the cobbler wouldn’t cut corners, even though the customer would never know the difference. And the reason he didn’t do that was because he did it as unto the Lord. You know, the Christian employee should be the best employee on the job site. That’s basically what Paul is saying. Your attitude, your work ethic, is your testimony to a watching world. And to do it as unto the Lord means that you will find favor with God and man.
And Paul includes in that admonition a warning that if you do what is wrong you will receive the consequences of that wrong, and that without partiality. I believe there are inherent consequences to sin. And when you sin, those inherent consequences take effect. God will not always deliver you from the consequences of your sin. He will forgive you if you repent, but he still may allow the consequences of sin to take effect. I know a few guys in prison who are living testimonies to the inherent consequences of doing wrong. And what else Paul seems to indicate is that the employer has a responsibly to administer justice to those who do wrong. And if he doesn’t, then it’s possible that God will. Because God is a God of justice. God will reward you for how you worked here on earth, and He will punish you for how you worked here on earth. If we are Christians, we have a higher authority than our boss who is watching us. Let us work for our heavenly reward. Even if you are slighted here on earth and don’t get that raise, or promotion that you think you deserve, God says He will reward us for our work. Vs 24, “knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” Do your work as unto the Lord.
The last admonition then is to employers. And for that we look at chapter 4 vs 1, “Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.” If you are an employer, then God says you have the responsibility to be just and fair. At the end of chapter 3 we saw that God is concerned about justice in the workplace and also fairness. And so as the governing authority in the workplace which is established by God, masters or managers or CEO’s are to administer justice and fairness, because they will be judged by the same standard with which they judged. Jesus said in Matt. 7:2 “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” God is going to judge managers, and bosses and CEO’s according to His justice and fairness.
So in conclusion, I want you to notice that in all of these admonitions, to each of the parties involved, whether it be wives, or husbands, or children, or parents, or employees or employers, all of them as Christians should live a life that is lived as unto the Lord. In vs 18 it says, “as is fitting in the Lord.” In vs 20 it is “well pleasing to the Lord”. In vs 22 it is “fearing the Lord.” In vs 23 it is “as for the Lord.” In vs 24 “It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” And in ch4 vs 1 it is “you too have a Master in heaven.” The over arching theme is found in vs 23, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.”
And in so doing, we will be found to be pleasing to the Lord, and gain favor with God and men. Let us resolve in this new life in Christ, to live in a way that is pleasing to Him and is a reflection of Him to the world.