Ephesians 5:21-6:9 – Wives and Husbands
21 Submit yourselves to one another because of your reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband has authority over his wife just as Christ has authority over the church; and Christ is himself the Saviour of the church, his body. 24 And so wives must submit themselves completely to their husbands just as the church submits itself to Christ.
25 Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it. 26 He did this to dedicate the church to God by his word, after making it clean by washing it in water, 27 in order to present the church to himself in all its beauty--pure and faultless, without spot or wrinkle or any other imperfection. 28 Men ought to love their wives just as they love their own bodies. A man who loves his wife loves himself. (29 None of us ever hate our own bodies. Instead, we feed them, and take care of them, just as Christ does the church; 30 for we are members of his body.)
31 As the scripture says, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and unite with his wife, and the two will become one." 32 There is a deep secret truth revealed in this scripture, which I understand as applying to Christ and the church. 33 But it also applies to you: every husband must love his wife as himself, and every wife must respect her husband.
Children and Parents
6 Children, it is your Christian duty to obey your parents, for this is the right thing to do. 2 "Respect your father and mother" is the first commandment that has a promise added: 3 "so that all may go well with you, and you may live a long time in the land."
4 Parents, do not treat your children in such a way as to make them angry. Instead, raise them with Christian discipline and instruction.
Slaves and Masters
5 Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling; and do it with a sincere heart, as though you were serving Christ. 6 Do this not only when they are watching you, because you want to gain their approval; but with all your heart do what God wants, as slaves of Christ. 7 Do your work as slaves cheerfully, as though you served the Lord, and not merely human beings. 8 Remember that the Lord will reward each of us, whether slave or free, for the good work we do.
9 Masters, behave in the same way toward your slaves and stop using threats. Remember that you and your slaves belong to the same Master in heaven, who judges everyone by the same standard.
Some of the most difficult passages in the Bible to understand, I have discovered are those which are about relationships, particularly Paul's writings!
As a younger woman, growing up in a very traditional household I started to question why I was sometimes treated differently than my brother, and more so, in society. The 70's, looking back, were not an easy decade to grow up as a female teenager. TV footage of extremely sexist programmes, comedies seem so cringeworthy when viewed through today's lens.
And in my own marriage, I have been so frustrated to receive comments in shops from men thinking they were being amusing when implying that Andrew should watch me, spending 'his' money. When, if truth be told, at that time, I was employed and he wasn't !!
Neither Andrew of myself understand questions like, 'who wears the trousers in your relationship?' What is that supposed to mean?
And there we have the problem – what are the words supposed to mean?
I think it's our modern day interpretation of scripture which can be problematic. Just as I reacted to the man in the shop when he implied that Andrew was the provider of money in our relationship, I have read today's scripture in the past and reacted similarly to Paul's words, 'wives, be subject to your husbands...' and my 'feminist tendencies' as my mum used to call them – have risen up in me!!
My experience of sexism has blurred my reading of the Bible and I have not continued to read, ' (Wives be subject to your husbands) as to the Lord.
And then Paul writes : 'For the husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church'
So we must start, I think, with asking ourselves – what does it mean to be 'head' of someone in this context? What it doesn't mean is that the 'head' is the 'boss' – dictating what those under them should do, insisting on being 'served' in their position as top dog!
It took until I was at college, when I wrote an assignment about Paul's writings to realise that much of what he is teaching is actually about equality in relationships.
We are to treasure and nurture our relationships, be they human relationships or our relationships with God himself.
And our model for these relationships is found in Jesus – how he showed God's love, compassion and displayed what we call the 'kingdom values' of justice, peace, equality in our living alongside one another.
Jesus didn't come to earth to be a 'ruler' to be obeyed, but an example to be followed, and after he was no longer physically on earth, the Holy Spirit was poured out to empower people to follow effectively and with courage.
So Ladies, let's not have any more 'Paul bashing' when we read this passage and Gents, let's not misinterpret the meaning of the word 'head'. Let's learn to love one another equally, giving all people equal value and worth and not try to dominate or control anyone. That's not the way to achieve right relationships.
As the words of the hymn "Let love be real" say:
"Let love be real, in giving and receiving, without the need to manage or to own;" and..." As God loves us, so let us love each other, with no demands, just open hands and space to grow."
But not all this passage from Ephesians is about the relationships between married couples. The second part addresses the relationships between family members and between slaves and their 'masters'.
Once again, Paul's statements cause many problems for those who have been harmed physically or mentally by their parents and have even been taken out of context to promote slavery! But further studying of these verses, reveals Paul as being greatly concerned with children and slaves alike having 'rights' of their own. As with the 'marriage' type of relationship, he promotes a mutual responsibility. Throughout the whole reading, Paul is seen supporting the validity of family life and the extended household.
The family and any relationships should be based on love, the self giving love which Jesus revealed to us. We must be very careful not to take Paul's words out of context in order to control others or exclude them altogether.
Whatever modern families look like today, may we try to understand them in terms of loving relationships where each and every member should hold equal worth. What a gift to the world when we get it right!!