Household Living Under Christ
“Wives, submit to your husbands as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not embitter against them. Children, obey your parents according to all things, for this is acceptable in the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, in order that they do not get discouraged.
Slaves, obey your lords according to all fleshly things, not with eye service as people pleasers, but with sincerity of heart while fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, toil from the soul as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that you will receive from the Lord the reward of the inheritance. Serve the Lord, Christ; for the one who does injustice will be repaid which injustice he did, and there is no favoritism. Lords, show right and fairness to your slaves, knowing that you also have a Lord in heaven.” (Col 3:18-4:1, my translation)
Christ is supreme, even over the household. Paul charges every member of the household with something. Wives are to submit, husbands to love and not embitter, children to obey, fathers not to anger, slaves to serve earnestly, and masters to treat fairly. In Christ, there is no race, no ritual distinction, no class, no age. In Christ, Christians are equals. This equality has far reaching ramifications. Husbands are not to treat wives or children harshly as though they are property. Lords, or masters, are not to treat slaves harshly either. Husbands and lords are held accountable to the Lord in heaven. Likewise, wives, children, and slaves all answer to the same Lord. Everyone is equal with each other, but all are subject to Christ. All are morally responsible agents, and all have a part to play even in the household. The things Paul tells each of them is both culturally bound and yet theologically profound. For instances, wives are told to submit. This charge was tied to the patriarchalism of his culture. But in Christ there is no race, no gender, no age, no class, right? True, and, yet, we have an instance in which Paul is confirming socially accepted and expected gender roles. How can this be? While Paul is confirming this cultural aspect, he is also transforming it through the lens of Christ’s supremacy. Wives are to choose to submit. It is their conscious choice to submit and to do it in relation to submission to Christ. Paul is affording women the option to choose. Not only that, but in stark contrast to other household codes, Paul is actual speaking to women as responsible moral agents, whereas other texts only addressed the husband and charged the husband to rule his wife. In connection with the wifely submission, Paul charges the husbands to love and not rule their wives. While he is affirming patriarchal gender roles, he is also radically transforming them in their specific time and situation.
But even more interesting is that slaves are to serve their lords with respect to Christ, the Lord in heaven. They are to serve men earnestly. They are not to give eye service as people pleasers do. Christ Supreme calls slaves to do everything wholeheartedly and not begrudgingly. The Lord in heaven calls slaves to work as though it is to Christ that they are working for. This is a radical transformation of services rendered!
And, so, what can we say? Christians are to live under Christ’s supremacy, and this extends into the household. There is no matter that does not fall under Christ’s reign. There is no intimate situation, no personal location, no physical abode that does not apply. Christ is supreme over everything. Whether you are a husband or a wife, a parent or a child, or an employer or an employee, all matters of life are important. As such, it is your responsibility to put on the new clothes that characterize believers. When it comes to personal matters at home, parents are not to make choices that will embitter and discourage their children. In other words, they need to be encouraging towards their children. Also, children need to obey their parents. It is part of their acceptable service and worship to Christ.
In America, there are no legal slaves, so the technical language doesn’t apply. However, there is a charge that can be said of all those who work for an employer–work as though it were unto Christ. No matter what your job is, do it wholeheartedly, not looking to do it correctly when your boss is looking, but in all things on the job, do it earnestly as though it were unto Christ. Your job can be a place of worship unto Christ.
What about wives and husbands? Some people argue that wives are to submit and this command is universal. Others say it is not universal, but, rather, Paul used the instruction for a specific culturally bound situation. In either case, both the husband and the wife are morally responsible agents, so even in the contemporary American culture, both have a role to play. Wives, how will you serve Christ in your relationship to your husband? You have a choice. You can honor Christ in your relationship to your husband, or you can dishonor Christ. Perhaps it could be as simple as listening to your husbands desires? Perhaps it could be that you need to give your input gracefully when making decisions with him? Maybe you can discuss certain tasks with your husband so that the two of you can decide together what to do and how to do it? But the same is true of husbands–you have the same choice to make. Husbands, you do not rule your wives. How you treat your wives matters to Christ. Include your wives in decisions. Partner up with your wives to get things done. Share the load, but talk to your wives to determine in your situation how the load would best be shared. Love your wives by showing affection as well as compassion. Love is a mindset and a choice, not just a feeling. Make a point to love your wives throughout the week, every day, in multiple ways. Gift giving, letter writing, singing, dancing, lounging, caressing, and kissing are just for starters. Love is much more than gifts, notes, touching, or time. It is a life of service and devotion as well. We must challenge ourselves to love our wives within all of these aspects. In so doing, we will not be harsh with them and we won’t irritate or embitter them.
How you live matters to God. Christ is your Lord every bit as much in heaven and on earth, wether at work or at home. Make it a point to clothe yourselves with Christ’s new clothes, and to serve him in all that you do towards your spouse, your children, your coworkers, your church friends, and your neighbors. Your appearance matters. How well are you representing Christ with your actions? How well are you outwardly demonstrating God’s inward work within you?