In the Home and in the Throng
Topic: Pauline Epistles Passage: Ephesians 6:1–6:9
1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3“that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
5 Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. 9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
Growing up in a Christian home, I could be found in church every Sunday morning and evening. As I reflected back upon those days this past week, I found myself remembering the names and faces of the men who served as pastors of that small local church where my parents were members. They were all good men, but I remember very few of the sermons they preached. What I do recall, however, are the songs that we sang, especially on Sunday evenings. Unfortunately, many of those songs are no longer in our hymnals.
I can still hear the tunes, and as I do many of the lyrics are brought to mind. Some of the words didn’t make a lot of sense to me at the time, but later they did. One song in particular contained the following chorus:
“Be like Jesus, this my song,
In the home and in the throng.
Be like Jesus, all day long,
I would be like Jesus.”
It wasn’t until some time later that I learned that a “throng” was a large gathering of people. When used in contrast with “home,” it creates a range that extends from our family lives to our interactions with others in the workplace or marketplace. That particular chorus comes to mind when I read these first nine verses of Ephesians 6.
As we near the conclusion of our study of this epistle, the Apostle Paul is wrapping up a section that began in chapter 5, verse 21. There he instructed us to be “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Then what follows is listing of what Martin Luther called a “haustafeln” or “house table,” which can best be described as a list of responsibilities that are expected of members of a Christian household.
In this extended passage we find three pairings of such duties. Last week we looked at the marital relationship at the end of chapter, noting that a Christian husband is to love his wife and a Christian wife is to submit to her husband’s leadership. The importance of both partners carrying out their appointed roles was so that the world could be shown a visible demonstration of Christ’s love for His Bride, the Church, and the Church’s submission to its Head, Jesus Himself.
Today we are going to look at the two remaining pairings of relationships and the roles that the respective parties are called upon to live out in their daily lives. The first of these remains within the family context, and addresses the responsibilities of children to parents and vice versa. So, we’ll begin in verses 1 through 4 by looking at the...
Instructions for the parent-child relationship (verses 1-4)
It is noteworthy that “children” are addressed both initially and directly. One might think that children—whose estate in Roman society was inferior to the manner in which we value our children today—might be instructed through their parents. But such was not the case when Paul was inspired to write these words. Keep in mind that epistles such as this would have been read to the entire church when it gathered, and Paul fully expected that the “children” of Christian parents would be present and paying attention.
I am thankful that our older children are with us when we gather as a church family. In fact, I am greatly encouraged when I learn that they are taking notes from the message—as I know a number of them do. I commend them, and I commend their parents for encouraging them to do so. Keep it up, young people, and keep setting an example for the rest of us.
How does Paul instruct the “children” in these verses? He begins by telling them to “obey (their) parents.” The word he uses (“‘υπακουω”) implies “listening to” and “obeying” a request or command. For example, if a parent should say to a child, “put your toys away” or “straighten your room,” there is no resistance or hesitation...only compliance.
Three reasons are given as to why children ought to be obedient to their parents. In the first place—as verse 1 reveals—it is the “right” thing to do. There is a logical explanation why “children” are not placed in leadership positions. It has nothing to do with their inherent worth as human beings, but it has everything to do with their level of experience and maturity. Common sense in every society places children in a subservient role to adults for a reason. Nature itself demonstrates to us that this is “right.” By adding the phrase, “in the Lord,” the writer is again reminding us of the “line of authority” that has been established by God since before creation.
The second reason “children” are instructed to “obey (their) parents” is because God has commanded it. Verses 2 and 3 essentially quote Exodus 20:12, the fifth of the Ten Commandments, and the one which serves as a “bridge” between those that deal with a person’s relationship with God and those which address his relationship with his fellow man. This particular commandment actually appears four times in the Gospels, emphasizing its importance. When Paul parenthetically adds that “this is the first commandment,” he may be suggesting that this command is of primary importance, and may be the “first” commandment of God that parents need to teach their “children.”
Verse 2 quotes that command, which was first given to Moses from Mount Sinai: “Honor you father and mother.” “Honor” means “to hold in high regard. It speaks of “placing value” on something or someone. It implies reverence, respect, and submission, as well as obedience. As someone has said, “Honor expresses the frame of mind from which obedience springs.” Or, if you prefer, honor is the attitude and obedience is the result.
Because this commandment is part of the Decalogue, it is not an overstatement to say that disobedience to parents is rebellion against God. Children are to “obey (their) parents” because it is “right” and because God has commanded it.
There is a third reason, and that is, obedience brings a reward. The “promise” of verse 2 is stated in verse 3: “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Although this is a purpose statement (“‘ινα”), this is not meant to be interpreted as a universal, cause-and-effect pledge. Like the Old Testament Proverbs, it presents a general rule of life...a proverbial promise, if you will. Generally speaking, “children” who are raised to “honor (their) father and mother” tend to avoid the pitfalls of life that others experience. In other words, one stands a far better “chance at life” if he or she is raised in a Godly environment where respect, submission, and obedience are the rule of the day.
But in order for that to happen, there has to be Godly parenting. Paul, therefore, shifts his attention to the “fathers” in verse 4. He writes, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Even though “children” are instructed to “honor (both) father and mother,” the responsibility for “training” and “teaching” is placed in the hands of the “father.” Sad to say—as it is within many churches—men have neglected their God-given responsibility to lead. Nevertheless, it is they—not the “mothers” who are held accountable before the Lord.
The specific child-rearing duties that God assigns to “fathers” would have been quite revolutionary to those living in the Roman Empire in Paul’s day. Listen to how William Barclay describes the circumstances of that time:
“A Roman father had absolute power over his family. He could sell them as slaves, he could make them work in his fields even in chains, he could take the law into his own hands, for the law was in his own hands, and punish as he liked, he could even inflict the death penalty on his child.”
What a contrast with the Christian father, who is pictured in this passage as raising his child “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” When Paul uses the phrase “bring them up,” he employs a word (“εκτρεφω”) that speaks of “tenderly caring for” or “nurturing” someone with great affection. That would be totally inconsistent when done in “anger.” Instead, the Christian “father” must patiently instruct, model, and correct in a Christ-honoring manner.
The New International Version reads, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” “Exasperation” is the feeling our “children” get when parents are inconsistent...at times “over-disciplining” while at other times “under-disciplining.” Children become confused and remain unclear on what the “rules” are.
Most parents learn best from their mistakes, and I suppose all of us wish we could have a “do over” when it comes to raising our children. I often think about my own miscues as a father, and so the suggestions I offer are born more out of regret rather than what I did well. I’ll give you three “do’s” and three “don’ts” that I learned the hard way.
In the first place, and this is alluded to from the text, don’t discipline when angry. How can you expect to get your child’s behavior under control when your own isn’t?
Second, don’t withdraw affection or attention when disciplining. Continue loving the child with “no strings attached,” even the string of obedience. In fact, I would recommend using words like “correction” or “discipline,” rather than “punishment.”
Third, don’t expect perfection, but progress. Allow room for repeated failures from your child...as well as from yourself. It takes time to learn to do things well, so be patient.
Now for the positives...first, do expect obedience. Let your child know that you expect good behavior from them. Explain why you do, and provide positive reinforcement whenever it is appropriate.
Second, do allow your child to express his/her point of view. Children need to understand why certain behaviors are acceptable and why others come with consequences. When possible, work together on a plan so that will avoid these situations in the future.
Third and finally, do remember that the goal is inward conviction and not outward conformity. In addition to molding our children’s behavior, we are out to change their hearts as well as their habits. Therefore, seek to develop within the child an inner “value system” that is able to help then discern between healthy and unhealthy behavior.
So, in summary, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord,” and “Fathers,” raise your children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
Beginning in verse 5, Paul transitions from life within the family circle to a broader contest...to the workplace outside the home, where life is lived everyday. Here we find...
Instructions for the master-servant relationship (verses 5-9)
The language of this section seems remote to our culture, so before we attempt to apply Paul’s instructions to our situations permit me to supply a little background. Some commentators estimate that as many as one-third of the population of the Roman Empire during the 1st-century would have been considered “bondservants.” That title was applied to everyone who would today have been a part of the “work force.”
According John Stott, they included not only domestic servants and manual laborers, but educated people as well. Among them would have been doctors, teachers, and administrators. Because there were only two levels of society—the wealthy and the working class—persons could become the “property” of another through purchase, inheritance, or the settlement of a debt. Prisoners of war often became slaves. Such an arrangement was a way of life, and few questioned it. W.L. Westermann, who has studied and written extensively on the subject of “slavery and freedom” throughout history, noted,
“The institution of slavery was a fact of Mediterranean economic life so completely accepted as a part of the labor structure of the time that one cannot correctly speak of ‘the slave problem’ in antiquity...It was simply there.”
To those of us living in a nation where the stains of slavery continue to mark us and, in many ways, divide us, such an arrangement is difficult to conceive. But the failure to understand the culture in which Paul is writing may cause us to interpret the text in the light of our times, rather than vice versa. In light of that, let me make one more observation and then approach this passage in a way that I trust will make it more relevant to us all.
The “bondservants” being addressed in this passage were by-and-large those who worked for the wealthier members of society in one capacity or another. In some cases they worked the land or served the family and received wages in the form lodging, food, clothing, and other necessities. In more cases than not, they were more like “employees” than what we have come to consider “slaves.” Granted, they had limited—and in some cases, no—legal rights, so that the manner in which they were treated was left to the discretion of their “masters.” If one had a kindly “master,” all was well. But if not, then life could be hard.
With those thoughts in mind, perhaps we are able to see with greater clarity that this passage is more relevant to us that we might be able to see at first glance. So, let’s look again at what the apostle says by way of instruction. Beginning at verse 5, we read,
“Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.”
Interestingly, Paul employs the same word (“‘υπακουω”) to describe the obedience of “bondservants” to their “masters” that he used to describe “children’s” obedience to their “parents” in verse 1. And he tells them to do so, “as (they) would (obey) Christ.” Doing so with “fear and trembling, with a sincere heart” reminds us yet again that such service flows from the submissive spirit mentioned in chapter 5, verse 21. The attitude we are to have toward our supervisors and bosses is one of respect.
The question always comes up, “But suppose I don’t respect—or even like—my boss?” Verses 6 through 8 add substance to the apostle’s command. Here he reminds us that all of our service is ultimately rendered to Christ Himself. It is He whom we seek to please, and it is He who will reward our obedience. Therefore, our labor should be with “willingness” and not under compulsion. Christians serve with a greater motivation.
There are at least three reasons given in these verses for always giving faithful and submissive service. The first is because it is really being done for Christ. That in no way implies that we serve our employer in a less-meaningful way. In fact, it should mean that we serve the company we work for even better...and not just when the boss is looking. Christians should be the most dedicated, loyal, and honest employees on the payroll. It is an important part of our testimony.
The next reason for being the best employee we can possibly be is that it is the will of God. Paul tells us that, in our labor, we are to “doing the will of God from the heart.” That alone should push us forward—even in the most mundane of jobs—to contribute “a day’s work for a day’s pay.”
And then third, we should be motivated to serve our employer well because it brings a reward. And I am not simply talking about “overtime pay” or a “Christmas bonus.” Look at verse 8 again: “Knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord.” Paul’s reminder at the end of 1 Corinthians (15:58) should be printed out and placed on our bathroom mirrors, so that every morning as we get ready for work, we read these words: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Our final “pay day” is coming...the full recompense awaits!
Just one additional thought before we look at how “masters” are addressed in verse 9. It would be highly unusual if there wasn’t someone here who is struggling with a job in which you are unhappy. There are some mornings when you don’t even want to get out of bed. You may wonder how these words could possibly apply to you. If that is your situation, then I encourage you to check out what this same apostle has to say in 1 Corinthians 7:20 through 24. The gist of it is this: work hard, pray, and if a better opportunity comes along, pursue it. But until then, you are still obligated—under God—to give the best service you can to your present employer. In the words of Jim Elliot, “Wherever you are, be all there.”
The word to the “masters” is given in the final verse of this section. There we read, “Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.” The phrase “do the same” suggests that the essence of the commands addressed to “bondservants” apply equally to the “masters,” and that both groups are being addressed as Christians.
That holds true for each of the groups that have been mentioned throughout this so-called “household code,” whether it be “husbands,” “wives,” “children,” “parents,” “bondservants,” or “masters.” Non-Christians could never be expected to live in the way these verses describe. Only believers who are “filled with the Spirit”—chapter 5, verse 18—and “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ”—chapter 5, verse 21—are able to fulfill these obligations and live out their appointed roles in a Godly manner.
Some of you may be in the position of having employees who work under your supervision. If so, then allow me to offer four brief words of counsel drawn from this text that you too can apply.
The first is display good will toward those in your charge. In a way, be like a “servant” to them. Be the kind of boss you would like to have if you were in their situation. Treat them with fairness, respect, and dignity.
Second, do not threaten them. Don’t allow your own insecurities, in terms of meeting deadlines and your own supervisor’s demands, to become theirs. In fact, “shield” them from what does not immediately impact their job-performance.
Third, be devoted to and submit to the Lord. Like your employees, the service you render reflects upon your testimony. Remember that you, too, have a “Master...in heaven.”
And then finally, do not show favoritism. Nothing divides a work force more than when partiality is displayed to one person or group over another. There is “no partiality” with our Lord, and if we are to model His character then we must not “play favorites” either. We are to show the same Christian consideration to all.
For the past three Sunday mornings, we have been looking at a passage of Scripture that Martin Luther referred to as Christian “house tables,” or a list of responsibilities that is to govern Christian behaviors “in the home and in the throng.” As we have made our way through these three pairings and six groups of individuals, I would imagine that all of our toes have been stepped on to one degree or another. If you have been paying attention, and if the Spirit of God has been at work within you, then you are probably feeling –as I do—that you have “blown it.”
Certainly as “parents,” “husbands,” and “wives,” we have been able to recognize our own shortcomings. And I would not presume how God may have spoken even to the children who are with us as well. Who among us does not feel a sense of conviction and inadequacy in the areas we have been discussing?
If any of those scenarios describe you, then I encourage you to consider that it is never too late to do the right thing. We may label our failures by any number of titles, but the Bible simply calls them “sin.” What’s more each of us is chock full of it! The Scriptures make it clear “all have sinned and fall(en) short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Furthermore, it manifests itself in countless ways. Therefore, we are all in the same boat.
But take heart...failure doesn’t have to be fatal and final. There is mercy and grace to be found in the Lord. The Good News is that Jesus Christ—God’s Son—has come “in order to take away sin” (cf. 1 John 3:5) for all who are willing to repent and turn to Him. Psalm 103(:12) tells us that for those who do, He will “as far as the east is from the west... remove our transgressions from us.” Scripture further adds that He is able to “cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (cf. 1 John 1:9), as well as give to us “a new heart, and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 36:26). To the point, He alone is able to make us the kind of “husbands,” “wives,” “children,” “parents,” “employees,” and “supervisors” that He has charged us to be.
It’s not too late. There is yet hope for us. Among the most encouraging words found in all of Scripture are these, which come from the small prophecy of Joel (2:25): “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten.”
As we count down the few remaining days of an old year and prepare to turn the calendar on a new one, why not make the type of resolutions that can be meaningful and maintained throughout the year? If you not living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ both “in the home and in the throng,” it is because your sin that has prevented that from happening. The Lord holds out to you a better tomorrow if you will but turn to Him in repentance, embrace His forgiveness, and claim His grace to become what He has called you to be.
The life of blessing awaits those who submit to Him. And when we do, He fills us with His Spirit. Only then are we are able to submit to one another “out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:18 and 21).