There is perhaps no greater battlefield we will ever deal with than our families. When Satan wanted the whole human race to fall, his first order of business was to divide a husband and wife from one another and from their God, who holds their marriage union together (read Genesis 3:1-8). If Satan divides and deceives a husband and wife, then he has a greater chance of getting their children as well.
Essentially, there are two things that hold a family together and keep Satan at bay: Each family member knowing and functioning appropriately within their roles, and each family member remaining connected to and putting God first in the home. (Read text: Ephesians 5:22-6:9.)
I once knew of a godly family that had a father who would spend hours in prayer daily. But because the father fell away from the Lord, it left the wife vulnerable to the attack of the enemy. She fell away into numerous adulterous affairs, and left her husband and children, which resulted in divorce and family fragmentation. I put the root cause of this catastrophe not on the wife’s adultery but on the husband’s backslidden condition, which opened a door for the devil to get into their home. (Of course, the wife should have also remained true to the Lord and prayed her husband back into the faith.)
I have known instances of parents idolizing their children and not getting them in church on a weekly basis because of sports programs on weekends. The result is raising up lukewarm Christian children at best. Also, I know of mothers who don’t take their children to church if their husbands can’t make it because of work. This teaches their children that church and putting God first are not that important and should be neglected if doing so becomes inconvenient, resulting in lukewarm, backslidden children.
Hence, this passage dealing with family life illustrates how it is not just casting out devils in prayer and Bible reading, but also having healthy functional ways of relating and submitting to one another that brings about the right results. Biblical submission is never destructive or oppressive but based on the example of Jesus’ submission to the Father even though He was equal to Him.
3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Looking at these passages we see a revolutionary concept of submission introduced to the Greco-Roman culture through the gospel. The Romans believed every person’s station in life was set by the gods. Many people, including the Stoics, didn’t even address anyone but those who had the right to make decisions at the top of the hierarchical structures of society. In those days women, children and slaves had no rights but were treated as the property of their husbands, fathers and owners.
Thus, when Paul addressed women, children and slaves he was treating them as if they had rights. This is because in the gospel every believer is equal, and in salvation there is no male or female, or slave or free, but we are all one in Christ (Galatians 3:28). Therefore, Paul is entreating them to live in submission, not because it was required for salvation but to be able to keep the proper family and structural order for the sake of Christ. The only ones who heard anything new in these commands were the husbands and slave masters, both of whom had to make incredible counter-cultural concessions to those typically stationed lower in societal status.
So as we look at these roles:
A. Everyone was called to submit to the needs of one another (Ephesians 5:22, which helped to relativize all the other particular commands).
B. Wives were told to submit to their husbands. But,
1. Wives were already submitting to their husbands and had very little rights in the Roman culture. Thus, by teaching this, Paul was showing that in Christ they had a choice to submit or not to submit, depending on the situation regarding the husband’s walk with God.
2. Women were also saved and, according to this same epistle, their head was Christ first (Ephesians 1:22). Thus, if the husband wanted them to disobey God then they were not to obey him.
C. Husbands were to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25).
This was another way of teaching mutual submission because when a husband loves his wife then he lays down his life and his desires to accommodate her personal desires. This is another form of submission. Thus, even though Paul respects the husband as the spiritual and cultural leader of the family, the husband is warned not to take his position for granted but to love his wife with the standard of love Christ has for the church, which is one as savior, protector and initiator. A wife would not be afraid of submitting to a husband that loves and is concerned about her like Christ does the church.
D. Children were to obey their parents in the Lord (Ephesians 6:1-3).
This ensures that it will go well with them. It is not for an oppressive reason based on hierarchy, but for the sake of their well-being. By implication, if a parent abuses a child then it will not go well with them and the state has the right to remove the child from the home.
E. Parents were not to frustrate their children (Ephesians 6:4).
The command to children to obey their parents is balanced by the command to fathers not to frustrate their children, or make their children angry. Thus parents do not have the biblical right to emotionally or physically abuse their children.
F. Slaves were to obey their masters in the Lord (Ephesians 6:5-8).
1. The Bible is not condoning slavery but only recognizing that people in different stations of life were going to be saved. Eventually, history illustrates that the gospel message resulted in liberation and reformation that eradicated slavery in the Roman Empire and, centuries later, in Western nations like the United States and the British Empire.
The exodus of the children of Israel from the bondage of slavery was the major Old Testament motif that the New Testament used, metaphorically illustrating how believers were released from their slavery to sin in the world.
2. Slaves were already in a subservient state, which means that Paul treated them as free moral agents who had a choice whether or not to submit to their masters. This essentially made them equal with their masters.
G. Masters were commanded to do the same things God commanded the slaves (Ephesians 6:9)
1. If masters had the same standards of living as God gave their slaves, then those masters were also to submit to the needs of their slaves; that is, to do good unto them from the heart as unto the Lord with fear and trembling understanding that how they treat slaves shows how they treat Christ (verse 5).
2. God further instructs slave owners not to threaten their slaves, which means not to use their position to coerce or impose their will on them. For example, husbands are not to use their title to impose their will on their wives, and parents are not to use their position to intentionally anger or frustrate their children.
3. God makes it clear in this powerful passage that with Him there is no respect of persons or partiality, that God is the master of both the slave and the slave owner and will judge both impartially!
In summary, as we live in love, humility, and mutual submission to one another—respecting each person’s role or station in life—then we will close the door to the devil in our families and homes.
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