Your Relationships Matter to God
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Today we begin looking at a new section of Ephesians. No, I did not forget about verse 20, which encourages us to give thanks to God. I’m saving this verse for a month in order to use it as the basis for our reflections during the week of Thanksgiving in the United States. So, now I’m moving on to verse 21: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
This verse introduces an extended section in Ephesians focusing on household relationships. (Ephesians 6:5-8 speaks to slaves, who were considered to be members of the household in the Roman world.) After an opening exhortation to all Christians, the text addresses wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters. This kind of guidance for family relationships was common among moral teachers in the ancient world. For example, in his discourse on Politics, Aristotle weighed in on “household management,” examining the relationships among “master and slave, husband and wife, father and children.”
Though we will find much fodder in this passage for our devotional mill, it presents several unusual challenges. This section contains some of the trickiest verses in Ephesians, ones that bedevil commentators and have not led to consensus about their meaning. Moreover, there is a wide gap between the culture reflected in this passage and our own, seen most clearly in the section on slaves and masters. In so many ways, for better and for worse, we do not approach family life today as they did in the first-century Mediterranean world. To make matters even more complicated, there are verses in the “household code” in Ephesians that have been used to defend cruelty by husbands and parents and to justify slavery. Yet, at the same time, many Christians in our day base their family life solidly on their particular understanding of what this passage teaches. Few of us come to this passage without strong feelings about it, positive, negative, or both.
As you can imagine, I’m not going to be able to sort out all of these issues in a series of devotions. I expect I’ll open up some questions that I won’t be able to answer right now. When my commentary on Ephesians comes out in a year or so, this will allow me to address issues that can’t be covered right now.
I want to conclude today’s reflection with two observations. First, I’m aware that many of my readers are not living in families right now. Many of you are single, perhaps living far away from your parents. Since I’m going to spend quite a few reflections focusing on marriage, you might wonder if there will be anything of value for you. My simple answer is yes. As we’ll soon see, in the passage on marriage, there is at least as much for all Christians as there is for wives and husbands. (And I’m not even considering the possibility that single readers may one day be married.)
My second observation is perhaps the most basic and important as we begin to look at the household code in Ephesians. Ready? Your relationships matter to God. All of them. If you’re married, God’s cares about your marriage and seeks to shape it according to the gospel. If you’re a child or a parent, ditto. And, though Ephesians 6:5-9 deals literally with slaves and masters, there is plenty here for today’s workplace relationships. God doesn’t just care about your relationships when you’re in church, having a Bible study, or going on a mission trip. God cares deeply about every part of your life, including your most important relationships at home, at work, and in the rest of life as well.
So, as we move forward in this series, let’s ask the Lord for his wisdom, not only so that we might understand this complicated text, but also so that we might live out his will for our lives in our families, workplaces, and in all the relationships of life.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: As we begin our devotional study of the household code in Ephesians, what thoughts, feelings, or expectations do you have? Do you think of this text as a wonderful source of practical wisdom? Or do you think of it as a remnant of an ancient time, something that is more worrisome than helpful? In what ways are the major relationships of your life being shaped by the gospel of God’s work in Jesus Christ?
PRAYER: Gracious God, as we begin our study of this new section of Ephesians, give us open minds and hearts. Help us to discover your truth and know how it should shape our lives today. May we see your grace in Jesus Christ transform everything, including our most crucial pivotal relationships. Be glorified, Lord, in our reflections and in our lives. Amen.
We have asked some members of our community to share their holy routines. At first glance, these routines may not seem holy at all. However, in this series, Holy Routines, our writers extend an invitation to you to walk beside them in the actions and interactions and spaces that often seem ordinary but also usher them into the presence of God. We hope that spending a few moments in the holy routines of a few friends will inspire you to see and meet God in daily moments you may be tempted to rush through, or where you feel tempted to overlook the presence of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this series will give you permission to savor the sacred in the ordinary moments of your day.