Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.
Wives, understand and support your husbands by submitting to them in ways that honor the Master.
Husbands, go all out in love for your wives. Don’t take advantage of them.
Children, do what your parents tell you. This delights the Master no end.
Parents, don’t come down too hard on your children or you’ll crush their spirits.
Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being Christian doesn’t cover up bad work.
And masters, treat your servants considerately. Be fair with them. Don’t forget for a minute that you, too, serve a Master—God in heaven. — Colossians 3:17-4:1
Have you found yourself uncomfortable with the “submission” language of the New Testament when it relates to household codes and the like? It’s something that has become a bit of a hot button issue for many in our society. This whole “wives submit” thing sure feels out of date, doesn’t it? This passage also includes the equally uncomfortable stuff about servants submitting to their masters.
The easy thing for me to do is to try and ignore the passage or to try and couch the uncomfortable passages into the more comfortable passages (husbands love your wives and masters care for your servants). I have done this often and I think that it is helpful to consider the whole of the context. It is fascinating to think about Paul’s instructions to the husbands, parents, and masters, who held power over wives, children, and servants in his culture. Why? Because he is subversively countering the culture by calling them to something different. There is no “power over” for the Christian. There is empowering or power alongside within the Christian economy. This is crucial and not to be missed.
I was reading a thought by another Christian leader, David Fitch, the other day about this whole submission thing. I thought it was intriguing and something that I really resonated with. So, in light of today’s reading, I drop it here for you.
…has been undermined, even destroyed, by patriarchalists in the church. It has been used to underwrite abuse and coercion. It has been used by leaders to ‘lord it over’ and gain compliance. But it actually describes what leaders do in the NT, versus what they demand of their followers..
In the NT, my argument is, it is the leader who submits. It is the act of ‘submission’ that initiates. When I propose something and then say to the group (or other leaders) “I submit this to you,” I start the process of discernment into motion. To me that is leadership. We work towards the Spirit’s movement then by mutually submitting, listening to every voice, learning and arriving at an agreement in the Spirit.
These principles are exhibited in Mark 10:42-45; Rom 12:3-8 and many other places.
In Eph 5:21, the general principle appears : “submit yourselves one to another out of reverence for Christ.” Then Paul recites the household codes. He starts with marriage saying “wives submit to your husbands.” Ironically I can’t help but see this as putting the wife in the position of leadership. They go first and then are followed by “husbands die for your wives.” So the fact that the women go first does not reflect a hierarchy in which women are under husbands, it reflects this revolutionary (bottom up) leadership dynamic that runs throughout the kingdom. The leader leads by submitting him/herself to the other, from which mutuality is returned.
With that being said, I think we have to understand all this in the context of, “Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.”
It seems to me that if we were living this way, then so many of these things become moot points. We will naturally love the other in an acts of mutual submission. There will be a constant desire to practice love through caring for the other. If we could live our lives as though every person we interacted with was Christ, then all these things that Paul talks about here and in other places become secondhand.
Oh let us practice love! Let us be a people who chooses not to leverage power over but seeks to empower the other.