This is the fourth and last in a series of posts on marriage and the family.
Paul addresses the paterfamilias in his letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:4):
And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. NRSV
The cultural context of this instruction is that the paterfamilias was the main disciplinarian, and that discipline could be harsh. For us today, I believe these instructions mean we must find the balance between appropriate discipline, and too much or too little discipline. In addition, parents must be the main source of teaching their children proper values, and they shouldn’t be afraid to set boundaries. Children need boundaries (as do adults), and they must be enforced. Children should be appropriately disciplined when disobeying or disrespecting their parents or other authority figures. When these kids grow up and are out in the real world, they must be prepared for the authority, boundaries, and discipline they’ll find out there.
Lastly Paul addresses servants or slaves, telling them in “The Message” version of Colossians:
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.
You may be wondering why this section on slaves is included in the household instructions for husbands, wives, children, and parents. It’s because most slaves were part of a Roman household. Today, I believe we can apply these principles to employees, and also to mothers working inside the home. Here is the lengthier Ephesians version of these instructions, and I’m substituting modern terms to make it relevant to you and me:
[Employees], obey your earthly [supervisors] with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as [workers for] Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.
Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are [well-paid or not].
And, [bosses], do the same to [your employees]. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality. (Ephesians 6:5-9, NRSV)
So being a diligent employee is one way we can bring glory to God.
In conclusion, God is relational and wants us to have good relationships. Good relationships are based on mutual love and respect, and they are not co-dependent or exploitive. Our most important relationship is with God through Jesus, and out of that will flow good and loving relationships with others. We should strive to have loving and appropriate relationships:
With our spouse or significant other, if we have one;
With our children and grandchildren, if we have any;
With our extended family, which can often be difficult;
With our friends, acquaintances, and neighbors; and
With our supervisors, peers, and those we oversee at work.
The family is the basic unit of society, so it is critical for us to make our marriages as strong and as bulletproof as possible. So let us look to these and other biblical guidelines to strengthen our family ties so they won’t be easily broken. As King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 4:12: A threefold cord is not quickly broken. NRSV Let us build up our relationship with God, so that we have that strong threefold cord of husband, wife, and God in the marriage.
I’ll be back with more postings toward the end of May.