Summary: The Credible Christian household depends on those within it being submitted to one another, offering hospitality to others and using their tongues only to build up.
I want us to spend some time today thinking about what a Christian household might look like. Mind you I don’t mean just any Christian household. Of course I mean a credible Christian household.
Well, what is it that might characterise a credible Christian household? Is there something about a Christian household that people might notice as different?
Well, as usual I want to start by thinking about a particular passage, the one we just read, from Ephesians 5 & 6, and as we go along we’ll think about some other passages as well.
Here in Ephesians 5 Paul begins to think about how the unity of the Church should be reflected in the way households operate. So he starts with this simple instruction in v21: "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." His desire is that Christian households would demonstrate a level of harmony and partnership that will be seen by others as commendable, that is, as commending the gospel.
Now I guess most of us are familiar with the concept of a submissive wife. It’s an idea that’s been taught fairly widely over the years, based largely on this passage. Wives are told to be subject to their husbands, just as they’re subject to the Lord. The idea is that if the unity of a couple is to be maintained then the wife needs to overcome her natural inclination to want to rule her husband. Now before you start throwing things, let me assure you that there’s more to this than just that and I’ll be talking about husbands in a moment. But this bit is important. If you’re a wife you have a primary role in maintaining the harmony of the household. Not the primary role, but a primary role.
When God announced the curses that had come on humanity as a result of Adam and Eve’s rebellion, one of the curses was that the woman’s desire would be for her husband, but that he would rule over her. Now we tend to think of that in terms of sexual desire, but in fact the word desire is also used in the next chapter to describe the way sin is desiring to master Cain, but instead Cain must master it (4:7). So it seems probable that the curse has to do with the desire for control, whether by the wife or by the husband. Now, as I said, we’ll say more about husbands in a moment. But first, wives need to work this one through. If your marriage is to be characterised by mutual submission, by you being subject to one another, then that means being prepared to go against the way we’ve all been trained over the past 30 to 40 years. In other words you might need to forego the desire for self fulfillment, self-actualisation, in favour of working for the benefit of the partnership, perhaps even giving up your own desire for fulfillment because you want to see your partner grow. I don’t have time to go into the legacy of Abraham Maslow, but for those who don’t know about him he was a psychologist who observed human behaviour in organisations and came up with what he called a hierarchy of needs. The trouble was that this hierarchy of needs, with the need for food and shelter at the bottom and self-actualisation at the top, I think, has become a self fulfilling prophecy. So, now it isn’t just that people come to the point of desiring self-fulfilment after all their other needs are met. We now see it as the most important thing we can have.
And that sometimes works directly against any desire to work with a partner in mutual submission. Now the reason I’m saying this to wives in the first instance is that I think one of the negative results of the women’s liberation movement of the past 30 years has been to close off the possibility of concern for the welfare of the husband where there was any possibility that it might conflict with the self-actualisation of the wife. To the point where I think if a Christian wife were following these principles from Ephesians 5 she’d be seen as betraying the ideals of feminism.
Before we go on, I should mention something that Peter writes to wives in 1 Peter 3. There he encourages wives to accept the authority of their non-Christian husbands, not out of mutual submission, but out of as desire to win them over to faith in Christ. There it’s the husband who will notice the behaviour of his wife rather than her friends and neighbours.
But that’s enough on submissive wives. What about submissive husbands? We don’t hear so much about them do we? Some people suggest that’s because it’s usually husbands who do all the preaching. But look again at v21: "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." The sort of submission that will characterise a Christian marriage involves both parties being subject to each other. It will involve submissive wives and submissive husbands. Now I want you to think about that for a moment. When we talk about submissive wives we might feel a bit uncomfortable mightn’t we? Some of us, I imagine, might feel very uncomfortable. But what about when we talk about submissive husbands? Well some of you are probably thinking I’ve got it wrong. I haven’t read the rest of the passage. Husbands are meant to be the head of the household. Well, let me assure you I have read the rest of the passage. But I’m also aware that the rest of the passage hangs on this foundation. It’s our mutual submission that will separate our marriages from so many others, not wives who obey their husbands; not even husbands who sacrifice their own interests for the sake of their wives. No it’s the sense of mutuality, of a desire for the good of the other that will set us apart and commend the gospel to our friends and neighbours.