Then and Now
It is difficult for the modern human being to recognize that
Paul's words here might apply to them. Our theory of raising children — let
alone the existence of slaves in America — is quite different. So we need to
compare the views of the ancient Roman with their modern counterparts:
Roman View — in
ancient times the power of the father over his children was practically
absolute. Nor did it stop when they reached a certain age; the father's power
extended until he died. Children were not necessarily highly valued. For
example, the equivalent of abortion was practiced just after birth. The midwife
would present the baby to the father. If the father reached down and picked up
the child, it meant that he accepted this child as his own and would raise it.
If he turned his back on the child, the midwife would be expected to take the
child into the wilderness and abandoned their to die. Often enough the midwife
was sympathetic with the child (usually a girl) and take it down to the
marketplace to be abandoned their instead. If female, the child was often
picked up by a priestess of one of the local gods (usually fertility) and raise
her as a temple prostitute.
Modern View —
today's view is not necessarily so different. Abortion is practiced all too
frequently; the main differences we don't wind up with temple prostitutes.
Children are viewed as a nuisance and a hindrance to the mother's career. If
you decide to keep the child (now the mother's decision) it is necessary to
hire nannies and day care to raise your children. The result of this view is
seen on our streets daily. If you'd like a clear view of the difference all you
need to do is to watch a TV channel that shows old situation comedies. The family
of the 50s is very different than the family of today. It is not surprising
with this view that children have little to no respect for their parents.
Christian View —
in the Christian view children are considered a gift from God, to be cherished
and loved. As we shall see, loving the child includes disciplining the child
and instructing the child. This is a task which is not left to hired hands, but
is placed on the list of things to do for the father. This father-centric
approach to child raising is much out of favor in our time, but it is what the
It is important to remember that slavery had a very different
basis in ancient Rome than it did in 19th century America. The primary driver
of slave status was economic. Slaves were viewed as living tools who could be
sold, but also could buy their own freedom. We cannot say that slavery in Roman
times was more pleasant than in American times with any great confidence, but
please eliminate from your mind any racial overtones.
Perhaps the best way to see this is society's reaction to a
runaway slave. The American reaction to a runaway slave is very positive,
reflecting the American experience with southern black slavery. In Roman times
the view was quite different. A runaway slave would be seen as one who was
stealing from his master, and ingrate who did not appreciate the food, clothing
and shelter than his master had provided for him. His fellow slaves would see
him as a person deserving no respect. Indeed, slaves are often identified by
owner through the use of the colored belt. If your slave master was someone
prominent, you would take pride in wearing his belt. It's not quite the same as
being in his household, but it was a status token among slaves. As you can see,
the institution was rather different from what we know.
Pride and Humility
Most people do not connect the concept of pride with sin in
our time. We see pride as a virtue and humility as a fault. The ancient Roman
would've seen it in exactly the opposite way; pride would be the sin, and
virtue would reside in humility. One reason for this is that modern man thinks
there is no such thing as life after death. We are designed only for our bodily
lives and then we cease to exist. If this is the case there is little chance for
humility to be rewarded, and human beings are very fond of being rewarded.
Pride indeed is often used to cure lesser sins. We call this appealing to
someone's self-respect. It is quite logical; if this life is all there is it
pays to stomp on everyone else.
But if we are designed to live forever, then humility takes
its proper place as a virtue. And humility is extremely important in personal
relationships. In this world we are given a choice between being humble and
having good relationships, versus being proud and dictating relationships. We
shall see that relationships between parent and child, for example, depend upon
the same structure of authority and submission that we discussed in the last
lesson with regard to husband and wife. All of those same principles apply;
it's just that Paul is giving us some specific advice about these particular
Fathers and Children
obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER
(which is the first commandment with a promise), SO THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH
YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH. Fathers, do not provoke your
children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the
(Ephesians 6:1-4 NASB)
Why the Father?
It seems odd to modern Americans that Paul's advice would be
given to the father. After all, we know that raising the children is the
woman's problem. Most of us are quite content with the idea that many children
are raised by a single mother. "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a
bicycle" has been the motto of women's liberation for over 40 years now.
Unfortunately, though she may not need the man (and I dispute that) her
children do. The reason for this is that God has appointed the man to be the
spiritual leader of the household. How often have you seen it: she brings the
children to church until they reached the age of about 13. Then from the boys
she hears that dad doesn't go to church, therefore they don't have to either.
The opposite experience can be seen in families with a strong
father. If the father is truly in charge, and he truly loves his wife, then the
children will quickly understand that disrespect for their mother means an
immediate (and usually quite thunderous) reaction from the father. In most positive
sense, the children learn their place in the family. This has a very positive
benefit the children; there is no uncertainty as to who is in charge. It
benefits the parents as well; the children quickly learn not to play father
against mother. In short, families with a strong father — work.
There is one other reason for the father to be in charge. It
accustoms the children to obedience to the male figure. It is easier to obey
the father God you cannot see if you are in the habit of obeying the father you
Children: Why Obey?
Of course Paul quotes the Old Testament here in reminding
children that obedience to their parents is right. More than that, he notes
that it is the first commandment which carries with it a promise of blessing.
But we might point out a couple of other reasons as well:
The habit of
obedience will serve you well into adulthood. If your attitude is, "what
can I get away with" or "they can't tell me what to do" you are
going to get a great deal of trouble that you don't need. Our generation
denigrates this, but that does not detract from the fact it is true.
The habit of
obedience is best developed way observation: the observation of your parents.
My own children saw my respectful attitude towards my father, and concluded
that this is the way an adult child treats his adult parent. This was a most
fortunate example for us.
You can now see why humility is the basis of good
relationships. If the father thinks it's his task to "Lord it over"
his children, he will soon provoke them to anger. Similarly, if the fathers
discipline is always delivered in a fit of rage, the children see rage as an
appropriate form of behavior. But consider: when the policeman stops you and
gives you a ticket, does he lorded over you or act in a fit of rage? No, he
delivers his message in a cool, calm and collected manner. The humble father
does not focus on avenging himself for his children's wrongs, but disciplining
his children so that they will not repeat them.
That word discipline bothers a lot of people. It conjures up
images of a father with a huge paddle smashing it into the rear end of a small
and defenseless child. That's not what the word means in the original. If you
look at it in the original Greek, you will see that it is more akin to the word
"training". It's the word that would be used to train an athlete. If
you think about this in the spiritual sense, what the father is trying to do is
train a spiritual athlete. That obviously involves a lot more than spanking the
kid. (My observation is that spanking the kid is something which should be used
only in the rarest of circumstances; it just didn't seem to work with my kids.)
Included in that is the concept of instruction, or as some
translations have it, admonition. The idea here is that you are not going to
let the child grow to the age of 21 and then decide whether or not he wants to
be a Christian. You're going to train the child in the way in which he should
go. You're going to teach them what is right. Given the modern trends in education,
you cannot count on the public school systems to do this in your place. Indeed,
they will be teaching them something that most Christians find reprehensible.
But the father is ultimately responsible for the instruction and admonition of
his children; I am just suggesting that you take it seriously.
Principles of Work
be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and
trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of
eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God
from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men,
knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from
the Lord, whether slave or free. And masters, do the same things to them, and
give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and
there is no partiality with Him.
(Ephesians 6:5-9 NASB)
The Value of Work
Of course, we have to make a little translation in this
section. We need to proceed by drawing the parallel between what a slave
would've done in those days and what an employee would do in these. Similarly,
the slave master now becomes the manager or the employer. To understand why
Paul gives this advice we must first consider the concept of
"vocation". This concept holds that you work for more than money. If
you have a job which you keep only because it pays the money, then you
obviously have a poor situation. I've been there. I once had a job consisting
entirely of taking computer printouts, finding duplicate lines, and scratching
them out. That was it. It paid pretty well for the time, too. But it was
certainly something I had no intention of making a career of.
Work, if you will recall, is honored by God. The earliest version
of this is the creation of the Sabbath, in which God recognizes that we must
have rest from labor. Work is therefore not ordinary. Indeed, man was designed
to work. If you will recall, the first man, Adam, was a gardener in the garden
of Eden. God did not let him sit around all day drinking beer and eating potato
chips. It is something which is intrinsically part of the human experience, and
honored by God.
Commands to "Slaves"
Once again, we come upon the principle of submission. If you
are an employee, you are in submission to the man who writes your paycheck. He
may designate a manager for these commands, but you are in submission. You
therefore are to be obedient, give forth a sincere effort and do so without
duplicity. If this doesn't sound like you at work, perhaps you need to examine
your Christian life. We have said that work is blessed by God – that's because
ultimately your work is to be rewarded by God. You are to be his example in the
It makes a real difference when you're working for the Lord.
Most of us think of that as being something that only professional ministers
could do, but Paul is quite clear about this. Everything you do should be done
as if it were being done for the Lord. Which should eliminate slop work.
Commands to "Masters"
Let's start with the obvious: the manager in the department
has the same Master, therefore he should have the same attitude towards his own
work that his employees have. In short, as a manager, you should not deliver
slop work. Now you see where humility comes into the relationship. If you've
ever had a boss who is best described by the words, "arrogant jerk,"
then you know why humility is a necessity. Unfortunately it is all too common
that the manager considers himself well above his employees, a much better
human being. That's pride, and pride is the sin of Satan himself.
Specifically, Paul gives the manager two commands. The first
is not to threaten his employees. Most of us understand that very well. It's
one thing to lay out consequences for poor behavior; it's entirely another to
bluster and threaten. The manager who does this, it appears to me, is the man
who has no confidence in his own leadership. It is counterproductive, because
for most of those threats you can't deliver. Your employees soon become
accustomed to the bluster — and ignore it.
The second is justice. One of the reasons most companies do
not post the salaries of their employees is that they fear that most employees
will think they are not fairly paid. A major bank once did post all the
salaries; the reaction was very interesting. The company in question was in
fact paying its employees fairly, and the most common reaction was astonishment
at how little difference there was between person A and person B. People resent
it if they feel that they are not being treated fairly. The reality and
appearance of justice are essentials of good management. It is important that
employees know that you do not show partiality – either in salary, performance
or even simple approval.
Once again, we see the concept of authority and submission
being displayed in human relationships. The one thing that makes this work for
the Christian is the Lordship of Jesus Christ. If I claim authority over my
wife, it is by the authority of Christ — and therefore I must submit to the
rule of Christ. If you are a Christian manager, the same applies. If you are a
Christian father, the same applies. See to your duties as Christ would have you
do them, and look to him for your reward.