The Epistle To The Ephesians
Behaviour In The Household
Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise, that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eyeservice, as menpleasurers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men; knowing that whatsoever good things any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in Heaven; neither is there respect of persons with Him.”
Children. Evidently this exhortation as well as the exceeding wisdom of it lies in the fact that the parents referred to are “in the Lord,” which implies that they recognize His right to control their own lives. Knowing then how wholesome and beneficial is that gracious rule, they cannot think of any other for their children, and so endeavor as far as possible to extend its great benefits to them.
In so doing they are manifestly bringing the guidance of the “Lord” to bear on their children, procedure on their part being self-evidently “right.” Thus such children are advised that disobedience is wrong, being contrary to the Lord. The importance of this was revealed very early in the history of Israel, for of the ten commandments, this was the “first commandment with promise.” For in it all the children of that race were especially encouraged to obedience by divine reward of well-being, and long life. On the other hand, solemn predictions in the Scriptures warned the unruly thus: “The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pluck it out, and the young eagles shall eat it” (Pro. 30:17).
We may add that the allusion to the reward under the law for obedience does not necessarily mean that the material benefits of the legal period are carried forward into the Christian epoch. It is cited to show the exceptional importance which God attached to this particular commandment, seeing it was “the first” in which a reward was promised. That being so, it is evident that it is ever true that obedience to parents brings blessing in its train. For the expression “in the Lord” implies not authority alone but blessing also. This was exemplified in Joseph whom Pharaoh made Lord over Egypt. Thus he became the administrator of the benefits of that land, so that suppliants for bread were told to “go to Joseph.” Similarly, although on a larger scale, Jesus as Lord is the divine administrator of blessing for man.
But let us note the following words of Scripture: “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Both parents are to be honored, and any attempt by a child to select one parent for honor and another for contempt ought to be disallowed. Any parent who encourages this is acting contrary to government “in the Lord.” Discrimination of this sort may develop into disastrous results. Moreover, secretive proposals to one parent should be discouraged. This, of course, has no reference to matters of such sort as could only be properly attended to particularly by the mother or by the father, as the case might be. All, however, will understand that in the early stages of life the mother in continual contact with the children is endowed of God with the special qualifications for that work.
Fatherly Training. “Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.” Very great knowledge, very tender and wise consideration, that will avoid too severe pressure of authority is found in these words of counsel. Even the most generous of fathers may err as to this parental attitude. Because he begins to understand one child he may suppose that he can handle each one alike, although there are pronounced differences between them. One when questioned on a matter can state the case plainly and when all is considered, it is less serious than was supposed. But another cannot explain readily, especially if approached angrily; he becomes flustered and almost looks guilty, and may be unjustly punished. In this way and quite unintentionally a father may have harmed a child whom he loved, and may often wonder how it is that that child “never understood” his well-meant intentions, unaware that the misunderstanding was mutual. However, as scholars in the school of God, there is every opportunity to acquire discernment that will qualify to bring up children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” the “nurture” being thoughtful training, the “admonition” being warning of the pitfalls on every hand.
Servants And Masters. The servants exhorted to obedience were bond-servants, and often, although not always, were located in the homes of their masters. Gibbons cites figures in his History which he believes justifies him in saying that one half of the Roman empire was comprised of a slave population. And we know that, even allowing for some proportion of humane masters, slaves were held in a grip of iron, any of whom could be put to death for the slightest offence or for no offence; in fact some would crucify a slave merely to gratify a sadistic disposition. But the gospel had reached and laid hold of some of these people. And it altered them while leaving them in unaltered circumstances. Consequently the question arose: How ought a converted slave to behave? The answer was: “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.” They were to follow in the pathway of their Master who said “My kingdom is not of this world: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight” (John 18:36). In a letter to Titus the Apostle lets us know that converts in the island of Crete, came from among a people who had been denounced by one of their own prophets as “always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies,” yet are informed that by obedience, honesty and goodwill “they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things” (Titus 2:9, 10). Although slaves they had it in their power to exhibit the grace of God, while submitting of a little time to an order of things which fallen man had established, but which God would overturn when He sent His Son back into this world to administer world government. And although they received no wages, their Master in Heaven was such that “whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.” In the meantime where the gospel has found entrance, it becomes only a matter of time until slavery ceases to exist.
The masters addressed here are Christian masters. To such it is said: “And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in Heaven; neither is there respect of persons with Him.” In the Epistle to Philemon we read of a slave named Onesimus who had stolen and run off to Rome. But there, perhaps in poverty or trouble, perhaps in prison, he gets into touch with Paul and is converted. Whereupon, bearing a letter from the Apostle, he is sent back to his master who has it in his power to forgive the runaway and even have grace to release him. The immortal letter seems to suggest this, and we believe it was granted. However the motive for behaviour in Christian masters is: “Your Master also is in Heaven; neither is there respect of persons with Him.” In Heaven there is one Master, and there the elements of evil introduced upon earth by fallen man among his fellows are absent, and thence is due time will come that Master to purify its rule by the judgments by which the earth shall learn righteousness.