Posted by Mark Beckwith on December 22, 2010
Paul challenges us to challenge the principalities and powers. It requires truth telling -- which can be difficult at times -- and demands profound personal discipline: "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them." (Ephesians 5:11) In my lifetime, Martin Luther King stands out as the most eloquent and abiding truth teller -- exposer of darkness: "We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open where it can be seen and dealt with...Injustice must likewise be exposed...to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured." (Letter from a Birmingham Jail) And then we get to the household code (Ephesians 5:21-6:9). It grates on the ears and seems to undermine everything else that Paul has said in his letter. At first reading, the household code seems to be proof text for wives to be subordinate to husbands, children to parents and slaves to masters. It seems to hold up social inequality as a cultural norm. But -- and this is the key, "be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." There is an emphasis on mutuality here. It undermines the hierarchy of the time, a hierarchy which engenders injustice. Paul addresses both parties in the three household relationships -- husbands/wives, children/parents, slaves/masters -- and admonishes them to be respectful of each other. Secular codes couldn't -- and wouldn't, do this. They were only addressed to the paterfamilias. Subordinates in the family system were deemed not worthy of ethical instruction. Paul is leveling the family playing field. Some would say he could have done a better job. And he does -- at the end" ...for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality." Paul is exposing the injustice of wives, children and slaves having no voice -- and no value. There needs to be mutuality -- and relationships need to be gathered around -- and abide in, the living Christ.