Continuing his counsel to parents, the apostle says at the beginning of Ephesians 6: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right” (see alsoCol3:20). Rebellious and undisciplined children can be a menace not only to family unity but also to the wellbeing of society. Tragic evidence of this unpleasant fact is accumulating in western societies. Timothy, a precious associate of the apostle, had been given an exemplary education in divine matters (see 2Ti 1:5), although his father was a Greek (Acts 16:1). This is evidence of what a godly family can do.
Continuing his instruction to children, Paul says:
“Honor thy father, and mother (which is the first commandment with promise)” (Eph 6:2).
This indeed is so, for the Decalogue, with its insistence upon sins to be avoided, strikes this positive note:
“Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long on the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” (Exod20:12).
The importance of this for Israelis testified by the fact the commandment is subsequently repeated, in Leviticus 19:1-3, and by Moses in Deuteronomy 5:16. Thus respect and affection for parents, whose duty to their children Paul will presently consider, is an indication of how important family life is to society at large and to the families of disciples especially. Where children become wayward and disobedient, a phenomenon so often apparent today in rich societies, social and other problems are increasing at an alarming rate. After the visit to Jerusalem, the Lord Jesus was “obedient to Joseph and Mary” (Luke2:51, NIV). Although the circumstances of his ministry were such that they led to an estrangement from his family, yet on the cross he acted in a most caring way for his anguished mother (see John 19:26,27).
The apostle warned that, in the last days, children would be disobedient to parents (2Ti 3:2), as they were in the first century (cf Rom1:30). While there can be many calls on the services of able fathers, it is sad, sometimes tragic, that the needs of the family can be neglected. In this matter, as in so many others, there needs to be a proper balance.
The multiplication of wives, as practiced inIsrael, could have disastrous effects. We think of the tensions between Leah and Rachel, and between Penninah and Hannah. Whatever qualities David possessed, some of the children of his various wives, such as the lustful Amnon and the self-seeking Absalom, brought him much grief. Thus, on reflection, we can appreciate the importance both of the commandments toIsraeland to the followers of the Lord Jesus. In the New Testament an admirable husband and wife come to our attention,Aquilaand Priscilla, and demonstrate what fine service can be rendered by a united couple. Paul met them inCorinth, and their presence and company were a great comfort to him. They subsequently travelled with him toEphesus, where Paul left them in charge (see Acts18:19). From Romans 16:3-5 we learn their home was where the ecclesia assembled, as was the case apparently inEphesus(see 1Co16:19). These passages enable us to appreciate the quality of this couple.
Having started with an admonition to children, Paul then speaks directly to fathers, warning them against intemperate behavior, which can only generate resentment and often rebelliousness:
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (v 4, NIV).
In verse 5, the apostle addresses himself to the question of the relationship between believing slaves and their masters. Such slaves were, for obvious reasons, subject to their masters, whether they too were Christian disciples or not. In all circumstances slaves were to be respectful to their masters, and to regard their service to them as service to the Lord Jesus. Increasingly, we can see how Paul is endeavoring to cover all aspects of a disciple’s life. The admonition is reinforced in verse 6, where service is not to be thought of in terms of pleasing men, but service as a slave is to be viewed as service to the Lord Jesus, and coming from the heart. We note how Paul dwells upon this matter, as though there is danger of the matter being glossed over, or forgotten:
“With good will doing service, as unto the Lord, and not men” (v 7).
What really matters in the life of a disciple is that he is a disciple, that he has embraced a new way of life through faith and baptism. There is nothing casual about this. In his new life, he is subject to the Lord Jesus and his commandments, and a loving response to him is what matters. In the ancient Graeco-Roman world, slavery was universally practiced, and there is much evidence that quite a large number of slaves obeyed the gospel. How many none can tell, but the way the subject is dealt with in Ephesians and Colossians 3:22-25 attests to the fact that inAsia Minor, where all the ecclesias addressed by Paul were located, it was a major issue. Other references to the service to be rendered by believing slaves may be found in 1 Timothy 6:1,2, where the apostle mentions slaves in the service of non-believing and believing masters. Titus likewise is given this counsel, and Paul specifically mentions the temptation to pilfer from their masters (see Tit 2:9,10). We can understand that in a large and wealthy household petty thieving could very easily go undetected, and a baptized slave could all too easily rationalize and justify his action, especially if the master was an unbeliever.
What is so fascinating about the situation in Colosse is that the issue had presented itself in a challenging and realistic manner. The person who was accompanying Tychicus on his mission to Colosse was a runaway slave who had absconded from the service of his master, Philemon. It does appear Onesimus had fled toRome, so often the sanctuary sought by runaway slaves, and had there been converted by Paul. But clearly the apostle was constrained to do something about this, and so Onesimus was being sent back to Philemon in the company of the faithful Tychicus (Col4:7-9). We can scarcely doubt that Paul, before sending Onesimus back to his master, had instructed him thoroughly in his new way of life.
The section of Ephesians 6 now being considered is rounded off by an admonition addressed, first to both slave and free, and then particularly to masters:
“Knowing that whatsoever good thing each one doeth, the same shall he receive again from the Lord, whether he be bond or free, And ye masters, do the same things unto them, and forbear threatening: knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no respect of persons with him” (vv 8,9).
This is a reminder that is ever timely. There is only one judgment which eventually counts, and that is God’s.
Paul reminded Jews of this fact, in Romans 2:5-11 (see also in this connection James 2:1, and especially Peter’s momentous declaration atCaesareain Acts10:34,35).
In Ephesians 6:10-24 Paul goes on, in his final words, to speak of a conflict — not with flesh and blood, but with the world-rulers of darkness. This is a passage not without its difficulties, with which we hope to deal in a concluding study.