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Ephesians 5:21-24, The Christian Household

Head/s of Household

Consider this: A man goes to work. He speaks with confidence, treats others well, and gets his work done. In return, others treat him with respect, he moves up in his job, and he gets paid well so he can provide for his family.

Another man goes to work. He is timid and looks beaten down. His work suffers because he is constantly berated and belittled at home. People don't notice his accomplishments and he is overlooked for promotions. Which man would you rather work with? Which person would you rather be?

Jesus' culture was extremely patriarchal. Men were the breadwinners. Men were the heads of household, and how they were perceived had a profound impact on their quality of life. I know we like to think that the women were mistreated and disrespected. But it went both ways. There were women who mistreated their men, just as there are today.

Paul wrote to help women understand that their words and actions had a profound effect on their husbands. Men who were regularly beaten down could never be all that God had created them to be. And the women who mistreated them would never be all that God had created them to be, either. In a patriarchal society, order in the household was critical to the functioning of the culture.

We don't live in that same culture. But even so, we can read this text as a reminder to treat each other with respect regardless of gender. Married couples are sometimes ruder to their partners than they are to other people. Maybe it's because we know that the people who love us the most are the most likely to forgive us. Maybe it's because in our intimacy we treat each other like extensions of ourselves rather than independent, autonomous beings, and we are very hard on ourselves.

What might our culture look like if we treated our partners with greater respect? If we became subject to one another? If we stopped our marital power struggle and gave the other the respect and honor we might give royalty? 

In our culture of same-sex marriages and transgendered persons, we have to rethink the stereotypes of how partners interact with each other. But we never need to let go of respect, honor, gentleness, kindness, peace, healthy debate, altruism, compromise, and love. By giving up our claim to headship, we both become partners of the household, rooted and grounded in love.

Narrative Lectionary Text: Ephesians 5:21-24

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.