Num 34-36; Eph 5; Psalm 116-117
It would be very helpful, if you have not done so already, to read the previous post in this series , for Context is everything here.
As so often is the case in reading the Scriptures, chapter and section divisions can obscure significant truth. So Paul concludes his arguments in Chapter 4 with the opening words of Chapter 5, ‘Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.’ It takes just a moments reflection to hear once more the words of Christ, ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ – that in the mutual love of the Body of Christ we are imitating the very heart of the life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the mutual indwelling in Love.
It is very important that we carry this image with us into what is for many one of the most difficlt passages in scripture. For some Ephesians 5:21 et seq. is a ‘text of terror’, for others a means to cast in stone a way of life, ‘which was from the beginning’. But for St Paul it is neither of these things.
Again the section heading does us a huge disservice – Paul is talking here about the mutual submission of members of the body of Christ. First it needs to be said over and over and oever again that in the body of Christ, the age to come is being manifest, thus the PRIMARY relationship of ANY Christian to ANY other Christian is that of brother and sister – kin, dearly loved children of the Father.
So Paul works out his theology of mutual love in terms of mutual submission, or in the NRSV translation which I am using here, ‘Be subject to one another out of Reverence for Christ’
Firstly, we must consider, what does it mean, ‘out of reverence for Christ’ – at a simple surface level, we might say that simply put, this is what Jesus commands, thus we must so do. But the command of Christ can Never be disassociated from the Life of Christ. In other words in obedience to the command of Christ, we enter into the Life of the one who became subject even to death, death on a cross. The One who is first, who takes the Last place, and who is thus in the Kingdom exalted to the highest place.
So to follow Christ is to humble oneself and become the willing slave of all.
Next we must come back to Paul’s larger argument. This Way of being, that is the very Life of Christ manifest, is the Way of Life of the Church. In other word this is NOT primarily about the specific relationships Paul later speaks of, rather Primarily this is about Every relationship within the Body of Christ.
This said, Paul recognises that there are those within the church who are relate to one another in ways which are not of the eschatological kingdom. Temporal relationships which in the End will be no more.
Thus the words of Paul to husbands and wives, owners and slaves, parents and children are as it were footnotes to the Primary command of All believers as Kindred in Christ to ‘be subject one to another’
What Paul has in view here is the HOW of mutual submission. In these extra-ecclesial and thus secondary relationships, HOW is this worked through.
So wives be subject to your husbands ‘as to the Lord’ – husbands be subject to your wives by loving them as Christ loves the church, giving himself up for her – the husband gives himself up for the sake of his wife. The wife looks in love towards her husband as she does towards Christ himself. Indeed it may well be argued that here what is asked of wives is no more than is asked of Every member of Christ’s body one to the other – be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Treat your husband as you would any of your kindred. The Husband is given the culturally mind boggling command that in Christian households he is to be as Christ to the Church to his wife – he must lay down his life for her. He is not Lord in the heirerarchical sense. Our Language breaks down here as we can only understand Lord in temrs of earthly Lords and masters who Lord is over their subjects . . .
And so we could go on through the other categories of relationships
The point is that these cases are in face Secondary – they are not the primary relationships within the church – husband and wife are brother and sister, Mother and son are sister and brother, ‘owner’ and slave are brother and brother.
Paul in effect, in his call to all to be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ recognises the ephemeral nature of these other passing relationships.