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Changing a pagan "household code" to reflect Jesus

May 6, 2022

Daily Scripture

Ephesians 5:18-31

18 Don’t get drunk on wine, which produces depravity. Instead, be filled with the Spirit in the following ways: 19 speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts; 20 always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; 21 and submit to each other out of respect for Christ. 22 For example, wives should submit to their husbands as if to the Lord. 23 A husband is the head of his wife like Christ is head of the church, that is, the savior of the body. 24 So wives submit to their husbands in everything like the church submits to Christ. 25 As for husbands, love your wives just like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. 26 He did this to make her holy by washing her in a bath of water with the word. 27 He did this to present himself with a splendid church, one without any sort of stain or wrinkle on her clothes, but rather one that is holy and blameless. 28 That’s how husbands ought to love their wives—in the same way as they do their own bodies. Anyone who loves his wife loves himself. 29 No one ever hates his own body, but feeds it and takes care of it just like Christ does for the church 30 because we are parts of his body. 31 This is why a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two of them will be one body [Genesis 2:24].

Daily Reflection & Prayer

People too often read verse 22 all by itself, which seriously distorts the passage’s meaning. Paul used a common Greek and Roman form of writing about family relationships called a “Household Code.” But he adapted it in ways that strikingly shifted its message. Scholar N. T. Wright wrote, “Paul…insists that the husband should take as his role model, not the typical bossy or bullying male of the modern, or indeed the ancient, stereotype, but Jesus himself.” *

  • Ephesians 5:21, just before verse 22, said, “Submit to each other out of respect for Christ.” “This places Paul among the small proportion of ancient thinkers who valued mutual concern and sensitivity….Traditional household codes instructed male heads of households how to rule; Paul instructs husbands here only how to love self-sacrificially.” ** Paul infused one of his culture’s familiar forms with Jesus’ values. How can you do the same as you live in our culture today?
  • Pastor Hamilton wrote, “There are certain practices that seem to help me become more loving. I feel closest to God when I’ve been praying, worshiping, and studying Scripture, and when I am doing these things I’m also a far better husband.” *** What helps you move practices like those from “I don’t know why I’ve got to do this religious stuff” to “these are ways that allow God to make me more loving, especially toward people I care about”?

Lord Jesus, you walked among us as genuine love incarnate. Let your love be a robust force making every life I touch better, not just the sentimentalism my culture often confuses with love. Amen.

GPS Insights

Picture of Leah Swank-Miller

Leah Swank-Miller

Leah Swank-Miller is Director of Student Ministries at Resurrection Overland Park. A Kansas native, she has been a professional actress for the past 15 years, and she loves to see the vastness of God’s creation through theatre and the arts. Leah is pursuing an M.Div. from Saint Paul School of Theology. Leah, Brian, and their two children love to play tennis, golf, soccer, and board games.

I once told my husband at a wedding we were attending that if I heard the word “submit” one more time during the ceremony I was headed for the door. No joke! We laughed, but the sentiment was real. I have an issue with the word “submit,” and more accurately how it can be used to take advantage of the purpose of this passage. I’m grateful I have a husband who will joke with me on these issues and see the sensitivity towards these particular verses.

It is a sensitive issue, isn’t it? No one wants to be told to “submit” and likewise, I doubt many want to be told to give all of themselves like “Christ gave himself for the church.” But that’s where we find ourselves here in the middle of Ephesians, with Paul doling out the household codes like candy. But, as our GPS reflection expertly points out, focusing only on this verse is missing the forest for the trees. What is this passage saying as a whole?

Perhaps the biggest takeaway here is not that these verses have separate asks, but that they are all requiring us to serve each other by loving like Christ; sacrificially, intentionally, authentically, and wholly. “Submit to one another” out of acknowledgment and reverence to Jesus and what he has sacrificed for us. Perhaps this ask to “submit” is, as my NRSV New Oxford Annotated Study Bible states, “to be obedient in receiving Christ’s blessing.”

Oh! So, this isn’t about elevating one over the other in a chess-like game of power dynamics? Rather, a masterclass in daily dying to self to bless the other so the union is enveloped in the fullness of Christ’s love and blessings. As we become less focused on self-absorption and cultural comparison, we become more focused on understanding and practicing the whole and holy love Jesus Christ meant us to experience with and through one another.

Now that’s a love story I can submit to!

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, pp. 67-68.

** HarperCollins Christian Publishing, NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture (Kindle Locations 268545-268548, 268561-268562). Zondervan.

*** Adam Hamilton, Love to Stay: Six Keys to a Successful Marriage (Kindle Locations 254-256). Abingdon Press, Kindle edition.