I want you to think for a few moments about who does what in your household.
Overall in the U.S., women clean more than men do. American men did an average of 15 minutes of housework each day, while women did 45, the Cassinos write. Most men—77 percent—did no housework on any given day, while most women—55 percent—did at least some.
The title of the quoted article is this: “Emasculated Men Refuse to Do Chores—Except Cooking.” The article is about research showing a bizarre phenomenon. When wives make more money than their husbands, the men are less willing to help out around the house. It’s a fascinating article, so please check it out.
Sadly, the best marriages are those in which the household work is split somewhat more evenly. While it’s not necessarily a good idea to split it hard and fast down the middle (each partner performing exactly 50% of the chores), it is healthy for married couples to divide and conquer – and jumping in to help the other out on occasion without being asked. This article from Business Insider gives some great insight into how couples should approach their housework.
But this isn’t an article about chores and housework. The way we view those tasks is a starting point for a larger conversation. In the United States we are still fighting against this idea that a woman’s place is in the home. We still have an idealized view of the housewife who spends her day cleaning and cooking in a dress, high heels, and peals, so that everything is in pristine condition to welcome her hardworking husband home after a long day at the office.
We think this is normal. We think this is ideal. We think this is…God’s ideal.
And that’s where the danger comes in.
The fact is families are messy. No two families are exactly alike. Each family has different needs and wants. Each family is made up of different members in different arrangements. The only thing every family has in common is that all families are messy, broken, and dysfunctional. Because every family is made up of messy, broken, and dysfunctional people. To assume that there is any one ideal for family roles and functions is to deny our own individual, God-given personalities and talents.
So I want to spend some time looking at the very Scriptures that have been abused misinterpreted, and misapplied for centuries. There is a section of Scripture that has been used in support of patriarchal systems when in fact it was meant to do the exact opposite – lay the groundwork for the dismantling of patriarchy.
So let’s dive in, shall we?
[Much of what proceeds is inspired by a series of articles written by Rachel Held Evans. I highly encourage you to check them out. Click here for the first one.]
FATHER KNOWS BEST
As we begin, a little context. In ancient Rome families were structured around a societal hierarchy known as “pater familias.” This Latin phrase is understood as the “Father of the Family,” or “owner of the family estate.” Go ahead and check out the Wikipedia article explaining this concept more fully. It’s really eye-opening to see just how much power and authority was granted to the pater familias. “The pater familias was the oldest living male in a household, and exercised autocratic authority over his extended family.”
Basically, there was the Father at the top. Below him were the wife, children (sons over daughters in
rank of importance and value), and then salves/servants. The Father was essentially the owner of everyone else in the household. Women had very few rights apart from their husbands and were expected to be subservient and obedient to their husband. It was not at all uncommon for husbands to abuse their wives – physically, emotionally, verbally, and even sexually. The wife was his property. People did not marry for love in the ancient world. Marriage was an economic arrangement between two families, often solidifying a political bond or financial agreement.
If you think the treatment of women was bad, go read the section about children in the Wiki article. The pater familias essentially held the power of life or death over his children. Babies born with some deformity or weakness would often be left out in the elements to die. The pater familias held the authority to sell his own children into slavery. He had ultimate say over who his children could and could not marry. Even as married adults, the children were not free from the rule of the pater familias. He still had control over any business ventures his children pursued, and any land bought by the children was technically under control of the Father.
And let’s not even get started on slaves.
This was the reality of Roman households when Paul was writing letters to the churches. The question we must ask is – Did God intend for families to operate this way? Did God authorize slavery? Does God endorse the idea that women are merely the property of the husband? Would God really be okay with fathers selling their children into slavery?
Because if we don’t do any of the hard work diving into the context of Ephesians 5, this is exactly the kind of twisted view of relationships that can develop.
RESPECT MY AUTHORITY
Let’s start out in Ephesians 5:22-24. Look at what Paul instructs for wives in Christian households:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (English Standard Version)
A few observations. First, I believe there is a difference between “submitting” and “obeying.” Submission is an attitude, a general disposition towards another person. A person who submits to another person may still be able to argue their case respectfully, give input, and help with the decision making process. There can be a sort of freedom in submission. Paul does not command wives to obey. Obey implies blindly and unquestioningly following orders. Wives should relate to their husbands with an attitude of submission, but they are not expected to be robot-like in their obedience.
Second, (and let’s not overlook this one!) Paul says wives should submit to their own husbands. In Greek, the word for man and husband is the same, so we have to put it in context. I believe what Paul means is that women are not inherently submissive to all men. This passage has been used to oppress and exploit women because we have overlooked the simple fact that Paul does not put all women underneath all men. The husband and wife relationship is unique.
Third, when Paul says that the husband is the head of the wife, he’s speaking into a culture that is very familiar with that language. He is simply referencing the established “Head of Household” structure. What Paul does, though, is he puts stipulations on that arrangement. The husband is the head of the wife like Christ is the head of the church! Do you realize how revolutionary that was? Christ would never be abusive towards the church. Christ would never force his church to blindly obey him. Christ would never put unrealistic expectations on the church. Christ is worth following because we can trust him. The job of the head is to take care of the rest of the body!
When Paul says that wives should submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ, he is speaking freedom into a system of oppression. He is starting the wheels turning toward revolutionizing the way we view families and the way we value women.
WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?
Paul then turns towards the men. Check out his instructions for husbands:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:25-33 | ESV)
Okay, we have some work to do with this one.
First, notice just how much more Paul has to say to husbands than he did to wives. His instructions to husbands is about three times as long.
Second, Paul brings love into the marriage. Love! Are you kidding me? Marriage isn’t about love. Is it? One of my favorite musicals is Fiddler on the Roof. The play focuses on a Jewish family in Russia during a time of oppression. One of the subplots focuses on the daughters running off to marry for love. At one point, the patriarch of the family, Tevye, asks his wife, Golde, “Do you love me?” To which she replies, “Do I WHAT?!” They break out into song (it is a musical, after all), and in the end they decide that, yes, they do love each other.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sitting around with (usually older) men as they complain about their wives. It’s ridiculous how critical men can get. It’s younger men, too. I see those t-shirts with the newlywed couple on the front with the words “GAME OVER” underneath. Men have referred to their wives as “the old ball and chain.” That’s not love! Paul tells us to love our wives as Christ loves the church. We are to love our wives as we love our own bodies.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t ever see Christ complaining about his church, his bride. I never see Christ abusing her or talking down to her or ordering her around. What I see is Christ willingly laying down his life for his church. I see Jesus, the night before his crucifixion, washing the feet of his disciples, serving them in love.
Third, Paul appeals to Genesis 1 in order to subvert the whole concept of patriarchy and pater familias. From the beginning God intended for a man to “leave his father and mother.” When a man gets married, he is no longer under the authority of his father. Something new has begun. This flies in the face of every pro-patriarchy argument I hear people make.
Finally, Paul explains that marriage between a husband and wife is a beautiful metaphor of Christ and his church. Christ is our example. Christ is the true pater familias. Christ is the Head of the Household. Christ is at the center, not the husband.
This changes everything.
LIKE FATHER LIKE SON
Paul doesn’t stop with wives and husbands. He continues to give instructions on the father-child relationship.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4 | ESV)
Obey and honor. These are Paul’s instructions for children. Notice, children are to obey their parents, not just their father. Children are to honor their father and mother. Mothers had a higher role of authority in Jewish households than they did in Roman or Greek households. But yet again, we see Paul putting Husbands and Wives on equal standing within the household. Both are to be obeyed. Both are to be honored.
And again, he brings Christ into the equation. As children we should obey our parents in the Lord. As disciples of Jesus, we are to give honor to whom honor is due – especially our parents.
But Paul doesn’t stop there. He also has a word of instruction for Fathers – Don’t provoke your children to anger. Fathers have a tendency toward being authoritarian and hard-nosed in disciplining their children. Children need discipline, but what many fathers do boarders on abuse, leaving them traumatized and broken, feeling like they can’t do anything right or will never be good enough.
Fathers – don’t be too hard on your kids. But bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Paul brings Christ into the center of parent-child relationships.
This brings us to the most uncomfortable part of this entire section. Paul speaks to slaves and their masters.
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. (Ephesians 6:5-9 | ESV)
Can you imagine being in the church of the First Century? It was not uncommon for slaves and their masters to be a part of the same church. Paul continually speaks into the lives of slave and their masters in such a way that both would be viewed as equal (see the book of Philemon). Again, Paul is setting the stage for the entire system of slavery to be dismantled. Unfortunately, passages like this have been abused and misapplied to actually uphold systems of oppression and exploitation.
Are you seeing a pattern?
What Paul meant for freedom, man have used to continue with bondage – for women, children, and slaves. But when Christ is truly at the center of all these relationships, there can be only freedom and equality and love.
TAKE A STEP BACK
It’s important that we put all of this in context. This entire section, commonly known as “Christian Household Codes,” is prefaced with this game-changing statement:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21 | NIV)
Submit to one another. Think about that. It baffles me that there are people who think Paul has something against women, that Paul thinks women are somehow inferior. Let me be clear – it has been power hungry men over the course of church history who have interpreted Paul through their own worldview lens instead of letting Paul (and Christ) critique their own cultural assumptions.
Paul makes some of the most strikingly egalitarian statements in the ancient world:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 | NIV)
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11 | NIV)
So why is it that Christians seem to hold on to patriarchy and fight against equality?
I believe that’s finally beginning to change.
It seems like more and more men are being brought down from on high because of their inappropriate words and/or actions towards women. To quote from old school Scripture: “Men and brothers, this ought not be!” There is never a reason to mistreat or abuse a woman. She is her own person, created on equal standing in the Image of God.
Paul is dismantling the pater familias hierarchy held by the Romans. And I think he would be appalled to find many of those same attitudes and behaviors prevalent in society (and the church!) today.
Most recently, a highly respected leader in the Southern Baptist Convention came under fire for comments and attitudes toward women. His thoughts about abusive relationships and his comments about young women go against everything Christ stands for. Christ was the one standing up for women who had been mistreated, abused, discarded and cast out. Jesus fought for the cause of every woman with her own #MeToo moment.
It’s time for men to show selfless love towards their wives. Guys, it’s time to learn how to do the dishes, how to do the laundry, and how to run the vacuum cleaner. It’s time to get serious about raising our children to know and love the Lord. It’s time for the church to fight for equality and respect for all people of all demographics.
Family dynamics are constantly changing. There is no one set way to be a family. Paul was not trying to say that we should ascribe to the pater familias hierarchy with a little bit of Jesus thrown in. He was revolutionizing the way we view all of our relationships by dismantling the hierarchy and embracing our equality at the foot of the cross.
Put Christ at the center of all your relationships. That won’t make everything better overnight. But it will set your focus where it belongs. I will leave you with a few more words from Paul, this time from his letter to the church in Philippi:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus… (Philippians 2:1-5 | NIV)