World English Bible translation
3:18Wives, be in subjection to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 3:19 Husbands, love your wives, and don't be bitter against them. 3:20 Children, obey your parents in all things, for this pleases the Lord. 3:21 Fathers, don't provoke your children, so that they won't be discouraged.
Today's Scripture begins another section of the Letter to the Colossians. As Paul nears the end of his letters, he addresses groups of individuals that are in the assemblies to whom he is writing. Sometimes he addresses the leadership. This section of the Letter to the Colossians is an instance of what is called in ancient literature an example of a "household code."
Household codes were common in the ancient world. Philosophers and teachers would develop these codes as a means of expressing their beliefs about all the different parts of their society. Household codes are typified by instructions to parents and children, to husbands and wives as well as occasionally the duties of a master to his slaves. What we have in the letter to the Colossians is fairly typical of common household codes in the ancient world. Other examples of household codes in the New Testament can be found in Ephesians and the First Epistle of Peter.
Throughout scripture, God has always placed an emphasis on family duties and responsibilities. The family is the basic unit of society. Paul begins his duties for the family with the most basic relationship, that of husbands and wives.
"Wives, be in subjection to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and don't be bitter against them." We have dealt with the issue of wives being in subjection to husbands when a common admonition was written in the code of Ephesians (Lesson 17 of the Epistle to the Ephesians). Though we find the idea of women being encouraged to be subject to a man as old fashioned or barbaric, this admonition would not have been unusual at all in Paul's day. In fact, it would have been considered very mild. Women were commonly considered to be the physical property of their husbands and they had few rights. Men divorced women but women were almost never permitted to divorce their husbands. Abuse was common and fidelity by men was rare.
More unusual than Paul's instruction to wives is his instructions to their husbands. Marriage and family were not primarily relations of love. Marriage was arranged for convenience and for social reasons. Families that sought to combine their political strengths or their wealth would choose a mate for their children long before the man or woman was capable of choosing themselves. But, Paul tells husbands to love their wives. Love is the prime Christian virtue and God wants love to be the basis for all human relationships.
"Children, obey your parents in all things, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, don't provoke your children, so that they won't be discouraged." Once more, what we have here is a common admonition and another that is not so common. For children to obey their parents was a given. In most ancient societies the fathers had absolute control over the lives of his children. In Roman society, a father held the power of life and death over his children. A father had the right to even punish a child with death if he so chose. On the other hand, a father was completely responsible for the actions of the child as well.
Paul tells fathers not to provoke their children. A father's guidance should be gentle and encouraging. We are to be models of God's love and care for our families. Fathers have a grave responsibility. We are to lead our families, with God's help, through love and service. In this way, our families can come to understand the love of God through our actions. When we follow the instruction of the Spirit of God, Christian families can be pleasing to God and a joy to all that are in them.
How would God want you to improve your own relationship with your family? In what ways do you model the love of God to those around you?
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