There are four passages of scripture that preachers and teachers of the New Testament target when talking about the interactions and dynamics of the New Testament family. They are all written in the early 60s and are listed here:
1 Peter 3:1-7
But before diving into these “family codes” we must note that the biblical writings are not the first family codes to be established; in fact, we could correctly assert that these writings are in reaction to the established family codes of Greco-Roman culture and grow out of an understanding and reaction to previously established Jewish family codes.
For example, from both the Jewish family codes and the Greco-Roman constructs, the position of the father/husband is the place where proper household management was held. To subvert the role of the man of the house was to upset the socio-political structures that were highly valued by both groups. In Greco-Roman households, the wife, children, and slaves were all subject to the religion of the husband, father, and master. That is to say that whatever gods were worshipped and rituals were practices by the man of the house governed the rest of the family.
So, you might imagine what chaos would erupt when women and slaves began to convert to Christianity as part of Paul’s missionary journeys. The gospel of Christ is a freeing message, that places the gift of God, namely the Holy Spirit, in all family members, not just the men. Consequently, we should see a shift in the way our biblical family codes treat each member of the family due to the fundamental belief in Christianity that each person is a responsible, spiritual being who honors Christ both individually and in their family relationships…
Peter addresses the chaos and perceived insubordination of women who have come to Jesus when he wrote his “family code” to encourage women to continue in following Christ while being loyal to their husbands as well. How does a women who is not practicing the religion of her husband uphold a culturally acceptable relationship with him while being true to her faith in Christ Jesus? (especially when it threatens the very core of the socio-political system)
3:1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
This is just one example, but there are more because Paul will address the women, children, and slaves in the Ephesians passage as moral beings, that is that they are capable of making choices that will provide respect, love, and nourishment to their families…that isn’t just a “leader’s” duty toward the family, but everyone’s responsibility.
Another example that we can talk about briefly this morning is the fact that each household code talked about three primary relationships. First would be the husband and wife and how they are to relate to each other. Second would be the parents and children and how they are to relate to each other. Third would be the master and slaves and how they are to relate to each other.
The biblical writers follow the established pattern, first addressing husbands and wives, then parents and children, then masters and slaves. While some of the codes uphold the conventional thinking of the times, there are some notable differences.
As an example of conventional thinking, both Paul and Peter make reference to male leadership in the family. Male leadership was a given in the world of the New Testament, most likely due to two primary factors. First, men were viewed as the providers of the family and very much functioned that way so that women were not viewed as equal to men and often lived most of their lives around the home. Second, husbands were usually older than their wives, often by a decade or more. For example, in Greek culture men would marry around age thirty and women would marry in their early teens. So, Peter employs conventional thinking when he writes:
1 Peter 3:7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel,
Both the idea that the female is the weaker vessel and Paul’s notion in Ephesians that the wife is to “submit” to her husband shows a following of the conventional thinking of the New Testament world. Men were to be respected and honored by their families, especially by their wives. Paul, writing to Titus in Crete makes a plea that the older women need to teach…
Titus 2:3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.
Notice what is at stake in the passage above… the reputation of the Christian faith. The young women are to be taught their proper place and behaviors in the family so that…“the word of God may not be reviled” by pagans in Crete!
Am I getting in trouble yet… but here is the striking difference in the biblical family codes. The woman is to submit herself to her husband, meaning that she, as a fully functioning moral agent, has the choice not to do it but loves her husband in such a way that she shows him the culturally appropriate respect. This is not a forced or imposed submission, but one that is voluntarily done in the context of Eph 5:21 - submit to one another out of reverence for Christ…
When Children are told to obey their parents, they too are moral agents absolutely capable of disobeying, but choosing to please one’s parents and please the Lord by the way they love their parents is again a sign that the Christian faith acknowledges the contributions children make to the family… they are more than extensions of their parents to be controlled and disciplined, they are contributors to the family dynamic.
Even slaves receive instruction of proper behavior that shows a moral agency there…since our families have no slaves I am not going to spend much time in the master/slave relationship this morning. But it is in the Bible and again, there are instructions for the treatment of masters and for the treatment of slaves.
The most striking instruction in the biblical family codes is in the words that are written in most every code in which Husbands are to “love their wives…” Lets take a quick survey:
Col 3:19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.
Eph 5: 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 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. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body…
1 Peter 3: 7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you[a] of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
The Bible Background Commentary on the New Testament reads, “Although it was assumed that husbands should love their wives, ancient household codes never list love as a husband’s duty; such codes told husbands only to make their wives submit.” (551) Therefore, Paul departs from the traditional instruction to the husband in telling them to “love their wives” and to treat their wives like they would their own body… to be self-sacrificing as Christ was to the church.
We can also see this in the instructions to men as fathers - not to ride their children so hard that the child begins to think they can do nothing right…or become discouraged… and men as masters to think as their slaves as spiritual equals, this again departs from the other ancient codes.
If the New Testament writers could tell us what it looks like to love your family right here and right now, I think they might share these principles that arise from the Bible but are worthy of our contemporary consideration:
Families are only healthy functioning families when they take time and make time to be together for the purpose of sharing life together… not just sharing in entertainment together. So, let your love for your family be known…
Wives, I want you to respect your husbands and encourage their role as provider and protector of your family. Men need not only to feel love, but to feel respected and honored - especially by their wives. If for some reason you feel that this is beyond your ability, then please don’t live in bitterness and anger toward God’s gift to you…whom you have chosen, by the way, to share life with you.
Husbands, I want you to love your wives above all other things, including your jobs and your kids. Jobs will change, kids grow up and leave, but a wife is yours for a lifetime. Take her on a date, cook dinner (if you’re ok at it) but seek ways to serve her in a way that absolutely tells her that she is special to you and loved by you. Women want to feel protected and they want a stable environment - that’s you! Commit here first!
Children, parents are not perfect but they do deserve your hugs, your drawings, your snuggles, and your patience… always allow your parents to see and experience who you really are, and don’t put on a show for your parents and be somebody else when your friends are around. Be open to their instruction, to their discipline, and to their voice always… contribute to your family, yeah do chores, because you will learn how to contribute to the church, society, and your work through it.
Parents, I want you to stop worrying about entertaining your children and start passing on your faith to your family. You can take a vacation, but take a mission trip too. Go to the movies, concerts, shows and whatever you want, but don’t forget to process those experiences through the lens of Jesus. Understand that what they see in you is what they will live, so don’t put your faith on the shelf, or don’t be surprised when they shelf it… and most importantly — show up in the lives of your kids.
Grandparents, I want you to continue to teach your families and love your families. You must understand the influence and the way your families look to you for wisdom and guidance, and you are a powerful voice in helping them navigate life while keeping their trust in God strong.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.