3:18-25 Wives, be submissive to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not treat them harshly.
Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing in the Lord. Fathers, do not irritate your children, that they may not lose heart.
Slaves, obey in all things those who are your human masters, not only when you are watched, like those whose only desire is to please men, but in sincerity of heart, reverencing the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it heartily, as if you were doing it for the Lord and not for men; and never forget that you will receive from the Lord your just recompense, even your share in the inheritance. Show yourselves the slaves of the Lord Christ. He who does wrong will be paid back for the wrong that he has done, and there is no respect of persons.
Masters, on your part provide for your slaves treatment which is just and equitable, and remember that you too have a master in heaven.
Here the ethical part of the letter becomes more and more practical. Paul turns to the working out of Christianity in the everyday relationships of life and living. Before we begin to study the passage in some detail, we must note two great general principles which lie behind it and determine all its demands.
(i) The Christian ethic is an ethic of reciprocal obligation. It is never an ethic on which all the duties are on one side. As Paul saw it, husbands have as great an obligation as wives; parents have just as binding a duty as children; masters have their responsibilities as much as slaves.
This was an entirely new thing. Let us take the cases one by one and look at them in the light of this new principle.
Under Jewish law a woman was a thing, the possession of her husband, just as much as his house or his flocks or his material goods. She had no legal rights whatever. For instance, under Jewish law, a husband could divorce his wife for any cause, while a wife had no rights whatever in the initiation of divorce; and the only grounds on which a divorce might be awarded her were if her husband developed leprosy, became an apostate or ravished a virgin. In Greek society a respectable woman lived a life of entire seclusion. She never appeared on the streets alone, not even to go marketing. She lived in the women's apartments and did not join her menfolk even for meals. From her there was demanded complete servitude and chastity; but her husband could go out as much as he chose and could enter into as many relationships outside marriage as he liked without incurring any stigma. Under both Jewish and Greek laws and custom all the privileges belonged to the husband and all the duties to the wife.
In the ancient world children were very much under the domination of their parents. The supreme example was the Roman Patria Potestas, the law of the father's power. Under it a parent could do anything he liked with his child. He could sell him into slavery; he could make him work like a labourer on his farm; he had even the right to condemn his child to death and to carry out the execution. All the privileges and rights belonged to the parent and all the duties to the child.
Most of all this was the case in slavery. The slave was a thing in the eyes of the law. There was no such thing as a code of working conditions. When the slave was past his work, he could be thrown out to die. He had not even the right to marry, and if he cohabited and there was a child, the child belonged to the master, just as the lambs of the flock belonged to the shepherd. Once again all the rights belonged to the master and all the duties to the slave.
The Christian ethic is one of mutual obligation, in which the rights and the obligations rest with every man. It is an ethic of mutual responsibility; and, therefore, it becomes an ethic where the thought of privilege and rights falls into the background and where the thought of duty and obligation becomes paramount. The whole direction of the Christian ethic is not to ask: "What do others owe to me?" but, "What do I owe to others?"
(ii) The really new thing about the Christian ethic of personal relationships is that all relationships are in the Lord. The whole of the Christian life is lived in Christ. In any home the tone of personal relationships must be dictated by the awareness that Jesus Christ is an unseen but ever-present guest. In any parent-child relationship the dominating thought must be the Fatherhood of God; and we must try to treat our children as God treats his sons and daughters. The thing which settles any master and servant relationship is that both are servants of the one Master, Jesus Christ. The new thing about personal relationships in Christianity is that Jesus Christ is introduced into them all.
Let us look briefly at each of these three spheres of human relationships.
(i) The wife is to be submissive to her husband; but the husband is to love his wife and to treat her with all kindness. The practical effect of the marriage laws and customs of ancient times was that the husband became an unquestioned dictator and the wife little more than a servant to bring up his children and to minister to his needs. The fundamental effect of this Christian teaching is that marriage becomes a partnership. It becomes something which is entered into not merely for the convenience of the husband, but in order that both husband and wife may find a new joy and a new completeness in each other. Any marriage in which everything is done for the convenience of one of the partners and where the other exists simply to gratify the needs and desires of the first, is not a Christian marriage.
(ii) The Christian ethic lays down the duty of the child to respect the parental relationship. But there is always a problem in the relationship of parent and child. If the parent is too easy-going, the child will grow up indisciplined and unfit to face life. But there is a contrary danger. The more conscientious a parent is, the more he is likely always to be correcting and rebuking the child. Simply because he wishes the child to do well, he is always on his top.
We remember, for instance, the tragic question of Mary Lamb, whose mind was ultimately unhinged: "Why is it that I never seem to be able to do anything to please my mother?" We remember the poignant statement of John Newton: "I know that my father loved me--but he did not seem to wish me to see it." There is a certain kind of constant criticism which is the product of misguided love.
The danger of all this is that the child may become discouraged. Bengel speaks of "the plague of youth, a broken spirit (Fractus animus pestis iuventutis)." It is one of the tragic facts of religious history that Luther's father was so stern to him that Luther all his days found it difficult to pray: "Our Father." The word father in his mind stood for nothing but severity. The duty of the parent is discipline, but it is also encouragement. Luther himself said, "Spare the rod and spoil the child. It is true. But beside the rod keep an apple to give him when he does well."
Sir Arnold Lunn, in Memory to Memory, quotes an incident about Field-Marshal Montgomery from a book by M. E. Clifton James. Montgomery was famous as a disciplinarian--but there was another side to him. Clifton James was his official "double" and was studying him during a rehearsal for D-Day. "Within a few yards of where I was standing, a very young soldier, still looking sea-sick from his voyage, came struggling along gamely trying to keep up with his comrades in front. I could imagine that, feeling as he did, his rifle and equipment must have been like a ton weight. His heavy boots dragged in the sand, but I could see that he was fighting hard to conceal his distress. Just when he got level with us he tripped up and fell flat on his face. Half sobbing, he heaved himself up and began to march off dazedly in the wrong direction. Monty went straight up to him and with a quick, friendly smile turned him round. 'This way, sonny. You're doing well--very well. But don't lose touch with the chap in front of you.' When the youngster realized who it was that had given him friendly help, his expression of dumb adoration was a study." It was just because Montgomery combined discipline and encouragement that a private in the Eighth Army felt himself as good as a colonel in any other army.
The better a parent is the more he must avoid the danger of discouraging his child, for he must give discipline and encouragement in equal parts.
(iii) Paul then turns to the greatest problem of all--the relationship between slave and master. It will be noted that this section is far longer than the other two; and its length may well be due to long talks which Paul had with the runaway slave, Onesimus, whom later he was to send back to his master Philemon.
Paul says things which must have amazed both sides.
He insists that the slave must be a conscientious workman. He is in effect saying that his Christianity must make him a better and more efficient slave. Christianity never in this world offers escape from hard work; it makes a man able to work still harder. Nor does it offer a man escape from difficult situations; it enables him to meet these situations better.
The slave must not be content with eye-service; he must not work only when the overseer's eye is upon him. He must not be the kind of servant, who, as C. F. D. Moule puts it, does not dust behind the ornaments or sweep below the wardrobe. He must remember that he will receive his inheritance. Here was an amazing thing. Under Roman law a slave could not possess any property whatsoever and here he is being promised nothing less than the inheritance of God. He must remember that the time will come when the balance is adjusted and evil-doing will find its punishment and faithful diligence its reward.
The master must treat the slave not like a thing, but like a person, with justice and with the equity which goes beyond justice.
How is it to be done? The answer is important, for in it there is the whole Christian doctrine of work.
The workman must do everything as if he was doing it for Christ. We do not work for pay or for ambition or to satisfy an earthly master; we work so that we can take every task and offer it to Christ. All work is done for God so that his world may go on and his men and women have the things they need for life and living.
The master must remember that he too has a Master--Christ in heaven. He is answerable to God, just as his workmen are answerable to him. No master can say, "This is my business and I will do what I like with it." He must say, "This is God's business. He has put me in charge of it. I am responsible to him." The Christian doctrine of work is that master and man alike are working for God, and that, therefore, the real rewards of work are not assessable in earthly coin, but will some day be given--or withheld--by God.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)