You teenagers are well aware of the fact that sometimes the domestic waters are troubled by petty bickering, nagging conflicts, and even serious differences. We are not always riding the same wave with our parents.
The climate is stormy: harsh words, lost tempers, erratic behavior, and predictable remorse.
Many prayers are offered nightly on behalf of parents and teenagers that such incessant conflicts may be resolved, that peace may be in the family, and that our homes may bear the seal of the covenant of grace.
It is in the interest of family harmony that we consider another phase of the subject, the Christian home. So far we considered the elements that are important for the founding of a Christian home, a proper understanding of marriage, Christian courtship, mate selection, and the wedding. Now we look at the home itself and consider what should characterize life within the Christian home.
It may seem strange at first that Eph. 5:21 should constitute a Scriptural basis for such a formula. There we read, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” I suggest that, since this text precedes the specific consideration of how wives are to be submissive, how husbands are to love, how children are to obey, Eph. 5:22-6:4, we have here in these words a formula. By this we mean that upon understanding and following these words, we have the proper spiritual disposition to put into practice specific instruction as members of the family unit.
This can also be appreciated if we look carefully at the preceding context. In these verses Paul reminds us that we have been saved from sin. In verses 3-6 he describes the life of the wicked and reminds us that our nature is the same, “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light,” verse 8. We are converted, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” The manner is spelled out in verse 18, “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit.” This has a direct effect upon our whole life: expressed negatively it is, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness,” Eph. 5:11; positively it is, “Redeeming the time because the days are evil,” verse. 16. This new life excites us to spiritual joy. It affects our singing, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,” verse 19. It affects our praying, “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” verse 20. It also affects our conduct, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God,” verse 21.
Obviously this text has general application. It is the principle that guides all human relationships. Nevertheless, here it introduces the specific instruction for behavior in the home.
HOW IS MUTUAL SUBMISSION EXPRESSED?
The question posed here is very serious. “Submit yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” This speaks of mutual submission. How can that be? Are not wives to be subject to husbands, children be subject to parents? How can parents be subject to children, or husbands to wives? Does not the text imply we all have equal standing?
To steer through this maze of questions, we might suggest that there are three possibilities concerning submission. It is conceivable that Paul refers to some physical submission; there must be submission by the weaker to the stronger. This might be maturity of body or mind. Whoever is stronger physically or mentally should be the lord of the home and the rest of the members submit to them. A second possibility might be a legal submission. Here enters the sphere of authority; some members of the family have a right to be obeyed and others have the duty to submit. Thus parents have the right over children, and husbands over wives. A third possibility is a spiritual submission, that is each member of the family is to be subject to every other member of the family whenever that member speaks out of the fear of God. Paul undoubtedly has this in mind.
The Word of God emphasizes that when we are united to Christ by faith there is no preference given to some people, we are all equal. This is a beautiful truth that gives spiritual depth to our belief in the communion of saints. In the context of Eph. 5, Paul emphasizes that spiritual union with Christ, “Be ye therefore followers of God as dear children,” verse 1. Why does he call us children? Because that is exactly what we are; no matter whether we are two years old or ninety-five years old, we are all children of God. We have principally one Father: He is Jehovah of Hosts. He is the absolute Lord and Sovereign. Every child of God must submit to Him, to His Word and Testimony. We are not the natural sons of God; there is only one natural Son: His name is Jesus. We are adopted children: legally through the blood of the cross, spiritually through the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. We come to express this joy in the family of God when the Spirit is in our hearts and we cry out, “Abba, Father,” Gal. 4:6.
Paul makes a point in Gal. 3:28ff. That our equality with one another is that fact that we are one in Christ, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is the spiritual principle of unity. In Christ we are not lords and masters, we are servants, I Cor. 7:22; we are not fathers and mothers, we are children, Rom. 8:16, 17; we are not princes and rulers, we are citizens, Eph. 2:19; we are not elders, deacons and ministers, we are one body with one Lord, Eph. 4:4-6.
Applying this to the home, we are told that each member of the family has equal spiritual standing when we stand together before God in Christ. We have much to learn from each other. Christ tells us, “Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The same Scripture tells us, “The beauty of the old man is the grey head,” Prov. 20:29. These two do not conflict, they complement each other. The old learn from the young and. the young learn from the old as we altogether are learning from Jesus Christ our Lord.
Let me illustrate. One time a young person came to me troubled about her parents: she thought they were not serious about their faith; they lived like hypocrites. They insisted that she could not attend movies on dates, but when she came home the TV had the late-late show. It was one time that I told parents to listen to their children. This text provides the basic principle. It makes no difference how old one is or what one’s legal position may be, whoever speaks truth concerning the Word of God must be obeyed and all must submit to that word. We will do this only if we understand this Scriptural principle. If a Christian wife confronts her husband with the Word of God, he cannot say that she must submit to him no matter what; he has the sacred obligation to submit to the Word she brings. A truly Christian home is beautiful when this is put into practice.
THE PROPER ATTITUDE
Where does one find spiritual strength to govern his life by this principle. Eph. 5:21 provides this answer, “Submitting yourselves one to another, in the fear of God.”
Life in America is a testimony that this is the only formula for a truly beautiful home. One in four marriages ends in divorce, with the rate climbing rapidly. The birth rate has declined by one half in the past 60 years. Each year one-half million teenagers run away from home. And “Dear Abby” provides a running account of the sad condition in many homes.
Even the world recognizes that the home is under persistent assault. How foolishly man sows the wind in order to reap the whirlwind. Women’s Liberation, birth control, trial marriages, communal living all add to the rubble of broken homes and wrecked lives.
The fear of the Lord is God’s own formula. When we have the fear of the Lord we will enjoy mutual submission, for no matter who speaks the Word of God in the sphere of the home, we will receive that and follow it. It stands to reason, one has to fear God to appreciate this.
The fear of the Lord includes three things.
First, one must know God as revealed in His Word. By this we do not mean that we merely have some intellectual understanding as to Who He is and what He has done. We need to have a thorough understanding of the Scriptures, to be sure, but we need more. We need to love that God. We must recognize that the Scripture is His Word, and we will not distort that Word, but will humbly bow before it. By this reverence of God’s Word we will come to know Him as our God through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, one must respond to that revelation with a deep sense of spiritual awe. Here we understand that fear of God does not mean wicked and sinful fright. The wicked have every reason to be scared of God, just as Eve fled before His face before she received the covering of blood. As children of God, we know that He is our God, He loves us, He sent Christ to redeem us, and therefore the thought that the holy, righteous, infinite, and eternal God is our Father, is almost too good to be true. We respond with reverential awe and wonder.
Thirdly, by recognizing this revelation of God in such a way, it will arouse in us the proper response; we ask God to lead us in our lives. We confess our depravity, our sinfulness, and earnestly pray to God that He will guide our understanding, that we may be able to know what is His will and that it may be the controlling power in our lives. In the fear of God we humbly bow and pray, “Teach me thy will.”
How can we obtain this fear?
The unbelieving world doesn’t know anything about this fear of God. You can’t sit in its universities or colleges and take courses in sociology that deal with the family and expect to find it. Sad to say, you can’t even sit in many Christian schools and find that fear of God. If anything is sadly lacking in the apostate churches and schools it is this: there is no fear of God before their eyes. They trample under foot the Word of God, their prayers are mockery, they boast of their greatness, but crumble because their foundation is of sinking sand.
The fear of God is communicated to us through the lively preaching of the Word as The Holy Spirit applies it to our hearts. When we meditate upon that Word, pray together about that Word, worship together at the feet of our Lord and do this as families, we come to appreciate this formula and learn that the closer we are to God the more peaceful our family life becomes.
Since this formula is so humiliating, we all do well to spend more time confessing our sins one to another than boasting about our rights. This is true for parents and children as well. If the fear of God is in our hearts, we will readily confess our weakness and seek our help from Christ, Who alone provides.
At the same time we will be ready to be instructed as to our duty, whether of husband, wife, parents, or children.
Is the fear of God in us? Only then will we submit ourselves one to another in the sphere of our homes, and thereby submit to Christ our Lord.