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Ephesians: Family Matters

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Eph 5:21)

I might have wished that Paul had somewhere given us an explicit denunciation of patriarchy or slave ownership, but he does not. Instead, he seems to be comfortable with the idea that people should seek to follow Christ where they are, sociologically speaking. To the Corinthians, he said, “Let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you” (1 Cor 7:17). He goes on to give some examples of the sorts of “lives” he has in mind: circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free, married or unmarried. To Paul, these things mattered only a little‚Äîor not at all‚Äîcompared to the joy of life in Christ.

Even so, Paul sows the seeds of later social transformations. His argument that Philemon receive back his runaway slave as a “beloved brother” (Phmn 16) certainly undercuts the very idea that Christians should own slaves. Likewise, when he urges Christian families to practice mutual submission in marriage, you can just barely hear the sound of the old patriarchal system beginning to crumble.

Perhaps Paul understood that society can’t be transformed overnight, or even in a single generation. It is enough for each generation to do what it can while preaching Christ to great and small alike.

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