Sermon – The household codes
Bible text (from NIRV) 1P 3.1-4,7 1 Wives follow the lead of your own husbands. Suppose some of them don’t believe God’s word. Then let them be won to Christ without words by seeing how their wives behave. 2 Let them see how pure you are. Let them see that your lives are full of respect for God. 3 Fancy hairstyles don’t make you beautiful. Wearing gold jewelry or fine clothes doesn’t make you beautiful. 4 Instead, your beauty comes from inside you. It is the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. Beauty like this doesn’t fade away. God places great value on it… 7 Husbands, consider the needs of your wives, be understanding. They are weaker than you. So treat them with respect. Honor them as those who will share with you the gracious gift of life. Then nothing will stand in the way of your prayers.
As far back as the fourth century BC, philosophers considered the household to be a microcosm, designed to reflect the hierarchal structure of the society, the gods, and ultimately the universe. Aristotle wrote that “the smallest and primary parts of the household are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children.” First-century philosophers Philo and Josephus included the household codes in their writings as well, arguing that a man’s authority over his household was critical to the success of a society. Many Roman officials believed the household codes to be such an important part of Pax Romana that they passed laws ensuring its protection.
Biblical passages about wives submitting to their husbands are not, as many Christians assume, rooted in a culture epitomized by June Cleaver’s kitchen, but in a culture epitomized by the Greco-Roman household codes, which gave men unilateral authority over their wives, slaves, and adult children. These same household codes were used by many Americans during the Civil War era to justify their owning of slaves.
Where typical Greco-Roman household codes required nothing of the head of household regarding fair treatment of subordinates, Peter and Paul encouraged men to be kind to their slaves, to be gentle with their children, and, shockingly, to love their wives as they love themselves.
But in the Biblical teachings of Paul and Peter on the subject, if you look close enough, you can detect the rumblings of subversion beneath the seemingly acquiescent text. It is no accident that Peter introduced his version of the household codes with a riddle—“Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves” (1 Peter 2:16 UPDATED NIV)—or that Paul began his, with the general admonition that Christians are to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21; emphasis added). It is hard for us to recognize it now, but Peter and Paul were introducing the first Christian family to an entirely new community, a community that transcends the rigid hierarchy of human institutions, a community in which submission is mutual and all are free.
For Christians, the presence of the Household Codes in Scripture must be considered in light of Jesus, who made a habit of turning hierarchy on its head.
When his disciples argued amongst themselves about who would be greatest in the kingdom, Jesus told them that “anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35).
In speaking to them about authority he said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25–28).
Let us consider the first part of our Bible text:
1P 3.1-4 (NIRV) “Wives, follow the lead of your own husbands. Suppose some of them don’t believe God’s word. Then let them be won to Christ without words by seeing how their wives behave. 2 Let them see how pure you are. Let them see that your lives are full of respect for God. 3 Fancy hairstyles don’t make you beautiful. Wearing gold jewelry or fine clothes doesn’t make you beautiful. 4 Instead, your beauty comes from inside you. It is the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. Beauty like this doesn’t fade away. God places great value on it.”
Peter speaks of 2 models of family, one is greco-roman and was very paternalistic where men were rulers in all possible sense of the word. It was even abusive in many ways.
Peter was trying to present another model of family. Peter does not define exactly what he means for women to be submissive, unless you look at the two words he uses down the text, where you see chaste/pure and respectful (fear, respect).
Why chaste, or pure? Simply because women need to feel that they are loved. And if in their marital relationship they don’t find such love, if a man comes to her with kind and considerate words, shows respect to her, shows interest in who she is, acting with gentleness and being kindhearted, she may be severely tempted to seek the love she needs in such a gentle man. Lack of love and tender consideration in a couple, in a marriage, can lead to separation, divorce, breakage of the marital bond.
Why respectful? Being respectful does not mean that you allow yourself to be a door mat and allow your husband to abuse of his leadership rôle. Being respectful means that you accept for your husband to be a person with faults and even unresolved issues. You accept that your marriage may not be perfect as of today. You accept to show a christ-like attitude even if your husband does not. You are respectful towards God’s call for you to be your husband’s partner in life.
As for the inward beauty, well you understand that it comes from the heart. It does not mean that you should be careless with yourself, with your body, with your appearance. Some people, because they have been abused, they tend to want to look as unattractive as they can in order not to get any attention from the opposite sex anymore. I met one when I was in France.
The inward beauty, is not for the wife only. Men, husbands, need to be beautiful inside too!
Let us now consider the second part of our Bible text:
1P 3.7 “Husbands, consider the needs of your wives, be understanding. They are weaker than you. So treat them with respect. Honor them as those who will share with you the gracious gift of life. Then nothing will stand in the way of your prayers.”
Husbands, you are called to be understanding. Now that was not part of a greco-roman household code. To be under-standing, is to stand under. Standing under as to give a stable base to the marriage. Standing under as to hold up those that are part of the buildup of your household. By properly standing under, your house holds. Under-standing is the very opposite of lording over.
If you are a single mother or a single father, you are called to play that role too. You are called to be the one who stands under and unto which your children will build their life.
The text continues to say that the wife is as someone weaker. This does not mean that she is a person with less capabilities or of lesser value. On the contrary, it means someone who is fine and precious, like fine gold. Someone who is fragile in the sense that an unforgiving husband can easily break her. A woman can be quite strong-minded, strong-headed. Yet her heart is fragile and precious.
So Peter is asking husbands to show her what? Honor. For in the eyes of God she is just as much a precious soul in need of salvation as we men are. Therefore she deserves honor for she is God’s precious soul.
All that is possible only if we understand and accept what Paul will call christians to do: Ep 5.21 Submit to one another. (c.f. Mt 20.25-28)
This is the God-given model for all relationships, especially in marriage. Without submission, abuse arise. Because the opposite of submission is lording over.
Applying the christian household code to our lives:
In many christian churches, headship theology is what is being preached and practiced within marriages. Headship theology is when one is ruling over another and that other is expected to obey without questioning. In a marriage where headship theology is the model for husband-wife relationship we have one spouse, usually the man, lording over the woman and the children. It is a totalitarian model. A greco-roman model of household codes of conduct, where the children and the wife are not much more than a kind of slave to the man in charge. It is a totalitarian model, not an authoritative model.
A totalitarian model will always produce abuse and rebellion : abuse from the one exercising lordship and rebellion by those that are lorded over. No wonder that we see so many divorces and so many rebellious teens.
An authoritative model is one where the spouse who exercises leadership will strive to give such a good example of love and compassion and under-standing and guidance and positive influence, that the household will have no problem referring to that person as the headship of the family : they will gladly accept for that person to exercise headship. They don’t feel lorded over, they feel loved and respected.
Grace and forgiveness is what makes an authoritative model what it is. Jesus was authoritative with his disciples but not totalitarian: He was not forcefully lording over them. God does not want to forcefully lord over you. God wants to love you and be seen as one that is worthy of being followed.
When we teach the children here at church in our sabbath school class, we need to show them a God that is authoritative and not totalitarian. We need to show them a God who respects people for who they are. We need to show them Jesus as one who gives (love) more than He demands (servile obedience).
When we preach from the pulpit, we need to show God’s grace for his people. Preaching that sinners will burn forever in some hellish place is not from God. For there is no hellish place to start with! Speaking of a God who judges and punishes people when they do wrong, instead of pointing to the matchless charms of the loving God who gives his own life to save the very same sinners, would be presenting a foreign god : not the God of the Bible.
It is so easy to be abusive in our words and in our deeds, even when we preach Jesus-Christ to others. So easy to abuse of our parental position when we want to guide our children. So easy to abuse one another in our marriage, all for lack of forgiveness. So easy to abuse one another at church for lack of grace and brotherly love.
Our world is full of examples of abuse :
1- All the wars are an abuse on people’s freedom to exist
2- Steeling is an abuse on people’s right to enjoy what they have
3- Pornography is an abuse of one’s intimacy and sexuality
The list is endless. But the good news is that there is a solution.
The godly solution:
Jn 3.16-21 (NIRV) : 16 “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life. 17 God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world. He sent his Son to save the world through him. 18 Anyone who believes in him is not judged. But anyone who does not believe is judged already. They have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 Here is the judgment. Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light. They loved darkness because what they did was evil. 20 Everyone who does evil deeds hates the light. They will not come into the light. They are afraid that what they do will be seen. 21 But anyone who lives by the truth comes into the light. They live by the truth with God’s help. They come into the light so that it will be easy to see their good deeds.”
And how does God do it?
Jr 31.33 : ““This is the covenant I will make with Israel after that time,” announces the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds. I will write it on their hearts. I will be their God. And they will be my people.””
The solution to our inward pollution is in God’s begotten son.
A changed heart is no longer capable of being an abusive one. A true christian, one who has had God’s loving law printed, grooved into his or her heart will feel sad and deeply hurt if ever he or she acts abusively. The abuser will fell the hurt because he or she has done something that they don’t want to do. The new heart is estranged to every kind of evil. So that when, unfortunately, we do some evil, we hurt inside, because our new, godly imparted nature, hates sin.
And that is the matchless beauty that Peter is asking a woman to be adorned with. And I say, not women only but men also. The matchless beauty of Christ within us; the majesty of God’s love in our heart.
The household code, in a christian home, is one made up of God’s love commandment. Love God and love thy spouse and children. Don’t lord over them, but be under-standing. Be authoritative, not totalitarian. Don’t be a general giving out orders. Be a christ-like person, showing your household, how a good example God has made you.
And if you fault sometimes, ask for forgiveness; ask your household to give you their love and support.
For in a home where God is supreme, love abounds.