- Locate the Passage
3:18-4:1 is a clearly definable unit, marked by the pairing of instructions to wives/husbands, children/fathers, and slaves/masters. This section continues in the vein of the exhortations begun at the beginning of chapter 3 to seek what is above. Paul here describes how to order Christ-centered relationships at home and work.
- Identify the Genre
The macro level is epistolary. The micro level is hortatory.
- Determine the Structure of the Passage
These verses are closely paralleled in terms of structure. Paul uses six vocative nouns, given in three pairs: wives/husbands, children/parents, and slaves/masters. Each of these vocative nouns is followed by at least one imperative verb. Each of these imperative commands is given further information (with the exception of the command to the husbands) such as grounds or a purpose statement.
3:18 addresses wives with the imperative command to “submit yourselves to your husbands.” The grounds is that this “is fitting in the Lord.” 3:19 addresses husbands with the dual imperative commands to “love your wives” and “don’t be bitter toward them.”
3:20 addresses children with the command to “obey your parents in everything.” The grounds, signaled by gar (“for”), is that “this pleases the Lord.” 3:21 addresses fathers with the command “do not exasperate your children.” The purpose statement is “so that they won’t become discouraged.”
3:22-25 addresses slaves with three imperative commands:
1) Obey your human masters in everything (3:22)
2) Whatever you do, do it from the heart (3:23-24a)
3) Serve the Lord Christ (3:24b)
The first command (3:22) is modified by a statement describing the manner in which they are to obey: “not as people-pleasers just while being watched, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord.” The second command (3:23-24a) is modified by a statement describing the manner in which they are to do from the heart whatever they do (“as something done for the Lord and not for people”) as well as a statement of grounds for the command (“knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord”). The third command (3:24b) is modified by a statement of grounds for the command, signaled by gar (“for”): “for the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong he has done, and there is no favoritism.”
4:1 addresses masters with the command to “deal fairly and justly with your slaves.” The grounds for that command is signaled by the participle “knowing” (eidotes), “knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.”
- Exegete the Passage
This paragraph follows the general exhortation in 3:1ff to seek the things above. These verses give very practical instructions for how to do that in the context of the home and work.
3:18-19 describe what it looks like to be Christ-centered as a wife or husband. Wives are to “submit” to their husbands. The term “submit” (hupotassesthe) was used as a military term referring to the order and obedience of soldiers in battle. Paul says that the kind of order in the home where the husbands lead and the wives follow is “fitting in the Lord.” Husbands, on the other hand, are commanded to agapate (“love”) their wives. This word for love is specific and describes a sacrificial kind of love. Further, husbands are not to be “embittered” against their wives. That is, they are to act positively towards their wives (“love”) and not act negatively toward them (“be embittered”).
3:20-21 describe what it looks like to be Christ-centered as children and parents. Children are to “obey” (hupakouo) their parents in everything. The word for “obey” literally means to “hear under.” Children are to listen and obey under the authority of their parents. Parents (addressed here specifically toward fathers), on the other hand, are not to “exasperate” their children; that is, they are not to put unreasonable expectations or abusive discipline on their children. Paul gives the purpose or reason for this command: “so that they won’t become discouraged.”
3:22-4:1 describe what it looks like to be Christ-centered as slaves and masters. In a modern cultural context where slavery is foreign, at least in a western context, the preacher must do some contextual bridge building through these verses. A modern application of these verses is how a Christian ought to live as an employee or employer. Paul gives three distinct imperative commands to slaves. First, he says they should obey their masters. Paul further describes the manner in which that obedience is to take place: “not only while being watched, or as people-pleasers, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord” (3:22). Second, he says that whatever they do, they are to do from the heart. He then says the manner in which they are to do it is “as something done for the Lord and not for people.” As difficult as their circumstances might be, they can bear up under the load if they view their service as rendered to the Lord, rather than a human master. He also gives grounds for the command: “knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord.” Third, he says that slaves are to serve (douleuete, “serve as a slave”) the Lord Christ. Paul is redefining the nature of their slavery. Human slaves ought to reckon themselves as slaves of Christ, and therefore work diligently as servants of their humans masters because they serve Christ first. Paul grounds this statement with the assurance that “the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong he has done, and there is no favoritism.” That is, human slaves can rest in the reality of the Lord’s vindication of them and His execution of justice. Slaves can also rest assured that their status before the Lord is not defined by their sociological status, for He shows no favorites.
Paul instructs masters in 4:1 to deal with their slaves in a manner that is both just and fair. The grounds for this statement is that they know that they have a Master in heaven. The previous statement in 3:24 that the Lord will pay back wrongdoers is both a comfort to slaves unjustly treated and a warning to masters who might treat their slaves unjustly. Paul is saying that because human masters have a heavenly Master, they should treat their slaves as they want to be treated by the Lord.
- Let the Structure of the Text Drive the Structure of the Sermon
- Put Christ First in your Marriage (3:18-19)
- Wives: Submit to your husbands
- Husbands: Love your wives and don’t be bitter
- Put Christ First in your Family (3:20-21)
- Children: Obey your parents
- Parents: Don’t exasperate your children
- Put Christ First in your Work (3:22-4:1)
- Slaves: Obey your masters as unto the Lord
- Masters: Treat your slaves with fairness and justice