We in Western societies – Americans in particular – live in cultures emphasizing the individual and individual rights to a high, virtually an absolute, degree. We assume and demand autonomy and rights in many spheres of life: business; courts; politics; marriages and families; churches; and more. We chafe against things that limit personal liberty and self-assertion. The suggestion that we should defer and perhaps even submit to another rubs our sense of freedom the wrong way.
Then we come to Paul’s final teachings in his letter to the Christian community in
In what we read today, Paul addressed Christian attitudes and behaviors for household relationships of the first century: wives and husbands; children and parents; slaves and masters. A careful understanding of the foundations and implications of Paul’s instructions would take more space than we have. Yet two key points may help us hear God’s Word to us in these instructions, especially when the cultural mold of unchecked individualism leads us to resist or reject the real value in them.
We find the first point in verse 15, preceding today’s passage: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” Here the “peace of Christ” is primarily relational, not individual, in meaning. It signifies both lack of conflict and robust harmony in relationships. We should try to live into Jesus’ sin-defeating, reconciling, invigorating peace in our relationships – even at cost to our pride, position, and interests. After all, Jesus gave his life to make peace between God and us and between us and others!
We find the second point in verse 23: “as working for the Lord.” Whether our relationships are good, less than ideal, or painfully difficult, we should behave in them as if acting for Jesus. This does not foreclose hoping, praying, and trying for positive change in them. It does mean striving, in grace, to let the heart and mind of Jesus permeate all our hopes, prayers, and actions.
It can be hard to live in peace, for the Lord, in our closest relationships, especially if they are challenging, perhaps even unjust. We all fail God’s goodness and true human nature. Sometimes a little. Sometimes a lot. If in Jesus we devote ourselves to prayer and love, we can begin to shake off the grip of culture, to be molded anew by the Spirit in likeness of our crucified and risen Lord in our selves and our relationships.