This short, but often controversial, passage is one of the more misunderstood sections of the New Testament. As such, I will spend a little time unpacking what it does - and doesn’t - mean.
What many modern Christians fear when they read this passage that begins with “Wives submit…” is that Paul expects our households run like a kingdom in which the husband is the king and everyone bows and obeys his every wish. But if that was the case, then Paul’s instructions would only be for the wife, children and servants - after all, if the husband is a king, he doesn’t need any rules! In fact, there are pagan moral codes from this era that do exactly that.
But Paul does something different. He lays out all the relationships in the family and makes everyone responsible for looking out for each others’ needs. Wives look out for their husbands, and husbands are also responsible for being kind and loving in return. Children need to obey their parents, but parents (“parents” is a better translation than “fathers” in verse 21) should not abuse their power over the children.
Notice that each person is responsible for themselves - the passage never tells parents to “make sure your children do” this or that. No one is told to manage or dominate another. Instead, we are supposed to police ourselves as we carry out the job of taking care of the needs of others.
In short, Paul expects the Christian household to be defined by love - just as everything Christians do should be. Love requires that we look out for the needs of others, not just our own desires. Love compels us to act with kindness and fairness toward others, rather than finding ways to take advantage of them.
Are your actions at home motivated by love? Do you treat your family members with kindness and fairness? Or have you fallen into a routine of harshness and selfishness toward your siblings, parents or children? Ask God to help you live a loving home life, and to show you ways where you can be more like Christ in dealing with drama at home.