Last week we established the cosmic significance of the family. The family is the economic center of people-production. We make people. This week we explore further what the Bible says goes into this process.
Summary of the Text
Paul commands wives to submit to their own husbands as to the Lord, just as the church does to Christ in everything (Eph. 5:22-24). Likewise, husbands are to love their wives sacrificially, imitating Christ’s love, so that their wives are washed and purified (Eph. 5:25-27). Paul presses the fact that husband and wife are one flesh, requiring that husbands nourish and cherish their wives, just as they do their own bodies, just as Christ does for Church (Eph. 5:28-31). And there is much more going on in this mystery, namely the fact that it is talking about Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32). And regardless of whether we understand how that is true, husbands need to love their wives, and wives need to respect their husbands (Eph. 5:33). Remember the chapter breaks were added later, and therefore, part of the mystery also includes the blessing of children and inheritance, and therefore fathers are charged with the responsibility of providing for their “nurture” and admonition in the Lord (Eph. 6:1-4). Likewise, servants are to obey their masters from the heart as servants of Christ (Eph. 6:5-8), and masters are forbidden to exercise authority by threats or partiality (Eph. 6:9).
The Postmillennial Promises
You might summarize this message as exhorting you to keep God’s promises connected to your faith and obedience in all your household dealings. And it turns out that God’s covenant promises are cosmic in scope. Paul invites us to do this explicitly when he reminds Ephesian (Gentile) children of the promise that goes with the fifth commandment: that it may go well with you and you may live long upon the earth (Eph. 6:2). Note this well: Paul says that Gentile believers are now heirs of the promises that were originally given to Israel. But what land is Paul talking about? Paul’s paraphrase makes it clear: the whole earth. Everything that Jesus inherited is now the Promised Land along with the final hope of all things being raised and made new.
One of the more tragic mistakes of some Bible teachers is represented by the following quotes: “Paul’s reference here [Rom. 4:13] to being ‘heir of the world’ is probably not to a temporal repossession of the world but is rather an eschatological reference… For whereas marriage and physical procreation were the necessary means of building the physical nation of Israel, the spiritual people of God are built through the process of spiritual regeneration.” But this is two half-truths that create a very unhelpful distortion. First, this mischaracterizes the Old Covenant, which was always about regeneration also. Yes, the promises were given to ethnic Israel and began by bestowing the land of Canaan, but the true sons of Abraham were always by faith in the promises, and true Jews were always those whose hearts were circumcised by the Spirit (Dt. 10:16, 30:6, Jer. 4:4, Rom. 2:29, Gal. 3:7). And what did God promise? That by faith alone, God would bless all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:3, 28:14). And the prophets proclaim that the blessings and curses that applied to Israel will apply to all the nations when God has been established as King of all the earth (Is. 66, Zech. 14). And so secondly, God is still working through marriage and family and land in the New Covenant, even though it is all by faith, utterly depends upon the Spirit’s work of regeneration, and still looks for the resurrection.
They Ought to Marry
A related objection that is sometimes raised is that the New Covenant views marriage and singleness as equally normative options, but this is largely based on a misreading of 1 Corinthians 7 and Paul was giving instructions for the “present distress” (Cor. 7:26, 29-31) just as Jesus had warned about the distress that would befall Jerusalem when the temple was destroyed (Mt. 24:1-2, 19, 34). But otherwise, the general command of Scripture is to marry and raise children (cf. Mk. 10:6-7). And this is part of our cosmic warfare against Satan (1 Tim. 5:14-15, 1 Cor. 7:1-5).
The Ministry of Provision
You have heard before that God gives unique assignments to different authorities. The civil magistrate has been given the sword, which is authority from God to punish crimes and maintain equal weights and measures, including the protection of private property and requiring restitution (Rom. 13, Ex. 22). The church has been given the keys of the kingdom, which is authority from God to proclaim the gospel, administer the sacraments, and to exercise church discipline (Mt. 18, 1 Cor. 5). To the family, God has entrusted the ministry of health, welfare, and education. We see this requirement established in our text where Paul requires a husband to “nourish and cherish” his wife as his own body, which is literally to “feed” and “keep warm” (Eph. 5:29). Likewise, the father is required to bring up or “feed” his children with the “culture” and “counsel” of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). Add to this, Paul’s admonition to Timothy that those who do not provide for their own families are worse than unbelievers (1 Tim. 5:8), as well as his prohibition of Christians fellowshipping with those who name Christ but refuse to work for their own food (2 Thess. 3:10-14). We work from the heart for Christ our Master, without partiality or threatening (Eph. 6:5-9). This includes children caring for their elderly parents (Mk. 7:11-13).
Education, Wealth, and Inheritance
Solomon says a good man leaves an inheritance to his grandchildren (Prov. 13:22). Christian education is the process of passing down Christian wealth to the next generation. The wisdom of Christ is better than rubies, better than choice silver or gold (Prov. 8:10-11), but that wisdom is an inheritance that brings with it knowledge and understanding and the fear of the Lord and authority and power and riches and honor (Prov. 8:13-21). A Christian education is itself an inheritance of immense value, but it is also the kind of inheritance that trains you to be a good steward of far more (Lk. 19:17). So the question is not whether you will have wealth, but whether you will seek it biblically and steward it in obedience to Christ or not. Unbelieving education is oriented to the systems and values of Mammon, but Christian education teaches that all of the treasures of wisdom are found in Christ and His reproach is great wealth (Col. 2:2, Heb. 11:26).
A family is a powerful economy ordered according to God’s word and nature for the production of fruitful people who will live forever. We do not set at odds the physical needs, responsibilities, or fruit of our labors with our spiritual needs, responsibilities, or heavenly reward. Do not store up treasures on earth: seek first the Kingdom. And we do that by knowing Christ, laboring honestly, remaining steadfast in the Word and prayer, by marrying, bearing children, starting businesses, confessing our sins, forgiving one another, providing rigorous Christian education, caring for elderly parents, building houses, investing wisely, giving generously, looking to help others in need. It is not an accident that having exhorted households to be ordered to Christ, Paul immediately turns to our cosmic struggle against the rulers of darkness in this world (Eph. 6:10ff). We are at war, and it is only by faith that all the families of the earth will be blessed.