Does God Ordain Specific Roles in the Family?

Recently, I've come across some questionable teaching on what the Bible teaches about family (marriage and parenting). Most of the teaching has centered on what Paul wrote in his epistles, particularly in Colossians and Ephesians. I've heard these ideas from more than one source, and it led me to deeper reflection and study.

Like so much else on this blog, the following post is not so much intended to teach others some great truths, but a way for me to process and learn. Nonetheless, I hope this post can be helpful to some.

As I've dissected the questionable teachings / writings, I could categorize the principles in a four mis-truths, some of which you have probably heard, either in the church or in the culture. They are:
  1. The concept of specific roles is outdated and man-centered.
  2. We are called to mutually submit to each other.
  3. The key problem within families is that the individuals are shallowly connected to each other. 
  4. Our sin leads our kids to sin.
Having reflected on these ideas, below are my counter-arguments. For the purpose of this study, we will focus on Colossians 3:18-21.

18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. 20 Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.

Roles Are Not Outdated, But Are God's Ideas

One person attempted to explain away the gender- and age-specific commands by pointing to verses 3:22 - 4:1. "This passage talks about slaves, and since we know that slavery is not a good thing, we have to reinterpret this passage."

Of course, such a cursory view of this passage's mention of slaves and masters involves unsound bible exegesis. The scope of this post is not to explain what slavery was like in biblical times, but let's at least agree that we can't brush it aside in a few seconds.

Furthermore, roles are not man-originated. Look at the Trinity -- the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. There are roles in the Trinitarian model of God: the Father sent the Son, and the Son obeys the Father, and the Spirit is sent out by both the Father and the Son. God puts a high value on roles, because roles are an essential part of who He is.

Family Members Are Not Called to Mutually Submit

In Ephesians 5, just before Paul writes to wives, husbands, children, and slaves (similar to his teachings in Colossians), he says to "be subject to one another in the fear of Christ" (v. 21). Some translations use submit in the place of be subject. Therefore, goes the false-teaching, the idea to submit to each other (Eph. 5:21) supersedes the idea of a wife submitting to her husband (v. 22).

The problem with this deduction is that the context before verse 22 is the church, not the family. Paul clearly teaches that there is a head to the family, and it is the father. The wife is commanded to submit to him.

This headship has been abused for centuries, and still is today. But that does not make it less of a command and ordination by God. Let's be clear that biblical headship (one role of a husband) is about responsibility, not tyrannical authority. However, it surely does include authority. In a two-person organization (such as a marriage), someone's vote logically has to carry more weight.

And let's be clear what the command to submit entails. This does not mean that the husband can command the wife to submit, or make the wife submit. The Greek word for submit is in a verb tense which means "wives, submit yourselves." When Paul (under the direction of the Holy Spirit) tells the wife to submit to her husband, he is speaking to her and her alone. 

Even worse is the attempt to try to explain that parents are called to be subject to their children. Parents are the God-ordained authorities over their children.

The Core Problem Is Vertical, Not Horizontal

When you look at families, especially families that are struggling (and aren't we all to an extent?), the main problem isn't that we fail to respect each other. The main problem is how we view Jesus and how we respond to Him.

Our motivation should not be to have better relationships or to have people treat us like we want to be treated. Our motivation should be to obey and trust Jesus, no matter how others treat us in return.

In the nine verses from Colossians 3:18 - 4:1, the "Lord" is pointed to at least seven times. Paul centers this passage in the perspective that how I treat my family and others is rooted in my relationship with the Lord, not in how I want them to respond.

Kids Sin Because They Are Sinners

Some say that our families are dysfunctional because parents are sinning against God, and this leads their children to rebel against God. This point is true, to an extent.

Does my sin affect my children, and model wrong behavior to them? Absolutely! But does my sin cause my kids to sin? No, they are sinners regardless of what I do. Their own sin nature causes them to sin.

This is a good thing for my kids. I am glad that their hope and salvation is not based on how well I parent, or they'd be in deep trouble!

Their hope (and mine) is based on a perfect Savior who made us (Genesis 1:27), who died for our sins (Romans 5:8), who was raised again to conquer sin and death (I Corinthians 15), and who sent His Spirit to live in all those who put their faith in Him (John 14:16-17).

What would you add to the idea of roles in the family?

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**image courtesy of maddox74 via pixabay

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