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The Christian Household

by H. A. Ironside (1876-1951)

H A IronsideIn the first nine verses of Ephesians six we have the conclusion of that section of the epistle which begins with verse twenty-two of the previous chapter. The instruction given to Christian wives and husbands in chapter five is that there is to be mutual love, respect and loyalty, the wife serving in her particular capacity to make the Christian home what it ought to be and the husband taking the responsibility of providing for the family, the acknowledged head of that home seeking to act as in the fear of God — the wife reverencing her husband, the husband loving his wife. Now we come to consider other members of the family or the same persons in other relationships.

The apostle speaks first to children. Of course, he is speaking directly to those who alone really may be expected to heed the Word of God, to Christian children. This is one way in which children may adorn the doctrine of Christ in these early formative years before they launch out into the world to make a place for themselves and to take part in public service for Christ. This is how they may glorify God and bring honor to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right." You see, the matter of obedience is put on the common ground of what is correct and proper — "This is right." You profess to be a Christian, young man or woman, boy or girl; you have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour. Well, then, here is the first admonition He lays upon you, "Obey your parents." Why? Because it is the right thing to do. "This is right." In the epistle to the Colossians, where you have the same admonition, he bases it upon another ground. "Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord" (Col. 3:20). Do you say sometimes, as some Christian children do say, "I should like to do some big thing for Christ; I should like to feel that my life in a special way is counting for Him"? Well, "this is well pleasing to the Lord." Obedience, the recognition of parental authority and loving subjection, is well pleasing to Him. In this our blessed Lord Jesus Christ is our example. We remember that in Luke 2: 51 we read, "He went down with them," that is, with His mother, Mary, and Joseph, His foster father, "and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them." Here you see our blessed Lord Jesus, the eternal Son of God, become flesh, the example for all Christian children. What a wonderful thing, if you are a boy or girl in the home and have trusted the Lord Jesus, you can say, "My Lord was once a child like me; He once occupied the same position in the home that I do and He filled it well. He was obedient; He was subject to His parents in all things." The wonder of it is that He, the Creator of the universe, took that place of subjection, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps. Later on as you grow up and go into life you will have Him as your example in other spheres, but now He is your example in the home. How Christian children ought to take this to heart.

It is a most inconsistent thing for a child to profess to be a Christian, to have the name on the roll of some church, and yet be characterized by wilfulness and waywardness in the home. There is nothing more distressing, there is nothing in some senses more disgusting than to see a child who takes the place of a Christian outside and behaves and acts as anything but one in the private home circle. Disobedience to parents is one thing about which God's Word speaks most sternly. In Romans one, where the apostle is describing the iniquities that prevail in the heathen world, you will find it linked with the vilest kinds of sin. In verses twenty-nine and thirty, we read: "Filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents." Notice the place that disobedience to parents has; it is linked with the vilest immoralities, even with the crime of homicide, and the reason for it is that if children are not taught to obey when they are young, if they do not obey their parents in the home, they will not obey God and will not obey the powers that be that are ordained of God when they go out into the world. That judge in Gary was right who when executing sentence on some young culprits said, "I wish it were possible to put the parents of these children in the penitentiary for allowing them to grow up like this." As Christian parents we are responsible to see that our children are obedient. And as Christian children we are responsible to obey our parents.

Then notice, the apostle draws our attention to the fact that the commandment having special reference to obedience to parents is marked out in a peculiar way. In the Law we read, "Honor thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee" (Exod. 20:21). Read the ten commandments. You see you have four of them with no special promise attached, and then you come to the fifth and you find that God added something. He added a special promise. It shows the importance that He attaches to obedience to parents.

How important, then, that Christian children should lay this to heart. Do not be content with lip service; do not be content with attending Sunday school and attending the church and young people's meeting and think that these things constitute Christianity. First, learn to show piety at home. It is in the home circle that your life is under closest inspection and it is there you are called upon to give evidence of a second birth by obedience to your own parents.

Then in verse four the apostle speaks to fathers. He does not address himself here particularly to mothers. He says, "Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath." You see it is we fathers who are more inclined to become impatient and unduly harsh and unkind with our children; and yet on the other hand, let me point out that in Hebrews eleven, where the Spirit of God is speaking of Moses, exactly the same word that is used here and translated "fathers" is used for Moses' parents. "By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents." The word "parents" there is exactly the same Greek word that is translated "fathers" in Ephesians 6:4. Fathers and mothers are in this sense addressed together, and so the admonition comes home to every one with perhaps peculiar emphasis being placed upon the fathers.

"Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath." As Christian parents, have in mind your children's well being; do not be needlessly demanding of them; do not lay upon them burdens that are too hard for them to bear, for remember, as the children have the Lord Jesus as their example, you have God Himself as yours.

We read, "Like as a father pitieth his children so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him," and "If we call Him Father Who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work," see that you walk circumspectly before Him. Let your attitude toward your children be in accordance with His attitude toward you, and of Him it is written, "He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men." How we need to take this home to our hearts. "Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath": but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, setting them an example of what a Christian should really be, ministering the Word of God to them, praying with them, and walking before them consistently, in the fear of the Lord.

I remember the bitterness with which a young woman attending a university came to me and said, "I am in the greatest spiritual distress, and the saddest thing about it is that I cannot consult my own father, who is a minister of the Gospel. But I never remember to have heard him lift his voice in prayer with his family and I never knew him to gather us about him while he read the Word of God. He kept all of his religion for the pulpit and we never saw any of his piety in the home." It is in the home we are called first to manifest godliness, to give prayer and the Word of God their proper place. Let the grace of Christ be seen in your life and, though everything else should go, your children will have the memory of godly parentage and pious upbringing. What a sheet-anchor that has been to many young persons launching out in life.

In verse five, the apostle turns to consider another relationship. He says, "Servants," whether, they be in the home or employees outside. At the time the apostle wrote, they were slaves, generally speaking. The word "doulos," translated here "servants," means slaves one purchased; but you notice in verse eight he is thinking not merely of the purchased slaves, "Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free." And therefore the instruction which of old was given to slaves now applies to all employees. Slaves were purchased with the money of the master or born into the house and raised up of the master, but today we enter into an agreement; we sell our labor and in that way enter into a certain relationship which makes us just as responsible to heed the admonition given here. There would never be trouble between capital and labor if the Word of God were properly revered in this connection, if the instruction given here had proper place in all our hearts and lives. However, it is not expected that unsaved men will heed this admonition, but he is addressing Christian employees. "Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ." That means, of course, the fear of not rendering proper service to your employer, and so grieving the Holy Spirit of God.

How this dignifies labor. Whether a man be working at the bench, whether one be engaged in the office, whether the miner be down in the bowels of the earth, or the farmer working on the surface of the earth, each may say to himself, "I serve the Lord Christ." When Carey applied for foreign missionary service, somebody said to him, "What is your business?" They intended it as a slur, for he was not a minister. He said, "My business is serving the Lord, and I make shoes to pay expenses." And so every one engaged in any occupation should be able to say, "My business is serving the Lord and whatever my occupation, that is to pay my expenses; but I am there to serve Him."

"Not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers." I was looking up that word "eyeservice" and found it to be very interesting. It comes from exactly the same word as that translated, "servants" in verse five, and that is, properly speaking, "a slave." Eye service, then, would be eye-slavery. Did you ever know any one who was an eye slave? The man who soldiers at his work until somebody says, "The boss is coming!" The young woman who wastes her employer's time until somebody says, "Look out, there is the manager coming through the office," and she immediately gets busy and the typewriter rattles as it has not done for hours. That is eye-slavery. Do not let there be anything like that with the Christians. "Not with eye service, as men-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart." Does not this dignify labor in a wonderful way? No matter what my employment is, I am to do it as unto God, from the heart. It is the place in which He has set me and I am there to labor for Him. This lifts me far above all concern about the failure of an employer to properly recognize my worth. When I know I am working for the Lord and He knows everything, it saves from all such thoughts. "Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men" (I Cor. 7:23). I may have an employer who does not seem to appreciate me at all, who only wants to get all he can out of me and pay as little as possible, but I have sold my labor to him and therefore I go on and labor earnestly. I say to myself, "Never mind; there is One who does appreciate me and He knows that I am doing this work in an upright manner and doing it for His glory, and some day I shall receive of Him." "Oh, yes, yes," you say, "that is all very well. Religion is the opiate of the people." People of communistic tendencies say, "You like to preach resignation to the poor and tell them that no matter how hard their lot is here, it will be right when they get to heaven, in order to keep them contented here." Not at all; that is not what the apostle is saying. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." It is true in this life as well as in the world to come that the one who honestly serves the Lord Jesus Christ is rewarded for it. How many a man can bear testimony to that. One has labored apparently unappreciated for years until suddenly under the hand of God circumstances change so that he is recognized and honored and respected for what he really is. The Lord sees to this even in this life, and there is a great deal more coming in the life ahead.

Now he turns to the masters, Christian masters, again we have to say. Verse nine, "And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with Him." "The same things"— you expect your employees to honor you, to recognize their responsibility to rightly serve you. Very well, now, masters, it is your responsibility to properly consider the welfare of your employees; you have been trusted with means or have been put in a position where you administer the means of others — see that you do not look upon your employees as mere "hands" and so much labor to be ground from them, just to get the very most out of them and give the very least; but remember that as they are responsible to serve the Lord Christ so are you, and you are to do it to His glory.

"Forbearing threatening." Nothing of an unkind, cruel, or discourteous character is to be seen in the Christian master. "Knowing that your Master also is in heaven," and that you have to give an account, therefore, for all your dealings with your employees. If you cut down their wages when it is not necessary, if you seek to force them to work under unhealthful and unsanitary conditions, God is looking on and jotting down everything in His books of record when He sees that you behave in an unchristianlike way toward those dependent largely upon you because working for you. See how Christianity equalizes everything. Here is the true socialism, not a leveling of all distinctions, but men and women of every class subject to Christ. That puts everything right. "Ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with Him." Your wealth will not avail if you do not handle it correctly; your place of authority will amount to naught if you do not use it for His glory. "There is no respect of persons with Him." He judgeth according to the works of each one.

What salutary instructions we have here, how important that every Christian, whatever his relationship, should act in accordance with this truth. In the beginning of this epistle we have the highest kind of spiritual revelation. There it is that we learn that we have been raised up together and seated together in heavenly places in Christ. "Very well," says the apostle, "if you are a heavenly man, a heavenly woman, a member of the Body of Christ, now behave on earth as Christ would if He occupied your position in life, whatever your business may be. Let the Spirit of Christ be manifested in you." This is the thing that will commend Christianity to a lost world.

We have had too much talking of high truth coupled with low living. We have had too much delighting in wonderful dispensational unfoldings and yet the truth never affecting the feet. "Order my steps in Thy truth," prays the psalmist. O, may God grant that whether as husband or wife, child or parent, employee or employer we may each one who names the name of Christ manifest His grace in every relationship of life.

If today you are unsaved and you have sometimes stumbled over the inconsistency of Christians, let me say that the Word of God takes it for granted that Christians need constant admonishing, but you are invited to come just as you are to Christ, trust Him as your Saviour and receive the divine life by faith, and then live as a Christian should and show the rest of us what a real Christian ought to be. Do not be foolish enough to stumble over any one's inconsistency down to the pit of woe. Remember, there is power to make you what you ought to be and to make you to be a Christian not in word only but in deed and in truth.

From Grace and Truth, vol. 23, May 1945. Published by Denver Bible College Press, Colorado.

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