Ephesians - Lesson 12

By Curt Niccum

The Household Code (Cont.)Ephesians 6:1-9


  1. The student can state the relevance of honoring one's parents in his or her current situation.
  2. The student will understand the relevance of honoring one's parents in his or her future situations.
  3. The student will understand the limitations of applying Paul's instructions to slaves in today's environment.


  1. Bibles and pens as needed.
  2. If desired, the person responsible for the congregation's Education program could be in the classroom to take advantage of some of the class discussion (see 3b under "Learning Experience").


In this passage Paul continues to speak to Christian families. The highest level of God's love humans can experience is that which gets expressed within the family.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class


  1. Call the roll or have someone check it. (It is very important to know who is present so someone can check on those who are absent.) Introduce and welcome visitors, take prayer requests, and make any necessary announcements.
  2. Prayer and songs as desired.
  3. Review the previous lesson.
    1. In 5:21-33 Paul discusses marriage. We saw that Paul relied on two particularly important sources about family for encouraging the Ephesians in their marriage relationships. Q: What are these two sources? A: The Old Testament and the Household Code.
      1. Q: What did we learn from the Old Testament? A: That God's indescribable love can only be described this side of heaven in terms of human relationships, the highest being husband-wife and parent-child. For Paul this means that how we relate in our family reflects our understanding of God.
      2. Q: What did we learn from the Household Code? A: That the Kingdom of God is only as strong as its weakest family. The state of family life in the church provides a measure of the state of the church.
    2. Obviously, both of these underline the importance of the family for God's purposes. Paul, writing primarily to Gentile Christians who grew up in paganism and therefore lacked the ethical and moral expectations found in the Jewish Scriptures, uses a considerable amount of space to reinforce the need for strong, healthy families. This, unfortunately, remains a necessity today.
  4. In 6:1-9, Paul continues this discussion. The ancient household would usually contain children and/or slaves. In both cases, the ancient views towards these family members differed considerably from today.
    1. First, children were viewed as second rate citizens at best. In Roman practice, a child might not be viewed as human until his or her official acceptance by the father (which could occur as late as the age of seven). Thus, abortions and the murdering of infants by exposure (typically throwing them out into a field or deserted area to die from starvation or extreme temperatures) were not considered heinous crimes. Although parental love for children has constantly been a part of family life, social views and economic necessities could create situations through which these natural ties might be weakened.
    2. Second, slavery in the first century differed markedly from 19th century America as well as forms of slavery still practiced around the world today. Although abuse was not unknown, slaves played significant roles in the more affluent households.Some served as caretakers for the children. Some received an education and worked in or ran the family businesses (or sometimes even the Roman Empire). If a slave gained significant profits for his or her owner, percentages of those profits could go on account towards the purchasing of freedom. (Freedom, however, typically created more serious financial difficulties than remaining in servitude.)

Learning Experience:

  1. As with the discussion about husbands and wives (5:22-33), Paul's words about children and slaves also rely on the opening admonishment "to be submissive to one another" (5:21).
  2. Children are to obey their parents. This relationship mirrors Paul's commands in 5:1-
  3. Children are to obey their parents who themselves are "beloved children" of God. Just as husbands and wives find their true roles in the heavenly family, so also do children.
    1. Q: What is included under "honoring" father and mother? A: Obeying them. Taking care of them when needed. Respecting them even when the child is grown.
    2. Q: What is the promise to those who honor their parents? A: Nothing less than the future well being of the nation of Israel (verses 2b-3). This serves as a further connection to the idea that the Kingdom is only as strong as its weakest family.
    3. Note also that this command comes with no expiration date. This will be discussed near the end of the lesson.
  4. Fathers are not to exasperate their children. Instead they should "nurture" their children (6:4).
    1. Q: What is an example of a father "exasperating" a child? A: Some examples might be: Being so strict and rigid that he drives the child to rebellion. Being inconsistent in discipline. Playing favorites among his children. Ignoring the child craving fatherly attention. Of course a host of worse scenarios would also apply.
    2. Q: What would a "nurturing" father do? A: Give time to his child, especially paying attention to the child's spiritual growth (without neglecting those things that also lead to physical and mental development). Mentor his child.
    3. Note how the word "nurture" also appears in 5:29. Paul connects the model of parenting with the man's own love for physical care and love for his wife.
    4. Paul describes the specifics of this loving care as "instruction" and "admonishment." Both these terms come from the sphere of education. The qualification that the father exercise these "in (lit. "of") the Lord" signifies the role the father figure plays in spiritually training the young. Unfortunately, today the father figure is missing in many families or, if present, pays little or no attention to his children's spiritual development. This also occurs in the church where few teachers or assistants in the primary classrooms are male. (If a person responsible for organizing teachers for the youth is in the classroom, you may want to encourage the men in the class to volunteer for teaching or even to ask them to make a verbal commitment in class so the classroom organizer and those interested in serving can connect with each other after the lesson.)
  5. Servants were to serve their masters from "the sincerity of their heart" regardless of the type of treatment they received from their masters' hands (6:5-8). This too Paul connects with Christ's own display of servitude as well as his role as master.
    1. Ultimately all, both slave and free, serve the Lord (6:5-8). Slaves should offer service as if it were directed solely to Christ. Such obedience to Christ fulfills the will of God (6:7).
    2. Frequently modern teachers apply this to the employee-employer relationship. In most cases today this analogy fails.
      1. Most companies have no concept of "family" and do not seek to engender family-type loyalties. The Household Code would never have applied to hired servants or employees in the first century.
      2. One can still apply the principle of doing one's best at work since all we say and do should be practiced "in the name of the Lord."
  6. Paul reminds the masters that they, too, are slaves. How they treat those family members entrusted to their care will affect how Christ treats them at Judgment. They may be lords, but they serve the Lord (6:9).
    1. To understand what Paul says here, one must know that the Greek word translated "Lord" or "master" is the same. Only context can determine which is more appropriate.
    2. One must also remember that this remains within the Household Code. Slaves were considered family members. As with marriage and parenting, the actions of God through Christ provide the model for action. God shows no impartiality toward us and we must not show any towards any "lesser"members of our families.
    3. (The problems associated with making assumptions about employees from the slave-master relationship also apply here. One can only suggest that the principle applied to masters can extend to the role of employer. See 4.b.i and ii. above.)


  1. A number of topics addressed in this lesson would be worthy of additional focus. Depending on the needs of the students, the teacher may wish to choose a different direction or supplement what is provided below with additional comments on family and/or employment issues.
  2. Focusing on the command to "honor" one's parents should certainly be addressed. Surprisingly, this commandment, despite its inherent importance signaled by the appended promise, remains often misunderstood and seldom practiced.
    1. This, in part, results from the idea that God directed this towards the young. This is manifestly untrue.
      1. Q: What is the punishment for being a disobedient child under the OldLaw? A: Death by stoning (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).
      2. That seems a bit harsh for a six year old! Q: Does anybody know what the official charge leveled against a disobedient child was? A: S/he is a glutton and a drunk. Obviously, the child in question has reached a sufficient age of responsibility for his or her lifestyle.
      3. (Note that this was the charge brought against Jesus early on in his ministry. This did not describe his eating or drinking habits, Matthew11:18-19.)
    2. As mentioned before, this command lacks an expiration date. Naturally, teenagers rarely welcome this bit of information. And this points to perhaps the most significant issue related to this decree - the meaning of it changes as we change.
      1. Obeying or honoring parents means one thing to a three year old. At this age many responses to parents result from a fear of punishment. (Note, however, that God focuses on promise not punishment!)
      2. It may mean something else to a nine year old. At some point obedience becomes motivated out of love rather than fear. We come to honor our parents because we love them.
      3. It certainly becomes problematic in the teen years. Teenagers are just beginning to think and learn on their own. The lessons they receive through personal experience seem so much more important and real than those offered by "out-of-touch" parents. Many come to think that the command expires when they reach 16, 18, or 21.
      4. Honoring one's parents takes one a different meaning at the age of thirty. Obeying still remains a part of the equation, but other aspects of honoring develop. Speech and actions provide honor for parents, especially how we speak about our parents to other people.
      5. One can imagine how one's perspective about the command alters in one's old age. Even though the parents have long gone, how were member them and how we talk about them continues to provide honor.
    3. Have the class discuss ways by which they honor or fail to honor their parents. (If time is short, focus on honor. If time permits, begin with the failures and move to the fulfillments.)
    4. Have the class make suggestions as to how they could honor their parents. (Look for specific rather than generic answers, i.e., "I will call them up right after church and tell them how much I appreciate them" rather than "I will talk nice about them.").
    5. You may wish to have the class discuss how specifically they might "honor" their spiritual parents in the church. What activities could the class as a whole initiate, direct or be involved in?

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