Good-looking Gospel: The Missional Heartbeat of the Household Codes

A college roommate of mine is now a missionary in Africa - and he and his wife live in a very hierarchical relationship, with strongly traditional roles that mirror those of the native culture, believing that this is God's intention, and experiencing the respect of thier neighbors for it.

A friend of mine here in the SanFran Bay says he and his wife agreed that he should be the spiritual head of the house, so he always says the bedtime prayer, and their marriage is characterized by traditional roles, in stark contrast to the surrounding overwhelmingly egalitarian society.

Is there any difference between these two marriages, in God's eyes? How should we order our homes? Does our context have anything to do with it?

Hear what the oft-overlooked book of Titus has to say.

Titus 2
4...train the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
6Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. 7In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness 8and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.
9Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, 10and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.
11For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
15These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.

Go back and reread all those bolded bits. Titus clearly attaches a missional purpose to each household instruction. Wives should be like no one will malign the word of God. Young men should do our enemies will be silenced. Slaves should do the gospel will be attractive. Bottom line: Do not let anyone despise you.

According to Titus "salvation...teaches live...upright and godly lives in this present age". In this present age. We're supposed learn what it means to live upright and godly lives in our present cultural, historical age (not simply transpose what faithfulness looked like in the Roman Empire in the 1st century.)

I appreciate that this line of reasoning scares many that Christians just dream up whatever they want, and assert that it will make a good impression on the world. I too fear this. But this fear can't dismiss what Jesus told his disciples:

I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. --John 16:12-13

What was it the 1st century disciples couldn't 'bear'? Was it realities about what it would look like to follow Jesus in 21st century America? Was it the end of divisions between male and female, slave and free, Jew and Greek? Denouncement of slavery? Declaration of Gentiles as full members of God's people? Endorsement of egalitarian marriage? Were the disciples, because of their cultural historical context, unable to hear and receive the implications of the gospel for future societies? And what about us - what can we bear, what can we not?

I, for one, can bear to accept that God's vision for marriage is one of partnership, rather than hierarchy...and living in the San Francisco Bay, it's not hard to know that this model of marriage is the only missional option. If Christians around here want to "make the teaching about our God and Savior attractive" hierarchical marriage simply won't do.

Is yours a missional marriage?

Other Posts in this Series
Should Wives Submit? 
Submit to Authority: The Biblical Agenda (and Ours)
Who Wears the Pants? Unlocking the Household Codes


  1. How do you reconcile a partnership with
    Ephesians 5:22-33 with and Colossians 3:18-19?

    Paul seems pretty clear in both letters that there is a hierarchal system and it should be adhered to.

    Am I missing something?

  2. Hey Andrew,

    It's a great question - and demonstrates your familiarity with Scripture, and desire to obey it's teaching.

    Take a look at the 3 other posts in this series, a couple of which deal with Eph 5 in particular. The key is to remember that Paul didn't write these letters with 21st Century American Christians in mind - he wrote it to 1st century Christians living in the Mediterranean. His purpose was to offer contextual advice on how to order your home lives in a way that will make the gospel of Jesus Christ attractive.
    Check 'em out and let me know if you have more questions....

  3. One more comment on the hierarchy. Clearly Paul is acknowledging the hierarchical models of marriage in the 1st century. What it is hard for us to see from our historical vantage point is that rather than endorsing these, he is actually challenging them, pushing the envelope, without directly decrying the popular practices. I imagine that he did this because if he had said things as strongly as he might have in this corner of the world in our day ("Hierarchical is counter to God's creation intention and Christ's gospel work") he would have altogether lost his audience, and been seen as an enemy of his culture. As I mention throughout this 4 post series, Paul is very focused on doing everything he can to gain a hearing for the gospel, and to make the gospel look as good as it really is.