Communication is wonderful as well as a bit tricky. Our understanding of what others communicate is partially shaped by our experiences and prior knowledge.
So, when Paul described the church as being the household of God what do we understand? Perhaps what comes to our minds revolves around our relationship with other Christians as brothers and sisters. Yes, we are all in this together.
Does anything else come to mind? Would someone in the first century comprehend additional nuances? Probably yes.
Greco-Roman political writers, like Dionysius, understood the household to be the basic building block of the state. At the head of the household was the master, who typically was the father. Within the household different individuals possessed various responsibilities and roles to ensure that the master’s will would be carried out.
With this background in mind, consider 1 Timothy 2:1-3:13. Paul indicated that men were to pray with all types of prayers in every place the church met. Women were to adorn themselves with modesty. People possessing the proper type of character and conduct could serve as overseers or deacons.
After having describing these various roles, Paul applied the imagery of the ancient household to the church. By so doing he illustrated the church’s nature.
“I am writing these instructions to you … to let you know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God, because it is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14,15).
Why should we serve in the ways Paul described? Because we, the church, belong to the living God. God is the Master of this household, not us. Our role, as members of God’s household, entails ensuring our Master’s will is done. As members of the church what would God have us do? Our Master would have us support and promote the truth.
This realization of household ought to cause us to pause and reflect. Coupled with the reality that God is the Master of this household, these ideas can flip our common cultural perspectives upside down. What matters is not what we think is best. Rather, as the church our task involves supporting and promoting what God has revealed is true.
The language of household may conjure up a variety of ideas in various cultures. In the context in which Paul wrote, the master presided while the members fulfilled various roles to achieve his will. In Christ we have become a family that serves God.