At the end of several of Saint Paul’s epistles we find what scholars sometimes called the “household code”. These are the instructions that he gives to husbands, wives, children, and servants regarding their relationships with one another or, in the case of servants, with their masters. Here is an example from Ephesians:
"Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free." (6:5-8)
Some have taken these sorts of instructions as a rather humdrum resort to duty so that things will go smoothly in the home and the world. I would like to suggest otherwise. I would like to suggest that there is a deeper, truly Christian teaching here that is, at root, Christ-conscious. Notice, specifically, that in the few verses cited above St Paul twice tells Christians to conduct themselves toward others "as to Christ" and "as to the Lord". And that "whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord."
I want to suggest that what is at work here is the same truth that our Lord articulates in his well-known parable of the sheep and the goats, where he says to both the righteous and the wicked that in their dealings with the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, etc. they were, in fact, dealing with him: "‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it [or did not do it] to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it [or did not do it] to Me." (Matthew 25:40, 45)
We are, in other words, always and everywhere encountering Christ. He is veiled, it is true, beneath the flesh of our neighbor, our spouse, our parents or our child, as well as beneath the visage of the poor and even our enemy. But he was similarly veiled beneath his own holy flesh during his dispensation in this world. And just as there were those, then, who recognized him to a greater or lesser degree, and those who did not, so likewise we see him now in others or else we do not perceive him.
This is the reason why there is so close and essential a relationship between the two great commandments, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourself. As St John the Theologian writes:
"If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also." (1 John 4:20-21)
The test of love for God is love for our brother, who is the image of God right in front of us. And so we are always and everywhere encountering Christ. This makes of our dealings with others not a mere duty aimed at good order, but a heavenly and holy encounter with our risen Lord.
With love in Christ,