Slavery was an established institution when Paul penned the words of Ephesians 6.5-9. It had been in existence for millennia. God’s people were slaves in Egypt for centuries. There were provisions in the Law (Exodus 21) designed to protect the slave and prevent abuse. Under the Law, a slave only served seven (7) years and then was released by his master with plenty of goods from his master’s house (Deuteronomy 15.12-15)…unless the slave loved his master, in which he could stay and be a slave forever (Deuteronomy 15.16-17). Undergirding these laws was the reminder that Israel had been a slave in Egypt (verse 15). Surely, there was abuse, but to do so a Jew would have to trample underfoot the Law.
In the rest of the unenlightened world, the cruelty and depravity of the sinful heart of man was normally displayed in the slave-master relationship. True, there were pockets of light where slaves were treated well and special bonds formed (Pliny lamented when slaves he loved died), but the norm seems to have harsh & horrible treatment of slaves: runaway slaves were branded with an “F” on the head for fugitivus; slaves were crucified or fed to beasts for minor offenses; slaves were killed when an owner lost his/her temper; old slaves were discarded to the rubbish heap to starve to death; female slaves had their hair torn out and skin ripped from their faces by their mistresses’ nails. A slave was not a person but property (versus under the Law, the Hebrew slave is called “your brother”). Under Roman law, “Whatever a master does to a slave, undeservedly, in anger, willingly, unwillingly, in forgetfulness, after careful thought, knowingly, unknowingly, is judgment, justice, and law” (Barclay 213-214). The Roman world was full of slaves. Estimates ventured tell us that somewhere in the neighbor of one-third to one-half of the Roman population was enslaved to the other portion of the empire.
Into the chaos of injustice and abuse, God speaks a word of order. He does not call for rebellion; He calls for respect. God does not call for a revolution; He calls for reverence. Slaves are not to be subversive, but submissive. The instruction herein contained, while not a direct parallel, is useful for those on the job and in the workplace. In other words, verse 5-9 impact how Christians behave 9-5.
God’s Word to Workers (6.5-9)
Slaves and masters have mutual obligations to one another in order to grow in the Lord.
5Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,
[Slaves]: These are household slaves; Paul is still dealing with relationships in the family. Further, Paul is addressing Christians slaves, hence, the heavy emphasis on Christ throughout this section.
Obey…trembling: Obey is the same word used for children to their parents (v.1). Earthly masters stands juxtaposed with the heavenly Master (i.e. Christ). Fear (Gk phobos) and trembling is not terror & dread but rather respect & reverence, eager to fulfill one’s duty. These are regularly connected with obedience in the New Testament (cf. 2 Corinthians 7.15; Philippians 2.12).
With a sincere heart: As opposed to duplicity & double-mindedness which would accompany one who was only seeking to please man (v.6). This is the same kind of devotion which accompanies obedience to Christ; His slaves serve from a single or united heart (cf. Psalm 86.11).
As you would Christ: Of course a Christian slave would obey Christ with a sincere heart and respect & reverence. Render this same kind of obedience to your earthly master as though he were the Lord.
The temptation for 21st century American Christians is to read Paul’s words through the lens of our own dark history of slavery. This would be a mistake for a couple of reasons. First, the slavery of the 19th century in America is a different animal from the slavery of antiquity. The largest difference was the slavery of antiquity did not discriminate based upon race, sex, or other qualifiers. Second, and more important, Paul’s concern is not the slavery institution (right, wrong, or otherwise), but how one behaves when in that relationship. Paul neither condemns not condones slavery; he explains how Christian slaves & Christian masters are to relate to one another in Christ. His emphasis is ethics among believers who were in the institution. There is no diatribe bemoaning the evils of slavery. Neither is there a treatise on the benefits of slavery.
6not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,
Not…as people-pleasers: In his typical style, Paul presents the negative first followed by the positive. Christian slaves must never be the kind of slave who render their service only for the eye.
But as [slaves] of Christ: Every Christian is a slave of Christ. This is a principle which runs throughout the New Testament (1 Corinthians 7.22; Philippians 1.1; James 1.1; Jude 1).
Doing the will of God from the heart: Christians are first & foremost God-pleasers. God is pleased when we do His will from the heart (Gk psuches, lit. soul).
A slave’s obedience was Christocentric – every verse, every exhortation to the slave was focused on Christ: “as you would Christ” (v.5), “as servants of Christ” (v.6), “as to the Lord” (v.7), “back from the Lord” (v.8). So for the Christian employee, our work must be consecrated unto the Lord. “For a Christian, there is no distinction between secular and sacred” (Patzia 281). “The Bible allows no distinction between sacred and secular” (Foulkes174). Everything we do matters to Christ. We are His slaves. He is the recipient of every act we perform. Everything we do on the job, regardless of what your job may be, is ultimately done for Him. Ephesians 6.5-9 tells us how to live 9-5. All our work take on new meaning; how we treat people on the job is affected. Whether we cut grass, clean pools, fix cars, educate children, administrate educators – whatever our job or career, Christ is the Boss and so everything and everyone is important. “What we do and how we do it matters because all life is live in, to, and for the Lord” (Snodgrass 333).
We are slaves 24/7, 365. If we are not, we are not in Him and therefore alienated from God.
7rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,
Rendering…not to men: This is a complete transformation of the Christian’s standard for work & service. The Christian slaves works with a good will or zealous desire to be of benefit to their Master. Everything we do on the job should be done as though we would present it to the Lord.
Herein lies the great principle for all working Christians: You work for the Lord. “The conviction of the Christian workman is that every single piece of work he produces must be good enough to show God” (Barclay 215). Jesus is Boss over every boss you happen to be employed by throughout your life. By faith we we see beyond this transient life, beyond our fleshly master to our heavenly Master and realize that whatever service I render, I render it unto the Lord.
8knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.
Knowing…anyone does: Lit. “having come to know” through Christian instruction. Whatever good (or bad) pertains to our ethics. Whatever good we render on the job…
This he…from the Lord: The Lord rewards His people for faithfulness, especially when the circumstances are difficult and “unjust” (1 Peter 2.18). So slaves could find encouragement from the apostle’s words that 1) they are the Lord’s & 2) He rewards their good works.
Whether he is a [slave] or is free: But this principle is not merely for a slave; the freeman must take note also that God is a Rewarder of those who pursue faithful service.
Think about this: what you do on the job has an impact upon your eternal destiny. I don’t know that a lot of Christians grasp this. Or if they grasp it, they only grasp it in part – like they know they shouldn’t have a job which would be in violation of God’s word (like a stripper or drug dealer). I am persuaded that this thing climbs into our lap and eats our lunch. How can we be salt & light on the job when our language is salty and our heart is so full of darkness? “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” and if you have heart full of darkness it will come out in what you say 9-5. What do you with anger on the job? How do you handle it? Do you cuss out an employee or slander your boss behind his back (“Why that good for nothing so-and-so!”). Philippians 4.8, “think on these things.” Why? Because God repays for the good we do on the job.
9Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
[And] Masters: And joins masters and slaves. Masters are Christian slave owners.
Do the same to them: i.e. do “whatever good” you can do to your slaves.
Stop your threatening: One common practice to control slaves was through threats—punishment, sale, beatings, even death. But a master who came to know Christ their Master had to abandon that and change their attitudes and actions toward their slaves.
Knowing…in heaven: Lit “having come to know” again through Christian doctrine. These masters came to know the Master…in heaven. Further, they knew that He is Master of all—both slave and free. In fact, these masters are the Master’s slaves (see 1 Corinthians 7.22).
There is no partiality with Him: The Master will be merciless to a merciless master. Conversely, to a merciful master the Master will be merciful. In other words, His judgment is just.
Husband, father, & master are all the same person. Since Paul is dealing with “house rules” and how each member conducts him/herself in the household, the head of the house – husband, father, master – is addressed in each of these discussions. If you get the head of the house, you get the house. God knows this which is why He addresses the man of the house three (3) times.
The integrity of a society begins with the integrity in the home and the home is the first & best place for children to learn faith and obedience. The collapse of a nation (any nation) is directly related to the home. When the family is decayed, the nation rots. The only remedy is a wholesale return to the godly principles contained in the Bible. Parents must 1st themselves be given over to the way of God and then in turn they instruct their children in obedience. Therefore, Paul continues his exhortation to the family, and in this section (6.1-4) focuses on the children’s responsibility toward their parents.
God’s Word to Children (6.1-4)
As children grow they are to be obedient to their parents, especially their fathers.
1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
Children: This epistle is addressed to “saints” (1.1), not exactly preschoolers and young children. Obedience and honor certainly begins in childhood, but it continues into adulthood.
Obey…the Lord: Obey is stronger than submit (v.21, 22). Submission is voluntary; obedience is mandatory. In the Lord (key phrase in Ephesians) “means to obey as part of one’s relation to the Lord” (Snodgrass 321).
The Scriptures paint a bleak picture of those who are disobedient to parents (Prov 30.11, 17). Disobedience to parents is characteristic of those who are depraved and reprobate whom God has given over to a debased mind (Rom 1.29, 30). It is also a signal that we are indeed living in the last days (2 Tim 3.1-2). At its heart, disobedience is spiritual rebellion since obedience to parents is part of our relationship with the Lord.
For this is right: Even the law of nature teaches we obey those who gave us life; the Romans understood the power of the father (patria potestas) in his home. Common sense dictates that parental obedience is right. The Law of God sanctioned & sanctified obedience (5th commandment). Now Paul, inspired of the Holy Spirit, baptizes the command and so enjoins it upon the church of Christ.
2“Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise),
“Honor…mother”: Honor means to revere, respect, and value upon the parents. Parents (v.1) is here defined as a father and mother, which would exclude other unlawful arrangements (i.e. Heather has Two Mommies).
Obedience may look different for a 20 year old than a 5 year old, but honor remains relatively unchanged. We should always respect our parents, regardless of what age we be. But a 5 yr olds obedience (maybe – eat your vegetables) looks different than a 20 yr olds obedience (say – stay away from alcohol). Honoring God is the theological principle undergirding the principle to honor and obey parents.
This is…a promise: Some have noted that the 2nd commandment (no idols) has a promise in it (Exodus 20.4-6). However, a close reading of the text shows that the Lord is describing His nature in the 2nd commandment, whereas the 5th commandment has a specific, personal promise (“you”).
3“that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
“That it may go well with you”: The promise is that things will go better for you if you obey your parents. You’ll be more useful, healthy, happy than if you did not obey mom & dad.
“That you…in the land”: or “on the earth.” Though originally “the land” is the Promised Land, here it is meant generally for the earth. The second aspect of the promise is longevity. Those who listen to their parents, doing what they say will live a long time.
Some point out the problem with the promise – some children, even those who are very obedient, die. Granted, there are the cases where lives are cut short due to willful rebellion and refusal to heed the voice of parental wisdom. But some kids’ lives are short without that willful rebellion. They don’t “live long on the earth” even though they may have been very obedient. What then? The problem is further compounded when we consider that some little hellion grows up into adulthood, perhaps to continue his profligate lifestyle. “Why do the wicked prosper, Lord?”
- Reminder: when a child dies, we believe that they go to be with the Lord. Sin does not come alive until they come to know the Law and disobey it. So when a young child does die, we have the blessed assurance that they are “safe in the arms of Jesus.” Do not doubt in the dark what you knew in the light.
- Though we can point to specific cases, this promise, when applied generally, tends towards the results specified. Where you find parental obedience, you will typically find longevity and habits which promote that.
- Another reminder: God is sovereign. In the end, He owes us no explanation for the whys and wherefores of life (and death). Though we only have partial answers in this life, the promise still stands.
4Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Fathers: Some point out that the word used here (Gk pateres) is used of both parents (see Hebrews 11.23). However, Paul has just used the word for “parents” in v.1. It seems like the shift is intentional: primary responsibility to lead the home and primary accountability unto the Lord for the home is placed squarely upon men.
Do not…anger: Paul tells Christian fathers not to make their children mad or irritated. Coupled with Colossians 3.21 this comes into sharp focus: don’t lead your children down a path of frustration which culminates in their being discouraged in the faith.
But bring…the Lord: Provide for their physical & psychological needs, yes. But most important, give them what they need spiritually. Discipline relates to cultivating the mind and morals complete with commands and correction when necessary. Instruction could be either correction (for misdeeds) or confirmation (for good works).
First the wives, then the husbands. First the children, then the fathers. The dependent first followed by those upon whom they are dependent. Here Paul states the negative before giving the positive. This is Paul’s typical style. First, don’t provoke them to anger: That is, although there is a proper and necessary place for discipline, that discipline must nevertheless “never be arbitrary (for children have a built-in sense of justice) or unkind. Otherwise, they will ‘become discouraged.’ Conversely, almost nothing causes a child’s personality to blossom and gifts to develop like the positive encouragement of loving, understanding parents.” Second, bring them up in God’s instruction: How are fathers to do this unless they know what the Word of God teaches? How are they to teach with wisdom unless they have themselves learned in Christ’s school? Obviously fathers will fail at this great task unless they are themselves growing with God. They must be studying the Bible. They must be seeking to live by it and practice it in their own daily lives. Parents (and especially fathers) must be models. 
 James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library, 1988). 214.
 Ibid 215.
Paul closed the previous section of this epistle by explaining that Christians who are filled with the Holy Spirit will submit to one another out of reverence to Christ (5.18-21). Now Paul will explain what is entailed in this mutual submission with frequent appeals to the Old Testament.
Paul begins with the family (5.22-33). When Paul penned the words of this epistle, the pagan family unit was in deep degradation. Someone has noted, “One found in the pagan family neither purity nor love.” Even when Jesus walked the earth, the Jewish family was threatened by unholy conduct and standards. One rabbi advised, “Don’t talk much with women” and another was quick to add, “Not even with one’s wife” (Snodgrass 302). The ancients thought the two best days of woman’s life were the day someone married her and the day he carried her body to the graveyard! Into this context of devaluation comes the clarion call of a higher love (agape) in the family & mutual respect.
God’s Word to the Married (5.22-33)
Husbands & wives have mutual obligations to one another in order to grow as a couple.
22Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
Wives…husbands: cf. Col 3.18. Submit is supplied from verse 21 since Paul is explaining the practical manifestation of Spirit-filled life through mutual submission. John Piper writes, “Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts” (This Momentary Marriage 80).
As Adam Clarke puts it, “The husband should not be a tyrant, and the wife should not be the governor.” When the wife elevates herself to assume what is not hers, we end up with either 1) a two-headed monstrosity or 2) the wrong head with everything upside down. Many Christian marriages end up looking like the “unwise” of the world who in their folly think themselves wise (v. 15; Rom 1.22). Tragically, these wreck their marriage or at best wreak havoc on the relationship.
As to the Lord: This could mean 1) in a similar fashion as their submission to the Lord, 2) as if their husband was the Lord, 3) as part of their submission to the Lord. Option three seems best. The submission she expresses to her husband is based upon her submission to the Lord.
23For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
For the husband…wife: For (or because) is explanatory: the wife submits to her husband for he is her head. Some read head to mean “source,” however, leadership is how this term is best understood. According to John Piper, “Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christlike, servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home.” “The husband has a leadership role, though not in order to boss his wife or use his position as privilege. Just as Jesus redefined greatness as being a servant (Matt 20.26-27), Paul redefines being head as having responsibility to love, to give oneself, and to nurture. A priority is placed on the husband, but, contrary to ancient society, it is for the benefit of the wife” (Snodgrass 295, emphasis original).
Even as Christ…the church: Christ’s relationship to the church is the model for headship. So then what is in view is servant leadership (Mark 10.43-45). “All the instructions concerning human relationships are rooted in the foundational relationship of the Christian to Christ…The Christian’s relationship to Christ is the basic, foundational relationship that colors every other relationship” (Malone 83). One significant reason that the world is messed up – in the home & everywhere else – is because it does not know Christ. So long as a man or woman remains outside of Christ, they will always be one down in the home, on the job, wherever. When the foundational relationship with Christ is missing, every other human relationship suffers: husband/wife, parent/child, employer/employee. “The church becomes a pattern for all social order” (Patzia 268). Without Christ, the pattern is deficient and chaos ensues.
His body…Savior: Since Chris tis the head the church is His body. He acts as Savior when He “gave Himself up for her” (v.25) by dying on the cross. How is the husband the wife’s Savior? Certainly not in the same sense in which Christ is Savior of mankind. However, through his self-denying as protector the husband it can be said the husband is “Savior.”
24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Now…to Christ: The church is composed of those who have submitted themselves to the Lordship of Christ. Christians honor & affirm His leadership as well as look to Him for provision of all things.
So also wives…husbands: Once again submit is supplied for it is understood in the context. Wives should submit themselves (voluntarily) to their husbands. In everything means all things lawful & acceptable to God. Anything criminal or against God’s will should be avoided. Of course, a husband who is demonstrating Christlike headship would never ask his wife to engage in those kinds of things.
The tragedy of tragedies is when God’s word is twisted in order to justify cruel & abusive behavior. The unfortunate reality is that some men have read “Wives, submit…” and “The husband is head” disconnected from its context and thereby have produced unhealthy and ungodly circumstances for their marriage and family. Then little Jimmy watches how daddy has treated mommy growing up and what do you think he does when he gets married? Yes, even the in church this pattern is all too true. “Men in more conservative denominations with traditional views of marriage are more likely to abuse their wives” (Snodgrass 313). Books like Battered into Submission have been written documenting this kind of abuse.
By the way, we are not merely talking physical abuse; emotional, psychological, sexual, and verbal abuse is just damaging. Demeaning your wife is symptomatic that you have misunderstood and misapplied this text. Christ would never do this to His bride. This is why it is so critical that we never disconnect headship from Christ. If we do, we end up with harsh, authoritarian manhood which is the kind of manhood resulting from the curse rather than redeemed from the curse.
25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
Husbands, love your wives: Love (Gk agapao) “means to subordinate one’s own interests, pleasures, and personality for the benefit of someone else” (Patzia 270). The husband looks to the needs, interests, and concerns of his wife, eager to understand and meet them. If wives are to submit to their husbands, then husbands must love their wives. When husbands love their wives as they ought, it is easy for a woman to affirm & honor his leadership in the home. Though he may not manifest this kind of Christlike love does not mean the wife is free from her obligation to submit; it just makes it more difficult.
It is not the deep sexual passion (erao) which Paul enjoins upon men. Nor is it familial (storgeo) or friendship (phileo) love. It is that selfless kind of love which puts the other person’s greatest good above your own (agapao). When it comes to Christians, even Christian couples, the greatest good of the wife which the husband should be in constant pursuit of is that she look like Christ. Husbands, this should be our overarching, singular desire when it comes to our wives.
As Christ…for her: The husband’s love for his wife ought to correspond to Christ’ love for the church. Christ’ loved the church to the uttermost when He gave Himself up for her on the cross. He supplies His bride with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms” (1.3) in His sacrifice.
Some have argued that the greater responsibility is upon husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. If nothing else, “The husband’s commitment to his wife and to home responsibilities is certainly no less demanding than that asked of the wife – but the two are different, and complementary” (Foulkes 164).
26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
That He might sanctify her: or “to make her holy” (NIV). This is the glorious purpose of the atoning death of Christ: a bride set apart unto Himself.
Having cleansed…with the word: Sanctify and cleansed are both aorist (snapshot) tense indicating that a single event is in view when the washing of water with the word took place: baptism. With the word (Gk rêmati) could point to either instruction or confession before baptism.
Some see here an allusion to the pre-marriage bath a bride would take the day before her wedding. Then, cleansed and in splendid clothing, she was presented to the bridegroom and he would say, “Behold, you are sanctified to me.” Perhaps this imagery in behind this and other texts (2 Cor 11.2). In which case, when we are baptized, we are cleansed – “our hearts sprinkled clean” (Heb 10.22) – by the blood of Christ and He says to us, “Behold, you are set apart unto me.”
27so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
So that…in splendor: Lit. “in order that He Himself might present to Himself the glorious church.” Some see a possible allusion to Psalm 45.13-15 here. Note that the key difference here is that the bride can do nothing to make herself clean or beautiful; Christ cleanses & beautifies her. Our splendor or glory or honor or beauty is all the result of His work.
Without…any such thing: A spot would be a stain or defect; a wrinkle could be related to clothing or skin (i.e. age); any such thing would be any offending deformity. Freedom from all these things contributes to the splendor or glory of the bride.
That she…blemish: cf. 1.4. Here is the goal of the Lord’s work in cleansing us. This has been His aim & purpose since “before the foundation of the world.” Christ sees His church with all her weaknesses & failures and still loves her, seeking her sanctification. So husbands, love your wives.
Imagine a bride in her flowing white gown with a ketchup or mustard stain right on the front of the dress. Or picture a bride who looks like she just pulled her dress out of the hamper. Now think of a woman who, because of years as a chain smoker, has deep wrinkles and leathery skin on her face and hands. Or suppose there is a woman who, due to a birth defect or a tragic accident, is missing a limb or has some abnormality. When I was growing up my dad knew a guy who had moles all around his neck, I mean all around his neck! Because he abused drugs, he didn’t bathe regularly and so those moles were caked with dirt, sweat, and all kinds of grossness. These are all illustrations of the defilement of sin and transgression. That’s what sin is like and that’s what Christ has cleansed us from spiritually speaking. All the spots, all the wrinkles, all the various defects – gone! Washed away, cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. And now all He sees is His beautiful bride; nothing else.
28In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
In the same way: Just as Christ loves His bride and seeks her sanctification…
Husbands…own bodies: Indeed, Adam said of Eve that she was “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2.23). Also behind this seems to be an application of “love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19.18), though this is more profound in marriage.
Here is why spousal abuse is a sin not merely against the (civil) law, but also against nature. When a man & woman are married, they become “one flesh.” That is, she is “his own body” for they are one body.
He who…loves himself: Husband & wife are “complimentary parts” of a single personality. “His wife is part of himself” (PC 212). It is a lower manifestation of Christ’s union with the church.
29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,
For no one…own flesh: For a man to hate his wife is as irrational as to hate his own flesh. Paul uses flesh (Gk sarka) rather than “body” (Gk soma) no doubt in anticipation of the coming Genesis 2.24 quotation (v.31).
The notion of a husband hating or neglecting his wife is as strange as hating or neglecting oneself. While it is true that some people (male & female) engage in self-mutilation (e.g. cutting), we readily identify that kind of behavior as abnormal. In a similar fashion, a husband who hits his wife or abuses her verbally or emotionally is likewise abnormal.
But nourishes & cherishes: But (Gk alla) indicates a strong contrast. Nourishes (or “feeds,” NIV) means to provide food for over a period of time to sustain growth and maturation. Cherishes (or “cares for,” NIV) means to provide what is necessary. A man will naturally feed & clothe himself!
Just as Christ does the church: This is what Christ does for His bride! He nourishes us with His Word & provides everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1.3).
Another wrong turn men make is viewing their wives as someone they can control and order around. Once again, this is an abuse of headship. Authentic manhood/headship patterned after Christ is not about control. Paul does not say, “Husbands, control your wives.” He says, “Love your wives.” Husbands who love their wives with this kind of love will not have to worry about his wife submitting herself to him; she will want to affirm and honor his leadership in the home.
30because we are members of his body.
We are…His body: Here is the reason Christ loves, nourishes , & cherishes us: we are part of His body. As the branches are part of the Vine (John 15.1-6), so members are part of the body, the church (v.23). “Of His flesh and of His bone” (NKJV, KJV) is not supported by the earliest manuscripts. As Eve was taken from Adam & given to him, so the church was taken from Christ & given to Him.
The imagery of bride and body are admixed. As the church, we are both the bride of Christ & and the body of Christ. Every individual Christ – be it Paul the apostle or you or me – is a member of the glorious body of Christ. “Because” of this wonderful fact, He, as the Head, takes special care of us, nourishing & cherishing us, yes, even lavishing upon “every spiritual blessing” in Himself. You are special to Him; don’t let anyone ever convince you otherwise!
31“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
“Therefore…one flesh”: Genesis 2.24 is quoted (from LXX) as application of Paul’s argument concerning Christ & the church (v.32): how He left His Father’s bosom to woo unto Himself a Bride (the church) out of the lost world. Simultaneously, Paul has in view the husband/wife relationship, of which Christ and His church are the perfect model.
Hold fast to his wife: Literally the husband is glued to her. Like anything which is glued, tearing the two glued pieces apart, though possible, will render permanent damage to the glued pieces.
The two shall become one flesh: This speaks to the profundity of the union between Christ & His church and husband & wife.
When it comes to Genesis 2.24, “No one verse speaks more strongly for the sacredness and permanency of the marriage bond and for fidelity within marriage” (Patzia 273). This is the primary text against such things as polygamy, fornication, and divorce, rightly so!
32This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Note: The Latin Vulgate reads “sacramentum hoc magnum est” for “This mystery is great.” This has become the sole basis for the Catholic Church making marriage a sacrament (“an external sign of something sacred” or an outward sign of inward grace – Catholic Encyclopedia).
This mystery is profound: As profound as the union between a husband & wife is, it is but a miniature, dim reflection of the original which is Christ & the church. Mystery here (as in 3.6 refers to something hidden before, but has now been revealed, namely…
And I…the church: Christ’s relationship to His church. The mystery is not about marriage, per se, as much it is about the union between the Redeemer & His redeemed, the Savior & the saved.
Marriage is an important, a holy, a noble, a pure institution, altogether worthy of God; but it does not thence follow that marriage was designed to be a type of the union between Christ and the church. Paul’s emphasis, which should be our emphasis, is Christ & the church. He is the Head and we, the church, submit to His Lordship. We have no agenda, no mission save that which He established and modeled while on earth. If we could grasp that truth and seek His higher purposes rather than our petty squabbles, we could move past so much useless junk and move forward & upward to what God in Christ has called us.
33However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
However: Pauls’ final word will be a practical one for husbands and wives.
Let each…as himself: Love (Gk agapato) “pure and simple, but transcendent,” because it mirrors the love of Christ toward His bride, is the husband’s calling in marriage. As himself captures “as their own bodies” from verse 28. After all, they are “one flesh.”
And let…her husband: Respects (Gk from phobeo) is literally “fears” but is not, of course, servile or slavish fear (cf. 1 John 4.18). “Reverence” (KJV) or “holy respect” (PC 213) toward her husband, as connected to “submission” from verse 22, is the wife’s divine calling in marriage.
However profound the mystery of Christ & His church, there is no mystery as to the duty of each party involved in marriage: husbands love their wives and wives respect their husbands. If the husband withholds love, he is wronging his wife and subverting the relationship. If the wife withholds respect/submission, she is wronging her husband and subverting the relationship. The marriage suffers unless both parties fulfill their God-given calling.
Ephesians 5.15-21 contains a verse much disputed in the church. Verse 19 is a passage used to prohibit the use of musical instruments in worship services. Intensive word studies, exhaustive exegetical articles, and not a few early church essays have been written on that single verse. Frankly, it is a tragedy that the rest of the context surrounding this verse tends to be ignored. It is rich with how to wisely navigate life in the Spirit.
A Wise Walk (5.15-21)
Living with Christ means seeking His wisdom & will.
15Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,
Look carefully…walk: Then indicates that Paul is continuing his exhortation to these Christ to be what they are in Christ. They do that by walking carefully or “circumspectly” (NKJV). A careful walk is one which includes strict attention to detail & complete obedience to the standard.
To “walk…carefully” carries the idea of accuracy, precision, & diligence. It is a life lived in strict conformity to the Christian ethic. Half-hearted or lackadaisical discipleship is more in line with the unwise behavior of the world than it is with the heart & desire of God. A Christian’s walk is to careful not carefree.
Not as unwise but as wise: This is once more a contrast in cultures: the heathen culture is unwise whereas the Christian ethic is wise. Cf. Colossians 4.5
We teach our children to “Stop, look, and listen” when crossing the street. How much more is this true when living the Christian life? We must be intensely vigilant as we walk with Christ knowing that there are deadly consequences to evil actions. Armed with that knowledge, we can wisely navigate our lives.
One word of caution: There may be a threat toward legalistic rule keeping. This is not what Paul is advocating at all. He is saying, “Do not walk loosely, without fixed principles of actions; but make sure that you rules are of the true kind” (Pulpit Commentary 210). Many people are very strict & rigged but they are not wise in that rigidity. They have rules, very strict rules, but they are not good rules. So that is a key difference between what Paul is exhorting us to and legalism which Paul would never be in favor of.
16making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
Making…the time: Lit. “Redeeming the time.” Several scholars see here an allusion to the marketplace: a merchant would buy up the good articles & products. So the Christian must seek the precious pearls of time and purchase those, i.e. use every opportunity for good.
And so we sing, “Your empty, wasted years/ He will restore;/ and you iniquities/ remember no more.” As Longfellow has said, “Life is real; life is earnest/ and the grave is not its goal./ ‘Dust thou art, to dust returnest,’/ was not spoken of the soul.” Life is urgent! We must consider how we spend our time, what little we have left. Paul seems to be saying, “embrace every opportunity to glorify God, save your own souls, and do good to men.” (Clarke) “How wise, then, to seek to make out of every passing moment eternal gain!” (PC 236) Why?…
Because the days are evil: there was trouble & temptation all around. These Christians lived in a very pagan world with much immorality.
The more things change, the more they stay the same – the days are still evil! In fact, as Paul says elsewhere, “evil people go from bad to worse” (2 Tim 3.13). Or as one country preacher once put it – “evil people go from worse to worser!” So in 2,000 years since Paul penned these words, our world has gone from bad to worse, worse to worser. Society progresses further into secularism. Evil is good and good is evil. Religious formalism where the letter of Law stifles the Spirit of the Law permeates much of Christendom. Philosophical skepticism which for the most part is anti-God, anti-Christian, and anti-supernatural has a choke hold on many people. So if ever there was a time when Christians need to make the best use of their time, it is now.
17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Therefore, do not be foolish: Therefore here has a summation quality of the foregoing context. Since you are to be imitators of God (1-2), children of holiness (3-7) & light (8-14), do not be “senseless” or “unthinking.” Again, this is old self & “outsider” behavior.
But…Lord is: But (Gk alla) is a strong, sharp contrast. Those “in Christ” make it their career to understand (pres. Imp.) the Lord’s will. This is more than just hearing and knowing. Involved in understanding is careful consideration and private pondering so as to take it to heart.
Here is the purpose-driven life – understanding God’s will and walking accordingly. Any other life is “foolish” & “unwise,” purposeless & aimless. But a life devoted to the pathway of God which He has marked out by His stated will revealed by His word has purpose, direction, and progress. We will spend the rest of lives seeking to “understand what the will of the Lord is.” The present tense indicates this is a lifelong pursuit, the ongoing practice of every wise saint.
18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,
Do not get drunk with wine: Some pagan religious cults would become intoxicated during their worship (ex. Dionysus) in order to express spiritual elation (usually in erratic behavior). That kind of pagan revelry should not mark the Christian. In fact, we have a better way (i.e. the Spirit).
“Intoxication with wine has a degrading effect; intoxication with the Spirit (cf. Acts 2.13) can have an uplifting effect upon Christian community” (Patzia 264). We are to be filled with the Spirit not drunk on spirits. Getting drunk is not wise (Proverbs 20.1).
For that is debauchery: “Both the wastefulness and the lack of self-control implied by [debauchery] are things which should not be seen in the lives of those who have found in Christ the source and the way of wisdom” (Foulkes 158).
A word about drinking: Drunkenness is categorically condemned in Scripture (Deut 21.20; 1 Cor 5.11; Gal 5.21). Especially if you were a leader in the church it is condemned (1 Tim 3.3, 8; Titus 1.7; cf. 2.3). Granted, total abstinence is not mentioned except in the case of special vows (for example the Nazarite vow, Num 6.3). Hmm… but aren’t we people who have taken a special vow? Drinking is a habit which sends everything to wreck and ruin.
But be filled with the Spirit: In typical fashion, Paul replaces the negative with the positive. Be filled (present passive imperative) indicates 1) this should be the ongoing lifestyle of the Christ, 2) it is God (with the Holy Spirit) who fills the Christian, 3) every Christian must be filled with/by the Holy Spirit.
19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,
Addressing one another: One another indicates that this “speaking” (NASB) is an expression of our being filled with the Spirit. Though some are quick to apply this to the worship service (almost exclusively), “the meetings would seem to have been for social Christian enjoyment rather than for public worship of God” (PC 211). Context bears this out since the overall lifestyle of the Christian is what Paul has been discussing (5.1-18).
Psalms…spiritual songs: Some have found subtle distinctions between these words, however, Jimmy Jividen says, “There is no evidence in the New Testament or the writings of the early church that distinction is to be made between psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” (Worship in Song 11).
Singing…your heart: All worship (in the assembly or not) is always directed to the Lord. Jividen finds no distinction between singing and making melody, both referring to the melodic utterance of words. He does note that your heart is the only instrument for our singing (Worship in Song 11, 62).
While certainly applicable to the assembly of the saints every Lord’s Day, what is view here is any expression of worship in which saints engage in. Our whole lives are music of a specific kind to the Lord. Be it a small group study, and in-home Bible study, or just sitting around the campfire, we can address one another and worship our Lord in song from the heart. It is the heart not the harp which is the appropriate instrument for our worship.
20giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Giving thanks…Jesus Christ: Contextually, we do this by and in our singing. However, that is not the only avenue by which we give thanks to God. It is always (at all times) and for everything (all things) that we give thanks to God the Father, Who is Himself the source of all blessings. Our Lord Jesus Christ is our mediator to the Father.
“Spirit-filled Christians live in a continual attitude of gratitude for everything” (Patzia 264). At its core, sin is basically ingratitude. We need to affirm that all that we have is from God. When we truly give thanks, from that will flow ethics and right behavior. Further, thanksgiving has a transformative effect. It is nearly impossible for a person to be both spiteful (harboring resentment) and grateful, giving thanks unto God. When we realize we have been set free from our old self and have been infused with the life-giving Spirit, how could we not be thankful?
21submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Submitting…for Christ: The habitual practice of Christians is willing submission to each other. Mutual Christian submission is born out of “fear” (Gk phobos, respect & awe) for Christ.
Here is still another key factor to living a Spirit-filled life. Pride in a Christian is an oxymoron. Pride is the heart leaves no room for the Spirit of God. Pride kills fellowship. Thinking of ourselves as better or too highly is destructive to true, authentic Christian fellowship. “In humility count others more significant than yourselves” and look “to the interests of other” (Phil 2.3-4). So humble mutual submission is the key to unlocking how to live as husband & wife (5.22-33), parenting effectively (6.1-4), and how to behave on the job (6.5-9).
Submission for all Christians is the divine calling upon our lives to honor & affirm Christ’s leadership and serve Him according to grace He has given to each one of us. The word “submit” was a military term used to describe the various soldiers under the command of their leader. It is interesting that Paul ends this epistle utilizing the military motif (6.10ff). Further, this word had a non-military usage for voluntarily giving in and cooperating to carry a burden. It is to voluntarily yield ourselves to Christ in love. This kind of mutual submission is illogical when disconnected from Christ. Only through the cross can we proper express submission. By uniting with Christ and dying to self we can submit as we ought to His lead.
“Anyone whose life is not holy will never see the Lord” (Hebrews 12.14, NCV). The apostle Paul was acutely aware of just how vital holiness is for Christians. Already in chapter 5 of Ephesians he has exhorted his readers to purity in their lifestyle (vs.1-7). Now, pulling on the rich heritage of light and darkness familiar to him through the Old Testament, Paul unpacks the need for a holy life, a separate walk from the world with Christ (v.8-14).
A Holy Walk (5.8-14)
As children of light, Christians walk separated from darkness.
8for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light
For at…darkness: Before Christ, they practiced these sins and were identified by darkness.
But now…the Lord: A sharp contrast is drawn from where they once were and where they are now. Now they are in the Lord which carries with it certain ethical charges and changes.
God is light (1 Jn 1.5). God dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6.16). His truth is light (Psa 43.3). Light expresses His perfection & glory & majesty & truth. Darkness, on the other hand, is every in opposition to His perfection & glory & majesty & truth. It is in this darkness the world gropes and in which we once made our abode. But not anymore. In Christ, we are “children of light.”
Walk as children of light: Here is the obligation of those rescued out of darkness. “The life lived as children of light is characterized by goodness, righteousness, truth, and whatever is pleasing to the Lord” (Patzia 258).
9(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),
For the fruit of [the] light: Fruit is “a figurative term for the moral results of the lights, its products as a whole” (Nicoll 356). The earliest manuscripts read the light making “the Spirit” (NKJV, KJV) a transcription error intended to harmonize this verse with Galatians 5.22.
Found…and true: This triad summarizes living in light. “All goodness” is a disposition inclined toward good works (cf. 2.10); “righteousness” is moral integrity by obedience to God’s word; “truth” is what corresponds to reality, esp. relating to God.
This could serve as a commentary of sorts for what Jesus says in Matthew 5.14-16. Letting our light shine so that others may see it means we pursue goodness (a disposition seeking to engage in good works), righteousness (moral integrity & rectitude), and truth (freedom from falsehood and embracing, loving, and speaking moral truth). Sometimes there is a yawning chasm between what we know how we live. My brethren, these things ought not be so!
try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.
try to discern…the Lord: To live (“walk,” v.8) as children of light means Christians will “find out” (NIV) what is acceptable to the Lord, He Himself being light. The present tense indicates that this is the lifelong, habitual practice of light-children. Keep discerning what pleases the Lord.
Like Yoda said, “No try. Do or do not.” To “discern” is “to ascertain by test and experiment. Our whole walk should be directed to finding out what things are pleasing to Christ, rejecting at once everything that is not so, and clinging to all that is…The supreme practical rule of the Christian’s life must be to please Christ” (PC 209). The way to discern what pleases Him is accurate & diligent study of His word. Further, through careful practice we can please our Lord. “Discern” & “pleasing/acceptable” are both found in Rom 12.2. This has led some scholars to see here (Eph 5.10) sacrificial language, i.e. our entire, every action is a sacrifice unto God as we are ever laid upon the altar.
Implied in this is that there is a lifestyle which is displeasing to God, i.e. a life lived in darkness, a life stubbornly refusing the light. Wickedness, unrighteousness, and falsehood would characterize that kind of life.
Pause for a moment and notice the progression of these verses:
- Transformation (v.8): We have been changed from darkness to light. Hence, we abandon immorality and pursue holiness; we put off ignorance and put on knowledge; we are no longer but now have joy.
- Obligation (v.8, 10): We are called to walk as children of light and live so as to discern what pleases God. Don’t go back to the darkness and engage what is not pleasing to God; walk farther into the day where God-pleasing activities are.
- Demonstration (v.9): We will demonstrate 1) divine beneficence/benevolence – doing good to all men; 2) divine righteousness – rendering to men what is theirs and to God what is His; 3) divine reality – the way things ought to be with God in control.
11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
Take no part…darkness: The works of darkness are barren, having no life in them. They only produce death (see Rom 6.21). The Christian is to “have no fellowship” (NKJV) with the evil so prevalent in the world. That is old self behavior; the new self accentuates light, especially…
Instead expose them: Expose here means to convict through words and actions. By living the life excellently Christians convict and even condemn the world (see Noah, Hebrews 11.7). By speaking the word engagingly we can convince them of the truth.
Christians must never be content with passivity toward darkness. We are light and must shine forth into darkness (Matt 5.14-16; Phil 2.15). Now when people’s darkness is exposed it is traumatic so expect a reaction (see John 3.19-21).
12For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.
For it is shameful…in secret: Clarke says this is a reference to the mystery cults of Ephesus which we engaged in extreme levels of debauchery as recorded by Livy. However, it need not be limited to those cultic practices performed at night. It certainly could be the secret vices of engaged in the home. Either way, it is shameful for those who practice them to talk about, but Christians must speak out and shed light into the dark corners of culture & society. Paul has done that throughout these two chapters as he contrasted the old self with the new self.
The degradation & depravity of man knows no bounds today. We’ve got an entire internet full of corruption and foulness. Parades are held in celebration of debauchery. Sin has crawled out of the shadows of hiding and is now all over the TV & silver screen. It is still darkness; it just seems the darkness is advancing. Fast falls the night. And it is still shameful, disgraceful. Deep down inside those who practice know this is the case. Yet, they have seared their conscience, walled it off in an attempt to silence that still small voice which tells them, “This is not right.”
13But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible,
But when…the light: When Christians identify those evil, barren works of darkness to those who practice them, “people will come to see the true nature of evil and, it is hoped, turn to the light” (Patzia 261).
It becomes visible: Or they are seen for what they are, i.e. shameful, evil, darkness.
We, Christians, are enlightened (1.18; 5.8) and we are enlightening others. “Christians are to be God’s light in the midst of darkness” (Boice). We’re like Motel 6 – “We’ll leave the light on for the you.” Brethren, let us hold forth the light of the gospel in the midst of a “crooked and perverse generation.”
14for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
For anything…is light: Here is the transformative effect of the light of the gospel. Once enlightened, what was darkness is light (verse 8).
Therefore it says: or “He says” (KJV, NKJV). Either is an acceptable translation.
“Awake, O sleeper…on you”: Three metaphors for turning to God are linked in this statement: 1) Awakening from sleep; 2) Being raised from the dead; 3) Christ shining light into darkness. This may have been a song sung when a person was baptized (Patzia 262; see also Special Study).
Paul seems to present a three-fold progression from darkness to light:
- Exposure (v.11): Their sin(s) are revealed to them either through conversation with or conduct of Christians. They are found out.
- Disclosure (v.13): A crisis of judgment occurs – either they avoid the light (because they love evil) or they allow their deeds to be made manifest (John 3.19-21). But if they disclose their sins to God…
- Erasure (v.14): The light erases the darkness. They come to the serenity and tranquility of being So darkness is transformed into light by Christ (who is Himself the Light).
Special Study—What Is Paul Quoting in Ephesians 5.14?
Most scholars believe that Isaiah 60.1 is in view, though other Old Testament passages are cited as well (Isaiah 9.2; 26.19; 52.1). However, there is not an exact match with any OT text. So what is Paul quoting? Foulkes says, “The most likely explanation is that we have here another little fragment of an early Christian hymn” (155). Patzia goes further and says “it may have been used by the church at a baptismal service as part of a hymn that was recited or sung” (262). If it is a hymn, Isaiah 60.1 (et al) surely inspired it.
Paul continues to expound upon the new kingdom ethic which should be normative for Christians. There are certain behaviors, actions, & attitudes which should be avoided at all cost by Christians. At the beginning of chapter 5 Paul’s practical guidance reaches from those sins which some consider “light” offenses to those which are very “heavy.” Make no mistake – all of them are sins. Kingdom citizens seek to rid themselves of all impurity.
A Pure Walk (5.1-7)
Living with Christ requires abstaining from impure & immoral behavior.
1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
Therefore: Seeing that “God in Christ forgave you”…
Be imitators of God: Be (present imperative) or “become” indicates a process with progress. Paul exhorts these Christians to “become” imitators (Gk mimêtai, from which we get “mimic”) of God. Imitate God in His forgiving love specifically, but also in holiness generally.
The call to follow Christ is a call to imitate God is a call to holiness. We have been made children of God by the grace of God. Since He has saved us by grace through faith (2.8) we have an obligation to live according to His holy calling with which He called us (2.10; 4.1). Of course it begs the question “How is it possible to imitate One who infinitely above us, the Sovereign God of the universe?”
As beloved children: Children should look like their Father who loves them.
2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Walk in love: “Let every act of life be dictated by love to God and man” (Clarke).
As Christ…for us: Christ is our example & model of love. His steadfast love was the impetus for Him giving Himself up to death on our behalf.
This is similar to Hebrews where Jesus is both our great High Priest (4.15) and the better sacrifice (9.23) offered outside the city (13.12).
A fragrant offering…to God: The Offerer and offering are one and the same. Fragrant or “sweet-smelling” is language harkening to the burnt (Lev 1.13), grain (Lev 2.2), & peace (Lev 3.5) offerings. Sacrifice points to Christ’s death as a sin offering acceptable to God to reconcile us. “Christ is not merely one kind of offering, or sacrifice, but every kind” (Coffman).
Christ’s life was a whole burnt offering to God and His death was a sin offering. He fulfilled all the various offerings and sacrifices. In a similar way, when we “live a life of love” (NIV), we unite in Christ’s offering, which is to say our life becomes a sweet savor unto God.
3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.
But [fornication]: Gk porneia. This is illicit sexual intercourse of all kinds—heterosexual, homosexual, etc. Marriage is the proper place for sex.
All impurity or covetousness: Or indicates that these are the same but different, the difference being impurity is more general whereas covetousness is specific. The former seems to be “sexual perversions of all kinds” whereas the latter is engaging those activities for selfish reasons (Patzia 257).
Notice the sharp contrast between Christ’s self-denying sacrifice and sin’s self-satisfying indulgence. The Jewish idea of idolatry being the root of all sins is present here. There is always the struggle concerning who we will worship and pledge alligence to: God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) or something else (in particular here, sex outside of marriage – be it physical or fantasy).
Must not…among saints: Engaging this this type of behavior is a contradiction of those who claim to be called by God. Saints are to be holy & these sins must not exist among us.
Our culture is so sexually charged that we need this instruction badly. “Sex sells” and companies such as Carl’s Jr. and Victoria’s Secret know it. In this hyper-sexualized culture, the clarion call of God through this epistle is unmistakable: this kind of behavior is not proper for the saints of God. Like these Christians, we are surrounded by a culture of sex. Yet Christians are not to adopt the lax sexual standards of our surrounding society. Rather, we must uphold the standard of God: the beauty of sex expressed in marriage and the ugliness of sexual sin.
4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
Let…crude joking: Filthiness or “vulgar speech” (NET) is the kind of behavior that a morally sensitive person should be ashamed of. Foolish talk is the kind of talk uttered by a drunkard which is senseless and unprofitable. Crude joking or “coarse jesting” (NASB) is the kind of joking which includes double entendres and obscene references.
Note that this is not forbidding all humor. One can be humorous without being crude, filthy, or vulgar. What is condemned here and should be rejected by saints of God is that which is morally and spiritual perverse, the use of humor as a way to play with sin.
Which are out of place: There is no place for these things in the life of the Christian.
Not only are we not to engage in these immoral practices; we shouldn’t even talk about them. What comes out of the mouth is a reflection of the heart. (Matt 12.34) The three categories covered by Paul deal with everything from vulgarity/obscenity to defiance toward God to innuendos (Snodgrass 276). A quick way to determine if a person is conformed to the world or transformed after Christ is by what they say and how they feel about it. Use of this kind of language which God prohibits and lack of remorse for it is an indication that the heart & mind have been darkened.
But instead…thanksgiving: Gk eucharistia at the heart of which is charis (grace). The three (3) modes of speech preceding are graceless speech. Hearts captured by God’s grace will issue forth with praise & thanksgiving to God with the mouth.
5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
For you…is covetous: “For this you know with certainty” (NASB). These Christians knew without a doubt that continuation in certain practices led to forfeiting one’s eternal inheritance. These include 1) Fornication, 2) Impurity, & 3) Greed. These connect right back to verse 3, with the caveat that at the heart of covetousness is idolatry. Whatever one covets—be it money, power, pleasure— becomes their god with their affections & devotion going to that rather than God.
Has no…and God: There are not two rival Kings with rival kingdoms; “God’s kingdom is Christ’s kingdom.” (Foulkes 151). Those who practice the above mentioned sins have rejected the rule/reign of God & Christ in their life. Hence, they have renounced their inheritance.
At the heart of the gospel is a changed life. One cannot be saved by God’s grace and remain the same. The old self is put off; the new self is put on. The man who once exploited his fellow man no longer does so because he has become a new man. And a woman becomes a new woman. “The hope of the world is not new programs but new people” (Boice).
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
Let no…empty words: Surely there were those in the 1st century who were saying that these various practices were not sinful and that these were not offensive to God. Such preaching is patently misleading & erroneous. Further, it is void of purpose & meaning.
Jesus’ words also ring in my head as I read Paul here: Matthew 5.19. “The greatest disservice that any man can do to a fellow man is to make him think lightly of sin. Any teaching which belittles the horror and the terror of sin is poisonous teaching” (Barclay 194).
For…sons of disobedience: Sons of disobedience (cf. 2.2) is not a phrase describing the saved. These are the faithless ones who engage in said practices and hasten God’s coming fury & rage.
“There were then, as there always are, those who made light of sin, and scoffed at the thought of its consequences” (Foulkes 150). This may have been a similar group to those Paul addressed in his Roman epistle (Rom 6.1-2). They had perverted the grace of God into license to keep on sinning and still enter the kingdom of heaven. Paul emphasizes that Christians are no longer “sons of disobedience” but are now “children of light.” Grace is not an occasion to sin; it brings with it responsibility and obligation. Since God has been so gracious, we ought to seek a holy life.
7 Therefore do not become partners with them;
Therefore…with them: Since these various actions are incompatible with the nature of those the Father has forgiven; and since the full force of the Father’s fury is to be unleashed on the faithless, Christians are not to share or partake with them in their practices.
John R.W. Stott [as quoted by Boice] says we are God’s new society:
Their theme [the theme of these chapters] is the integration of Christian experience (what we are), Christian theology (what we believe) and Christian ethics (how we behave). They emphasize that being, thought and action belong together and must never be separated. For what we are governs how we think, and how we think determines how we act. We are God’s new society, a people who have put off the old life and put on the new; that is what he has made us. So we need to recall this by the daily renewal of our minds, remembering how we ‘learned Christ … as the truth is in Jesus,’ and thinking Christianly about ourselves and our new status. Then we must actively cultivate a Christian life.
Paul established (see 4.17-24) that the Christian life is putting off/putting on (baptism) and renewal (daily). In the following verses (4.25-32), he will get intensely practical concerning how this new life is to manifest in the believer. This is Christianity; this is a walk worthy of our calling!
A Different Walk
Living with Christ means Christians walk different than the world.
25Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
Therefore…falsehood: Since Christians put away once-for-all the old self including falsehood…
Let each…his neighbor: See Zechariah 8.16. Our present habitual practice must be to speak truth to our brethren (v.15). Here neighbor is understood as brother due to the next clause.
For we…of another: The motivation for dealing truthfully with our brother is the body bond. Our fellowship is undergirded by love and truth; lying is detrimental to that bond of peace & unity.
For starters, a Christian should not lie. Lying is harmful to Christ’s church. “Without openness and truth, there can only be disunity, disorder and trouble in human community” (Foulkes 140). So the Christian is to reject what would destroy the body and promote what edifies the body.
26Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,
Be angry and do not sin: See Psalm 4.4. “Paul’s concern is the prevention of sin, not the obligation of anger” (Snodgrass 250). In fact, believers do not handle anger well so get rid of it (v.31).
Do not…your anger: So if & when the Christian gets angry, deal with it quickly.
27and give no opportunity to the devil.
Give no opportunity to the devil: An imperative with the force “Stop giving the devil opportunity,” implying they were. Given the chance Satan will destroy the church with anger.
What begins as “righteous indignation” (anger against sin) can fester and simmer and grow to bitterness, resentment, pride, and whole host of other things directed toward the church (anger toward brethren). Carrying anger into the next day only allows further opportunity for the devil to tempt us to sin. So handle it while it is still day, for night is coming. Read Psalm 4.4 – how are we going to silently ponder in our beds when we are full of anger? Answer: you can’t. You’ll toss and turn, unable to sleep because of this thing in your brain. There is an old Latin proverb: “He who goes angry to bed has the devil for a bedfellow.”
Someone might say, “Well, Jesus got angry!” Sure He did; and He handled His business that day too! Solomon knew that “anger lodges in the bosom of fools” (Ecc 7.9). “We are not to harbor resentment or keep it rankling in our bosom, lest it should change into downright hatred or revenge” (PC 170).
28Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
Let the thief no longer steal: Another imperative indicating that some of the recipients were 1) from this background formerly or 2) still engaged in this behavior though a Christian. That is old self behavior and must be abandoned. No longer links this with the preceding section (v.17).
But rather…his own hands: New self behavior is honest work with [one’s] own hands. Indeed, hard work is the duty of all Christians (2 Thessalonians 3.10-11).
So that…anyone in need: The motivation for abandoning a lifestyle of theft and adopting a lifestyle of honest work is not merely to provide one oneself or one’s own, but to share with the needy.
Notice the progression: It is good not to steal; it is better to engage in honest work. What is best to no longer steal and work so that we might have something to share with someone in need. Or unnatural behavior is to steal; natural behavior is to not steal and work. But supernatural behavior is to not steal, work, and share with those in need.
29Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Let no…your mouths: Corrupting carries the idea of “rotten, putrid” like fruit or fish. This is the kind of talk that is moral garbage. “All empty, shallow, thoughtless talk” (Lenski).
But only…the occasion: The opposite of corrupting talk are good or “helpful” (NIV) words. Good words edify others which is the aim of the Christian. Cf. Prov 15.23 for a fit word.
That [He]…who hear: Through our words, God is able to impart grace. Like our Lord, Christians should be people who have “gracious words” on their lips (Luke 4.22; Col 4.6).
The words which come out of our mouths are a clear indicator of what is in our hearts. This is what Jesus said: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12.34). Corrupt speech out of the mouth indicates a corrupt heart. Rotten talk indicates a rotten heart. No, Christians have been revived, refreshed and so our speech should be “good” and pure. Our speech should be life-giving, enlivening others to higher, nobler goals.
Christians should major in communication. That is, we need to be lifelong learners of what to say and how to say it. This will enable us to impart grace in our speech to those who hear. “The Christian should never lose sight of the sad fact of a world lost in sin, without the Lord, needing some word, some ray of light, some word of grace that will point to the Lamb of God that takes away sin” (Coffman).
30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God: See Isa 63.10. Christians grieve the Holy Spirit when, like the people of Israel of old, they rebel & refuse to obey the word of the Lord. Contextually, when we express anger wrongly or do not deal with it appropriately; return to behavior characteristic of the old self or avoid behavior of the new self; use corrupt language or fail to use gracious words; or are unkind and fail to forgive (v.32), we offend God’s Holy Spirit.
All sin grieves God. Not just those listed here in Ephesians 4, but every sin is cause for God to sorrow. Specifically, when it comes to the Holy Spirit, we can resist Him (Acts 7.51), lie to Him (Acts 5.3), blaspheme against Him (Mark 3.29), and a host of other sins. All of it saddens God.
By Whom…redemption: cf. 1.13. The sealing takes place at baptism (aorist tense). When a person hears and obeys the gospel, God gives him/her some of Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. This anticipates the coming day of final redemption when we are fully delivered from sin.
31Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
Let all…from you: The impetus for obeying this command is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer. Bitterness is “sharpness of temper” fueled by resentment; wrath is outbursts of anger whereas anger is the lingering, simmering feelings; clamor (“brawling” NIV) is face-to-face heated confrontation whereas slander is harmful speech spoken behind someone’s back. Put away all these; that is, make a clean sweep of the house. Pick all these up and take them out to the trash!
Along with all malice: Several commentators see malice as the root of all the foregoing. This is a settled disposition “always looking out for opportunities to revenge itself by the destruction of the object of its indignation” (Clarke).
From Jamison, Fausset, Brown adapted from Chrysostom: “Bitterness” begets “wrath”; “wrath,” “anger”; “anger,” “clamor”; and “clamor,” the more chronic “evil-speaking,” slander, insinuations, and surmises of evil. “Malice” is the secret root of all: “fires fed within, and not appearing to by-standers from without, are the most formidable”
32Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Be kind…tender-hearted: We must never seek to bring needless pain to others & should have a heart of pity and compassion toward each other.
Forgiving…forgave you: How did God forgive us in Christ? To the uttermost! Totally!
“If we are to attain to the kingdom of Heaven, it is not enough to abandon wickedness, but there must be abundant practice of that which is good also. To be delivered indeed from hell we must abstain from wickedness; but to attain to the kingdom we must cleave fast to virtue” (Chrysostom).
“Forgiving” (present tense) is the habitual practice of the Christian toward his/her brethren. In kindness and from a heart full of compassion we keep on forgiving one another. The standard for our forgiving one another is none other than God Himself: “as God in Christ forgave [aorist] you [emphatic pl.].” And how has God forgiven us in Christ? As Albert Barnes puts it:
(1) “freely” – without merit on your part – when we were confessedly in the wrong.
(2) “fully;” he has forgiven “every” offence. [Even those we don’t even know about]
(3) “Liberally;” he has forgiven “many” offences, for our sins have been innumerable
To borrow the Golden Rule: Do unto others as God has done unto to you!
The church is the perfect bride of Christ composed of imperfect people. Sometimes old self behavior crops up in brethren. This may have been what was happening with these Christians. How we react when this happens is important. Let us be gracious people, patiently forbearing with one another, mindful that we too are imperfect with our flaws, forgiving as God in Christ forgave us.