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In another respect, however, the NIV translators have not been quite so helpful. Their rendering “find out what pleases the Lord” could be misleading. This could give the impression that there is considerable unclarity as to what pleases the Lord, and it is our task to discover it. Actually, the Greek verb in this phrase might better be translated “approve” or “put your stamp of approval on.” The sense of the sentence would then be: Live as children of light and put your stamp of approval on what pleases God. What pleases God is the fruit that light produces, namely, goodness, righteousness, and truth.
By virtue of their being light, God’s people are both a positive influence toward those things that please God and also a strong deterrent against those things that do not please God, namely, the fruitless “deeds of darkness.” Just like light, darkness also bears “fruit,” all those wicked and worthless things Paul has been warning against. Because those things bring no lasting good or blessing, Paul labels them as “fruitless,” or useless.
He therefore bids the Ephesians to have nothing to do with such deeds. They are not merely to avoid them, though; they are also to take positive and decisive steps against them. As light discloses what is hidden under the cover of darkness, so they are to expose the sinful deeds of darkness for what they really are, dangerous and negative influences that are to be rooted out.
Children of light don’t relish this task. It is “shameful” even to speak about the evils that need to be combatted and exposed by the light of God’s truth. But we have a wholesome purpose for doing this. Our hope is that sinners may see the error of their ways, repent, and turn in faith to the forgiveness that Christ has earned for even the vilest and darkest of misdeeds.
That wholesome and saving intent is reflected in Paul’s quotation. The source of this quotation is unknown, but it may be from one of the very early Christian hymns. Whatever the source, it’s a winsome invitation, both for the careless Christian who is sleeping in apathy and for the crass pagan who is still dead in transgressions and sins. Both need the same remedy: Christ’s light shining into their hearts, which wakes the apathetic Christian and raises to life those who are spiritually dead in unbelief.
Paul is reaching the close of a major section of his letter, a section in which he has stressed the need for personal purity in the lives of his readers. Paul has not appealed to purity so that we will become acceptable to God but so that our lives exhibit purity appropriate for people who, by faith in Christ, have been accepted by God. Out of love and appreciation for what Christ has done for us, we will want to conform our lives to God’s holy will.
So Paul wraps up this section with something of a summary:
Ephesians Chapter 5, verses 13-17
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
“[Understanding] what the Lord’s will is” and living according to it—that is wisdom. To do otherwise would be “unwise” and “foolish,” a lapse back into darkness, a return to the pagan cesspool from which the Ephesians have just recently been rescued.
To be sure, “the days are evil,” but the Ephesians also have opportunities. These come in two forms. One is the opportunity for their own spiritual growth, which Paul will be enlarging on in verse 19. Another is the opportunity to witness to their many heathen neighbors, who still need to hear the good news of a Savior. Paul urges the Ephesians to pursue both avenues zealously.
Ephesians Chapter 5, verses 18-20
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Intemperance was a besetting sin among the ancients, just as it is today. There can be no doubt that in this verse Paul is sounding a bona fide warning against the misuse of alcohol. But because of where this admonition is placed on Paul’s list, it seems also to serve as a backdrop for another encouragement, perhaps an even more important one.
By using the word “instead,” Paul joins two somewhat parallel lines of thought. He says not to misuse alcoholic spirits to give yourself a bogus kind of lift, a temporary sort of high that leads to all kinds of bad things. “Instead” be filled with the real Spirit to guide you in wholesome activity that brings lasting benefit to you and others.
Paul then proceeds to enumerate the activities that result from being filled with the Spirit. In the Greek those activities are expressed with participles. Literally Paul writes: Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, singing and making music, and always giving thanks. (Note that there is another activity in the series, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” [verse 21], but that will be treated in the next section.)
Filled with the Spirit, the Ephesians are to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Paul suggests that the use of biblical psalms be supplemented with hymns and spiritual songs. There is probably no great difference between hymns and songs. Both are expressions of Spirit-taught truth set in artistic form, which the Ephesians themselves or other Christians had developed.
Although Paul does not specify where or how this activity of speaking to one another is to occur, he does seem to imply that a public worship life with liturgical forms was being developed and used (see 1 Corinthians 14:26). We should also note that Paul once more stresses the importance of the proper use of the tongue. At least three times in this letter Paul has touched directly on that subject (4:25,29; 5:4), each time in the context of using speech to help build up one another to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (here again note 1 Corinthians 14:26).
Speaking to one another (including public worship life) has its counterpart in private activity. A joyous response wells up in the hearts of redeemed children of God whenever they think of the great blessings they have received. Although not a syllable is spoken or a single note sounded, in their upbeat outlook and cheerful devotion to duty Christians “sing and make music in [their hearts] to the Lord.”
Somewhat along the same lines, Paul urges that the Christian life be marked by “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Let’s not forget that Paul himself acknowledged that “the days are evil.” All kinds of things can discourage, irritate, and disappoint Christians, harried as they are by the devil and the world and hampered by their own sinful flesh. But filled with the Spirit, they know that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Daily they can rise and confidently say, “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).
Holiness is to show itself in assuming responsibilities
Paul has at some length described the life and conduct that our Savior-God rightly expects of people who appreciate what his grace has done for them. Theirs will be a life of holiness that in ever greater degree conforms with God’s holy, unchangeable will.
So far, Paul has pointed to two general areas of sanctification in the Christian life: preserving the unity that exists among believers, since all are members of the same body, and living a morally pure life.
Paul now advances to a third area: living a life that accepts the responsibilities God has placed on us in our particular stations of life. In the next 22 verses (5:21–6:9) the apostle will be dealing with three pairs of relationships: husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees. As a broad, overarching directive for this area he says,
Ephesians, Chapter 5, verse 21
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Recall that Paul encouraged the Ephesians to “be filled with the Spirit . . . speak to one another with psalms . . . sing and make music in your heart . . . giving thanks to God.” The series now continues, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
What is being asked in this table of duties, as it is often called, is something that only the Christian, moved by the Holy Spirit, can do. Only the Christian knows the proper thing to do, and only the Christian is truly motivated to do it. “Submit,” Paul says, “out of reverence for Christ.” In all six of the following categories of responsibility, reverence for Christ must be our motivating force. Otherwise we will find the responsibilities irksome and restrictive.
Ephesians Chapter 5, verses 22-24
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
To understand these two verses, one needs to arrive at answers to two questions: What does it mean to “submit,” and why should a wife submit to her husband?
In English it is hard to reflect the more neutral tone of the Greek verb we translate as “submit.” All our English verbs tend to convey some negative connotations. The root meaning of the Greek verb means simply “to rank people or things in order under some specific pattern.” It does not imply inferiority or lesser value, as our English verbs too easily suggest. To “be subordinate” might come closest to reflecting the Greek.
All comparisons limp, but a situation from the sports world can perhaps bring us a step closer to grasping the meaning of “submit.” Take the case of a pitcher and catcher on a baseball team. Both are on the same side and have the same objective; both want to make their contribution to winning the game. But the things they do are quite different!
Usually it’s the catcher who decides what pitch should be thrown. The pitcher submits to that decision. That doesn’t mean he can’t ever shake off a pitch or that there might not be an occasional conference at the mound, but in general, the catcher calls the pitches.
Does that mean the catcher is better than the pitcher? Is the pitcher inferior because he submits to the catcher’s selection of pitches? Not at all! That’s simply the way things work best. They both recognize that each can’t be doing his own thing if they want to win the ball game. Somebody has
to decide whether a fastball or a change-up is more likely to strike Casey out. It’s a matter of assigned roles, a designated order of things. That’s the essence of team play.
Marriage is certainly a team project. The God of order who instituted it has designated the manner in which it will be most harmonious and function with the greatest blessing. In his wisdom he has delegated headship, or the leadership role, to the husband. Submission on the wife’s part is simply acknowledging that God-given role relationship.
“But why should a wife submit to her husband?” some grumble. By nature all of us are inclined to our notions of equality and our ideas of “fairness” and conclude God is imposing an unfair arrangement on women. But Paul is not talking to natural man or unregenerate people here. He is confident that his readers are filled with the Spirit and are people who understand when he urges them to submit “out of reverence for Christ.” He is confident the feeling of unfairness will flee when he brings Christ into the picture.
Christ is the head of the church, and as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands. In the next section addressed to husbands, Paul will say much more about Christ’s gentle and loving treatment of the church. For the moment it’s sufficient for him to draw the parallel and assume that everyone will reach the proper conclusion: The church’s submitting to Christ is not a demeaning thing but something that brings great blessing. Such is the case also in a marriage where the wife accepts the headship of her husband.
Unfortunately, even at their best, husbands can’t begin to hold a candle to Christ’s love for the church. But the pattern, the model of what a Christian husband should be, is clearly indicated. Paul now proceeds to enlarge on what Christ has done for the church and urge it as a pattern and guide for husbands to follow
Ephesians Chapter 5, verses 25-27
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
As it is the wife’s duty to recognize the leadership role of her husband, so it is the husband’s duty to love her. It is important to recognize that we are here again dealing with that beautiful and highly significant Greek word for love, agape. Greek has a number of words for “love.” One designated mutual love between friends; another, physical attraction. Then there was agape, the unselfish, one-way love we previously discussed—God’s totally unselfish love for us (2:4,5; 4:2). God’s agape moved him to give us great and precious blessings, not because we could return and requite his love but simply out of his boundless goodness and mercy. His unselfish love moved him to do all that for us.
Now Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Christ showed the ultimate in unselfish love by what he was willing to do for the church. He gave up his life to win her for himself. However, he not only purchased her for himself at the price of his lifeblood, but he raised her to a most enviable position. He “cleans[ed] her by the washing with water through the word.” Through the means of grace, Word and sacrament, he cleansed her of her many transgressions, forgave her sin, quieted her conscience, gave her peace with God, and assured her of security in his protecting hand.
But what he has done for her on earth is only a small foretaste of what he still has in mind for her. On judgment day he will present her as a bride—not to someone else but to himself. Then she will be a “radiant church,” without any stain from the outside or wrinkle developed on the inside. She will not have any blemish but will be “holy and blameless.”
With Christ’s unselfish love for the church serving as a backdrop, Paul now says, “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives.” Christlike leadership leaves absolutely no room for a husband to be a dictator or tyrant. As he looks to Christ’s example of headship over the church, he will find no basis to be selfish or domineering. Nor will he be unconcerned about his wife’s needs or unappreciative of what she brings to the marriage team.
It will be evident that if a husband is to fulfill his leadership role as Paul outlines it, he has his work cut out for him! Fortunately, Christ’s love is not only the pattern and example, but it also provides the motivation to do what God asks and the strength to put that resolve into practice. To be sure, every husband—sinner that he is—will be imperfect. But Christ’s love will compel him daily to strive for the ideal illustrated by our Savior’s love for the church. With God’s help husbands can begin to approximate that.
Christ’s unselfish love is certainly the compelling argument here. But it’s interesting to see Paul add a second argument, one on a somewhat lower level. It’s almost as if Paul were saying, “If the example of Christ’s unselfish love isn’t enough for you, then you might consider another
angle—a selfish one.”
Ephesians Chapter 5, verses 28-31
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 to make the point that when two people marry, they don’t remain separate entities any longer. It wouldn’t be logical for them each to remain at home with their parents. The only thing that makes sense is for both of them to cut the ties with their parents and set up their own new household. The two have essentially become one.
Since the two are in essence one, “husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.” It’s just the natural thing to do. All people look after their own needs. They eat and sleep, dress and groom themselves. Shouldn’t a husband just naturally show the same kind of devoted care and concern for his other “self,” or as we might say, for the rest of himself?
Ephesians Chapter 5, verses 32-33
This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
We have previously noted that when Paul uses the term “mystery” he is not talking about something dark or mysterious, something impossible to understand. Rather, he’s referring to something that needs explanation, something we couldn’t ever have figured out by ourselves. When it’s explained, it becomes clear and comprehensible.
The “profound mystery” that Paul is speaking of is not primarily that marriage unites husband and wife into one. No, his thoughts have swung back to Christ and the church. The real mystery is the one-way love of Christ. He redeemed weak and worthless sinners and gathered them together into a church to be his holy bride. He is her head; she is his body. So closely are the two joined into one.
In quiet awe Paul reflects on the mystery of Christ and the church—and on the fact that there can be in the human experience something that reflects this divine unity and even approximates it. That something is a Christian marriage in which the husband loves “his wife as he loves himself,” and his wife respects him as her husband.
Although that ideal is not fully attainable in our sinful world, it is a goal for which all married people should diligently strive.