Ephesians — Parts 3 and 4 — Chapter 6

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Children

Ephesians Chapter 6, verses 1-3
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

Commentary

From a section outlining the duties of wives and husbands, Paul logically proceeds to a section on children and parents. Although it is not a particularly weighty point, there is a bit of disagreement among Bible scholars on the placement of the phrase “in the Lord.” The NIV translation puts it with the parents, giving it the meaning, “Children, obey the parents whom the Lord has given you.” That is certainly possible.

Others link “in the Lord” with the children. Paul would then be urging children who are “in the Lord” to obey their parents. That pairing is what underlies a translation such as, “Children, obey your parents because you are Christians” (God’s Word). In view of the fact that this section of the table of duties concerns itself with the sanctified lives of children, the latter interpretation addressing them as Christians is perhaps to be preferred.

Either way, Paul is addressing the “new man” (or should we say, “new child”?) in young people and urging them to obey their parents. The reason given is simply “for this is right.” It is right because the Lord says so. He has given children life, a home, and parents.

But children are not merely to “obey” their parents, perhaps unwillingly and grudgingly. More is asked of Christian children. They are to “honor” their parents. Thus a proper attitude is required, one that involves both heart and mind.

That the Lord is serious about having the Fourth Commandment obeyed is evident from the fact that he attaches a promise to it. Paul’s quotation of the commandment and the promise is taken from Deuteronomy 5:16. While the original promise recorded there speaks to Israel and refers to the Promised Land, the general truth holds for all time. That doesn’t mean every child who obeys his or her parents will necessarily live to be a hundred. But the converse is true: disobedience to parents has bad consequences. Since the family is the basis of society and thus also of the nation, woe to the people and the land that disregard this fundamental relationship between parents and children.

Fathers

Ephesians Chapter 6, verse 4
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Commentary

When Paul in this section addresses “fathers,” he is speaking to them in their role as the head of the household. Mothers, of course, are by no means excluded or assumed to be less active in bringing up the children. Recall that in the previous verse the apostle called on children to obey their “parents”—not just their fathers. We may therefore fairly understand this section of the table of duties to be addressed to both parents. Paul’s directives to parents take two forms, a negative followed by a positive.

Paul begins, “Do not exasperate your children.” Indeed, parents are in charge, but that doesn’t mean that they’re always fully informed or that they might not at times have used better judgment. Temperamental outbursts and undue harshness on the part of parents can do major harm to tender souls.

Instead of exasperating and frustrating children, parents are to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” The Greek word translated “training” implies discipline and correction. It would be naive of parents to expect that such training will always be welcome. Recall the Scriptures’ comments regarding the acceptance of “chastisement” (Hebrews 12:7-13, particularly verse 11). But in the long run, treatment that is fair and consistent will be helpful, particularly as that is combined with the “instruction of the Lord.”

Parents always need to remember that children have an old Adam who needs to be curbed with God’s law. But through Baptism and basic instruction from the Word, children also have a new man who cheerfully responds to God’s will as it is conveyed to them through God’s representatives.

Slaves

Ephesians Chapter 6, verses 5-8
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.

Commentary

Slaves require a major section in Paul’s table of duties—second only to husbands. That may be because numerically slaves comprised a significant portion of the Ephesian congregation. Certainly in the Greco-Roman world, permeated as it was with slavery, slaves were an important sociological and economic factor.

It’s important to note that Paul does not make it his or the church’s platform to abolish slavery. That does not mean Paul put his stamp of approval on it. In Philemon, a letter that may have accompanied our letter to the Ephesians, Paul also addressed the slavery question. There, you may recall, Paul put in a good word for the runaway slave Onesimus, who was returning to his master. Paul not only strongly urged kind treatment for Onesimus but also hinted that his owner, Philemon, might consider releasing him (Philemon 21). Abolishing slavery, however, is not part of Paul’s agenda. Far from it. Paul rather urges Christian slaves to be good slaves.

However, a couple factors make slavery more tolerable. First, Paul notes that slaves are serving “earthly masters.” Slavery is a temporary situation, only for this world. Furthermore, it’s not an indication of a slave’s personal value, worth, or status before God. It makes no difference to God whether a person is “slave or free” (verse 8; see also Galatians 3:28). The unity in the church that has been able to bring together Jew and Gentile also equalizes slave and free.

That doesn’t mean slavery will always be easy or comfortable. In urging the Ephesian slaves to obey their masters, Paul acknowledges that they may well be doing it “with respect and fear” (literally, with fear and trembling), so it’s safe to say some anxiety may be involved. Hence Paul views slavery as a cross, but one to be borne with Christian fortitude and ready acceptance.

In urging a God-pleasing course of action for the trying situation in which slaves find themselves, Paul sounds one negative and encourages with three positives. Initially he cautions them against obeying their masters “only to win their favor when their eye is on [them].” That would be totally self-serving and unacceptable. Rather, they are to let their new man respond and obey their masters “just as [they] would obey Christ.”

That total obedience is expected becomes clear from the threefold encouragement to serve their masters heartily. Paul tells them to serve “with sincerity of heart,” “doing the will of God from [their] heart,” so that they “serve wholeheartedly.”

How are they to bring themselves to do that? Paul answers, “Because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.”

It is absolutely essential to keep in mind that Paul is writing these words to Christian slaves. These words are not directed to unregenerate people, suggesting that they can improve their status before God by good service to masters or that they can put themselves into a position where God owes them a reward. No, Paul is talking about their conscientious service as a fruit of faith, done as if they were “serving the Lord, not men.”

Paul’s way of expressing that truth is nothing other than what our Savior himself said when he described judgment day as a division between the sheep and the goats. The basis for that division will be the presence or absence of saving faith, as demonstrated by the presence of good deeds or the lack of them. In effect Paul is saying, “Everything will be properly sorted out on judgment day.” That is an encouragement to slaves, just as it serves as a warning to masters who may be inclined to mistreat their slaves.

Masters

Ephesians Chapter 6, Verse 9
And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

Commentary

When Paul here writes to “masters,” he is addressing Ephesian slave owners who are Christian. His intent is not to indict them for having slaves but rather to encourage Christian conduct toward slaves—the more so if their slaves are fellow Christians (think again of Philemon).

Paul urges masters to conduct themselves “in the same way.” That parallel carries us back into the section addressed to slaves. As slaves were to lead thorough Christian lives as they fulfilled their duties, so masters too were to be guided by Christian principles.

Such Christian principles rule out the threats by masters that no doubt were often a contributing factor to the fear we heard about on the part of slaves. Masters are not to terrorize their slaves. To make his point Paul utilizes a play on words involving the term “lord,” or “master.” He says in effect: “Be careful in your conduct. Even though you are a master over your slaves, don’t forget that there is in heaven someone who is your Master as well as theirs—and he doesn’t play favorites.”

Even the Christian retains an old Adam who needs to be restrained by God’s law. Such restraint is what this short but sharp section is intended to provide for Ephesian slave owners. The real improvement, however, has to come from a heart that appreciates what the Master in heaven has done in sending his Son. Where that Master controls the slaves’ master, there will be no mistreatment of slaves. In this way Christianity rendered tolerable what was basically a worldly institution all too open to abuse.

It will be evident that much of what Paul says in these last two sections transfers directly to the employer-employee relationships in today’s workplace.

Courage to contend against evil, wearing God’s armor

Paul often alerts us that he is coming to the close of a letter by introducing his concluding section with the adverb “finally.” We have that signal at verse 10.

Recall that in the entire second half of his letter, Paul has been speaking of the blessed effect that God’s saving grace has on the life of his believers. The new life of the children of God will show itself in a life of holiness. Their holiness is committed to keeping the Spirit-worked bond of unity and to leading a life of personal purity. And as we have most recently seen, their holiness shows itself in being willing to shoulder the responsibilities God gives them, whether that be as husband or wife, child or parent, employer or employee.

Paul closes his letter by pointing out one final effect of God’s saving grace, namely, making God’s people willing to contend for the faith and against evil. For that they need some special equipment—equipment God provides.

The armor of God

Ephesians Chapter 6, verses 10-12
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Commentary

As a final, general word to his readers Paul says, “Be strong.” The Christian life will always be a struggle. Attacks on the faith will take the form of temptations and moral lapses. There will be temptations to yield on points of doctrine. There will be temptations to formalize religion and reduce it to an external thing, a mere shell. There will be temptations of lovelessness toward fellow believers and hatred toward those who are not believers. The list could go on, but the point is clear: we need to be strong against temptations.

That, however, is not something children of God can do by themselves. They need help—God’s help. Hence Paul says, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

We’re often inclined to think that our problems and opposition come from perverse people. Evil people, however, are really only agents and instruments. They’re part of Satan’s scheme against believers. Paul says it plainly: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” We are battling spiritual forces bent on doing us harm. That shouldn’t surprise us. Scripture tells us of a group of angels who fell (Revelation 12:7-9) and are now under the leadership of Satan, who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

It is a battle of cosmic proportions (“in the heavenly realms”), but that needn’t dismay us, for the help on our side is cosmic also. Recall that the apostle opened this letter with this glorious sentence: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (1:3). The help is there; we need only avail ourselves of it.

Ephesians Chapter 6, verses 13-17
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Commentary

Paul here brings the cosmic battle down to the individual encounters the Christian is caught up in “when the day of evil comes,” that is, when he is assailed by sharp temptation or opposition. It is then that he will need a good defense system.

The military items Paul enumerates were the standard equipment of an infantryman in the Roman army. He mentions five pieces of defensive armor and one offensive weapon. The five defensive pieces combined make up the “full armor” that Paul uses as his picture of the spiritual protection God provides for the believer.

In its literal, military sense the “belt . . . around your waist” is the section of armor strapped on to protect the soldier’s midsection and thighs, whereas the “breastplate” covered his upper body. He had his “feet fitted” with appropriate shoes or boots and wore a “helmet” to protect his head. He used a round shield to ward off sword and spear thrusts or to deflect flying missiles in the form of arrows or thrown javelins.

Paul attaches spiritual significance to the various pieces of military hardware. He does not seem to intend that the “belt” should stand for “truth” and nothing else, or that the “breastplate” can represent only “righteousness.” Rather, Paul is drawing together the various aspects of Christ’s redemptive work that the Christian is to rally to when he comes under attack. Hence we need not try to find distinguishing features among “truth,” “righteousness,” and “salvation.” Nor need we search for some difference between “faith” and the “readiness” that the gospel brings. The power is God’s, and it’s all there for us. Paul’s point is, When attacked, look to Christ’s work as your defense.

However, the Christian doesn’t just have to hunker down and ride out the storm. He has one weapon of offense—and he needs no other! He has the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Armed with this, he not only can defend himself but go on the offensive as well, for that Word is “living and active. Sharper than any double edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow” (Hebrews 4:12).

Using God’s Word, the Christian can rout any of the “powers of this dark world” or the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” It only remains for him to be faithful in his use of the Word and regularly to turn to his almighty Lord in prayer.

Prayer

Ephesians Chapter 6, verses 18-20
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Commentary

All kinds of incorrect notions abound as to what prayer is and what can be expected of it. The apostle gives the Ephesians important instruction on both points.

He opens by telling them to “pray in the Spirit.” What he is advocating is not some dramatic or showy charismatic praying. Rather, he is indicating that only through Christ can anyone properly approach the triune God. An essential feature of prayer is that it comes from a heart filled with faith (James 1:6,7; Hebrews 11:6). And faith, of course, is something that only the Holy Spirit can work. Spirit-worked faith takes God at his word, trusts his promises, and confidently approaches him as a dear heavenly Father. All this meshes perfectly with what Paul wrote earlier: “Through him [Christ] we both [Jew and Gentile] have access to the Father by one Spirit” (2:18).

What may a Christian pray for? People generally feel it is fitting to come to God with “important” things and in times of emergency. But other than that, they don’t want to bother him. They reason: Surely, he can’t be interested in the little problems I have. Besides, I should be able to take care of those myself. Note, however, what Paul says: “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”

Few directives are given more often or more pointedly in Scripture than the invitation and encouragement to pray. The Lord promises: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:15). Our Savior solemnly assured his disciples and us, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9). Peter encourages his readers, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). Elsewhere Paul says, “Pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:17,18).

In the area of spiritual matters, such as forgiveness of sins, the gift of a good conscience, conversion of unbelievers, or unity in the church, we know that it is God’s gracious will to give us those things. In temporal matters, however, we will always add the condition “if it is your will.” Such prayers are answered—in God’s good time and in his way.

Because the Ephesians have the precious privilege of prayer, as do all Christians, Paul exhorts them, “With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” The “saints” are fellow believers with the Ephesians, ones who, like them, have been made holy by faith in Christ’s merits. Paul asks the Ephesians to pray for all of them and requests a special prayer for one particular saint—himself: “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

Recall that the apostle Paul is writing this letter from Rome, where he is under house arrest and awaiting trial for preaching the gospel. Much rests on the outcome of his case—not only for himself personally (see Philippians 1:21-24) but especially for the Christian church. Paul is, in a real sense, “an ambassador in chains.” He is representing Christ and his gospel. With this in mind he urges the Ephesians, “Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

End of Part Three

PART FOUR

Final Greetings
(6:21-24)

Ephesians Chapter 6, verses 21-22
Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.

Commentary

Paul was not a robot or an automaton. He was very warm and personable and very interested and concerned about people. He realizes people are anxious about him as he awaits trial. He tries to alleviate that concern by sending Tychicus “for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.”

We wish we knew more about Tychicus, who earns the high praise of being “the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord.” He is mentioned in four other New Testament passages. Three of them are only passing references (Acts 20:4; 2 Timothy 4:12; Titus 3:12). The fourth, Colossians 4:7-9, deserves a little closer look. There the apostle writes: “Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.” The first thing that strikes us here is the marked similarity to the Ephesian passage. That, of course, is true of many passages in Colossians. The specific point of overlap here is that Tychicus is to explain Paul’s circumstances to both the Ephesians and the Colossians.

Note also another interesting fact. In Colossians, Onesimus is said to be accompanying Tychicus. Recall our earlier discussion of Onesimus, the runaway slave turned Christian whom Paul was sending back to his Christian master, Philemon. Paul says of Onesimus that he is “one of you [Colossians].”

Thus the following scenario emerges: The main “transaction” at this point is Paul’s sending Onesimus back to his master, Philemon, who lives in Colosse. Tychicus is carrying a cover letter (our New Testament Philemon) to smooth the delicate matter of a repentant Onesimus being received back into the household of Philemon. This matter may also have repercussions in the local congregation in Colosse, so Paul sends the congregation a letter too, our New Testament Colossians. Incidentally, note the large section on slaves in that letter’s table of duties (Colossians 3:22-25). Tychicus is carrying both letters to the city of Colosse. To get there, he will have to travel right through Ephesus. Paul seems to be taking the opportunity to write a parallel letter to his beloved Ephesians, among whom he had worked for three years (Acts 20:31). Thus Tychicus, in fact, seems to be carrying three letters, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, as he escorts Onesimus back home to Colosse.

Ephesians Chapter 6, verses 23-24
Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.

Commentary

To the section on taking up the whole armor of God, Paul added a reminder regarding the importance of prayer. “Be alert,” he told the Ephesians, “and always keep on praying for all the saints.” Paul practiced what he preached. The parting thought in his letter is in reality an intercessory prayer. He prays for the Ephesians and all believers in Christ, whom the Spirit has united into that great unity, the holy Christian church. Paul’s prayer for them all is that they may receive “peace . . . and love with faith.”

Those are not earned or deserved rewards. They are gifts from a loving God, who in Christ is moved to give “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (3:20). Included among those immeasurable and unimaginable gifts is nothing less than heaven itself. Such love from our Redeemer-God calls forth but one response, that we love him who loved us first. Paul has in mind all who respond in that way when he closes his prayer and his letter with this petition: “Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus
Christ with an undying love.”

End of Part Four