3rd Sphere: Walking Worthy in our Natural Relationships
Ephesians 5:22 – 6:9
Ephesians 5:22 – 6:9
This section takes up practical exhortations that have to do with a creator-God. Paul speaks of the most intimate of relationships first:
- Wives and husbands (Ephesians 5:22-33)
- Children and parents (Ephesians 6:1-4)
- Servants and masters (Ephesians 6:5-9).
These are relationships where love and submission are required. The submissive role is always addressed first (v.21). Submission is very difficult because it is in our fallen natures to resist the will of another. Yet submission is absolutely critical to peace. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you… and ye shall find rest” (Matt. 11:29). At first those two seem incongruous, but it is true. Jesus Himself is the perfect example of submission. Submission sees beyond the vessel of authority to the One who set that authority up. The person in the subject place has the opportunity to display that beautiful character that we see in our Lord’s earthly path. By having a submissive spirit, wives, children, and servants can “adorn” or enhance the beauty of “the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things” (Tit. 2:10).
- Wives and Husbands (5:22-33)
- Children and Parents (6:1-4)
- Servants and Masters (6:5-9)
Wives and Husbands (5:22-33)
Obedience or submission? You never find the wife enjoined to obey her husband, but to submit, because obedience can have the thought of distance (such as a husband who treats his wife as a child). Submission implies a deeper subjection of the will. Nevertheless, submission will manifest itself in obedience as in the case of Sarah (1 Pet. 3:6). Also, you will never find the exhortation for a wife to love her husband (Titus 2:4 should be translated “be attached to”) because that will be the automatic response of her heart to her husband's love.
“The principle of submission and of obedience is the healing principle of humanity.” - Edward Dennett
A higher authority. There is a higher authority for the wife than the husband, and that is God. The principle is found in Acts 5:29. But Ephesians is not looking at failure, and so it says “in everything”. There may come rare cases where a husband asks a wife to do something immoral (e.g. rob a bank, or abuse a child) in which case she is to obey God rather than men. This is why Col. 3:18 adds, “as is fit in the Lord.” But these cases where the wife must depart from God’s order in creation are exceedingly rare. We need to be very discerning in whether it is faithfulness to God, or self-will at work in these situations.
Love in marriage. The kind of love that we need in marriage is ‘agape‘ (love of a settled disposition), not merely ‘storge’ (romantic love). Agape love doesn’t need to see any merit in the object… it is based on commitment. When married couples do not have this love, then when circumstances change and the flesh becomes active, the marriage falls apart. Romantic feelings are very important in marriage, because marriage is a natural relationship. This type of natural joy may be included, along with the joy of raising children, etc., in Peter’s expression, “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7). This is why emotional and physical compatibility is so important… because romantic feelings are part of God’s design for a healthy marriage. Natural compatibility is not something that we can perfectly discern by human means; instead we want to seek the Lord’s will about who to marry, and trust Him for the details.
The Church’s Subjection to the Head, a Pattern for Wives (vv.22-24)
¶ 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord, v.22 Wives. The exhortation given to the husband and wife are suited to their place in the purpose of God, and to guard against the particular weakness of each. The woman is liable to break down in submission in the marriage relationship. She is told to “submit” to her husband “as unto the Lord”… no matter how difficult her husband may be. Submission in marriage can indeed be difficult, especially when a woman is married to an ungodly, extreme, or cowardly man. Nevertheless, this is God’s order in marriage, and it is a secret to happiness in the Christian home. It may be difficult, but if a Christian wife submits to her husband “as unto the Lord” it will not be mere duty, but with confidence in the Lord as the One who is above every circumstance.
23a for a husband is head of the wife, as also the Christ is head of the assembly. v.23a The husband’s headship is something that God set up in creation, and was in place long before Christianity. Since the Church has been formed, it becomes a picture of that. Yet we learn in this epistle that God had the union of Christ and the Church is His mind from a past eternity! The thought of headship in scripture is that of supplying nourishment, leadership, and direction to another. Christ is head of the assembly, and therefore the Church ought to look to Christ for all her needs.
v.23b *He* is Saviour of the body. v.23b This expression is brought in to show how headship works. He (Christ) is the “Savior” (or, the preserver of) “the body”, which refers to the human body (see 1 Tim. 4:10). Christ cares for us in every practical detail along the path, and He is the One WHO “shall transform our body” (Phil. 3:21) at the end of the path. Not only does Christ take the position of headship, but He practically cares for us.
24 But even as the assembly is subjected to the Christ, so also wives to their own husbands in everything. v.24 While we cannot say that the Church has been submissive to Christ (witness our history of self-will and ecclesiastical rebellion), we must recognize that the Church “is subjected to” Christ, or has been put in the subject place. In that same way the wives are to consciously take that place with regard to their own husbands. So much difficulty in marriage could be avoided if wives would simply recognize that God has placed them in subjection to their husbands… and if they would act on it. Notice that wives are subject to “their own” husbands, not another’s husband. Another great source of difficulty comes when wives seek the headship of other men who are not their own husbands. The subjection of the wife is “in everything”… in every aspect and circumstance of life.
The Bride of Christ. The Bride of Christ is an aspect of the Church of God in which there is a mystical union between Christ and His Church. The preeminent theme in this union is love... the Church is the object of Christ's affections; Christ's love caused Him to die for the Church (Eph. 5:25). Also, the Church is subject to Christ. As subject to Christ, the Church should make it her lifelong mission to please Christ in every way (Eph. 5:14). Along with subjection, we have the thought of headship. Christ is head to the Church. As her Head, Christ has taken it on Himself to supply nourishment, leadership, and direction to His bride. Finally, we are so closely connected with Christ that we are "one flesh" with Him! The relationship between Christ and the Bride is the pattern set out for Christian marriage in Eph. 5. It seems that the Spirit of God uses an eastern marriage in the teaching on the bride of Christ, as opposed to a western marriage. In a western marriage, the marriage all happens on one day, and the bride is the prominent figure in the wedding. But in an eastern marriage things happen differently. First, a legal marriage takes place in which a dowry is paid. At that point, the bridegroom and bride may not have even met. Secondly, the bridegroom will arrive at the bride's home to take her on a wedding procession. Finally, the couple, family, and friends enjoy a marriage supper together. The bridegroom is the focus in the wedding, not so much the bride. This is how the marriage of Christ and the Church is portrayed. We have already been "espoused... to one husband... as a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Cor. 11:2). The dowry or down-payment is the Holy Spirit, who is "the earnest of our inheritance" (Eph. 1:13-14). Even though we have never met our Bridegroom, we know His love, His voice, His very thoughts through the Holy Spirit. The next thing we are waiting for is our Heavenly Bridegroom to take us home to the Father's house. This will take place at the rapture (Rev. 22:17). Finally, after all the heavenly saints are gathered home, the "marriage supper of the Lamb" will take place (Rev. 19:9). I believe this will take place just before the Lord returns at the appearing to take His rightful "kingdom of the world" (Rev. 11:15). Even now, we the Bride are preparing for that moment, all other moments above (Rev. 19:7-8)! Until that day comes, we are waiting for that moment, and Christ is waiting too (2 Thess. 3:5). After the millennium is over, and time fades into eternity, still the Church is seen in the freshness of her heavenly beauty; "And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of the heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Rev. 21:2)!
The Love of Christ for His Church, a Pattern for Husbands (vv.25-27)
25a Husbands, love your own wives, even as the Christ also loved the assembly, v.25a Husbands. The husband is likewise exhorted in the area he is most liable to break down in; namely, affection in the marriage relationship. The husband is told to love (agape) his wife. Agape or divine love is a love that can go the distance, because it is not conditional on any merit or worth in the object it loves. It is a settled love of decision. The example set before the Christian husband is Christ in His love for the Church! This is the standard husbands must try to follow, but will never live up to.
25b and (1) has delivered himself up for it, 26 in order that (2) he might sanctify it, purifying it by the washing of water by the word, 27 that *he* might (3) present the assembly to himself glorious, having no spot, or wrinkle, or any of such things; but that it might be holy and blameless. vv.25b-27 The apostle next unfold the lengths to which Christ’s love will go:
- v.25b, in the past. The measure of Christ’s love is complete self-sacrifice, shown out at the cross. Christ sacrificed His own life for the Church.
- v.26, in the present. Christ is working to practically sanctify His bride. This is what Christ does on a daily basis for us as the Word of God exposes our state, and directs us to Christ. This is pictured by water washing away defilement. Water in scripture is a common figure of the Word of God. See notes on John 17:17-19 where practical sanctification is developed. Christ has two objects in this ongoing work:
- To sanctify us. This is an outward setting apart of our walk.
- To purify us. This is an inward, moral cleansing of the heart.
- v.27, in the future. God has purposed the Church to be the eternal companion of Christ, and therefore Christ will present His bride to Himself in the glorified state. This “presentation” will occur at the Marriage of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9). Afterward, Christ will present her to the world (2 Thess. 1:10). The Church is seen in perfection, through the work of the cross. She will be all glorious; her primary feature will be the glory of God. She will have no spots or wrinkles, etc.; none of the effects of sin are there. She will be holy; her nature perfectly aligned with God’s. She will be blameless; that is, judicially perfect. These two characteristics, “holy and blameless”, will be true of us as individuals (see Eph. 1:4) and also true of us collectively as the Bride (Eph. 5:27). While Eve was presented to Adam by God, Christ presents the Church to Himself, because He is the builder of the Church.
Washing effect. Sometimes Christians say they don’t read the Bible because they cannot remember what they read. They feel like they are trying to retrieve water from a fountain with a basket! But teaching isn’t the only reason to read the Word of God. It also has a washing effect. Even if we have a problem retaining what we read, we should still continue to read. Even if our minds are like a basket, which might not stay full for long, at least the basket stays clean. J.N. Darby gave a recommendation on how to keep the basket full; he said to leave the basket in the fountain!
Three Presentations. Christ is said to present the Church in three ways: each time she is presented there is perfect conformance to the mind and character of God:
- Presented as children to the Father (Heb. 2:13)
- Presented as the Bride to Himself (Eph. 5:27)
- Presented as the City to the world (2 Thess. 1:10; Rev. 21:9 – 22:5)
Mysterious Union of Christ and the Church, Man and Woman (vv.28-32)
28 So ought men also to love their own wives as their own bodies: he that loves his own wife loves himself. v.28 Loving one’s own body. A husband’s love for his wife should imitate Christ’s love for the Church; it should be sacrificial (v.25), painstaking (v.26), and persistent (v.27). The apostle now goes on to say that this love is the same as the love a man has for his own body. In the same way a man feeds, protects, etc. himself, he should have the same care for his wife; for “he that loves his own wife loves himself”. Any harm done to the wife should be seen by the husband as harm to himself.
29 For no one has ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, even as also the Christ the assembly: v.29 Instinctive love. Men have a natural instinct to protect themselves (e.g. to block a punch, seek a job security, find food and shelter, etc.); that is to nourish. Also, we have the instinct to do extra little things out of affection for ourselves; that is, to cherish. This is the way the man is to treat his wife, and it is perfectly exemplified by Christ’s treatment of the assembly… “he gave gifts”, etc. The KJV has a mistranslation here; it says “even as the Lord the church” which confuses the Lordship of Christ with the Headship of Christ. As Lord He has authority over all things, and authority over believers as individuals. But as Head He nourishes and cherishes the Church. Therefore the word mis-translated “Lord” in the KJV is actually “Christ”.
30 for we are members of his body; we are of his flesh, and of his bones. v.30 New creation. Just as Eve was taken out of Adam, so the Church is of Christ. The Lord took out of Adam’s side a rib, which He built into Adam’s wife. The Church is of the same material as Christ, the new creation race – perfectly compatible! We read of Adam’s exultation in Gen. 2:23, we hear the joy in his voice when he is presented with a woman that is “now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh”. Many think that v.30 is speaking of the incarnation, Christ making Himself like us. But really, it is our relationship to Christ risen from the dead, and not Christ’s relationship to us as a man upon the earth. It is God making us like Himself! We have the same life and nature that Christ does. In our union with Christ, we are perfectly compatible… “of his flesh, and of his bones”.
31 “Because of this a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall be united to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh.” [Gen. 2:24] v.31 One flesh. Eve is a beautiful type of the Church because she was one with Adam in creation (v.30) and in marriage (v.31). The thought of the one body and the bride are brought together. This is a quotation from Gen. 2:24 that expounds the mystical union of husband and wife. A man needs to leave every earthly relationship, the closest being his father and mother, to cleave to his wife because (“for this cause”) the husband is “one flesh” with his wife. This is why a husband is traditionally asked: “Do you promise to love her, etc. …and forsaking all others, be faithful only to her, for as long as you both shall live?” The marriage tie supersedes every other earthly tie. Often trouble in marriage occurs when the husband and wife fail to “leave and cleave”. But what blessed truth, when we get this applied to Christ and the Church (v.32)! The Church has the closest and deepest connection to Christ of very family in heaven and earth. As a practical note, a man should be able to provide for himself and a family – without the help of his father and mother – before he takes a wife.
32 This mystery is great, but *I* speak as to Christ, and as to the assembly. v.32 A great mystery. The mystical union between “Christ and the church” is foreshadowed by natural marriage; by a man leaving all other relations to give himself to one woman, so closely joined together that they become one flesh. Christ, as Man, gave up everything, and left all relations with Israel, etc. in order to secure His church, and be united with her so closely that she is not only His bride, but His body! This “great mystery” is one aspect of “the mystery”. This passage lifts the institution of marriage far above the highest thoughts of man.
Summary of the Exhortation (v.33)
33 But *ye* also, every one of you, (1) let each so love his own wife as himself; but (2) as to the wife I speak that she may fear the husband. v.33 Nevertheless, while seeking to enter into these eternal truths of the great mystery of Christ and the Church, we need to remember the two fundamental principles by which husbands and wives may walk worthy: regardless of circumstances or feelings, (1) the husband must love his wife, and (2) the wife must respect (reverence) her husband.
Children and Parents (6:1-4)
¶ Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is just. v.1 In a family, children are in the subject place relative to their parents. As such, they are to implicitly obey their mother and father. The attitude or spirit in which children are to obey their parents is “in the Lord”. Notice also that “parents” is plural. They need to obey both parents, and the parents should be united. It is rebellion for children to try to divide the parents, or turn one against another. “If mom says no ask dad” is not obedience in the Lord. The first reason given for the obedience of children is that “this is right”; i.e. it is consistent with God’s order in creation. When children ask why they are to obey, the answer should not be, “so you can avoid punishment”. The answer is “this is right”. We see the Lord’s own example of obedience to His parents in Luke 2:40, 51. Though He was the Son of God, yet He submitted Himself to His human parents as a child in their home.
2 “Honour thy father and thy mother,” [Exodus 20:12] which is the first commandment with a promise, v.2 There is a difference between obeying parents and honoring parents. To “obey” (v.1) applies to children in the home (otherwise it could be a violation of Eph. 5:31), but “honor” (v.2) applies to us as long as we live (even after our parents die). Paul quotes one of the ten commandments, called here “the first commandment with promise”. It is called this because the command to honor father and mother was the first one that had a promise attached to it, showing its importance to God. If obedience was important to God under the Law, how much more now under grace?
Ten commandments. Nine out of the ten commandments are brought into the New Testament and used in connection with Christian living. Each time a commandment is brought in, it is used for the moral import of the command. The ten commandments are never enjoined on the Church as a law. That is why the one ceremonial commandment (“thou shalt keep the Sabbath day”) is NOT brought into the New Testament for Christian living, because it does not have a moral application in Christianity. It is interesting that in Colossians 3:20, where the saints were in danger from a misuse of legal ordinances, though it is the same subject as we have in these verses, Paul does not use a commandment. Perhaps it was to guard against the possibility of a legal interpretation. Read more…
3 “that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest be long-lived on the earth.” [Deut. 5:16] v.3 Now, he gives the actual promise that was connected with commandment. He quotes from Deut. 5:16. We must remember that long life is not the Christian’s goal. Paul is using Argumentum a fortiori to show that if obedience under the Law resulted in earthly blessing, how much more obedience under grace.
Three reasons for children to obey their parents:
- v.1, because it is right
- v.2, because it is according to scripture
- v.3, because it is accompanied by a promise of blessing
4 And ye fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord. v.4 Obedience does not come naturally, and so it must be taught by the parents through discipline. If we discipline in a spirit of wrath, it will result in provoking our child to anger. This exhortation is specifically to fathers. Why not to mothers? Although the mother’s sphere is the home (Tit. 2:5), the father stands responsible before the Lord. He is to bring them up in (1) discipline or daily training, and (2) admonition or correction where needed. Notice that the discipline and admonition are “of the Lord”. We should not follow worldly patterns in discipline and admonition. We must teach our children to obey the Lord, the basics of Christianity, etc. Teaching them the things of this world is not our goal. Finally, parents must remember that:
Rules without a relationship produce rebellion.
Servants and Masters (6:5-9)
Slavery and the New Testament. In the early days of Christianity, the institution of slavery still existed. The New Testament was not written to cause a world-wide slave revolt in the Roman Empire. However, knowing God's heart as revealed in scripture, we can see that slavery, in the sense of treating human beings as property, is morally wrong. The Law of Moses put certain limits on slavery. To sell a person into slavery against their will was condemned (Ex. 21:16). For Hebrew servants, there was the year of release, which came after six years (Deuteronomy 15:12-18). Slaves also had to observe the Sabbath rest (Deut. 5:14). God took these limitations very seriously (see Jeremiah 34:8-22). When we look at these principles, it becomes clear that to be a slave in Hebrew society was most likely a far better portion than to be a slave in pagan society. Nevertheless, "the law made nothing perfect" (Heb. 7:19). From reading both Old and New Testament scriptures, we see that bondage against a person's will was never God's desire. When we come to the New Testament, God does not overthrow the institution of slavery. From scriptures like 1 Timothy 6:1 we can see that there is nothing morally wrong with the master/servant relationship, if it is conducted in an honorable way. Instead of looking to change society, God gives instructions for how one can be an overcomer in the circumstances of slavery! When a slave was saved, they were brought into a new creation that totally eclipsed their outward identity; "...there is neither bond nor free... for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28), and were given higher motives in their service, "as unto the Lord" (Eph. 6:7). History shows that the gospel spread in the first century most quickly through the slave population of the Roman Empire!
Application to Employees. Although much of the world today is free from slavery, there is still an application to us of these New Testament principles concerning slaves or servants. Although many Christians today are not in slavery, most must work for a living. The employer/employee relationship is similar in many ways to the master/servant relationship, as the principles of respect, honesty, obedience, and fair treatment still apply.
The Character of a Bondman’s Obedience to His Master (vv.5-8)
¶ 5 Bondmen, obey masters according to flesh, (1) with fear and trembling, (2) in simplicity of your heart as to the Christ; 6 (3) not with eye-service as men-pleasers; but (4) as bondmen of Christ, doing the will of God from the soul, 7 (5) serving with good will as to the Lord, and not to men; 8 (6) knowing that whatever good each shall do, this he shall receive of the Lord, whether bond or free. vv.5-8 Six things ought to characterize the servant (employee) in his or her service. (1) Piety. We should be afraid that we would dishonor the Lord in any way by our conduct. (2) Simplicity. We should not seek great things for ourselves, often gotten in the world by clever schemes. Rather, be content with an enjoyment of our heavenly portion! (3) Reality. We should not act one way when we are working alone and a different way when our boss or co-workers are watching. (4) Fidelity (devotion to Christ). To realize that it is God’s will for you to be where you are, and to have a desire to do His will. (5) Charity. We are to labor out of love… a desire to see the blessing of their master, as if their master was the Lord, see v.9. (6) Understanding. We are to understand the government of God and the judgment seat of Christ. If we honor the Lord, no matter what our circumstance, there will be an eternal reward.
Workers’ Rights. One very difficult challenge many believers face in the western world is the issue of employee organizations that fight for workers rights; i.e. workers’ unions. Some jobs require belonging to a union, which complicates the matter. Unions often engage in strikes or other forms of rebellion against authority. These verses (vv.5-8) deal with certain attitudes in the worker that relate to this. Generally speaking, these exhortations do not mesh well at all with Christians in a union, because unions occupy the employee with his or her rights, not with the will of God. Nonetheless, every circumstance is different, and each believer must be before the Lord about employment decisions when unions are required.
The Character of a Master’s Treatment of His Servants (v.9)
9 And, masters, (1) do the same things towards them, (2) giving up threatening, (3) knowing that both their and your Master is in heaven, and (4) there is no acceptance of persons with him. v.9 Four things ought to characterize the master (employer) with regard to those who serve them. (1) Charity. The master should do “the same things”… that is, to act in “good will” (v.7) in all his dealings with his servants, just as the servant is to act toward him. This includes providing necessary training and supplies, and paying a reasonable wage. (2) Gentleness. Upon conversion, a formerly harsh master would “give up threatening” because he has put on the new man. Slaves were often motivated by the lash of a task master, or the threat of punishment. Those tactics should never characterize a Christian master. This indicated that a Christian employer should foster a healthy work environment. (3) Humility. The Christian master must remember that he ultimately shares the same Master as his servants; namely, the Lord in heaven. In this sense, the master is on par with his servants. Are you treating your servants how you would want the Lord to treat you? (4) Without partiality toward his servants. Treatment of servants or employees must be fair and honest, knowing that at the judgment seat of Christ, no partiality will be shown.