Paul continued his thought from chapter 4 in this chapter. He said, “Therefore, be imitators of God.” At the end of chapter 4, he said, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Paul said this in 4:32 and in 5:1 when he said, “be imitators of God.” Earlier in chapter four, Paul told the followers of Christ in Ephesus about Christ’s grace gifts for the strengthening and building up of the church, the body of Christ. He spoke, too, of how each individual follower is to live – with humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, love, preserving the unity and peace, speaking truth in love, working diligently, and being kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving. Every follower must "be renewed in the spirit of their mind" and continually be putting on the "new self" (vs. 4:23-24).
In chapter 5, Paul continued teaching how a child of God should walk. He or she must walk in love without immorality, impurity, or greed. The person must speak no filth, silly/foolish talk, or coarse jesting for a person who does these things does not have an “inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (vs. 5). In these verses, three through five, Paul spoke of wrong actions, thoughts, will, and speech. The Greek word for immorality Paul used is porneia from which we get our word pornography and means illicit sexual intercourse and worship of idols. Remember the old idol worship often involved sexual acts to appease those gods. The impurity Paul spoke of is uncleanness physically and morally such as lust, wanton living, and living in ease while others go do not have enough on which to live. Greed is included in these two definitions as well. Greed is of the mind – coveting- and of action – taking for yourself whether what you take is yours or not or hoarding even when others do not have enough. Paul spoke against speech that was filth, foolish, and coarse. This manner of speaking includes speaking obscenities, foolish talking, and bawdiness/indecency/immodesty. Remember Jesus Christ said what is in the heart makes a person clean or not. The manner of speaking shows the heart of a person. If a person speaks filthy, silly, and coarse talk, his or her heart is not clean; he or she is not clean. Paul said these are not the ways of being imitators of God. These show an immoral person (a person who commits sexual immorality), one who is impure (unclean in thought and life), and one who covets (is an idolater, choosing things over God). This person has no inheritance in the kingdom of God.
Paul continued teaching by saying, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (vs. 6). He moved from describing a person who is not a follower of Christ to telling them who to avoid, the people who deceive others. The “empty words” Paul spoke of are words without truth or effect. These kids of words have no effect to make you more Christlike, but draw you away from God. Because people speak these words, God’s wrath (His anger exhibited in punishment) comes upon the disobedient (those who are opposed to the divine will and follow Satan). To be imitators of God, do not listen to the false words these deceivers speak to you; do not be partakers with them. Paul said do not join and be like them, the sons of disobedience. Remember, before you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you were part of the darkness. Now you walk in the Light and are part of the Light in the Lord. So, walk as children of Light trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord (vs. 8, 10). Do not listen to the sons of darkness because they will not teach you what is pleasing to the Lord. You will know they are sons of darkness by their fruit. The “fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (vs. 9). The sons of Light will have the fruit of the Light – uprightness of heart and life, kindness, integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness and correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting, and truth as respecting God and the duties of humankind as opposed to the superstitions of unbelievers, corrupt opinions, and teachings of false teachers. Christians must learn how to test and prove a teaching to see if it is a false teaching or pleasing to the Lord so the sons of disobedience will not mislead them. Knowing God and His Word and testing every teaching against Him will show if it is false or pleasing to the Lord.
Paul stated what not to think, say, or enact. He reminded them, too, who they were before they accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they “were formerly darkness” (vs. 7). Now they are children of the Light and they grow more in the image of Christ. They knew this because of the fruit of Light in them – goodness, righteousness, and truth. Paul then taught them they must test and prove if a teaching is from the Lord. They must examine it to decide if they should follow it based on if it comes from the Lord. Paul then commanded them not to be part of “the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but expose them for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things, which are done by them in secret” (vs. 11-12). The Christian must expose deeds that are barren and that do not yield fruits of the Light. This word “expose” comes from the Greek word elegcho, which means refute, reprove, correct, and admonish. Followers of Christ must be growing ever more like God, becoming imitators of God, so that they recognize Truth from falsehood that tries to trick people. When Christians recognize false teachings, they must refute and correct them – expose them – so that they will be clear and people will not follow them. Christians must expose these false teachings by bringing them into the Light so their falsity will be known. Christ, Paul said in verse 14, re-quoting Isaiah 60:1, is the one who shines on those who were dead before and in darkness. Christ shines on the world to show the darkness and bring Light and truth to everyone. When a person is a son or daughter of the Light, Christ’s light shines in them and the false teachers no longer can mislead them if they follow Him, become more like Him by knowing His Word and His heart. These children of God are children of Light and darkness no longer holds any power over them.
Paul next used “therefore” again. Since you are God’s children, he said, be careful how you walk, how you conduct yourself, not as foolish men, but as wise men. In verse sixteen, Paul said make the most of your time (redeem the time other translations say) because the days of this age are evil. Paul taught them to use their time wisely and told them not to fall prey to temptation or sin because Satan is at work in the world. Since you are God’s children, Satan will work even harder on you to trick you and make you fall. So, do not be foolish to act rashly without reflection and intelligence. Make sure you understand the will of the Lord for you in that time and place (vs. 17). To make sure you are not being foolish and acting rashly, do not get drunk with wine, for that dissipation will make you act or speak foolishly. Instead, Paul said, be filled with the Spirit (vs. 18). In this section of the chapter, Paul explained that Christians are children of Light and the devil works harder against God’s children to trip them and make them appear foolish. Instead, Paul said, be careful how you walk and use your time; understand what the Lord's will is. Be wise and make good use of your time so you do not fall to the temptations the devil puts before you, which makes you sin. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
Verses nineteen through twenty-one explain what Paul meant by being filled with the Spirit. Paul spoke of speaking, singing, making melody, giving thanks, and being subject to one another. To do these in the way God intended requires the Holy Spirit to live in a person, which occurs in Christians. First, in verse nineteen, Paul said, “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” Why did he not say singing to one another? Paul spoke of the basic level of relaying about God, through our speech. When we go to church or are in another Christian assembly, we do not sing everything we say. We speak more than we sing, most likely. Paul made sure that the children of God knew they were to speak and sing about God. The speaking to one another builds up each other’s faith and resolve. It gives a testimony of praise about God to another and reminds and teaches them about God and the faith. When more than one person speaks about God, they are in accord with one another in their testifying of God and the faith. This is where the songs enter. Songs are words sung in accord, not discordance, about God and the faith. When more than one person is testifying about God at the same time, unity and harmony/accordance between people exists. It becomes a song sung with each person’s voice being a different part of the chord of praise to God. This is the difference between speaking and singing. Not to say one person cannot sing to and about God on their own, but the transition for Paul from speaking to singing shows this accord/unity and relates the chords of music to God’s ears. This becomes mutual edification and an upliftment of the church.
Now, what is the difference between psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, you may ask? I asked, too, why Paul differentiated between these. The “psalms” may be Paul saying we should speak and sing the psalms of David, Zacharias, Simeon, et al. of the Bible. The psalms are pious songs. They lead us to the divine, preparing us to worship and leading us to worship. Hymns are sacred sons as tithes of praises to God. We offer back to God our praise as a tithe of who we are recognizing our littleness and His greatness. Spiritual songs odes and songs sung speaking of historical God, His disciples, doctrine, prophecy, etc. Notice Paul did not stop with only lip service. He said the children of God sing these songs of faith while filled with the Spirit. This contrasts with the songs of the drunk. The songs of Christians while filled with the Spirit are not obscene of profane. These songs sung together by God’s children make a melody that is pleasing to the Lord from the heart. This singing is not lip service, but reaches into the heart and erupts forth in soulful songs to God. A unity occurs within the body of Christ as they speak, sing, and make melody to God. Unity occurs, too, within the individual Christian between his or her heart (their inward affection) and his or her voice (the outward expression of mental assent). These services use the whole – body, heart, mind, and soul. Paul said that while we are speaking and singing of these three elements of faith, we must “always be giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Christ to God, even the Father” (vs. 20). When we are singing praises to God, we cannot escape thanking God. These two go hand in hand. When we recite the history of faith, we must thank God for being there. When we speak of doctrine, an urge of the heart is in a person to thank God for what He has done in providing for and saving us. Thanks go hand in hand with each of these parts of speaking and singing.
Paul gave one other act that comes with the Spirit’s infilling a person– being subject to one another in fear of Christ” (vs. 21). Teachers and preachers speak of this word “subject” most often as “submission.” Many people balk at this word and refuse in their minds to be under submission to someone else. It speaks of the servitude of one person to another. In the history of humankind, taskmasters enforced this servitude upon other people making them a lower caste of person. Paul and Jesus did not mean this kind of submission. The words “subject” and “submission” come from the Greek word hupotasso. This word is a voluntary yielding of one’s self to another person, a teaching, admonition, or advice. People submit themselves to other people to cooperate in reaching a goal. Subjecting is a mutual action. There are requirements upon the one to whom a person submits him or herself. The leader/chairperson/boss/preacher must be obedient to ensure the attainment of the goal, too. He or she is accountable/responsible to the organization/church/employer/committee for his or her actions in attaining the goal as well as accountable to the persons who have submitted themselves to him or her for the task. For instance, in a church, at the most basic level, the members of the church who have called a pastor to lead them as the local body of Christ are to submit (give) themselves to the pastor’s authority in building up the church, reaching the lost, and following the leading of God. The pastor is to submit/give him or herself to the body of the church as a humble shepherd leading them to follow Christ. He or she is to submit him or herself to God as he or she leads to church, too. This means the pastor is accountable to the church and to God. Likewise, as a part of the body of Christ, each member of the church is accountable to God and to the church. Submission is a mutual voluntary yielding of one’s will to meet the goal of the group. Paul described what submission is in verse 21. Submission is a two-way thing – being in obedience to another as your choice and being accountable/responsible to God for those who are subject to you. Paul gave more definition of what this subjection is in 5:22-6:9. He gave pertinent examples of submission in these later verses.
Paul gave three common examples of relationships during the time he wrote this letter to the Ephesians – husband and wife, children and parent, and master and slave. We must note, though, that Paul stated in 5:32, “This mystery (man and woman leaving their parents to become husband and wife) is great, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” The examples Paul gave in the letter to the Ephesians about submission/subjection lead us back to the relationship of Christ to the church, the bridegroom and the bride. This important verse is the key to true submission, Godly submission. The examples are what Paul used to shed light on godly submission and what Christ calls us to in relationship with Himself. We must notice another important point. Paul changed or “renewed” these three types of common relationships. He took common relationships of non-Jewish background, reminded the Ephesians they are children of God and explained how they are different, renewed, now. Now they and every Christian has the Spirit of God living within them, which comes because of the love of God and fills us with His love. God changed, renewed, these common to the way He intended by incorporating love for one another within them. This is very important for them back then and for us now. Without the love of God in these relationships and every relationship, an enforcer mentality of the one submitted to and a lower caste mentality by the one submitting or subjecting themselves to the “leader” is found. In the "old self" method of living, a unilateral act of submission is found, the lower person to the higher person. In the “new man” way of living with the Spirit residing in each person, a bi-lateral submission is found. This means that in the old way, the understood submitter the actor, does the will of the other. The leader does not submit to anyone, but enforces his or her will on the other person. In the new way, the submission is mutual, voluntary, and done by every person involved in the relationship. The Greek word hupotasso that Paul used here means this exactly. Every parties of the relationship are accountable to the other and to God. The responsibility for enacting this submission in a godly way is on both sides and they are each accountable to God for their own submission to the other person(s).
This understanding of “being subject” or “being submissive” from verse twenty-one transforms the old understood customs of relationship. In the remaining verses of chapter 5 and the first nine verses of chapter 6, Paul shows how the normal relationships are renewed/changed by God into the way He intended from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). Now, in looking at the relationship between husband and wife, Paul said, “Wives, be subject/submissive to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (5:22). As Christians, husbands and wives are first to be submissive to God and this shows their love and reverence (fear) of the Lord. This fear is not like being afraid for our safety, but out of reverence. It shows the difference between the old way of relating to each other and the new way. We submit/subject ourselves to another because we revere them and hold them in esteem, which comes because of love and awe. Paul further stated, “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body” (5:23). God set up the headship of a family like He did the headship of the local church and the universal church. He did not say they are to enforce their headship with punishment and aggression, but with love, as the definition of hupotasso shows. This verse shows, too, the husband is to be the head of the family like Christ is of the church. Christ loved His bride, the church so much that He died for them. This love of Christ is the love the husband is to have for his wife and family while he is administering the role God placed upon him. Paul stated this in verse twenty-four when he said, “But the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” God ordains the leaders who are then accountable to lead as Christ leads. Paul commanded this in verses twenty-five to twenty-six, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” In the dependent clause of this statement, Paul taught that Christ died for the church to sanctify her through His baptism of them, which came from His Gospel, the message of salvation and faith. This does not mean husbands sanctify the wives. Paul made sure to put the dependent clause after the action of Christ. Remember, Paul used these relationship examples to help the Ephesians and us to understand what godly submission is in regards to Christ.
Paul went further in his theological teaching here about Christ and the church. He stated that Christ sanctified the church so that “He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle (sin or flaw) or any such thing, but that she would be holy (hagios – a saint) and blameless.” This washing of the church Paul spoke of by Christ is reminiscent of the bathing in oils and perfumes a bride went through before her wedding day in biblical times. Christ washed the church with His blood when each person accepted His salvation, forgiveness, and Lordship. He made His bride, the church, holy and blameless. Christ forgave her sins so that she was completely clean so that she was a sweet aroma to the Groom, Christ. These verses speak of Jesus’ work for the church. A husband cannot spiritually cleanse his wife the same way Jesus cleanses the church, but he can take an active, caring interest in his wife’s spiritual health, like the pastor or shepherd of the home. So Paul said, “Husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies” like Christ does His body, the church (vs. 28). “He who loves his own wife loves himself, for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church because we are members of His body” (vs. 28). Paul went back to the focus being on Christ and His bride. He likened the church of Christ being the bride and Jesus Christ as being the bridegroom. The people understood this relationship and Paul told them how much Christ loved them, His bride. In relation, they should love and cherish their wives so that the submission is a sweet aroma and not an onerous command for the wife. God’s love is what changes the relationships of humankind. What was once an enforced relationship of taskmaster and servant became a voluntary, mutual love relationship of mutual submission between both parties and God.
Before Paul continued with the other two common types of relationships (parent and child and master and slave), he reminded his hearers and readers of what he taught them. He reminded them of what God ordained in Genesis 2:24, which says, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” Then, Paul restated what he taught just before, “This mystery (about husband and wife in Genesis 2:24) is great, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church (emphasis is mine).” The relationship between Christ and the church consists of the Spirit, faith, and a natural bond like husband and wife. Paul stated that he taught about Christ and His relationship to His bride using this example of the renewed husband and wife relationship. Paul pointed them back to the theme of this section of his letter, Christ and His bride. This husband wife relationship shows that Jesus wants more than just an external surface relationship. He wants to be one with us, His bride. Additionally, it shows that Jesus was, in a sense, incomplete without us (remember God created us to be in a relationship with Him), just as Adam was incomplete without Eve. Ephesians 1:23 says this of the church, His body, the fullness of Him who fills every believers. These relationships of husband and wife and Christ and the church show the common connection of unity and oneness in the two relationships. Remember in chapter 4 and the beginning of chapter 5, Paul spoke of unity and oneness in the church. He still spoke of it here in this relationship of Christ to His church.
At the end of chapter 5, Paul stated this renewed relationship by Christ in this way, “Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.” The key ingredient then, as Paul stated, is love. The husband is to love his wife as himself. The word translated "respect" in our language is the Greek word phobeo, which means to reverence/fear/be in awe of someone. Reverence means to love and esteem someone. So, the wife must love and esteem her husband. This renewing of the husband and wife relationship comes by God through Jesus Christ’s salvation of humankind. The renewing returns love to the relationship. To take this relationship back to Paul’s point, the wife is synonymous with church, Christ’s bride, and Christ is the bridegroom. The church must love Christ, which means each member must be cherished and nurtured by the other members of the church and each member must individually and jointly nourish and cherish the church and love Christ, the husband of the church, as He loves us. By nurturing and cherishing members of the church, Christians love Christ and submit to Him. Each of us must voluntarily subject/submit ourselves to Him because of our love for Him, which comes from His love for us.
This whole section is about the church’s and each individual member’s relationship with Christ. Paul arrived at this point as he explained how not to be taken in by false teachers. He spoke to the Ephesians and “faithful followers” so they would grow and edify each other, be unified, and grow in strength through their relationship with God and each other. So, Paul stated the way to be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in His love is not to be like the world, immoral, impure, and greedy, speaking with obscene and foolish talk, and deceiving with empty words and false teachings. Instead, walk as children of the Light in goodness, righteousness, and truth by exposing everything to the light of God’s Word through the Holy Spirit. In addition, be wise how you use your time and understand what the will of the Lord is. Be in assembly and fellowship with fellow Christians speaking and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual sons making melody with your lips and heart to the Lord. Most importantly, be subject to one another (other Christians) in the fear, reverence, and love of Christ.
This takes us to the point of our own considerations now. Do you know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior? Are you in a submissive relationship with Him founded on love? If you do not know or know you are not, pray to God asking Him to show Himself to you. Speak to a local Christian pastor about how to become a follower of Christ - be renewed in the spirit of your mind and put on the new self – and become joined to Christ and His body in love, respect, and esteem living in submission to the will of God.
What do you need to do?
Ask Jesus into your heart as the Savior of your soul and forgiver of your sin.
Ask Him to show you a Christian church family where you can individually and jointly be in relationship with Christ and be in submission to His will.