Ephesians 5: Relationships and Responsibilities in Perspective

Chapter five continues the theme of relationships and corresponding responsibilities. The first section (vv 1-21) is transitional from the spiritual sphere of the Body of Christ to the natural spheres of marriage (vv 22-33), family (6:1-4), and employment (6:5-9). We are described as “beloved children (of God),” “saints,” “light in the Lord,” “children of light,” and “wise.” As His people, we are being challenged to shine the light of His life in the midst of the darkness of the ungodly.

In the second section (vv 22-33), Christian husbands and wives are exhorted to manifest the beauty of love and respect, reflecting the pattern of the loving headship of Christ and respectful submission of the Church, His Body and Bride.

5:1-21 Behave Now as Children of God, as Children of Light

Verses 1-2 call us to “walk in love,” imitating the grace of our Father, and following Christ’s example – a life lived and given for us in devotion toward God. “But… ” (v 3) introduces a strong contrasting indictment against involvement in immoral lusts or insatiable greed, and challenging us to walk in the light (vv 3-14). We are to live like saints, and talk like saints, avoiding filthy or flippantly suggestive conversation (v 4). What is in our hearts will inevitably surface in our behavior and words: may it be contentment and thankfulness! A sobering reality check is given in verses 5-6: whatever they may profess, those who practice immorality or covetousness are outside of the kingdom of Christ, and face the judgment of God, not His approval. Covetousness is here equated with idolatry, being a rival to God in our heart or life. Whatever we love or trust most is “God” to us. We must not become participants in their pursuits (v 7). Though at one time belonging to the darkness, we now are “light in the Lord” (v 8), sharing His life and character. As we manifest our inner spiritual birth by living out the fruitful principles of “goodness and righteousness and truth”(v 9), we will be pleasing to the Lord (v 10). As being His light-bearers in the world, we must personally shun and reprove the worthless and shameful works of darkness (vv 11-13).

Reproof brings conviction of sin and potentially conversion. “Awake thou that sleepest …” (v 14, possibly quoting Isaiah 60:1-2) may refer to the conversion of a pagan out of the carelessness and corruption of sin, as a result of the beneficial effect of the light shining upon him. If referring to a believer, it is a challenge to rouse up from spiritual complacency and complicity with the attitudes and behavior of those around him. In either case, the caution to “walk circumspectly” (v 15) applies equally well. It requires careful concentration and sober evaluation to live prudently and productively, making use of opportunities to further the Lord’s purposes, despite the predominance of evil in the world (vv 15-17). While not evil in itself, wine progressively impairs self-control and discernment, endangering us and others around us, both morally and physically. In contrast, the indwelling Spirit enhances joy, wisdom, and strength to suppress evil, as we yield to His influence. Are we “being filled with the Spirit” (v 18)?

The following five dependent clauses (vv 19-21) reveal evidences of His influence. Meditation, praise, joy in the Lord, thankfulness to God as our Father in all our circumstances, and respectful consciousness of His presence also strengthen us to be good stewards of our relationships with one another, as implied in “submitting yourselves one to another” (v 21). Joyful submission to Christ prepares us to serve one another.

5:22-33 Headship and Submission: A Pattern Relationship

The hidden spiritual relationship of Christ and the Church provides the pattern and power for Christian husbands and wives. Each should serve the other as part of his or her submission and service to the Lord Himself.

The wife’s submission to her husband is founded upon four inter-related realities (vv 22-24). The family unit is a realm of divine administration, and He has appointed His representative, the man, as head with primary authority and responsibility, and his wife as his companion and complement, sharing his administration over the household and all possessions. This headship is a reflection of a greater Head, Christ, Who redeemed out of a ruined creation the Church as His Bride to be His complement, subject to Him, but also to share His administration over all things. The wife then is to seek to reflect the Church’s loving submission as fully as possible, without denying or violating her first responsibility to the Lord and His Word.

Husbands are called to reflect Christ’s headship of love (vv 25-29). While surpassing all comparison, key features are intentionally presented to give us incentive and perspective in our own marriages. Self-sacrifice is the undeniable proof of His love (v 25); sanctification is the undeviating purpose of His love (v 26), bringing us to perfect suitability as His eternally beautiful Bride – the undiminished prospect of His love (v 27). Another key feature introduced in verses 28-29 is love’s perception. Recognizing my wife as part of me honors the marital relationship as making us one, and establishes her as having priority over every other natural relationship and concern. Affectionate intimacy and instinctive care are mutually enjoyed, and emotional distancing and cruelty are abhorred. This again reflects the greater reality of His perception of us and provision for us as being part of Himself (v 30). The quotation (v 31) from Genesis 2 reveals that Eve’s formation from Adam’s flesh, and presentation to him as his bride, was deliberately designed to establish a pattern of permanent and exclusive oneness for male and female marital relationships. It also foreshadowed a greater reality and foundation for marriage: Christ the new head over a new creation, with the Church His Body and Bride (v 32). As husbands, are we reflecting His self-sacrificing love? As wives, are we manifesting respect?