Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
b. Children and Parents, Ephesians 6:1-4.
1. Children—Direct address to children as to the other relations; as if even the child should hear the apostolic voice and obey in it the divine command.
In the Lord—Qualifying obey, and implying that their obedience was, like every Christian character, embodied in Christ, who is the embodiment of man’s duty and God’s mercy.
This is right—There is a natural and fundamental rightness in this obedience. The parents are authors of your being; they furnish you with livelihood and bringing up, they are your representatives to the world, responsible for your good behaviour and well being. It is right, therefore, that for the proper discharge of those responsibilities you should submit your inferior judgments and wills to theirs. But this natural law is sanctioned by the divine law. The apostle quotes, without any words of introduction, the fifth commandment of the decalogue, assuming that all recognise the words.
For the same reason he is free to vary the verbal form.
2. Honour—Venerate as your natural and divinely sanctioned superiors and controllers.
Father and mother—Regarding both parents with equal though distinctive honour; the father with more awe, the mother with more love.
The first commandment with promise—How first in the decalogue with promise? Does not the second commandment promise that God is a Being showing mercy unto thousands of them that love him, and keep his commandments? The satisfactory reply is, that though embraced in this second commandment this promise belongs alike and expressly to all the commandments, and is not peculiar to one; whereas the promise of the fifth is expressly limited to that alone. But the apostle does not, of course, mean that its being the first in order of the decalogue is in itself important; but it is important symbolizing that it is first in promissory eminence, no other decalogue command having any promise at all. It is in this respect true first, and last, and sole, and therefore signal in its promissory character.
3. Well with thee—For conduct early well regulated by home law, is likely to he followed by that well regulated conduct which will secure the well-being through life. The child and the youth that obeys and honours his parents in the spirit of the command—that is, in the Lord, and as obeying Christ—is a true Christian. And as the promise is given to him in that spirit and character, never, but as he apostatizes from that spirit and character, can it be otherwise than well with him. Misfortune cannot ruin him, death cannot destroy him, eternity will set its perpetual seal upon his well-being.
Live long on the earth—He to whom God’s law, commencing with parental law, is a regulator in life, keeps apart from violent counsels and violent men. Temperance, regular industry, and upright behaviour, are great prolongers of life. This is just as clear as the reverse fact that violence, intemperance, debauchery, war, or wild excitements of any kind, are the real murderers of three fourths of mankind, even in civilized Christendom. The average of human life would be lengthened by a purification, commencing in home law, of human character. So pointedly does the decalogue look to the right sort of parentage for the right sort of an age, a nation, or a race.
Meyer well refutes the notion that the promise of the fifth commandment was addressed to the people as a whole, by noting that them and thee show that it was a promise to each individual. Yet the long life of each would be the long enjoyment of Canaan to the whole.
4. Fathers—Specially addressed as head and representative, with whom despotism, instead of over indulgence, is the more probable fault.
Provoke not… wrath—Avoid exciting angry passions and making such excitements habitual. The fierce countenance and angry tone children will soon learn to imitate, and become themselves readily fierce and angry. On the contrary, a calm, serene firmness ever maintained is a lesson that moulds them to calmness and serenity of character. Children under reasonable, rather than passionate, control, soon learn that there is reason in the control. Happy is the family where serene rule in the parents diffuses serene conduct through the whole.
Bring them up—Embracing the whole process, bodily and mental, of bringing from infancy to majority.
Nurture—Rather, discipline; the entire training by gentle or severe means to right character. It no doubt implies severity and chastisement in its place. Among the Greeks ακολασια, literally, unchastisedness, was a word to signify profligacy. Those spurious philanthropists who would forbid all chastisement of children, ought, in consistency, to prohibit all punishment of adult transgressors, and so abolish all criminal law, and give up society to the mercies of lawless men.
c. Servants and Masters, Ephesians 6:5-9.
5. Servants—See note, Luke 7:2. Alford thinks the word should have been translated slaves, but Macknight more nobly rejoices that the word servants is used, as including generically both bondservants and employees. Paul so exalts the motives on which the servant should act, as well to suit both the bondsmen by compulsion and the bondsman by an agreement to furnish service.
According to the flesh—As Christ is your master according to the spirit.
Fear and trembling—Not in terror of the masters, but as unto Christ, as the Corinthians received Titus, 2 Corinthians 7:15; and as we should all work out our own salvation.
Unto Christ—Not as to a human master, who has, indeed, no natural right to your service, but unto Christ; to whose name it is due that you should be a true and honest servant. So employees of all kinds, whether domestics, clerks, or workmen, should serve their employers with conscientious feeling that in serving them truly they were serving Christ.
6. Eyeservice—Service performed only because the eye of the master would detect its omission or slight performance. This is serving the eye and not the interest of the man we profess to serve. Alford quotes an anecdote from the Greek of Xenophon: for which we may give the following condensed equivalent. A farrier being asked what would quickly fatten a horse, replied, “The eye of the master.”
Servants—Or, as Alford frankly renders it, slaves, of Christ, who alone has a right to be your master, and, as such, requires your faithful service even to your wrongful masters. For be it noted once for all, that St. Paul does not say of the obedience of slaves as he does of children, this is naturally and intrinsically right. Ephesians 6:1.
7. From the heart, (Ephesians 6:6,) with good will—There should be a hearty good will to truly serve the master. This feeling will ever constitute the great distinction of a true servant.
8. The same shall he receive—The master may take the service, but God holds himself debtor for the service herein to him rendered.
9. Do the same things—That is, as Chrysostom interprets, As your bondsmen serve you, so do ye serve your bondsmen. Viewing them as Paul does, not with an eye to the rights of men, but to their duty before God, he sees master and slave as each bound to serve the other in Christ. Late interpreters, however, explain Paul’s words as meaning, analogically, Do what is due from you as masters. We think the old interpretation the true one.
Forbearing threatening—Gaining obedience by kindness and justice.
Your Master—Before whom master and slave are equal.
Respect of persons—Any sacrifice of pure justice to rank or position. See notes, Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11.
Closing appeals, Ephesians 6:10-24.
10. Finally—St. Paul, having finished his model Church, home Church included, now remembers that it is a militant Church. His Ephesians are the elect eternal of God; they have become so in conspicuous array against the Gentiles they have left; but they are to fight against apostate foes of God, who would conquer and capture them for a reprobate, instead of an elect, destiny.
My brethren—The only place, says Bengel, in which he calls them brethren; for in no place are fellow-soldiers so brethren as in battle array. But later critics decide that even here the word is not genuine.
Be strong—Rather, strengthened; for his whole letter has been cheering and triumphant.
Power of his might—Note on Ephesians 3:16.
11. Whole armour—Our word panoply is the same with the beautiful Greek word πανοπλια, the sum total of a soldier’s offensive and defensive equipment. In this great battle, of which the stake is eternal life, every armour piece must be put on.
Of God—Not of earthly nor of metal make, but of celestial temper, from the divine armory, furnished for us by God himself.
Wiles—Stratagems, ambushes, and treacheries of a faithless old foe, who disregards honourable warfare.
The devil—Prince of the kingdom of evil, and general of its armies.
12. Wrestle—The wrestle is to us. But as the wrestle requires no armour, St. Paul uses the word in the more extended sense of struggle.
Flesh and blood—Of which human bodies are composed, and which metal weapons mar and destroy. The real battle is super-earthly, in which men are the prizes of the victor, Christ or Satan. And St. Paul, in this picture of the war, looks upon men not as the true enemies, but as the proper objects, of salvation. The wrestle is not with physical bodies any more than with material weapons.
Principalities—The same terms as in Romans 8:38; there applied to the holy dominances, here designating their unholy adversaries.
Rulers… of this world—A single powerful term, κοσμοκρατορας, cosmocrators, (the English language has not naturalized cosmocrat as it has democrat and autocrat,) world-rulers. The Rabbies adopted the expressive Greek word in Hebrew characters and said: “Three kings were cosmocrators, ruling the world from one extremity to the other, Nebuchadnezzar, Evilmerodach, and Belshazzar.” And as this wrestle is not with men, but with higher powers in whose hands men are but mere instruments, so these cosmocrators are diabolic powers, extending their infernal power over our world.
Rulers of the darkness of this world— The true reading unquestionably is, The world-rulers of this darkness. The term cosmocrators expresses the extent of their rule, and the phrase this darkness, the limitation of their territory and the moral nature of their realm. This darkness need not be rendered this “state of darkness” with Afford; but, if we mistake not, it is Paul’s appellation, simple and literal, for this world, just as in Ephesians 5:8, the unregenerate world is called darkness. There may be many darknesses in the universe of worlds; and our own world is this darkness overruled by its own world-rulers.
Spiritual wickedness—Literally, The spiritual (the word being a plural adjective, requiring a plural substantive to be supplied) of wickedness. As the substantive after spiritual Alford supplies “armies,” Braune “hosts.” As comprehending these and more we should rather propose forces, the spiritual forces of wickedness.
High places—The word high is an unsuitable rendering for the same word as is rendered heavenly in Ephesians 1:3, where see note, and notes on Ephesians 2:2; Ephesians 2:6, and 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. High here signifies super-earthly or supernal; and here specifically intends that region in the supernal in which the spirits of good and the spirits of evil have their range. St. Paul uses the very generic Greek word rendered by us supernal, to include, specifically, either the “third heaven,” as in Ephesians 2:6, or the “aerial heaven,” (the air, of Ephesians 2:2,) as here; just as a European might, under the generic term America, specifically intend what takes place either in New York or New Orleans.
Paul’s terse description in this verse of the entire hostile array may therefore be rendered, principalities, powers, the world-rulers of this darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the aerial regions.
13. Wherefore—In view of the supernatural powers you have to encounter. Surely a divine armour, and the whole we can use, are necessary for a supernatural battle. Of the whole armour St. Paul mentions six pieces; four fixed in contact upon the body, namely: the girdle or belt, breastplate, sandals, and helmet; and two in the hands, the shield and the sword. All are protective but the last. And he mentions them in the order in which the warrior would be apt to put them on for battle. First, as preliminary to all easy action, he binds his loose tunic in the girdle, then puts the breastplate or coat of mail upon his chest. Then taking his shield in his left hand, with his right hand he first puts on his helmet, and then, taking his sword, is ready for the battle. Paul’s soldier is thoroughly protected, save that the legs do not seem to have their greaves or buskins.
In the evil day—Wherever or whenever the evil day comes, and whether it consist of adversity, temptation, or onslaughts of infidel advocates. Having done all of duty, whether of arming or fighting. To stand firmly and perpendicularly; in contrast with falling, running, or being captured. But, in fact, in this battle the only failure is cowardice or apostasy; he who truly fights is never conquered. He is sure, after the rush of battle has past, to stand. Just so in our national ballad, after the night of cannonade is over, and the morning dawns—”that flag is still there.”
14. Stand therefore—For what else should the soldier do?
Loins girt about—For long ages the girdle has been the Oriental regulator of the flowing dress. On the obelisks of Egypt and the bricks of Assyria the loins or waist are seen circled by the leathern or woven zone. Usually the sword or dagger is thereto suspended. Often the girdle was very richly ornamented; and that of one queen was contributed by the taxation of several wealthy cities. For the priest, or domestic, or soldier, the tightening of the girdle was the prelude to business.
With truth—Not only the objective truth of the gospel, but an interior trueness and fidelity to the truth. Strict Christian verity tightly bound around us tones up for every Christian duty.
The breastplate—A coat of mail designed to protect the chest and the breast.
Righteousness—Integrity or rectitude of Christian character. Placed upon the breast, the residence of the conscience, it firmly guarded it from danger, and so symbolizes the perfect security of integrity of soul.
15. Shod—Sandalled. The sandal was a leathern or wooden sole, strapped to the bottom of the foot by a thong, or latchet, which, winding around the ankle, was fastened by a knot. The sandals were generally unworn within
doors, and those of the wealthy were sometimes carried, tied, or unloosed by a servant. The warrior ready for battle would, of course, be tightly sandalled.
Preparation—Literally, preparedness, readiness. The feet of the soldier should be the residence of readiness, alertness, nimbleness, whether to chase the flying foe, or flee the victorious pursuer, or, as a herald, to bear the offers of peace to the enemy or the news of victory to his countrymen. Presupposing all these purposes of the soldier’s readiness, it is this last purpose, as herald, that St. Paul is led by the genius of the gospel to specify. His words are an evident allusion to Isaiah 52:7, “Beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings… of good.”
Gospel of peace—That is the good news, the glad tidings of peace from God. This blessed office is not confined to the ministry alone, but the whole Church is a herald of peace. And so every Christian soldier, even in fighting the battle, is both a warrior and a herald. And his readiness to bear both offices at once are here figured by the sandals.
16. Above all—Rather, over all, as protector.
Shield—This was a broad sheet of wood, covered with leather, usually four feet in length and two in breadth, and, held in the left hand, covered about two thirds of the person.
Of faith—Faith is here symbolized in its conservative power, warding off, according to the fulness of its strength, all the shafts of unbelief, infidelity, temptation, and sin. Nay, more, faith’s shield is able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. These so-called darts were a sort of hammer or mallet, with a head filled with combustible material, ignited, and a handle wherewith to hurl it into the ranks of the opposing army. But St. Paul bids his soldier to quench these blazing missiles with his shield. Dr. Eadie tells us, prosaically, that the shield cannot so quench; it can only ward off the dart, which is quenched as it falls. But St. Paul’s shield of faith is made of better material, and is altogether a superior article to the old wooden-leathern shield; being not only incombustible, but itself able to do the quenching of the fiery darts.
Of the wicked—Satan, the impersonation of evil, as Christ is the incarnation of good. And thence we know why his darts are fiery; not as alluding to our own burning lusts, but as emblems of infernal destruction. His mallet is dipped in the fire of gehenna, and its scorch is prelude to the everlasting burnings.
17. Helmet—The soldier’s cap, made of wood, of skins of wild beasts, or of metal, adorned with plumes, and framed to protect the head against the darts or blows of the foe.
Of salvation—Safety, moral, spiritual, and eternal; safety from the missiles of Satan, and from sin, death, and hell. This warrior, then, is well protected, crowned even now with eternal salvation; and, as said above, sure to conquer unless he turns coward or apostate. But besides all this defense, he bears the emblem of all offensive war, the sword.
The word of God—As the New Testament was not then written, this word of God must be the Old Testament, and the living word of the gospel as already preached, and being in process of writing by Christ’s authorized apostles. This sword is of the Spirit because the word is by the Spirit. And when the apostolic record was finished, and the volume of the book completed as the canon of Christ’s Church, then the Testaments, Old and New, are the sword of the Spirit wherewith we fight the battles of the faith. With this our Christian soldier will win his victories. He will not, indeed, kill the devil, or quickly drive him from the field; but he may deliver many a victim from his hand. And as for himself, the devil can never wrench the helmet of salvation from his head.
18. The image of the warrior in armour is here dropped; but what was even in ancient times the accompaniment of battle, prayer, is presented as a main part of the Christian soldier’s duty. The knights of the middle ages, who were often model Christian soldiers, consecrated themselves to the divine duty of defending innocence and sustaining justice, with nights of fasting and fervent prayer.
All prayer—All its forms and modes; whether public, private, domestic, or secret; whether oral, ejaculatory, or thought without words.
Supplication—A special form of prayer, distinguished from ascription and thanksgiving; here specified as matter of special request.
Watching—Waking, earnestly and directly thereto.
Perseverance—In the frame and purpose of prayer; supplication its direct expression.
For all saints—For the common spiritual interests and temporal welfare.
19. For me—Gradually and modestly the apostle brings them to the individual point, himself. The for before all saints is rather concerning; the for before me is a different word, in behalf of. Pray in regard to the saints in general; but pray especially for your apostle. But though he asks prayer for himself it is for no selfish object. He asks not for freedom from his chain, rescue from the axe, or restoration to his friends, but for greater efficiency in revealing Christ.
Utterance—Chrysostom and many others refer this to emancipation from silence imposed by Roman power. Thus he says, (as quoted by Braune,) “My chain suppresses my free utterance, but your prayer opens my mouth, that I may boldly speak.” But by utterance (Gr., word) we rather understand the divine furnishing or prompting of both thought and language, for which, in a degree, every true minister may look. Said Henry Longden, “Prepare your sermon as faithfully as if there were no Holy Spirit: and then preach as trustingly in the Holy Spirit as if you had made no preparation.”
I… mouth—Literally, that word may be given me in the opening of my mouth. The Giver of the word is the Opener of the mouth. He does the former by inspiring impulse; he does the latter, first, by providentially opening the way, and then inspiringly by opening the mouth.
Boldly—For he who speaks from the divine Opener of the mouth will very likely speak with a free, bold, divine fluency.
Mystery—The body of truths contained in the gospel, which are a mystery, unknown to the world until revealed now by Christ and his apostles. Matthew 13:11; note on Colossians 1:26.
20. For which—Namely, the mystery of the gospel, the revealed offer of peace to men.
In bonds—Literally, in a chain. Alluding, perhaps, to the single chain by which he was connected to a Roman soldier. An ambassador, not in robes, but in bonds. His insignia a chain, his retinue a Roman sentinel, his residence a prison; yet a palace, made a palace by the visitations of his Master, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. The apostle means the noble antithesis. He is asserting his own official dignity, not courting sympathy. Hence Wetstein’s note, quoted so often with admiration by commentators, (as Meyer, Eadie, Braune,) “usually ambassadors are by the law of nations sacred and inviolable, and cannot be held in chains,” is below the apostle’s strain. He is by his chain honoured and exalted above all earthly ambassadors. It was language like this that inspired the heroic and martyr spirit in the Church; and caused it, not only to glow so brightly, but to rise to such a height that Christian prudence was obliged to check its sometimes too earthly enthusiasm. It was in the rare character of Paul, “the apostle in a basket,” (Acts 9:25,) the ambassador in a chain, to raise humiliations into sublimities. He is indeed an ambassador, but from what court? From the throne of Christ. To what court? Not to the court of Rome, as one commentator suggests; but to the human race, whose head is Adam. What is his mission? To unfold the mystery of the gospel, in which are terms of reconciliation to the sons of Adam now engaged in the rebellion of Satan.
Ought—A term of self-assertion; yet not as a self, but as an apostle and ambassador.
21. From the ambassador he now passes to the man. But of his personalities no record is made; no mention more lasting than the breath of his messenger.
Tychicus—One of the group of subordinates around Paul, made a group by the attractions of his character. See Colossians 4:7-8.
22. Peace—The eastern salam imbued with the gospel spirit.
The brethren—In an unusual third person.
Love—Not merely pagan nor Jewish, but imbued with faith in Christ; such love, therefore, as none but his faithful possess. These, that is, the power for these, must be from God; their exercise must be from us. They are from God the Father, as the primal source; and from Christ, medium and channel.
24. Grace—A benedictory and valedictory prayer concerning all saints, Ephesians 6:18. In remembering each other let us remember the holy all.
In sincerity—Rather, in incorruption. The Greek term αφθαρσια is the incorruption in 1 Corinthians 15:42, of our resurrection bodies, by which, unlike our mortal bodies, they change not, putrefy not, disintegrate not, but remain in endless life, bloom, and power. And thus this sublime epistle, this lofty manifesto of Christ’s ambassador in a chain, ends worthily of itself in immortality; the immortality of the love of Christ its glorious theme indeed!
Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017
the Third Week of Lent
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