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1.Children, obey. Why does the apostle use the word obey instead of honor, (167) which has a greater extent of meaning? It is because Obedience is the evidence of that honor which children owe to their parents, and is therefore more earnestly enforced. It is likewise more difficult; for the human mind recoils from the idea of subjection, and with difficulty allows itself to be placed under the control of another. Experience shews how rare this virtue is; for do we find one among a thousand that is obedient to his parents? By a figure of speech, a part is here put for the whole, but it is the most important part, and is necessarily accompanied by all the others.
In the Lord. Besides the law of nature, which is acknowledged by all nations, the obedience of children is enforced by the authority of God. Hence it follows, that parents are to be obeyed, so far only as is consistent with piety to God, which comes first in order. If the command of God is the rule by which the submission of children is to be regulated, it would be foolish to suppose that the performance of this duty could lead away from God himself.
For this is right. This is added in order to restrain the fierceness which, we have already said, appears to be natural to almost all men. He proves it to be right, because God has commanded it; for we are not at liberty to dispute, or call in question, the appointment of him whose will is the unerring rule of goodness and righteousness. That honor should be represented as including obedience is not surprising; for mere ceremony is of no value in the sight of God. The precept, honor thy father and mother, comprehends all the duties by which the sincere affection and respect of children to their parents can be expressed.
2.Which is the first commandment with promise. The promises annexed to the commandments are intended to excite our hopes, and to impart a greater cheerfulness to our obedience; and therefore Paul uses this as a kind of seasoning to render the submission, which he enjoins on children, more pleasant and agreeable. He does not merely say, that God has offered a reward to him who obeys his father and mother, but that such an offer is peculiar to this commandment. If each of the commandments had its own promises, there would have been no ground for the commendation bestowed in the present instance. But this is the first commandment, Paul tells us, which God has been pleased, as it were, to seal by a remarkable promise. There is some difficulty here; for the second commandment likewise contains a promise,
“I am the Lord thy God, who shew mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”
But this is universal, applying indiscriminately to the whole law, and cannot be said to be annexed to that commandment. Paul’s assertion still holds true, that no other commandment but that which enjoins the obedience due by children to their parents is distinguished by a promise.
3.That it may be well with thee. The promise is — a long life; from which we are led to understand that the present life is not to be overlooked among the gifts of God. On this and other kindred subjects I must refer my reader to the Institutes of the Christian Religion; (168) satisfying myself at present with saying, in a few words, that the reward promised to the obedience of children is highly appropriate. Those who shew kindness to their parents from whom they derived life, are assured by God, that in this life it will be well with them.
And that thou mayest live long on the earth. Moses expressly mentions the land of Canaan,
“that thy days may be long upon the land which
the Lord thy God giveth thee.” (Exodus 20:12.)
Beyond this the Jews could not conceive of any life more happy or desirable. But as the same divine blessing is extended to the whole world, Paul has properly left out the mention of a place, the peculiar distinction of which lasted only till the coming of Christ.
(168) See volume 1 page 468.
4.And, ye fathers. Parents, on the other hand, are exhorted not to irritate their children by unreasonable severity. This would excite hatred, and would lead them to throw off the yoke altogether. Accordingly, in writing to the Colossians, he adds, “lest they be discouraged.” (Colossians 3:21.) Kind and liberal treatment has rather a tendency to cherish reverence for their parents, and to increase the cheerfulness and activity of their obedience, while a harsh and unkind manner rouses them to obstinacy, and destroys the natural affections. But Paul goes on to say, “let them be fondly cherished;” for the Greek word, (
5.Servants, be obedient. His exhortation to servants is so much the more earnest, on account of the hardship and bitterness of their condition, which renders it more difficult to be endured. And he does not speak merely of outward obedience, but says more about fear willingly rendered; for it is a very rare occurrence to find one who willingly yields himself to the control of another. The servants (
But as some of the worst men were compelled by the dread of punishment, he distinguishes between Christian and ungodly servants, by the feelings which they cherished.With fear and trembling; that is, with the careful respect which springs from an honest purpose. It can hardly be expected, however, that so much deference will be paid to a mere man, unless a higher authority shall enforce the obligation; and therefore he adds,as doing the will of God. (Ver. 6.) Hence it follows, that it is not enough if their obedience satisfy the eyes of men; for God requires truth and sincerity of heart. When they serve their masters faithfully, they obey God. As if he had said, “Do not suppose that by the judgment of men you were thrown into slavery. It is God who has laid upon you this burden, who has placed you in the power of your masters. He who conscientiously endeavors to render what he owes to his master, performs his duty not to man only, but to God.”
With good will doing service. (Ver. 7.) This is contrasted with the suppressed indignation which swells the bosom of slaves. Though they dare not openly break out or give signs of obstinacy, their dislike of the authority exercised over them is so strong, that it is with the greatest unwillingness and reluctance that they obey their masters.
Whoever reads the accounts of the dispositions and conduct of slaves, which are scattered through the writings of the ancients, will be at no loss to perceive that the number of injunctions here given does not exceed that of the diseases which prevailed among this class, and which it was of importance to cure. But the same instruction applies to male and female servants of our own times. It is God who appoints and regulates all the arrangements of society. As the condition of servants is much more agreeable than that of slaves in ancient times, they ought to consider themselves far less excusable, if they do not endeavor, in every way, to comply with Paul’s injunctions.
Masters according to the flesh. (Ver. 5.) This expression is used to soften the harsh aspect of slavery. He reminds them that their spiritual freedom, which was by far the most desirable, remained untouched.
8.Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth. What a powerful consolation! However unworthy, however ungrateful or cruel, their masters may be, God will accept their services as rendered to himself. When servants take into account the pride and arrogance of their masters, they often become more indolent from the thought that their labor is thrown away. But Paul informs them that their reward is laid up with God for services which appear to be ill bestowed on unfeeling men; and that there is no reason, therefore, why they should be led aside from the path of duty. He adds, whether bond or free No distinction is made between a slave and a free man. The world is wont to set little value on the labors of slaves; but God esteems them as highly as the duties of kings. In his estimate, the outward station is thrown aside, and each is judged according to the uprightness of his heart.
9.And ye masters. In the treatment of their slaves, the laws granted to masters a vast amount of power. Whatever had thus been sanctioned by the civil code was regarded by many as in itself lawful. To such an extent did their cruelty in some instances proceed, that the Roman emperors were forced to restrain their tyranny. But though no royal edicts had ever been issued for the protection of slaves, God allows to masters no power over them beyond what is consistent with the law of love. When philosophers attempt to give to the principles of equity their full effect in restraining the excess of severity to slaves, they inculcate that masters ought to treat them in the same manner as hired servants. But they never look beyond utility; and, in judging even of that, they inquire only what is advantageous to the head of the family, or conducive to good order. The Apostle proceeds on a very different principle. He lays down what is lawful according to the Divine appointment, and how far they, too, are debtors to their servants.
Do the same things to them. “Perform the duty which on your part you owe to them.” What he calls in another Epistle, (
Forbearing threatenings. Every expression of disdain, arising from the pride of masters, is included in the single word, threatenings. They are charged not to assume a lordly air or a terrific attitude, as if they were constantly threatening some evil against their servants, when they have occasion to address them. Threatenings, and every kind of barbarity, originate in this, that masters look upon their servants as if they had been born for their sake alone, and treat them as if they were of no more value than cattle. Under this one description, Paul forbids every kind of disdainful and barbarous treatment.
Their Master and yours. A very necessary warning. What is there which we will not dare to attempt against our inferiors, if they have no ability to resist, and no means of obtaining redress, — if no avenger, no protector appears, none who will be moved by compassion to listen to their complaints? It happens here, in short, according to the common proverb, that Impunity is the mother of Licentiousness. But Paul here reminds them, that, while masters possess authority over their servants, they have themselves the same Master in heaven, to whom they must render an account.
And there is no respect of persons with him. A regard to persons blinds our eyes, so as to leave no room for law or justice; but Paul affirms that it is of no value in the sight of God. By person is meant anything about a man which does not belong to the real question, and which we take into account in forming a judgment. Relationship, beauty, rank, wealth, friendship, and everything of this sort, gain our favor; while the opposite qualities produce contempt and sometimes hatred. As those absurd feelings arising from the sight of a person have the greatest possible influence on human judgments, those who are invested with power are apt to flatter themselves, as if God would countenance such corruptions. “Who is he that God should regard him, or defend his interest against mine?” Paul, on the contrary, informs masters that they are mistaken if they suppose that their servants will be of little or no account before God, because they are so before men. “God is no respecter of persons,” (Acts 10:34,) and the cause of the meanest man will not be a whit less regarded by him than that of the loftiest monarch.
(169) See Colossians 4:1 — fj.
10.Finally. Resuming his general exhortations, he again enjoins them to be strong, — to summon up courage and vigor; for there is always much to enfeeble us, and we are ill fitted to resist. But when our weakness is considered, an exhortation like this would have no effect, unless the Lord were present, and stretched out his hand to render assistance, or rather, unless he supplied us with all the power. Paul therefore adds, in the Lord. As if he had said, “‘You have no right to reply, that you have not the ability; for all that I require of you is, be strong in the Lord. ” To explain his meaning more fully, he adds, in the power of his might, which tends greatly to increase our confidence, particularly as it shews the remarkable assistance which God usually bestows upon believers. If the Lord aids us by his mighty power, we have no reason to shrink from the combat. But it will be asked, What purpose did it serve to enjoin the Ephesians to be strong in the Lord’s mighty power, which they could not of themselves accomplish? I answer, there are two clauses here which must be considered. He exhorts them to be courageous, but at the same time reminds them to ask from God a supply of their own deficiencies, and promises that, in answer to their prayers, the power of God will be displayed.
11.Put on the whole armor. God has furnished us with various defensive weapons, provided we do not indolently refuse what is offered. But we are almost all chargeable with carelessness and hesitation in using the offered grace; just as if a soldier, about to meet the enemy, should take his helmet, and neglect his shield. To correct this security, or, we should rather say, this indolence, Paul borrows a comparison from the military art, and bids us put on the whole armor of God. We ought to be prepared on all sides, so as to want nothing. The Lord offers to us arms for repelling every kind of attack. It remains for us to apply them to use, and not leave them hanging on the wall. To quicken our vigilance, he reminds us that we must not only engage in open warfare, but that we have a crafty and insidious foe to encounter, who frequently lies in ambush; for such is the import of the apostle’s phrase, THE WILES (170) (
(170) “Plutarch tells us, (Symp. l. 2., page 638,) that wrestling was the most artful and subtle of all the ancient games, and that the name of it (
12.For we wrestle (171) not. To impress them still more deeply with their danger, he points out the nature of the enemy, which he illustrates by a comparative statement, Not against flesh and blood. The meaning is, that our difficulties are far greater than if we had to fight with men. There we resist human strength, sword is opposed to sword, man contends with man, force is met by force, and skill by skill; but here the case is widely different. All amounts to this, that our enemies are such as no human power can withstand. By flesh and blood the apostle denotes men, who are so denominated in order to contrast them with spiritual assailants. This is no bodily struggle.
Let us remember this when the injurious treatment of others provokes us to revenge. Our natural disposition would lead us to direct all our exertions against the men themselves; but this foolish desire will be restrained by the consideration that the men who annoy us are nothing more than darts thrown by the hand of Satan. While we are employed in destroying those darts, we lay ourselves open to be wounded on all sides. To wrestle with flesh and blood will not only be useless, but highly pernicious. We must go straight to the enemy, who attacks and wounds us from his concealment, — who slays before he appears.
But to return to Paul. He describes our enemy as formidable, not to overwhelm us with fear, but to quicken our diligence and earnestness; for there is a middle course to be observed. When the enemy is neglected, he does his utmost to oppress us with sloth, and afterwards disarms us by terror; so that, ere the engagement has commenced, we are vanquished. By speaking of the power of the enemy, Paul labors to keep us more on the alert. He had already called him the devil, but now employs a variety of epithets, to make the reader understand that this is not an enemy who may be safely despised.
Against principalities, against powers. Still, his object in producing alarm is not to fill us with dismay, but to excite us to caution. He calls them
By calling it wickedness, he denotes the malignity and cruelty of the devil, and, at the same time, reminds us that the utmost caution is necessary to prevent him from gaining an advantage. For the same reason, the epithet spiritual is applied; for, when the enemy is invisible, our danger is greater. There is emphasis, too, in the phrase, in heavenly places; for the elevated station from which the attack is made gives us greater trouble and difficulty.
An argument drawn from this passage by the Manicheans, to support their wild notion of two principles, is easily refuted. They supposed the devil to be (
13.Wherefore take unto you. Though our enemy is so powerful, Paul does not infer that we must throw away our spears, but that we must prepare our minds for the battle. A promise of victory is, indeed, involved in the exhortation, that ye may be able. If we only put on the whole armor of God, and fight valiantly to the end, we shall certainly stand. On any other supposition, we would be discouraged by the number and variety of the contests; and therefore he adds, in the evil day. By this expression he rouses them from security, bids them prepare themselves for hard, painful, and dangerous conflicts, and, at the same time, animates them with the hope of victory; for amidst the greatest dangers they will be safe. And having done all. They are thus directed to cherish confidence through the whole course of life. There will be no danger which may not be successfully met by the power of God; nor will any who, with this assistance, fight against Satan, fail in the day of battle.
14.Stand therefore. Now follows a description of the arms which they were enjoined to wear. We must not, however, inquire very minutely into the meaning of each word; for an allusion to military customs is all that was intended. Nothing can be more idle than the extraordinary pains which some have taken to discover the reason why righteousness is made a breastplate, instead of a girdle. Paul’s design was to touch briefly on the most important points required in a Christian, and to adapt them to the comparison which he had already used.
Truth, which means sincerity of mind, is compared to a girdle. Now, a girdle was, in ancient times, one of the most important parts of military armor. Our attention is thus directed to the fountain of sincerity; for the purity of the gospel ought to remove from our minds all guile, and from our hearts all hypocrisy. Secondly, he recommends righteousness, and desires that it should be a breastplate for protecting the breast. Some imagine that this refers to a freely bestowed righteousness, or the imputation of righteousness, by which pardon of sin is obtained. But such matters ought not, I think, to have been mentioned on the present occasion; for the subject now under discussion is a blameless life. He enjoins us to be adorned, first, with integrity, and next with a devout and holy life.
15.And your feet shod. The allusion, if I mistake not, is to the military greaves; for they were always reckoned a part of the armor, and were even used for domestic purposes. As soldiers covered their legs and feet to protect them against cold and other injuries, so we must be shod with the gospel, if we would pass unhurt through the world. It is the gospel of peace, and it is so called, as every reader must perceive, from its effects; for it is the message of our reconciliation to God, and nothing else gives peace to the conscience. But what is the meaning of the word preparation? Some explain it as an injunction to be prepared for the gospel; but it is the effect of the gospel which I consider to be likewise expressed by this term. We are enjoined to lay aside every hinderance, and to be prepared both for journey and for war. By nature we dislike exertion, and want agility. A rough road and many other obstacles retard our progress, and we are discouraged by the smallest annoyance. On these accounts, Paul holds out the gospel as the fittest means for undertaking and performing the expedition. Erasmus proposes a circumlocution, (
16.Taking the shield of faith. Though faith and the word of God are one, yet Paul assigns to them two distinct offices. I call them one, because the word is the object of faith, and cannot be applied to our use but by faith; as faith again is nothing, and can do nothing, without the word. But Paul, neglecting so subtle a distinction, allowed himself to expatiate at large on the military armor. In the first Epistle to the Thessalonians he gives both to faith and to love the name of a breastplate, — “putting on the breastplate of faith and love,” (1 Thessalonians 5:8.) All that was intended, therefore, was obviously this, — “He who possesses the excellencies of character which are here described is protected on every hand.”
And yet it is not without reason that the most necessary instruments of warfare — a sword and a shield — are compared to faith, and to the word of God. In the spiritual combat, these two hold the highest rank. By faith we repel all the attacks of the devil, and by the word of God the enemy himself is slain. If the word of God shall have its efficacy upon us through faith, we shall be more than sufficiently armed both for opposing the enemy and for putting him to flight. And what shall we say of those who take from a Christian people the word of God? Do they not rob them of the necessary armor, and leave them to perish without a struggle? There is no man of any rank who is not bound to be a soldier of Christ. But if we enter the field unarmed, if we want our sword, how shall we sustain that character?
Wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the darts. But quench appears not to be the proper word. Why did he not use, instead of it, ward off or shake off, or some such word? Quench is far more expressive; for it is adapted to the epithet applied to darts The darts of Satan are not only sharp and penetrating, but — what makes them more destructive — they are fiery Faith will be found capable, not only of blunting their edge, but of quenching their heat.
“This,” says John, “is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4.)
17.And take the helmet of salvation. In a passage already quoted, (1 Thessalonians 5:8,) “the hope of salvation” is said to be a helmet, which I consider to be in the same sense as this passage. The head is protected by the best helmet, when, elevated by hope, we look up towards heaven to that salvation which is promised. It is only therefore by becoming the object of hope that salvation is a helmet.
18.Praying always with all prayer. Having instructed the Ephesians to put on their armor, he now enjoins them to fight by prayer. This is the true method. To call upon God is the chief exercise of faith and hope; and it is in this way that we obtain from God every blessing. Prayer and supplication are not greatly different from each other, except that supplication is only one branch of prayer
With all perseverance. We are exhorted to persevere in prayer. Every tendency to weariness must be counteracted by a cheerful performance of the duty. With unabated ardor we must continue our prayers, though we do not immediately obtain what we desire. If, instead of with all perseverance, some would render it, with all Earnestness, I would have no objection to the change.
But what is the meaning of always? Having already spoken of continued application, does he twice repeat the same thing? I think not. When everything flows on prosperously, — when we are easy and cheerful, we seldom feel any strong excitement to prayer, — or rather, we never flee to God, but when we are driven by some kind of distress. Paul therefore desires us to allow no opportunity to pass, — on no occasion to neglect prayer; so that praying always is the same thing with praying both in prosperity and in adversity.
For all saints. There is not a moment of our life at which the duty of prayer may not be urged by our own wants. But unremitting prayer may likewise be enforced by the consideration, that the necessities of our brethren ought to move our sympathy. And when is it that some members of the church are not suffering distress, and needing our assistance? If, at any time, we are colder or more indifferent about prayer than we ought to be, because we do not feel the pressure of immediate necessity, — let us instantly reflect how many of our brethren are worn out by varied and heavy afflictions, — are weighed down by sore perplexity, or are reduced to the lowest distress. If reflections like these do not rouse us from our lethargy, we must have hearts of stone. But are we to pray for believers only? Though the apostle states the claims of the godly, he does not exclude others. And yet in prayer, as in all other kind offices, our first care unquestionably is due to the saints.
19.And for me. For himself, in a particular manner, he enjoins the Ephesians to pray. Hence we infer that there is no man so richly endowed with gifts as not to need this kind of assistance from his brethren, so long as he remains in this world. Who will ever be better entitled to plead exemption from this necessity than Paul? Yet he entreats the prayers of his brethren, and not hypocritically, but from an earnest desire of their aid. And what does he wish that they should ask for him?That utterance may be given to me. What then? Was he habitually dumb, or did fear restrain him from making an open profession of the gospel? By no means; but there was reason to fear lest his splendid commencement should not be sustained by his future progress. Besides, his zeal for proclaiming the gospel was so ardent that he was never satisfied with his exertions. And indeed, if we consider the weight and importance of the subject, we shall all acknowledge that we are very far from being able to handle it in a proper manner. Accordingly he adds,
20.As I ought to speak; meaning, that to proclaim the truth of the gospel as it ought to be proclaimed, is a high and rare attainment. Every word here deserves to be carefully weighed. Twice he uses the expression boldly, — “that I may open my mouth boldly, ” “that therein I may speak boldly. ” Fear hinders us from preaching Christ openly and fearlessly, while the absence of all restraint and disguise in confessing Christ is demanded from his ministers. Paul does not ask for himself the powers of an acute debater, or, I should rather say, of a dexterous sophist, that he might shield himself from his enemies by false pretences. It is, that I may open my mouth, to make a clear and strong confession; for when the mouth is half shut, the sounds which it utters are doubtful and confused. To open the mouth, therefore, is to speak with perfect freedom, without the smallest dread.
But does not Paul discover unbelief, when he entertains doubts as to his own stedfastness, and implores the intercession of others? No. He does not, like unbelievers, seek a remedy which is contrary to the will of God, or inconsistent with his word. The only aids on which he relies are those which he knows to be sanctioned by the Divine promise and approbation. It is the command of God, that believers shall pray for one another. How consoling then must it be to each of them to learn that the care of his salvation is enjoined on all the rest, and to be informed by God himself that the prayers of others on his behalf are not poured out in vain! Would it be lawful to refuse what the Lord himself has offered? Each believer, no doubt, ought to have been satisfied with the Divine assurance, that as often as he prayed he would be heard. But if, in addition to all the other manifestations of his kindness, God were pleased to declare that he will listen to the prayers of others in our behalf, would it be proper that this bounty should be slighted, or rather, ought we not to embrace it with open arms?
Let us therefore remember that Paul, when he resorted to the intercessions of his brethren, was influenced by no distrust or hesitation. His eagerness to obtain them arose from his resolution that no privilege which the Lord had given him should be overlooked. How absurdly then do Papists conclude from Paul’s example, that we ought to pray to the dead! Paul was writing to the Ephesians, to whom he had it in his power to communicate his sentintents. But what intercourse have we with the dead? As well might they argue that we ought to invite angels to our feasts and entertainments, because among men friendship is promoted by such kind offices.
21.But that, ye also may know. Uncertain or false reports frequently produce uneasiness, chiefly, no doubt, in weak minds, but sometimes also in thoughtful and steady persons. To prevent this danger, Paul sends Tychicus, from whom the Ephesians would receive full information. The holy solicitude which Paul felt about the interests of religion, or, to use his own language, “the care of all the churches,” (2 Corinthians 11:28,) was thus strikingly evinced. When death stood constantly before his eyes, neither the dread of death, nor anxiety about himself, prevented him from making provision for the most distant churches. Another man would have said, “My own affairs require all the attention I can give. It would be more reasonable that all should run to my assistance, than that they should expect from me the smallest relief.” But Paul acts a different part, and sends in every direction to strengthen the churches which he had founded.
Tychicus is commended, that his statements may be more fully believed. A faithful minister in the Lord. It is not easy to say, whether this refers to the public ministry of the church, or to the private attentions which Paul had received from Tychicus. This uncertainty arises from these two expressions being connected, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord. The former refers to Paul, to whom the second may be supposed also to apply. I am more inclined, however, to understand it as denoting the public ministry; for I do not think it probable that Paul would have sent any man who did not hold such a rank in the church, as would secure the respectful attention of the Ephesians.
23.Peace be to the brethren. I consider the word peace, as in the salutations of the Epistles, to mean prosperity. Yet if the reader shall prefer to view it as signifying harmony, because, immediately afterwards, Paul mentions love, I do not object to that interpretation, or rather, it agrees better with the context. He wishes the Ephesians to be peaceable and quiet among themselves; and this, he presently adds, may be obtained by brotherly love and by agreement in faith From this prayer we learn that faith and love, as well as peace itself, are gifts of God bestowed upon us through Christ, — that they come equally from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
24.Grace be with all. The meaning is, “May God continue to bestow his favor on all who love Jesus Christ with a pure conscience!” The Greek word, which I follow Erasmus in translating sincerity, (
END OF THE COMMENTARIES ON THE EPISTLE TO THE EPHESIANS.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Ephesians 6". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19