THE CLOSING WORDS of chapter 4 enforce upon us the obligation to kindness and forgiveness which rests upon all saints, inasmuch as we have been forgiven of God for Christ’s sake. The opening words of chapter 5 carry this thought a step further and a step higher. Not only have we been forgiven but we have been introduced into the Divine family. We are children of God and beloved by Him. Hence as dear children we are to be followers, or imitators, of God.
The imitation enjoined is not artificial but natural. Here are children playing in the market-place. They hold an imaginary court. This little maiden, arrayed in cheap finery, is impersonating a queen. She imitates queenly manners as best she can, but it is all very crude and artificial. There however is a small lad, minutely observing his father. Presently friends are smiling at him and observing how very like his father he is. His imitation is largely unconscious and wholly natural, for he is the son of his father, possessing his life and nature. Now it is as children of God that we are called upon to be imitators of God.
We are to walk in love. This is not natural to us as the children of Adam, but it is natural to us as born of God, for God is love. Walking in love is thus simply the manifesting in practice of the Divine nature. Hence it adds, “as Christ also hath loved us,” since in Christ the Divine nature was seen in all its fulness and perfection. In His case moreover love led to action. He gave Himself for us in sacrifice to God. In this of course He stands alone, though we are to love even as He loved. He was the true burnt offering, the Antitype of Leviticus 1:1-17.
Now love of the true and divine sort is altogether exclusive of the evils that spring from the flesh. Hence these things are to have no place amongst saints, indeed they are not to be even named among them. Things like those specified in verse Ephesians 5:3 appeal to instincts deeply rooted in man’s fallen nature, and we do well not only to avoid the things but also the contamination that is induced by thinking about them. We cannot talk about them without thinking of them, even if we condemn them in our talking. Therefore let us not talk about them. Nor let us allow our talk to descend to the level of foolishness or jesting. A Christian is neither a fool nor a jester, so let us not appear either in our conversation. Thanksgiving is what becomes the lips of those who are forgiven and become children of God.
The firm and decisive way in which the Apostle draws the line in verses Ephesians 5:5-6 is very remarkable. The kingdom of Christ and of God is characterized by holiness. The unholy are outside that kingdom and subject to the wrath of God. There was to be no mistake about this, for evidently then as now there were those who wished to blur this sharp distinction and to excuse unholiness. Other scriptures indicate that one who is a true believer may fall into any of these sins, but no true believer is characterized by any of them. No one characterized by such sins is to be regarded as a true Christian whatever they may say or profess.
The true believer’s attitude towards such is to be regulated by this. Whatever be their profession they have no part in the kingdom of God, and therefore we who have an inheritance in the kingdom can have no part with them. This is what verse Ephesians 5:7 so plainly states. Notice too that the last word of that verse is them. We are not only to avoid the sins, but also to avoid all participation with the sinners. The persons as well as the evils are to be avoided. The difference between us and them is as great and distinct as that between light and darkness.
Once we were darkness ourselves. In this fact lies our danger, for as a consequence of it there is that in us which answers to the appeal of the darkness. Therefore the less we have to do with the darkness the better— whether as regards the practices of darkness, or as regards the people who themselves are darkness and consequently practice it. We who believe are light in the Lord and as a result intolerant of darkness; for as it is in nature so it is in grace. Light and darkness cannot exist together. If light comes in darkness vanishes. Light and darkness mutually exclude each other.
Being light in the Lord we are to walk as children of light. We are to be in practice what we are in actual reality. Let us carefully note this for it is a feature of the exhortations of the Gospel. The Law demanded of men that they should be what they were not. The Gospel exhorts believers to be what they are. Yet the fact that we are so exhorted shows that a contrary principle is in existence. It infers that the flesh with its tendencies is still within the believer. As the flesh is held in check and quiescent, what we really are as God’s workmanship shines out.
Verse Ephesians 5:9 explains what will shine out, for the correct reading is not, “the fruit of the Spirit,” but, “the fruit of the light.” Three words sum up that fruit—goodness, righteousness, truth. The opposites—evil, iniquity, unreality—should be entirely shut out of our lives. Walking thus as children of light we prove what is pleasing to God: prove, that is, not by a process of reasoning, but by experience of a practical sort. We put things to the test, and thus learn experimentally for ourselves.
The believer’s life therefore may be summed up as bringing forth the fruits of the light, since he is a child of the light, while maintaining complete separation from the unfruitful works of darkness, for he is no longer of the darkness. Indeed he is to go even further and reprove them. This word, reprove, occurs again you will notice in verse 13. The meaning of it is not exactly, admonish or rebuke, but rather, expose. It is to expose, as by light, the true character of the works in question. If a believer shines out in his true character, his whole life will have that effect, just as in supreme measure his Master’s did. Nevertheless of course there may be many occasions when words of rebuke are needful.
The passage we are considering puts a very solemn responsibility upon us. It is just here that friction and trouble with the world begin. People do not usually object to the kindly side of Christianity: gracious words and gracious actions meet with their approval. The trouble begins when holiness is maintained. And holiness, as these verses show, demands no fellowship with evil—neither the evil-doers (v. Ephesians 5:7), nor their works (v. Ephesians 5:11). When a believer walks the separated path which is here enjoined, and manifests himself as a child of light, then he must expect storms. It was thus in superlative degree with our Lord and Master. “God is Love” has always been a far more popular text than “God is light.”
The peculiar quality of light is that it makes manifest all things that come under its rays. The truth of things becomes plain, and hence the one who does truth naturally welcomes the light, whilst he who does evil hates the light and avoids it. God is light in Himself; believers are only “light in the Lord,” just as the moon is only light to us, in as far as its face is in the light of the sun. Therefore it is that we, like the moon, must abide in the light of our great Luminary, Christ Himself. This is very plainly indicated in verse 14.
This verse is not a quotation from the Old Testament, though it is probably an allusion to Isaiah 60:1. We very easily fall victims to spiritual sleepiness, since the influences of the world are so soporific. Then we become like men sleeping amongst those dead in trespasses and sins. We are the living and they are the dead, and there should normally be the sharpest distinction between us. If we sleep amongst the dead we all appear very much alike. The call is to awake and arise that we may be in the sunshine of the Christ. Then it is that we are clear of all fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness and, being luminous ourselves, the fruit of the light is manifested in us.
Our walk and behaviour then is to be marked by wisdom—the wisdom that seizes every opportunity of serving the Lord on the one hand, and of gaining an understanding of His will and pleasure on the other. The very essence of good service is, not merely that we accomplish work, but that what we do is according to the will of the One, whom we serve. The fact is that for this, as for all else enjoined upon us here, we need to be filled with the Spirit.
Each of us, who have believed the Gospel of our salvation, has received the gift of the Holy Spirit, as we saw when considering Ephesians 1:1-23. It is another thing however to be filled with the Spirit, and the responsibility as to it is left with us. We are exhorted to be filled, which plainly infers that we are not filled—at all events at the moment when the exhortation is given.
The Spirit-filled believer is the subject of an extraordinary uplift. He is carried clean outside himself, centred in Christ, and enabled for the service of God in a power which is more than human. The man who is drunk with wine is carried outside himself in a way that is wholly evil. By the Spirit of God we may be carried outside ourselves in a way that is wholly good.
We get instances of the disciples being filled with the Spirit in Acts 2:4; Acts 4:8; Acts 4:31; Acts 7:55; Acts 13:9. These references lead us to think that the filling with the Spirit was an experience of rather an exceptional nature even in the earliest apostolic time. Still it is most evidently set before us in our chapter as something to be desired and aimed at by every Christian.
It is not only an obligation but also a very wonderful privilege. To be filled with One who is a divine Person, can that be a negligible thing? It means that He has a complete control. If we take the exhortation to heart we shall naturally ask—How may I be filled? What have I to do in order that I may be?
That is no small question. We may at least say this; that it is ours to remove out of the way all that hinders. The Spirit of God is holy. Moreover, He is sensitive. We may easily grieve Him, even by things that we allow without a bad conscience. Correspondingly we may easily be preoccupied with things that we consider quite harmless, and yet being pre-occupied there is not the room for Him to occupy us. A good many “harmless” things will have to go out of my life and yours too, if we are to be filled with the Spirit.
The fruits of being filled with the Spirit follow in verses Ephesians 5:19-21. The heart is filled with gladness which finds a spiritual outlet in song. There is a glad acceptance of all things—even adverse circumstances—with thanks-giving to the Father, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ; and as to our relations with one another the spirit of yieldingness and submission, whilst always maintaining the fear of God. Our submission to one another must not be at the expense of true subjection to Him.
All these detailed exhortations, which have continued from Ephesians 4:17, have been applicable to all believers. Now we have the special exhortations, and with verse Ephesians 5:22 the apostle turns to the wives. To them the exhortation is comprised in the one word, Submit. This flows naturally out of the general exhortation to submission in verse 21. The difficulty about submission is that it entails the non-assertion of one’s own will. But clearly enough in the economy of things, divinely established, for this world, the subject place is allotted to the wife. Her place is typical of the position in which the church stands to Christ. Just as Christ is “Head of the church,” all authority and directing ability and power being vested in Him, so the husband is “head of the wife.”
Alas! in practice through the centuries, the church (as a professing body) has got far away from its true position. The church “is subject unto Christ,” according to the Divine plan: it has been very insubject in its actual behaviour. It has acted for itself, and legislated as though it were the Head and not the body. Hence the confusion in church circles, so manifest on every hand. When the wife, even the Christian wife, sets aside the authority of her own husband, trouble ensues in a similar way.
The wife may however urge that she has a very awkward and incompetent husband! Too often indeed so it is. But the remedy for that is not the overturning of the Divine order. The church certainly has no such excuse, for it has an absolutely perfect Head; who is not only Head to the body but Saviour also.
Because the human husband, even the believing one, is frequently very imperfect, and always somewhat imperfect, an even lengthier exhortation is addressed to him. In one word his duty is love. It is easy to see that if the husband yields to his wife the love which is her due, she will not have much difficulty in yielding to him the submission which is his due. Obviously the greater responsibility is placed upon the shoulders of the husband. He is to love, and she is to submit; but the initiative rests with him.
When we turn from the responsibility resting upon the husband, which is the type, to the antitype, which as ever is seen in Christ, we find ourselves in the presence of perfection. The initiative indeed was with Him, and He has taken it in a most wonderful way. He not only loved the church but gave Himself for it. Moreover He has undertaken its practical sanctification and cleansing, and ultimately He will present it to Himself in glory in a perfection which is absolutely suitable to Himself.
The giving of Himself for the church took place in the past: it involved His death and resurrection. The sanctifying and purifying, of which verse Ephesians 5:26 speaks, is proceeding in the present by means of the Word. The cleansing here spoken of is by water, be it noted, not by blood. The distinction is an important one. The Blood indeed cleanses, as 1 John 1:7 declares but that is in a judicial sense. The Blood absolves us from guilt, and thus cleanses us in the eyes of the great Judge of all. The water of the Word cleanses us morally; that is, in heart and in character, and consequently in all our ways. This present washing of the church by the Word is taking place of course in the hearts and lives of the saints, of whom the church is composed.
The presentation of the perfected church will take place in the future glory. It will be Christ’s own gift to Himself! It will be all His own workmanship; for He loved, He gave Himself, He sanctified, He cleansed, and, as verse Ephesians 5:29 adds, He nourished, He cherished, and finally He presented to Himself.
A most wonderful work, and a most wonderful triumph, surely! Let us keep this aspect of things well in view, especially when cast down by present difficulties in the church, and painfully conscious of its sorrowful plight.
Now all these facts as to Christ and the church are to shed their light upon the relations between the Christian husband and wife. The marriage relationship is consequently set forth in the highest possible light; in a light altogether unknown to believers of Old Testament days, which accounts for the fact that many of them freely practised things which are wholly disallowed for us today. We are to walk in this light, and consequently the Christian husband is to love his wife as he loves himself— no mean standard that!—and the wife to reverence her husband.
Briefly observe three further points. First, this mystery concerns Christ and the church Not a church; no thought here of a local church, nor of any number of local assemblies. It is the church, one glorious body, and the church not viewed as a professing body, but rather as that elect body which is the fruit of Divine workmanship.
Second, the thought of the body comes in here; for we, who constitute the church, are spoken of as “members of His body.” Yet the main thought of the passage is that of the wife, for the church’s place is set forth as the pattern for Christian wives. We point this out because sometimes the fact of the church being the body of Christ is emphasized in order to maintain that it therefore cannot be in the place of the bride or wife. The fact is, as this passage indicates, that the church holds both positions.
This is made yet more plain by the third thing we point out. God’s original creation of Adam and Eve was ordered in view of Christ and the church, as verses Ephesians 5:28-32 show. Now Eve was Adam’s wife, but she was also his body, being built up from one of his ribs. Adam’s rib has no doubt provoked a good deal of sarcastic merriment amongst unbelieving modernists, who call themselves Christians. Yet here the fact concerning it clearly underlies the argument. It is nearly always thus. There is a new Testament allusion to the ridiculed Old Testament story. You cannot scrap the one without scrapping the other, if you add mental honesty and integrity to your modernism. We whole-heartedly accept both.
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Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Ephesians 5". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany