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Ephesians 5

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Verses 1-33


The Believer's Walk as a Child of God

( Eph_5:1-21 )

(V. 1). In this portion of the Epistle believers are viewed, not only as owning that there is one God, but as being in relationship with God as His children. The whole passage exhorts us to walk as becometh children. The “therefore” of the first verse connects this portion with the last verse of the preceding chapter. God has acted towards us in kindness and grace, and now it becomes us to act towards one another as God has acted towards us. We are therefore exhorted to be imitators of God “as dear children”. We are not to seek to imitate God in order to become children, but because we are children. Walking as “dear” children implies a walk governed by affection. A servant may walk rightly in legal obedience, but it becomes a child to walk in loving obedience. We are not servants but sons.

We cannot and are not asked to imitate God in His omnipotence and omniscience, but we are exhorted to act morally like Him. Such a walk will be characterised by love, light and wisdom; and in all these things we can be imitators of God. The apostle, in the verses that follow, develops the walk in accord with these beautiful moral traits. First, he speaks of walking in love in contrast with a world marked by lust (verses 1-7). Secondly, he exhorts us to “walk as children of light” in contrast with those who live in darkness (verses 8-14). Finally, he exhorts us to “walk carefully, not as unwise but as wise” (verses 15-20).

(V. 2). Firstly, as children, we are exhorted to walk in love. At once Christ is set before us as the great example of this love. In Him we see the devotedness of love that gave Himself for others, and this devotedness goes up to God as a sweet-smelling sacrifice. Such love goes far beyond the demands of the law which requires that a man love his neighbour as himself. Christ did more, for He gave Himself to God for us. It is this love we are asked to imitate, a love that would lead us to sacrifice ourselves for our brethren. Such love will in its little measure, even as with the infinite love of Christ, go up as a sweet savour to God. The love that led the Philippian assembly to meet the necessities of the apostle was to God “an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God” ( Php_4:16-18 ).

(V. 3). The love that is devoted to the good of others would shut out unholiness that gratifies the flesh at the expense of others, and the covetousness that seeks one's own gain. Our walk is to be as becometh saints. The standard of our morality is not simply the walk that becomes a decent man, but that which is becoming to saints. When it is a question of expressing love it is “as dear children”; when it is refusing lust it is “as becometh saints”.

(V. 4). Moreover, the passing merriment that the world finds in filthiness, indecent talking and buffoonery is unbecoming in the saint. The quiet, deep joy of praise, not the laughter of the fool, becometh saints ( Ecc_7:6 ).

(V. 5). Those who are characterised by uncleanness, covetousness and idolatry will not only miss the blessings of the coming kingdom of Christ and of God, but being disobedient to the Gospel will come under the wrath of God. In contrast with this present evil world, the kingdom of God will be a scene in which love prevails, and from which lust is excluded. That which will be true of the coming kingdom should mark the family of God today.

(V. 6). We are warned not to be deceived with vain words. Evidently, then, men with their philosophy and science will excuse lust and seek to throw a glamour of poetry and romance over sin in order to give it an attractive appearance. Nevertheless, because of these things the wrath of God cometh upon the children of disobedience. “The sons of disobedience” are those who have heard the truth, but have rejected it. In a special way the Jews in Paul's day were, as a class, the sons of disobedience, but it is fast becoming true of Christendom. Men will, however, be judged for their wicked deeds, though the crowning sin will be disobedience to the Gospel.

(V. 7). With such we are to have no fellowship. The children of God and the children of disobedience can have nothing in common.

(Vv. 8-10). Secondly, once we were darkness, now we are light in the Lord. It is not simply that we were in the dark, as being ignorant of God, but we were characterised by a nature that is darkness, for it found its pleasure in everything that is contrary to God. Now we are partakers of the divine nature, and that nature is marked by love and light. Therefore the apostle can say, not only that we are light, but that we are light in the Lord. Having come under the sway of the Lord, we have come into the light of what is suited to Him. We shall love what He loves.

Being light in the Lord we are to walk as children of light, a walk that will show itself in “all goodness and righteousness and truth”, for these things are the fruit of light. Thus walking we shall prove in our circumstances what is acceptable unto the Lord, and be a reproof to the unfruitful works of darkness. One has said, “A child while observing his father learns what is pleasing to him, and knows what he would like in the circumstances that transpire.” It is in this way we prove “what is agreeable to the Lord”.

(Vv. 11-13). Already we have been warned against having fellowship with evil workers. Now we are warned against fellowship with the works of darkness; we should rather reprove them. To speak of the things that the flesh can do in secret is shame. The light of Christ reproves the evil that it exposes. In Christendom people cannot publicly commit gross sins that are openly committed in heathendom. The light in Christians is too strong. Alas! as the light declines sins again become more public and open.

(V. 14). The unbeliever is dead to God. The true believer, if not heeding these exhortations, may fall into a condition of sleep in which he is like a dead man. In such a condition he will not profit by the light from Christ. The exhortation to such an one is, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” It has been well said, “It is Christ Himself who is the source, the expression, and the measure of light for the soul that is awake.”

(Vv. 15-17). Thirdly, we are exhorted to walk wisely. Learning from the first fourteen verses that the true measure for a right walk is God's nature of light and love, we are to profit by this teaching, and “walk carefully, not as unwise but as wise.” In an evil world the Christian will need wisdom, but this wisdom is in regard to what is good. So, in another Epistle, the apostle can write, “Be wise as to that which is good, and simple as to evil” ( Rom_16:19 ). Our wisdom will be seen in redeeming the time, and understanding what the will of the Lord is. The days are evil, and if the devil could have his way there never would be a time or opportunity for that which is pleasing to the Lord. To do good we shall, as it were, have to seize the occasion from the enemy. If understanding the will of the Lord, we shall often find that an evil day can be turned into an occasion for doing good. Nehemiah, by prayer and fasting, learnt the will of the Lord concerning His people, so that when the opportunity came, in the presence of king Artaxerxes, he seized the occasion ( Neh_1:4 ; Neh_2:1-5 ). It is possible to have a great knowledge of evil and yet be ignorant of the will of the Lord, and thus still be “unwise”.

(Vv. 18-21). Divinely-given wisdom will lead to sobriety in contrast with the excitement of nature. The world may work up some passing excitement leading to excesses of evil, but the Christian has a source of joy within, the Holy Spirit. Having the Spirit we are exhorted to be filled with the Spirit. If the Spirit were ungrieved, and allowed to control our thoughts and affections, the result would be a company of people entirely apart from the world and its excitements, that rejoiced together in a life of which the world has no knowledge, and in which it can find no pleasure. This life finds its expression in praise that flows from hearts that delight in the Lord. It is a life that discerns the love and goodness of God in “all things”, however trying the circumstances may be. It therefore gives thanks at all times for all things unto God and the Father in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. In this, as in all else for the Christian, Christ is our perfect example, for, when rejected by Israel in spite of all His mighty works, “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth” ( Mat_11:25 ).

Moreover, if filled with the Spirit, we should be marked by that spirit of lowliness and meekness that would lead us to submit to one another in the fear of Christ, in contrast with the self-importance of the flesh that asserts itself and its liberty to act without reference to the consciences of others.

Thus the believer filled with the Spirit will be marked: firstly, by a spirit of praise to the Lord; secondly, by submission with thanksgiving to all that the Father allows; thirdly, by submission to the other in the fear of Christ.


The Believer's Walk in Connection with Natural Relations

( Eph_5:22 - Eph_6:9 )

In this portion of the Epistle we are exhorted as to the conduct that becomes Christians in connection with earthly relationships. The apostle first speaks of the most intimate of relationships, wives and husbands ( Eph_5:22-33 ), then of children and parents ( Eph_6:1-4 ), and finally of servants and masters ( Eph_7:5-9 ).

As individuals we own Christ as Lord, and the responsibilities of every relationship are to be carried out in the fear of the Lord. The wife is to be subject to her own husband “as unto the Lord” (v. 22); children are to obey their parents “in the Lord” ( Eph_6:1 ); fathers are to train their children in the “admonition of the Lord” ( Eph_6:4 ); servants are to do “service as to the Lord” ( Eph_6:7 ); and masters are to remember that they have a Master in heaven.

(1) Wives and husbands

(Vv. 22-25). Christian wives are exhorted to submit to their husbands in everything and Christian husbands are exhorted to love their wives. Special exhortations always have in view the particular quality in which the individual addressed is likely to fail. The woman is liable to break down in submission, and is therefore reminded that the husband is the head of the wife, and that her place is to be subject. The man is more prone than the woman to fail in affection; therefore husbands are exhorted to love their wives.

In order to emphasise the subjection of the wife and the affection of the husband, the apostle turns aside to speak of Christ and the church, and we learn the great truth that earthly relationships were formed after the pattern of heavenly relationships. When God first established the relationship of man and wife, it was after the pattern of that which then existed only in His counsels, Christ and the church. Thus, on the one hand, the relationship of Adam and Eve to each other, as husband and wife, becomes the first figure in Scripture of Christ and the church; and, on the other, Christ and the church are used to illustrate the true attitude of husbands and wives to each other. The wife is to be subject to her husband as the head, even as Christ is the Head of the church, and is the Saviour of these mortal bodies. Again, if the husband is exhorted to love his wife, it is after the pattern of Christ and the church, for he is to love “even as Christ also loved the church.”

It may be thought that the standard set is very high, and that the statements that wives are to be subject to their husbands in everything, and that husbands are to love their wives even as Christ loved the church, are very strong; but what wife would mind being subject to a husband that loved her even as Christ loved the church, and what husband would cease to love a wife who was always subject as the church should be to Christ?

The apostle's heart is so full of Christ and the church that he takes occasion by these practical exhortations to bring before us a very vivid summary of the eternal relations of Christ and His church, to which we do well to take heed.

He reminds us that “Christ is the Head of the church”; that “Christ also loved the church”; and that Christ nourisheth and cherisheth the church. He is the Head to guide, He has the heart to love, and the hand to provide for her every need. Amidst all the difficulties we have to face, our unfailing resource is found in looking to Christ our Head for wisdom and guidance. In all our sorrows, and the failure of human love, we can count on the unchanging love of Christ that passeth knowledge; and in all our needs we can count upon His care and provision.

Moreover, the love of Christ is brought before us in a threefold way. There is that which His love has done in the past, what it is doing in the present, and what it will yet do in the future. In the past Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it. Not only did He give up a kingly crown, kingdom glories and earthly ease to tread a path of humiliation and sorrow, but at last He gave Himself. More He could not give.

He not only died for us in the past; He is living for us in the present. Today He is sanctifying and cleansing the church with the washing of water by the word. He is daily occupied with us, separating us from this evil world and practically cleansing us from the flesh. This blessed work is carried on by the application of the word to our thoughts and words and ways.

Let us remember that He did not first make the church worthy to be loved, then love it and give Himself for it. He loved it as it was, then gave Himself for it, and now works to make it suitable to Himself. God acted very blessedly on the same principle in regard to Israel. Jehovah could say to Israel, “I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood '85 thou wast naked and bare. Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness '85 and entered into a covenant with thee '85 I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck '85 and a beautiful crown upon thine head '85 thou wast exceeding beautiful '85 thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy beauty: for it was perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee” ( Eze_16:6-14 ). Israel's time of need was God's time of love. So Christ loved the church in all its deep need, and gave Himself for it; then, having possessed it, He cleanses it and makes it suitable to Himself. We are not satisfied if someone we love is not to our liking, and Christ will never be satisfied until the church is perfectly suited to Him.

(V. 27). In the future, in His love, He will present the church to Himself “not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” The present sanctification of verse 26 is connected with the presentation in glory of verse 27: that is, the condition in which we shall be presented to Christ in glory, “holy and blameless”, is the measure of our sanctification even now. While here we shall not attain to the standard of glory, but there is no other standard. Moreover, the condition in glory is not only the standard of our sanctification, but, as perfectly set forth in Christ, it is the power of our sanctification.

“The word”, discovering to us what we are and occupying us with Christ in glory, is the power for cleansing. The word and the sanctifying effect of Christ in glory are brought together by the Lord in His prayer, “Sanctify them by the truth: Thy word is truth”, and the Lord adds, “I sanctify myself for them, that they also may be sanctified by truth.” The Lord set Himself apart in the glory as an object for His people on earth, and as we are occupied with Him we are changed into His likeness from glory to glory.

Alas! Christendom has entirely failed to walk in the light of these great truths concerning Christ and the church. In practice it has ceased to give Christ His place as Head, and consequently has failed in subjection to Him. Therefore we need hardly be surprised at the failure to maintain the relationships of life, formed after the pattern of Christ and the church, leading, on the part of the woman, to a widespread revolt against subjection to the man, and, on the part of the man, to unfaithfulness and lack of love for the woman. The ruin of Christendom, the scattering of believers that has split Christendom into innumerable sects, can all be traced to two evils : professing Christians have abandoned the place of subjection to Christ that belongs to the assembly and have usurped the place of authority belonging to the Head.

The beginning of these evils was found in the assembly at Corinth. There the Christians set up leaders in the place of Christ, and then formed themselves into parties in subjection to their chosen leaders. The evil which had its beginning at Corinth is fully developed in Christendom, where clericalism has practically set aside the Headship of Christ, and independence has taken the place of subjection to Christ.

(Vv. 28, 29). Having presented so blessedly the truth of Christ and the church, the apostle returns to his practical exhortations. Men ought to love their wives as their own bodies, for so truly are they one that the husband can look at his wife as himself. As such, the man will delight to nourish his wife, meeting her every need, and cherish her as one that is very precious. Again the apostle presents Christ, and His care for the church, as the perfect pattern for the husband's care for his wife. Not only has Christ died for us in the past, and is dealing with us in the present in view of eternity, but as we pass along our way, He watches over and cares for us, treating us as Himself. Because “we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones”, He could say to Saul of Tarsus, in the days when he was breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the saints, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” One has truly said, “A man's flesh is himself, and Christ takes care of Himself in taking care of the church.” Again, “Christ never fails, and there cannot be a want in Christ's church without there being an answer to it in Christ's heart.”

(Vv. 31, 32). The man that loveth his wife loveth himself and he is to leave other relationships to be joined to his wife. The apostle quotes from Genesis, but he expressly states that this is a great mystery which has in view Christ and the church. Christ, as Man, left all relations with Israel according to the flesh in order to secure His church.

(V. 33). Nevertheless, says the apostle, while seeking to enter into these eternal truths of the great mystery of Christ and the church, let each husband see that he loves his wife as himself, and let the wife rightly fear her husband.

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Ephesians 5". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/ephesians-5.html. 1832.
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