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Bible Commentaries
Ephesians 5

Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentBeet on the NT

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Verses 1-21


CH. 4:25-5:21.

For which cause, having put away falsehood, Speak ye truth each with his neighbour For we are members one of another. Be angry and sin not: let not the sun go down on your provocation; neither give place to the devil. He that steals, let him steal no longer; but rather let him labour, working with his hands that which is good, that he may have to impart to him who has need. Let no corrupt speech go forth from your mouth, but if anything is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to those that hear. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God in whom ye have been sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and fury and anger and clamour and railing be put away from you, with all badness. And become kind one to another, compassionate, forgiving each other, according as God in Christ forgave you.

Become then imitators of God as beloved children: and walk in love according as Christ loved you and gave up Himself on our behalf an offering and sacrifice to God for an odour of perfume.

But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let them not be named among you, as becomes saints: and shamefulness and foolish talking and jesting, which are not fitting, but rather thanksgiving. For this ye know being aware that no fornicator or unclean person or covetous one, which is an idolater, has inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words. For because of these things comes the anger of God upon the sons of disobedience. Become not then partakers with them.

For ye were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord. As children of light walk, (for the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth,) proving what is well-pleasing to the Lord. And be not sharers with others in the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For the things secretly done by them, it is a shame even to Speak of. But all things when reproved are made manifest by the light. For everything which is made manifest is light.

For which cause he says, “Rise up, sleeper and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give light to thee.”

Look then carefully how ye walk, not as unwise but as wise, buying up the opportunity, because the days are bad. For this cause be not senseless, but understand what is the will of the Lord. And be not drunk with wine, in which is riot, but be filled with the Spirit; speaking one to another with psalms and hymns and Spiritual songs, singing and chanting in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God even the Father; subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ.

After asserting in § 10 the broad underlying principles of Christian morality, Paul comes in § 11 to apply them in detail to various specific vices and virtues. Without my formal divisions, his discourse flows on with orderly sequence, shedding light on each point it touches. In Ephesians 4:25-31 we have a series of prohibitions; and in Ephesians 4:32 to Ephesians 5:2 positive injunctions supported by the example of God and of Christ. Then follow in Ephesians 5:3-7 other prohibitions, supported by threatenings. These are further supported in Ephesians 5:8-14 by a comparison of the past and present under the aspects of darkness and light. In Ephesians 5:15-21 we have sundry exhortations culminating in an exhortation to spiritual song and praise. A word about mutual subordination closes § 11, and becomes the key-note of § 12.

Ephesians 4:25. For which cause: a desired practical result of the foregoing general moral principles.

Falsehood: in all its forms. [The Greek article looks upon it as a definite and well-known object of thought.]

Having-put-away: once for all. [The participle does not imply that this had already taken place, but merely makes it a necessary preliminary to the truth-speaking to which Paul here exhorts his readers. See under Romans 5:1.]

Speak ye truth each with his neighbour: almost word for word from Zechariah 8:16, the prophet’s word correctly expressing Paul’s thought. That this exhortation comes first, was probably suggested by the last word of § 10.

Members one of another: same words in same sense in Romans 12:5. They bring Paul’s favourite metaphor of the Church as the body of Christ, asserted in Ephesians 1:23 and further expounded in Ephesians 4:12; Ephesians 4:16, to bear upon this detail of practical morality. If we are members of one body, we have one interest. And, where this is recognised, falsehood is impossible. For it is only a cloak to hide our selfish disregard of the interests of others.

To limit the word neighbour to fellow-Christians, would contradict both the broad compass of the word itself and the plain teaching of Luke 10:29. And the same width must be given to the words following which support this exhortation. If so, all men are here said to be members of one body. And, in a very real sense, this is true. The whole human race, like a human body, is so joined together that benefit or injury to any one member is done to the whole, and thus indirectly done in some measure to each other member. They who know this have nothing to hide; and will therefore speak the truth. Notice here an application of Paul’s favourite metaphor wider than is found elsewhere in his Epistles.

Ephesians 4:26-27. Be angry and sin not: word for word from Psalms 4:4. Grammatically each word conveys an exhortation. But practically the whole force of the exhortation falls upon the second verb. The first exhortation implies that anger may sometimes be right; and is therefore practically permissive. Paul bids us see that our anger be ever joined to sinlessness. Then follow two warnings against dangers which always attend anger. It is always wrong when it becomes an abiding state of mind: and in all danger Satan is near, seeking for entrance.

The sun go down: the solemn close of the day. Even nature, by dividing life into short portions; suggests retrospection as each portion passes. And such retrospection is a safeguard against sinful anger.

Your provocation, or any provocation of yours: cognate word in Romans 10:19. It is therefore not necessarily sinful. It denotes a rousing of the emotion of anger.

Give place: as in Romans 12:19. Paul suggests that when anger continues Satan is near; and warns that we be careful not to afford him an opportunity of doing us spiritual harm.

The devil: see under Ephesians 6:11.

Ephesians 4:28. He that steals etc.: a general precept which all Paul’s readers must obey. For Christ bids every sinner to put away his sin.

But rather let him labour… that he may have to impart etc.: exact opposite to stealing. To avoid labour, a thief impoverishes others. He must now work that by possessing he may be able to impart, i.e. to give a portion of his own possession, to him that has need. Working with his hands: vivid picture of actual toil. That which is good: in contrast to the evil of theft.

Ephesians 4:29. Every corrupt (or bitter) word: put conspicuously first as the serious matter of this prohibition.

Out of your mouth: graphic delineation of speech, revealing the inappropriateness of such talk from the lips of Christians. Then the prohibition: let it not go forth.

But if any discourse be good etc.: the contrasted positive exhortation.

For edification: i.e. tending to build-up the spiritual life, and thus to supply the need (same word as above) of men. A further purpose, explaining the foregoing words, is that it may give grace to the hearers, i.e. convey to them the favour of God and its consequent benefits. In James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5; Psalms 84:11; Exodus 3:21, God gives grace. This last passage denotes the favour towards Israel wrought by God in the hearts of the Egyptians. The others refer to His own favour with which God enriches the lowly: a meaning practically the same as here.

Ephesians 4:30. A fifth prohibition.

The Holy Spirit of God: full and solemn title.

Grieve: literally cause-sorrow-to: same word several times in 2 Corinthians 2:2-5; 2 Corinthians 7:8-9. It is here a strong anthropomorphism. They who resist the Spirit and thus provoke His displeasure are here said to cause Him sorrow. Only thus can we conceive the influence of man’s sin upon the mind of God. If it stood alone, this phrase would not in itself necessarily imply that the Spirit of God is a Person distinct from the Father. For it might be understood as a mere circumlocution for Him. But when we have learnt this doctrine from John 16:13; Matthew 28:19,

(see under 1 Corinthians 12:11,) it sheds new light upon, and thus receives confirmation from, these words.

Ye were sealed: same phrase in same connection and sense in Ephesians 1:13.

Redemption: as in Ephesians 1:14; Romans 8:23. The great day will be a final and complete deliverance of the servants of Christ, and in this sense a day of redemption. And the gift of the Spirit has that day in view: sealed for the day etc. God has given to believers the Holy Spirit that in their hearts. He may be a divine testimony that in the day of days they will be rescued from death and the grave. Now all sin tends to deface that seal and thus to destroy this divine attestation. Consequently, this last prohibition contains a strong motive for obedience to those foregoing.

Ephesians 4:31. A compact group of prohibitions. Notice its comprehensiveness: all… all.

Bitterness: cognate to a word in Colossians 3:19; see note. Fury and anger: see under the same words in Colossians 3:8. Clamour: a loud or earnest cry. Same word in Acts 23:9; Matthew 25:6; Hebrews 5:7. Both anger and clamour so easily pass the bounds of right that the words are, as here, often used in a bad sense.

Railing… badness: as in Colossians 3:8, in the same connection. This last term is separated from the others as generic and inclusive.

Ephesians 4:32 to Ephesians 5:2. A group of closely allied positive exhortations, inserted as a conspicuous contrast among these warnings against sin.

Become: in contrast to put away from you. It implies that the readers are not yet what Paul desires them to be.

Compassionate: literally, good-hearted.

Forgiving each other: as in Colossians 3:13, where the same motive is given.

God forgave you: (cp. Colossians 2:13 :) as the ultimate source of the grace of pardon. But it reaches us in Christ, i.e. through the facts of His human life and through inward union with Him. Outside of Christ there is no forgiveness from God.

Ephesians 5:1-2. On this divine pattern Paul lingers. We must be imitators of God. And this because we are His children, objects of His tender love. For children are expected to bear their father’s likeness: and loved ones are influenced by those who love them. And love is to be the encompassing element and directive principle of their steps in life: walk in love. Similar phrase in Romans 14:15. To the example of the Father, Paul adds that of the Son: according as also Christ etc.

Gave up himself on your behalf: as in Romans 8:32; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:25. Grammatically, these words mean simply self-surrender for our benefit. But the following word sacrifice and Paul’s constant teaching about the purpose of the death of Christ prove abundantly that he refers here to Christ’s self-surrender to death for our salvation: an infinite contrast to the self-surrender in Ephesians 4:19.

Offering: a general term for everything given to God.

Sacrifice: a more specific term for the gifts laid upon the altar. It is a frequent translation of the ordinary Hebrew word for bloody sacrifices; but is sometimes used in the LXX. (e.g. Leviticus 2:1; Leviticus 2:3) for unbloody offerings. Wherever used in the N.T., it has reference to the ritual of the altar: e.g. Romans 12:1; Philippians 2:17; Philippians 4:18. The two words are together, in reversed order, in Psalms 40:6, quoted in Hebrews 10:5; Hebrews 10:8. The psalmist’s thought there passes from the specific to the general, denying that either one or other is desired by God.

To God: most easily joined to the words immediately foregoing. For the mention of sacrifice recalls at once the deity to whom it is offered.

An odour of perfume: as in Philippians 4:18, where the gift from Philippi is said to be a sacrifice pleasant to God as perfume is fragrant to man.

Ephesians 5:3-4. Another group of warnings against sin.

Fornication, uncleanness: as in Galatians 5:19. Paul passes from the specific to the general, to which last he gives the widest latitude: all uncleanness.

Covetousness: as in Ephesians 4:19. By the conjunction or it is separated, as belonging to a different class, from the two foregoing sins.

As becomes saints: their relation to God making it unfitting that the sins of heathenism should be even named among them.

Shamefulness: a wide term including (Colossians 3:8) shameful speaking.

Jesting: literally quick versatility of speech which easily degenerates into evil. Since the last two prohibitions seem to relate only to trifles, Paul pauses to say that foolish-speaking and jesting are not fitting. Instead of such inappropriate mirth he proposes the gladness of thanksgiving. So Philippians 4:6; Colossians 2:7; Colossians 4:2.

Ephesians 5:5. A solemn assertion supporting the three prohibitions in Ephesians 5:3. The word I have rendered being-aware denotes the process of coming to know, and is almost equal to perceiving. Ye know this that I am going to say, perceiving that every fornicator etc. The three sins are in the same order as in Ephesians 5:3. On the last sin Paul lingers to assert again, as already in Colossians 3:5, that the covetous man is an idolater.

Has no inheritance in the kingdom: close parallels in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:21.

Of Christ and God: climax, rising as ever with Paul from the Son to the Father. These last are here placed in closest relation. But we have no proof that they denote the same divine Person.

Ephesians 5:6. Further support of the above prohibitions. Paul warns his readers against some who will say that sin is a trifle: let no one deceive you. In a heathen city, and to converts from heathenism, persuasion to sin would most frequently come from heathens. And to such probably Paul chiefly refers. But his words are quite general.

Empty words: mere sounds destitute of truth. Cp. empty deception in Colossians 2:8. A similar compound word in 1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 2:16.

For because etc.: solemn confirmation of the foregoing, and proof that the words are empty.

Comes the anger of God: word for word as in Colossians 3:6.

The sons of disobedience: as in Ephesians 2:2, and Colossians 3:6 where see note.

Ephesians 5:7. Become not; courteously suggests that they were not such already.

Partakers-with them: joined with them as sharers of their sin and of the anger of God which falls upon sinners. Same word in contrasted surroundings in Ephesians 3:6.

Ephesians 5:8-10. For ye were etc.: an appeal to the readers’ former life, supporting the foregoing dissuasive. This contrast of past and present is a genuine trait of Paul: cp. Romans 3:21; Romans 11:30; Romans 16:26. ‘Darkened in mind (Ephesians 4:18) ye were yourselves formerly an embodiment of darkness.’ Cp. 2 Corinthians 6:14. ‘But now the light which has illumined your path has transformed you into its own nature.’

In the Lord: the change has come in virtue of their inward union with the Master.

Children of light: cp. 1 Thessalonians 5:5, sons of light and sons of day; Luke 7:35, children of wisdom. Contrast Ephesians 2:3, children of anger. Light is a condition of sight and therefore of knowledge. In darkness we know not where we are going: 1 John 2:11. The Gospel gives light: for it reveals to us our own nature and our environment. And, to those who believe, it becomes the mother of a new nature: children of light. Moreover, since the light enters into them and becomes in some sense a part of themselves, they are themselves light. This lays upon them an obligation to choose such steps as are in harmony with the light which has transformed them. Similar thought in Romans 13:13.

Ephesians 5:9. A parenthesis explaining and thus justifying the foregoing metaphorical exhortation. The Gospel, which to those who believe it is a ray of light, bears fruit, i.e. produces by the outworking of its own life good results: fruit of the light. See under Romans 1:13. Cp. fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22.

Goodness: practical beneficence, as in Galatians 5:22.

Righteousness: conduct in agreement with the Law, as in Romans 14:17.

Truth: moral agreement with the eternal realities. In each of these directions and in every form of them, the light bears fruit. That the light works these good results is a reason why we should walk as children of the light.

Ephesians 5:10. A participial clause collateral to, and supplementing, the exhortation of Ephesians 5:8. Children of light ought, in virtue of the new life they have received, ever to put to the proof, and thus find out, what is well-pleasing to the Lord, i.e. to their Master Christ.

Well-pleasing: same word and thought in Colossians 3:20; Philippians 4:18; 2 Corinthians 5:9; Romans 12:1-2; Romans 14:18.

Proving: same word and thought in Romans 12:2; Philippians 1:10. This putting to the proof will unmask the deception of empty words: Ephesians 5:6.

Ephesians 5:11. Another exhortation, added to that in Ephesians 5:8.

Partakers-with others: same word in Philippians 4:14; a cognate word in Philippians 1:7; Romans 11:17; 1 Corinthians 9:23.

The works… of darkness: as in Romans 13:12. These are fruitless; in marked contrast to the fruit of the light. They produce no good result. Cp. Romans 6:21.

But rather even reprove: something more than mere refusal to participate.

Reprove: or convict, i.e. prove to be wrong. Same word in 1 Corinthians 14:24; 1 Timothy 5:20; Titus 1:9; Titus 1:13; Luke 3:19, and especially John 3:20.

Ephesians 5:12. Justifies the foregoing by pointing to the need for reproof.

Secretly: in conspicuous prominence. The secrecy of these sins makes more needful their public reproof.

Done: more fully being-done, i.e. from time to time. These are sins so bad that even to speak of them is polluting, and therefore shameful. Paul suggests that, bad as is the outward conduct of the heathen, under the surface lie still worse sins which in their vileness pass description.

Ephesians 5:13. Another reason for reproving sin. Not only are there sins needing reproof but to reprove them is an appointed work of Christians.

All things: all sorts of sin, as is proved by the word following, when-they-are-reproved.

Manifested: set conspicuously before the eyes of others, in contrast to things done secretly: see under Romans 1:19. Whenever a sin is proved to be such, the reproof is caused by the light falling upon it and thus making its true character conspicuous.

For all that is from day to day manifested etc.: proof of the foregoing. Every conspicuous object is in a true sense luminous. For it partakes the brightness which makes it conspicuous. And that conspicuous objects shine, proves that to reveal the nature of whatever is illumined is the specific work of light: by the light it is manifested. Now Christians are children of light. Therefore the presence of a Christian among sinners ought to reveal to them their sin.

Ephesians 5:14. For which cause he (or some one) says: same form of quotation as in Ephesians 4:8; James 4:6. That these two passages are express quotations from the O.T., suggests very strongly that the quotation before us was so intended. But no such passage is found. Nor is there anything in the O.T. which these words recall. On the other hand they give a complete and harmonious sense. In an ordinary document we should guess that in a moment of forgetfulness a passage from some other work was quoted as Holy Scripture. And perhaps this is the best explanation here. We may reverently suppose that the Spirit of inspiration, which even in this quotation guarded the Apostle from doctrinal error, did not think fit to protect him against this trifling oversight. See under Galatians 3:18. Or possibly, without thinking of the author, Paul merely quotes a familiar passage from some author unknown to us.

For which cause: because to bring to light things hidden in darkness is a specific work of Christians.

Up, sleeper: the sinner, who needs arousing from his deep sleep. A frequent metaphor, suggested by the metaphor of darkness: cp. Romans 13:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:6; 1 Peter 2:9.

Arise from the dead: a still stronger metaphor. Notice the climax: up, sleeper… arise from the dead.

Christ shall-give light to-thee: a motive for rising from the sleep of sin, viz. that light is waiting for the sleeper. And this is also, since Christians are a medium through which the light shines, a reason why (Ephesians 5:11) they should reprove the sin which (Ephesians 5:12) exists all around them.

Ephesians 5:15-16. Further exhortations; after the parenthesis in Ephesians 5:12-14, which supports the concluding exhortation of Ephesians 5:11.

Look then: practical application of the teaching in Ephesians 5:12-14.

Carefully or accurately: same word in 1 Thessalonians 5:2, ye know accurately. It suggests the need of extreme care in choosing our steps in life.

How ye walk; recalls Ephesians 5:8, ‘walk as children of light.’ It is further expounded by not as unwise but as wise. This implies that Christian wisdom, which is a knowledge of that which is most worth knowing, is a practical guide in life. See under 1 Corinthians 2:5.

Buying up the opportunity: as in Colossians 4:5, in a very similar connection. It is parallel to not as unwise etc. as a further description of how Paul would have his readers walk. A reason for this last injunction is added: because the days are evil. Cp. Genesis 47:9. Evil is in power. It is therefore important to seize every opportunity for good. In Ephesians 6:13, the evil day is a definite time of special peril.

Ephesians 5:17. Because of this: because evil around makes it needful to walk as wise men. In view of his readers’ peril, Paul points to a means of wisdom: understanding what is the will of the Lord. Not to use this means of divine guidance, would be senseless.

Do not become: as in Ephesians 5:7; cp. Ephesians 5:1; Ephesians 4:32. Perhaps it was suggested, instead of the simpler words be not, by a half-conscious remembrance that human character is ever developing, for good or bad.

Senseless: a man without brains; a worse term than unwise.

What is the will of the Lord: close parallel to Ephesians 5:10; cp. Acts 21:14. That the will of God must ever be the directive principle of human life, was ever present to the thought of Paul: Romans 12:2; Ephesians 1:1; Ephesians 1:5; Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 1:11; Colossians 1:9. The same honour he here gives to the will of the Lord Jesus Christ. He thus recognises the Crucified One as still his Master.

Ephesians 5:18. To the foregoing general precept Paul now adds a prohibition of a definite sin specially inconsistent with it. He thus illustrates the general principle, and looks at this sin in the light of it.

In which: in being drunk with wine, the sin here prohibited.

Dissoluteness: a reckless waste of money and of life itself. A typical example is the prodigal son, touching whom a cognate word is used in Luke 15:13, living dissolutely. Paul says that in drunkenness is reckless waste of all we have and are.

Filled with the Spirit: every thought, purpose, word, act, prompted and controlled by the Holy Spirit. [The present imperative describes this all-pervading influence as ever going forth from the Spirit. The aorist in Acts 2:4; Acts 4:8; Acts 4:31; Acts 9:17; Acts 13:9 describes a sudden and all-controlling impulse.] This salutary influence from above filling and raising man is an absolute antithesis to the destructive inspiration of strong drink. That both influences operate on man from within, justifies the somewhat strange contrast here.

With the Spirit: literally in the Spirit: a form of speech chosen possibly because they whom the Holy Spirit fills live and move in Him as their life-giving environment. We obey this command when we claim by faith the influences of the Holy Spirit and surrender ourselves to His guidance.

Ephesians 5:19-21. Four participial clauses containing exhortations collateral to the foregoing exhortation, be filled with the Spirit, and thus completing the contrast to be not drunk with wine.

Speaking to yourselves etc.: very close parallel to Colossians 3:16, where see note. With psalms and songs correspond respectively the cognate verbs chanting and singing. The second participial clause is parallel to the first. Paul first bids his readers speak in their songs one to another; and then bids them sing to the Lord. To Him they can and must sing in their heart, both in vocal praise and when their song is silent.

Giving thanks etc.: a third co-ordinate participial clause still further defining what Paul desires in his readers.

Thanks always for all things: a constant thought of Paul: so Colossians 3:17, a close parallel, Colossians 1:12; Colossians 2:7; Colossians 4:2; Ephesians 5:4; Ephesians 1:16. It specifies the contents of these songs to the Lord. And our thanks are given in the name of Christ, in acknowledgment that only through Him comes all real good; to God our Father, the ultimate source of blessing.

Grammatically, the three foregoing participial clauses describe accompaniments of being filled with the Spirit. Actually, they describe its results. Instead of riotous songs stimulated by the wine cup, Paul desires the vocal and silent praise to God which the Holy Spirit ever prompts.

The last participial clause is the key-note of §§ 12-14.

Submitting: as in Colossians 3:18.

One to another: according to their various relations, as Paul now proceeds to expound.

Fear of Christ: cp. the will of the Lord in Ephesians 5:17. It is another note of the majesty of Christ, and in no small degree a proof of His divinity.

REVIEW OF § 11. Without any marked order, but each thought suggesting that which follows, compactly yet clearly, Paul touches and illumines, in the light of the essential principles of the Gospel, many practical duties of life. He warns his readers against falsehood by reminding them that all men are members of one body and therefore have one interest, and that therefore nothing is to be gained but much lost by one man deceiving another. He gives a safe and easy guard and limit to anger: it must not continue to the morrow. The man who, in order to live in idleness, robs others must now work in order to help others who are in need. All evil talking is shut out by a precept that we are so to speak as to edify those who hear us. And all this is strengthened by reference to the Holy Spirit, the seal of our future deliverance, who observes all we say or do and is grieved by evil. All bitterness of temper or word must be laid aside: kindness and forbearance must take their place. For we are beloved children of God, and must therefore imitate our Father and walk in the steps of Christ who so loved us as to give up Himself for our salvation.

All impurity and covetousness must be banished even from the lips of the sacred people: foolish talking must be superseded by thanksgiving. For, whatever men may say, sensuality, and covetousness which is a form of idolatry, will exclude their votaries from the kingdom of God. With those guilty of such sins, we must have no part. For, our life is altogether changed. Once darkness we are now children of light: and spiritual light produces, by the outworking of its own nature, moral excellence. Our only relation to the works of darkness must be reproof. For the hidden sins of heathenism need it. And light reveals, by its own nature, in their true colours objects otherwise hidden. We must therefore carefully and wisely choose our steps. Because the times are bad, we must embrace every opportunity of doing and saying good. This, i.e. to learn the will of Christ, will need all our intelligence. Paul warns against drunkenness, which ever leads to ruin. We need to be filled and stimulated not with wine but by the Spirit of God. His inspiration prompts, not the loud voice of revelry, but sacred song, sometimes inaudible but always heart-felt, and ever assuming the form of thanks to Christ. This will be accompanied by mutual subordination, a duty to be further discussed.

Verses 22-33


Wives, be subject to your own husbands as to the Lord. Because man is head of the woman, as also Christ is Head of the Church. He is Saviour of the Body. Nevertheless, as the Church submits to Christ, so also the wives to the husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, as also Christ loved the Church and gave up Himself on its behalf that He might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the bath of water, with the word, that He may Himself present to Himself the Church glorious not having spot or wrinkle or any of the suchlike things, but that it may be holy and blameless. So ought the men to love their own wives as their own bodies. He that loves his own wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it as also Christ does the Church. Because we are members of His Body. “For this cause, a man will leave father and mother and will be joined to his wife; and the two will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24.) This mystery is great. But I speak in regard to Christ and in regard to the Church. Nevertheless, also ye severally, let each one thus love his own wife, as himself; and the wife that she fear the husband.

The implied general exhortation at the end of § 11, submitting yourselves one to another, is now specialised in reference to the three most conspicuous relations of social life; in § 12 to wives and husbands, in § 13 to children and parents, in § 14 to slaves and masters. The same three relations are discussed in the same order in Colossians 3:18 to Colossians 4:1. But the discussion here is much more full and valuable; especially that of the first pair, which is developed under the influence of the dominant thought of this Epistle.

Ephesians 5:22-24. The wives to their own husbands: similar injunction to Colossians 3:18. Their own husbands: noting a peculiar and intimate relation. The words in italics, be subject are supplied from the close of the foregoing sentence.

As to the Lord: slightly different from as is fitting in the Lord in Colossians 3:18. The wife must recognise that her position of subordination is ordained by Christ and that in bowing to her husband she does but submit to her Master in heaven. Thus the Gospel lays upon her a new obligation. But, as we shall see, by laying upon the husband a like obligation it gives to the wife new rights.

Because man is etc.: a fact containing a reason for the foregoing injunction.

Head of the woman: as in 1 Corinthians 11:3, a close parallel. The head and body are vitally united, and share the same nature. But the one is placed above the other to direct its action. Paul asserts that this is the relation of man to the woman. To this metaphor is added another similar metaphor which still further expounds the subjection of the woman to the man: as also Christ is Head of the Church. Same favourite metaphor in Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 4:12; Ephesians 4:16. Its frequency is explained by the ideal aspect of the Church which is the dominant thought of this Epistle.

He is Saviour of the Body: an important assertion thrown in, which practically limits the foregoing comparison. From the head of the woman the Head of the Church differs in that HE (very emphatic) is Saviour of the Body. This completes the foregoing metaphor by calling the Church the Body of Christ; and makes conspicuous a difference between the metaphors by an assertion about Christ and the Church quite inapplicable to the relation of man and woman. The Body of which Christ is Head, He has Himself rescued from bondage and death.

Nevertheless etc.; reasserts, in spite of the difference just mentioned, the primary injunction of Ephesians 5:22.

In everything: a subjection universal within the limit fixed by its aim, viz. as to the Lord. She must do nothing even in obedience to the husband which she cannot do for Christ.

Ephesians 5:25. Husbands, love the wives: word for word as in Colossians 3:19.

According as also etc.: ground of this exhortation. If the woman’s relation to the man resembles that of the Church to Christ, the love with which Christ loved the Church must be a model of man’s love to his wife. This comparison is the more natural in Greek because the word Church is feminine.

And gave-up Himself on its (or her) behalf: historic manifestation and proof of this pattern love.

Gave-up on-behalf of: same words in Ephesians 5:2; Galatians 2:20. It is Christ’s self-surrender to death.

In this verse and in John 3:16 we have two aspects, each supplementing the other, of the love which prompted the death of Christ. Since the purpose of salvation embraced the world, and since God brings to bear on every man an influence which unless resisted will lead him to salvation, Christ said to Nicodemus, in a general statement about the Gospel, that God so loved the world that He gave etc. But the eternal love of God foresaw all who would accept the Gospel and be finally saved. Consequently, this foreseen result of the gift of Christ may be spoken of as the aim of His self-surrender, and therefore as the object of the love which prompted it. Each of the saved can say He loved me and gave up Himself for me. And the lost will know that their destruction was due, not to a limitation of God’s love, but to their own rejection of His offered mercy.

Ephesians 5:26-27. A digression expounding the moral aim of Christ’s self-surrender. Cp. Titus 2:14. It is very appropriate in this exposition of Christian morality.

May-sanctify it: subjective holiness, i.e. the actual and unreserved devotion and loyalty of the Church to Christ. For this is clearly implied in the words following. So the word holy in Ephesians 5:27. This is here represented as an aim of the death of Christ. And rightly so: for without it there can be no full blessedness. And an intelligent purpose includes all means necessary to the end in view. In 1 Corinthians 1:2, the same word denotes the objective holiness of all the people of God, i.e. His claim that they live only for Him. In this sense even the carnal Corinthian Christians were already sanctified. Wherever sanctification means more than this, viz. the actual devotion which God claims, it is represented, not as attained, but as a divine purpose. So 1 Thessalonians 5:23; John 17:17; cp. 1 Corinthians 7:34; 2 Corinthians 7:1. Since loyalty to God is ever the work of the Holy Spirit, since the gift of the Spirit implies pardon of sin, and since Christ died in order to harmonize the justification of believers with the justice of God and thus make it possible, Paul here asserts that ‘Christ… gave up Himself in order that He may sanctify’ the Church. See a close and important parallel in 2 Corinthians 5:15, where we are taught that Christ died in order that we may live a life of devotion to Him.

Having-cleansed it by the bath of water: a necessary preliminary to the actual devotion to God which Christ purposes to work in His people. For all impurity is opposed to unreserved devotion to God, and must therefore be removed before subjective holiness can be realised. So Romans 6:11, dead to sin, but living for God. Similarly, in symbolic ritual, the priests in the Temple washed themselves at the brazen laver before they approached the altar: Exodus 30:18-21.

Cleanse: same word in 2 Corinthians 7:1; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 9:14; 1 John 1:7; 1 John 1:9; Acts 15:9; important parallels. It denotes removal of the stain which mars the moral beauty of sinners.

Bath: same word in Titus 3:5, bath of the new birth; and Sirach xxxi. 30, one who is baptized from a dead body and again touches it, what has he been profited by his bath? in reference to ceremonial purification. It denotes, as does the English word bath, both the act of washing and the vessel in which we wash. In view of these two other passages and of Acts 22:16, we can hardly doubt that Paul refers here to Baptism. And such reference presents no difficulty. As commanded by Christ, Baptism was binding on all who had not received it and who sought deliverance from the stain of sin; and was therefore in this sense a condition and instrument of spiritual purification. This does not imply any magical efficacy in the outward rite, but only its divine obligation in all ordinary cases. In Paul’s day, the peril frequently involved in outwardly confessing Christ made this obligation a most serious element in the way of salvation. Hence the language of these three passages.

This reference to Baptism was probably suggested by the metaphor in Ephesians 5:27. Paul silently reminds his readers that Baptism, which to many of them had been so perilous, was but the bride’s bath on the eve of marriage, in their case a necessary precursor of the joy of eternal union with the great King.

With the word: joined most naturally to that He may sanctify it. For the intervening words give a complete sense, and describe a necessary preliminary to the sanctification which Christ designs. Having noted this preliminary, Paul adds the instrument of sanctification, viz. the word of the Gospel, God’s chosen instrument of salvation. Cp. John 17:17, sanctify them in the truth. Thy word is truth. Same word, in the singular number as here, and referring to the Gospel, in Ephesians 6:17; Romans 10:8; Romans 10:17; Hebrews 6:5; 1 Peter 1:25. In eternity the Son of God purposed to draw men, by a spoken word, viz. the Gospel, to bow to God with unreserved and joyous devotion. Similarly, by a ‘word of God’ the world was made: Hebrews 11:3.

Ephesians 5:27. Further and ultimate aim of the purpose described in Ephesians 5:26. It is clothed in a not unfrequent metaphor: 2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:7; Revelation 19:9; Revelation 21:9; John 3:29; Matthew 25:1.

Present: same word in Colossians 1:22; Colossians 1:28; Romans 6:13; Romans 6:16; Romans 6:19; Romans 12:1; and, in the same connection as here, 2 Corinthians 11:2.

Himself to Himself: emphatic assertion that the Giver and Receiver are the same. For the Bride has been rescued and purified by the self-surrender of the Bridegroom.

Glorious: clothed in splendour exciting universal admiration; cp. Revelation 21:11, having the glory of God. Christ designs the Church to be glorious, and as such to be His own for ever.

Spot: any blemish.

Wrinkle: a mark of decay. Maintaining his metaphor, Paul describes moral imperfections as bodily blemishes.

But that it may be etc.; completes the description of the glorious Church.

Holy: subjectively: for, objectively, as claimed by God, Paul’s readers were (Ephesians 1:1) already holy. This word keeps before us the subjective sanctification of Ephesians 5:26. Instead of having spot or wrinkle, Christ designs the Church to be holy and blameless: same words together in the same connection in Ephesians 1:4. They are added in the form of a purpose in order to throw emphasis on the holiness and blamelessness of the Church as specially designed by Christ.

Notice that present to Himself corresponds to sanctify and holy: for that is holy which is devoted to God. Not having spot or wrinkle corresponds, as a negative element implied in holiness, to cleanse and blameless.

Ephesians 5:28 a. Application of the foregoing metaphor to the matter in hand, viz. the duty of husbands to love their wives.

In this way: according as Christ loved the Church.

As their own bodies: i.e. looking upon their wives as being their own flesh and blood. These words link together two closely related metaphors, viz. the Church as the Body (Ephesians 5:23) and as the Bride (Ephesians 5:27) of Christ; and brings them to bear, thus linked together, upon the relation of husband and wife.

Verse. 28-30. These verses develop an argument lying in as their own bodies. Husband and wife have one interest. Therefore, affection towards the wife brings proportionate gain to the husband. In this sense, he that loves his own wife, loves himself. This argument, Ephesians 5:29 further supports. Paul asserted in Ephesians 5:25 that a man’s relation to his wife is like that of Christ to the Church. And he has frequently taught that the Church is the Body of Christ. If so, Christ’s love to the Church is like a man’s love to his own body. This latter love Paul declares to be universal, and further describes.

His own flesh: his body, in view of its material constitution, which has special needs and demands special care.

Nourishes: finds the food needful for its health and development.

Cherishes: 1 Thessalonians 2:8 : keeps warm, as a hen her chickens. Every one feeds his own body and protects it from cold. And as every one acts towards his own body so Christ acts towards the Church. This treatment of us by Christ is illustrated by a restatement of the fact that we are members of His Body.

Ephesians 5:31-32. The words of Genesis 2:24 (almost word for word from the LXX.) taken up by Paul and woven into his argument about the relation of Christ to the Church as a pattern to husbands and wives. Same quotation in Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:7-8. Adam asserts that because woman is derived from man the relation of husband and wife is the closest of human relationships. By appropriating these words, Paul brings them to bear on the argument before him. And they prove clearly that (Ephesians 5:28) to love one’s wife is to love oneself. For they assert that husband and wife are one flesh. This plain reference of the quotation makes it needless to seek in it an assertion about Christ. And certainly the Son of Mary did not leave His mother in order to be united to the Church.

Because of this: because woman was taken out of man, as stated in Genesis 2:23. It is a part of the quotation. We therefore need not assume a special reference to Ephesians 5:30.

A man will leave: whenever in all generations a man marries.

The two shall become one flesh: the chief point in the quotation. So close is the marriage relation that it seems in some sense to suspend the distinction of personality. Now, whatever is done to one part of a living body affects the whole. Consequently, kindness to one’s wife is kindness to oneself.

This quotation casts light upon the assertion in Ephesians 5:23 that man is head of the woman. The head and body are one flesh, so closely and vitally united that injury or benefit done to one is done to the other. Yet the head directs and the body obeys. All this is true both of man and woman and of Christ and the Church. Of each of these relationships the human body is a metaphor. Even Christ and the Church are one flesh: for both are human. But Christ directs; and the Church obeys. The human body is thus a pattern of two important relations, viz. of husband and wife and of Christ and the Church. It is therefore a link uniting these relations, and making each a pattern of the other. This double metaphor is not found elsewhere. And it greatly strengthens the obligations here enforced. The wife is bound to obey her husband, as the Church, of which she is a member, obeys Christ. The husband is bound to love his wife, as Christ loved the Church. To fail in this is, as this quotation proves, to act as a man would who did not care for his own body. We have thus a double motive for marital love, the example of Christ and the instinct of self-preservation.

Ephesians 5:32. This mystery: (same word in Romans 11:25 :) the marriage relation described in the foregoing quotation. See note under 1 Corinthians 3:4. Under the marriage relation lies secret teaching known only to those taught by God.

But I speak: Paul’s own use here of this quotation as distinguished from the hidden truth underlying marriage.

With reference to Christ and with reference to the Church: these represented as distinct objects of thought. While quoting Genesis, Paul is thinking not so much of man and woman as of Christ and the Church. In other words, under the specific matter in hand lie broader truths. Even marriage, so important in itself, receives greater importance from being a visible setting forth of the relation of Christ to the Church.

It is needless to discuss here whether marriage is a sacrament: for this would involve a definition of the term. Certainly, marriage cannot be put on a level with the two rites ordained by Christ for all His servants. But Paul’s teaching here implies clearly its unchangeable sacredness. And this felt sacredness has ever found expression in acts of worship accompanying the marriage ceremony. Callous must they be who can enter the solemn obligations of wedlock without recognising its divine sanction and sacred duties.

Ephesians 5:33. Nevertheless: or, more fully, ‘I say nothing except this one thing.’ It breaks off the discourse to insist on the one thing needful.

Ye severally: transition from a mystery touching Christ and the Church to readers of this Epistle, taken one by one.

Thus love: i.e. in the manner, and for the reasons, just expounded.

As himself: as their own bodies in Ephesians 5:28. And the wife must remember that the husband has been set over her by Christ, and that therefore insubordination to him is disobedience to Christ. An obligation so solemn may well evoke her fear. So careful is Paul to balance the duty of the husband by that of the wife.

REVIEW. At the close of § 11 Paul bids his readers to submit one to another. He then discusses in order three very special kinds of submission. Of these, the first and noblest and most significant is that of the wife to her husband. The Apostle bids her render to him a reverence similar to that which she pays to her Master in heaven; and supports this by asserting a similarity between the marriage relation and that of the Church to Christ. This similarity he describes by comparing each of these relations to that of the head and members of a human body; but points out the limits of his comparison by reminding us that the Head of the Church is also its Saviour. He concludes his injunction to the wife by urging her to take as her pattern the submission of the Church to Christ.

If Paul speaks first of the duties of the wife, he finds it needful to linger longer over those of the husband. Just as the wife must look on the Church’s submission to Christ as a pattern of her own submission to her husband, so the husband is bound to take Christ’s love to the Church, manifested in His death, as a pattern for his own love to his wife. Paul then leaves for a moment the duty of husbands to describe, in language borrowed from the metaphor he is here using, the purpose of Christ is self-sacrifice for the Church, viz. to present to Himself the Church as His loyal and spotless bride. The purity needed in the bride of Christ recalls the baptismal water through which these Asiatic Christians had passed, and which was designed to be the entrance into a spotless life. Going back to the subject specially in hand, Paul bids husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the Church, to love them even as they love their own bodies. These last words introduce another motive for love to the wife, a motive which is at once more fully developed. To love one’s wife, is to love himself: and all are careful to feed and protect their own bodies. Since we are members of the Body of Christ, this care for our own body has a divine counterpart in Christ’s kindness to the Church. The double analogy involved in this argument, viz. that the human body consisting of head and members has one counterpart in the relation of husband and wife and another spiritual counterpart in the relation of Christ to the Church, Paul supports by a quotation from Genesis which asserts that husband and wife are one flesh as though parts of one living body. He adds that in this quotation he is referring to Christ and the Church. He thus finds in the Bible strong support for his second motive for love to the wife, viz. that in loving her the husband is loving himself. The Apostle concludes by repeating, and placing side by side, the mutual duties of husband and wife.

This section is throughout characteristic of Paul. As in his earlier Epistles the duties of to-day are enforced by reference to broad and abiding principles. Thus, as ever with him, little details of common life are raised into dignity. And these details are made an occasion of expounding broad principles, which thus receive important practical illustration. The O.T. quotation finds for the relation of the Church to Christ an important and most instructive counterpart in the original constitution of our race. We notice also, as before, Paul’s fairness. While defending the rights of the weaker, he does not forget the obligations involved in those rights.

Bibliographical Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on Ephesians 5". Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jbc/ephesians-5.html. 1877-90.
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