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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Ephesians 5

 

 

Verses 17-21

III. GENERAL CHRISTIAN DUTIES.

This part of the Epistle is difficult to analyze. The ethical precepts are not arranged in any discoverable logical order. For convenience a division into two sections is adopted: (1) Chap. Ephesians 4:17-32, in which the duties are based upon the contrast between the old and the new man. (2.) Ephesians 5:1-21, in which the precepts have as their motive the self-sacrificing love of Christ.


Introduction

Verse 1

Ephesians 5:1. Become therefore. ‘Therefore’ connects the exhortation with chap. Ephesians 4:31-32, but there is an advance in thought, so that a new section begins here. Strictly speaking Ephesians 5:1-2 are transitional; an inference from what precedes, a basis for the following exhortation.

Followers. Lit, ‘imitators,’ which perhaps suggests too much. In any case God is the model, especially in the crowning act of His love (chap. Ephesians 4:32); hence ‘become,’ not ‘be.’

As beloved children; children through Christ, and beloved of God, hence to imitate Christ (Ephesians 5:2); each word contains a motive.


Verses 1-21

2. Precepts based upon the Self-sacrificing Love of Christ.

The connection of thought with chap. Ephesians 4:32 is very close; God’s forgiving love is directly presented as a motive (‘therefore’) for the exhortation to follow Him (Ephesians 5:1). But God’s forgiving love cannot, so far as its effect upon Christian life is concerned, be separated from the self-sacrificing love of Christ, which is therefore presented as the strongest motive to walking in love (Ephesians 5:2). In sharp contrast with this walk in love, the Apostle enumerates certain sins of lust and greed and tongue (Ephesians 5:3-4), enforcing the warning by recalling their certain knowledge of the exclusion of those who habitually thus sin from the kingdom of Christ and God (Ephesians 5:5).

In view of the frequent excuses for such vices (Ephesians 5:6), the Apostle warns against association with wicked men (Ephesians 5:7-10), since such association would be a relapse from light to darkness. He also warns against fellowship with wicked works (Ephesians 5:11-13), since it is the duty of Christians to reprove these, though some of them are unmentionably shameful, it being the nature of light (and Christians are ‘ light ’) to make manifest and even by reproof to reveal the true quality of such wicked works; this duty being further enforced by the promise that Christ Himself will enlighten and quicken such (Ephesians 5:14). The exhortation is resumed, after the digression of Ephesians 5:11-14, and a strict attention to the Christian walk is enjoined (Ephesians 5:15), opportunities to do good are to be sought for (Ephesians 5:16), progress to be made in the knowledge of Christ’s will (Ephesians 5:17), instead of being filled with wine, they are to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), the new exhilaration expressing itself in both public and private songs of praise (Ephesians 5:19), in constant thanksgiving in the name of Christ (Ephesians 5:20), and in submission one to another (Ephesians 5:21). The last thought forms the basis for the special precepts which follow (chaps. Ephesians 5:22 to Ephesians 6:9).


Verse 2

Ephesians 5:2. And walk in love; since in this (chap. Ephesians 4:32) they are to be imitators of God. ‘Love’ is God’s characteristic (chap. Ephesians 1:4-5), and our aim (chap. Ephesians 3:17-19).

As Christ also loved you. Some authorities read ‘us,’ and a few have ‘you’ in both clauses, but the variation ‘you’—‘us’ is the more probable reading. ‘You’ here gives emphasis to the exhortation; ‘also’ joins the Christian walk in love to the work of Christ among men.

And gave himself up for us. Some sup-ply ‘to death’ others join ‘to God’ with the verb, but it seems best to take it absolutely of Christ’s self-sacrifice. ‘And’ serves to explain how He ‘loved,’ while ‘for us,’ which in itself means’ on behalf of us,’ in this connection points to the vicarious work of Christ; comp. on Romans 5:6, Galatians 2:20. The pronoun ‘us’ extends the thought to all Christians; the Apostle thus including himself.

An offering and a sacrifice. The former is the more general term for all offerings; the latter refers specifically to sacrificial (bloody) offerings. Here both terms explain Christ’s giving up of Himself: the former including His entire work, the latter referring especially to His vicarious death.

To God. This phrase is connected by Meyer and others with ‘gave Himself up;’ Stier and Braune join it with the following phrase (as in the LXX. rendering of Exodus 29:18). But Alford and Ellicott more correctly regard it as a qualification of the preceding substantives, the meaning being ‘with respect to God.’

For a savour of sweet smell. See marginal references. This phrase is rarely applied in the Old Testament to an expiatory offering (but see Leviticus 4:31). The Apostle, although speaking of the result of Christ’s propitiatory work (especially of His vicarious death), refers to His self-sacrifice as a proof of His love, in order to present a motive for Christian love. Hence the expression is appropriate here. Our free-will offering of self-sacrificing love becomes acceptable to God (comp. Romans 12:1-2) through His self-sacrificing work of love, which, however, was distinct from all other work in having a real expiatory character.


Verse 3

Ephesians 5:3. But. The exhortation forbids what is in marked contrast with the previous injunction.

Fornication; to be taken in its strict sense, since this was scarcely accounted a sin among the heathen of that time.

And all uncleanness; every kind of impurity.

Or covetousness. ‘Or’ sets this sin by itself, giving special emphasis to the prohibition, while the mention of it here indicates its close connection with sensual sins; comp. chap. Ephesians 4:19, and Ephesians 5:5. ‘Covetousness’ is ‘greed, avarice, unconquerable love of appropriation, morbid lust of acquisition, carrying in itself a violation of almost every precept of the Decalogue’ (Eadie). Monsters of avarice have often been monsters of lust (comp. Trench, Synonyms N. T.).

Let it not be even named among you. ‘It’ refers to each of the sins mentioned. None of them should be talked about unnecessarily. It is incorrect to explain: ‘let it not be told of you.’

As becometh saints; ‘meaning, that if it were talked of, such conversation would be unbecoming the holy ones of God’ (Alford). Notice the apt use of the term ‘saints.’


Verse 4

Ephesians 5:4. Neither filthiness, or, ‘obscenity;’ whether of thought, word, or deed; in Colossians 3:8 the reference is to words.

Nor foolish talking; insipid, stupid speech, perhaps including more than this: ‘the talk of fools, which is folly and sin together’ (Trench).

Or jesting. ‘Or’ is used as in Ephesians 5:3. The word rendered ‘jesting’ was applied to witty, well-turned speech, the characteristic of cultivated but frivolous people. Ephesus seems to have been noted for this kind of wit (comp. Plautus, miles gloriosus). That such talk soon descends to ‘scurrility’ is notorious, but the word here includes more than this, probably extending to manners also.

Which are not fitting. This defines ‘foolish talking’ and ‘jesting;’ it does not limit the latter. All witty speech uttered for its own sake is not fitting for a Christian whose tongue is to be consecrated to the service of Christ.

But rather giving of thanks. Either, thanksgiving rather is ‘fitting,’ or, let it be among you (from Ephesians 5:3). The latter is preferable. ‘Thanksgiving’ is not to be explained as ‘gracious speech,’ or ‘devout-ness,’ but means giving of thanks to God. This is the proper tone of Christian speech, and this will drive off the evil habits just spoken of: ‘to the abuse of the tongue is opposed this holy and yet glad use; Ephesians 5:18-19’ (Bengel).


Verse 5

Ephesians 5:5. For of this ye are sure, knowing, etc. ‘For’ introduces the ground for the preceding prohibitions in an appeal to the Christian knowledge of the readers. It seems better to refer ‘this’ to what precedes, and to take the first clause as indicative, not imperative. The change of a single letter in the Greek requires the above paraphrase; lit., ‘this ye know, knowing;’ the participle, however, being a different word. Some render: ‘this surely know, that,’ etc. But the expression is not a Hebraism.

That no fornicator, etc. These words are to be explained in accordance with Ephesians 5:3.

Who, or, ‘which,’ in any case refers only to ‘covetous man;’ comp. Colossians 3:5. The latter reading may be correct, as it is found in the two most ancient Greek manuscripts.

Is an idolater. The covetous man makes wealth his God; this is now the most common form of idolatry, and the Scriptures plainly reveal its sinfulness. ‘The fact that it is compatible with outward decorum, and with the respect of men, does not alter its nature. It is the permanent and controlling principle of an irreligious heart and life, turning the soul away from God. There is no cure for this destructive love of money, but using it for other than selfish purposes. Riches, therefore, must ruin their possessor, unless he employs them for the good of others and for the glory of God’ (Hodge).

Hath any inheritance; comp. Galatians 5:21. More than ‘shall not inherit;’ can have no inheritance, this being the unchangeable law of God’s moral government, eternally true, in the kingdom of Christ and God. The second ‘of ‘is to be omitted, since the two terms are closely united. We should not explain ‘of Christ even God,’ although the fact that the kingdom of Christ and of God is one rests on the deeper fact of the Divinity of our Lord. This ‘kingdom’ is not merely the future kingdom of glory, but the present kingdom of grace; comp. Matthew 13 and similar passages.


Verse 6

Ephesians 5:6. Let no man deceive you with empty words; words that do not contain truth; the special reference being to palliations of the vices just named. Heathen unbelievers would be most likely to excuse their sins, but in all ages attempts have been made to extenuate them. Covetous-ness especially is scarcely accounted a sin, even among Christians; yet the Apostle condemns it more strongly than the other vice which the heathen then tolerated.

For because of these things, the vices under discussion, cometh, this too is a present and eternal verity of God’s government (comp. Ephesians 5:5), the wrath of God; comp. notes on Romans 1:18. This wrath will have its full manifestation at the day of Judgment, but is visited even here upon the sons of disobedience, i.e., those who disobey the gospel, being both unbelievers and disobedient; comp. chap. Ephesians 2:2, where, however, the connection makes the former idea less prominent. To be deceived by empty words about these sins leads to this visitation of God’s wrath.


Verse 7

Ephesians 5:7. Become; not ‘be,’ but a warning against what might take place.

Therefore; because of the fact stated in the last clause.

Partakers with them, i.e., ‘the sons of disobedience;’ sharing in their sins, which involves sharing in their punishment, but there is no direct reference to the latter.


Verse 8

Ephesians 5:8. For. TO become partakers with those who indulge in these sins would be a relapse.

Ye were once; ‘were’ is emphatic; it is past

Darkness; ‘not merely living or abiding in it (comp. Romans 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:4), but themselves actual and veritable darkness’ (Ellicott).

But now are ye light in the Lord. More than ‘enlightened;’ they have themselves become ‘light’ (comp. Ephesians 5:13), and that ‘in fellowship with the Lord,’ the source of light and life to men. The word ‘light’ is ‘a comprehensive designation of the Divine life and character, both ethical and intellectual in its meaning, in contrast with darkness’ (Braune). Comp. marginal references.

Walk as children of light; let your conduct correspond with what you, by grace, have become. Christian exhortation always has this tone.


Verse 9

Ephesians 5:9. For. This verse is a parenthetic reason for the last exhortation, inciting them to walk thus.

The fruit of the light; ‘Spirit’ is poorly supported, apparently taken from Galatians 5:22. As there, ‘fruit’ is singular, pointing to the unity of the moral results.

Is in, consists in, is contained in, all, every kind of, goodness and righteousness and truth. All these are moral qualities, presenting Christian ethics under its three aspects, the good, the right, and the true (so Meyer). Other distinctions have been attempted, but without much success. Observe that these are the ‘fruit,’ not the cause of the ‘light.’


Verse 10

Ephesians 5:10. Proving; putting to a practical test. It seems best to take Ephesians 5:9 as parenthetical, and to join this participle with ‘walk’ (Ephesians 5:8).

What is well-pleasing to the Lord, i.e., to Christ. The walk of the children of light is a continuous attempt to give a practical answer to the question, How can I please Christ? The Christian conscience is enlightened by the gospel so as to answer correctly. The greatest mistake is in failing to ask the question. Christ is thus made the Lord of the conscience: what pleases Him is right; He becomes the God of our ethics as well as of our dogmatics.


Verse 11

Ephesians 5:11. And have no fellowship. The connection is with Ephesians 5:7; neither be partakers with the disobedient, nor have fellowship with their works, which are unfruitful works of darkness. Comp. Galatians 5:19; Galatians 5:22, where there is a similar contrast between ‘fruit’ and ‘works.’ These ‘works’ are ‘unfruitful,’ because not leading to salvation (comp. Hebrews 6:1; Hebrews 9:14 : ‘dead works’); corruption and condemnation are the positive result, but these are only hinted at in the word ‘darkness.’

But rather even reprove them. To have no fellowship is not enough (Bengel). ‘Them,’ which must be supplied, refers to the ‘works.’ ‘Reprove’ points to oral rebuke, such as shows the immorality of such works, quickens the conscience of the person doing them, with a view to his improvement. Some with less accuracy explain the word ‘convince by evidence,’ inferring that our duty is simply to let ‘the light of Divine truth shine into the darkened minds of men, and upon their evil deeds’ (Hodge). The danger in the application of this command arises from wrong motives in the heart of the reprover, not from any too strict view of the sinfulness of the works of darkness.’


Verse 12

Ephesians 5:12. For the things, etc. The E. V. has unnecessarily transposed the order of this verse.

Done in secret. The reference is not to heathen mysteries, nor to ‘works of darkness in general (Ephesians 5:11), but to special forms of sin, ‘which presented the worst features of the germs, and which, from their nature and infamy, shunned the light of day and of judgment’ (Ellicott). These it is a shame even to speak of. The main difficulty is the question of connection. ‘For’ introduces a reason for a preceding precept; most naturally the last: ‘rather even reprove them’ (Ephesians 5:11). This reproof was so necessary because some of the sins could not even be spoken of. Alford explains: ‘I mention not and you need not speak of these deeds—much less have any fellowship —with them—your connection with them must be only that which the act of reproof necessitates.’ The former view is preferable. All the explanations which refer to heathen mysteries, or identify ‘things done in secret’ with ‘works of darkness,’ seem untenable. Nor is it natural to find here a reason for not enlarging upon the evil deeds, or for the exhortation, ‘have no fellowship.’ The verse does not indicate that the reproof of Ephesians 5:11 should not be oral. They could rebuke other sins all the more emphatically because these were the signs of secret crimes that could not be named.


Verse 13

Ephesians 5:13. But all things. Either ‘all things’ in general, or’ all things spoken of in Ephesians 5:12. The principle is a general one, but as the connection with Ephesians 5:12 is close, it seems better to accept the special reference. The Apostle confirms his precept about reproof, by showing how the light wholesomely affects even these things which it is a shame to speak of.

Being reproved; when they are reproved, in case they are reproved, not ‘that are reproved.’

Are made manifest by the light. The order of the Greek permits ‘by the light’ to be connected with ‘reproved,’ but there are several objections to this, while the above rendering involves no difficulty. To join with both (Braune) is unsatisfactory. ‘The light’ is that of Christian truth as made to shine in those who are Might in the Lord’ (Ephesians 5:8).

For everything which is made manifest is light. A general proposition to prove the last, Much difficulty has arisen from taking the verb as active (‘doth make manifest’) or middle (‘makes itself manifest’). It is precisely as in the previous clause. All things, such as these secret sins, when they are reproved by you (as commanded in Ephesians 5:11) are made manifest by the light, their true moral quality is revealed by the light thus thrown upon them; only the light can do this, for everything which is made manifest is light. What is in the effect should be in the cause. (So Meyer.) ‘Light’ is here used in a metaphorical (not in its ethical) sense. It is not asserted that a moral transformation necessarily results from this revealing process. ‘Whether this tends to condemnation or otherwise, depends on the nature of the case, and the inward operation of the outwardly illuminating influence’ (Ellicott).


Verse 14

Ephesians 5:14. Wherefore he saith, i.e., God saith; comp. chap. Ephesians 4:8. The connection of this verse also has been much discussed. It seems best to regard it as a confirmation of Ephesians 5:12-13. The Apostle would show by this paraphrase from the Old Testament, not only that the effect of the light is as he has described, but that this is a reason why Christians should reprove, since thus others may become light through the illumination which Christ promises. In general what is made manifest is light (Ephesians 5:13), but Christ so shines as to give new spiritual light. Let your light shine, so as to reprove, in the hope that Christ will shine upon the convicted heart. The Scripture passage (Isaiah 60:1-2) is partly paraphrased, partly condensed, and (in the case of the introduction of the word ‘Christ’) interpreted in accordance with its fulfilment. This view seems most satisfactory. Other explanations: (1.) A combination of several passages. Paul does thus combine (Romans 9:33; Romans 11:8; Romans 11:26), but not so loosely. (2.) A Christian hymn based on Scripture. Purely conjectural. (3.) An unrecorded saving of Christ. Nothing to indicate this. (4.) The general tenor of Scripture. Too indefinite. (5.) A slip of memory. This implies that Paul was as unfamiliar with the Old Testament as some modern preachers; an implication opposed by Jewish habit, by his own character, and by any tenable view of his Apostolic authority.

Awake thou that sleepest. ‘Awake;’ the word used in arousing a sleeper: ‘up.’ The sleeper is one not yet a Christian, on whom the light is about to shine.

And arise from the dead. The sinful condition is set forth under another common figure.

And Christ shall shine upon thee. The figure is that of the morning sun; comp. Isaiah 60:1-2. Here we have combined the two sides of human action and Divine power. Eadie compares this command to that riven by our Lord to the man with the withered hand: ‘Stretch it forth.’ If he had waited to solve the difficulty between his inability and Christ’s power, he would never have been healed. ‘The light which Christ sheds around Him has power to awake the sleeping dead’ (Hodge).


Verse 15

Ephesians 5:15. Take heed then. This is a resumption of the exhortations, after the digression of Ephesians 5:12-14.

Strictly how (not, ‘that’) ye walk. The order of words in the oldest authorities joins strictly,’ or ‘accurately,’ with ‘take heed.’ The common reading gives the sense: ‘take heed how—ye walk strictly.’ ‘Take heed not only that your walk be exact, strict, but also of what sort that strictness is—not only that you have a rule and keep to it, but that that rule be the best one’ (Alford). The rendering of the E. V. is incorrect whichever reading be adopted.

Not as unwise men, but as wise. This preserves the verbal correspondence of the Greek. They were to walk strictly, and this clause explains further what is meant by’ strictly,’ ‘Wisdom and not mere intelligence was to characterize them; that wisdom which preserves in rectitude, guides amid temptations, and affords a lesson of consistency to surrounding spectators’ (Eadie).


Verse 16

Ephesians 5:16. Buying up the opportunity. This describes the walk of the ‘wise.’ The impression made by the E. V. (‘making the most of our time,’ not wasting or abusing it) is quite incorrect. The simple sense is: improve the opportunities which occur, looking out for them as a merchant does. ‘Buying up’ suggests that these opportunities are rare enough to be sought out. All special references to these from whom the purchase is made, or to the price paid, seem fanciful.

Because the days are evil; not difficult, or unfavorable, or few (as the common rendering possibly suggests; comp. Genesis 47:9), but morally evil, full of iniquity. Hence every opportunity to do good should be seized upon, as a merchant looks for a good bargain, especially when the current of trade is against him. But in this respect too often the children of this world are wiser than the children of light.


Verse 17

Ephesians 5:17. On this account; referring to Ephesians 5:15-16, rather than to the last clause.

Become (as usual in exhortations to Christians) not senseless, not rightly using the mind, but understanding, more than knowing, discerning intelligently, what the will of the Lord (i.e., Christ) is; not in general, but in particular, since thus discernment is shown. ‘This will reaching to what is least and most peculiar, is the object of the insight of the wise; the further he advances the less is anything to him merely permissible; everything becomes for him a precept and will from above; Acts 21:15 ’(Braune). The opposite inference is: culture which forgets to refer constantly to the will of Christ is ‘senseless.’


Verse 18

Ephesians 5:18. And adds to the general precept of Ephesians 5:17 a special prohibition of a common form of becoming ‘senseless.’

Be not made drank. To be taken literally, since the vice deserved then, and has ever since deserved, such special mention.

With wine; the usual intoxicating liquor.

But this word is not the prominent one.

Wherein refers to becoming drunk, not to ‘wine,’ since the moral quality is not attributed to a material object, but to a human habit

Excess, or, ‘dissoluteness.’ The word is derived from another which means ‘one who does not know how to save,’ and has in the New Testament the sense of profligacy, dissoluteness; comp. Titus 1:6; 1 Peter 4:4. It is true that other forms of intoxication are forbidden, but’ there is in the vice of intemperance that kind of dissoluteness which brooks no restraint, which defies all efforts to reform it, and which sinks lower and lower into helpless ruin’ (Eadie). Unfortunately efforts to check the vice have been frequently thwarted by the unwisdom of so-called reformers.

But be filled in the Spirit. Over against the temporary intoxication, is the permanent state of fulness; the contrast is between the verbs, as the original—indicate. ‘Spirit’ does not refer to the human spirit, but to the Holy Spirit, as dwelling in our spirit ‘In’ is instrumental, but points to that ‘in which as well as ‘with which’ they are to be filled. The Christian’s joy is not brief intoxication, but abiding exaltation in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The next verses show how this spiritual joy expresses itself.


Verse 19

Ephesians 5:19. Speaking to one another; lit, ‘yourselves,’ but the reciprocal sense is not unusual; and demanded here, as in Colossians 3:16. Some find here a reference to antiphonal singing, such as Pliny speaks of (‘to sing a song to Christ as God by turns among themselves’); but this is doubtful. The reciprocal influence on their hearts is meant; and that in social intercourse as well as in their public assemblies.

In psalms and hymns and spiritual songs; so Colossians 3:16. It is perhaps impossible to distinguish these very exactly; but ‘psalms’ would include the Old Testament psalms and probably sacred songs of a similar character. The original idea of the word, that of musical accompaniment, would hardly be retained at this time. ‘Hymns’ would include songs of praise, especially to Christ, while ‘spiritual songs’ would apply to all those lyrical compositions prompted by the Spirit (not simply on spiritual subjects). Some distinguish into scriptural, congregational, and private hymns; others make the third phrase the general term. As a matter of history Christian hymns were composed very early, and used in religious assemblies. There is no warrant for confining public praise to the use of the Old Testament psalms, or of paraphrases of other Scripture passages. Yet so rigid a practice is better than to encourage the multiplication of hymn books, born of pecuniary greed and full of unspiritual matter. The Sunday-school has suffered most in this respect. It is true ‘the hymns of Jesus are the Holy of Holies in the temple of sacred poetry’ (Schaff), and to banish Christian hymns is to exclude from this sanctuary, but to substitute for them unworthy and unchristian rhymes is not only to outrage taste but to profane the temple.

Singing and making melody. This is parallel with what precedes, and not explanatory of it. Besides the public and social song, there should be this private expression of Christian joy: in your heart to the Lord. The two participles correspond with ‘songs’ and ‘psalms,’ and need not be exactly distinguished. The view which takes this clause as subordinate to the preceding part of the verse is open to objection. It usually explains ‘in your heart’ as = heartily, which is incorrect. It is this private singing which bests fits us for public praise. That it is addressed by the Christian ‘heart’ to Christ ‘the Lord’ is but natural.


Verse 20

Ephesians 5:20. Giving thanks always for all thing. This is the third and more general expression of the result of being ‘filled in the Spirit’ The phrases need not be limited to blessings, nor regarded as hyperbolical. Thankfulness is the constant sign of the Spirit’s presence, the tone of the whole Christian life, and that too in all circumstances. See marginal references.

In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. In fellowship with this Person, on the ground of what He has done which gives us occasion for thanksgiving. The phrase is a very general one, but the precise application can be determined by the context

To God and the Father, or, ‘ever the Father.’ Comp. chap. Ephesians 1:3; Galatians 1:4. Here, however, the reference is quite general: He is the Father, the Father of our Lord and through Him our Father. To Him we give thanks, but always in the name of Christ, for without Christ we would not have Him as our God to thank, still less know Him as the Father.


Verse 21

Ephesians 5:21. Submitting yourselves one to another. While this precept is expounded in several directions in the sections which follow, it stands here as a fourth qualification of being ‘filled with the Spirit’ (so nearly all recent commentators), not as an imperative. The connection of thought is, however, not obvious. The view of Ellicott is safe: he finds here named a comprehensive duty in regard to man (after the three duties in regard to God), the exact connecting link being ‘thanking God for all things (for sorrows as well, submitting yourselves to Him, yea) submitting yourselves to one another.’

In the fear of Christ; so all the early manuscripts. This is to be the controlling sentiment in the submission. The phrase is rare, and marks the tender, reverent attitude to Him as Head of the Body, rather than as Judge. Such submission is not cringing obsequiousness, which is always selfish; but it is opposed to rudeness, insolence, haughtiness, and kindred manifestations of unchristian temper. The relation to Christ involves humility, and only true humility can produce the submission here required. The example of Christ teaches the same lesson: ‘The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister’ (Mark 10:45).


Verse 22

Ephesians 5:22. Wives, submit yourselves, etc. The verb rendered ‘submit yourselves’ must be supplied, from the general statement of Ephesians 5:21. In fact nearly all of our Greek manuscripts contain the word in different forms and positions. Most modern editors rightly reject it, since in addition to these variations and the testimony of the Vatican Codex, Jerome expressly states that it was not found in the Greek copies of his day. The exhortation to ‘wives’ comes first, in accordance with Ephesians 5:21.

Your own husbands. ‘Own’ emphasizes the peculiar and tender personal relation on which the duty rests.

As to the Lord; Christ. The meaning is not,’ as the Church yields to Christ,’ nor yet, ‘as you yield to Christ,’ but rather, ‘regard your duty to your husbands as duties to the Lord,’ The verses which follow plainly point to this sense. The duty is made to rest as a Christian basis, is to be rendered in a Christian spirit from a Christian motive. When it becomes a burden, or is neglected, the failure has usually been in not regarding it in this aspect


Verses 22-33

1. Christian Duties of Wives and Husbands.

All the relative duties discussed in this portion of the Epistle are based upon the fact of a common relation to Christ: the exhortations are all ‘in the Lord.’ But the fundamental social relation, namely, that between husband and wife, has a yet deeper basis, in the mystical relation between Christ and His Church. Hence the exhortation to wives (Ephesians 5:22) is at once grounded upon the duty of the Church to Christ (Ephesians 5:23-24); while on the other hand the exhortation to husbands (Ephesians 5:25 a) is at once enforced by the example of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-31). As this side of the matter has always required the greater emphasis, the Apostle enlarges upon it, by introducing not only the self-sacrificing love of Christ for His Church (Ephesians 5:25 b), but the end of that love (Ephesians 5:26-27). The duty of husbands thus to love their wives is further enforced from the unity of the marriage relation resembling that of Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:29-30), as appears from the first reference to marriage in the Old Testament (Ephesians 5:31). In Ephesians 5:32 the Apostle speaks of the whole matter as a mystery, especially in its higher application, but repeats the exhortation to both classes (Ephesians 5:33).


Verse 22

IV. Special Christian Duties in Household Relations.

(1.) Of wives and husbands; chap. Ephesians 5:22-33. (2.) Of children and parents; chap. Ephesians 6:1-4. (3.) . Of servants and masters; chap. Ephesians 6:5-9.


Verse 23

Ephesians 5:23. Because a husband is head of his wife. The basis of the duty is this unalterable fact ‘A husband,’ as an example of the class (the article is not found in Greek); ‘his wife’ brings out the force of the article, pointing to the definite person in the supposed case.

As Christ also is head of the church; ‘His Church,’ but there is no other than His. On Christ as Head of the Church, comp. chaps. Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 4:15.

He himself is the Saviour of the body; lit., ‘Himself the Saviour of the body.’ This clause distinguishes Christ from the husband ‘In Christ’s case the Headship is united with, nay gained by, His having saved the body in the process of Redemption: so that I am not alleging Christ’s Headship as one entirely identical with that other, for He has a claim to it and an office in it peculiar to Himself’ (Alford).


Verse 24

Ephesians 5:24. But. This is strongly adversative; notwithstanding this difference the resemblance in the matter of duty remains. The other explanations are far less satisfactory.

As the church is subject to Christ (the word is the same as that rendered ‘submit yourselves’ in Ephesians 5:21-22), so let the wives also be to their husbands. ‘Own’ should be omitted here. The repeated exhortation is strengthened still further by the phrase: in everything. This is to be understood in accordance with ‘in the Lord’ (Ephesians 5:22), and with the precepts which follow. The submission is ‘in everything,’ but this phrase ‘teaches its extent, not its degree. It extends over all departments, but is limited in all, first, by the nature of the relation; and secondly, by the higher authority of God’ (Hodge).


Verse 25

Ephesians 5:25. Husbands, love your wives. This is the husband’s duty, corresponding to the relative position, as indicated in Ephesians 5:23.

Evan as Christ alto loved the church. Comp. Ephesians 5:2, with which the latter part of this verse closely corresponds. Here, however, the matter is made more special. The husband’s love for his wife is to be of such a kind as leads to self-sacrifice, since the next clause is explanatory: and gave himself up for it (lit, ‘her,’ and so throughout), thus, especially by His death, proving the character of His love. This is the example and in fact becomes a motive to husbands. The exhortation is to the husband, and is no warrant for the selfish exactions of a wife; just as in the other case the duty of submission is no warrant for tyranny. Submission is to be met with self-sacrificing love, self-sacrificing love with submission. The fulfilment of one’s own duty is, however, the surest way to secure the fulfilment of the reciprocal duty. Yet the exhortation in each case is based, not on the fulfilment of the other’s duty, but upon the relation to Christ. There can be no stronger enforcement of both precepts than this: since this example of Christ has its instruction for both parties, as appears from the further setting forth of the similarity of the relations existing between Christ and His Church and between husband and wife.


Verse 26

Ephesians 5:26. That he might sanctify it. Not, ‘separate and consecrate for Himself’ (Calvin), but, ‘make holy,’ as appears from Ephesians 5:27. ‘Both sanctification and purification are dependent on the atoning death of Christ, the former as an act contemplated by it, the latter as an act included in it. There is thus no necessity to modify the plain and natural meaning of the verb’ (Ellicott).

Cleansing it; not, ‘sanctify and cleanse it,’ since the participle expresses the negative side of the sanctification. It may indicate an act preceding the latter (‘having cleansed’) or one occurring at the same time. The former view is favored by the reference to baptism; but ‘cleansing’ would admit of this meaning also in this connection.

With the laver of the water. The reference to baptism is unmistakable; probably there is also an allusion to the bride’s oath before marriage. ‘Laver,’ or, ‘font’ is a more correct rendering than ‘washing.’ ‘The water’ points to the well-known use of water in baptism.

In the word. It is ungrammatical to join this phrase with ‘laver of the water;’ nor does it refer to the baptismal formula or to the Divine command, or promise, etc. It means, not some particular saying, but the word of God, the gospel, preached and accepted. Jerome, Meyer, and others connect it with ‘sanctify’ (comp. John 17:17), as indicating the means by which the Church is made holy. But the order of the words is against this, and it is open to other objections. It seems best then to connect the phrase with ‘cleansing,’ etc., and to explain: the purification of which baptism is the sign and seal has as its essential accompaniment ‘the word’ of the gospel. This is substantially the view of Augustine: ‘Take away the word, and what is the water but water? The word is added to the element, and it becomes a sacrament, as it were the word made visible.’ The close connection of the two phrases with the word ‘cleansing’ justifies the remark of Hodge: ‘How then is it true that baptism washes away sin, unites us to Christ, and secures salvation? The answer again is, that this is true of baptism in the same sense that it is true of the word. God is pleased to connect the benefits of redemption with the believing reception of the truth. And He is pleased to connect these same benefits with the believing reception of baptism. That is, as the Spirit works with and by the truth, so He works with and by baptism, in communicating the blessings of the covenant of grace.’ No mention is made of faith, because Christ’s work is referred to, and moreover His Church is spoken of.


Verse 27

Ephesians 5:27. That he might himself present to himself. A slight change of reading gives this sense. This is the purpose of the sanctification (Ephesians 5:24), but also of the giving up of Himself (Ephesians 5:25). ‘Present,’ as a bride, not as an offering, is presented. But ‘Christ permits neither attendants nor handmaids to present the Bride’ He alone presents, He receives’ (Ellicott), as He has prepared her for the bridal presentation (Ephesians 5:24). That this is to take place at the Second Ad-vent is generally admitted, especially since that event is so frequently referred to as a marriage.

The church glorious. ‘A glorious church’ is inexact. ‘The Church’ (His Church) is to be presented as ‘glorious,’ this word being in emphatic position, and explained by what follows.

Not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. The figures taken from the perfection of physical beauty express what is stated without a figure in the next clause.

That it might be holy and without blemish. The thought is still explanatory of ‘glorious,’ notwithstanding the change of construction; ‘might’ marks the purpose better than ‘should.’ ‘Holy and without blemish,’ as in chap. Ephesians 1:4, refer to the positive and negative sides of moral purity. Clearly enough the Church is not yet ready to be thus presented; but the Bridegroom is preparing her for it. Precisely this thought furnishes a strong motive for the duty under discussion.


Verse 28

Ephesians 5:28. Thus; in this manner, as Christ loved the Church; not to be referred to the following ‘as.’

Ought husbands also to love their own wives. ‘Also’ is well supported, and shows that the example of Christ is referred to. ‘Own’ is emphatic

As their own bodies. Not, ‘as if they were,’ but’ since they are,’ the husband being the head of the wife, etc. (Ephesians 5:23). ‘Thus’ indeed Christ loved the Church, but the Apostle has not yet brought out that thought.

He who loveth, etc. This general proposition is self-evident.


Verse 29

Ephesians 5:29. For. We may supply: if a man does not love his wife he acts against nature, for, etc.

Ho one, no human being, ever hated his own flesh. ‘Flesh’ as here used is nearly equivalent to ‘body,’ but was probably chosen by the Apostle, ‘because he already had in mind the quotation (Ephesians 5:31), which refers to the institution of marriage before the fall’ (Braune); this of course excludes any ethical reference.

But nourisheth and cherisheth it. The latter word means to ‘warm,’ but here probably includes the notion of protecting and preserving.

Even as Christ (‘the Lord’ is supported only by the less weighty authorities) also doth the church. Christ’s love toward His Church is manifested in His nourishing and cherishing it. This clause is ‘the sacred refrain of the entire Christian conjugal ethics; comp. Ephesians 5:23; Ephesians 5:25’ (Meyer). It is altogether unnecessary to distinguish between the expressions, ‘nourisheth’ and ‘cherisheth,’ as applied to Christ; and to find a reference to His feeding His Church in the Lord’s Supper seems unwarranted.


Verse 30

Ephesians 5:30. Because we are members of his body. The thought is quite familiar (see marginal references); here it gives a reason for Christ’s nourishing and cherishing His Church; it is His mystical body, made up of members, ‘integral parts,’ of one organic whole. This organic whole is not the ‘church’ which is included in the term ‘we,’ but Christ mystical, the Head and the members, Christ and His Church. This holds good, even if we omit the latter half of the verse, which seems necessary, now that the weight of the Sinaitic manuscript (first hand) has been added to that of the two next in age (and of other authorities). It was probably inserted from Genesis 2:23 (where however the order is reversed). As however the omission can be accounted for, many good editors retain it. If retained it should be referred to the mystical relation between Christ and His people, which is analogous to the physical derivation of Eve from Adam (comp. Genesis 2:23, of which the clause is a reminiscence) and the union between them. The idea of vital union with Christ is included as well as that of the derivation of our spiritual life from Him. But the sacramentarian interpretation, which refers it to our partaking of the substance of Christ’s body, fosters materialistic conceptions of the union, and seeks to explain one mystery by propounding another. Moreover as this passage does not speak of ‘body and blood,’ but of ‘flesh and bones,’ the reference to the Lord’s Supper is quite doubtful.


Verse 31

Ephesians 5:31. For this cause, etc. The Apostle cites Genesis 2:24, somewhat freely from the LXX. The Apostle recalls a passage based upon the fact of Eve’s having been taken out of Adam. Whether the language is that of Adam or an inspired comment (comp. Matthew 19:5) is immaterial in this connection. The phrase in Genesis equivalent to ‘for this cause’ points directly to the creation of Eve, and the variation here does not of itself indicate a different reference.

Shall a man, the man, not the woman, leave his father and his mother, or, ‘father and mother.’ Some authorities insert the articles, here equivalent to possessive pronouns; others omit in both cases.

Shall be joined; closely joined, or, ‘shall cleave,’ as in other passages.

To his wife. This is God’s precept

And the two shall be one flesh. So close and peculiar is the relation. Comp. Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:7-8, where our Lord cites the same passage in regard to earthly marriage.

In the Apostle’s use of the Old Testament language a secondary application to Christ and His Church may well be admitted, since the Apostle throughout has both in mind; but the mystical interpretation, which connects ‘for this cause’ with Ephesians 5:30, and refers this verse exclusively to a future union of Christ and His Church, is unsafe. The omission of the last clause of Ephesians 5:30, which resembles Genesis 2:23, makes the latter view the less necessary. Others refer the last clause alone to Christ and the Church; others apply the whole to the first coming of Christ and His present union with the Church. Alford more correctly regards ‘the saying as applied to that, past, present, and future, which constitutes Christ’s union to His Bride the Church: His leaving the Father’s bosom, which is past.

His gradual preparation of the union which is present; His full consummation of it, which is future.’


Verse 32

Ephesians 5:32. This mystery is great. On the word ‘mystery’ comp. chap. Ephesians 3:9. Here it stands in emphatic position and refers to what was spoken of in Ephesians 5:31, namely, the relation of husband and wife constituting them one flesh. A secondary application to the union of Christ and His Church is implied, and more fully stated in the next clause. Those who refer the whole of Ephesians 5:31, or its last clause, exclusively to the latter relation must do so here also. But what follows seems unnecessary in that case. Others refer ‘this mystery’ to both relations, in their parallelism, as copy and pattern. To explain ‘mystery’ as implying an allegorical interpretation is as inadmissible as to render it ‘sacrament’ (so the Vulgate) and base a dogma upon the error.

But I. ‘I’ is emphatic, and points to the use he personally makes of the mystery.

Say it in regard to Christ and the church. The mystery of the conjugal relation is great, but in the relation of Christ and His Church is found the archetype and prototype of the relation of husband and wife.


Verse 33

Ephesians 5:33. Nevertheless. ‘Not to enter further upon this greater mystery;’ enough has been said. This is preferable to explaining: ‘to return to the subject of marriage,’ to finding a contrast between ‘I say’ and ‘ye also.’ Whether more of the mystery be known or not, the analogy has been sufficiently set forth to enforce this exhortation.

Ye, all of you, also, as in the case of Christ toward His Church, severally, as individuals the exhortation applies to you, let each one so, in this manner, namely, like Christ, love his own wife as himself; not love his wife as he loves himself, but love her as being part of himself (comp. Ephesians 5:28) thus furnishing a motive corresponding with the previous statements.

And let the wife see. The construction of the original is peculiar, but the sense is expressed by supplying ‘let’ and ‘see.’ Ellicott: and the wife I bid that,’ etc.

Reverence, lit, ‘fear,’ in the sense which the word has in the Old Testament. The exhortation implies that the husband is the head of the wife (Ephesians 5:23), and it is a question whether a woman who cannot reverence her husband despises her-self or him the more; that both are the objects of derision to others is notorious. To reverse the duties of this verse and section is as much a folly as it is a crime. But the duties become a privilege only when rendered ‘in the Lord,’ The section may be thus summed up: ‘To the husband one command is given, and in this three requirements: Love even unto self-sacrifice, with the consequence and purpose of sanctification (Ephesians 5:25-27), and this with such energy, purity, and constancy, that more is required of the husband than of the wife. The wife should love the husband, as the Church loves Christ, in entire, exclusive, indissoluble, and ministering love; and the husband should love the wife, as Christ the Churchy in entire, exclusive, indissoluble, and protecting love’ (Braune).

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Ephesians 5:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/ephesians-5.html. 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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