Modern Bible Commentary on Ephesians 5:1-33

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph. 5:1-2, WEB).”

As Christians, our primary objective is to conform into the image of God. Scripture repeatedly encourages us to be like our heavenly Father (Matt 5:48, Lk. 6:36). In the previous chapter, Paul exclaims: “Be kind and tenderhearted to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you (Eph. 4:32).”

Since we are called to be the light of the world–a city on top of a hill for all to see, and salt to a broken world, it’s imperative that our wills align with sovereign king Jesus. Moreover, in this verse Paul adds that believers ought to walk in the way of love just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a sacrifice holy and pleasing to God.

In the Old Testament, there was a special day called Yom Kippur, where the high priest would offer sacrifices to appease the wrath of God for the Israelite people. Now we know that Christ is the living bread that came down from heaven, and this bread that leads to eternal life was broken for humanity when the Lord died on the cross (Jn. 6:51). This is the perfect sacrifice that truly takes away our sins.

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving (Eph. 5:3-4).”

Paul warns believers not to have a hint of sexual immorality. The Greek word for immorality here is Πορνεία – porneia. Scripture clearly tells us that those who practice immorality, impurity, or greed will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul reiterates this in 1 Corinthians 6:10-11. At the end of a long list of sins, however, he gives hope. He says, “and such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:10-11).”

This is why it’s vital today for evangelists to share the entire story of the gospel. Before one can hear the good news that God saves sinners, they must understand their depravity and need for a savior. If you tell them they need Jesus in order to be saved, but don’t expose their sin, then how would they be implored to accept the Lord’s forgiveness? Allow the law to condemn and convict first, but then bring in the hope and grace that God offers to all who trust in His Son for redemption.

Furthermore, Paul mentions obscenity, foolish talk and coarse joking. Why do you think he brings this up? Because the Bible tells us that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matt. 12:34). It’s also unwise to be a constant jokester. For Proverbs tells us: “so is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I was only joking (Prov. 26:19).” If your personality is bent towards silliness, no one will take you seriously when the time is appropriate.

“For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person–such a person is an idolater–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them (Eph. 5:5-7).”

The apostle continues to elaborate on the sober reality that no person who is impure, greedy, or an idolater has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. These works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19) are contrary to the fruit of the spirit. Therefore, if one claims to be a Christian but enjoys the thorns of darkness, then they are to be avoided. For what fellowship does light have with darkness?

It’s important to understand we are to be in the world but not of the world. While it’s right and true that Jesus hung out with sinners and tax collectors, and did not have a “holier than thou” attitude, it’s different if people claim to know God and yet continue a life of sin.

We are called to evangelize to the lost, hang out with sinners, and share the good news that God saves, but not when they claim to know God; for this can hurt the Lord’s reputation and confuse unbelievers. It’s important to speak the truth in love to any of our brothers or sisters struggling with sin, and church discipline is appropriate in these situations. This is what Paul is declaring here concerning not to be partners with those who “claim to know God.”

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them (Eph. 5:8-11).”

The Greek for once is ποτε, which expresses at one time or another. In other words, all of us were once in darkness until God rescued us from our sins. Thus, we are now light in the Lord. No longer are we σκότος  or in obscurity and shadiness, but have the fruit of the light–goodness, righteousness, and truth.

God speaks a lot about light and darkness in Scripture. For example, in Isaiah 42:16 he says, “I will lead the blind by a way they did not know; I will guide them on unfamiliar paths. I will turn darkness into light before them and rough places into level ground. These things I will do for them, and I will not forsake them.”

Furthermore, Jesus elaborates on this when he tells his disciples: “Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going (Jn. 12:35). It pleases the Lord when we walk in truth, honesty, integrity–for then we are emulating God’s attributes to a dark and broken world.

“It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible–and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: “Wake up sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you (Eph. 5:12-14).”

God says it is shameful, disgraceful or αἰσχρόν of what the disobedient do in secret. On the day of judgment, the Bible says, “God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil (Ecc. 12:14).”

This is a sobering reality. Imagine every thought, act, or vice done in secret will be exposed to the whole world. What people thought was hidden will be brought into the light as a testimony to their sins and rightful judgment from the Lord.

It’s important to emphasize that all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. There is no one righteous and no one who does good (Rom. 3:10). This is crucial to understand because people think they are overall good, compared to others around them. However, in comparison to the holiness of God, we fall exceedingly short of the standards that God requires–this is why heaven is a free gift (Eph. 2:8-9) and not something we can earn.

“Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is (Eph. 5:15-17).”

As Christians, we ought to live wise. Jesus told us that he will send us out as sheep among the wolves, and yet we are called to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matt. 10:16).” It’s therefore essential to be prudent, aware of your surroundings because the devil is roaring around like a lion, seeking whom he may devour. Continual prayer, attending church, accountability, and reading the Word of God will mitigate your risk of being destroyed.

Furthermore, Paul knows that the days are devil. In fact, as we approach the end of days, Matthew 24:22 warns us that if God hadn’t shortened the days, even the elect would be deceived. This is how powerful and deceptive sin is in our world today. So do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is for your life.

“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:18-20).”

God has much to say concerning strong drink and debauchery. In Leviticus, he tells the Israelite people not to drink wine in the tent of meeting or else they will die. Solomon teaches in the book of Proverbs that wine is a mocker and a brawler–and can lead people astray (Prov. 20:1). The Word tells us in the end, alcohol bites like a snake and stings like a viper (Prov. 23:32).

Instead of being drunk on wine, God calls us to be filled with the Spirit–speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. We are to rejoice in the Lord and make music in our hearts, giving thanks to God for all of the provisions he has provided for us. The Psalmist declares: “Let us enter His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him in song (Ps. 95:2).”

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wise as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything (Eph. 5:21-24).”

Scripture makes it clear that all of us, both male and female, are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 1 Peter 5:5 calls the men to submit to the elders. Here, Paul encourages the wives to submit to their husbands as they do to the Lord.

This type of submission is not to be done as a power play or to say that men are superior; instead, this type of submission is full of love and grace, just as Christ submits to the Father. Wives are called to trust their husband, be in one accord with their decisions, and allow the husband to lead in order to protect them from potential danger.

It’s important to reemphasize that all of us are submitting. The Son Jesus submits to the Father. Husbands and men are to submit to the elders of the church and to Christ. And wives are to submit to their husbands, as their husbands submit to the Father, the Son Jesus, and the Church elders. I think this is to be stressed again because people have misconstrued this notion of submission as a negative connotation rather than a positive one of humility and respect.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without strain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Eph. 5:25-27).”

As you can see, husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. How did Christ love the Church? By dying for their sins. Therefore, husbands ought to be self-sacrificial when they are called to lead their wives. They are to protect the woman, make her holy, and present her to God as holy and blameless through the power of God’s anointing.

“In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church–for we are members of his body (Eph. 5:28-30).”

In Genesis, the Lord says a man and a woman will leave their parents, get married, and the two shall become one flesh. This type of union is vital in the Christian life. For husbands and wives are to be full of unity, love, respect, and serve one another just like the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For all three are equal in essence, but their functionality is different.

Paul makes it clear that the two become one flesh. For no one, he says, ever hated their own body. We take care of it everyday, just as Christ does for the church. Thus, this spiritual unification is crucial to not only marriage but our theological understanding of the nature of God. For He is three distinct persons, yet one in essence just like marriage and family.

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the Church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband (Eph. 5:31-33).”

Paul again details the importance of marriage, family, and how that reflects the mystery of Christ and the Church. For Jesus is the groom and we are the bride. He loves us sacrificially since He died on the cross for our sins. He protects us from the evil one. He is our hero, savior, refuge, and the solid rock on which we stand.

Similarly, a good husband ought to protect his wife. When things get difficult, He needs to be strong and caring towards his wife. He is there to love, nurture, and encourage her to grow in the knowledge of God. And the wife is to serve and love her husband. This is because the two become one flesh, and they are united together as a team to be the best version of themselves through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Bible Commentary by Chad A. Damitz (Master of Divinity, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)

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