Some Practical Lessons
E W Rogers, Oxford
EPHESIANS 5. 21 TO 6. 24
Paul now embarks upon what someone has called, the matter of "earthly relationships in the heavenly family", prefacing the whole with the injunction, "subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ", Eph. 5. 21. He says this because what he writes is not his own private exhortation; it has the authority of the Lord and, therefore, disobedience thereto is a very grave matter.
He speaks of wives and husbands, children and parents, servants and masters. The order is significant: first those who are to be subject and secondly those to whom the subjection is to be rendered. This is not the advocacy of tyranny, but rather of that which makes for a healthy society. Firstly he considers
Wives and Husbands. Wives are to be subject to their own husbands as unto the Lord. They will have read in this letter of the Headship of Christ in relation to the Church, and from this they may learn of the headship of the husband to the wife. As, therefore, the Church should be subject to Christ in all things, so the wife to her husband. This is, of course, the ideal, and does not suppose obligations imposed by the husband which are infringements of the divine duties. Rather, Christ is the Saviour (preserver, protector) of the body; thus should the husband be also of his wife.
On the other side, the husband is called upon to love his wife, and he has for his example Christ5 s devotion to the Church. He loved it; He gave Himself up (to the cross) for it; with the object in view that He might sanctify it (make it holy), having cleansed it by the washing of water with the Word (a spoken word), 5. 25-26. As the laver of old was designed to provide means whereby the priests could wash themselves thereat, so the Word of God is provided today for the same purpose (see John 15. 3; 17. 17).
The whole range of time, from the beginning of the history of the Church till its final consummation, is envisaged here. In the past there is Christ's love and self-sacrifice. In the present there is its cleansing with the object of making it holy, and in the future there is to be the presentation of it to Himself, without defect or sign of old age. God's purpose will then have been ultimately achieved (cf. 1. 4 with 5. 27). Christ and the Church are as Head and the body; they are therefore one. This pertains to husband and wife also, confirmed as it is by their physical union. Each are complementary parts to a unity. No other party should, therefore, come between. On the part of the husband there should be a single-eyed devoted love, and on the part of the wife there should be submissive fear, not in the sense of terror, but rather in her recognition of his proper position as head. This is contrary to the ideas current in our present time, when the equality of the woman with the man is insisted on. But these directives are not inconsistent with equality. If the head of Christ is God (this does not imply inequality, but it denotes submission and dependency), so it should be with the wife and her husband.
It is difficult to understand how any should have misgivings as to the Church being likened to a bride, in view of the passage now before us. The whole is a tale of "love, courtship and marriage", the love being mentioned in verse 25, the devoted care, interest, feeding and comforting her in verse 29, and preparing her for the nuptial day is noted in verse 26, all with the view of her presentation to the Bridegroom (here by Himself) on the soon-to-be-wedding day, cf. Rev. 19. 7-8.
It has been suggested that the "washing" is baptism, arid that the spoken word is the interrogation and response thereat. But in view of Titus 3. 5 it would seem that it is the "washing of regeneration" that is here meant.
Paul cites Genesis 2. 23, 24, showing that in the original institution of marriage God had in mind a secret which is now revealed, a divine mystery, of Christ and the Church. Next come
Children and Parents. As with husbands and wives, wives are first addressed though originally the husband was first, so here children are first addressed though manifestly the parents had priority. Parents can only expect obedience from their children if their commands are in agreement with the will of the Lord; the obedience required is "in the Lord". The phrase does not mean "parents in the Lord". If parents are to be honoured, they must merit the honour. That there are mysterious exceptions to the fulfilment of the promise attached to the fifth commandment is recognised (see 6. 2), the explanation of which is hidden from us, yet the general rule is according to it.
The parents' duty is both negative and positive. They should not be provocative, but they should discipline the children in regard to their conduct, and instruct them in things which they need to be taught. Never more than today was this direction to both children and parents needed. Next come
Servants and Masters. This letter was written in days of slavery, and though neither the Lord nor His apostles attacked the system, yet they taught in such a manner that an atmosphere was created which was inimical to its survival. In our days of bargained employment, the principles still hold good. The Christian employee should have his eye ever on the Lord. He should "fear" Him and "tremble" at His word. His eye should be single, and his service should be rendered to Christ. To reduce such work to the level of merely pleasing men is unworthy of our high calling.
It must never be forgotten that our actions are like boomerangs, and they will come back and leave their mark on our character. Whether it be "good" as in 6. 8, or whether it be evil as in Colossians 3. 25, whatever kind it be, 2 Cor. 5. 10, all will receive again the thing done in the body. In this there is no partiality; it applies to all alike, whether they be slaves or freemen, servants or masters. Paul then deals with the matter of
Christian Warfare, 6. 10-20. The panoply (whole armour) is provided by God. We are not called upon to "make" it, but to "take" it up, and to "put (it) on". The armour is the objective provision of God, to which, in our putting it on, we subjectively give expression. There is a subtle enemy with whom we are bound to be engaged in close-at-hand wrestling. He adopts "wiles", 4. 14, and failing their success he becomes more violent and uses "fiery darts". This is not a physical contest, but with one experienced in the realm of spirits who would seek to rob us of the realization of our true place in the heavenlies in Christ. We dare not enter the fray in our own strength, but clad with this divine armour we may gain the victory, though having done so we should then stand ready for the next assault, 6. 13.
All the armour is defensive save the "sword of the Spirit", v. 17, which is God's spoken word (the appropriate word for the occasion). It was this that the Lord Jesus Himself used to dramatic effect in the wilderness temptation. There is no armour for the back - God does not provide for runaways.
But how easily can the enemy gain an advantage if there is lack of truth and righteousness in the life of the believer, v. 14. How easily will his agents propagate their false philosophies and theories if the child of God is not ready to go and preach peace by Jesus Christ, v. 15; Rom. 10. 15. How safe is the believer if he is wearing the large body-shield of "faith", which unreservedly accepts and applies to himself all that is embodied in "the faith". Twice he has been told "by grace have ye been saved" and through faith, Eph. 2. 5, 8 r.v.; now he must wear "the helmet of salvation" which will protect the mind against all uncertainty and misgivings. In 1 Thessalonians, the helmet is "the hope of salvation" from the coming wrath, 5. 8, a thing yet to be experienced. But in the passage before us is a present fact to be appropriated and enjoyed by faith. And as an overall covering there is to be prayer and supplication, constant and Spirit-led, all embracive and specific, Eph. 6. 18, 19.
These are instructions, given not to a section of the church, but to all alike, husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants. They are in God's camp and provided with God's armour, because there is the enemy's camp, not superior in power or might, but none the less crafty, subtle and violent. It is the common lot of all the saints everywhere. There is nothing local or parochial here.
Paul describes himself as "an ambassador in chains", R.v., but if chained in body his lips cannot be silenced. The saints should pray on his behalf that utterance may be given to him in opening his mouth that he may make known with boldness (freedom of speech) the mystery of the gospel. What that "mystery" is we have seen in his earlier chapters. For "the gospel" is not a limited thing, restricted to the elementary features of the Christian faith but is inclusive of "all the counsel of God", Acts 20. 27. "As I ought to speak" are words Paul must speak, for he recognized a solemn binding duty upon him which led him elsewhere to say "woe is unto me, if 1 preach not the gospel"; "necessity is laid upon me", 1 Cor. 9. 16. There are a few
Concluding Words touching Tychicus, who was to bear this letter and its precious contents to the saints. He was "beloved" by the saints, and "faithful" to the Lord. He would personally inform them of Paul's state and thus comfort their hearts. What an insight into the sympathetic feelings that they had for their apostle to whom, under God, they owed their existence as believers and as a church. And how Paul felt for them and desired their comfort! Was he not in need of the same also?
"Peace", Eph. 6. 23, was the usual Jewish salutation, and "grace" the Gentile one. Here Paul mentions both,, but not in close juxtaposition, w. 23, 24. He had already warned their elders that from among them ones would arise speaking "perverse things" and "grievous wolves" would come into their midst, Acts 20. 29, 30, but he is assured that there are those who "love our Lord Jesus Christ in uncorruptness", Eph. 6. 24 R.V., and to these he expresses his good wishes of peace, love, faith and grace.