This section continues the practical part of the Epistle, and is spiritually consistent with the doctrinal part presented in earlier chapters. Here, Paul uses the highest spiritual concepts in order to deal with all aspects of domestic life; additionally, he uses aspects of domestic life to illustrate the highest truths.
The previous practical section smoothly blends into the previous section by the word “submitting”, v. 21, for this word links back to verse 18, “be filled with the Spirit”. Three manifestations of this filling are’ ‘speaking … giving … submitting”. This general statement about “submitting” introduces three pairs domestically. Each pair involves submission by one partner in the pair to the authority of the other partner, yet with safeguards against dictatorship being exercised in the reverse direction. Wives submit to their own husbands, “as unto the Lord”, v. 22; children are to obey their parents “in the Lord”, 6. 1; servants are to be obedient to their masters “as to the Lord”, 6. 7. In each case, we may think of contrary examples in Scripture, considering in each case parallel passages elsewhere, Col. 3. 18 to 4. 1; 1 Pet. 2. 13 to 3. 7.
Husbands-Wives,5. 22-33. Relationships of this character remain unaltered on earth, whether under the law, or under grace. Authority is the responsibility of the man, since “Adam was first formed, then Eve”, 1 Tim. 2. 13. This is primary, but then there is the secondary reason, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman”, v. 14, answering to the statement after the fall, “he shall rule over thee”, Gen. 3. 16. Thus husband and wife were never on the same and equal footing. But this is not a heavy burden on the wife, for the submission is done objectively, “as unto the Lord".
Other scriptures bearing on the subject are: let the wife render due benevolence to her husband (and vice versa), 1 Cor. 7. 3; “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands”, Col. 3. 18; “that they may teach the young women … to love their husbands”, Titus 2. 4-5. In the O.T., there was a case where husbands might be despised in the eyes of their wives, Esth. 1. 17. Peter pressed the same truth, quoting Sarah as an example of the exhortation “being in subjection unto their own husbands”, 1 Pet. 3. 5. By way of contrast, there are also some faithless examples found in the Scriptures. Thus, David’s wife Michal “despised him in her heart”, 2 Sam. 6. 16; the Lord Jesus spoke to the woman at the well who had faithlessly been attached to five husbands, John 4. 18; God used the example of a treacherous wife to illustrate the activity of the Jews in departing from Him, Jer. 3. 20. But the wife must not submit to sin or crimes proposed by her husband, as Sapphira did to her husband Ananias, Acts 5. 1-2.
Yet a spiritual condition is implied, for Christ is the Head, and the church is subject unto Him. He controls His members in a divine way, and is their protector, so His members should delight to submit to Him, owning Him as Lord in their exercise of submission. For this reason, sisters cover their heads in gatherings of the local church, 1 Cor. 11. 2-16, and they are silent in these gatherings, 14. 34; 1 Tim. 2. 11-12. Paul continues to develop this theme in the subsequent verses of Ephesians 5. 25-33.
The apostle then considers husbands directly, v. 25, together with the responsibility of obtaining and maintaining a bride. This was the order of creation, implied in Genesis 2. 24, where God presented the woman to the man. Thus we recall Isaac and Rebekah, that “he loved her”, 24. 67; Jacob and Rachel, that “he loved also Rachel”, 29. 30; Leah said, “my husband will love me”, v. 32. This was also a spiritual picture used in the O.T. of God’s love for His chosen nation, “I am married unto you”, Jer. 3. 14.
This is a creatorial picture of the great fact that Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it. This divine love and the giving of Himself recall our remarks on verse 2 of this chapter, where we have expanded on various references to divine love and the giving of Himself. The Lord’s objective was to “sanctify” the church, namely, that her affections may be uniquely directed to Himself. Affections directed elsewhere constitute the essence of idolatry.
In the objective “cleanse it with the washing”, the noun “washing” occurs elsewhere only in Titus 3.5, where salvation is by the washing of regeneration, referring to the new birth, where the old is discarded and the new introduced. As a verb in John 13. 10, the washing is once and for all, though the daily pathway needs constant cleansing. This washing is “by the word"-that is, the spoken word, and refers to preaching as the means whereby the gospel is made known.
The idea of presentation is often found in the N.T. Thus we present our bodies, Rom. 12. 1. Paul would present the Corinthians as a chaste virgin, 2 Cor. 11.2, and would present every man perfect in Christ Jesus, Col. 1. 28. Christ will present the church in perfection, and also believers as holy and unblameable, Col. 1. 22. Finally, God will present us faultless before the throne, Jude 24. We may not be of sufficient status to be presented to the sovereign here below, but the standing of all believers gives them this blessed prospect of presentation in the day yet to come.
The church is described as without spot (blot, or moral stain). Thus Christ as the Lamb was without spot, 1 Pet. 1. 19, but false teachers are spots, 2 Pet. 2. 13. A wrinkle indicates disfigurement due to age, morally caused by much contact with the world, but the standing of the church is ageless, the work of Christ ensuring that it cannot be marred. “Without blemish” is used of the Lamb in 1 Peter 1. 19, and of believers in Ephesians 1. 4 and Colossians 1. 22. In other words, there is nothing out of keeping with the divine plan for the church as the bride. For she is completely consistent with being in that eternal heavenly home with Christ which is far better. How opposite this is to a man marrying a wife whom he cannot allow to remain in his home, as in Solomon’s case, 2 Chron. 8. 11.
In verses 28-33, we have the husband’s responsibility to his wife. The man is used as a picture of Christ cherishing His body the church, and Paul uses this natural relationship as a basis for expounding this great spiritual truth. Note that Paul is still dealing with the body of Christ. To accommodate the truth of the bride at the same time, the apostle quotes Genesis 2. 24, that “they shall be one flesh”. Naturally speaking, Paul is describing the care that a man should have for his wife, Eph. 5. 28, 29, 33. The word “nourisheth” implies the promotion of health and wellbeing, while “cherisheth” takes our minds to Paul’s attitude in Thessalonica, “as a nurse cherisheth her children”, 1 Thess. 2. 7; here is a caring for a body that is the temple of divine occupation.
Paul stresses that this is what the Lord does for His body, the church, “even as the Lord the church”. In love, He promotes spiritual wellbeing, because “we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones”. (Some editors omit reference to “flesh” and “bones".) Members of His body would suggest service under His control; the bones would relate to the body’s structure, for example the named men as gifts in 4. 11. The “flesh” (not in any derogatory sense) relates to members seen in a spiritual sense, as for example in Ezekiel 11. 19; 36. 26, where we find “an heart of flesh” and “a new spirit” replacing the old.
In verse 31, Paul reverts to the natural relationship again, but immediately states, “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church”. The spiritual preceded the natural, and will for ever succeed it; the natural is a pattern and picture of the eternal spiritual reality. The lessons are important, but of necessity secondary, v. 33. Yet Paul brings the lessons down to human relationships. But how lightly they are treated by the world today! For the marriage relationship can be the subject of unpleasant jokes, with divorce and adultery accepted as the norm, thereby deliberately negating the purpose of God both in a physical and a spiritual sense.
Children-Parents,6. 1-4. The fact that Paul addressed children implies that he expected the young to listen and to read. This means that young believers today should be fed with such material as is found in the Epistle. We find in the Scriptures every kind of relationship between father and son. Thus (i) a bad father and a bad son (Omri and Ahab), (ii) a bad father and a good son (Ahaz and Hezekiah), (iii) a good father and a bad son (Hezekiah and Manasseh), and (iv) a good father and a good son (Aaron and Eleazar).
Paul stresses obedience, and its converse. Unbelievers are “disobedient to parents”, Rom. 1. 30; 2 Tim. 3.2. But in Ephesians 6. 1, the apostle visualizes both Christian children and Christian parents, as shown by the words “in the Lord” and “of the Lord” in verses 1,4. In other cases, a Christian child must obey God rather than men if there is any conflict of loyalties, since conduct is what “is right".
Paul quotes the commandment in Exodus 20. 12, not as placing believers under the law, but because there are moral requirements even for a walk in grace. This particular commandment is the first in the list containing an attached promise, quoted by Paul in verse 3. Alas, in these days children are often brought up to engage in self-expression, failing to see that their parents have overall authority. This promise of long life is also given in Deuteronomy 4. 40; 5. 33, made to all who keep the commandments of God. We feel that this means that life would not be shortened by divine judgment or by heathen domination. Compare the case of Solomon, 2 Chron. 1. 11-12; he did not ask for long life-it was not promised nor was it ultimately given. Today, children’s obedience to parents is a first step to obedience to the Lord. Such obedience means that life would not be shortened, as it was in Corinth, 1 Cor. 11. 30-32.
Paul then addresses fathers, v. 4. They are not to provoke, irritate or exasperate their children, not adopting a dictatorial attitude that might bring out rebellion in a child. As Colossians 3.21 puts it, “lest they be discouraged”. Rather, Christian fathers should have high ideals. “Nurture” would apply to education, training and correction. “Admonition” would imply warning, as Paul warned the Ephesians for three years with tears, Acts 20. 31. This should also be the exercise of elders in a local assembly, 1 Thess. 5. 12-14. Fathers should engage in this activity in keeping with the description “of the Lord”. The apostle had acted like this in Thessalonica, “we exhorted … and charged … as a father doth his children”, 2. 11. Lack of discipline today may often be traced to the lack of parental responsibility.
Servants-Masters, 6. 5-9. Paul now writes to Christian servants who may have Christian or non-Christian masters. Certainly obedience was necessary, if this did not lead to any deed contrary to God’s will. Today, the servant-master relationship may appear to be almost an anachronism, but the corresponding employee-employer relationship is of great importance. Unfortunately, in the world the scriptural ideal is quite foreign to the modern attitude, which tends to be mass-rule by employees. But believers should obey with “trembling”, namely, lest they depart from Christ; (this is how Paul preached, 1 Cor. 2. 3, and how the Corinthians received Titus, 2 Cor. 7. 15). Again, obedience must be in “singleness of … heart"-namely, one’s motives must not deviate from work done for an employer being regarded as work done for Christ. This means that some unseemly employments are barred to believers.
We have further conditions in verse 6. The servant must not manifest “eye service”, namely, obedience being shown only under the watchful eyes of his master. There must be no exaltation of self so as to be seen of men, as illustrated by the Pharisaical behaviour in the sermon on the mount. To be “menpleasers” is the opposite to Paul’s service in Thessalonica, “not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts”, 1 Thess. 2. 4. For by writing, “as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart”, Paul reinterprets the very basis of the servant-master relationship. This attitude of menpleasing is taken when men have two kinds of loyalties, the greater to a union and the lesser to an employer.
Once again, the work of a servant is “as to the Lord”, v. 7; in verses 5,6 it is also “as unto Christ” and “as the servants of Christ”. This is a reinterpretation of employment-it is service ultimately to the Lord, and looks far beyond mere service to men. This shows that the Christian’s daily employment should not be contrary to scriptural principles, Such an attitude will enable the employee to manifest “good will”, namely “to be kindly disposed to”. Gehazi certainly did not act like this towards Elisha; rather he served himself for greed, 2 Kings 5. 20-27.
This higher level of employment is amplified in verse 8. If one’s daily work is really done as to the Lord, then a reward will follow. This “good thing any man doeth” is not referring to the unsaved doing works for salvation, rather, how God views the believer’s ordinary employment. For example, Paul was a tentmaker as unto the Lord, and hence there would be a corresponding rich reward. This idea is expanded in Colossians 3. 23-25: “ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong”, no doubt governmentally in the present life. And this applies to “bond or free"- namely, independent of social conditions, whether advantaged or disadvan-taged. Social conditions and relationships remain in daily life, though in spiritual relationships we are all one in Christ, 1 Cor. 12. 3; Gal. 3. 28; Philem. 16.
Finally, Paul addresses Christian masters, (or employers, in the modern sense). Their treatment of servants is described as “the same thing”, namely, this treatment must be “as unto Christ”. Thus they must not behave like a threatening dictator; they must act towards their servants as they would wish their Master in heaven to act towards them. (In this sense, the Lord is our divine Employer, and we are His servants, for He requires fishermen, farmers, builders, teachers and administrators.) There is no favouritism on God’s part; He treats all according to the same divine principles, servants and masters alike; see Rom. 2. 11; Acts 10. 34, and we should do the same, James 2. 1,9.