Ephesians 5:21–6:9. Of Wives and Husbands, Children and Parents, Servants and Masters.
Key Notes: Submission or obedience. Marriage. The Head. Caring for the body. He loves her; she respects him. Subordination. Marriage models spiritual relationships. Frustrating our children. Labor for Christ.
This passage has been rejected by large segments of the world. It is criticized for being inherently hierarchical and oppressive in an age that demands equality and personal freedom. The text speaks to humans generically, respecting the differences between the sexes, the old and the young, the supervisor and the worker. We will find it difficult and demanding, as well as humane and enlightening.
We would like to approach the text inductively—ideally as if we had never seen it before. Our first task is to understand what the author is saying, the words chosen, the phrases, the structure and major message. First, the Greek words.
hypotasso": (from “tasso”, to arrange, and hypo “under”), to be under the arrangements , be submissive; Eph.6:21,22,24
"phobeo": to fear, reverence ; Eph.5:21, 33; 6:3
"hypokouw": (from “kouo”, to listen; to listen under), to obey; Eph.6:1,5
"timao": to honor; Eph.6:2
"douleuo": (from “doulos", a servant), to serve, be a servant; Eph.6:7
"haplous": single, whole-hearted, generous; Eph.6:5
"cephale": head; Eph.5:23
We see a recurring literary device, a link, “as / so”, in Eph.5:22, 23, 24, 25, 28, 29, 33. Paul is making a systematic analogy between a married couple, a man and woman vs. Christ and the Church.
Eph.5:21 "Be submissive to one another out of reverence (Gr. phobos, fear) for Christ."
Eph.5:22 "Wives, [be submissive] to your husbands, as to the Lord."
This is the theme of the section. The word for submit (hypotasso) is not repeated in 5:22, but is assumed and added in English. Both husband and wife are submissive--under the arrangements. The basis of a successful marriage is a shared understanding of the “arrangements”, the couple's underlying philosophy of life. If that philosophy is reverence for Christ and His salvation, with its implicit trust in Scripture and what it teaches, the foundation for a successful marriage has been made. Both spouses are under the same rule. The more similar the backgrounds of the couple, the better. If “the arrangements” are secure, the couple will have few conflicts and the wife can heartily work with her husband’s leadership. She knows that he will love her, his “neighbor” as himself.
5:23 “For the husband is head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church”. It is His body. He is its Savior. Both of these concepts will be elaborated.
The word “head” (Gr. cephale) has been downgraded to mean only “source” by some commentators. Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament gives a little credence to that idea. The context in both OT and NT Greek favor head to mean "leader". Certainly we would agree that Christ is the leader of the Church and not merely its source.
5:24 “As the Church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands." In everything? The wise husband will minimize the number of areas in which his wife is not free to make her own decisions and where her compliance is necessary. The average executive knows that he can demand and coerce one to three times before his effectiveness is compromised. Nowhere in NT is the wife commanded to “obey” (hypokouo) her husband, although some versions translate “hypotasso” that way.
5:25–28 ”Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her”
*to cleanse with water through the agency of the Scripture. John quoted Jesus to say, “Sanctify them in the truth: Thy word is truth.” (Jn.17:17)
*to present her to Himself without spot (Gr. "spilon") or wrinkle or other defect that she may be holy and blameless.
“Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourished and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church, because we are members of His body. “
The prospect for seeing the Church in purity is far off. The Church of today is decidedly "spilled-on" (carnal, corrupted) and often wrinkled (old and stiff), not to mention fractured. The brilliant and beautiful Church is a vision of the new Jerusalem. Rev.21:2,9
Christ cares for His body, the Church. Men should similarly care for their wives’ bodies. Most men will find that a new concept , one in which they have little orientation or skill, and more than they bargained for. We were taught to think of our partner’s mind and spirit. Men are inclined to be “stand-offish”; after all, Paul said “It is well for a man not to touch a woman.” (ICor.7:1). However, Paul meant something quite different in that passage, which refers to illicit sexual contact. For a man to care for his wife’ body as his own is quite radical. Think of how little attention Jacob gave to the needs of his two wives.
Women care more about their bodies than most men care about theirs. For a man to care for his wife’s body is far more involved than having periodic sexual intercourse. It involves helping her through pregnancy, child-rearing, menopause and other life-crises which center on the body, as well as meeting her daily needs. She needs alone-time, vacations, intellectual stimulation and romance. The healthier she is in body, mind and spirit, the happier the family will be. (If this sounds patronizing, read on.)
Interviewer with a 65 year-old patient: “What are you going to give your wife for Christmas?
She softly answered for him: “He never gave me a present in his whole life.”
Speaker: “Leviticus says there should be no intercourse during menses.” (Lev.18:19)
Listener.” What right do you have to tell me when I can have intercourse with my wife?”
Speaker: “Ask her; she will tell you.”
Speaker: “You need to spend some quality time with your wife every day.”
Listener. “I sleep with her eight hours every night. What more do you want?”
Speaker: “What do you want from your husbands that you’re not getting?
Women: “If only he could show a little energy”, “be a little bit creative”, “take me out….”
5:31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. This is a profound mystery and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.”
Paul links the mystery of Christ becoming flesh to the Genesis account of creation of male and female. (Gen.2:24). Whereas the reference to marriage in Matt.19:5 can be understood to emphasize the leaving, cleaving, one flesh aspects of marriage, this time the quotation ties the union of a man and woman to Christ’s union with us. He took on human flesh. That is a part of the mystery.
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood He Himself likewise partook of the same nature….” (Heb.2:14)
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the Only Son from the Father.” (Jn.1:14)
Christ also is organically united with us. Paul rightly calls that a mystery.
"I am the Vine, you are the branches." (Jn.15:5)
" I am the living Bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this Bread he will live forever." (Jn.6:51)
5:33 “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects (phobeo) her husband. “
Please pardon some gross generalizations based on years of counseling. The usual marriage relationship is that the wife is the one who loves and the husband who respects--the opposite of what Paul commanded. The woman is more interested in love than sex. She is a nest-builder and nurturer. The man appreciates what she does and gives her the money she needs, but stays at a distance. The dynamics of most marriages find the woman active and the man passive except in sexual contacts, sometimes to the point of being invisible, sitting in a tavern or gone fishing. Paul says that is wrong and backward. It is a pattern frequently seen in failed marriages. I asked a young woman to tell what her father looked like. She could not describe him. I asked thirty young people if they had a significant father figure in their childhood. One put his hand up.
The burden is on the man to love, nurture, and care, and for the woman to respond to him. This command is very difficult to carry out in modern society. The demands of the work-place leave the average man with little time or energy to spend on his family. He brings home the pay-check and takes out the garbage. If there is time, he will relax watching ESPN. His wife has to take care of herself and the children — and him. How can Mr. Average Man accomplish his assignment? He is going to need God’s help. He must also reconsider his workaholism, which may be an excuse to hide from home responsibilities.
The spiritual lesson is also profound. Paul says the relationship of the husband to the wife is a model of Christ's relationship to the Church.
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A good marriage models the relationship between Christ and the Church. If you want to see how Christ and Christian people should interact, look at a couple of godly, mature married people. It is a witness to the work of God’s redeeming grace. It attracts people to Christ and will help them make good marriages.
There are other applications, but one obvious inference is that subordination does not imply inferiority. Christ is subordinate in authority to the Father, although They are One in essence. (Jn.5:30). Similarly the Holy Spirit is subordinate to Christ. (Jn.16:12–14)
6:1–4 "Children, obey (hypokouo) your parents in the Lord, for this is right." This is a command which promises blessing from the Fourth Commandment of the Law of Moses. “In the Lord” and “the nurture and admonition of the Lord” implies that both parents and children are under the rule of Christ. This will restrain the father’s unreasonable demands that frustrate and anger the child. Our expectations are usually years ahead of the child’s mental and physical development. The father and mother can concentrate on moral and spiritual training of their children, not insisting on early violin lessons or Little League baseball.
6:5–8 Paul’s instruction to servants does not deal with their freedom but their service. Elsewhere, he encourages freedom for slaves (ICor.7:21) but social liberation is not a NT theme.
In fact, Paul urges the slave to perform efficient and conscientious service with multiple exhortations, obeying
with fear (Gr. ""phobou") and trembling (Gr."tromou")
in singleness (Gr. "haplous") of heart
as to Christ
not eye-service (Gr. "ophthalmo-doulian"), as a man-pleaser
servants (Gr."douloi") of God
doing the will of God from the heart (Gr. "psyches")
expecting reward from God.
It is plain that Paul sees the slave as serving a human master, but having God in his mind’s eye.
That is a radical idea, applicable to all our work, whether we are salaried, work for wages or volunteer.
God rewards the diligent work of a slave?! Any kind of work? What a unique idea!