Love was a big deal to the apostle Paul. Some people have the unfortunate view that Paul was all business; that John was all about love. That’s partly true, but that view gives short shrift to Paul, because Paul’s theology of love was all about action; how members of the body of Christ interact with each other. For the great apostle, love was not a poem or a song or sonnet. It wasn’t just a feeling. If one church member treated another church member shabbily, then as far as Paul was concerned, there was no love there.
The admonition in Ephesians 5 is a simple one: Walk in love. Note carefully the word Paul used: LOVE. He did not use the word “familiarity.” And the reason is simple: When we get so comfortable with a person – our spouse, a good friend, whomever – bad things can happen. The love we are trying to cultivate can become a perversion of love if we aren’t careful. As if in anticipation of that, Paul warns his friends –
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of 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. 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 of God. (Ephesians 5:3 – 5 NIV)
Love keeps a cool head. Conducting your life in love gives a whole new dynamic to living. Instead be aggravated with a fellow believer, you feel compassion and moved to action. In fact, there is no stronger motive for provoking action like love. However, love can be abused and people taken advantage of. That’s why Paul spends time advising believers not to fall blindly in love, to “walk as children of light.”
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. (Ephesians 5:8 – 10 NIV)
The change that takes place when one becomes born again is nothing less than astounding, and using language that is striking, Paul describes the change like moving from the pitch blackness of sin into the light of God. Not only are sinners lost and groping around in the darkness, they are literally partakers of that darkness. But once the light of God’s love dawns in their hearts, a complete change necessarily take place. Now they are partakers of the light. Christ is the light and He creates children of light. Paul’s exhortation here is a pretty simple one, and Mackay captures it perfectly:
Let the children of the light express their true nature. Let them live in accordance with it.
How can you tell if you or another believer is living like they should? Paul calls the proof, “living in the light.” Some new manuscripts refer to it “living in the Spirit.” It’s the same idea, and living in the light/Spirit is characterized by three words: goodness, righteousness, and truth. When one is living and walking in the light, their actions and their attitudes will be demonstrably good, right, and true.
There’s no way around it: It the responsibility of every person who has received the light of God’s salvation to be Godlike in the way they think, live, and love.
The judgment of light
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (Ephesians 5:11 NIV)
Here’s a verse that has caused some discussion because, as Bible scholars are wont to find, there is some controversy surrounding just what Paul was trying to say. Is this verse referring to evil people or to their evil deeds? The language of the verse is of little help, but given the context, especially verses 6 and 7, it seems Paul is referring to both –
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. (Ephesians 5:6, 7 NIV)
Christians are not to have fellowship with evil (“fruitless deeds of darkness”), whether deeds or people. Verse 11, as the KJV renders it, is a little closer to the original –
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.
The verb behind “fellowship” is synkoinoneite, and it refers to “communing with.” Paul is not necessarily referring to “rubbing shoulders” with “the children of darkness” in the course of day-to-day activities, but rather having close, almost intimate and continuous relationships with them. John Calvin wrote this:
We must beware of joining or assisting those who do wrong. In short, we must abstain from giving any consent, or advice, or approbation, or assistance; for in all these ways we have fellowship.
Well, as was his custom, Mr Calvin may be a tad severe, but his point is well taken. It might be good to moderate his words with these:
If fellowship produces nothing of eternal good, then it is not for Christians.
Instead of abstaining from evil practices and avoiding evil people, believers are to “reprove them.” There seems to be two ways of viewing this. Some scholars look to the verb Paul used, elengcho, and think he is referring to an oral rebuke. Christians, it is thought, need to stand up in protest against evil deeds and people. But others take a more passive view, suggesting by their lifestyle of live and “walking in the light,” Christians are reproving evil in all its forms. In the examples of Jesus and Paul we learn that these two should not be mutually exclusive. Reproving evil deeds and people should be done with a purpose: the redemption of their souls.
The true believer should take a positive and obvious stand against evil. Evil in any form should not be tolerated, but exposed and attacked for what they are. Remember, Jesus said this:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. (Matthew 5:13 TNIV)
Salt is something used to stop or slow down corruption. Christians shouldn’t be so isolated and cut off from the world that they take no interest in their culture or society; that they raise no voice against the wickedness around them.
The sense of verses 15 to 21 is that Christians need to exercise wisdom in their walk with Christ. We shouldn’t let life just happen to us. Note this –
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15, 16 NIV)
Part of walking wisely in the faith is “making the most of every opportunity.” Literally the expression means, “buying up the season.” Paul’s point is this: Christians need to use their spiritual knowledge to live for Christ to such an extent their good fruit will be obvious to all to see. “Buying up” or “making the most” suggests putting forth an effort and taking time. All Christians should be on the lookout for opportunities to manifest Christ-like virtues. But it takes wisdom to look like this. We can’t be self-centered and concerned only with ourselves.
A good marriage = a good witness
With verse 22, Paul transitions into some advice to wives and husbands. It sounds like a whole new topic, unrelated to what preceded it, but it isn’t. In fact, it is so closely related to the foregoing verses that there is no verb in the original sentence. Verse 22 literally looks like this:
Wives, to your own husbands.
If we staple that sentence onto the end of verse 21, it all makes sense and we see that the whole wife/husband section is not a new topic at all –
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives to your own husbands. (Ephesians 5:21, 22 NIV)
The word “submit” is one of the words that some people would love to ban these days. Bring it up in a discussion of marriage and watch the fur fly. But submission is big idea in the Bible. As verse 21 admonishes, Christians are to submit to each other. There’s no debate on the issue. The idea of Christian submission is to “prefer” the other person; to put the other believer’s needs ahead of your own. That also applies to Christian marriages. But the overall context shouldn’t be forgotten: unity in the Church. Most church members don’t live isolated lives; they fellowship in church, but they have relationships outside the church, too. Usually the most important relationship in life is the one that exists between husband and wife. Mutual submission within the Body of Christ extends to all Christian relationships inside and outside of the church. One of the best, passive witnesses of the Christian faith is a good, solid marriage where mutual submission is the norm.
Paul’s theology of “domestic relations” is marked by two principles. First, mutual submission. Wives may submit to husbands, but husbands face exacting responsibilities within their marriages. The modern mind may find the idea of submission offensive, but mutual submission is living with a Christ-likeness that testifies to true spiritual surrender. Or to put it another way, no wife may feel like submitting to her husband, and no husband my feel like elevating his wife and her needs ahead of his own, but each will do so, in submission to God’s will.
Secondly, all believers will live in mutual submission to each other – husband and wife included – because of their obligation to Christ. When you commit your life to Christ, it’s an all or nothing deal. We owe it to Him to submit to each other.
And Paul’s understanding of submission has nothing to do with obedience. It is NOT, “wives obey your husbands,” it’s submit, which is a word tinged with love. As Paul uses it, submit is a loving, mild word. It means that wives should respond to their husbands as they respond to the Lord. That is, we all love God because He first loved us. Wives are to submit in love to their husbands because their husbands love them. Paul is talking about a Christian marriage where the husband is in submission to the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… (Ephesians 5:25 NIV)
Submission in marriage is a love relationship, and for the sake of order, the husband is to be the head within that relationship. Paul is in no way suggesting wives are “second class citizens” or foolishness like that. In fact, elsewhere in his writing, Paul goes to great lengths to establish the indisputable fact all believers, Jews, Gentiles, men, women, rich, poor, are all one – all equal – in Christ. But for the sake of unity, there must be an order or hierarchy to observed. In the Church, Christ is the head. In the family, the husband is the head. When you look at the Church, does Christ lord it over congregations? Is He like a task master? Of course not. And the husband shouldn’t be that way with his family, either. Within his family, the husband should be the spiritual giant. Not a task master; not a slave owner; but a priest, whose main concern should be the overall welfare of his family – those under his care.
Perhaps one reason why so many Christian wives cringe when they hear the word submission is because their husbands aren’t living up their spiritual and ethical obligations under Christ.