Read the Passage: Ephesians 5:22–6:9
Paul reminded believers at Eph. 5:21 that we are to submit to one another. Indeed, submission is necessary in all areas of life for the world to function well. This includes the following relationship: God/believer (cf. Exod. 20:3), mankind/creation (cf. Gen. 1:26–28), state/citizen (cf. Rom. 13:1–7), judge/defendant (cf. Prov. 24:23), master/bond-servant (cf. Eph. 6:5–9), pastor/layperson (cf. 2 Tim. 5:17), teacher/student (cf. Jas. 3:1), husband/wife (cf. Eph. 5:22–33), and parent/child (cf. Eph. 6:1–4). As Paul writes about submission in the context of marriage in this passage, note the following: first, Paul starts his teaching on marriage by drawing parallels with Christ and the church; second, the submission called for in marriage is not based upon qualifications, but upon position; and third, the submission prescribed here is not the husband’s to command, but the wife’s to freely offer.
Starting in Eph. 5:25, Paul begins to address the role of husbands in marriage. As we look at this larger passage, three observations are in order. First, note Paul appeals to Jesus’ sacrificial love for the church as a model for husbands to follow in relation to their wives. Second, note that just as Christ, the Living Word (cf. John 1:1), purifies the church for Himself via revelation, so husbands are to use the written Word of God to sanctify their wives, for “the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12; cf. 1 Pet. 2:2–3). Third, note Paul’s teaching that in loving their wives husbands are loving themselves. This affirms the one-flesh-ness of marriage and points to the covenantal nature of the institution (cf. Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:31).
In Eph. 5:32 Paul refers to the Christ/church union as being a great mystery. In the New Testament the term “mystery” refers to something that was concealed in the past but has now been revealed in the present. While Paul is clear in this passage that the mystery to which he is referring is the union between Christ and the church, it is also true that in times past mankind did not know that the institution of marriage was designed to reflect the unity of the Christ/church relationship. As we discussed earlier in our study of Ephians 3, apart from the Christ/church union, things in Scripture that Paul labels a “mystery” include: the future glorification of the material body (cf. 1 Cor. 15:51), the present apostasy of Israel (cf. Rom. 11:25), the current lawlessness of the world (cf. 2 Thess. 2:7), and unity of Jews and Gentiles within the church (cf. Eph. 3:4–5; Col. 1:27).
After instructing the Ephesian church about how to “walk worthy” (Eph. 4:1) regarding marriage, Paul logically addressed the issue of parenting. In so doing, at Eph. 6:2 Paul quotes the fifth commandment, “Honor you father and mother” (Exod. 20:12). As Paul observes in this passage, the fifth commandment is unique in that it is the only moral law that has an explicit promise attached to it, which is, “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth” (Eph. 6:3). Two observations about this passage are in order. First, note that while honor (cf. Eph. 6:1) is most often associated with actions, honor—just like submission—actually begins with an attitude or a disposition. In fact, in some circumstances, the way in which children honor their parents could actually be by disobeying them. Second, note that the promise attached to the fifth commandment is best understood as a general principle, like a proverb, not as an iron-clad guarantee, for some godly parents do die young.
As he is explaining the importance of submission in human relationships, in Eph. 6:5–9 Paul addresses interaction between bond-servants and masters Given the history of racial slavery in post-biblical times, New Testament references to bond-servants can be challenging to understand. Yet, we must keep in mind that while bond-servants had few rights, the concept is more akin to the modern-day idea of an indentured servant, a bonded employee, or someone with an armed services commitment. As with all human relationships, certainly some biblical-era bond-servants were sinfully abused; yet, the concept cannot be categorically evil, as Scripture repeatedly refers to believers as bond-servants of Christ (cf. Rom. 6:22) and Jesus refers to Himself as a bond-servant (cf. Mark 10:45; Phil. 2:7). In Eph. 6:5–9 Paul seeks to bring the gospel to bear on the master/bond-servant relationship as he calls for obedience, submission, kindness, and impartiality.
- Why is Paul’s teaching on marriage and family in this passage rooted in theology, rather than being solely practical in orientation?
- What does Paul mean in writing, “He is the Savior of the body” (Eph. 5:23)? Is Paul referring to the husband/wife relationship, or the Christ/church relationship?
- What are some practical implications of the one-flesh-ness of the Christ/church union, as well as the one-flesh-ness of the marriage relationship?
- If marriage is a picture of the Christ/church relationship, what are the implications for husbands and wives in regard to gender roles within marriage?
- How can a child honor a parent if the parent’s instructions are immoral? Why does Paul address fathers in this passage and not mothers (cf. Eph. 6:4)?