We began this week’s study with Ephesians 5:15-21. The theme of this passage appears to be wise living. We therefore began with Job 28:28, and seeking the essence of wisdom. “And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’” Clearly, according to this, the essence of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. With this in mind, we read through our passage, looking for which aspects of wise living are discussed in each verse.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil (our walk, usage of time). Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is (understand God’s will). And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit (be Spirit-filled, not out of control from substance-abuse), addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart (fellowship in loving Christian community), giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (discerning that God is a giver of good gifts), submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (our reverence for Christ influences how we relate to others) (Ephesians 5:15-21, emphasis mine).
We read in James that wisdom comes from God: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (1:5). Let us then ask him for it when we pray, for our Father delights to answer this kind of request.
To search out the connection between wisdom and the Holy Spirit, we turned to 1 Corinthians2: 9-13, where Paul writes: “But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, / nor the heart of man imagined, / what God has prepared for those who love him’— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”
Wisdom comes from God, and without the aid of his Holy Spirit we cannot begin to understand it; our hearts cannot even imagine it. God’s wisdom must be revealed to us through his Spirit, who has been given that we may understand all that the Father has freely given us. Spiritual truth and wisdom are perceived as foolishness by the world, but by grace, through the Spirit, we may discern the wisdom of God and walk not as unwise, but as wise.
By following the verbs in verses 19-21, we can trace out the actions which flow from the Spirit’s presence in our lives. Therefore, we see that being filled with the Spirit leads to, “addressing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Being filled with the Spirit is not merely a personal exercise, but it affects how we live in community with others and with our Lord. It can’t be bottled up inside us, but must spill out in joyful fellowship with other believers for our mutual blessing. We can see more clearly the gifts of God and can’t help but be grateful to him. And our right view of Christ, informed by the Spirit, causes us to revere him in such a way that we submit to our brethren, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
How then, can we be filled with the Spirit in our day-to-day lives? Rick Phillips tells us in his commentary on this passage:
The way to be filled with the Spirit is through the Word of God and prayer so that Jesus is exalted in your heart. Jesus said of the Spirit, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” The Spirit is the author of Holy Scriptures, so to be filled with the Spirit is to be filled with the Word. The point of the Scripture is Jesus Christ in his glory as Lord and Savior. So to be filled with the Spirit is to have a present, personal relationship with the living Lord Jesus, to walk with him, to see life through his eyes, and to think with his mind. To be filled with the Spirit is to be filled with Christ. It is to be Christ-like and Christ-infatuated. It is, Paul wrote, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). [Richard D. Phillips, Ephesians, a Mentor Expository Commentary, (Christian Focus Publications) 2016, p. 397]
As we moved into verses 21-33, we are asked what it looks like when Christians submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Our answer is found in exhortations Paul has already given us earlier in Ephesians where he urges us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which (we) have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:2, 3). “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (4:31-5:2).
With this as the basis for how all believers are to treat one another, we next look at the unique relationship between husbands and wives. In verses 22 through 33 Paul puts forth a philosophy of marriage that was as radical when he wrote it as it is today. Wives are to submit to their husbands and husbands are to sacrificially love their wives.
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”
Today, if you want to drop a bomb into a conversation, just let that nugget drop.
Well, maybe it doesn’t actually mean ‘submit,’ the way we understand it today. Yes, and no.
Submit means to obey. There is no getting around that, but hang on for a few verses and it becomes clearer. Wives are told in this verse to obey their husbands willingly, from the heart, respecting his God-given authority and role in their marriage. In doing so, she is ultimately obeying God. Looking back to verse 18, we see that the power to submit in a godly fashion comes from the Holy Spirit. This is Spirit-filled living, submitting to God the Father in every area of our lives, and especially in our marriages, because Christ has freed us to put off our old, corrupt selves, be renewed in our minds, and put on new selves created in his likeness. Our Savior obeyed to the point of death, even death on a cross, with fear and trembling, but ultimately boldly, willingly, and even with joy in his heart for what it would accomplish.
This grace-filled obedience may not be what the world—or, sadly, much of the church— pictures when they hear the word ‘submit.’ What it does not mean is that the wife should bow her head and endure ridicule, ungodly orders, or abusive treatment from her husband in silence. If we keep the verse in context that becomes clear. But let me highlight this point to be sure we make no mistake:
Scripture does not here, nor anywhere, give license for a husband to abuse his wife.
Rick Phillips comments on this passage (and hear the compassion in his voice):
When God gave Adam dominion over the earth, it was to servant-lordship. Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Those two verbs might be better translated as ‘to nurture’ and ‘to protect.’ This is the Bible’s definition of true masculinity: a man who nurtures and protects so that those under his care grow and feel safe. This is servant lordship. Eve was then made as a ‘helper fit for him’ (Gen 2:18). The wife is called to be a servant-helper and the husband to be servant-leader; one submits and one leads, but both minister as servants. John Calvin expressed this well, saying, “Where love reigns, there is mutual servanthood.” [Phillips, p. 402]
As we continue reading we see that husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church! The rest of this sentence is a beautifully intimate portrait not only of how a husband is to treat his wife, but of how much and to what purpose Christ loves all those for whom he died. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (vs. 25-27).
What a glorious picture of self-sacrificial love! This is not domineering and tyrannical, but servant-lordship. Paul goes on in the next verse to really bring it home, in case Christ’s love for the church is a little too heavenly to grasp. “Husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it” (vs. 28, 29). Rick Phillips helps us to see what Paul is getting at when he writes: “Here is a love that is based not on what a man gets, but on what he gives. It is a love that is not selfish, but selfless; it is based not on a wife’s worthiness but on what God has done in a man’s life to cause him to give his love… Here is the love modeled by Christ’s love for the church, … it is a sacrificial love, a redeeming love, a caring love, and a committed love.” [Phillips, p. 410, emphasis his]
And again, this is Holy Spirit-powered love, possible only as Christ lives in our husbands by the power of his Spirit.
Verse 32 may cause us to stop in our tracks and go back to read the entire passage from verse 22 all over again (go ahead, it’s good stuff!). In this verse Paul writes that, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Now, Paul isn’t negating his instruction to husbands and wives, which is made clear by verse 33, “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
Paul is giving us another image of Christ’s relationship to the church in an institution with which we are familiar. He has spoken earlier in terms of the body and the temple. Now he is introducing the image of marriage. This isn’t the first time in Scripture that marriage is used to describe God’s relationship with his people. In the Old Testament, the picture presented of the marriage between God and his people was often on its way to divorce court. The law of God handed down to Moses wasn’t enough to keep God’s bride faithful, as was graphically pictured in many places, including much of the book of Hosea. Here in Jeremiah, the Lord promises a better day ahead for his bride:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord” (Jer. 31:31, 32).
As we are learning through the writing of Paul, we live now in the New Covenant, and because of Christ, our marriage with him can be what God intended all along. We still stumble and falter, but Scripture promises a glorious fulfillment of our relationship with our heavenly Bridegroom is yet to come.
Let us rejoice and exult / and give him the glory, / for the marriage of the Lamb has come, / and his Bride has made herself ready; / it was granted her to clothe herself / with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints (Rev. 19:7, 8).
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev. 21:1, 2).
Our covenant with Christ our Husband will be consummated in the new heaven and the new earth when we will be presented to him clothed in our righteous deeds, as fine linen, bright and pure, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. We will then rejoice and exult and give him glory, because it was he who clothed us and prepared us for this spotless presentation unto himself in the splendor of holiness. He did this by dying on the cross to wash away our sins with his own blood, taking upon himself our filthy, adulterous garments and bearing the wrath of the husband we had betrayed. Let us then submit with willing and glad hearts to our heavenly Bridegroom, by submitting willingly and graciously to our husbands, with whom we may together show forth the servant-love of our Savior.