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Ephesians 5:1-21; Be Imitators of God, Part 4

by Karl Kemp  
9/05/2014 / Bible Studies

We continue this verse-by-verse study of Eph. 5:1-21 here in Part 4, starting with Eph. 5:14.

(14) For this reason [Now the unbelievers have been confronted with the truth about sin and God's righteousness and holiness through salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. Those whose hearts are open to God have begun to see the light.] it says, 'Awake sleeper, And arise from the dead [The unbelievers were spiritually dead; they were still associated with the kingdom of darkness. They need to repent and submit (in faith) to God, His Son, and the gospel of new-covenant salvation.], And Christ will shine on you [[Christ's shining on them, which would enable them to become obedient children of the light, would result from their repenting and submitting to the gospel (in faith).

I'll quote a sentence and a paragraph from what Peter T. O'Brien says under this verse ("The Letter to the Ephesians" [Eerdmans, 1999]): "The imperatives address the non-Christian, as a sleeper, to wake up, and rise from the dead" (page 376). "Once again Paul draws a sharp distinction between the life and behaviour of those who are God's holy people (verse 3) and the surrounding society. The dominant imagery throughout the passage is that of light and darkness; there is no middle ground or shades of grey. The apostle wants his Christian readers to realize that they are to live by values that are diametrically opposed to the standards of their contemporary world, values that include sexual purity and wholesome speech. Instead of being corrupted by the surrounding darkness, believers are to exercise their influence on it. Paul adopts no defeatist attitude towards the society around him. Christ is the light who has summoned the readers to wake up and rise from the dead. He has shone upon them so that they have become light in the Lord. As children of light their lives are to shine as a beacon, exposing the darkness for what is really is. Some who sit in darkness may be attracted to the light and even choose to enter it" (page 377).]].' (15) [The NASB, NIV, and NKJV start a new paragraph here. These words that follow were not aimed at those spoken to in the saying/hymn quoted in verse 14; they were aimed at the Christian readers of this epistle.] Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise [[Compare Eph. 1:8, 17; Col. 1:9, 28; 3:16; 4:5. "Wise" Christians (and we must all be wise Christians; consider, for example, the outcomes for the five wise/prudent virgins and for the five foolish virgins in Matt. 25:1-13; cf., e.g., Rom. 16:19) will always make it top priority to always live in the center of God's will, in His truth, righteousness, holiness, love, etc., and all the more so realizing that "the days are evil" (5:16), and all the more so yet for those who are living very near the time of Christ's return and the day of judgment. Those early Christians thought the Lord Jesus would return soon, and it seems clear that God wanted them to live in the light of Christ's near return (cf., e.g., Matt. 24:34; Rom. 13:11-14; James 5:8; 1 Pet. 4:7, 17; 1 John 2:18; Rev. 1:3; 3:11; 22:7, 10, 12, 20), but it seems that our generation is living at the very end of this age. Our generation probably is the last generation, but even if it isn't, we must always live in the light of the fact that we must get ready for, and then stay ready for, the return of the Lord Jesus with top priority! He is coming! That's for sure!]], (16) making the most of your time [[The KJV and NKJV translate "redeeming the time," and the margin of the NASB has this translation in the margin. Colossians 4:5 shows that one reason we need to redeem the time is our witness before unbelievers. I'll quote a sentence from what Frank Thielman says here ("Ephesians" [Baker Academic], page 356): "[Paul's] readers are to buy the present time out of its slavery to evil and to use it instead in ways that are 'pleasing to the Lord' (Eph. 5:10)." Even as we are redeemed out of the kingdom of sin, darkness, and demons, our time must be redeemed (cf. Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 1:18). The translation "making the most of your time" of the NASB communicates the right idea.]], because the days are evil. [[Since the days are evil, we must make it top priority to be dead to sin/evil and to live for God in His truth, righteousness, holiness, etc. by the grace of God in Christ through faith. For one thing, the New Testament makes it very clear that born-again Christians can backslide. To the extent we would not redeem the time, but use it for sin/evil, we would violate our covenant with God; we would hurt the body of Christ and bring a reproach on God and His Son; we would hurt ourselves; and we would not be good witnesses for God, His Son, and the gospel.

We must make God, His Son, His gospel, and His kingdom top priority and have zero tolerance for sin/evil in our lives. The more we understand the supreme importance of being faithful to God by His grace, and the facts that the days are evil and this life is short, and all the more so if the Lord Jesus is going to return very soon, the more it is obvious that we must seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33). We must love God; His Son; His salvation; His righteousness; His kingdom with top priority. We don't have to worry about loving these things too much. To the extent we love God we will also fulfill our obligations in this world.]] (17) So then do not be foolish [[It is foolish to not live 100 percent for God in His truth, righteousness, etc. by His sufficient grace in Christ Jesus. It is foolish to leave any room for sin. I'll quote Rom. 13:14: "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts." In other words, don't leave and room for sin.]] but understand what the will of the Lord is. [[There is widespread agreement that "the Lord" here is the Lord Jesus Christ. In general God's will isn't complicated, and He certainly isn't hiding His will from any Christians who are motivated to know His will and to do His will. God always makes His grace available to know His will and to do His will (cf., e.g., Phil. 2:12, 13).]] (18) And do not get drunk with wine [cf. 1 Cor. 6:10; Gal. 5:19-21], for that is dissipation [For one thing, getting drunk drags you down instead of building you up, and it opens the door for all kinds of sin/evil.] but be filled with [or, by] the Spirit [[The present tense of the Greek verb ("pleroo") translated "be filled" fits the idea of being filled on a continuous basis, staying filled. (In Eph. 3:16 the apostle prayed that God would grant to his readers, including us, "to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man." The Holy Spirit enables us [but He certainly doesn't override our will (the desire of our heart) and force us] to think right and to be strong in faith, righteousness, holiness, etc.)

We are not automatically filled with the Spirit on a continuous basis any more than we automatically walk by the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:16) on a continuous basis. It is rather easy to walk by the flesh and let the old man manifest itself in sin, but that is totally unacceptable. We cannot be successful Christians if we are not filled with the Holy Spirit and walking by the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:16) on a continuous basis, which includes walking in line with the Word of God on a continuous basis, by faith. To the extent we are not walking by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis we will be walking in the flesh and the door will be open for the old man (with the eager assistance of the world and the demons) to sin.

Just wasting time is sinful if we not doing the things that God is calling us to do. God and His will must always be our top priority. This doesn't mean that we will always be living on a mountain top, or that we won't have trials, or that we don't have obligations to fulfill in this world (even though we must not be part of the world in any sinful ways [cf. John 15:18, 19; 17:11-19]).

I'll quote a little from what Klyne Snogras says under Eph. 5:18-21 ("Ephesians" [Zondervan, 1996], page 309): "... We are so fearful of works-righteousness [we cannot be saved by our works of righteousness, but we must have the righteous works that the grace of God, which includes the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God, enables us to do] or of synergism [which means "work together"; we must understand that we are saved 100 percent by the grace of God in Christ, but we must cooperate with His grace by faith; we must, for example, walk by the Spirit of God on a continuous basis; faith is active, not passive] that we have increased passivity. The New Testament does not share our fear, and God does not perform magic on passive instruments. Salvation is the work of God, but synergism is capable of being understood positively. [Snodgras has a footnote: "See Philippians 2:12-13 or James 2:22. ...."] God calls for the human will to respond to his work and to be actively engaged with him. We must make choices for life with God if we are to appropriate this text, choices that involve the way we use our time, that open ourselves to God, and that make us willing to be transformed.

The Spirit's role in this cannot be overemphasized, for Christianity is a religion of the Spirit. All we are and have is his work. The Spirit is not an optional add-on, a second work of grace [If the Spirit of God does not dwell in us we are not Christians (Rom. 8:9), but this doesn't mean that the Spirit of God cannot still fill us in special ways (cf. Acts 4:31) or distribute charismatic gifts to Christians that they did not have before (1 Cor. 12:7-11; 1 Tim. 4:14). So too, Christians can open their hearts and minds to dimensions of the Spirit's work that they had not be open to and receive them, including the powerful sanctifying work of the Spirit and the charismatic dimension of the Spirit's work, and big changes can take place. In some cases it is probably more yielding to the Spirit's work than receiving something new from the Spirit.], or a privilege of the elite. Rather he is the agent of God's work in the world and is both the source and proof of conversion. ...."]], (19) speaking to one another in psalms [Old Testament psalms are at least included] and hymns [songs that the early Christians used] and spiritual songs [[probably referring to songs that were inspired by the Holy Spirit, which would include singing in languages (tongues) given by the Holy Spirit; in 1 Cor. 14:15 the apostle Paul spoke of "[singing] with the spirit [by the Holy Spirit]" as contrasted with "[singing] with the mind [or, understanding," which for us would be in English.]], singing and making melody with your heart [singing, praise, worship, thanksgiving, etc. must involve our hearts] to the Lord [[There is widespread agreement that "the Lord" here is the Lord Jesus. I'll quote Col. 3:16, 17: "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you [plural], with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs [They would be able to teach and admonish one another because of the truth contained in the words they were singing. It is very important that we do not sing words that do not line up with the truth of God. This is a big problem in our day.], singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (17) Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father."]]; (20) always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God even the Father [[Cf., e.g., Phil. 4:6; 1 Thess. 5:18. The Lord Jesus Christ is fully deity with God the Father (and God the Spirit), and we worship the Son with the Father (and the Spirit), but the Son is subordinate to God the Father in His role. See the four articles/papers (on my internet site) that deal with the Trinity: "Who Do We worship?: Jesus-Only Worship Songs"; "Who Do We Pray To?"; More on the Trinity"; and "The Name Yahweh and God the Father and God the Son."]]; (21) and be subject [["Be subject" is a present participle in the Greek, as are "speaking," "singing" and "making melody" in verse 19 and "giving thanks" in verse 20; we could translate "being subject," or "submitting."]] to one another in the fear of Christ. [[The things mentioned in verses 19-21 are manifestations that flow from being filled with the Spirit/walking by the Spirit. It is also true that doing these things will enhance our ability to walk by the Spirit. These words, starting with "being subject," or the equivalent, serve to introduce what the apostle will go on to say in 5:22-6:9 about the wives being subject to their husbands, children being obedient to their parents, and slaves to their masters. All of these submitting relationships (submitting in the ways ordained by God) are related to Christian households, which must function in divine order. The New Testament doesn't speak of husbands submitting to their wives, parents to their children, or masters to their slaves, but it does speak (as we'll discuss later; and this is quite important too) that all Christians must be humble before one another, and love one another. (I recommend the commentary by Peter T. O'Brien, "The Letter to the Ephesians," for more details on Eph. 5:21.)

By adding the words "in the fear of Christ" Paul emphasized the need for his readers to submit to his exhortations to submit (or, obey) that follow in 5:22-6:9. For one thing, the apostle knew that there would be some opposition to what he goes on to say regarding wives being submissive to their husbands. (See 1 Cor. 11:1-16, for example; 1 Corinthians chapter 11 is discussed verse-by-verse in a paper on my internet site.) It is rather easy to walk in the flesh (instead of the Spirit) and manifest pride and disobedience, for example. The Bible, very much including the New Testament, teaches that we should be afraid to sin against God or His Son (cf., e.g., Matt. 10:28; Luke 12:5; Acts 9:31; 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Pet. 1:17; 2:17). We must be motivated by our love for God, but we (at least most of us) also need, on occasion, to be motivated by a healthy, necessary fear of God.

It is important to see that verse 21 is closely connected with the verses that follow (5:22-6:9), even as it was tied to the preceding verses (15-20), especially verses 18-20. (Verses 22-24 are even part of the same sentence with verse 21 in the Greek. The sentence starts with verse 18 and continues through verse 24 in the Greek.) As Paul continued in the following verses, he gave three examples where submission to authorities ordained by God was required in the Body of Christ. First he dealt with the submission of wives to their husbands. I'll quote Eph. 5:22-25: "Wives, be subject [The words "be subject" are in italics because the verb must be understood from its use in verse 21, which demonstrates that verse 21 is closely connected with the verses that follow. If the words "be subject" (or words with an equivalent meaning) were not supplied in italics, it would be even more obvious that Paul was going to give an example of what he meant by "be subject to one another in the fear of Christ."] to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (23) For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. (24) But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything." Compare, for example, Col. 3:18; 1 Cor. 11:3; 14:34, 35; Titus 2:5; and 1 Pet. 3:1.

It is necessary to understand that wives being submitted to their husbands isn't going to produce the results intended by God (divine order) if the husbands don't do the things required of them, including what the apostle said in Eph. 5:25, "Husbands love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her." Some Christians in our day say that this teaching about submission of the wife to her husband has no relevance for our day, but I don't believe God agrees. God's opinion is the only one that matters. However, there is a very definite need for us to seek God for His will in the details of applying submission in our day.

Ephesians 5:22-33, which deals with the husband-wife relationship, is a very interesting and important passage. For one thing, it puts a high priority on Christians living in a "holy and blameless" manner through the salvation that flows from the all-important atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:25-27). As I mentioned Eph. 5:22-33 is discussed in my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ" and my e-book, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin." (Both books are available at

In Eph. 6:1-4 Paul dealt parent-child relationships, including the need for the children to obey and honor their parents in the Lord. In Eph. 6:5-9 he dealt with the master-slave relationships (cf. Titus 2:9; 1 Pet. 2:18).

I'll quote what the apostle said to the masters and slaves in Eph. 6:5-9: "Slaves, be obedient [obedience goes with submission] to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ, (6) not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. (7) With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, (8) knowing whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. [All of us need to listen to what the apostle said in verses 5-8; for one thing, we are all slaves/servants of Christ.] (9) And masters, do the same to them [to the slaves], and give up threatening, knowing that both their master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him [which includes the idea that God certainly doesn't give the master the liberty to mistreat those under him because he is the master; the master must answer to the Master for what he does, or doesn't do]."

No Christian is permitted to abuse/misuse the authority God has given them. This is a serious matter! We will all have to answer to God. Authority under God brings responsibility; it does not give a person the right to manifest pride, or any other sin; we are all required to walk in love, to be humble, and to promote true Christian unity in the Body of Christ; authority does not make one person better than another. (The Lord Jesus Christ is subordinate to God the Father in His role (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 11:3; 15:25-27; and Rev. 1:6; 3:12 ), but He is fully deity and He isn't inferior.) As I mentioned, it is rather easy to sin, but sin (if it really is sin) is a serious matter.

Most Christian commentators that I have looked at (and I have looked at more than thirty) believe the apostle Paul was exhorting all his readers to have a mutual submission to one another in verse 21. I don't believe that interpretation fits this context well (especially the link between verse 21 and 22 and the following verses), and the Greek verb ("hupotasso") isn't used of a mutual submission in any of the 37 other uses of this verb in the New Testament. It is used of being subject to those in legitimate positions of authority.

I don't believe the apostle was exhorting all his Christian readers to be submitted to all Christians in verse 21. For one thing, that tends to dilute what the apostle will go on to say about the need for submission to those that God has put in authority over us as he continues, and (as I mentioned) Paul even included the words "in the fear of Christ" in verse 21. I doubt that he would have used those words if he was only speaking of a mutual submission that would be quite limited in scope. Paul didn't exhort the husbands to be subject to their wives in the following verses, or the parents to their children, or the masters to their slaves, but he would, and did, exhort all Christians to walk in love toward, and to be humble before, all the other members of the Body of Christ.

The New Testament frequently speaks of these things. I'll quote Eph. 4:2, 3, for example, "WITH ALL HUMILITY [my capitalization for emphasis here and later in this verse] and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another IN LOVE, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." I won't cite any more examples on love, since it is emphasized so much in the New Testament. On humility, see, for example, 1 PETER 5:5, 6 (("You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders [In 1 Pet. 5:1-4 Peter spoke of "elders" who have been given authority to exercise oversight; in verse 3 he says to the elders, "nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock."], AND ALL OF YOU, CLOTHE YOURSELVES WITH HUMILITY TOWARD ONE ANOTHER, FOR GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE [my capitalization].")); COLOSSIANS 3:12-15 ("So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, HUMILITY [my capitalization here and later in this verse], gentleness and patience, (13) bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you. (14) Beyond all these things PUT ON LOVE, which is the perfect bond of unity."

Leaders have authority, sometimes significant authority, from God, but they are required to be humble and to walk in love toward those (in one sense) under them. The Lord Jesus Christ has total authority, but He is humble toward us ("Take my yoke upon you [which goes with His authority over us] and learn from Me, for I am gentle and HUMBLE in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" [Matt. 11:29, 30]), and He loves us; but He could not subject Himself to us.

The New Testament makes it clear that God gives authority to ministers and leaders that He sets in the Body of Christ; we are required to respect and submit to those ministries where applicable (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 16:15, 16; 2 Cor. 10:8; 13:10; 1 Thess. 2:6; 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 2:15; 1 Pet. 5:1-5 [verse 5 includes the words directed to all Christians, "clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble"; cf. Prov. 3:34; James 4:6]). For one thing, we are responsible to make sure the ministers we submit to are accurately teaching the truth of the Word of God and are walking in line with the truth.

The apostle Paul also spoke of the need for Christians to be subject to the civil authorities (Rom. 13:1, 5; cf. 1 Pet. 2:13-15). We must understand, of course, that we cannot obey civil authorities if they tell us that we are not permitted to believe in or worship God, for example.

May the will of God be fully accomplished through this paper, and His people be edified!

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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