By Sam E. Stone
Key passages from the book of Ephesians have been considered this month, following the theme, “Victory in Jesus.” Chapter 5 contains guidelines for Christian behavior in a pagan world. Today’s background Scripture begins in v. 15. Even before this, however, Paul warned about dangers such as sexual immorality, impurity, greed, obscenity, and foolish talk (vv. 3-7).
The first section of our printed text is addressed to the whole church (vv. 18-21). All Christians must be careful how they live. After these general principles of behavior, in the remainder of our text Paul tells each family member how to live in the home.
Family of God
Earlier Paul described several sins of the heathen life that must be renounced. Now he adds, Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Drunkenness is prohibited. Even moderate use of alcohol can be dangerous. For this reason, many Christians choose to abstain completely from every form of liquor. Be filled, not with spirits, but with the Spirit!
On the positive side, heartfelt worship through music is appropriate. Constant thanksgiving should characterize the Christian’s life. Paul himself is an example of one who praised God always, even in the midst of weaknesses, affliction, and persecution (2 Corinthians 11:18-30; 12:5-10). Our music is to come from the heart, and by it we can express our praise to the Lord.
A spirit of mutual submissiveness should prevail in the church. Francis Foulkes notes that “the secret of maintaining joyful fellowship in the community was the . . . willing submission of one person to another” (Ephesians 4:2, 3). Jesus had emphasized that each disciple should be willing to be considered the least (Matthew 18:1-4; 20:28). He illustrated this when he washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). Paul taught this same principle elsewhere (Romans 12:10; Philippians 2:3), and Peter did as well (1 Peter 5:5).
Family in Christ
In studying the apostolic guidelines for the home, it is important to notice from the outset that every requirement is reciprocal. “Husbands, you are to do this; wives, this. Children, you must do this; parents, this.” When God’s directions are understood and obeyed by every family member, each person can find contentment and fulfillment.
The wife is to submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ. She is not asked to surrender to the authority of a selfish tyrant; instead she is to follow a loving savior—someone who is willing to die for her. Naturally if her husband demanded that she do something contrary to God’s commands, such submission would be wrong (Acts 5:29). The husband is told to love his wife as much as he loves his own body. At the same time, his partner is to show him not only love, but respect.
In a world where women were not highly regarded, Jesus brought equality and respect to womanhood. Paul gives married couples specific directions as to how God wants them to live and treat each other. The wife’s role is that of submission to a savior, and the husband’s responsibility is love until death. He loves her as much as he loves his own body!
In similar fashion, both parents and children are given specific instructions about how they are to live within the family framework. Citing the Ten Commandments, Paul reminds every child what God expects. He is not saying that parents are infallible, but he is saying that sons and daughters must honor and obey them. The Old Testament specifically ties such honor with a long and good life (Deuteronomy 5:16). Longevity and well-being are promised to the children who obey this command.
Even this relationship is reciprocal, however. Just as children are to be obedient to fathers and mothers, so parents are to be understanding of their children. Martin Luther said, “Spare the rod and spoil the child—that is true; but beside the rod keep an apple to give him when he has done well.”
Fathers are specifically told not to exasperate their children. Instead, they are to be brought up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Foulkes put it like this: “Discipline is essential in the home; but not unnecessary rules and regulations and endless petty correction by which children are discouraged.” Provoking children can be done in many ways: by overprotection, favoritism, discouragement, and neglect. The apostle offers similar counsel to the Colossian church: “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.