In Ephesians 5:18-6:9, the apostle Paul says this:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as 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. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.” (ESV)

In this passage, Paul is instructing the Ephesian Christians on how to live as those who are filled with, or controlled by, God the Holy Spirit. In the first sentence, he says that they are to be spiritually lyrical, musical, thankful, and submissive. Then, he expands his instruction for them to submit to one another in the rest of the passage, explaining in detail how that is to be worked out in the various relationships among them.

Paul gives the Ephesians six main commands in this passage:

  1. Wives Submit to Husbands (5:22-24)
  2. Husbands Sacrifice for Wives (5:25-33)
  3. Children Submit to Parents (6:1-3)
  4. Fathers School Children (6:4)
  5. Slaves Submit to Masters (6:5-8)
  6. Masters Serve Slaves (6:9)

Paul begins by commanding wives to submit to their husbands:

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

Paul starts by directly commanding wives to submit to their husbands. The Greek word translated “submit” could also be translated “be subordinate”, and means to place oneself under the authority of someone, in order to obey that person. However, Paul goes further. He says that wives are to do this “as to the Lord”. That is, the same type of submission that they render to the Supreme Authority, Jesus Christ, is to be rendered to their husbands.

Next, Paul gives wives the reason for this command. It’s because of the fact that husbands are the heads of their wives in the same way that Christ is the head of the church, which is His body, and that body of which He is the Savior. In other words, just as Christ is the Ruler of the church, so also husbands are the rulers of their wives.

Finally, Paul switches his explanation, and says that wives are to submit to their husbands “in everything”, just as the church submits to Christ. Now, this implies a qualification — Christ only commands the church to do good things. Therefore, the church only obeys Christ by doing good things. Hence, if a husband commands his wife to sin, then the wife is under no obligation to obey that command, since it’s not something that is consistent with what Christ would command.

Next, Paul commands husbands to sacrifice for their wives:

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with 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. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

This sacrifice begins with love. When Paul commands husbands to love their wives, he’s not commanding them to like them (although they ought to), but to care for them in the same way that Christ cared for the church. And how did He do that? He “gave himself up for her”. That is, He died on the cross for her.

But what was Christ’s purpose in dying in the place of the church?

“. . . 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.”

First, Christ died for the church to “sanctify her”. This literally means to “set her apart”. That is, Christ died for her to make her His own special possession, out of all the people of the world. However, this requires Him to do something in addition to dying for her. In order to sanctify her, she had to be “cleansed . . . by the washing of water with the word”. Paul is speaking figuratively here, and alluding to the ritual washings of the Old Testament, by which a ritually unclean person could be cleansed by the washing of water in order to be allowed to worship God through outward ceremonies. Now, Paul takes that picture, and says that what was done physically by the washing of water is now done spiritually “with the word”, or the Word of God. In other words, it is the Word of God that cleanses and sanctifies the church.

Finally, Christ is sanctifying the church “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.” In other words, He is setting the church apart so that, in the end, it will be sinless, perfect, and glorious.

Having given the example of Christ for husbands to follow, Paul now applies it to husbands:

“In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For nor one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.”

So, how should husbands love their wives? In the same way that Christ did:

  1. by sacrificing themselves for them
  2. by cleansing them with the Word
  3. in order to present them to Christ as mature Christians

However, Paul adds to these things that, since the church is Christ’s body, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their bodies. Then, he says that loving one’s wife is the same thing as loving oneself. Why? Because Christ loves the church like His body by “nourishing and cherishing it”. And why does Christ love the church like this? Because its members, or parts, are “members of his body”.

Next, Paul proves that marriage includes the union of two bodies into one, and applies it to Christ and the church:

“‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

First, Paul quotes Genesis 2:24, which teaches that marriage is the separation of a man from his parents, a partnership and commitment to his wife, and the union of their bodies. When it says “the two shall become one flesh”, it means that their two bodies become one body. This can’t refer only to sex, since Paul hasn’t been arguing that a husband should only love his wife like he loves his wife during sex, but in all areas of life. In addition, he says that this verse, which he calls a “mystery”, or literally, a “secret”, actually refers to Christ and the church. In other words, Genesis 2:24 pointed forward to the fact that Christ holds fast to His wife, the church, and that they are one body.

Finally, Paul sums up his commands for wives and husbands by saying,

“. . . let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

The Greek word translated “respects” literally means “fears”, and refers to submissive reverence, which is in keeping with Paul’s command that wives “submit to [their] own husbands, as to the Lord“.

The third command that Paul gives the Ephesians in this section is that children submit to their parents:

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”

First, what does Paul mean by “children”? Well, since he uses the exact same word in his instruction to fathers to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”, he has to be referring to children who are still being raised toward maturity, and who still need fatherly discipline and instruction. In other words, he’s referring to physically immature children.

This is why he commands them to “obey your parents”. He wouldn’t be giving that command to those who are managing their own lives. However, he doesn’t leave it at simply obeying, but obeying “in the Lord”. This means that children are to obey their parents as if they are obeying Christ Himself, since He’s the One who has placed their parents over them. Paul adds that the reason that children ought to obey their parents in the Lord is that “this is right”. To put it another way, it is that which the Lord has commanded.

Lastly, Paul quotes the Old Testament in support of his command:

“‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land'”.

Here, Paul is quoting from the Ten Commandments, and applying the command to honor parents to children who are among the church. He does this in order to persuade the children to obey their parents. The incentive he offers as reward for obeying one’s parents is that “it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land”. Originally, this applied only to Israelite children living in the Promised Land. Now, Paul applies it as a general principle that those who honor their parents by obeying them will generally experience a good life, and usually live longer than those who disobey and dishonor their parents.

The fourth command Paul gives the Ephesians is that fathers school children:

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

First, Paul prohibits fathers from deliberately angering their children. The Greek behind “provoke . . . to anger” could also be translated “enrage”. Fathers are to avoid doing things for the purpose of making them angry.

Rather, Paul commands fathers to “bring them up”. This obviously is a picture of raising someone who is short to one’s own height. In other words, it refers to helping children to become mature adults.

And how are they to do this?

“. . . in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

First, Christian fathers are to bring their children up “in the discipline of the Lord”. The Greek word translated “discipline” could also be translated “correction”, and refers to corrective measures to punish children when they do what is wrong. Since Paul says that this discipline is to be “of the Lord”, or “from the Lord”, he has to be implying that the discipline administered should be that which is advised by the Word of the Lord. And what discipline is advised?

Here’s a list from the book of Proverbs, which are general principles for everyday life, and apply in very similar ways to when they were written:

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” – Prov. 13:24 (ESV)

“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” – Prov. 22:15 (ESV)

“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol [death].” – Prov. 23:13-14 (ESV)

“The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” – Prov. 29:15 (ESV)

Since the proverbs in Proverbs are principles for everyday life, and have very little cultural limitations, Christian fathers ought to apply these passages very directly. In fact, throughout most of western history, they did so. Why? Because they were carrying on the manner of parenting prescribed by the Bible.

However, not only does Paul say that fathers are to bring their children up in the discipline of the Lord, but also in the instruction of the Lord. This refers to teaching and instruction that is based on the Word of God. The Christian father is to be the chief instructor and teacher of his children. And what is the goal of disciplining and instructing his children based on God’s Word? To “bring them up” to mature adulthood. In other words, it is this discipline and instruction which is to be constantly bringing the child up to greater and greater levels of maturity. This discipline and instruction is to be constant, continuous, and comprehensive. The discipline must correct wrong behavior and thinking, and the instruction must serve to educate and motivate better and better thinking and behavior, until the child reaches mature adulthood.

The fifth command that Paul gives the Ephesians is that slaves are to submit to their masters:

“Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.”

First, Paul gives the command to “bondservants”, which literally means “slaves”. Although these owned by their masters, they were not owned just because they were a different ethnic group than their masters. Rather, they might be former prisoners of war, people who had gone into debt, and were forced to sell themselves, or something like that. Further, in general, slaves in the Roman Empire at that time were treated much better than slaves in the United States. In many cases, they were considered to be part of the household, rather than separate from it, and some slaves were given huge responsibilities, such as managing the household, or managing the master’s business.

Regardless of the situations that the Ephesian slaves were in, Paul commands them to “obey [their] earthly masters with fear and trembling”. Does he literally mean that they were to be afraid of and tremble before their masters? No, since that would be a failure to trust the Lord with their future, and may have given that impression to their masters. Rather, Paul is saying that the slaves are to have great reverence toward their masters. Why? Because he commands them to do it “with a sincere heart, as [they] would Christ”.

In other words, the slaves were to recognize that Christ had placed their masters in authority over them, and that their commands — when not commanding sin, of course — had the authority of Christ behind them. In addition, Paul warns them not to obey them “by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers”. In other words, they weren’t to only look like they were obeying their masters, and they weren’t to do it to please their masters. Rather, Paul commands them to do it “as bondservants of Christ”, or “slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man”. To put it another way, they were to see themselves as obeying Christ when obeying their masters, not just their masters, and they were to do it to please Christ with a good will, or a will that’s pleasing to Christ, and is toward the will of God.

Finally, Paul adds a last reason for obeying their masters as they would obey Christ:

“. . . knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.”

He reminds the Ephesian slaves that the Lord would reward their good service toward their masters, and their reverent, sincere, and God-ward obedience on the day of judgment, and in their eternal home.

Finally, Paul commands the Ephesian owners of slaves to serve their slaves:

“Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”

What are masters to do the same as Paul has just commanded slaves to do? Well, it can’t be to obey them, since Paul has just taught that slaves are always subordinate to their masters. Instead, he’s referring to “rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man”. Although slaves are to serve their masters by obeying them, Paul is implying that masters are to serve their slaves by taking care of them, and treating them fairly.

Also, he commands them to not threaten their slaves, “knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.” In other words, if they threatened their slaves, their Master, Jesus, would take notice of their sin, disregard the fact that the one threatened is a slave, and discipline the master if necessary.

So, if you’re a wife, are you submitting to your husband as to the Lord in everything and respecting him, since he’s your head?

If you’re a husband, are you loving your wife as Christ loved the church by dying for her? Are you cleansing her with the Word, so that you can present her to Christ as a mature Christian? Are you loving your wife as you love your body, since she is a part of you?

If you have children, are they obeying you in the Lord and honoring you?

If you’re a father, are you avoiding enraging your children, and are you truly bringing them up in the discipline of the Lord, and the instruction of the Lord?

If you’ve sold your services to an employer, are you obeying your supervisor or manager with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as your would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as a people-pleaser, but as a slave of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good you do, you will be compensated from the Lord?

If you’re a supervisor or manager, are you rendering service to your employees with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that the Lord will repay you for the good you do? Are you avoiding threatening your employees, and properly caring for them?

If you’re not doing any of these things, then you need to make sure that you are doing God’s will. The Lord expects all of his people to either be a wife, husband, child, father, employee, supervisor, or a combination of these. Since both the family and work are essential parts of life on this earth, to not be a part of one of them is disobedience to the Lord.

If you aren’t doing these things, then you may have never believed the good news of Jesus Christ. The gospel is that God sent His eternal and divine Son to earth to become a man, Jesus of Nazareth, to punish Him while suffering and dying on a wooden cross because of our disobedience and refusal to love and worship Him, to raise Him from the dead, and to make Him the King of the universe. He’s now commanding everyone to change their minds and to trust in Jesus, His death for our sins, and resurrection, as the only grounds of His forgiveness of their sins. Please change your mind and depend on the Lord Jesus, His death in our place, and His resurrection as the only basis of God’s forgiveness and terms of peace with Him, since He is sending Jesus at an unknown time to judge everyone by what they’ve done, and to cast those who don’t into the lake of fire and outer darkness, to be punished for eternity for their sins. Trust in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved from His wrath.