Interpreting Ephesians 4-6: God’s People in a Walk Worthy of His Calling

C. Mack Roark  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 39 - Fall 1996

Introduction

Anyone accustomed to reading Paul knows that his letters can often be divided into two parts, one more theological, the other more practical. Ephesians is a classic example. The letter obviously is of two parts, of almost equal length.[1]The second “half’ of Ephesians is, in most manuscripts, slightly more than one page longer. Modem Bibles have eighty-eight verses for chapters 4-6, 66 verses for chapters 1-3. The first half ends with a doxology and “Amen,” the second with a benediction.[2]Ephesians 3:21; 6:24. Compare Romans 11:36 and 16:27. Although Paul turns to practical issues in the second half, the theological base of the ethical exhortation is always in his mind.[3]Markus Barth suggests that the first part of Ephesians should be read, not as theology, but as doxology. See Markus Barth, Ephesians, The Anchor Bible 34A (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1974), 426. Lincoln also suggests that the terms “theological” or “doctrinal” do not “do enough justice to either the form or content of chaps. 1-3,” and suggests that chapters 1-3 be read as an extended thanksgiving for the privileges of being in Christ. Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians, Word Bible Commentary, 42   (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1990), xxxvi, 264. Without the support of that foundation, the life described in chapters 4 through 6 would be impossible. The ethic is predicated on the theology, as fruitage is dependent on rootage. Paul knows that character is a matter of living from the inside out. Relationship with God precedes and determines relationship with self and others. “One must be a child of God before he can be a servant of God.”[4]John Eadie, Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians, Classic Commentary Library (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, n. d.), 266. (Reprint of 1883 edition of T. and T. Clark, Edinburgh.)

Save for Romans, this is the longest extended parenesis in the Pauline corpus.[5]Parenesis is ethical exhortation about how to live life. See also 1 Thess. 4:1-5:22, Rom. 12-14. The “I beseech you” that introduces this section, the frequent use of the verb “walk” (4:1, 17; 5:1, 8, 15), the plethora of imperatives, and the extended “household code” mark this section as parenesis. Schnackenburg prefers not to use the term parenesis, and in its place coins the word “paraclesis” for these sections of Paul. See Rudolf Schnackenburg, Ephesians: A Commentary (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1991), 161. This section of Ephesians reflects Paul’s strong concern that the church live up to its new and true character.

Walk Worthy of your Calling (4:1-16)

Verses 1-16 are a call to a unity (vv. 1-6) that expresses itself in a diversity (vv. 7-11) which in tum creates a new unity (vv. 12-16, esp. 13). Unity characterizes the church, diversity characterizes its ministry. This diversity has as its purpose the building up the body of Christ unto all come to the stature of the fullness of Christ. He picks up on at least three themes struck in the earlier section: calling (1:18), body (1:23, 2:16), and oneness (2:14, 15).

Every word in the opening sentence (4:1-3) is packed with meaning, and each is thoroughly Pauline. The verse binds exhortation to exposition leads from is to ought , from doctrine to duty. Paul begins by identifying himself, as he did in 3:1, as a prisoner of the Lord, reminding them where he is. “I beseech you therefore …” is typically Pauline. H uses this verb repeatedly when introducing major sections of exhortation (Rom. 12:1, 1Cor. 1:10, 1 Thess. 4:1, Phil. 4:2). As in Rom. 12: 1, the conjunction “therefore” sums up the theological section of the letter, and also serves to organize 4: through 5:21, at which point a new structure, the household code, takes over.[6]The conjunction ouv (“therefore”) occurs six times in chapters 4-6 but only at 2:19 in the first three chapters. Even there it apparently omitted by the oldest papyrus manuscript of the Pauline corpus, as W as by other important manuscripts. Every time it appears in chapters it is in connection with the verb peripateo “walk” (4:1, 17; 5:1, 7, 1 except at 6:14 where it is used with the verb “to stand.” This use shold be compared to 1 Thess. 4:1 and Col. 2:6 where parenesis is introduced with the same formulation, and with Rom. 12:1 where the ouv is used with peripateo, as at 4:1. In this article, 4:1 through 5:21 is divided · sections on the basis of this use of peripateo and ouv together. The exhortation is to “walk worthy.” The Greek verb translated by KJV and NASB “walk” (peripateo) is regularly used by Paul in the modem sense of “live,” or “conduct oneself.”[7]See Rom. 6:4, 2 Car. 4:2, Gal. 5:16, Phil. 3:17, 1 Thess. 4:1. The rest of Ephesians will build on this verse.

Playing off the word “calling” (see 1:18), Paul turns to the life that is worthy of such a calling. This renewed humanity has a new code by which to live. In verses 2-3, Paul will briefly point to five virtues (described with three prepositional phrase and two participles) that characterize this new lit the first four pointing to and moving toward the fifth, unity of the Spirit, which will be the hub of his understanding of the church and its ministry. Paul is moving toward an affirmation of unity, an: these are indispensable to unity.

Humility was no virtue among the ancient Greeks. This noun has, from its etymology, the sense of “lowliness of mind,” ”that profound humility which stands at the extremist distance from haughtiness, arrogance, and conceit.”[8]Eadie, 268. By choosing this quality to describe the new life in Christ, Paul is turning upside down the typical mindset of his day. In Greek literature, the word described the weak, the powerless, the submissive.[9]Barth, 458. If the reader, influenced by this Greek mindset, needed a model for this humbling, this model is to be found in Christ himself. The verb built on this noun is used to describe Christ’s humbling of himself: “being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).

Similarly “gentleness” (so NASB, NIV, NRSV, “meekness” in KJV) is no virtue among the Greeks. Paul is likely remembering the use of this word in the Septuagint, where it translates a Hebrew word describing those who in their destitution are absolutely dependent on God. By these words Paul turns the current value system on its head. Christians are more than a subculture, they are an anti-structure.

The King James translation captures the sense of the third virtue best. This virtue is not so much patience (RSV, NRSV, NASB, NIV), which may seem passive, as it is active forbearance. The word means “long tempered” as opposed to “short tempered.” There is more to do with persons than with a patient acceptance of circumstances.

The participial phrase that ends verse 2, “bear­ing with one another in love…,” is an expansion and explanation of “long suffering.” The participle, always middle voice in the Septuagint and New Testament, has the idea of holding oneself back, of self-control (Gen. 45:1), or at times of “putting up with” (2 Cor. 11:19). Eadie calls it “that patient self-possession which enables a man to bear with those who oppose him.”[10]Eadie, 269.

The virtues of v. 2 are not abstract ideals; they are essential for anyone “striving to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v. 3). This is Paul’s target in the opening sentence. The walk is both in unity and toward unity.

Verses 4-6 spell out the essential nature of that oneness. This oneness is a seven-fold unity. The rhetoric of these lines has led some to assume that this is, in whole or in part, a Christian hymn or confession, either composed by Paul or used here by Paul.[11]See Barth, 462f. For caution at this point see Lincoln, 228 and Schnackenburg, 160. If it is part of a formulaic statement, the clause “just as you were called in one hope of your calling” is perhaps a prose expan­sion of an original “one hope,” spliced in here on the basis of 1:18. Simi­larly, the added “you” or “us” of verse 6. No early manuscripts include the pronoun with “in all.” In addition to the significance of the number 7, and the repetitious “one,” note the four­ fold “all” of verse 6. There seems to be an obvious progress of movement from “body” to “God and Father,” with “Lord” in the exact middle of the seven.[12]The seven words can be arranged in an interesting chiasm:
A     Body
B     Spirit
C     Hope
D     Lord
C1    Faith
B1    Baptism
C1    God and Father

Thus hope and faith make a natural pair, as do baptism and Spirit, and Lord is appropriately central. Less clear is the direct connection of body and God and Father. See Nils W. Lund, Chiasmus in the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992), 214. (Reprint of 1942 edition).

Although the formalized doctrine of the Trinity is not yet known, the presence of the Trinity is clear. Echoes of 2:14-18 are obvious. The one body is the church as body of Christ (2:16). Paul sees the church as one, not as splintered or fragmented. The Spirit here is the Holy Spirit (2:18). “One hope” reaches back to 1:18. Lord is central because the lordship of Jesus is the first and central confession of the church. The Greek κυριοσ (kurios) gives us the Latin Caesar, the German Kaiser, and the Russian Czar.[13]Ray Summers, Ephesians: Pattern for Living (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1960), 77. For the early Christian to declare “One Lord” meant excluding from lordship the Roman Caesar, and thus inviting persecution or death. The sequence of Lord, faith, baptism, in verse 5 is both appropri­ate and significant. The three prepositional phrases modifying God in verse 6 balance the transcen­dence and immanence of God (see Rom. 11:36). Some of the early fathers of the church, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Jerome, see the Trinity in the three phrases: “over all” is God, “through all” is Jesus, “in all” is the Holy Spirit.[14]Eadie, 277.

The division of verses 7-16 into two parts is not based on the formal structure of the passage, but on its sense. Paul first mentions the distribution of ministries (vv. 7-11) , then he defines their purpose (vv. 12-16). The reader should note first that in this tum from unity to diversity there is also a shift from second person plural to first person plural. The reader should also compare these verses with 1 Corinthians 12-14 and Rom. 12:6-8. In the Corinthian text the diversity threatens the unity and Paul, using much the same imagery as in our text (body, oneness), elevates love as the.virtue most needed. Here, as will be clear in the next paragraph, the diversity of ministries makes possible the unity, and love is still the cement. Note finally that in contrast to the 1 Corinthians and Romans lists, all these are speaking roles.[15]In 1 Cor. 12:8-11 there are not four, but nine gifts (χαρισματα) of the Spirit, eight in 1 Cor. 12:28-30, and seven in Rom. 12:6-8. Although not called χαρισματα in our passage, the root word χαρις is used: “grace was given to each one of us in accordance with the measure of the gift of Christ.”

In verses 8-10 Paul uses Ps. 68:18 as biblical support for and illustration of the gifts of ministry.[16]Note that the text can be read straight through, omitting this scriptural illustration reading verse 11 immediately following verse 7, and the sense is clear. It is interesting to note that while Paul did not cite the Old Testament directly anywhere in the first three (more theo­logical) chapters of Ephesians, this is the first of six OT quotations in the ethical (and more practical) chapters (cf. 4:25, 26; 5:31; 6:2, 3). Paul cites the sense of this text, varying slightly from both the Hebrew and the Septuagint, letting the text fit his argument. Psalm 68 is probably to be seen as a psalm of God’s victory, picturing a conqueror who receives gifts and lavishes them on his followers. Verses 9-10 explain the connection of this text with Christ and thus Paul’s purpose in using it. The Christ who ascended is the very one who descended in the incarnation.[17]Some connect this with 1 Peter 3:19 (and 4:6) and suppose that it refers to the descensus ad infernum “the descent into hell” of later creeds. Paul intends no such idea here. He does not use the word “hades”(αδης), but “earth” (γη). No more than (and no less than) the coming of Christ to earth is meant.

Verse 11 resumes the thought interrupted at verse 7, while the emphatic “he” in the phrase “and he gave some (as) apostles …” makes clear the connection with verses 8-10. The first three in this list are apparently “ministers-at-large,” not confined to a certain locale. The last, whether seen as referring to separate or singular offices, seems to refer to a localized ministry. The first two, apostles and prophets, were particularly important at Corinth (see 1Cor. 14:1-5, 31-33, 37-40), and are probably to be understood as limited to the first century. Although Luke tends to use the word “apostle” to refer only to the Twelve, Paul’s use is more inclusive, referring to various persons who carried the message of Jesus: Barnabas, Silas, Timo­thy, not to mention several scarcely remembered names. “Prophets” were Spirit-inspired preachers closely connected with the apostles (cf. 2:20, 3:5). In 1 Corinthians prophecy has priority among the gifts of the Spirit (14:1-5). The term “evangelist” is little known in the New Testament, used elsewhere only of Philip (Acts 21:8) and Timothy ( 2 Tim. 4:5). By definition and usage it appears to refer to a ministry to the unbeliever. Included among the evangelists, perhaps, are persons such a Tychicus, Titus, and Silas,[18]Eadie, 303. close associates of an apostle doing much the same work.

Considerable debate surrounds the meaning of “some pastors and teachers.” Is this one office or two? Both syntax and sense give weight to taking the two as one.[19]”Sharp’s Rule” concerning the article (here a single article govern both words) is applicable according to Barth (438f) but not according Lincoln (250f). 1 Tim. 3:2 would imply that the teaching role in the church belongs to the pastor.[20]Pastor (shepherd) is only here an official title, though the verb is often used of the work of a bishop or elder (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2, John 21:16). The sense of these passages is that, while formal structure was not yet recognized, the three terms each and equally describe one who we today call “pastor.” Together the words describe the oversight and instruction which became characteristic of the pastoral ministry.

This diversity of gifts within the church remind us that the unity of the church is not uniformity. Such unity is not static; it is dynamic. Although the Greek text of verses 11-16 is one long complex sentence, it is not illegitimate to outline with a new start at verse 12, for beginning here are a series of metaphors expressing the purpose of the gifts: the mutual building up of the body of Christ.

The primary problem for the interpreter of verse 12 is punctuation. ls there a comma after “saints?” With the comma, the purpose of the gifted min­istry is three-fold: it is for equipping the saints, for the work of the ministry, and for building the body of Christ. Without the comma, the work of the gifted ministers is to equip the saints who then share in the work of ministry and the building up of the body of Christ. The comma tends to dichotomize clergy and laity. The removal of it links clergy and laity in tasks that are common an inclusive. Because the original manuscripts had no punctuation, translators have had to make inter­pretative decisions here. Older translations tended to include the comma (KJV, ASV, RSV), while newer translations have tended to omit it (NRSV, NEB, REB, NASB, NAB, NIV, JB), as do the most recent editions of the Greek text.[21]Among recent commentaries Barth (478f) opts for removal and Lincoln (253) for insertion of the comma. Following most modem translations, the sense seems to be that every one has a gift of grace (v. 7) and some of these gifts are given to those who will then have the responsibility to prepare all the gifted saints for work of ministry. Ministry is diakonia which can mean simply serving tables (Luke 10:40, 17:8, Acts 16:1-2), but in the early church came to signify various “ministries” of the church (Rom. 11:13, 1 Cor. 16:15-16, Eph. 6:21-22). The specific objec­tive of this “work of ministry” is expressed in the third prepositional phrase of verse 12: “for building the body of Christ.”

If verse 12 gives the specific objective of min­istry, verses 13-16 give the goal, expressed in the two principal verbs: the first (v. 13) is usually translated “come” (KJV, RSV, NRSV), “reach” (NIV), “attain” (NASB); the second (v. 15) is “grow, grow up.”

The verb “come” is most commonly used in Acts when Paul and his party reach a destination.[22]Acts 16:1; 18:19, 24; 20:15. This literal sense informs the figurative use here. It is a destination-oriented word-goal-oriented; the sense is that one sets a goal and reaches it. Thus in the kingdom it is not so much position as movement that matters. It is not where you are, but where you are going. Here the destination has three facets: with regard to faith and knowledge, unity; with regard to personhood, maturity; with regard to Christ, fullness.

Verses 14-16 are a second subordinate clause modifying verse 11and again stating its purpose, this time in the language of growth. If verse 13 speaks of reaching maturity, verses 14-16 speak of growing up in Christ. The opposite of maturity is an immaturity characterized by “instability, root­lessness, lack of direction, and susceptibility to manipulation and error.”[23]Lincoln, 257. Here the background seems to be the threat of error hindering growth (v. 14). The negative picture of this verse height ens the need for the ministers mentioned in verse 11; pastor/teachers are a safeguard against strange teachings.

“Truth” in verse 15 immediately follows “deceit” in verse 14, and this explains “speaking the truth in love.” The context makes it clear that he has in mind teaching truth in place of error. Such teaching is always to be done “in love.” “Any claim to loyalty to truth which results in lack of love to those perceived to be disloyal stands as much condemned as any claim to all-embracing love which is indifferent to truth.”[24]Ibid., 260. The second half of verse 15 makes the goal specific: that we grow in him who is the head of the church in all things. Although notoriously difficult to translate, the sense of verse 16 is clear: the body of Christ is an organism of mutually interdependent parts that grows as each part works properly.

Walk not as the Gentiles (4:17-32)

A new section is marked by the “therefore” and by the use of “walk,” as at 4:1. Having explored and explained the unity and diversity of the church, Paul now resumes the ethical exhortations begun in verse 1. What does it mean to walk worthily? He turns from looking at the church in its internal make-up and purpose to looking at it in its external environment.[25]Schnackenburg, 192. This will in fact be the topic through 5:21, when he makes a transition into a discussion of the Chris­tian household.

Nothing is more central to Paul’s theology than that one’s experience of Christ makes a differ­ence.[26]Gal. 2:19-20, Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15. This entire section is given to spelling out, by contrast and commandment, that difference. The long sentences, abundant use of participles, relative clauses, and prepositional phrases commu­nicate, not organization or arrangement, but movement, rapid and free-flowing thought.

Paul first contrasted the Ephesians former life with their new position in Christ (4:17-24) and then detailed the ethical implications of that posi­tion (4:25-5:21). The old life is described in verses 17-19 in the language of mental and volitional breakdown. “Futility of their minds” implies a lack of meaning and purpose. The word is used in the Septuagint for the Preacher’s “Vanity of vanities” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, etc.). “Darkened understanding” implies that the lights are out, that there is no capacity for moral perception.

“Alienated because of ignorance” does not mean that ignorance is an excuse; the ignorance results from the “hardness of their hearts.” The word translated hardness is sometimes used for cal­lousness; in medicine it is used for deadness to pain; in forestry for petrified trees. Heart implies volition. Heart is to mind as decision is to thought. The clear teaching is that sin begins in the mind, not in the body. Even sexual sins are primar­ily mental. If Christians are called to live from the inside out, pagans do so in fact.

The phrase “have given themselves up” (v. 19) should be read in light of Romans 1:24, 26, 28. The passages together imply that the one who gives himself up to unchecked impurity will get his wish. Emptiness, purposelessness, lead naturally to a lifestyle without restraints. In verse 19, three terms characterize this life without Christ: licentiousness, uncleanness, and greed. The latter two appear again in 5:3 (5). Licentiousness implies dissipation to the point of shameless behavior. To be “greedy for uncleanness” suggests that outside a right relationship with God one tends to live a life of excess that can never be satisfied.[27]Lincoln, 279.

The “you” of verse 20 is emphatic, marking a sharp contrast with the old life. The verbs “learn, heard, taught” and the noun “truth” also stand in vivid contrast with the mental and moral ignorance of their former life. To “learn Christ” is not simply to learn about him. It is to learn the truth that is “in Jesus” (v. 21). Paul’s use of the name Jesus alone, rare in his epistles, is probably intentional, pointing not to Christ’s teachings, but to the life he lived, historic, incarnate, earthly.[28]Schnackenburg, 199. But see Lincoln, 281f. That life is truth, in contrast to the life described   in verses 7-19. Verse 21 is a first class conditional sentence and thus assumes the reality of the condi­tion; they had in fact learned Christ.

What they learned and heard and were taught is expressed in three infinitives, sometimes translated as imperatives (RSV): put off, be renewed, put on. The changing clothes metaphor appears again in 6:10-20.[29]See also Col. 3:8-12, 1Thess. 5,8, Gal. 3:27, Rom. 13:13-14. Putting off the old and putting on the new are both in the aorist tense, implying defini­tive actions. Being renewed is present tense, implying an ongoing process. Being renewed in the spirit of the mind is the Christian response to the empty, darkened, hardened mind (vv. 17, 18). The new life in Christ involves a mental reorientation, a new way of thinking, not simply something new to think about. The clothing imagery shows that the renewing of the mind is not internal only; it is external.[30]Barth, 540. Clothes “do not make the man” if the spirit of the mind is not changed. Buried in this change of mindset is the idea of repentance (µemvoux).

The “therefore” in verse 25 is used twice only in Ephesians and in each case draws an inference from the preceding paragraph (cf. 2:11).[31]Such is the proper use of this particle (διο). It is “wherefore” in KJV and “so then” in NRSV. Although the English will not make this clear, it is to be distinguished from the “therefore” (8w) of 4:1, 17; 5:1, 7, 15. Here it reaches back to the renewal theme (20-24) and introduces the demands of the new. Imperatives a appropriate. In verses 25-32 eleven imperative constructions are used, addressing (probably) five sins: lying, anger, stealing, evil talk, grieving the Spirit.[32]Lincoln (204) and Schnackenburg (293) arrange the imperative into four classes of sins. Summers has five (96ff). Dale Moody, Christ and the Church (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1963), 100ff, groups them into six.

The selection of vices listed here is not arbi­trary. The unity and edification of the church are at the center of Paul’s attention throughout the letter, and the vices addressed are make-or-break issues for the well-being of the church.

First, perhaps because of catchword connection with “truth” in verse 24, lying is to be replaced with truth (v.25). As in the next verse, Paul here presses into service an Old Testament text (Zech. 8:16). The tenses of the sentence could be ren­dered: “Having put away the lie once and for all, make it a practice to always speak the truth.” The motivation for telling the truth is that we belong t, each other. The clear implication of 4:1- 16 was precisely this, that in spite of our being many and diverse we are one and belong to each other as we do to him (cf. Rom. 12: 5, 1 Cor. 12:12-27). Our mutual interdependence is violated by lying, and can be kept vital only by a healthy practice of the truth.

The second vice is anger (v. 26). Here Paul quotes the Septuagint of Psalm 4:4. A major concern for the interpreter is how to handle the “Be angry” part of this verse. Is it to be taken as a command, or is it conditional? If it is a command does it validate righteous indignation? If so taken, it is the most explicitly positive statement on human anger in the New Testament.[33]Daniel B. Wallace, “‘ΟΡΤΙ’ΖΕΣΘΕ” in Ephesians 4:26: Command or Condition,” Criswell Theological Review 3.2 (Spring 1989), 354. This article provides a thorough review of the issues. As com­mand it may mean “Be angry when conditions require, but do not let it lead you into sin.” The main thrust is thus on the second imperative: “sin not.” Summers renders it “Get hot, but cool off!”[34]Summers, 99. The implication of this interpretation is clear: there is an anger that is not in itself sinful, but it may become so if not controlled quickly.

On the other hand, Greek syntax will allow one to take this in a conditional or concessive sense: “I (or, although) you are angry, do not sin.”[35]Wallace, “‘ΟΡΤΙ’ΖΕΣΘΕ” 360. Although none of the other imperatives here can be construed as conditional, this one, with verb και + verb meets the structural requirements for a conditional imperative. Of modern translations only the NIV and REB translate it so.[36]Both Lincoln (301) and Schnackenburg (207) opt for this rendering.

In any case, one can note that verse 31 prohibits all anger, and in 6:4 fathers are warned not provoke their children to wrath. Anger is clearly to be dealt with decisively and immediately: “Let not the sun go down on your wrath.” Compare Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:23-25) for the speed with which one should tend to anger. “The day of anger should be the day of reconciliation.”[37]Eadie, 349.  Avoid anger at all costs, but when it happens, and it will, get it under control quickly, lest you give the devil an opening (v. 27).

The third sin in this group is stealing (v. 28). One might not think of this as a sin in the church, but given the other sins mentioned in this chapter and the next, it is not surprising. Stealing starts with the attitude “What can I get for myself?” Paul counters with the new attitude appropriate for the unity and edification of the church: “What can I give to others?” In the Thessalonian letters Paul commands honest labor so that no one will be a burden on the church (1 Thess. 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:12). Here he commands it for a nobler reason, that one may have something to share with others in need. The lesser motive for work is self support; the higher motive is support of the needy.[38]See Rom. 12:13, Titus 3:14, and also note the practice of the early church in Acts 2, 4.

Next is “evil talk” (“corrupt communication” KJV). It is “foul language” (NAB), but more. The adjective occurs only here in a figurative sense; elsewhere it is always of literal rotting or decay. Though the same word is not used, James 3 :1-12 should be read for insight. As was the case with stealing, so too here a radical reorientation is needed to overcome unwholesome talk. Only that which can edify and impart grace should pass through the lips.

The imperative of verse 30, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,” is sometimes seen as “a stray element in the context.”[39]Barth, 547. Is it a fifth class of sin? Or is it a summary imperative: “Do not do these things (lie, be angry, steal, engage in offensive talk) lest you thereby grieve the Holy Spirit.” In either case, Eadie is right in calling this verse a “summa­tion of the argument-the climax of appeal.”[40]Eadie, 355. Although he does not directly quote the text, Paul seems to have in mind Isaiah 63:10 and the picture there of grieving the Spirit of God in their wilder­ness wanderings. Here Paul uses the longest possible rendering of the Spirit’s name (το πνευμα το αγιον τον Θεον), adding weight to the command: “Remember who you are grieving!”

Verse 31 represents neither a continuation of kinds of sins, nor even a new list. Rather these are five facets of anger. Paul returned to anger appar­ently so as to frame this part of his exhortation with a thematic inclusio. “Bitterness” is the foul root that gives rise to anger. “Wrath” is the eruption of bitterness at its boiling point. “Anger” is the continuing undercurrent of resentment and hostility. “Clamor” and “slander” are the expres­sion of this anger. “Malice,” finally, is an umbrella term for human evil. Some see a progression here, from anger’s inner beginning (bitterness) through its eruption (wrath) to its festering (anger) and verbal explosion (clamor), climaxing in its slander of others (slander), where the unity and edification of the church is ultimately damaged.[41]Lincoln, 309; Schnackenburg, 215; Barth, 521.

Verse 32 offers the only remedy for these, their opposite. One cannot at the same time be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving, and be ruled by bitterness and anger. Obedience to verse 32 is the antidote for the sins of verse 31.

Walk in Love (5:1-6)

While several commentaries outline 5:1-2 with 4:17-32, and thus assume that a new unit begins with 5:3, it is probably better to read, as the chapter divisions indicate, a new paragraph beginning with 5:1.[42]Lincoln, 309; Schnackenburg, 204; and Moody, 100, all include 5,1-2 with the preceding. Barth (555, 585) divides as in this study. Once again the verb “walk” and the conjunction “therefore” mark off this section. The verb “be” (γινεσθε) in 4:32 closes the first ethical section, and prepares for the second, which begins with the same verb. The sins in 4:17 -32 are social, damaging the fellowship; those in chapter five are individual, damaging the person.

Not only is the believer to walk worthily of one’s calling (4:1) and to walk not as the Gentiles (4:17), the believer is also to walk in love (5:1). As children imitate a father, so children of God imitate their Father. Only here does Paul call on believers to be “imitators of God.” Elsewhere, the call is to be imitators of “me” (1Cor. 4:16, 11:1), or of “us and the Lord” (1 Thess. 1:6), or of “the church of God” (1 Thess. 2: 14). As “beloved children” we know his love and know that to be an imitator of God is to walk in love. Verse 2 says that the love of Christ is both the motivation and model for this love, just as God’s work in Christ was for forgiveness (4:32). The model for this love is not emotional; this love is volitional, self-sacri­ficing love (5:2b).

The move from verse 2 to verse 3 is a move from self-sacrifice to self-indulgence.[43]Lincoln, 321. Here is a catalog of vices, reminding us of the sins listed in 4:25-31, only this list is more personal.[44]On vice/virtue lists see Barth, 550ff and Lincoln, 296f. Similar vice lists of greater or lesser length can be found at Rom. l:29ff, 1 Cor. 5:11,6:9f, Gal. 5:19ff, Col. 3:5ff. All seem to refer to moral decay. The sins are listed in two groups of three. The first group (v. 3) centers on sexual impurity, the second (v. 4) on indecent talk about such sins.

The first, “immorality” or “fornication,” proba­bly at first signified either sexual activity with a prostitute or adultery. The term then came to connote any sexual immorality. It was so much a part of the Gentile world that it was the only sin addressed in the Apostolic Decree of Acts 15. “Uncleanness” would refer to any moral impurity, and “covetousness” means “insatiability,” and in this context may refer to sexual greed, even coveting a neighbor’s wife (Ex. 20:17). Such things are “not even to be mentioned among you”( v.3). In verse 4, Paul moves to three ways of “nam­ing” or telling about such sins. Bad enough that the sinner does these things, he also engages in loose conversation about it. “Filthiness” is indecent or obscene talk and may imply innuendo and sexual jokes. “Silly talk” is perhaps gossip. Literally it is “the speech of a fool.” “Levity” (or “jesting” KJV) here does not refer to appropriate humor, but to lewd joking and laughter about the sins just mentioned.

As a corrective, Paul says “let there be thanks­ giving” (v.4). This is at first glance an unexpected remedy, but upon reflection the remedy is appro­priate. In 5:20, thanksgiving will be linked with the filling of the “Spirit” and in 1 Thess. 5:18 it is said to be the will of God for the believer. In both these texts, and elsewhere, thanksgiving is almost a synonym for the Christian life (Rom. 1:21, Phil. 4:6).[45]Lincoln, 324 Barth says it is a “basic structural feature of the Christian ethic.”[46]Barth, 562. When thanksgiving is characteristic, this lifestyle is absent.

In verse 5, Paul moves from naming the sin to naming the sinner. He identifies their sin with idolatry because whatever has first claim in one’s life is his or her God. Using the same root words as in verse 3, he says that such persons have no place in the kingdom and in fact incur the wrath of God (v.6). “The kingdom of Christ and of God” is one kingdom, not two.[47]The syntax of this may imply that Paul identifies Christ with God, affirming the deity of Christ. Both to the Corinthians and to the Galatians, Paul made it clear that persons o this sort are not heirs of the kingdom (l Cor. 6:9f, Gal. 5:21). The “wrath of God upon sons of disobedience” reminds the reader of 2:2-3 where the sons of disobedience are equated with those who are “by nature children of wrath.” The paragraph began with the language of love and now ends with the language of wrath, and both are of God. The difference is in the “walk.”

Walk in Light (5:7-14)

In introducing this section, the construction differs but Paul once again uses “therefore” (ουν) to introduce a paragraph that turns on the verb “walk” (v. 8). The controlling metaphor of this short paragraph is light-versus-darkness, and the command “walk as children of light” is  expanded by two negative commands urging complete disassociation with the Ephesian’s former life, which was darkness (v. 8). They were not sim­ ply once in darkness, they “were darkness.” Now they “are light.” The contrast between darkness and light is also a contrast between past and present. It is as if Paul were saying “If you are light, indeed, because you are light, be who you are. Walk as children of light.” What you do grows out of who you are. For Paul, life outside and before Christ is darkness, night. To be in Christ is to be in the light, and this light produces everything that is good and right and true (v. 9). By the light one can discern what pleases God (v. 10). Barth presses this metaphor dramatically:

Common to all the various accentuations found in the Bible is the radical and total mutual exclusion of light and darkness. Either light rules or darkness does. The human condition is either black or white; there is no grey, no transition or progress from one to another, no middle ground, no mediation, no neutrality. Light and darkness can be mixed as little as Spirit and flesh, life and death, fertility and sterility.[48]Barth, 601.

In verses 7 and 11 Paul uses two different but almost synonymous words for partnering. Only in verse 7 and at 3:6 is the word “partners, partakers” used in the New Testament.[49]In the New Testament, the word (συμμετοχος) is found more often without the prepositional prefix (μετοχος), especially in Hebrews: 1:9; 3:1; 14; 6:4; 12:8. It implies “sharing with” another. Closely akin is the verb for “fellow­ship” in verse 11. Here is the more common Pauline word, koinonia. Though not used elsewhere in Ephesians, it represents the closest of associa­tion, being used for the partnership of marriage. It is built on an adjective that means “common” and suggests “Do not have anything in common with.” The emphasis is clear: to walk in light means an absolute break with darkness. The much-debated 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 should be read in this context. More than a break, to walk in the light means to use that light to expose those unspeak­able things that hide in darkness (vv. 11-12). “Light is superior to darkness; hence the children of light should repel and break the power of darkness.”[50]Schnackenburg, 225.

Verse 14 may pose some problem for the interpreter. Paul cites what seems at first glance to be a quotation of Scripture, only this text is nowhere to be found in the Old Testament. The same quotation formula is used here as was used in the quotation of Psalm 68 mentioned above (4:8). Is this an allusion to Isaiah 60:1, or to some combination of Old Testament texts? Is it perhaps an early Christian hymn sung at the baptism of a Gentile convert? Whatever its source, it fits the metaphor Paul is using. “Let the light that is Christ shine and give light to darkness.”

Walk as Wise Men (5:15-21)

For the fifth time, Paul uses “therefore” (ουν) and “walk” to introduce a new section which, like those preceding, defines the Christian life. This time the walk is characterized by wisdom. The first problem for the interpreter is the placement of the adverb translated “carefully, circumspectly.” Does Paul say “See that you walk circumspectly” (KJV)? Or does he say “Look care­ fully how you walk” (RSV)? The problem is both a syntactical and text critical one that need not detain us here, for either way the point is “Be careful how you walk; walk in wisdom, not in folly.” To walk as wise persons means to seize every opportunity (v. 16), presumably to reprove the darkness and bring what is good and right and true (v. 9) to light. The word usually translated “time” in this verse is better understood as “opportune time” and thus “opportunity.”

Two further sets of imperatives, each with negative and positive aspects, are built on the command to walk wisely: “Do not be fools, but understand the will of the Lord” (v. 17 ) and “Do not be drunk, but be filled with the Spirit” (v. 18). The last of these is amplified with five participles and forms a transition into the next major section of the letter.

The opposite of folly is God’s will, and to know the will of God is the highest wisdom. The will of God is simply what God wants. Wisdom is to know that and to choose it. Similarly, drunkenness is folly personified, and its opposite is a filling with the Spirit. Note that at Pentecost, as here, being drunk with wine and being filled with the Spirit   are juxtaposed. Paul speaks of being filled with the Spirit only here. Acts is the primary text for this concept. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit is promi­nent in Ephesians. He seals the believer (1:13), provides access to the Father ( 2:18), makes it possible for God to dwell in the believer (2:22), reveals the mystery of Christ (3:5), and strengthens the inner man (3:16). Further, Christians are told to maintain the oneness of the Spirit (4:3-4), not to grieve the Spirit (4:30), to be filled with the Spirit (5 :18), to take the sword of the Spirit (6:17), and to pray in the Spirit (6:18).

Here Paul uses five participles to list three results of the filling: praise (v. 19), thanksgiving (v. 20), and mutual submission (v. 21). Three nouns and three participles describe the praise songs of the church (v. 19). Any attempt to differentiate closely between these words misses the point. Paul is using the vocabulary of praise to express the breadth and variety of Christian worship. The second result of the filling of the Spirit is constant thanksgiving. We have already seen that thanksgiving is of the essence of the Christian life (5:4).

The filling of the Spirit also results in a mutual submission (v. 21). This closing note reminds one of the beginning of the ethical section where the believer is told to “forbear with one another in love, with humility, meekness and long suffering” (4:2).

Verse 21 closes one major section and opens a second (5:22-6:9), in which Paul will address specific instances where mutual submission is required.[51]Col. 3:18-4:1 has an abbreviated form of this “household code.” See also 1 Tim. 2:1-15; 5:1-2; 6:1-2, 17-19; Titus 2:1-3:8, 1 pt. 2:13-3:7. For discussion of these so-called Haustafeln, see the commentaries. The participle Paul uses (υποτασσομενοι) is telling. Here it is present tense, middle voice, which implies that the submission is personal and voluntary. Each party is free. The qualifying prepo­sitional phrase is also important: “out of reverence for Christ.” This governs the believer in all rela­tionships. Christians relate to one another “as to the Lord.” Notice how this concept recurs through the following domestic code (5:21, 22, 25; 6:1, 5).

Husbands and Wives (5:22-32)

In 4:1-16 Paul addressed the church, in 4:17- 5:21 the individual, and now he speaks to household relationships. In 5:22-6:9 Paul will apply the principle of reciprocal responsibility to three sets of domestic relationships: wife and husband (5:22-32), child and parent (6:1-4), servant and master (6:5-9).

The submission of wife to husband (vv. 22-24) has occasioned considerable discussion. The trans­lations almost invariably read “submit yourselves to” or “be subject to” your own husband. Interest­ingly, the statement about wives in both verse 22 and verse 24 is without any verb. The verb is assumed from the participle of verse 21. From the total context the submission is mutual, that it is not to be forced or demanded. The nature of the relationship is made clear, for the analogy is Christ and his church.

The statement of responsibility of husband to wife is more than twice as long as that of wife to husband.[52]In contrast to the similar passage in the domestic code of 1 Peter, where the wife’s duty is more than four times as long as the husband’s. See 1 Pet. 3:1-7. Husbands are to love their wives “as Christ loved his church” (vv. 25-27), and they are to love her “as their own bodies” (vv. 28-31). These two qualifiers preclude any abuse of the mutual submission principle of the preceding verses.

Whereas in Colossian, the parallel mutual domestic codes are straightforward, the ecclesiolog­ical emphasis in Ephesians prompts Paul to note application of these models to the church, which in turn prompts Paul to expand on Christ’s love for his church (vv. 25b- 27). Once again, Paul reaches into his own Hebrew roots for the scriptural basis of this truth (Gen. 2:24). The oneness of marriage is part of God’s creative intention and is at the heart of the relationship of husband and wife, and this truth is best illustrated in the relationship of Christ to his church.

Children and Parents (6:1-4)

The second set of domestic relationships addressed is the mutual responsibilities of children and parents   (6:1-4). The children’s duty is one, but has two sides: “obey” (v. 1) and “honor” (v. 2). Obedience is an active response; honor is an underlying disposition. The root of the word translated “obey” is “hear, listen.” Attentiveness is the emphasis. “Honor” comes from the fifth commandment of the Decalogue (Ex.20:12), where the word root is “heavy, weighty.” The nuance is that children are not to take lightly their parents, but to grant them the worth, value, and esteem that is theirs. “In the Lord” does not modify par­ents, as if to infer that one does not have to honor parents who are not in the Lord. The prepositional phrase modifies the verb. It is obedience that is in the Lord; thus, there is a spiritual reason for obey­ing. To say “for this is right” is to recognize that a child’s obedience of a parent is not only morally right, it is right in the very nature of things.

After citing the commandment, Paul adds the promise found in Deuteronomy 5 :16: “that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth” (v. 3). The promise is that the obedient child will have strength of life and length of life, quality and quantity. A ripe old age is not guaran­teed, however. In the Old Testament, the promise is to the nation and relates to the land they are about to possess. The text says that a healthy fam­ily life assures the life of a nation.

There are two elements in the command to parents (v. 4): do not provoke them to anger; do provide their nurture. The positive command has two important qualifications. “Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” In antiquity, “discipline” (παιδεια) was the umbrella word for the whole training of a Greek child, not simply academics. By New Testament times, the terms primarily referred to training that comes by correction or discipline. Hebrews 12:5-11, using this same word, puts discipline in a right context.

Slaves and Masters (6:5-8)

The relationship of slaves and masters form the third set in the domestic code. “Slave” (as in most modern translations) is a better rendering than “servant.” Slavery was pervasive in ancient Mediterranean society, and slaves would been a part of many households. The command for slaves is the same as that for children: “Obey .” In this case that obedience has three characteristics (v. 5), the third of which is expanded considerably (vv. 6-8). First, obedience should be rendered with genuine respect. “Fear and trembling” should not be read to mean fright. “Fear” has the same nuance here that it did in 5:21.Paul uses this rather common phrase three other times, and reading those will help get the sense of this usage (see 1 Cor. 2:3; 2 Cor. 7:15; Phil. 2: 12). “S1ngleness of heart,” the second characteristic of this obedience, is really the opposite of duplicity; this singleness is frank simplicity, simple sincerity. Obedience is also to be given “as to Christ.” This Christocentric perspective has been observed throughout this domestic code: 5:21, 22, 25; 6:1. Verses 6-8 spell out what it means to serve as if serving Christ. The service is not done with an eye on the human master, but on the divine Lord (v. 6- 7). The believer knows that ultimately it is the Lord who rewards both slave and freeman (v. 8).

That the master of a slave had responsibilities to the slave (v. 9) would have been a novel concept to many slave owners. The command to “do the  same to them” suggests that respect, sincerity, and Christ-centeredness should characterize their role. Further, because “threatening” was (and is) a common (and cruel) way of keeping subordinates in line, the Christian master is to “stop threaten­ing.” All of this grows out of the realization that there is one Lord of both slave and free, and with him there is no partiality.

Christian Armor (6:10-20)

This closing admonition seems strangely out of place in Ephesians. Nothing prepares the reader for the language of spiritual warfare. Perhaps the “walk” metaphor of 4:1-5:21 prompts Paul to this encouragement to “stand.” The believer who “sits” with Christ in the heaven lies (2:6) and “walks worthy of his calling” (4:1) will inevitably face the moment when he or she must “stand” against the wiles of the devil (6:11, 13, 14). Paul similarly ended his letter i:o the troubled Corinthian congregation with an encouragement to be strong (1 Cor. 16:13). The “power” language of verse 10 has already been used in 1:19. There he prays that the believer might recognize the power of God; here he urges the believer to tap into that power. Such power is required, for the enemy is not physical, but spiritual (v. 12).

This enemy is described as “the Devil” and as “the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places.” Only here and in the Pastorals in Pauline writings is the word Devil used; elsewhere it is always Satan. One might expect the word Satan to be used here, since it means “adversary, enemy,” but the change to Devil is appropriate, for the word means “slanderer.” That Paul believed in a personal Devil is obvious (4:27, 6:11, 16). The four terms Paul uses to describe the invisible enemy hosts (v. 12) should be taken together, as descrip­tive of an army. These are not four different kinds of demons.

“Therefore” (δια τοντο) in verse 13 reminds the reader that because of the nature of the enemy, the call comes for the “whole armor” of God (v. 11, 13). The word is panoply (πανοπλια) and refers to the full armor, head-to-toe, of a hoplite (οπλιτησ), a heavy-armed foot-soldier. No less will enable the Christian soldier to stand in battle. The believer is commanded to “put on” (v. 11), or “take” (v. 13), this armor. In both cases the aorist imperative implies urgency.

“Loins girded with truth” (v. 14) reaches back to 4:14-15. There truth is juxtaposed with “wiles of deceit” as here it is with “wiles of the Devil” (v. 11).

The “breastplate of righteousness” assumes that the heart of the believer is best protected by right living. Although Paul normally uses the term for God’s imputed righteousness, here it seems to be used in the sense of one’s personal “rightness.”

What troop transport vehicles are to the modern soldier, shoes were to the ancient (v. 15). Without proper footwear he had no chance. He would survive neither the march nor the battle.

“Above all” (v. 16) should probably be “in everything” (that is, in all circumstances) or “with all these.”[53]εν πασιν has both older and stronger support among the manu­scripts than does επι πασιν. The implication is that the “shield of faith” is always essential. Faith should here be seen in its typical Pauline sense of absolute, active trusting in God. Just as the shield of the ancient hoplite was his ultimate protection, so is faith for the believer. One is reminded how often in the Old Testament God is a shield to his own.[54]Especially in the Psalms. See Psalm 18:2.

The “helmet of salvation” (v. 17) reminds the reader of 1 Thess. 5:8. Salvation is God’s deliver­ance. At last, an offensive weapon: the “sword of the Spirit,” that is, “the word of God.” This cannot mean the New Testament, obviously. It is that word of God such as Jesus himself used in his battle with the Devil (Matt. 4:1-11).

Paul concludes this exhortation, and the letter, with a call to prayer (vv. 18-20).[55]Request” for prayer is a frequent component of Paul’s letter conclusion: Rom. 15:30-33, Col. 4:2-4, 1Thess. 5:25, 2 Thess. 3:1-5. “At all times” implies “in every situation.” Paul asks prayer for “all the saints” (v. 18), but especially for himself (vv. 19-20) for he is fighting the battle wearing the chains of a prisoner.

Conclusion (6:21-24)

Tychicus is Paul’s courier with this letter, and perhaps the Colossian letter at the same time (Col 4:7 ). Acts 20:4 tells us he is Asian, and thus perhaps from one of these cities. He would fill in the blanks for the hearers of the letter, and bring Paul’s personal greeting.

The benediction is typical of Paul’s letters (vv. 23-24). Peace reminds us of 2:14-18, and the ending of several of his letters (Rom. 15:33; 2 Cor. 13:11; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 3:16). Grace, with which Paul began the letter (1:2), now ends it.

References   [ + ]

Category: Journal Article
Tags: ,


Share This Article:  

Southwestern Journal of Theology
To download full issues and find more information on the Southwestern Journal of Theology, go to swbts.edu/journal.