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Stephen Fowl: It is crucial that readers interpret 5:21 as pointing both backward and forward. It serves to conclude a section that presents some of the ways in which believers are to manifest the life of the Spirit, and it also serves as an overarching admonition for the relationships between wives and husbands, children and parents, and slaves and masters in the church.  In fact, almost all commentators, no matter how they divide the passage, treat the verse this way.

Harold Hoehner: The theme in Ephesians is the unity of the church (Eph 2:11–3:13; 4:1–16) and the practical outworking of this unity in the present context is for believers to walk wisely by being filled by the Spirit (5:15–21). Therefore, the function of the Ephesian household code (5:22 – 6:9) is to enhance this unity. Furthermore, Dudrey rightly points out that the purpose of the household codes “is not to repress the socially downtrodden, but to transform spiritually all who are in Christ—husbands, fathers, and masters included.”  It was to be a display to the Roman world how believers who are transformed and empowered by the Holy Spirit function within the family structure. . .

The present context is very much related to the previous context, for only believers filled by the Spirit are able to please the Lord by fulfilling their duties and are able to live blameless lives in close and continual contact with their family or employment relationships.

Clinton Arnold: Paul gives a variety of instructions to various members of the Christian household on how to think and conduct themselves as believers in their respective roles. A focus on knowing the Lord and pleasing him is the primary motivation for each member of the household for fulfilling their role obligations.

Matthew McCraw: Love and Submission in Relationships

Submission normally carries with it a negative reaction. Have you ever thought of why that is? Why do we think of submission as negative?

If Jesus modeled it [Phil. 2:5-8] and commended it, if Paul instructed us to do it, if it’s a result of being filled with the Spirit, shouldn’t we desire it?

Well, today we’re going to consider love and submission in our relationships.

In each of the following relationships, the submissive role is discussed first.


Clinton Arnold: Paul projects a vision in this passage for a distinctively Christian marriage. He bases his instructions for each spouse not on what is appropriate in Roman culture, but on lessons that can be derived from the nature of the relationship between the church and Christ. Husbands are called to love their wives in the way Christ loved the church, and wives are called to recognize and follow the leadership their husbands provide.

A.  (:22-24) Wives — Relationship of Submission

  1. (:22)  Command with Qualification

Wives, be subject to your own husband, as to the Lord.”

Grant Osborne: It is important to state at the outset that submission does not equate to absolute servitude or imply inferiority.  It is the voluntary decision of an equal (the wording of 1 Pet 3:7, “joint-heirs of the grace of life,” is helpful here) to place themselves under the authority of another.  This is seen in the middle voice of the verb, which means, in effect, “submit yourselves.”  While the verb is borrowed from verse 21, it still is an imperative, commanding this “decision”: God expects wives to submit to their husbands.  Note that the emphasis restricts this command to “your own” husbands.  Paul is not speaking of male-female roles in general but only of those in marital relationships.  Within marriage wives are to place themselves under the headship of their own husbands and are to both respect them and follow their leadership within the family.

Frank Thielman: “as unto the Lord” — when wives submit to their husbands, they are submitting to Christ because they are doing what Christ wants them to do? This seems consistent both with 6:7, where Paul urges slaves to work with goodwill since they are working for the Lord and not for human beings, and with Col. 3:18, where wives are urged to submit to their husbands “as is fitting in the Lord” (ὡς ἀνῆκεν ἐν κυρίῳ, hōs anēken en kyriō).

Clinton Arnold: we can rule out many things that the passage does not say:

  • It does not call for “obedience.”
  • It does not make the husband the boss and the wife the servant.
  • It does not lead to the wife’s loss of her self (or her identity).
  • It does not mean that the wife loses her voice and decisions are made unilaterally.
  • It does not set the wife up for emotional, verbal, or physical abuse.
  1. (:23-24)  Parallel Relationship = the Church Being Subject to Christ

a.  Parallel Concept of Headship

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.”

Harold Hoehner: The head in this context has the idea of “ruler” or “authority over,” as seen in the present and the preceding verses. In light of this, the husband’s position of authority over the wife must encompass a protective quality, which is exemplified in Christ who is “the savior of the body.”

Klyne Snodgrass: Paul is not arguing that Christ is the source of the principalities and powers, but that he has authority over them. Some connotation of authority appears to be included in Paul’s metaphorical uses of kephale.

Frank Thielman: The instruction to the wife to “fear” her husband in 5:33 (cf. v. 21), advice not repeated to the husband, reveals a hierarchical element in the advice to wives and husbands generally and makes it likely that both Paul and his readers would have understood κεφαλή to have overtones of authority. This conclusion becomes virtually unavoidable when we look at the close verbal relationship between 5:21–23 and 1:20–23. In 1:20–23 Christ’s position as head (κεφαλή) over all things is defined in terms of God’s subjection (ὑποτάσσω, hypotassō) of all things to Christ. This same pairing of the noun κεφαλή with the verb ὑποτάσσω in 5:21–23 indicates that here too κεφαλή carries an authoritative nuance.

b.  Parallel Concept of Submission

But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to

be to their husbands in everything.”

Grant Osborne: Paul directs the wife to “submit in everything” because he doesn’t want wives to think they can pick and choose those areas in which they wish to comply.  Submission is not to be occasional or partial but should be reflected in every area of the marriage.

Clinton Arnold: “In everything” (ἐν παντί) indicates that this should be the normal disposition of the wife toward her husband. It means that a wife should cultivate an attitude of affirming, supporting, and respecting her husband’s leadership in the marriage without holding back certain areas where she wants to assert or maintain control. . .

the consideration of how the church responds to Christ’s leadership should motivate and inform how the wife responds to the leadership of her husband. There are numerous ways to describe what this might look like in application to a Christian marriage, but here are a few ideas:

  • to receive her husband’s love, care, and provision
  • to provide encouragement, support, and input to her husband’s initiatives to give vision and direction to the family
  • to resist the temptation to “take control”
  • to resist the impulse to undermine or complain about the leadership her husband provides
  • to align her spending habits with the priorities she agreed upon with her husband for the vision and direction of the household.

B.  (:25-30) Husbands — Relationship of Consideration

  1. (:25a)  Command

Husbands, love your wives

Frank Thielman: Paul’s main concern throughout the section, both in practical and theological terms, is with the husband’s love for his wife and Christ’s love for the church. This is clear not only from the relative length of the material devoted to wives and husbands, but also from the summary of Paul’s practical advice to both in 5:33. Both the rhetorical forcefulness and the number of words in that concluding statement devoted to the husband’s love for his wife (5:33a–b) outweigh the delicately phrased and brief admonition to the wife to fear her husband (5:33c). Paul places the burden of this section on the husband, whose headship must be expressed not in managing his wife but in meeting her physical and emotional needs (5:29), in short, in giving his own life for hers (5:25).

  1. (:25b)  First Parallel Relationship = Christ Loving His Body = the Church

just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her

  1. (:26-27)  Objectives

a.  Sanctification

that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing

of water with the word

Frank Thielman: in the purpose clause contained in 5:26, Paul begins to digress from his instructions to husbands into a description of why Christ has showed his love for the church by giving his life for it. He did this to cleanse the people who would make up the church from their sin and to set them apart as God’s special people. This cleansing, sanctifying action was applied to them when they were washed in the verbal proclamation of the gospel, that is, when they heard the gospel preached, believed it, and were sealed as God’s special people by the Holy Spirit (cf. 1:13–14).

b.  Presentation

that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory,

having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should

be holy and blameless.”

  1. (:28-30)  Second Parallel Relationship = Husband Caring for His Own

Physical Body — Nourishes / Cherishes

So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. 

He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own

flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the

church, because we are members of His body.”

R. C. Sproul: One of the most wonderful parts of the marriage ceremony is the vow that we take to cherish one another. To cherish one another means to hold one another in the highest esteem and to place an infinite value on one another. This is the attitude that is to permeate the home. Not a power struggle or a see-saw battle for more authority than the other one. Rather, the man is to love his wife as he loves his own flesh. A man takes care of his own flesh. He feeds himself, eats, drinks, nourishes his body and protects it. He has a strong instinct of self-preservation. He is to love his wife even more than he loves himself. . .

One of the most difficult things to admit or to understand is that there is probably nothing that a man wants more from his wife than her admiration. There is probably nothing that a woman wants more from her husband than his attention, taking her seriously and treating her with the greatest dignity. Here what we are getting at is the question of respect. If I exercise my headship over my wife in a tyrannical way, I am not respecting my wife. If my wife gives slavish obedience to me without any love, she is not respecting me. The whole basis of the relationship is built upon love, cherishing and respecting one another.

C.  (:31-33) Summary

  1. (:31-32)  Review: Parallel Relationship — Marriage and the Church

a.  Marriage — Commitment and Intimacy

For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and

shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh.”

b.  Church

The mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ

and the church.”

Clinton Arnold: “This mystery” thus refers to the union of husband and wife in marriage as a divinely instituted illustration of the close and intimate union between Christ and the church. It is “great” (μέγα) because it is so profound and significant.

David Thompson: There are deep applications in this text about the Church and its relationship to Jesus Christ:

1)  The Church should submit to Jesus Christ who is the head of the church. 5:22-23

2)  The Church is loved by God at the highest level–Jesus Christ gave Himself. 5:25

3)  The Church is to be clean at a sanctified level–made clean by the washing with the Word. 5:26

4)  The Church should develop in a holy, blameless, wrinkle free sanctification. 5:27

5)  The Church is nourished and cherished by Jesus Christ. 5:29

6)  The Church is part of the body of Jesus Christ. 5:30-32 We should all cleave to Him.

  1. (:33)  Review: The Commands — Love / Respect

a.  Husband — Love

Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own

wife even as himself

b.  Wife — Respect

and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband

Klyne Snodgrass: The translation of the Greek word used here as “respect”—if joined to love—comes close to the idea intended for the attitude toward husbands. A wife is to show recognition of her husband’s role and responsibility. No doubt, the fear due Christ is far different from the fear due husbands. The latter do not love as greatly, are not inherently holy, and are not end-time judges.


A.  (:1-3)  Children — Relationship of Submission

  1. Obedience

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

Clinton Arnold: The “children” (τὰ τέκνα) he speaks of are those who are still in the home. They are old enough to understand instructions from their parents and deliberate over whether they should obey or go their own way. They are still being “brought up” (ἐκτρέφω), receiving instruction and correction from their fathers (6:4), and have not gotten married and left home (5:31). This would most likely place the age range of the children from early elementary to the late teen years or early twenties. It is significant that Paul addresses them directly and not through their parents. This implies that they are present when the community assembles to worship, to hear the reading of the Word, and to receive teaching.

  1. Honor

Honor your father and mother

  1. Promise

“(which is the first commandment with a promise), that it may be well

with you, and that you may live long on the earth.”

Frank Thielman: Paul urges children to obey their parents and gives three reasons why they should do this.

  1. First, it is conduct expected of those who have been incorporated into the Lord through their faith in the gospel.
  2. Second, it is “right,” by which Paul probably means that obedience to parents is widely acknowledged to be fair and proper.
  3. Third, the Scriptures both command it and attach a promise to the command—the first promise in the Mosaic law that is attached to a specific command.

Paul is primarily concerned with this third reason for obedience to parents: the Scriptures promise that, generally speaking, children who obey their parents will live successful and long lives. . .

Everyone would be aware that many well-behaved children succumb to untimely deaths, but most people would also know that, provided they escaped disease and accident, children who took to heart the wisdom of those who cared for them had a better chance of doing well and living long than those who despised their parent’s instruction (Prov. 15:5; 20:20; 30:17; cf. Prov. 6:20–22; 13:1; 23:22).

B.  (:4) Fathers — Relationship of Consideration

  1. Negative

And fathers, do not provoke your children to anger”

Clinton Arnold: This passage, however, teaches that fathers need to exercise a sensitivity and care in how they interact with their children, and especially in how they discipline them. Fathers should carefully weigh the potential impact of their words and actions before responding to their children. This passage effectively rules out reactionary flare-ups, overly harsh words, insults, sarcasm, nagging, demeaning comments, inappropriate teasing, unreasonable demands, and anything else that can be perceived as provocative. In his instructions to fathers in Colossians, Paul says, “do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Col 3:21).

  1. Positive

but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord


 R. C. Sproul: There were certain kinds of voluntary slavery in the ancient world, where a person would bind himself over to the service of another person, for example, to pay off his debts. But there was also the whole idea of selling people into slavery and the even worse practice of stealing people who were free and using them as slaves. Paul doesn’t comment here on any of the variety of forms of slavery that did exist in the ancient world. He just speaks in general to anyone who happens to be in that situation of slavery. John Murray deals with this subject in his book Principles of Conduct. Murray says that Paul doesn’t speak for or against slavery here in this passage, he is simply addressing those who happen to be in that particular situation. If you are a slave, whether justly or unjustly, you are still under the authority of your designated master, and as such it is your duty to perform the services that are expected and required of you. That is the Christian way for slaves to behave. Murray goes on to say that, in spite of Paul’s instructions here to slaves and in spite of his writing an entire letter (Philemon) concerning a runaway slave, the New Testament in general, and Paul’s writings in particular, contained the seeds of the dissolution of the institution of slavery. Subsequent history demonstrates that the Christian church has been at the forefront of the movement for the abolition of this institution.

A.  (:5-8) Servants — Relationship of Submission

  1. Command

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh

  1. Right Attitudes

a.  Healthy Respect

with fear and trembling

b.  Sincerity

in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ

c.  As Unto the Lord

not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of

Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.”

Clinton Arnold: The highest priority, then, is to do the will of God (τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ). This is the call for all believers, whether they are slaves of humans or free. This does not mean that it is God’s will for them to remain in slavery, but it does mean that as long as they are under this structure of authority, they should serve their human masters as though they were serving Christ himself (see 6:5d) and not attempt to “pull the wool over the eyes” of their masters.

with good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men

Transition to point #3

  1. Looking for God’s Compensation

knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive

back from the Lord, whether slave or free.”

Same principle whether you work for someone else or are self-employed

Clinton Arnold: This suggests that Paul is trying to give believing slaves an eschatological perspective on their present condition. Although they may face arduous days of difficult work and be asked to do thankless tasks that no one would ever want to do, the Lord notices all that they do, and they can be assured of future reward.

Frank Thielman: Throughout the section the emphasis lies on the leveling effect that Christ’s lordship has on human relationships, and the reciprocity that should result from this among members of the household. Paul achieves this emphasis rhetorically by comparing the lordship of Christ with the lordship of the slave master (6:5, 6, 9b). He achieves it theologically by appealing to the principle of God’s impartiality on the final day of judgment (6:9c). . .

Paul uses five phrases to describe the slave’s obedience, and each phrase emphasizes the sincerity with which slaves should obey.

  1. First, they should obey “with fear and trembling.” . . .  The phrase seems to refer to the recognition of the subordinate and weak position that one occupies with respect to others.
  2. Second, slaves should obey in “integrity of heart” = inner sincerity. . .  The obedience of the slave should have this straightforward character: there should be no division between the quality of the labor produced and the attitude of the one who produces it.
  3. Third, slaves should obey “as to Christ.”. . .  Work that believing slaves have no choice but to do now becomes a way for them to “walk worthily” of their calling as believers (4:1).
  4. Fourth, slaves are to obey not merely when the slave master’s eye is on them, as if they were merely to please people, but from their inner being as people who are slaves of Christ and committed to the will of God. – “eye-service
  5. Fifth, Paul says that salves should do their assigned work “with goodwill”. . .  Slaves should obey their owners, then, with a positive attitude.

In sum, slaves should obey their masters with sincerity and integrity, recognizing the subordinate position they occupy.  They should avoid a division between the obedience they render and their willingness to render it.  Their obedience to their masters should instead arise from their inner commitment to the Lord.

Clinton Arnold: Among the other attitudes and work practices that should characterize Christians in their jobs today, especially in relationship to their managers, are a number of principles (note: these can easily be transferred to prison life or military life).

  1. Treat your managers or supervisors with deep respect (see 6:5b). Because of their position of responsibility over you, managers or supervisors should be accorded respect (even if you think they do not deserve it). As soldiers have sometimes said, you may need to “salute the rank and not the person.”
  2. Do your work with a pure heart and a good attitude. There are many possible base or duplicitous motives that do not please God. It is important for workers to check their hearts and periodically engage in self-evaluation.
  3. Don’t perform just to make a good impression. When the boss is gone, how is your job performance? The Lord is aware of all that we do. If in our hearts we are serving him in our jobs, we will always give 100 percent.
  4. Give God’s will top priority in your life and work. Because we are ultimately serving Christ and will answer to him at the end of the age, God’s will should always trump any wrong attitude or behavior we might be tempted by in our work, or if we are asked to do something that is clearly wrong or unethical. In the first century, “doing the will of God” would have prevented Christian slaves from obeying commands from their masters that were contrary to God’s will (such as worshiping an idol or a female domestic having sex with her master).
  5. Remember that the Lord expects us to do good works, notices when we do them, and will reward all that we have done. There are many good things an employee may do that are never properly recognized by his or her supervisor. Remember that they are recognized by the one Supervisor for whom it really makes a difference.

B.  (:9) Masters — Relationship of Consideration / No Harshness / Fairness

And, masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing

that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.”

Frank Thielman: Paul’s advice to believing slave masters subtly undermines the whole system of slaveholding. Slave-owning believers are, in a sense, to submit to their slaves (5:21), serving their slaves in the same way they desire their slaves to serve them. The threat of violence is impossible in such an arrangement, and without the threat of violence, the whole system will theoretically collapse.