Brief Notes on Ephesians and the Church at Thessalonica: Ephesians 5

Ephesians 5  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 5
WE have observed that the doctrinal part of the epistle closed at chapter 4:16. Then from that point to chapter 6:9 we get the practical part, and we get conflict in the end.
Read now chapter 5 and chapter 6 to verse 9, where we get the practical details of Christian life. I should like, first, to say a little about precept.
If we consult the Epistles to the Romans and the Colossians, we shall find in them a different construction from the Philippians. There the apostle is eminently a pastor, looking at the souls of the Philippians. But in the Ephesians, Romans, Colossians, he is a teacher; therefore in them we get doctrine followed by precept. Now, why do we get precepts in the epistles? Do you always get your conduct directly from precepts? No; but by putting your mind in connection with Christ Himself, and the grace of God in your calling. So we get in Titus, "The grace of God... hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly"; that is, if I know the moral virtue of the grace in which I stand, I shall be taught without precepts to live soberly, righteously, and godly.
Peter tells us exactly the same thing. "Seeing, then, that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be"; and again, "Seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent." There is no precept to be diligent, but the eye of the soul is directed to the glory and to the dissolution of all things present, and it says, What manner of persons ought we to be! So practical power derives itself from the grace of our calling.
We get the same thing in the Book of Genesis; there are no precepts there, but the patriarchs lived holy lives (through the Spirit, surely) by virtue of their calling. One is called out by "the God of glory." It is said, as on the lips of Joseph, "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God." It is not that he had precepts, but he looked at God. So in your daily walk you are not commonly looking at precepts but at Christ. But why, then, the precepts? For several reasons: —
First, precepts serve as tests. If a soul is backsliding, you may use them in discipline. It is very well in such a case to have a well-defined precept to guide you.
Secondly, God is dealing with living realities in His Word. If doctrines tell me that God is dealing with me, precepts tell me that it is with me God is dealing. God is not revealing an indefinite light that may sparkle before me. He addresses Himself to me, a corrupt creature, and says, "Let him that stole steal no more."
Thirdly, there is this beauty in precepts: they do greatly honor the doctrine; they are the expression of the hidden moral virtue that lies in the doctrine. For instance, "Grieve not the holy Spirit of God." The doctrine had already taught me that I had received the Spirit as the seal of salvation. The precept tells me that the Spirit I have received is sensitive of the least touch of unholiness. So the doctrine is glorified by the precept.
Fourthly, I will tell you further what precepts do. They show you that your holiness must be dispensational. You will say, Is not holiness holiness? No; I boldly say, it is not. We can only judge of it in the dispensed light of God. Is it unholiness now for the Jew to traffic with the Gentile? No; it is not. Yet under the law they dare not eat with them. So holiness may vary its form.
Now, suppose I were to keep a good conscience just because my conscience resented evil, and were moral because morality is comely, would that be Christian morality?
No holiness is Christian holiness but such as derives itself from the truth. When you come to apply that to yourself, you will find you have something to do! You will have to associate the Lord Jesus with every bit of your life. How did the elders obtain a good report? Was it a precept that worked Abraham’s separation from his kindred and his father’s house, and Moses’ abdication of Egypt? It was God making Himself known to them. Precepts will never make, a Christian man. The soul must come in contact with the revelation of God.
"Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us." Now, let me ask you, supposing I was a good neighbor just to keep my conscience a little easy, would that be meeting the demands of this passage? "Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us"; that makes kindness Christian kindness. I take the Lord Jesus as my great prototype. Does not this take morals out of the hand of Moses? This puts my morals on a new ground altogether. I am to walk in love, because Christ has loved me, and given Himself for me, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor. The Lord has not only presented you in all the value of His blood, but in the sweet savor of His sacrifice. Is it accepted in the righteous one you are? No; but "accepted in the beloved." The high priest, when he took the blood into the holiest, went in enveloped in a balmy, savory cloud of incense. Was it a grudging acceptance that waited on the sacrifice of Christ? No; it was a delightful acceptance; and you are in all the value of that acceptance. Well, then, could I give the atmosphere in which I am set before God one glance of faith and come back to indulge my enmities?
You know your renewed conscience would never be satisfied by merely doing what is right. You must have the springs of action purified. It is what Christ has done that asks it from you. These uncleannesses, as I read in verse 3, do not become saints. Am I to lay aside uncleanness because it is uncleanness? No; but because it does not become saints. So it goes on: "For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord." I refuse participation in uncleanness, because I was in darkness, but now I am transformed. I am a new creature, a child of light.
And I pause here again to ask you, Would you qualify this beautiful intensity? Do you want to leave Christ when you come to the practical details of life? We never leave Christ.
So, when we come to meditate on conflict, we are just as much in His company as in the details of life, or as up in heaven in the early part of the epistle. There is something sublime in this. If a doctrine comes to unfold God to me, a precept comes to show me the moral virtue that lies hid in it. The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, as in the benevolent virtues — righteousness, as in integrity and honesty, and all connected with truth. We find goodness and righteousness in the world, but we shall not find them connected with truth, save in the household of faith. These things are given to make us practically Christ. As an old writer says, "Christ Himself is the ground of all laws to a Christian"; one loathes cultivation of soul by anything short of Christ. Christ would have us sober, truthful, honest.
Now are ye light; and what quality of light? Light "in the Lord." You have not kindled the spark that is in you from Moses, but from the Lord of light. You have borrowed a ray from Him, and you are to walk in it, proving what is acceptable to Jesus. I am sure after this we shall not ask why the precepts of the New Testament, when we see the blessed Lord connected with each bit of the details, the Spirit bringing down my Lord Jesus to be the sanction of my ways.
You will often find here that the Spirit is not satisfied with mere abnegation of evil. He insists on the cultivation of good. "Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good." There is the negative in company with the positive. The evil is denied, and the good is brought in. So here, "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them"; because you have put off the old man. But are you merely an emptied, stripped thing? No; you have put on the new man. As the old man would have made plunder of what belonged to another, so now you are to work for him whom before you would have plundered. Moses never set me to that work; will Christ measure Himself by Moses? Will He measure Himself by anything but Himself? There is such dignity in this. We should keep morals up in their own elevation. Moses would drag them down; I do not say this when we get Moses passed through the filter of Christ, as in the Sermon on the Mount. Would Moses have required you to lay down your life for another? Christ does, because Christ has done it. "Wherefore it saith" (I would rather have it in verse 14), it is the voice and language of Light. The light that is now shining is the light of Christ. So "Christ shall give thee light"; a peculiar moral light has risen now.
"See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time." Now, how is understanding to exercise itself? In the philosophy of the schools? I am to have an understanding of the will of the Lord. He keeps you, again I say, as a heavenly creature in company with Christ; as a man walking across the face of the earth, He keeps you equally with Christ. When He sends you into the field of battle He arrays you in Christ, He puts Christ upon you. Who but the Spirit could come down into the traffic of such a world and keep Christ in your company through it all! So the old man might get drunk with wine. The new man has the Spirit to fill himself with. If that is to be mortified, this is to be cultivated.
And how will this filling with the Spirit express itself? "In psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." There is a vessel filled with the Spirit. It is the very same vessel, only transmuted. It was once filled with wine; now, in a spirit of thanksgiving, it is bubbling up with melody to the Lord. We have been in a fervent, heated atmosphere, heated by the Holy Spirit; and now we are suddenly let down, with a beautiful calmness, into the ordinary virtue of taking a low place.
There is a beauty in the very style of this. How can we be sufficiently charmed with it! We do not know which to admire most, the doctrinal or the practical part.
Having come down to that, He details it, and addresses husbands and wives. There, I need not say, how deeply we are in company with Christ. Do not a wife and husband get their sanctions from Christ? Many a good wife never thinks of the Lord Jesus. Is that a Christian wife?
Here let me turn aside to note a title that occurs three times in this epistle. Christ is called "The Head" in Ephesians 1, 4 and 5; but in each place the Headship has a different aspect.
In Epesians 1 it is as the Head of the body. He is Head over all things to the church, the principal feature of the mystic man.
In Ephesians 4 it is as being Head of influence, dispensing virtue to the members. "From whom the whole body fitly joined together... maketh increase of the body."
Here in Ephesians 5 we see Him in another aspect, as the Head of authority, "The husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church." In Ephesians 5:3232This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:32) it ought to be, "This is the great mystery." Then, having addressed wives by the common duties that belong to them, in Ephesians 6 it is the same thing with children. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right." Even in the time of Moses this was an honorable duty. But here it is because it is right in the view of the Lord. This takes it out from the legal promise, and the Lord becomes the new sanction.
So with fathers. A father ought to be his child’s Christian servant. I mean, that he should every hour be watching that the nurture and admonition of the Lord be ministered to his child. He should minister Christ to him.
As to servants — beautiful this is! — they are to be obedient. It matters not the character of their master. They are to be doing service, "as unto the Lord." Did you ever get up to that verse in James (ch. 1: 9), when you see people maintaining station in this life, that you ought positively to rejoice in anticipation of these distinctions passing away? Not touching the thing in passing along, 1 Timothy 6 would tell me that; but it ought to be the hidden joy of the heart that by-and-by station will have passed away with the fashion of this world.
Then as to masters. Do not be guilty of threatening. The lordly ways of masters and mistresses are hateful. How does your Master in heaven treat you?
Here the practical part ends; but I ask,. Does it not dignify you? As George Herbert says, "Who sweeps a room, if for Thy laws, makes that, and the action fine." It is the same thing to Christ if you are up there in His company. It is the same Jesus who is enfolding, embracing, enriching you in every step of the journey, and that for His own eternity.