PFOA: Ephesians 5:21-6:9

… submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”.
Eph 5:21, ESV.

Today’s passage is relatively long, but it’s a familiar passage to many and won’t take you more than 3 or 4 minutes to read. It is important to note that in these verses, we have three kinds of writings: a. exhortation (5:18-21); b. practical instructions (5:22-6:9); c. embedded within the passage are theological statements about Jesus Christ and the church.

In order to understand the teaching and extract applications for living, we need to be aware of the context Paul was writing in and compare that with the context of our own generation today. The theological statements will be universally true; exhortaions are generally applicable, but we may need to peel them back to see their doctrinal basis. It is in the portions that seem relevant for practical application that extra care is needed to take into account the social and cultural settings of the first century Roman empire and our 21st century. A further step, which is often forgotten, is that most of the current literature (books, articles, sermons on the internet) are directed at the church in the west and their interpretations and applications are for a context not fully identical to the reality of other parts of the world, nor even for a modern city like Singapore.

It is interesting that Paul’s practical discussion groups husbands and wives, children and parents, and masters and slaves together. The common thread here is found in 5:21 – as Christians we are to submit “to one another out of reverence for Christ”. In Paul’s time, women did not have low status and few rights. This is still the case in West, Central and South Asia and to a lesser extent other parts of Asia. So when the Gospel was preached, it brought about true liberation for woman, for before God there was neither male nor female. This led to problems, both in the home and society, so Paul, based on the theological principle of mutual submission, urged, in practice, the wife to submit and husband to demonstrate love. We can see further implications in Paul’s writings elsewhere about situations where one partner in a marriage becomes a believer – she/he is to remain in that bond and submitting to separation only when the other partner wanted it.

Similarly there should be mutual submission between parents and children, master and slaves, although again the submission maybe more obvious coming from the child or the slave. All this is out of reverence for Christ, so that the name of Christ is honoured and glorified and a positive witness of the Gospel is presented to the world.