Ephesians study

7 – Panda Bear or Owl?

Break the Ice (5 min)

  • Are you like the panda bear or the owl?
  • What do you think of a panda bear, typically?
  • What do you think of an owl, typically?
  • If you were going to make a spiritual description of both animals, what would you say?

Bring the Word (40 min)

Did you think of the panda bear and owl in terms of human characteristics or from stereotypes?

Ephesians 5: 15 So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. 16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. (NLT)

This continues the lesson of how important it is that we consider all areas of our life, not just wafting along like a balloon in the windy sky.

Prayer for the conversation to come. (Leader)


Part 2 Topic: The Father’s desire for the unity of His new people. Ephesians 4 through 6:20

Read Eph. 5:15-6:9

How to accomplish and maintain unity, Eph. 5:15-6:9

  1. Always be filled by the Spirit
  2. The Spirit-filled life described
    1. Five attributes
    2. Three examples
      1. Husbands – Wives
      2. Parents – Children
      3. Masters – Slaves

Eph. 5:18, “ever be filled with the Spirit,” This is the definitive passage on the filling of the Spirit in the NT.

Vs. 15-21

5:15 “be careful how you walk” It is a statement of fact, not a command. “Walk” is a biblical metaphor for lifestyle (Eph. 4:1, 17; 5:2).

“not as unwise men, but as wise” Wisdom is revealed in godly living (Col. 4:5), not in the false teachers’ knowledge or godless freedom.

5:16 “making the most of your time” It is a marketing term which meant “to buy out something completely” at a good time or price. Believers are to take advantage of every spiritual opportunity (Col. 4:2-6; 1 Pet. 3:15) because we know that the time is coming when no one can work. There is an open window in time for the gospel. We must seize the moment.

5:17 “do not be foolish” This usually means to stop an act in process. They were being foolish.

“the will of the Lord” This is a will of God. The will of God is that we trust in Christ (John 6:29, 40), then there are several “wills” for believers.

5:18 “do not get drunk” (Prov. 23:30-31). Alcohol and drugs are often used to promote religious experiences. They are also an example of something that controls and characterizes one’s life but must be intentionally repeated for effect (addiction). Just as alcohol must be repeated for effect, so too, “the filling” of the Spirit is repeated for effect. As believers choose to receive Christ for salvation, they must choose and repeatedly open themselves to the Spirit’s ongoing (daily) guidance and control.

“but be filled with the Spirit” This is a meaning “you must continue to be filled with the Spirit” or “ever be filled with the Spirit.” This is a command, not an option. It is the normal state for all believers, not the exception. This phrase implies that believers are to be available, sensitive, and obedient to the Spirit’s forming of Christ in their daily lives (Rom. 8:28-29; Gal. 4:19; Eph. 1:4; 2:10; 4:13; Col. 1:28). Believers cannot fill themselves, but must allow the Spirit to have freedom and influence. Human performance is not the key to effective living but the Spirit (Gal. 3:1-3). However, believers must choose to open themselves to the Spirit’s leadership and control on a recurrent basis.

The term “filled” is used often in the NT for that which motivates and characterizes one’s life. Believers have a choice in what fills their lives. In Acts being “filled” with the Spirit is associated with evangelism. Peter was “filled” several times in Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31. Filling was an ongoing need and experience.

The structural parallel (Colossians & Ephesians are based on almost the same outline) in Col. 3:16 changed the “ever be filled with the Spirit” to “let the word of Christ richly dwell within you.” They both refer to daily intentional submission to the Spirit’s producing Christlikeness, particularly as it relates to dealing with people. Jesus died for people. People are priority; people are eternal.

5:19 “speaking. . .singing. . .making melody” These are the first three of four which describe the Spirit-filled life. The first three have to do with singing or quoting Psalms. The Spirit has put a song in the hearts of believers for God (Col. 3:16). Praises to God should just break out.

This verse is helpful in dealing with the different musical preferences in the church. Notice the variety of musical categories named. Music in worship is a matter of personal taste, not one correct form versus an improper form. It is the attitude of the heart, not the ear. The theology expressed is a concern, but the form of the music is always secondary. Should we disrupt the church of God over personal preferences. Worship is a matter of the heart, not the beat. Please read Rom. 14:1-15:13 again and again.

5:20 “always giving thanks” Thanksgiving is another evidence of the Spirit-filled life (Eph. 5:4; Phil. 4:6; 1 Thess. 5:18). It is the biblical worldview by which believers can give thanks in “all things” (Rom. 8:29-30). The Spirit-filled believers know that God is for them and that circumstances are not the source of joy and peace.

NASB, NRSV “be subject”
NKJV “submitting”
NJB “give way”

It forms a transition from Eph. 5:1-20 to 22-31 and the context continues through 6:9. This defines what it means to be Spirit-filled. The parallel passage in Col. 3:16 shows that it refers to daily Christlikeness.

In our day “submission” is a negative, sexist term. Originally it was a military term which related to obedience based on the chain of command. But in the NT, it is often used of Jesus’ attitude toward His earthly parents (Luke 2:51) and His Heavenly Father (1 Cor. 15:28). Paul was fond of this term and used it 23 times. Verse 21 is a universal spiritual principle of mutual submission between believers connected to the Spirit-filled life. Submission goes against our cultural, western, individual focused mind-set. Selfishness and dominance are so culturally ingrained, but biblically inappropriate (Rom. 12:10; Gal. 5:13; Phil. 2:3; 1 John 4:11).

This verse emphasizes reciprocal submission on the part of all believers. This was not directed toward one group. It needs to be reaffirmed that this context (Eph. 5:22-31) deals with the domestic relationship between Christian husbands and Christian wives, not men and women in general. Women are not spiritually inferior in any sense (Acts 2:16-21; Gal. 3:28).

5:21 “to one another “ Mutual submission is a universal principle which relates to all believers, but which can only be accomplished through yieldedness to the Spirit (i.e., death to the self-life). It is an evidence of the reversal of the Fall.

NASB, NKJV “in the fear of Christ”
NRSV “out of reverence for Christ”
NJB” in obedience to Christ”

“Fear” is an OT concept of reverential awe. The holiness and uniqueness of YHWH, or even the presence of the spiritual realm (angels), causes a strong reaction in fallen humanity.

Believers’ interpersonal relationships are affected by their faith commitment to Christ. Respect for Him gives respect to all humans for whom He gave His life (Rom. 14:1; 15:13). Believers show their love for Christ by how they love others (1 John 4:20).

Vs. 22-24

5:22 “wives, be subject There is no verb in the Greek text of Eph. 5:22. It is supplied from Eph. 5:21 (which describes the spirit-filled life). In this context it is not a command. The only command was directed toward husbands in Eph. 5:25. Husbands are to act in sacrificial, self-giving love toward their wives, who then voluntarily submit.

However; there are several parallel passages which urge the submission of wives to husbands:

1. Col. 3:18

2. Titus 2:5

3. 1 Pet. 3:5

These parallel passages force interpreters to take Eph. 5:21 as imperative (1 Pet. 3:1). It is still significant that the voice is passive. Wives must allow the Spirit to perform this task in their lives.

Paul illustrates the Spirit-filled life by using the three members of the Greco-Roman domestic scene who had no rights-wives, children, and slaves. He showed how the Spirit changes cultural relationships into spiritual relationships, rights into responsibilities.

If it emphasizes the wife’s voluntary participation in marital submission for the benefit which comes from a peaceful, loving marriage with a believing spouse. If it denotes the wife’s need to allow the Spirit to do His work in her heart (Eph. 5:18) which affects both the husband and the children, as well as the domestic slaves.

“as to the Lord” One should compare Col. 3:18, “in the Lord.” It is not that the husband is the ultimate authority, but that wives are to respect their husbands because of their own relationship to Christ. Jesus sets the pattern for both submission to authority (i.e., always the Father’s will) and the exercise of authority (i.e., over the church, Eph. 5:25).

5:23 “the husband is the head. . .as Christ is the Head” Christ is depicted as the husband and the church as the bride (Rev. 19:7; 21:2,9). Husbands need to act in their God-given leadership position just as Christ did. He gave Himself for the church. It is not a control issue, but a giving-of-self issue.

Male headship is a very controversial issue in our society. This is for several reasons:

1. we do not understand servant leadership

2. we do not like patriarchal societies because of our emphasis on the worth of the individual

3. we are confused by the Bible’s paradoxical way of asserting male headship in some passages and equality in others

The answer lies in the example set by Jesus of true headship in relationship to the church and true servanthood (submission) to God the Father. This submission in no way expresses inequality, but administrative functional design. Male headship addresses a kind of leadership which serves the needs of others in a self-giving way. Our society rejects authority, yet seeks power.

I can personally accept male headship because of the fall (Gen. 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:12-14). I can also affirm it as a biblical concept considering Jesus’ leadership of the church (Eph. 5:22-33). But what I find difficult to accept is a patriarchal mandate (i.e., male dominated societies) as God’s revealed plan for every age and society (Rom. 3:27; 1 Cor. 12:7, 13; Gal. 3:28-29; Col. 3:11). Does the mutuality so obvious in Gen. 1:27; 2:18 which was lost in Adam and Eve’s rebellion (Gen. 3:16), return in salvation? Is the curse of sin and subservience both dealt within Jesus’ redemption? As the new age breaks into the lives of believers now, does also the restoration of complete fellowship with God as in Eden also begin now?

As an interpreter of what I believe to be the self-revelation of the one true God and His Christ, I am surprised by the cultural aspect of Scripture. We see it obviously in the OT (circumcision, food laws, leprosy laws, etc.) But it is much more difficult for us as Christians to see it in the NT. I am sure this is (1) because of our love and respect for the Bible and (2) our tendency toward literalism.

The two issues which stand out to me to have obvious cultural aspects (1) male dominated societies (patriarchy) and (2) slavery. The NT never attempts to address the unfairness of these cultural pillars of the ancient world. Possibly because to do so would have meant the destruction of Christianity. Yet the gospel through time is abolishing both. God’s truth never changes but societies do change. It is a grave mistake for us to attempt to turn first century Greco-Roman culture into God’s will for all people in all places and of course the same is true for Israelite culture. Into each of them God revealed Himself in powerful and permanent ways. The real task is how to get the eternal absolutes out of its cultural wrapping.

One way to try to determine what is eternal and, therefore, binding on all believers in all periods and what is cultural or personal preference it is to see if the Bible (OT & NT) gives a uniform message or does it record a variety of opinions.

My fear is that I might let my denominational training, personality, culture and personal preferences silence or diminish a revealed truth. My ultimate authority is God and His revelation (i.e., in His Son and in a written record, the Bible). But I realize He revealed Himself to a specific period of history, to a particular culture and everything in that culture was not His will. Yet, God had to speak to people of that culture in terms and categories they could understand. The Bible then is a historical document. I dare not ignore its supernatural aspect or its cultural aspect.

5:24 “but as the church is subject” As the wife submits to her husband for (1) her own best interest (middle voice) or (2) because she is enabled by God’s Spirit (passive voice), so too, the church must submit to Christ.

“in everything” Christ, not husbands, must be the ultimate authority (Matt. 10:34-39). This verse does not chain a believing wife to an abusive husband nor does it condone evil actions or deeds demanded by an authoritarian husband.

Vs. 25-33

5:25 “Husbands, love your wives” The husband should set the spiritual atmosphere in the home by continuing to love his wife as Christ loved the church. This was a radically positive statement in its day, but in our day the whole passage seems negative because it reflects the theological concept of male headship in the home (Gen. 3:16; 1 Cor. 11:3; 2 Tim. 2:13). However, Christian husbands are servant leaders, not bosses.

 “gave Himself up for her” The Greek huper means ” on behalf of”. This refers to the vicarious, substitutionary atonement of Christ. It is also the kind of self-giving love required of husbands.

5:26 “He might sanctify her” The word sanctify is from the root “holy.” The purpose of justification is sanctification (Eph. 1:4; Rom. 8:29-20). As the church must cooperate, so too, the wife.

NASB “having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.”
NKJV “cleanse it with the washing of water by the word”
TEV “by his word, after making it clean by the washing in water”
NJB “He made her clean by washing her in water with a form of words”

This is possibly an OT metaphor for cleansing (John 15:3; Titus 3:5). It may refer to

1. baptism (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 2:38; Titus 3:5)

2. the public confession of faith at baptism (Acts 22:16; 1 Cor. 6:11)

3. a continuation of the marital imagery, a ritual bath of the bride before the ceremony, as a cultural symbol of purity

“The word” probably does not refer to the Bible, but to the words of the administrator of the baptism or of the profession of faith of the candidate.

5:27 “He might present to Himself the Church” This seems to refer to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-9). Just as Jesus’ love for the church revolutionized the church, so too, a husband’s love for his wife should stabilize and bless the Christian home.

“spot” This is literally “no impurity.”

“wrinkle” Literally this means “no sign of age.”

“holy” This is from the same root as “sanctify” in Eph. 5:26 (Eph. 1:4). 

“blameless” This is an Old Testament sacrificial term (1 Pet. 1:19). This same concept is mentioned as God’s will for the church in Eph. 1:4.

The cumulative weight of these terms is that God desires the complete holiness of His people (Eph. 1:4). The goal of Christianity is Christlikeness (Rom. 8:28-29; Gal. 4:14). The image of God in man will be restored.

5:28 “as their own bodies” When Christian husbands love their Christian wives, they love themselves because in Christ they are “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). As the Church is the extension of Christ, husbands and wives are an extension of each other.

5:29 “nourishes” This is a bird metaphor that means “to feed to maturity.” It is used of the rearing of children in Eph. 6:4.

“cherishes” This is another bird metaphor, “to warm.” These two terms should motivate every mature Christian husband’s actions toward his wife. Husbands are stewards of their wives’ (and children’s) gifts as well as their own. The spiritual leader of the home must seek the maturity of each member of the family in Christ.

5:30 “we are members of His body” The church as a physical body is one of Paul’s corporate metaphors which stresses unity amidst diversity (1 Cor. 12:12-27).

5:31 This is a quote from the Septuagint (LXX) of Genesis 2:24. As the Christian family is an organic unit, so is the church and Christ. The family is to be one inseparable unit, just as the church and her Lord are (John 17:11,21-22) one body (1 Corinthians 12). 

5:32 “mystery” The Latin Vulgate has “sacrament,” but this is a textual insertion following Roman Catholic sacramentalism. Paul uses the term “mystery” several times probably because it was a favorite term of the Gnostic false teachers. Paul uses it in several ways. Here it relates to the metaphorical comparison between husbands and wives/Christ and the church. 

5:33 “love. . .respect” The husband is commanded to continue to love his wife as himself (one flesh, Eph. 5:31) and wives are called on to yield to and respect their husbands, which would enhance and strengthen the bonds of love between them. This is the summary statement of the entire passage (Eph. 5:21-33).

1. What does being “filled with the Spirit” involve?

2. Why was 5:22-6:9 seen as so radically positive in its day but so negative in our day?

3. Does 5:22-33 teach that women are to be subject to men?

4. Why does Paul compare the Christian home to Christ and the church?

This domestic example deals exclusively with a Christian home. The power of mutual respect and love sets the pattern. This context does not address the issue of only one party of the three pairs being Christian. Believers’ actions toward others is determined by their relationship to Christ and not by the worth or performance of the other party.


6:1 “children” It is uncertain what age is referred to here. In Jewish life a boy became a man, responsible to the Law and marriageable, at the age of 13 (i.e., bar mitzvah); a girl became a woman at the age of 12 (i.e., bath mitzvah). In Roman culture a boy became a man at age 14, in Greek culture, at age 18.

“obey” This is a compound Greek term from “to hear” and “under.” The Colossians parallel adds “in all things.” This obedience must be for a set period of time (childhood). Even this command must be balanced with Matt. 10:34-39. Ultimate authority is not parental, but divine.

“in the Lord” Its inclusion makes definite that the context is the Christian home. This context implies both a Christian child and Christian parents.

“for this is right” The Bible clearly expresses the God-given relationship between parents and children (Col. 3:20; Pro. 6:20; 23:27). Strong families make strong societies.

6:2 “honor” It is a quote from the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:12; Deut. 5:16). “Honor” was a commercial term which meant “to give due weight to.” It reflected the OT concept of that which is “heavy” is valuable. Parents are to be respected and valued by Christian children. There are no perfect parents (as there are no perfect children).

“father and mother” This shows that both parents deserve honor and respect.

“(which is the first commandment with a promise)” This quote in Eph. 6:3 is used in Deuteronomy in several different contexts (Eph. 4:40; 5:16,33; 30:17-18). It is not an individual promise of longevity but a cultural promise of societal stability. Notice that Paul, by quoting the Ten Commandments, shows that the Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy) was still in effect as far as revelatory guidance for the Christian (Eph. 4:25,26; Rom. 10:4; 13:9-10; Gal. 2:15-21) but not for salvation (Galatians 3).

6:3 “on earth” Paul adapted the OT quote from “In the land that the Lord your God has given you” (Exod. 20:12; Deut. 5:16) and turned it into a general principle. The NT authors often took OT promises to Israel and adapted them into universal truths.

“do not provoke” Like 5:25, this was the needed balance, in the Greco-Roman world, and ours. Fathers are not ultimate authorities, but Christian stewards of their families.

Christian fathers must understand their stewardship role in the lives of their children. Fathers are not to teach personal preferences, but spiritual truths. The goal is not parental authority, but passing on God’s authority to children. There is always a generation gap, but never a divine authority gap. Children do not have to reflect parental habits, choices, or lifestyle to be pleasing to God. We must be careful of the desire to mold our children into our current cultural understanding or to reflect our personal preferences.

“bring them up” This comes from the same word root, “to feed to maturity,” as in Eph. 5:29. As it is the husband’s responsibility to continue to help his wife grow to spiritual maturity and giftedness, he is also to help his children reach their full spiritual maturity and giftedness (Eph. 4:7).

NASB, NRSV “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”
NKJV “in the training and admonition of the Lord”
TEV” Christian discipline and instruction”
NJB” correct them and guide them as the Lord does”

The first term is from the Greek root for “child” and refers to the parental training of children (Heb. 12:5,7,8,11) and for the Lord’s training of believers (2 Tim. 3:16).

The second term is the general term for warning, correction, or admonition (1 Cor. 10:11; Titus 3:10). The training of children in the faith was a major emphasis of Judaism (Deut. 4:9; 6:7-9, 20-25; 11:18-21; 32:46). Parental training recognizes the necessity of passing on the personal faith and the Scriptural truths of God, not the personal preferences, or cultural opinions of parents, to the next generation.


6:5 “slaves” This is Paul’s third domestic example to show how being filled with the Spirit makes a difference in daily life (Col. 3:22). “Slaves” (douloi) refers to household servants.

“be obedient” There is a great parallel passage in 1 Pet. 2:18-21. There is an obvious parallel between wives, children and servants, except that wives were not commanded to obey as children (for a period) and slaves are.

“who are your masters according to the flesh” Here the Greek term flesh (sarx) is used in the sense of the physical, not of evil. This general truth relates to both the Christian masters and pagan masters (i.e., to both kind and unkind bosses). Notice the phrase “in the Lord” is not found here as in the two previous domestic examples (Eph. 5:21 and 6:1).

“with fear and trembling” This is a metaphor of respect (1 Cor. 2:3; 2 Cor. 7:15; Phil. 2:12).

“in sincerity of heart” This is a metaphor from the term “singleness.” It is used in two ways in the NT (1) sincerity (Col. 1:12; 11:3; Col. 3:22) or (2) liberality (Rom. 12:8; 2 Cor. 8:2; 9:11, 13). In this context it is obviously #1. A believer’s motivation is always the key to proper action, not observation (Eph. 6:6-7). Believers live out their lives in every area as unto the Lord (Col. 3:22-25 and Rom. 14:7-9). They are motivated not by the worth or merit of another, but by who they are in Christ.

Christian husbands love their wives not because the wives are perfect or deserve it but because they are Christians. This is true of all human interpersonal relationships. Believers love God by loving others made in His image, for whom He died (1 John 2:9,11; 4:20).

“as to Christ” Believers act toward others because of their relationship to Christ, not because of what the others deserve (Eph. 5:22; Rom. 14:7-9). This is true of husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves. Believers make people priority because of God’s image and love for them, not because of their personal merit.

6:8 “knowing that whatever good thing” This context is not a worship setting but believers’ daily relationships with others, fellow Christians and nonbelievers. God is concerned with all our actions. There is no secular; all is sacred.

Believers are expected to do good works (Eph. 1:4; 2:10; 4:17-5:14). Believers are not right with God by good works but they are saved unto good works.

“will receive back from the Lord” God is watching believers’ lives and they will give an account (2 Cor. 5:10). The Bible does speak of rewards (Matt. 5:12,46; 6:1-2; 10:41-42; Luke 6:23, 35; 1 Cor. 3:8, 14; 9:17-18; 2 John 8; Rev. 11:18; 14:13; 22:12) and crowns (1 Cor. 9:25; 2 Tim. 4:8; James 1:23; 1 Pet. 5:4; Rev. 2:10). Paul was stating a general principle like Gal. 6:7-9.

6:9 “masters” This is still the same literary context as 5:22-6:9, which is Paul’s domestic example of the “Spirit-filled” life in action. In this verse the masters referred to are obviously believers, while in Eph. 6:5 they might be either believers or nonbelievers.

“do the same things to them” Here again is the needed balance to slave owners, as 5:29 is to husbands and 6:4 is to parents. Each must act out of godly (Spirit-filled) principles, not social privilege. Jesus’ golden rule (Matt. 7:12) applies here.

“give up threatening” The word literally means “to loosen up.”

“there is no partiality with Him” The term “partiality” is a compound from “face” and “to lift.” It denotes an OT judge acting fairly without lifting the face of the accused to see if he recognized him/her. God is no respecter of persons (Deut. 10:17; Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11; Gal. 2:6; Col. 3:25; 1 Pet. 1:17). All earthly distinctions fade away in Christ (Rom. 3:22; Gal. 3:26, 28; Col. 3:11). 

1. Why was this passage so startling for Paul’s day?

2. Does it stress rights or duties?

3. What is this passage saying about women? Should this passage be used as a guideline for our day?

4. How is Eph. 6:21 related to 5:22-6:9?

5. Should children always obey parents? Define “children.”

6. Can the slave/master relationship be analogous to employee/employer?

7. How are wives and children related to slaves?

Bring it Home (5 min)

Preparation for next week: Read chapter 6. Bring any insights or questions from this week’s lesson.

Have someone close in prayer.

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