Ephesians 5:21-6:9 | Christ Shaped Relationships

Ephesians 5:21-6:9 | Christ Shaped Relationships

21Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

  • Continuing Paul’s subject of living as children of light, another aspect of this submissive Christ-like relationships between spouses, between parents and children, and between servants and masters.
  • At the start of this section, Paul makes clear that we are to have mutual submission to each other out of our reverence for Christ, no matter what role or position we fulfill in life. This is important to hold onto as we consider the need for wives to submit to their husbands, children to their parents and servants to their masters.

Wives & Husbands

22Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.

  • This is not to say that all women should submit to all men, but that wives should submit to their husbands, as their husbands take up the headship role within the marriage and family.
  • as you do to the Lord – just as we recognise the spiritual headship of Christ over our lives, we also recognise that some of that headship is is revealed and expressed through the husband for the marriage and family

23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

  • head – literally meaning a physical head, in that the head is one with the body but is responsible for controlling and leading the actions of the body. A body cannot exist without a head, and a head cannot exist without a body so this is therefore not an issue of worth or value. As we see in physical disabilities, it is a great sadness when the physical body no longer responds or submits to the instructions of the mind/head, such as with parallelism. A body not in submission to the head is chaotic and disorderly. This then is the picture that Paul is using to describe Christ and his church, and the marriage between husband and wife too.
  • Paul makes clear that our marriages are living symbols of Christ and his church, and therefore we should hold our marriages in the light of this. To deny the headship of husbands is to deny the headship of Christ over his church. Where wives do not submit to their husbands, they do not submit to Christ either.

25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

  • The command to husbands is to love their wives and humbly give themselves up through loving service and self-sacrifice, as Christ did for the church.
  • The role for husbands therefore involves loving servant leadership. They lead with love.

26to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

  • Christ gave himself up for the church so that he could make her holy and present her cleansed, radiant and blameless, because he loved her.
  • In reflecting the same love of Christ towards their wives, husbands should also desire and work to see their wives grow in holiness before God
  • Cleansed by the washing with water through the word – a picture of the Old Testament symbolism and act of washing things to purify them. The cleansing and washing of the church is done through the word though, as the church believes the message/word of the gospel and what God has spoken.
  • So as Christ loved the church and cleansed her through the word of God, so husbands, out of their love for their wives should seek to see their wives grow in holiness through the word of God. A simple and effective way of doing this is reading the Bible and praying together, allowing the word and Spirit of God to wash over both.

28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

  • Paul has expressed two ideas above: that husbands and wives are one body and that husbands need to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Joining these two ideas together here then, the summary is for husbands to love wives as their own body, since they are one flesh.
  • This is a profound thought, that when a husband thinks of ‘himself’ he really thinks of not just himself but also his wife, for they are one.

29After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30for we are members of his body.

  • Just as Christ feeds and cares for his body, the church, so husbands need to feed and care for their wives. This is primarily of spiritual sustenance in feeding and caring for their faith, by exalting the word and spirit of God over the marriage.
  • The primary role of the husband then is to ensure that both he, his wife and family are being spiritually nourished so that the whole body is being fed and cared for.

31“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

  • Paul is quoting from Genesis 2:24 here, and the implication is not that a man would leave his parents house and live with his wife and her parents, but that in leaving his parents and joining with his wife he is establishing a new family and a new body.
  • It is important that the man ‘leaves’ his father and mother so that he can establish a headship over this new family body. He leaves one circle and creates another.

32This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

  • Every time this happens (a couple getting married and creating a new family), it is a living symbol of the awesome union between Christ and his church. We live this mystery out in the world stage of our lives, not realizing that we are acting out a greater reality existing in the heavenly realms and will one day experience in full.

33However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

  • Even though our marriages have a greater meaning and symbol of Christ and his church, it is not an excuse to theorise it and not live up to the practical implications.
  • Paul affirms again that husbands must love their wives as they love themself, that the marriage needs to be soaked in self-giving sacrificial love.
  • Not only so, but wives need to respect (revere, honour, submit to) their husbands as the head of the marriage body.
  • Marriages break down when either or both of these are broken, when men fail to love their wives, or wives fail to respect/honour their husbands. Likewise, they are strengthened when these actions are reciprocated. Wives are more willing to show respect/honour when their husbands are truly loving, and visa versa.

Children & Parents

6:1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.

  • Not only our marriages, but our parental relationships are to be branded with Christ too and be a reflection of his glory
  • In the Lord – in that obeying their parents, children know that they are also obeying God
  • This also speaks of the attitude in which children are brought up, in that they think and reason ‘in the Lord’, possessing a Christ-centered worldview crafted by their parents.
  • For this is right – just as the church, the children of God, submit to and obey their heavenly father, it is fitting and right that children submit to and obey their earthly parents. Again, this is a living symbol of Christ and his church.

2“Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3“so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

  • This was one of the ten commandments and one so crucial that it guaranteed the transfer of faith and obedience from one generation to the next.
  • The promise being that as each generation honoured and followed after their parents by expressing faith and obedience in God, they would experience God’s blessing.
  • Likewise, children growing up under Christian parents are blessed with knowing the truths of the gospel and will experience God’s richest blessing (Eph 1:3) if they place their faith in Christ

4Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

  • The instruction here is not to exasperate or provoke our children (to anger and sin) but to steer them towards God through training (discipline) and instruction (teaching, counsel)
  • Parents, and fathers especially, have a vital role in the steering and molding of our children. Our actions and words can steer them towards anger and sin or towards God

Servants & Masters

5Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.

  • Finally, our working relationships also need to be branded with Christ and be a living symbol of our relationship with him as our master, whom we respect and fear
  • Sincerity of heart – not with a duplicitous spirit that seeks to hide anything or present a false impression

6Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.

  • We obey and serve our employers knowing that God sees all that we do, and so we live to honour God as we work in our jobs
  • We live and work with integrity and sincerity, striving to do what is right and fair in all circumstances

7Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.

  • Even if a servant/employee works under a harsh master/employer who fails to recognise and reward faithful service, they can be comforted in knowing that their reward is in and from God.
  • A better translation for verse 8 is “knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord” – there is a sense of fairness and justice here, in that God will repay and reward that which has been given with no consideration for position or priviledge.

9And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

  • Masters/employers are to treat their servants/employees in the same way, with respect and sincerity of heart, showing no favouritism but equality instead.
  • Ultimately we all serve and submit to the same master, God, therefore our working relationships should be a living symbol of the God we serve, honour and submit to.


The church is to have Christ shaped relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees whereby there is sacrificial love, servant-hearted humility, and reverent submission to act as a living symbol of Christ and his church.

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