The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Commentary on Ephesians 5:1-21

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 22, 2018

Text in red are my additions. 

A Summary of Ephesians 5:1-21

This Chapter continues the thought of the preceding Chapter, and Eph 5:1-21-2 here really belong at the end of Chapter 4, with which they are so intimately connected (specifically with Eph 4:17-32). The Apostle has just been saying that his readers, in forgiving one another, should imitate God who has pardoned them for the sake of Christ; and now he continues that thought, and makes the further plea that in their relations with one another they should imitate the charity of Christ who gave Himself as a sacrifice to God for us all.

Eph 5:1-21 here, apparently having in view pagan pleasures and festivities, contain five commands mainly for self-guidance regarding Christian love, light, wisdom, gladness and submission, as Eph 4:25-32, contained five prohibitions regarding others.

Eph 5:1. Be ye therefore followers of God, as most dear children;

God is our Father and we are His adopted children, and so we ought to imitate Him in forgiving others as He has forgiven us; the more we imitate our Father, the more we become like Him, and consequently the more we are loved by Him.

Therefore connects this verse with the preceding Chapter.

Eph 5:2. And walk in love, as Christ also loved us, and delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odor of sweetness.

The example of our Lord is now given as a motive for the exercise of fraternal charity.

Walk in love, i.e., let charity be the animating and governing principle of your lives, after the example of Christ who out of love for us delivered Himself up to the death of the cross for our salvation.

Loved us. The versions read thus, but a number of Greek MSS. have: “Loved you.”

An oblation and a sacrifice. The first word is more general, the second more particular in meaning. The term “sacrifice” can also stand for a bloody or an unbloody offering, and certainly the former is not to be excluded here where the sacrifice of our Lord is in question. The purpose of St. Paul here is to show the completeness of our Lord’s sacrifice, as being the antitype of both the bloody and the unbloody sacrifice. Very probably the Apostle is alluding in this passage to Ps.40:7, which is Messianic, and which is explicitly cited in Heb. 10:5.

An odor of sweetness is a sacrificial phrase taken from the Old Testament (Gen. 8:21 ; Lev. 1:9, 13, 17, etc.), and it simply means that the sacrifice was pleasing and acceptable to God.

Eph 5:3. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not so much as be named among you, as becometh saints:

From the sublime thoughts just enunciated the Apostle now descends to practical matters, and in verses 3-14 warns his readers against sins of the flesh and works of darkness, so characteristic of the pagan world. He has just been speaking of Christian love in a positive way, and now he will speak of it negatively, by forbidding sinful love, whether sensual or avaricious. Impurity and grasping self-assertion were central sins of paganism, and they are condemned by the Apostle in all their forms; not only are they not to be practised, they are not even to be named among Christians, who by their profession are consecrated to the God of holiness, purity, and justice.

Eph 5:4. Or obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility, which is to no purpose; but rather giving of thanks.

Likewise the “saints” are to avoid all obscene and filthy language, all foolish talk about immoral things, all jesting in the sense of depraved pleasantry, which serves no good purpose and is unbecoming; on the contrary, the mouths and tongues of Christians should be filled with the praises of their Creator and Redeemer, in thanksgiving for all His benefits.

Eph 5:5. For know you this and understand, that no fornicator, or unclean, or covetous person (which is a serving of idols), hath inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

For know you this, etc., is according to the best Greek reading here, which may be translated as imperative or indicative. The Apostle is going to speak of something his readers know very well.

Fornicator, as here used, means also adultery and every illicit sexual union.

Unclean refers to private impurity.

Covetous person, i.e., inordinate lover of material wealth, a person who makes a god of his money.

Which is a serving of idols. There are other Greek readings of this clause, but that followed by the Vulgate is the most probable. Covetousness is a kind of real idolatry.

Hath inheritance, etc. Since the foregoing sinners serve illicit and perishable things in preference to the true God, they must perish with them, instead of sharing in the rewards of the elect of heaven.

Eph 5:6. Let no man deceive you with vain words. For because of these things cometh the anger of God upon the children of unbelief.

The Apostle warns his readers not to be deceived and led into error by any “vain” (i.e., empty and false) words or talk, regarding the sins he has just condemned; for because of those very sins the punishment of God “cometh,” i.e., visits now and will continue to visit in the future those rebellious ones who disobey and disregard His teachings as contained in the Gospel. Cf, Col. 3:6.

Eph 5:7. Be ye not therefore partakers with them.

Be not. Literally, “Become not,” sharers in their sins, else you will be sharers in their punishment

Eph 5: 8. For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord. Walk then as children of the light.

The Apostle now gives other reasons to show why the faithful ought to avoid the sins mentioned above (in verses 3-5). Before their conversion they were “darkness,” i.e., the very embodiment of moral ignorance and corruption; but now as Christians they embody “light,” possessing the truth of Him and living in union with Him who said: “I am the light of the world, etc.” (John 8:12 ff.). Their lives, therefore, ought to be in conformity with the knowledge and grace they have received. This and the two following verses constitute a parenthesis in which the Apostle is again contrasting (as in Eph 2:11-22 and Eph 4:17-24) the new condition of his readers with their old condition.

Eph 5:9. For the fruit of the light is in all goodness, and justice, and truth;

Fruit of the light. The Textus Receptus and some other lesser MSS. have: “fruit of the Spirit,” which is certainly not the best reading, as the context shows. It was doubtless introduced from Gal 5:22.

Is in, etc., i.e., consists in, etc.

Goodness is the quality by which a person Is good in himself and shows himself benevolent to others: it is opposed to anger (Eph 4:31).

Justice, as here used and in general, is the rectitude of moral acts, and in particular it is understood as the virtue which regulates our dealings with our neighbor; it is opposed to avarice (verse3).

Truth is the supreme rule of life, governing our obligations to ourselves, our neighbor, and God; it is opposed to lying (Eph 4:25). This verse is a parenthesis within the parenthesis of ver. 8-10. Cf. Voste, hoc loco.

Eph 5:10. Proving what is well pleasing to God:

Proving, etc., i.e., testing all things by the touchstone of God’s will and good pleasure, and conforming in our actions to the results thus ascertained.

To God should be “to the Lord,” according to the Greek, Thus, our Lord is here supposed to be God, because He is made the judge and norm of our actions: the judgment of the Lord is the judgment of God. The parenthesis closes with this verse, and the thought goes back to that of verse 7.

Eph 5:11. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.

Here the Christians are warned not only to have no part in the sinful works of the pagans, but by their own good lives and example they are to register their disapproval of them. Perhaps their disapproval is to be expressed also in words, if necessary; but from the following verse it seems they are not even to speak of those works, if this can be avoided. The sinful practices of the pagans are said to be “unfruitful,” as being devoid of all merit for eternal life and deserving of eternal damnation; they are the opposite of the fruits of the light (ver. 9).

Eph 5:12. For the things that are done by them in secret, it is a shame even to speak of.

The dark deeds here referred to are mentioned in Rom 8:13, St. Paul is alluding to certain nocturnal feasts and mysteries which the pagans celebrated with an idolatry and an immorality that were unspeakable,

Eph 5:13. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light; for all that is made manifest is light.

The Apostle is telling his readers that, whereas they were formerly moral darkness because of their sins, they are now moral light in the Lord (ver. 8), and that the spiritual radiance now emanating from their good lives and example is able to convert the moral darkness of the gross paganism around them into moral light like themselves. Nothing can resist the influence and light of a truly holy life; spiritual light makes manifest sin and works of darkness, and turns them from darkness to light ; everything that is thus made manifest becomes light in its turn.

Eph 5:14. Wherefore he saith: Rise thou that steepest, and arise from the dead; and Christ shall enlighten thee.

Wherefore he saith. Who saith? It is difficult to determine. Many moderns think the Apostle is here referring to some ancient hymn or baptismal formula of the early Church, which was well known to the faithful. Others think he is citing some apocryphal work. With greater probability still others hold that we have here a free citation of Isa 60:: “Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for thy light is come, etc.” The application is clear: Let those who are asleep and dead in sin, arise, and they shall be enlightened by Christ, and thus enabled in their turn to shed their light on the pagan darkness around them.

Eph 5:15. See therefore how you walk circumspectly, not as unwise,
Eph 5:16. But as wise : redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
Eph 5:17. Wherefore become not unwise, but understanding what is the will of the Lord.

15-17. The Apostle here tells his readers seriously to consider and watch what kind of life they lead in the midst of the pagans around them, that it may be, not the life of the unwise, but of the wise, as becomes those who are enlightened and instructed by divine grace and the light of the Gospel.

15. The fratres of the Vulgate is not represented in the Greek. Note: the Vulgate reads: See therefore, brethren (fratres).

Circumspectly. Better, “accurately” or “carefully.” Whether we connect this adverb with “see” or with “walk” makes little if any difference as to the meaning of the verse, which is clear.

16. Redeeming the time, i.e., letting no opportunity slip by them of doing and saying what they could to further the cause of God (Lightfoot), This they were to do because of the evils and temptations and of the evil days in which they lived. They should make “the will of the Lord” their standard and their guide in all things.

17. The voluntas Dei (will of God) of the Vulgate should be voluntas Domini (will of the Lord) to agree with the Greek. Thus, the will of Christ is here made the supreme rule and norm of our actions, and consequently our Lord’s divinity is presupposed.

Eph 5:18. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is luxury; but be ye filled with the Spirit,

Another great sin of paganism was drunkenness, and St. Paul often speaks of it in his letters (see Gal 5:21; 1 Cor 5:11, 6:10; Rom 13:13; 1 Tim 3:3). An admonition against this sin was opportune after the warning against impurity in the first part of the Chapter; for drunkenness is a fruitful source of immorality of all kinds. St. Jerome says: “In vino luxuria, in luxuria voluptas, in voluptate immunditia est.”  I’m not certain but I think the basic sense of this is: wine leads to excess in sexual misconduct ant all uncleanness. Of course, per se, it is the excess in the use of wine that is sin and that causes sin, but from use to abuse in such matters the way is broad and easy, and many enter thereat, Instead of being filled with wine, the Apostle counsels his readers to be filled with the Holy Ghost and His graces, from which there will result a pure delight that leads, not to grief and sorrow, but to enduring joy and happiness.

The sancto (Holy) of the Vulgate, though supposed by the context, is not in the Greek. That the Holy Ghost is here meant, and not merely man’s spiritual nature, is further made plain by referring to the other passages in this Epistle where this same phrase occurs (1:22, 3:5, 6:18), and to the still more certain passages in other Epistles (1 Cor 12:3, 13; Rom 15:16). See also the parallel passage in Col 3:15-17. The Vulgate reads: “but be ye filled with the Holy (Sancto) Spirit.”

Eph 5:19. Speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual canticles, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord;

If the Holy Spirit fills the souls of the faithful, it will be natural that the sacred exhilaration within them should burst forth “in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual canticles,” i.e., in instrumental and vocal music, arising not only from their lips, but also from their “hearts to the Lord.” This musical expression of fervor among the assembled early Christians is spoken of in Acts 4:24, 31, 16:25, and was referred to by Pliny in his letter to the Emperor Trajan, written between 108 and 114 a.d., when he said: “They [the Christians] are accustomed to meet before dawn on a stated day, and to chant to Christ, as to a God, alternately together” (Epist. x. 97). Of course, St. Paul here seems to be speaking of social gatherings rather than of liturgical services.

Eph 5:20. Giving thanks always for all things, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God and the Father,

According to his own custom, the Apostle now exhorts his readers ever to thank God “for all things,” both good and bad, because all have been ordained or permitted for the eternal good of the elect by the God who created us and the Father who sent Christ to redeem us; and this they were to do “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” our Mediator, through whom all our blessings come.

Eph 5:21. Being subject one to another, in the fear of Christ.

In this verse the Apostle inculcates Christian submission. In grammatical form the verse goes with the preceding, but in substance it belongs to what follows, because with these words the Apostle turns to the discipline of the home, assigning as the motive of our submission, one to another, “the fear of Christ” (i.e., reverence for Christ), who is to be our future judge. At the end of
verse 20 there should be only a comma in the Vulgate.

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