Prayer and fasting 21 days – Ephesians 5
Paul continues his theme from the previous chapter of living as God’s people in practice. The examples would be familiar to Jews but the reason for them, the motivation is different from following a law. We live (‘walk’) in love because Christ loved us first (verse 2). We were living in the dark but now we live in the light. And it is not just the motivation that is different from following a law, but the ability to live this way comes from God as well. “Be filled with the Holy Spirit,” Paul says, and this will be the result. In particular: we will encourage one another and worship God in song and thanksgiving, and submit to one another because of fear of the Lord.
Lord, please fill us with Your Spirit so we might become more like Jesus, with our feet on the ground walking the right way as we keep our spiritual eyes looking into heaven!
Paul continues his theme from the previous chapter of living subversively in the culture around us, with more examples of practical conduct that shows we are imitating God. Of course, he did not break his letter up into chapters – the verses and chapters were added to the Bible in the Middle Ages as a helpful way of all knowing where someone is reading or what is being referred to!
The risk is that we take these words as instructions without the life of God to guide us and motivate us and enable us. God never wanted people just slavishly to follow rules but to live as His friends and to know Him (e.g. John 17:3 “This is eternal life, that they might know You the only true God…”)
So it is not another instruction to be filled with the Holy Spirit – rather it is the essence of how we can live in practice, on the basis of who we are called to be. The Greek words in verse 18 imply being filled with the Spirit not just on odd occasions but continually.
Many Bibles make an unhelpful break between verse 21 and verse 22. In fact Paul did not really mark sentences let alone section breaks (punctuation was not needed in Hebrew or Greek and was not used till a little later). The interpretation of the grammar is difficult and verse 22 has often been taken as reinforcing a patriarchal view of marriage with an emphasis on wives submitting to and obeying husbands. But the better way of understanding it is linked to verse 21. We all show we are filled with the Spirit by submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (fear of God) and the next example of this is wives submitting to husbands and husbands loving wives, as Christ loves the church.
This leads Paul back to the Big Picture. He cannot help but be excited by the vision for the people of God being mature (without a spot of immaturity or wrinkle of old age!) and holy, a suitable Bride for Jesus at last! This is foundational teaching on marriage, as well as being a picture of the amazing vision for unity between Christ and church as well as a practical pointer to how to live well when married. Marriage partners need to leave their parents psychologically as well as leaving the home and be joined spiritually and physically, dependent on each other and dependent on God together as a new couple or family.
Wives need to respect and husbands to love as Jesus does. The best way of understanding this is not as two very separate and different responsibilities because all believers (male, female, married, single, Jew, Gentile) need to submit to one another and to love one another. If we do not submit we are not loving. If we do not love we are not able to submit to one another. And we do it all because of the way Jesus has loved us and humbled Himself – He submitted himself to mankind and to death on the Cross (Phil 2:8).