Ephesians 4:1-6

Text

Παρακαλῶ οὖν ὑμᾶς ἐγὼ ὁ δέσμιος ἐν κυρίῳ ἀξίως περιπατῆσαι τῆς κλήσεως ἧς ἐκλήθητε, μετὰ πάσης ταπεινοφροσύνης καὶ πραΰτητος, μετὰ μακροθυμίας, ἀνεχόμενοι ἀλλήλων ἐν ἀγάπῃ, σπουδάζοντες τηρεῖν τὴν ἑνότητα τοῦ πνεύματος ἐν τῷ συνδέσμῳ τῆς εἰρήνης· Ἓν σῶμα καὶ ἓν πνεῦμα, καθὼς καὶ ἐκλήθητε ἐν μιᾷ ἐλπίδι τῆς κλήσεως ὑμῶν· εἷς κύριος, μία πίστις, ἓν βάπτισμα, εἷς θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ πάντων, ὁ ἐπὶ πάντων καὶ διὰ πάντων καὶ ἐν πᾶσιν.
(Eph 4:1-6)

Translation

Therefore, I (the prisoner in the Lord) urge you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called; in all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, working hard to keep/obey the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all, through all, and in all. Eph (4:1-6)

Interpretation

“calling” in Paul’s letters is a synecdoche for the personal event of hearing and believing the gospel message. It carries the same connotation as conversion does for us today. To walk worthy of the calling is to live in a way that reflects the dignity of the one who has called you. It is important to note that for Paul and Jesus in the gospels, the calling is to a particular form of community life. Jesus used the phrase “kingdom of God.” Paul said “church.” The idea is still important. Our conversion is personal and individual. Yet, it is not alone because it is a whole person conversion, and our social self is part of who we are. To be called as a Christian is to be identified with God’s elect people. But this calling is more than individual or social. Paul does speak of the evangelist calling people in his letters and of the individual’s responsibility to respond to the gospel. But even more, for Paul, the gospel call is a call from Jesus himself. So to walk worthy of the calling is to live in a way that honors Jesus with respect to his office and character. He goes on by listing character traits as to how this may be done. 

unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” means divinely inspired unity which comes from the teachings related to the gospel. Paul tells them to be working hard to maintain this. There is a unity in the church which has its origin in God’s Spirit. But, this original unity must be maintained by God’s people in the sphere of “the bond of peace.” The bond of peace refers to the peace which Christ preached to those near and far. What Christ preached is the gospel (Ephesians 2:17). More evidence for this is that Paul uses this summary of the gospel story, “one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all, through all, and in all.”

Application

Christians must break certain habits. Habits of impatience, rudeness, and an inability to forgive all have to go. To do this, I think we must radically transform our approach to time, we spend to much time rushing that we’re short with God’s people. Instead, we need to slow down to learn to be patient with others. I also suspect that learning about our own sinfulness and not resenting it, but knowing it will help us to be compassionate and forbearing to others. 

Also, this passage tells us that Christians need to know the gospel well enough to have unity with other Christians based on our shared faith. To live worthy of the gospel, we must know it. Why? Because it’s principles are principles of peace. Once we know those principles, we must work hard to practice them so that we can have unity.

Finally, it is the calling of every Christian to put on these character traits. 

Recommended Reading:

Barth, Markus. Ephesians. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1974.

Bruce, F. F. The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1984.

Hoehner, Harold W. Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2002.

Headship and Submission in Marriage

The Glass of Wine – Jan Vemeer I have no idea if they’re married or not, but this picture always struck me as a relaxing vision of an evening in the good life.

A friend recently asked about this topic, so I thought I’d give a sketch of my thoughts. I won’t be citing any sources, but hopefully what I cite as evidence is either self-evident or easily obtainable.

The basic question is this:

What does is mean to submit to your husband as the head of the household in the Bible?

Put more theologically:

Does being a Christian mean that a woman loses her autonomy to her husband?

And here is the question with a twist toward defending the faith:

If male/female equality is true and the Bible teaches husband/wife hierarchy, does that mean the Bible is wrong?

So there are three layers of discussion here:

  1. What does the New Testament actually teach about husband/wife relationships?
  2. What does it mean to be a Christian?
  3. Is the biblical picture of a well functioning marriage true/workable today?

Question 1: What does the NT actually teach about husband/wife relationships?

If somebody asked me, “does the Bible say wives should submit to their husbands,” my straight forward answer would be, “Yes.” If they said, “What do you think that means?” I’d say, “She should respect him, in public and private.”

If I were asked to give further explanation, I’d elaborate like this.

For the sake of argument, let us assume we’re talking about married Christians who aren’t having significant problems worthy or counseling or legal intervention (being physically assaulted is a problem for police and the legal system, the church can excommunicate an abusive spouse but can do relatively little to get them out of your life).

First, the Bible is clear about the core behavioral principle of Christians toward each other:

“Love one another even as I [Jesus] have loved you. ” (John 13:34)

“Whatever you wish others would do for you, you do unto them.” (Matthew 7:13)

The first principle of all relationships between Christians is love for one another because the first aim for the Christian is to seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness (Matt 6:33).

The second principle for understanding the Christian instructions regarding husbands and wives is that the household was seen as a microcosm of society in the ancient world, as such a household was in competition with other households for prestige and resources and all human societies had a leader or, as the Bible says, “head.” This is just how things were conceived, or at least how they were written about. For instance, in Ephesians 1:22-23, Jesus is the head of the church and all spiritual reality. And so families/households had a head, the husband.

For the husband to be the head of household usually means four things:

  1. He is the provider for the family.
  2. He is the protector of the family.
  3. He is the representative of the family’s needs in the broader society. (this fits well with the previous two)
  4. He is the de facto leader of the group.

Now, in the case of Jesus Christ and his church, submitting to him as the head of the church means obedience, worship, and persistent deference to his will. In the case of Christian marriage it means what you might see in Proverbs 31. The woman there submits to her husband’s headship by ensuring that the well being his household is achieved:

  1. she cares for his health
  2. she raises their children
  3. she manages the in-house financials
  4. she uses her resources to improve the financial situation of the house in the market
  5. she seeks to maintain the honor of the household among the neighboring families.

In other words, to submit to your husband is to promote his interests and those of the family generally. Paul puts it this way: “…let each wife respect her husband.” In other words, submission isn’t a matter of obedience as it is toward Christ. Instead, submission is meant in the sense of admiration and pursuit of his well-being and honor.

Now, the interesting thing in the New Testament is that no specific rules are set forth for how husband/wife relationships should be pursued, but rather general principles. Husbands are to put extra effort into loving their wives and wives into respecting their husbands. My guess is that the general temptation of a wife is to gossip about or mother her husband and that the general temptation of a husband is to treat his wife harshly (like one of the fellas), neglect her needs, or talk down to her. So Paul give instructions to address each of these in Ephesians 5:33, “Let each husband love his own wife as himself and each wife respect her husband.”

As a tip, I recommend that men go out of their way to be admirable (to make your wife’s job of respect easier), and that women go out of their way to be sweet/lovable (to make your husband’s job easier).

As an aside, there is a sense in which husbands are to respect/honor their wives (Proverbs 31 says that a good husband praises his wife in the gates) and wives are to love their husbands, as the general command to Christians is to respect each other, encourage one another, listen to one another, and love each other.

Briefly, nowhere in Scripture is a husband instructed to boss his wife around, abuse her, or run her down as a function of his headship. That has happened in history and been perpetrated by Christians, but is forbidden in Scripture (1 Peter 3:7).

Question 2: What does it mean to be a Christian?

Some people feel that women might lose their autonomy in a marriage that uses the language of ‘headship’ or ‘submission.’ I want to address a few things here:

  1. People are justified by faith in Christ. So one does not become a Christian by figuring out how to be a spouse. Rather, one learns to be a better spouse by discipleship to Christ. This particular issue, while important, is secondary. Not only is it secondary, it’s disputed. The picture I painted above may not be accurate.
  2. One loses and gains autonomy as a Christian. When you become a Christian, you’re committing to be crucified to the world with Christ. But in doing so, you can find your life and find it to the full.
  3. When you get married, whether you’re a husband or a wife, you’re more specifically defining who you are. To define oneself at all is a simultaneous gain and loss of autonomy. If you become Jackie’s husband or Jerry’s wife, then you’re making a choice to be a specific person bound to another specific person. In that sense, you put on an identity within which to make a wide range of previously unavailable choices (gained autonomy) and you’ve severely limited your choices as well (lost autonomy).

Converting to Christianity or getting married is to lose/gain autonomy, but this is how all choices are. I do fear that certain quarters of the feminist movement want a world in which choices lead only to gained autonomy:

It would appear that while no woman needs a man for companionship, women need men and other women to pay for their birth control.

Thankfully, such a world is impossible.

Question 3: Is the picture of headship prescribed in Scripture good or workable?

I think the answer is yes. Most of what comes next is just a sketch, and maybe even speculative, though the psychological (esp. evo-psych) and anthropological research is there.

The notion that headship means domineering is clearly wrong. The notion that it means to protect, provide, represent, and lead is generally what children want in a dad and wives in a husband. In cases wherein things are different, the Bible is clear that people should treat others as they want to be treated and discussion and compromise are necessary. But I think that in the majority of civilizational history, women have had particular duties which made it difficult for them to be, in any sense, “head” of the family. Once a baby was born, mom became attached to the duties of feeding, educating, and otherwise caring for baby. This did not mean that they weren’t leaders, influencers, creative thinkers, or productive. It just meant they did it as mothers.

Insofar as biological sex differences are products of divine creation and/or evolutionary processes, the development of the headship model is rather natural and the Paul’s method of attaching the mutual ethics of love and respect to that model help to make it work in a fashion, not of biological necessity, but of Christian spiritual formation.

Concluding Thoughts

It’s best to remember that the New Testament commands all Christians to love and honor/submit to one another and that the character of married couples must include both of those traits, because in many places those characteristics are encourages without reference to gender roles or any roles in particular. So, Christian wives ought to respect their husbands and Christian husbands ought to love their wives.

The other details (the nature of roles) are definitely cultural, but culture comes from human beings whose behavior comes from their nature. And so it’s best to determine if the roles mentioned in the New Testament work before rejecting them outright. And like many of the social rules in the New Testament, there are likely exceptions.

Translation Tuesday: Ephesians 4:25-5:2

This is a rough, few minute translation to practice Greek and keep up with my syntax text books. I read my GNT and use for lesson prep, but I rarely work at translating out loud or in written format. So, I’ll try to do this every Tuesday for practice. The italics are added words to help the translation make more sense. I left the verse numbers out today because I was busier and didn’t get to this until late. But normally I’ll do it prior to work in the mornings.

25 Διὸ ἀποθέμενοι τὸ ψεῦδος λαλεῖτε ἀλήθειαν ἕκαστος μετὰ τοῦ πλησίον αὐτοῦ, ὅτι ἐσμὲν ἀλλήλων μέλη. 26 ὀργίζεσθε καὶ μὴ ἁμαρτάνετε· ὁ ἥλιος μὴ ἐπιδυέτω ἐπὶ [τῷ] παροργισμῷ ὑμῶν, 27 μηδὲ δίδοτε τόπον τῷ διαβόλῳ. 28 ὁ κλέπτων μηκέτι κλεπτέτω, μᾶλλον δὲ κοπιάτω ἐργαζόμενος ταῖς [ἰδίαις] χερσὶν τὸ ἀγαθόν, ἵνα ἔχῃ μεταδιδόναι τῷ χρείαν ἔχοντι. 29 πᾶς λόγος σαπρὸς ἐκ τοῦ στόματος ὑμῶν μὴ ἐκπορευέσθω, ἀλλʼ εἴ τις ἀγαθὸς πρὸς οἰκοδομὴν τῆς χρείας, ἵνα δῷ χάριν τοῖς ἀκούουσιν. 30 καὶ μὴ λυπεῖτε τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον τοῦ θεοῦ, ἐν ᾧ ἐσφραγίσθητε εἰς ἡμέραν ἀπολυτρώσεως. 31 πᾶσα πικρία καὶ θυμὸς καὶ ὀργὴ καὶ κραυγὴ καὶ βλασφημία ἀρθήτω ἀφʼ ὑμῶν σὺν πάσῃ κακίᾳ. 32 γίνεσθε [δὲ] εἰς ἀλλήλους χρηστοί, εὔσπλαγχνοι, χαριζόμενοι ἑαυτοῖς, καθὼς καὶ ὁ θεὸς ἐν Χριστῷ ἐχαρίσατο ὑμῖν. 5 Γίνεσθε οὖν μιμηταὶ τοῦ θεοῦ ὡς τέκνα ἀγαπητὰ 2 καὶ περιπατεῖτε ἐν ἀγάπῃ, καθὼς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς ἠγάπησεν ἡμᾶς καὶ παρέδωκεν ἑαυτὸν ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν προσφορὰν καὶ θυσίαν τῷ θεῷ εἰς ὀσμὴν εὐωδίας. Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012), Eph 4:25–5:2.

Translation:
Therefore, putting off the falsehood, speak the truth, each one with his neighbor, because we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin; the sun should not set on your anger, neither give ground to the devil. The thief should no longer steal, but instead he should labor, doing good work with his own hands so that he might have supply to give to those with need. All rotten words should stop coming from your mouths, but if anything is good for building up the needy let that come from your mouths, so that it might give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, rage, wrath, boisterousness,  and insults be removed from you along with all wickedness. Be kind to one another, compassionate, showing each other grace*, just as God in Christ has graced you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children and walk in love, just as the Christ loved us and gave himself for us an offering and sacrifice to God for a pleasing aroma.

Comments:

Practical:

putting off the falsehood – The idea here is not lies in general (though this is a good idea), but false ideas about God, “the truth” is a shorthand for “the gospel message” in Ephesians. Protip for modern Christians then: Go back and reread the four gospels and use the stories of Jesus to build up yourself and others.

if anything is good for building up – This is a good mindset change. It doesn’t mean to always be Mr. Rogers, but it does mean to think carefully about what will nudge somebody closer to God, to goodness, and to personal development and away from sin, despondency, and flippancy about life.

be imitators of God – the litmus test for imitating God is “walking in love.” This is the same thing Jesus says in Matthew 5:45-48, and that John says in all of 1 John. Again, this isn’t just niceness. Elsewhere Paul says to expose works of darkness.

Personal thoughts – Much of what Paul says here is about Christian counter culture (speak the truth, etc), but interestingly a great deal of what Paul says here would make somebody more likable and charismatic if they really put it into practice. The way of Christ often puts those who are on it at odds with the world (Matthew 5:10-11), but Jesus himself grew steadily in favor with God and man as he grew up (Luke 2:52). It’s sad that prosperity gospel preachers could train people in the way of Christ so that they could A) achieve success and use it for good and B) live with Christ even if they experience severe suffering. Instead, they preach that God merely wants to give you stuff and will do it with magic rather than simple cause and effect and accumulated wise habits like in the Psalms and Proverbs. Ephesians 4 is a good test case for Christian behavior that is also commendable to outsiders.

Translation Comments:
The asterisk above is an interesting case (Ephesians 4:32), most translations translate that as “forgiving one another.” While I see the merit in this based on the word usage in Luke, 2 Corinthians, and Colossians 2, I think that the word’s more basic meaning “showing grace” or “being gracious,” is salvageable even in those contexts. Paul actually uses the word for forgiveness elsewhere in Ephesians, so it’s not like it wasn’t available to his mind when this sentence came about. I think that showing grace fits the context of all those passages better because the graciousness mentioned clearly extends beyond forgiveness into replacing tradition concepts of reciprocity.