The Church: Its Walk
John B. D. Page, Harrow
Associated with the privilege of our wealth, which is "all spiritual blessings" in the heavenlies, there is the responsibility of our walk on the earth. In these practical chapters 4 to 6, the word "walk" is used metaphorically five times.
With the low standards of behaviour to day, we need to remember that Christians should behave themselves differently from men of the world, and invariably worldly people expect a difference. Furthermore, "the high calling of God" demands a high standard of conduct, and so Paul deals with the subject in three spheres of life. In 4. 17-32, we shall look at
Our Personal Conduct. Beseechingly, Paul pleads with these Ephesian believers: "walk not as other Gentiles walk", 4. 17. As Christians, they were "henceforth" to be different. But how did other Gentiles walk? This is stated in verses 18-19: "having the understanding darkened"—mental darkness; "being alienated from the life of God"—spiritual death; "given . . . over unto lasciviousness, to work all un-cleanness with greediness"—physical depravity.
"But ye . . .". These words are the turning-point in this depressing scene, as the words "but God" are in a similar setting in chapter 2. Continuing, "but ye have not so learned Christ, if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him", 4.20-21. Note the verbs used—"learned", "heard" and "taught". The verses imply that before learning, there has to be teaching and hearing. The order is progressive: heard Christ; taught by Christ; learned Christ! That undoubtedly was the result of Christ-centred ministry during Paul's two years at Ephesus. Having "learned Christ", then "ye put off... ye put on . . .", vv. 22-24. "Concerning the former manner of life", which was lived in sin, "ye put off", like a garment, "the old man", a term signifying our unregenerate nature personified, "which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts". Do not stop there! But "put on the new man", which is the new nature personified, and it is "after God" in likeness, having been "created in righteousness and true holiness". Such newness of life will mean a changed way of life, and hence holy conduct.
In verses 25-32, the principle of holiness is expressed as practical holy living. No more "lying", but speaking the truth; be righteous, not yielding to sinful anger; instead of stealing, do honest work; no more unwholesome talk, but edifying conversation to the benefit of others. Above all, "grieve not the holy Spirit of God", v. 30. Do not sadden the Holy Spirit who indwells us! The only other warning in the New Testament given to believers about the third Person of the Trinity is in I Thessalonians 5. 19, "quench not the Spirit". Do not suppress His manifestations in others!
Five expressions of hatred, which embrace "bitterness", "wrath", "anger", "clamour" and "evil speaking", should "be put away" and replaced with three manifestations of love, which are: be "kind to one another", be "tenderhearted" and "forgiving one another", vv. 31 f. A new principle concerning forgiveness is here introduced; the degree is "as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you". Under the law, man's forgiveness governed the degree of divine forgiveness, Matt. 6. 12, 14. But under grace, God's measure of forgiveness to us determines our forgiveness of others!
In Ephesians 5.1-17, Paul turns to a wider sphere, and he considers
Our Behaviour in the World.
Love should characterize Christians, and so Paul deals with our "walk in love", vv. 1 -5.
"Be ye therefore followers (or, imitators, r.v.) of God, as dear children", v. 1. The divine requirement is: like Father, like child; what God does, we should do I Of our love-life, Christ is the example. "Walk in love", says Paul, "as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour", v. 2. Our love should be practical, being "in deed and in truth", 1 John 3.18, emulating Christ to the point of self-sacrifice. Like the burnt offering of old, the whole of which was consumed upon the altar, such a life of love will be "a sweet-smelling savour" to God. In addition, true Christian love excludes all aspects of lust, none of which "becometh saints", and persons who practise such degrading immorality have no "inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God", w. 3-5.
Now in 5. 6-14, Paul turns to our walk in light. On account of the lusts named in the previous verses, "the wrath of God" will fall "upon the children of disobedience", but believers must not associate or be "partakers with them" in such practices, vv. 6-7. "Sometimes" (or, once, R.v.), referring to a past period, "ye were . . . darkness", not merely 'in darkness' but 'impregnated by darkness'. "But now", at the present time, "are ye light in the Lord" and, being indwelt by the true Light, we are identified and filled with it. Therefore, we should "walk as children of light", that is, as children native-born to the Light, v. 8. Character determines conduct, and so "as children of light" we should bear "the fruit of the light" (r.v.) which is "all goodness and righteousness and truth", and at the same time "proving" and examining "what is acceptable unto the Lord", vv. 9-10. When we are in doubt about a point of conduct then we should ask. Is it acceptable to the Lord? Surely, this should be a Christian's criterion.
Whilst "the fruit of the light" is productive, the "works of darkness" are "unfruitful" and destructive, and we should "have no fellowship" with such works "but rather reprove (and expose) them" by our lives of light, v. 11. "It is a shame" for believers "even to speak of those things which are done ... in secret" by the children of darkness, v. 12. Quoting generally from Isaiah 60. 1 -2 or from an early hymn in the 14th verse, Paul challenges the apathetic Christian to "awake" and "arise", for "Christ shall give thee light", v. 14.
Verses 15-17 are an exhortation for wise behaviour. "See that ye walk circumspectly" or with exactness, lit., which may be illustrated by a cat walking exactly and with precision on the uneven topper stones of a wall, for one false step could be fatal. Continuing, "not as fools, but as wise", v. 15. Fools walk unthinkingly and without care, but the wise take care, "redeeming the time" by grasping every opportunity for spiritual gain, "because the days are evil", v. 16. "Be ye not unwise" by seeking the wisdom of men, "but", with the wisdom of God, "understanding what the will of the Lord is", v. 17.
The writer now looks at
Our Home Life in 5. 18 to 6. 9.
The condition for harmony in a Christian home is an infilling of the Holy Spirit.
The first of two commands is "be not drunk with wine . . .", for drunkenness means the loss of self-control. The other, "be filled with the Spirit" results in self-control, which is part of the fruit of the Spirit, Gal. 5. 23 r.v. A Spirit-filled life has an attitude of praise toward God by "making melody in your heart to the Lord" and "giving thanks always for all things unto God", vv. 19-20, and it has an attitude of submission by "submitting yourselves one to another". Submission to one another is contrary to the flesh, and it means not the assertion of one's rights but a mutual yieldedness by both parties to God. The principle is applied to three groups: wives to husbands, children to parents, and servants to masters, 5. 21 to 6. 9. In each case, Paul starts with the lesser of the two parties.
Today, evil forces are at work to disintegrate and destroy home-life, and to degrade marriage. Therefore, this scripture is timely. The standard for human relationships in the home is determined by the divine. For instance, harmony between husbands and wives is based upon the divine pattern of Christ and the Church, His bride, vv. 22-23. "As the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing", v. 24, and this is not slavish subjection but submission "as unto the Lord", v. 22. Husbands have responsibilities too. "The husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church", v. 23. This is not despotic domination by a husband but a divine appointment. "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it", and so husbands should show a sacrificial love for their wives which would be met by submission to them, v. 25; cf. vv. 28, 33. "No man ever yet hated his own flesh", for this would be abnormal, "but nourisheth and cherish-eth it, even as the Lord the church", v. 29, which implies that a husband is responsible to provide for his wife and protect her. If a husband discharges his responsibilities, then "the wife (will) reverence (and esteem) her husband", v. 33.
In the home, there should be harmony between parents and children, 6. 1-4. For this, the command to children is two-fold. "Children, obey your parents", and again the standard is high, being divine, for they should obey "in the Lord", v. 1. Parents should exercise parental authority, and children should obey. Children, "disobedient to parents", are mentioned only twice in the New Testament, and they are included among the heinous sins of the heathen in Romans 1. 30, besides being a sign of "the last days", 2 Tim. 3. 1-2. The other command is "Honour thy father and mother", v. 2, which is quoted from the Decalogue. Disobedience to parents results in a lack of respect by children for their parents, whereas obedience produces respect for them. "Fathers" have a two-fold responsibility toward their children: "provoke not your children", and "bring them up" in the way of Scripture, v. 4. Do not irritate them but train them! This is required of Jewish parents, Deut. 6. 7.
Paul makes no attempt to change the social order of his day by condemning slavery, but he advocates justice between master and slave, Eph. 6. 5-9. Although the household of Paul's day is here in view, there are principles applicable to the employer and employee relationship of to day which, if put into practice, would put an end to much disruption in this sphere of life to day. "Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters" working "as the servants of Christ", and so the standard is high as for the previous groups, vv. 5. 6. Servants are not asked to do something which Christ Himself did not do, for He stooped to the rank of servanthood and was obedient, Phil. 2. 7-8, although admittedly Christ is not set forth as the Servant but as the Master in this verse. "Masters", having a responsibility, should forbear threatening, and remember that their "Master also is in heaven", and so an equally high standard is set for masters, v. 9.
The order of these groups is significant. Wives and husbands are at the centre of the family circle; then moving outwards children and parents follow, whilst servants and masters are at the circumference. The highest level of behaviour is required from each, which results in a happy and harmonious Christian household. The whole passage from chapter 4 to chapter 6 shows that we, as members of the Church, are responsible before the Lord for our conduct personally, socially, and domestically "as becometh saints".