Ephesians 5(a)

This week we are reading through Ephesians 5. This chapter should be one of the more challenging chapters in Scripture. Paul spends the first half of Ephesians emphasizing that “for by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is a gift of God – not because of works lest any man should boast.” Eph. 2:8-9. It is God through Christ who saves us by abolishing the law. Eph. 2:15. For Christ does not weigh our merits but pardons our offenses. 1979 BCP 336.

In Chapter 5, however, Paul seems to backtrack. Paul writes “Let there be no filthiness, nor jesting, nor levity . . . be sure of this that no sexually impure person or one who is covetous (i.e. an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” Paul appears, after abolishing the old law, to set a new set of criteria which we must meet to insure our salvation. It appears we are now back under a law trying to define what is “sexual immorality” (think Bill Clinton) or determining how off-color does the joke have to be to condemn us (think Paula Dean). The question we need to struggle with is how to reconcile chapters 2 and 5 without becoming like the lawyers who “load people with burdens hard to bear, and that they themselves do not touch the burdens with one of their fingers.” Luke 11:46. In struggling with and working out this seeming contradiction, also read Luke 18:18-27 and Romans 7:16 – 8:8.

In his discussion of works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21), which I think is relevant to Ephesians 5, St. John of Kronstadt (d.1908), a Russian Orthodox priest, says that “It is remarkable that some irritable people, after an agony of violent and prolonged anger, and after having experienced all its torments, become, as they say, silky, meek, and peaceable. The same applies to the other passions. The Lord Himself has pointed out that their punishment lies in themselves—in their extreme agony. Pride, envy, hatred, avarice, covetousness—all are thus punished. Each passion is its own tormentor, and at the same time the executioner of each man possessed with it.” My Life in Christ, p.212

For modern ears, the last portion of Chapter 5 is likewise a struggle – “Wives be subject to your husbands.” (Insert jesting and levity which may send you to hell here.) In the ancient world, the husband was the absolute sovereign of his household and so wives had duties towards their husbands but those duties were not reciprocated as Paul requires. Spend some time with this final paragraph of Chapter 5. First, think about how Christ’s love for us, the Church, is like a newlywed husband’s love for his wife or how our love for Christ should be like that of a newlywed wife’s for her husband. The entirety of the book of the Song of Solomon is dedicated to that question. But more importantly, if husbands are to love their wives as Christ does the Church, how does Christ’s love for the Church provide that example? Read Philippians 2:5-8 for a discussion of how Christ loves the Church. In looking at the love of Christ for the Church, is that love contingent upon any act or doing of the Church? Likewise, if wives are subject to their husbands, from where does that duty arise? See, Phil. 2:9-11. Is the wife’s obedience contingent upon any act or doing of the Husband?

The best discussion I have read on these verses is that sermon (also attached) by St. John Chrysostom. Every husband (and wife) should read this sermon. Preaching in the late 4th century, Chrysostom says that “even if it shall be needful for you (the husband) to give your life for her, and to be cut into pieces ten thousand times, and to endure and undergo any suffering whatever—refuse it not.” . . . . For the Church was blemished, unsightly, and worthless and of unsurpassing deformity, yet Christ loved her so much that she become beautiful without spot or wrinkle and so must a husband love his wife. . . . And he says “Show her too, that you set a high value on her company, and that you are more desirous to be at home for her sake than in the marketplace. And esteem her before all your friends, and above the children that are born of her, and let these very children be beloved by you for her sake.” These verses set the standard by which husbands should be measured.

Dinner is served at 6. The menu for Tuesday is chicken-potato casserole, garden salad, and chocolate-pudding parfait. Discussion at 6:45. Compline at 7:55. If you have any Prayers or Thanksgivings (BCP 810) to add to the collects during Compline, please let me know. Next week is the last week for Ephesians. We will start Colossians on Tuesday, July 16 which will be an ideal time to bring someone new.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:2

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