In Summary: We dig deeper into the implications of being seated in the heavenly places with Christ (Ephesians 2:6). One of the key contrasts in Ephesians is the mixture of statements of what we are and what we should do.
For example, Ephesians 5 is filled with instructive and imperative statements. Paul opens with “be imitators of God,” and there are no complete thoughts without commands in the rest of the chapter. Paul either commands “Do not participate in unfruitful deeds…” (5:11) or explains on why, for “all things become visible” (5:13).
This matters. Certain parts of the Christian life are settled realities while other parts are our responsibility to carry forward. We are seated with Christ in the heavenly places because salvation is certain and held by Him. Not one of Paul’s commands and instructions should be understood to earn God’s favor, nor should their absence be seen as removing one from the grace of God.
In Focus: Instead, consider the commands, such as Ephesians 5:1-2’s commands to “be imitators of God…and walk in love…” as reflections that show whether or not we are truly seated in Christ. It is not that we must do this if we want to be seated in the heavenly places with Christ.
It is that we will do this if we are seated with Christ. Why?
Because it’s what Jesus does. We cannot claim to be secure in Jesus and not be involved in living a life like His, living in obedience to what He says to do. And the best way to understand what He saids?
Do what He did. Walk in love, eschew the darkness, and be self-sacrificial in your relationships with others. All of this pleases God, and makes our presence in Christ a unified action before God.
It is actually easier to see what it does not look like to imitate God than it is to define exactly what it does look like. After all, my life and yours are different. I am married, and so the commands in Ephesians 5:22-33 apply to me, but if you are single, then your obedience looks different. You have no spouse to treat properly—though there are implications for your behavior toward other people still to be found here.
Paul describes the imitation of God as walking for a reason. It changes and adjusts as the days go forward, and you face various obstacles in that process. You overcome, you grow, and you succeed and stumble differently in different days.
In Practice: With that in mind, Paul still gives some specific application points that we can practice today.
- First: Some “do nots” in the passage, such as in Ephesians 5:5. Avoiding immorality and impurity are usual targets for our anti-sin efforts. Paul equates avoiding covetousness with these. Materialism and sexual impropriety are prevalent in our culture, and should be avoided by we who walk with Christ. This includes how we guide and grow our churches.
- Second: Do not be deceived (5:6). The truth should dwell in us, and we ought to spot those items which would lead us astray. Note that this is not the exclusive province of ministers or bloggers, but is commanded of the believer. Focus on the truth and avoid lies—even if they are sold by good-meaning people.
- Third: Give thanks and be encouraging (5:18-20). Leaving aside some of the implications of 5:18, look at the overall picture here. We give thanks and encourage one another, teaching and growing through music and word. These are group activities, and it is community with Believers in Christ that holds us together.
In Nerdiness: There are two major nerd points in this chapter.
The first is in Ephesians 5:18 and ties back among the commands and ideals of wisdom. Wrestling with “do not get drunk with wine” has split many a calm fellowship. There is a difference in “drunk with wine” and “filled with the Spirit,” as well. These are not the same word in Greek (as I have heard one person try to put it). This is not a command to be “drunk” in the Spirit. That’s nonsense.
The idea of drunkenness evokes a picture of being out of control and bringing only chaos. The person filled with the Spirit is still in control—and controlled by the right person. Notice the connection between filled with the Spirit and speaking to one another. There’s community and connection here.
The second major nerd point is Ephesians 5:21-22. In a crowd of New Testament interpreters, you will get differences of opinion as to whether or not “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” goes with the preceding section or introduces the next section. The grammatical evidence seems equivocal at best, and I’m inclined to suggest an answer of “both/and” here against “either/or.”
The issue? If 21 goes with 22, then there are implications for how we understand “Wives, be subject to your own husbands.” In fact, we need the verb from v. 21 to give us the implied verb in v. 22. Is this mutual submission or is there a clarity of roles here?
The further explanation supports the idea that there is a division of roles in marriage, but exactly how much here is about Christ and the Church and how much is meant to be imitated is oft-debated. There is connection throughout Scripture on much of this point, and too much is made of wifely submission without locking on to husbandly sacrifice, which also anchors in an concept in 5:2.
I would encourage you to flesh this out for yourself and see what the full counsel of God says on this issue.