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Living in Christ-Oriented Relationships: Ephesians 5:18-6:9

January 8, 2015

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By Melissa Affolter

When we come to Ephesians 5 and 6, we sometimes bristle before we even get into the text. Virtually jumping off the page are the verses that tell us to submit. As women, we may overlook the rest of the passage because we get hung up on the submission part.

But this passage is not primarily about submission. It’s not primarily about obedience either. This portion of scripture is about gospel-shaped relationships.

The book of Ephesians communicates that transformation comes exclusively through redemption. Our lives are transformed because of the great exchange – Christ’s perfect obedience for our wrecked, sinful lives.

Beginning in Ephesians 5:18, we are given some general instructions about God’s will for a redeemed life:

  • Be filled with the Spirit (v.18)
  • Sing over and with one another (v.19)
  • Be thankful (v.20)
  • Submit to one another in love (v.21)

Following those instructions, Paul then outlines the proper attitudes that will characterize redeemed relationships:

  • Wives and husbands
  • Children and parents
  • Bond servants and masters

When we are filled with the Spirit, we will naturally express praise and thanksgiving. Right relationships are the fruit of a heart characterized by Spirit-filled joy and gratitude. This is not a to-do list. It’s a beautiful picture of redeemed relationships.

General to Specific

Paul moves from the general to the specific, first introducing submission to one another as the foundation for the particulars within each relationship. Like the culture of Paul’s day, our society despises authority and kicks against the God-ordained structures of biblical relationships. That’s why these detailed instructions are necessary.

Wives and husbands are called to submit and love. They follow that pattern because it demonstrates how the Church relates to Christ. It is a gospel picture, and when we distort this picture, we fail to represent the gospel of grace. When a wife submits to the leadership of her husband, she points to the voluntary submission of the Church, as redeemed children, to God. And when a husband sacrificially serves his wife in love, affectionately wooing her to himself, he demonstrates the tender wooing of Christ toward his flock.

Children are then called to obey and honor their parents. The first command with a promise reminds us that obedience is for our good. In a right relationship, both parties have a specific role. So Paul gives instruction to parents as well, moving from a negative to a positive command. He instructs parents not to “provoke” their children, but rather, to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Finally, servants are instructed to work as unto the Lord, not seeking to please man. In doing so, they can be assured that their service is not in vain. And masters are directed to stop threatening, implying that they ought to deal kindly and fairly with those under their charge.

Motivation and Means

When we read a passage like this, our propensity may be to despair, wondering, “How can I ever hope to meet these impossible standards?” Note the placement of this passage. Sandwiched between the motivation for our obedience (a beloved child of God – vs. 5:1) and the means of our obedience (presence of the Spirit to help us stand firm – vs. 6:10), we can be confident that in God’s strength we are able to cultivate right relationships.


Melissa Affolter teaches American Constitutional Government at Riverbend Academy, and works as a curriculum writer/editor for The Rafiki Foundation in Florida. She also assists with biblical counseling, communications and youth ministry at her church. Melissa’s favorite role is “Auntie Mel” to the precious children God has placed in her life. She writes at and you can find her on Twitter @affoltermel.

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