5:1-14 Living as children of God
Our status as children of God was introduced in the first chapter. "He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus the Messiah"(1:5). Now Paul sets out some implications of that astonishing relationship. Children are blessed by parents and siblings who are role-models for them. "The Messiah also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps" (1 Peter 2:21). So Paul tells us to "be imitators of God" (5:1). This goes back to the original Trinitarian intention. "Let us make humankind in our image . . . So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:26-27). These "beloved children" of God are also called "children of light" (5:8), which means not taking part "in the unfruitful works of darkness" (5:11). Darkness includes any kind of shrinking back or hiding from the light of God.
5:1-2 The main thing we imitate in our heavenly Parent is his love (1 John 4:16). And the Son of God demonstrated this love in the way he loved. Love means self-giving for the freedom and joy of the other, and that is likely to be very costly. Instead of the "sacrifices and offerings" of the Old Testament temple (Hebrews 10:5, quoting Psalm 40:6), Jesus' self-giving is called a "fragrant offering" (as in Genesis 8:21, Exodus 29:18, 25, 41, Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17) which simply means that the costly sacrifice is well pleasing to the Father. But the Messiah's sufferings are not just a great example of sacrificial giving. Paul explains that he himself is "completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Colossians 1:24). If Jesus had died without leaving a church to complete his work in the world, the Kingdom would have been still-born. But any caring for the freedom and joy of others in that church, and for the outreach of that church, always turns out to be very costly.
5:3 The modern equivalent of the Greek word porneia (unhelpfully translated fornication) is sleeping around without love and commitment (a one night stand, as with a prostitute, where there is no concern for the person). This is the very opposite of the quality of love which God desires for his children. The second word is akatharsia (impurity, dirt) which means the perversion of sex to violate and humiliate for self-gratification instead of heart love for the other. The word pleonexia (greediness, covetousness) refers back to the last of the ten commandments, "You shall not covet your neighbor's house, you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor" (Exodus 20:17). But here it is applied to sexual greed as in "How many sexual conquests can I achieve?" Oriental potentates (and their western equivalents) love to boast of how many virgins they have deflowered. "It must not even be mentioned among you" is better translated "there should be no hint of such behavior among you (naming means giving honor to)."
5:4 In a loving family, children are not encouraged to use gutter language. The Bible is not prudish about sex, but Paul mentions three kinds of language which are inappropriate among children of God: aiskhrotys (obscene talk), morologia (mocking the morality of others), and eutrapelia (drunken buffoonery). These should be replaced with thanksgiving and gracious speech (4:29). As Paul says in another Epistle, "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Philippians 4:8).
5:5 This is not to suggest that immoral persons and those who have engaged in selfish, greedy, and abusive sex are all excluded from heaven to burn in hell. It does mean that such behavior has no place in the work of the Kingdom here on earth. And it also means that people who want to treat others in such unloving ways would never be happy in heaven. The wonder is that when we find such thoughts in our heart the Holy Spirit has the power to change us from within (3:16-17).
5:6-7 We are easily taken in by the empty words of the world around us, and the adopting of filthy unfeeling language soon has terrible consequences (wrath). Better avoid being summetochoi (in partnership with) that kind of conversation.
5:8-10 Darkness suggests having things to hide, dishonesty, lies, slander, black magic. So Paul contrasts the children of disobedience with the children of light (those who love the light of God as in John 3:19-21). The fruit of their light is "all that is good and right and true." And the secret of this kind of behavior is learning from the written Word of God what kind of behavior pleases the Messiah.
5:11-13 Some Christians imagine that their duty is to "expose" what the world does by rebuking the faults of others. But Paul makes clear that the exposing is by making the light of God visible. And that requires, not separation, but close contact (as Jesus did) with those who are still in the darkness. As he said, "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works, and give glory to your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). It is in the light of the Messiah and what he is concerned about that the shabby darkness of the world is exposed.
5:14 Scholars think this may be part of an early Christian hymn (see Colossians 3:16, perhaps based on Isaiah 52:1 & 60:1) sung during baapisms. Baptism was viewed as an enlightenment (Hebrews 6:4, 10:32).
5:15-20 The wisdom given by the Spirit
Parents long for their children to be wise instead of engaging in behavior that ruins their life. The book of Proverbs keeps contrasting those who are wise with those who are fools. And Paul shows us how the Holy Spirit can save us from such stupidity. He contrasts those who keep getting drunk with those who keep getting filled with the Spirit. And he shows how the early Christian communities created three typical forms of music, and their gatherings were full of thanksgiving (the word Eucharist means thanksgiving). This has characterized churches of the Spirit in every place and in every language.
5:15-16 Loving parents are distressed when their children "kill time" as opposed to "making the most of the time." Time is a precious commodity. Our Father delights in seeing us involved in creative, mind-stretching, caring activities. That does not mean rushing around engaged in the world's rat-race. He also likes us to relax from hard work, take a holiday, enjoy life..
5:17 Some people take this verse to mean we are to agonize over finding out the Lord's will in every detail of our lives. Those who live like this easily become basket cases. I discovered this soon after my conversion when I tried to seek the Lord's will about what tie to wear, what book to read, and whether to attend the next class. Loving parents want to see their children taking responsibility and making their own decisions. The Messiah likes to be consulted, especially in insoluble perplexing situations, but he does not even tell his servants how to invest their talents (Matthew 25:14-15). Most of the time he expects us to use our common sense, and rely on the Holy Spirit to make clear unexpected changes of direction that may be needed (as in Acts 16:6-10).
5:18 And the saddest thing for parents is to discover that their child has become an alcoholic. The word asotia (debauchery, dissipation, profligacy) suggests depraved behavior, squandering one's resources, ruinous decisions). The Greek present tenses are important. "Do not keep getting drunk with wine, but keep being filled with the Spirit."A drunkard is not someone who once had a drink, but a person who keeps on solving his problems by regularly getting drunk. Similarly a spiritual person is not someone who once had an experience of the Spirit, but the man or woman who keeps being filled with the Holy Spirit for every situation (see Acts 4:8, 31, 7:55, 13:4, 20:28). A drunk forgets his problems, loses control, and makes a fool of himself. By the Spirit we face reality, and we are freed for creative instead of destructive behavior.
5:19 Many cultures have famous solo musical performers, but Christians are a singing people, and they sing from the heart in harmony. In contrast to the songs sung by drunkards, here we have three kinds of singing by the Spirit in a Christian community. Psalms are poetry that express the whole range of human emotions (anger, fear, joy, hope, penitence, aging). Hymns express our praise and worship. And spiritual songs encourage us to pour out our devotion and commitment to loving service. The parallel passage in the other letter that Paul sent at this time (see Introduction) fills out what this singing was for. "Let the Word of the Messiah dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God" (Colossians 3:16).
5:20 An essential ingredient of weekly Christian worship is the opportunity to express our thanksgiving. We need to be reminded of the many different things we can be thankful about. I once attended Jehovah Shammah, a congregation founded by Bakht Singh in the city of Madras, India. It was a very moving experience to find the congregation beginning with a full hour when no petitions were allowed, only thanksgiving.
5:21-33 Mutual submission in marriage
Many women read "Wives be subject to your husbands" and immediately write Paul off as the worst kind of male chauvinist. But it is important to begin with the context of the mutual submission of all members of a Christian community to one another. "Be subject to one another out of reverence to the Messiah" (5:21). No football team could make it without a huge amount of mutual submission. And Paul uses the human body as an example of all parts (members) listening and submitting to one another (see notes on 4:1-13). Here "be subject to one another" (5:21) introduces and governs the three mutual submissions of husbands and wives (5:25-33), children and parents (6:1-4), slaves (servants, employees) and slave owners (employers, 6:5-9). He had previously referred to the huge mutual submission of Jews and Greeks from radically different backgrounds (2:11-18, 3:6, 10).
As a proof that Paul had moved from the patriarchal submission of women that he had learned as a Rabbi, he has already defined marriage as a tenfold mutual submission of husbands and wives. "The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body but the wife does" (1 Corinthians 7:3-4). "For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband" (1 Corinthians 7:14).
This means that the submissions in a Christian community are not hierarchical in the sense of superiors having authority over inferiors. There are no superiors and inferiors in the church. In each case we have to ask what the members are engaged in doing, and that will explain the kind of submission that is needed. In our day a man might usually put out the garbage and keep the car serviced, but if he is away on a business or in hospital she does the needful. The modern emphasis on equality is often taken to mean that all the chores of a home must be divided equally. That is as mindless as suggesting that a football team must give equal time for every player to be quarter back, receiver, kicker, manager and coach.
5:21 The Greek present participle upotassomenoi means "continually being placed under." It is not an imperative. So we might translate "In our concern for the body of the Messiah we Christians are continually placing ourselves under each other in different situations." In raising children a mother places herself under her baby's need for milk, diaper change, play and protection. In a Sunday morning service we place ourselves in turn under the organist, the readers, the preacher, the ushers, the treasurer, the Sunday School teachers, and those who prepared the lunch. In a good choir the singers are not soloists, but they place themselves under the tempo and voice level of each other for a perfect harmony. A square dance is impossible without submission to the caller and to others in the dance.
5:22 When we apply this principle in marriage a wife places herself under her husband for certain functions, and he places himself under his wife in other situations (5:28). Which means that headship is not hierarchical from the top down, but it depends on the situation. She may help him by passing the tools when he is under the car, but he "submits" to her when she is cooking and he minds the kids when he can. Either might write the checks and keep the accounts. It is not equality but mutuality that is needed.
5:23-24 In the ancient world where the man was usually the bread earner, headship meant that his wife had to submit to the requirements and location of his work. In our world when a woman is the prime bread earner, her husband needs to submit to her headship. Paul knows that, as head of the body, our Lord submits to the needs of every member (as in 4:13-16). Similarly a wife's "putting herself under" her husband is set in the context of a lover and loved-one relationship. "Husbands should love their own wives as they do their own bodies . . . just as the Messiah does for the church" (5:28-29). This shows that harsh male chauvinistic demands for submission are not at all what Paul had in mind. The words "in everything" do not mean a one-sided submission, but the loving mutuality of each with the other (as in 1 Corinthians 7:3-4).
5:25 Women who enjoy ballroom dancing delight in the headship of a good dancer. And most women would settle for a husband's headship if they felt he loved them (in sickness and in health) the way the Messiah loves his church. "If you can find that kind of a man, please introduce me!" What women find intolerable is male demands for submission without the assurance of nourishing and tender love (as defined in 5:28-29).
5:26-27 In the ancient world women were often married as chattel for the man's pleasure and desire for children. Their mental development and creativity was of no concern. Jesus treated women seriously and welcomed them to discipleship on the same basis as men (John 4:1, 5-27, as the disciples continued to do after the Day of Pentecost, Acts 5:14, 9:1-2, 16:13-15). Paul wanted men to encourage their wives to enjoy the Word of God, and give them the opportunity to develop all their gifts and creativity. This is the way the Lord wants his church to grow in perfection. Women are certainly included in the words "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Philippians 4:8). And wherever churches of the Spirit have been planted in any culture women have been freed to grow in every area of the arts, literature, and the sciences.
5:28-31 If I feel a tiny rock in my shoe, I stop and deal with the problem. Similarly Paul wants me to feel, and be concerned about, every ache and discomfort that bothers my wife. And the reason is that this is the way the Messiah who is head of the church in each place "nourishes and tenderly cares for"every member of his church. Paul takes this principle back to the intended oneness of sexual union. "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). As we have noted earlier in this chapter (5:3) what is wrong with sleeping around, prostitution, and sex without commitment, is that the oneness of marriage is immediately terminated by divorce (as argued in 1 Corinthians 6:16). This tearing apart for sexual pleasure is to be replaced by the loving commitment that Paul commends.
5:32-33 Paul admits that the mystery (see 3:3, 4, 5, 9) of the Messiah's relationship and love for the church gathered in each place is hard to fathom. It can only be hinted at and pictured by the image of a human body and marriage as it was intended to be. But at least men can begin by learning to love as they "nourish and tenderly" care for their wives (5:29). Paul does not ask women to love in exactly the same way, but they can respect the attempts of their Christian husbands as they try to do this.