To Understand Ephesians 5-6 – See the pattern. Recognize the points.
by Bruce C. E. Fleming, Executive Director, Tru316 Foundation (Tru316.com)
The pastor missed the point! He made up his own doctrines! And the other day some people in the congregation surprised him as they walked out in the middle of his error-filled sermon.
The well-known pastor was trying to explain the meaning of the verses near the end of Ephesians chapter 5. As he pointed out what he called similar phrases he ended up telling his congregation that these phrases meant that Paul was endorsing the makeup of the pagan households of his day. He taught his congregation that believers should follow that same hierarchical pattern and especially that Christian women should submit to their husbands as their lords.
He had shredded much of what the Bible teaches in this passage and elsewhere. How could he go so far astray? I believe it happened because he missed the main point of the passage which is found in Ephesians 5:32. He didn’t take into account the full passage that runs from Ephesians 5:15 to 6:9. He missed the large “jump, jump, high jump” pattern (5:15-18, 19a-21, 5:22-6:9) used by Paul and most importantly he missed the pattern in the “high jump” section itself.
In verses 5:22-6:9 Paul focused on the central truth he called in Greek “the Great Mystery.” This he spelled out in verse 32, that Christ and the church are united in one joint-body. This pastor never saw this central truth. Instead he preached all around it. He thus took verses out of context and he misread Paul’s message. He ended up telling people to follow the patterns of the pagans. He minimized half of the body of believers and relegated its members to subjection under the domination of the others. In effect, he contradicted the main point of the passage in 5:32. And I suspect he is still blind to his errors.
Paul didn’t baptize patterns of hierarchy in the pagan household! Paul pointed to reciprocal relationships believers have with one another and with Christ. Paul’s pattern clearly points to verse 32.
Here is a summary. I go deeper into the details in my book Beyond Eden, Ephesians 5-6.
1. Born again believers are filled and overflow with the Holy Spirit (verse 18b).
2. As a result they speak to one another, or more precisely they teach and correct one another (for the meaning of “speaking” in 5:19a see the parallel verse in Colossians 3:16b)
3. When these believers receive this teaching and correction from other Spirit-filled believers, regardless of age or gender, they submit to it (verse 21).
SPECIAL NOTE: I believe this pastor and others miss the key teaching points in this passage because they have not recognized the overall pattern of the passage. This passage began in Ephesians 5:15. It has three sections, two short ones and a very long one: 15-18, 19-21 and 22-6:9. The passage is built using the “jump, jump, high jump” pattern identified by Kenneth Bailey. Each “jump” contains one of the key ideas in the passage.
In “jump #1” the key idea is found in verse 18b – be being filled with the Spirit. In “jump #2” the key idea is found in the parallel verses of 19a and 21 – speak to one another (or teach and admonish) in 19a, and submit to this teaching and admonition you receive from one another in verse 21. This “jump” is not about marriage but is about life together in the Spirit worshipping the Lord. In “jump #3” runs from 5:22 all the way over to 6:9. The key idea is found in verse 32.
“Jump #3” is built as a seven point parallel pyramid, or rainbow, or chiasm. They key truth is in the middle and the three sections on each side point to and illustrate the key truth in the middle. These three sections on each side are subordinate to the central truth. They are not the main teaching points of the passage.
4. In verses 22-31 Paul refers three times to Christ’s example. He says “as Christ” in verse 23b, 25b and 29b. Christ gave himself as Savior of the body in his first example in 22-24. Christ loved and gave himself for the church in his second example in 25-27. Christ loved the church as one cares for one’s own body is the third example in verses 28-32.
ANOTHER NOTE: Verses 22-31 are built using a linchpin pattern similar to the one linking the two key words in Genesis 3:16a (“toil” and “conception”) to the surrounding verses of Genesis 3:15 and 17. In this case in the center of the linchpin in Ephesians 5:25b are two key words (“loved” and “gave”). As Christ loved points down to verses 28-31. As Christ gave points back up to verses 22-24.
5. And in verses 5:33-6:9 he refers three times to relationships that utterly transform the pagan patterns in Christ. Christian husbands and wives reciprocally build up one another, verse 33. Christian parents and believing children, 6:1-4 and Christian masters and believing servants do so as well.
This passage has incorrectly been called “the longest passage in the New Testament on marriage.” It is not. Those who interpret it this way are led to trample over the pattern clearly indicating the real focus of the passage. This passage should be recognized as the longest passage on Spirit-filled reciprocal relationships in the church with Christ.
This was a summary. I go deeper into the details in my book Beyond Eden, Ephesians 5-6.