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Ephesians 5:1-16 - Homilies By R.m. Edgar

The love and the wrath of God enforcing morality.

Paul is still working for the unity of the Church and calling for that watchful and pure walk on the part of the Ephesians which can alone promote it. He consequently brings to bear upon them the allied motives of the love and the wrath of God. And here we may remark, in passing, that the moralities which have tried to work themselves without the aid of Divine sanctions have proved practically powerless. No "independent morality" has as yet rendered any appreciable service to the world. We still need to be overshadowed by the Divine. Paul, moreover, begins with love, and then passes on to the fact of the Divine wrath. And—


(Verses 1, 2.) The Ephesians are exhorted to follow their Divine Father as dear children. The constant love of the heavenly Father lights all the children on their way and rebukes their want of love. The first motive in this section is, therefore, paternal love a call to children of God to be loving like their Father in heaven. But the second motive is from the fraternal love of Christ, which led him out of consideration for us to "give himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell" (Revised Version). The self-sacrifice of Christ, we are here taught, was a very precious offering in the Father's sight. In the cross the Father for the first time saw perfect obedience carried up to the point and in the article of death. While in one aspect Jesus realized the Father's wrath on the cross, because the Substitute for sinners, in another aspect he was contemplated by the Father with the utmost complacency. Self-sacrifice is fully appreciated by our Father in heaven. Now, if God regarded with infinite delight the self-sacrifice of the only begotten Son for the sake of his brethren, there is no way in which we can delight our Father so much as by following in the Elder Brother's footsteps and being ready to sacrifice ourselves out of love to the brethren. What a spirit this would infuse into our Church life! Harless notices that in this passage Christ is really represented as both Priest and Victim. In the same way we may delight the mind of God in being victims and priests in our loving relations to the brethren.


(Verses 3-7.) The idea that God will not be angry with wicked men must be dismissed from all minds, Righteous indignation against certain forms of evil is an experience of a most imperative and holy character. We should lose our reverence for a God who did not become angry with sinners. It was the more needful to affirm this truth at Ephesus, since the deities of heathenism were supposed to be addicted to such crimes as uncleanness and covetousness. Olympus was filled, by the impure imaginations of men, with a set of men and women who were for the most part fit for penitentiaries and state prisons. Morality received no backing from the mythology. But the thought that a God so loving as our heavenly Father is wrathful with the covetous and the unclean, and allows his wrath to burn against them, is surely calculated to wean men from such sins. There seems to have been insinuations in Paul's time that the Divine wrath against impurity and covetousness was mythical, just as such insinuation prevails at present. But surely the frightful punishment which these sins entail in the order of nature speak to the spirit of man about the reality of the Divine wrath. Not all the ameliorations of science can bring it about that men can so sin with impunity; the unclean are cursed in the very nature of things with a grievous curse, and the covetous suffer of necessity in their pinched and miserly souls. God is an angry God against those who love sin, and our only course is to forsake it. Hapless and Olshausen believe the word here rendered "covetousness" to mean in this connection "intemperance," the desire, not for gold, but for fleshly gratification—the making a god of the belly, and so an idolatry. Of course, if this sense be taken of πλεονεξία , it agrees better with the context and makes more emphatic Paul's appeal for purity. Do we make as much in these days of the Divine wrath as we should? As the love-pain of God, as one writer has called it, it is surely well fitted to enforce morality.

III. PAUL FURTHER SHOWS THAT THE DEEDS OF DARKNESS ARE UNFRUITFUL . (Verses 8-11.) He tells the Ephesians they were once in darkness, and did these deeds of darkness. But they have come into the light which is shed upon our path by our radiant Lord. They must walk, consequently as children of the light, remembering that the fruit of the light (so Revised Version) is in all goodness and righteousness and truth. Thus they would prove what is well-pleasing unto the Lord. In so doing they would have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but would rather reprove them. Now, in arguing that the works of darkness are "unfruitful," Paul is advocating morality on the ground of expediency. He has already applied the Divine sanctions, but he does not hesitate to back these up by showing that what God wills is good. Natural law endorses the Divine precepts. But this is quite distinct from the position that the natural law can secure obedience when it stands alone. All experience disproves this. Utilitarianism is not a sufficiently broad basis for a sound morality. But the expediency of moral rectitude is an important argument in its favor. Sooner or later a man who commits deeds of darkness finds he has made a mistake.


(Verses 12-14.) It is thought sometimes by superficial people that accurate descriptions of the deeds of darkness will do something to disgust people with them. But this is Satan advising man again to become wiser by eating forbidden fruit. Paul's opinion is that it is a shame to speak and therefore to think of what is done by the sinful in secret. All the prurient curiosity which feasts itself like flies on foul corruption is of the devil The true plan, therefore, is not to mention such matters. Let them be buried in oblivion, but let Christians awake from all lethargic slumber, and arise from the corruption of spiritual death, and in the light of Christ live purely. Thus shall the deeds of darkness be reproved. All that we have to do then is to carry in the light, and the darkness and its deeds will stand convicted before us. The Ephesians are to indulge in no scandalous conversation under the pretence of defeating the doers of the dark deeds; but they are to walk in the light of Christ and be pure, and lo! the sinners shall hide themselves before them.


(Verses 15, 16.) There has been some discussion as to the exact meaning of "time" in this passage. Hapless is clearly of opinion—in which, as in most matters, he is followed by his French disciple, M. Monod—that "opportunity" ( der rechte Zeitpunkt ) best expresses τὸν καιρόν . Paul is consequently anxious that in evil days, such as those upon which the Ephesians have fallen, they should be watchful and wise enough to "buy up eagerly their opportunity," and do the best they can for their age. This is by holy living. There is no other way of understanding the times and fulfilling our course in them. It will thus be seen that Paul appeals to the Ephesians, by both the love and wrath of God, by the expediency and power of a pure life, to walk worthy of their high calling. In this way he expects to enlist them in the great army of united and brotherly souls who are gathering round Jesus our King and Head. May we all respond to his appeal! £ —R.M.E.

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