Ephesians 5:1-33

“Therefore” (in view of God’s great love in granting forgiveness), Paul continued, “become imitators of God as beloved children.” As members of his family, believers would rightly seek to be like their loving Father. (5:1)

They would then “walk” or conduct themselves “in love,” responding in a caring and compassionate manner toward others. In this regard, they additionally have the example of Christ. In expression of his love for us, “he gave himself for us [as] an offering and sacrifice to God for a fragrant aroma.” Christ’s surrender of his life for us demonstrated his great love for his Father, for he was delighted to carry out his Father’s will despite the personal humiliation and suffering it meant for him. Accordingly, his offering up himself and laying down his life sacrificially proved to be like a pleasing aroma to God. (5:2; see the Notes section.)

Believers are a “holy people” because of what God has done for them through his Son, and this should be reflected in all aspects of their life. Sexual immorality, uncleanness (or anything of an impure, debased, or defiling nature), and greediness or the inordinate desire for more and more should not even “be named” or mentioned. Such debased things should not be talked about among believers in a manner that is characteristic of persons who are alienated from God, because this would not be fitting for a holy or clean people. (5:3)

Degraded talk would include anything of a shameful or indecent nature, foolish or senseless expressions, and coarse jesting. Believers should banish all filthy speaking from their midst and, instead, give thanks to God for everything that he has done for them. (5:4)

They were fully aware of the need to shun the degraded ways of the world at enmity with God. This is because they knew that no sexually immoral person, unclean or corrupt individual, or one given to covetousness or greed would have an inheritance “in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” In the realm where God is recognized as Sovereign and Christ is acknowledged as Lord and King by his Father’s appointment, individuals who choose to continue living corrupt lives will never be granted a place. (5:5; see the Notes section regarding the phrase “which is an idolater.”)

There were corrupt individuals who tried to deceive believers. Based on what is written elsewhere in the Scriptures, these proponents of falsehood represented God’s mercy as allowing believers to engage in degraded practices. (Compare 2 Peter 2:18, 19; Jude 4.) For this reason, Paul warned fellow believers not to be deceived by “empty words,” or arguments that may have sounded plausible but had absolutely no validity. Impurity and corruption had no place in the community of believers, for God’s coming wrath would be directed against the “sons of disobedience,” or against those who defiantly engaged in the kind of degrading practices that Paul had mentioned. They were “sons” or children of disobedience because they followed a way of life that was subject to disobedience to God. (5:6)

Disobedient persons will not escape divine judgment. Therefore, Paul urged those to whom he wrote not to become “sharers” with them, yielding to their deceptive words and then engaging in divinely disapproved acts. (5:7)

Formerly, believers were in darkness or in a state of ignorance about God and his will, living in a divinely disapproved manner. Upon putting faith in God’s Son, they ceased to be in darkness. In him, or by coming to be united to him as members of his body, they came to be “light,” or persons who were both in the light and could serve as light in aiding others to escape the darkness of ignorance and sin. In harmony with their new status, they should walk or conduct themselves as “children of light,” persons who had been liberated from their former condition of darkness. (5:8)

Unlike darkness, which is associated with corrupt deeds that those engaging in them feel a need to conceal, light is not linked to activity that is shameful. The “fruit of the light” embraces all “goodness” (or moral excellence that manifests itself in active concern for the welfare of others), everything that is “righteous,” upright, or just, and “truth,” or whatever is dependable or trustworthy. (5:9; see the Notes section.)

Believers should make it their aim to “determine [dokimázo] what is pleasing to the Lord.” The Greek word dokimázo basically means “to test” or “to prove.” In this particular context, the term relates to endeavoring to find out, establish, or determine and then to act accordingly. Believers recognize Jesus Christ as their Lord. Conduct that pleases him would also meet his Father’s approval. A number of manuscripts read, “what is pleasing to God.” (5:10)

To be recognized as belonging to their Lord, believers cannot share in the “unfruitful works of darkness,” but must, instead, “reprove” them. The “works of darkness” are the disgraceful acts that those who engage in them try to conceal from the view of others or from being perceived for what they are. These “works” are “unfruitful,” for they produce nothing that is good or wholesome. Rather than having any part in the disgraceful works of darkness, disciples of Christ should “reprove” or expose these works, making manifest how disgraceful and injurious they really are. (5:11)

The things that those alienated from God do in secret, or hidden from the view of others, are too shameful even to mention. (5:12) Corrupt individuals, besides engaging in disgraceful practices while endeavoring not to be seen or discovered, may also try to entice others with deceptive reasoning, trying to make what is shameful appear to be acceptable. Everything that light exposes, however, “is made manifest.” Whenever debased practices are properly shown up as if a bright light had been focused on them, they will be recognized for what they are. (5:13) Everything that is thus made manifest “is light,” for that which has been exposed has been revealed as to its real nature and shown up as something to be shunned and abhorred. (5:14)

The quotation that follows seemingly serves to show that the exposing light is the light from Christ. “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Christ’s example and teaching provide the needed illumination for identifying the “works of darkness.” Those who are asleep, oblivious to the true nature of these works, need to wake up. All who are dead in trespasses and sins need to arise by accepting God’s arrangement through his Son to be forgiven of their sins. As persons no longer in a state of sleep and dead in sin, they will benefit from the illumination Jesus Christ makes available. (5:14; see the Notes section.)

In view of the corrupt influences to which believers were subjected, Paul admonished them to watch carefully how they walked or conducted themselves. Their way of life should be one of wise persons, not unwise or senseless ones. Conduct that harmonizes with God’s will is wise, for it results in lasting benefits. A failure to follow his guidance leads to a disastrous outcome, with harm to the individual and to others who may be affected. This failure characterizes the walk or conduct of unwise persons. (5:15)

Believers are urged to “redeem [literally, ‘buy out’] the time, because the days are evil.” In this context, redeeming the time could denote to make the best use of time or to redeem it for beneficial purposes from waste or misuse. (5:16) Modern translations commonly render the expression to refer either to time or opportunity. “Make the best of the present time, for it is a wicked age.” (NJB) “These are evil times, so make every minute count.” (CEV) “Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days.” (J. B. Phillips) “Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.” (NAB) “Use the present opportunity to the full, for these are evil days.” (REB) “Use every chance for doing good, because these are evil times.” (NCV)

The believers to whom Paul wrote found themselves living in a corrupt world. For this reason, he referred to the “days,” times, or age in which they lived as “evil.” (5:16) So it was essential for them to avoid being foolish, yielding to the baneful influences with which they were faced. They needed to make sure that they were aware of or understood the will of the Lord. Their rightly perceiving his will would have meant acting in harmony therewith. Numerous later manuscripts read, “the will of God,” but the oldest extant manuscript (P46, c. 200 CE) says, “Christ.” This difference is immaterial, for the will of the Lord Jesus Christ is the same as that of his Father. (5:17)

In the Greco-Roman world, excessive drinking of wine was common, especially in conjunction with festivals and celebrations of triumphs and other events. Therefore, when conducting themselves as wise persons, believers would be moderate in their use of wine, avoiding intoxication and the dissipation or harmful effects associated therewith. Instead of deriving stimulation from wine, they should make it their aim to be filled with spirit, letting God’s spirit exert the wholesome influence that produces real joy and a genuine sense of well-being. (5:18)

When allowing the holy spirit to guide them, believers would be able to speak to one another (literally, “speaking to selves [heautoís]”) in an encouraging manner, using the words of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Psalms would have been the sacred songs found in the book of Psalms. Both the hymns (praises directed to God) and the spiritual songs (compositions pertaining to spiritual matters) would have been Christian compositions. Believers experienced joy from singing and making music in their “heart” to the Lord. Such singing and making music to the Lord Jesus Christ stemmed from the “heart,” or the inmost self, and expressed appreciation for all that he accomplished by laying down his life for them and continuing to aid them. (5:19; see the Notes section.)

Always and for everything, believers should be giving thanks to God, their heavenly Father, “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” By continuing to acknowledge God as the source of all that they enjoy, believers are drawn closer to him as their loving, caring, and compassionate heavenly Father. Through their expressions of thanks in prayer, the importance of their relationship with him and dependence on him for everything are kept prominently in view. When rendering thanks in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, believers acknowledge that everything they have received from his Father has been made possible through him. (5:20)

“In fear of Christ,” or out of reverential regard for him as their Lord, believers should subject themselves to one another. They would do so by willingly and eagerly functioning as caring and unassuming servants in response to the needs of fellow believers (5:21; compare Matthew 23:11; Luke 9:48; 22:26; John 13:14, 15; 1 Corinthians 9:19; Galatians 5:13; Philippians 2:3, 4; see the Notes section.)

Within the family or as members of a household, the believers’ subjection depended on the position they occupied. Their being submissive, however, was not an expression of forced servitude. When conscientiously caring for their duties and responsibilities, wives would be subjecting themselves to their own husbands “as to the Lord.” This ennobled their being submissive to them, for their subjection demonstrated their recognition of and desire to please Christ as their Lord and as the one who had died for them and made it possible for them to become his Father’s beloved children. (5:22)

In the family, the submissiveness of wives as to the Lord is based on the divinely assigned role of husbands. “The husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ [is] the head of the congregation.” Additionally, Christ is the “savior of the body.” Through his death, he delivered believers, or those who became members of his body, from sin and condemnation and reconciled them to his Father. By his Father’s appointment, he is the head of the congregation and is rightly such because of everything he has done for the community or family of believers. Similarly, the husband occupies the God-given place as head of his own family. This is based on the original priority of existence, the man having been created first and then the woman. (5:23; compare 1 Timothy 2:13.)

“As the congregation submits to Christ, so also [should] wives to their husbands in everything.” The community of believers seeks to follow Christ’s guidance and direction, which is always right and beneficial. He would never require anyone to do something that is injurious, and so a wife’s submissiveness “in everything” could not include cooperating with her husband in committing moral wrongs. (5:24)

Members of Christ’s congregation are not sinless, and so their individual submission to him is not free from flaw. Accordingly, the example that wives are called upon to imitate is not one of absolute perfection. Husbands, however, in keeping with their weighty responsibility as family heads, are to imitate Christ, the sinless one. They are to love their wives “as also Christ loved the congregation and delivered up himself for it.” The love of God’s Son proved to be of unparalleled greatness, for he sacrificed his very life for those who would become part of his body or his congregation. This is the kind of self-sacrificing love husbands are to have for their wives. (5:25)

Christ’s love, care, and concern for the congregation has not ended. He surrendered his life to sanctify the congregation or to make it pure or holy in the eyes of his Father. With the “washing of the water in the word,” Jesus Christ cleansed the congregation. (5:26)

The context does not make it possible to be certain about what this washing signifies. A number of translations interpretively identify the “washing of the water” as being baptism (“washed by baptism and God’s word” [NLT]; “cleansing her with the baptismal water by the word” [Weymouth]), and the word has been represented as designating the confession made at the time of baptism (im Wasser der Taufe und das dabei gesprochene Wort [in the water of baptism and the word then spoken (Gute Nachricht Bibel, German)]). According to another view, the washing is figurative. Durch sein Wort hat er den Schmutz ihrer Verfehlungen wie in einem reinigenden Bad von ihr abgewaschen. (Through his word he has washed away the dirt of her transgressions as with a cleansing bath. [Neue Genfer Übersetzung, German]) If the expression is figurative, the “word” may be understood to denote the message about Christ, as faith in him and what he accomplished by surrendering his life had made the cleansing from sin possible. (5:26)

Christ’s ultimate purpose is to present the congregation to himself like a virgin bride in a state of glory, splendor, or honor. In a condition of virgin purity, the congregation would be without a “stain,” “wrinkle,” or any similar flaw. As his bride, the community of believers would be holy or pure and unblemished in all respects. (5:27)

In harmony with the example of Jesus Christ’s love for the congregation, believing husbands are obligated to love their wives as they do “their own bodies, for whoever loves his wife loves himself.” In the intimate marriage relationship, husband and wife come to be one. Therefore, a husband’s loving his wife means loving himself. (5:28)

People who do not love themselves are the exception, not the norm. “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as also [does] Christ [the Lord, according to other manuscripts] the congregation.” Individuals do not customarily loathe themselves to the point of totally neglecting their bodily needs. Most people do whatever they can to obtain the necessities of life. As the head of the congregation, Christ continues to provide aid and guidance through the holy spirit that functions as the helper for believers. (5:29) Individually, believers are members of Christ’s body, benefiting personally from him as their head. (5:30; see the Notes section.)

To emphasize the closeness existing between husbands and wives and what that relationship reveals about Christ and the community of believers, Paul quoted from Genesis 2:24 (LXX), “On this account [the woman’s being of the same flesh and bones as the man], a man will leave [his] father and mother, and will cling to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” A man leaves his own parents to enter a relationship with a woman who had once been a stranger to him, forming a more intimate union than the one existing between himself and the parents whom he has always known. (5:31)

“This mystery is great,” the apostle continued, “but now I am speaking of Christ and the congregation.” The union of two former strangers reveals the mystery of how believers from all nations and races and from very different backgrounds and stations in life become members of a loving and united corporate body that is at one with the head, God’s Son. (5:32)

Returning to the subject relating to the relationship of husbands and wives, the apostle continued, “Moreover, each of you also should so love his wife as he [does] himself, and the wife should fear the husband.” (5:33) Believing husbands would want to treat their wives in the loving and caring manner in which they would treat themselves. The kind of “fear” here mentioned is not dread and alarm, but designates a proper regard or respect.


In verse 2, certain manuscripts read “you,” not “us.” This difference, however, has no significant bearing on the meaning of the text.

With apparent reference to the greedy or covetous person, verse 5 (according to the reading of the oldest extant manuscripts and many others) says, “which is an idolater.” Numerous other manuscripts read, “who is an idolater.” The object of a person’s greed or covetousness takes on such importance and gives rise to such intense desire that it becomes an idol, claiming the kind of attachment that rightfully belongs only to God.

In verse 9, numerous manuscripts refer to the “fruit of the spirit” (not the “fruit of the light”). The reading “spirit” may have arisen on the basis of Galatians 5:22.

No specific passage in the preserved Hebrew Scriptures nor in the ancient Greek translation, the Septuagint, parallels the quotation in verse 14. Possibly the quotation is from a Christian composition. Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 confirm that such compositions or songs existed. In a number of manuscripts, the concluding phrase reads differently, “And you will grasp [form of epipsaúo] Christ.”

The Greek reflexive pronoun (heautoís), in verse 19, is probably to be understood as meaning “to one another.” This is the significance the pronoun clearly has in Ephesians 4:32, where the reference is to forgiving one another. In verse 19, modern translations commonly represent the reflexive pronoun as meaning “one another.” “Speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and songs; sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.” (REB) “Sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs among yourselves, singing and chanting to the Lord in your hearts.” (NJB) “Speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord.” (NCV)

In verse 21, manuscripts variously read, “in fear of Christ,” “in fear of Jesus Christ,” “in fear of the Lord,” and “in fear of God.” The reading with the best manuscript support is, “in fear of Christ.”

After “his body” (in verse 30), a number of later manuscripts add, “of his flesh and of his bones.”