Ephesians 5

You knew it was coming, and here we are. The ethical reflection brings us back to household codes of morality. This early religious movement is finding a way to synthesize conventional morality of the surrounding culture. Yes, we find in it patriarchy and misogyny.

This year, notice the connection of the imagery of cultic sacrificial offerings, and the related gift culture and purity code of Leviticus, in tension with our own commercial transactional world. Yes, the prohibitions include ‘fornication’ – and also greed and avarice, and generally, the trivial distractions from the ultimate goods, summarized as ‘idolatry’. What goods are your gods?

Here we are again called to be our better selves, ‘children of light’. At its worst, this risks the ‘two kind of people’ reasoning, and blindness to our own limits. Reinhold Niebuhr skewered this prideful risk of North American liberals, as Joseph Conrad had done a generation before – and we need another prophet to challenge our ‘exceptionalism’.

Perhaps it’s time for our affluent liberal subculture to hear the admonitions to avoid false satisfactions of misconstrued appetites in drunken debauches, and to seek true satisfactions beginning with singing of psalms, hymns, melodies, burning those neural pathways and generating all those endorphins.

The day does have to end, again, with the household code. It’s a worldview of cosmic order in which we have a place and a role and are freed with a modest range of prudential choice, within a graceful and merciful providence. Let’s not reduce it to a perversion of rigid command and control by one bunch of us over another bunch of us. The writer confesses the weakness of an argument from Genesis ‘two shall become one’ – and does emphasize mutuality.

Ephesians 5

Text: NRSV

1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,

2and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

3 But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints.

4Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving.

5Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient.

7Therefore do not be associated with them.

8For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—

9for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.

10Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.

11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

12For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly;

13but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,

14for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’

15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise,

16making the most of the time, because the days are evil.

17So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

18Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit,

19as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts,

20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.

23For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour.

24Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,

26in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word,

27so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind— yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish.

28In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

29For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church,

30because we are members of his body.

31‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’

32This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.

33Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.