Today we finish Paul’s circular letter to the churches of Asia Minor. He has made his case (quite convincingly) that there is one spiritual people of God consisting of all those justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone – whether Jew or Gentile. But as we saw in 2:10, we have been justified for a purpose: to walk in the good works God predestined for us. In the second half of the letter, Paul gives practical applications to explain how we do that.
Paul begins by exhorting the elect to walk in a manner worthy of God’s sovereign election of us (4:1). Paul calls us to display the fruits of the Spirit (see Gal 5:22-24) such as gentleness, patience, and love (v. 2), eager to live in unity with everyone united in Christ by the Spirit (v. 3). We are united because there is one Spirit that unites us in the one Lord, Jesus Christ (vv. 4-5). We are saved by the same faith and the same baptism of the Spirit as willed by the One sovereign God and Father (v. 6).
But in this unity, there are still differences between us based on the gifts the Spirit has given us (v. 7). Paul then quotes Psalm 68:18. Psalm 68:15-18 is speaking about, and to, the powers of darkness. It is speaking of spiritual warfare. The original mountain of God (as I’ve said, I believe Eden was on Mt. Hermon in Bashan) – where all the angels dwelt with God and man – even Satan and the other heavenly beings that fell into sin – looks with hatred at the place of the presence of God (then the Temple mount, now the church). In quoting Psalm 68:18, Paul is saying that the way God deals with the rebellious angels is through the gifts He has given to those in His church. The “ascended” of Psalm 68 points to Christ’s ascension after coming to earth (v. 9), and then sending the Spirit to fill (or fulfill) all things (v. 10).
And this fulfillment is carried out through our spiritual gifts. And here, Paul is saying that God gave the apostles and prophets (the writers of the New Testament) along with evangelists (like Paul’s companions) and the pastor/teachers (v. 11) not to carry out this fulfillment, but to equip the whole church to carry out the fulfillment: the defeat of the powers of darkness (v. 12). The job of modern-day pastors is to lead the church into unity, and knowledge of Christ, and to spiritual maturity so that we would understand the truth of God and not be subject to the lies of the world and the powers of darkness (vv. 13-14). In other words, we become more like Christ (v. 15) Who has equipped His church to grow, work, and be built up in love (v. 16).
Now remember who Paul is writing to: physical Gentiles (see 2:11, 3:1). Here, he encourages them not to “walk as the Gentiles do” any longer, in the “futility of their minds” (v. 17). Paul is referring back to those kept separate from knowledge of God (see 2:12). Paul is saying that those who believe are no longer part of this group because we have knowledge of God (see v. 13). We are not part of those separated from God, who are darkened in their understanding (God’s sovereignty – v. 18) and who have given themselves up to sin (human responsibility – v. 19). But we now know Christ (v. 20) and have been made into something new (vv. 22-24). We have to live as what we, in fact, are.
This means we speak truth (v. 25), do not remain angry (v. 26), do not steal (v. 28), and speak in a manner worthy of our calling (v. 29). We live this way so that Satan doesn’t get an opportunity to deceive us (v. 27). And notice that even though we have received the sign and seal of the New Covenant (v. 30), we still have a choice and a responsibility to live unto God. And if the whole church lived according to just verses 31-32, what an impact we could make for Christ!
Paul now expounds on some of what he has said. We are to live as imitators of God (5:1). If we do, we will do all of those things he spoke about: love, forgive, speak the truth, etc. Paul warns us away from those things that are not becoming of the saints – things that, if we do them, are not imitating God. Sexual sin, covetousness (v. 3), and crude joking (v. 4). Those who do these things show that they are not of the elect (v. 5). He warns again against the deception of the world (v. 6) so that we do not imitate those of the world. We cannot join ourselves (v. 7) to what we are no longer (v. 8 – see 2:1-3, 4:20-24). In verses 13-14, Paul is saying that our righteous living will expose the sinful ways of others. We would be wise to do exactly this (v. 15).
Paul then speaks of submitting to one another (v. 21). He first points us to God and all He’s done (v. 20). Our mutual submission is in response to God. This is the context of the next passage. Paul speaks of the roles in marriage for men and women. None of what he calls for here is done by a wife for her husband or a husband for his wife, but both are to do what they do for God. Women are to submit to their husband as the head of the family, but “as to the Lord” (v. 22), and as the whole church submits to Christ (vv. 23-24). Men are to love their wives as Christ loved the church (v. 25). Think about that, men! What Christ did, He did for the sake of the church to make us holy (vv. 26-27). This is what men are to do for their wives (v. 28). Paul then speaks of this profound “mystery” that refers to the Christ and the church (v. 32). And what is the mystery of Christ and the church? That He has one spiritual people (see 3:1-6). This means that a man having one wife to whom he gives everything is an imitation of Christ (5:1). Understanding this is how we live out the practical advice of verse 33.
Likewise, children have their place in the family. They are to submit to their parents (6:1). God will bless those children that do (vv. 2-3). Fathers are responsible not to hinder their children’s obedience by angering them, but are to raise them in the instruction of God (v. 4). This principle also applies to servants and masters. Servants are to honor their masters for Christ’s sake (vv. 5-7). And God will bless them for it (v. 8). And like fathers with children, masters are to recognize the true Master and treat their servants well (v. 9). What is said here applies to many more relationships than “masters” and “servants.” It applies to anyone with or under the authority of another.
Paul’s last encouragement is to be strong and strengthened by God (v. 10). How? By living according to chapters 4-6. And once again, we need to be sure not to give Satan an opportunity (v. 11). We need to understand that we are in a war against him and the powers of darkness, not earthly powers or other people (v. 12). So Paul tells us to armor up and prepare for battle (v. 13). Walk in and speak the truth, and protect our hearts by living in righteousness (v. 14 – see 4:24). Note that the belt was used by a soldier to hold the breastplate in place. In our case, living life free of deceit leads us to walk in righteousness. We are to be ready to bring the Gospel to others (v. 15 – see Rom 10:15, Isa 52:7). Protect ourselves by keeping our faith in God, and we will be impervious to the attacks of Satan (v. 16). Wear the helmet of salvation – live according to the knowledge that God has given us of Himself (v. 17). Our offensive weapons are two-fold. Note that it is not just the Word of God that is our sword, but it is the Word of God and prayer (vv. 17-18). And we pray for each other! That is our offensive against the powers of darkness (v. 18).
Paul ends the letter by telling them that he is sending Tychicus to to fill them in on what he has been doing (vv. 21-22). He is also likely carrying the letter(s) to the church(es) Paul is writing to. Paul offers a very general closing salutation in verse 23, again making it likely that this was not for any specific church. The “grace be with all” in verse 24 reinforces this.