Often in theological debates, Christians start throwing Scripture verses around from all parts of the Bible. While all Scripture is the Word of God and thus must be consistent in such a way that a coherent, non-contradictory message is present, I think this haphazard cafeteria/smorgasbord style of using Scripture can be very unhelpful, even dangerous at times. This practice also makes it easier for Christians to cherry-pick the verses that they like (often out of context) and that support their denominational beliefs and to avoid verses that they don’t like and that contradict their denominational beliefs.
We Christians cannot forget or deny that human beings, with their own human stylistic traits, emphases, and paradigms, did indeed write the Bible. Thus it seems certain that Christians can more fully understand the written Word by digesting it book by book (or letter by letter in this case), carefully examining and taking into account the unique context, tradition, and perspective contained within and historically surrounding each book and author. This method also seems to me an eminently, though perhaps not distinctly, Catholic approach to Scripture and its interpretation. None of the books were written by their authors with the Bible’s compilation in mind.
Thus I’d like to present how a traditional, conservative Catholic reads and interprets Scripture on a book by book basis. In this way, a Protestant may come to know what exactly a Catholic sees, thinks, and feels when he reads the Bible. Perhaps in this way and on this basis of what is our common ground, our common tradition, namely certain books of Scripture, the Body may be made one and whole again as Jesus prayed it would be and intended it to be.
St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians
St. John Chrysostom says that St. Paul wrote this letter while imprisoned in Rome. The letter is addressed to the Church at Ephesus, a city located in modern-day Turkey.
While there are various doctrines that Paul touches on indirectly, this relatively short letter is very simple in what it wants to get across directly:
- Remember your past sinfulness, the sins you committed before your becoming a Christian. (2:1-3, 11-12)
- Be strong, persevere, and do NOT fall back into those past sins (or new ones)! (4:1, 17, 22-24; 6:10-13, 18)
- God has given a special measure of grace to his apostles and other ministers to ensure the unity of the Church and the purity of the faith. (4:7, 11-16)
- Do these good things; avoid these evil things. (Chapters 4, 5, and 6)
That’s it. The end.
Specifically with regard to Catholic doctrines, the letter to the Ephesians does the following:
- Contradicts the heresy of sola Scriptura and upholds the authority of oral apostolic preaching and discipline in person (1:17; 4:7-15, 21; 6:19-20)
- Affirms apostolic/Church authority over lay believers (1:1; 3:4-5; 4:7-15)
- Affirms apostolic succession (4:11-16)
- Contradicts the fallibilistic tendency of Protestantism (1:9; 2:19; 3:18; 4:14-15; 5:5-6)
- Affirms the Catholic view of the Church as one, holy, apostolic, and sacramental in nature (1:22-23; 2:19-22; 3:2-3, 6, 10; 4:3-6)
- Affirms the necessity of perseverance in obedience, works of love, continual repentance, and maintenance of holiness for salvation/to enter heaven (1:4, 13-15; 2:1-12; 4:17-19, 22-24; 5:5-6; 6:11)
- Contradicts certainty of knowledge of others’ or one’s own salvation (1:18; 2:15-16; 4:27; 5:15; 6:11, 13)
I’m not going to comment on every single verse but rather on the ones relevant to the Protestant-Catholic divide or general conservative Christian doctrine. Very often, I will supplement my commentary with the homilies of St. John Chrysostom (347-407) to Christians. His was the earliest publicly available complete commentary on this letter that I could find. All emphases are mine. All verses are taken from the Revised Standard Version.
1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God….”
Paul is an apostle, one who has been sent out by those with authority (namely, Peter and James) to spread the gospel. Click here to learn more about the difference between a disciple and an apostle.
1:2 “To the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus….”
The “saints” are the saved, the holy ones. What does St. Paul mean by “faithful”? Merely one who mentally assents to the faith, or one who actually lives and practices the faith?
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Observe that he calls saints, men with wives, and children, and domestics. For that these are they whom he calls by this name is plain from the end of the Epistle…. Think how great is the indolence that possesses us now, how rare is any thing like virtue now and how great the abundance of virtuous men must have been then, when even secular men could be called ‘saints and faithful.'”
1:3-8 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us.”
Before we choose God, God chooses us. In a certain sense, God has chosen everyone because He has given everyone sufficient grace for salvation. So God has chosen everyone, but not everyone chooses God. To reject God is damnation. Free will is not nonexistent or destroyed because God chooses us; we have to cooperate with His choice. God will not save us against our will, if we willfully reject Him through our disobedient behavior. And of course, His grace of forgiveness is freely bestowed, not earned, but we have to freely accept it.
Within the context of the whole letter (1:18; 2:15-16; 4:27; 5:15; 6:11, 13), it’s clear Paul is not telling the Ephesians that they have nothing to fear, that they should have absolute certainty about their eternal fate.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “And He, then, it is that shall bestow upon us all those rewards hereafter. He is the very Judge that shall say,
Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34). And again,
I will that where I am they will also be with Me (John 17:24). And this is a point which he is anxious to prove in almost all his Epistles, that ours is no novel system, but that it had thus been figured from the very first, that it is not the result of any change of purpose, but had been in fact a divine dispensation and fore-ordained…. What is meant by, ‘He chose us in Him?’ By means of the faith which is in Him, Christ, he means, happily ordered this for us before we were born; nay more, before the foundation of the world…. But wherefore has He chosen us? ‘That we should be holy and without a blemish before Him.’ That you may not then, when you hear that ‘He has chosen us,’ imagine that faith alone is sufficient, he proceeds to add life and conduct. To this end, says he, has He chosen us, and on this condition, ‘that we should be holy and without blemish.’… He has Himself rendered us holy, but then we must continue holy. A holy man is he who is a partaker of faith; a blameless man is he who leads an irreproachable life. It is not however simply holiness and irreproachableness that He requires, but that we should appear such ‘before Him.’ For there are holy and blameless characters, who yet are esteemed as such only by men, those who are like whited sepulchres, and like such as wear sheep’s clothing. It is not such, however, He requires, but such as the Prophet speaks of; ‘And according to the cleanness of my hands’ (Psalm 18:24). What cleanness? That which is so ‘in His eyesight.’ He requires that holiness on which the eye of God may look…. Because this comes not of any pains, nor of any good works of ours, but of love; and yet not of love alone, but of our virtue also. For if indeed of love alone, it would follow that all must be saved; whereas again were it the result of our virtue alone, then were His coming needless, and the whole dispensation. But it is the result neither of His love alone, nor yet of our virtue, but of both…. Because our being rendered virtuous, and believing, and coming near unto Him, even this again was the work of Him that called us Himself, and yet, notwithstanding, it is ours also…. As for example, the first will is that sinners should not perish; the second will is, that, if men become wicked, they shall perish. For surely it is not by necessity that He punishes them, but because He wills it…. Now then if for this He has shown grace to us, to the praise of the glory of His grace, and that He may display His grace, let us abide therein…. That is to say, He has not only released us from our sins, but has also made us meet objects of His love. It is as though one were to take a leper, wasted by distemper, and disease, by age, and poverty, and famine, and were to turn him all at once into a graceful youth, surpassing all mankind in beauty, shedding a bright lustre from his cheeks, and eclipsing the sun-beams with the glances of his eyes; and then were to set him in the very flower of his age, and after that array him in purple and a diadem and all the attire of royalty. It is thus that God has arrayed and adorned this soul of ours, and clothed it with beauty, and rendered it an object of His delight and love…. Look, what words the initiated utter! What can be more beautiful than that mouth that breathes those wondrous words, and with a pure heart and pure lips, and beaming with cheerful confidence, partakes of such a mystical table? What more beautiful than the words, with which we renounce the service of the Devil, and enlist in the service of Christ? Than both that confession which is before the Baptismal laver, and that which is after it? Let us reflect as many of us as have defiled our Baptism, and weep that we may be able again to repair it.”
1:9-10 “For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
Paul is not at all uncertain of what he is speaking about. His words of revelation of the mystery of God’s will are said “in all wisdom and insight.”
1:11-12 “In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory.”
Again, God’s predestination and appointments do not override human free will. God can call and appoint, but we have to listen and accept. See commentary on 1:3-8.
Again, within the context of the whole letter (1:18; 2:15-16; 4:27; 5:15; 6:11, 13), Paul is not telling the Ephesians that they have nothing to fear, that they should have absolute certainty about their eternal fate.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Having first used the expression, ‘to them that are called according to a purpose,’ and at the same time wishing to declare their privilege compared with the rest of mankind, he speaks also of inheritance by lot, yet so as not to divest them of free will. That point then, which more properly belongs to happy fortune, is the very point he insists upon. For this inheritance by lot depends not on virtue, but, as one might say, on fortuitous circumstances. It is as though he had said, lots were cast, and He has chosen us; but the whole is of deliberate choice. Men predestinated, that is to say, having chosen them to Himself, He has separated. He saw us, as it were, chosen by lot before we were born. For marvellous is the foreknowledge of God, and acquainted with all things before their beginning.”
1:13-15 “In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints….”
Yes, those who believe are sealed with the Spirit and guaranteed the inheritance of eternal life. But what does Paul mean by saying the Ephesians “have believed”? Does he mean mere mental assent or does he mean a living faith working through love? It’s clear from verse 15 that Paul means the latter.
Several times in his letters, Paul tells Christian communities that if they fall back into various kinds of sins, they cannot inherit the kingdom. To sin is to show one’s unbelief. Sure, sins that occur after we’ve entered the Church (through baptism) can be forgiven too after repentance. But we are not “sealed” or “guaranteed” eternal life regardless of our actions. To give mental assent to the faith, yet unrepentantly act contrary to the faith, and still believe one is saved and destined for heaven is to delude oneself and mock God, who will not be mocked. Again, within the context of the whole letter (1:18; 2:15-16; 4:27; 5:15; 6:11, 13), Paul is not telling the Ephesians that they have nothing to fear, that they should have absolute certainty about their eternal fate.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Thus here also he makes the things already bestowed a sure token of the promise of those which are yet to come. For this reason he further calls it an ‘earnest,’ (Cf. also 2 Corinthians 1:22) for an earnest is a part of the whole. He has purchased what we are most concerned in, our salvation; and has given us an earnest in the mean while. Why then did He not give the whole at once? Because neither have we, on our part, done the whole of our work. We have believed. This is a beginning; and He too on His part has given an earnest. When we show our faith by our works, then He will add the rest…. For our absolute redemption takes place then. For now we have our life in the world, we are liable to many human accidents, and are living among ungodly men. But our absolute redemption will be then, when there shall be no sins, no human sufferings, when we shall not be indiscriminately mixed with all kinds of people…. Let not the hearing, however, make us too much at our ease; for although He does it for His own sake, yet notwithstanding He requires a duty on our part. If He says, ‘Them that honor Me I will honor, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed,’ (1 Samuel 2:30) let us reflect that there is that which He requires of us also. True, it is the praise of His glory to save those that are enemies, but those who, after being made friends, continue His friends. So that if they were to return back to their former state of enmity, all were vain and to no purpose. There is not another Baptism, nor is there a second reconciliation again, but ‘a certain fearful expectation of judgment which shall devour the adversaries’ (Hebrews 10:27). If we intend at the same time to be always at enmity with Him and yet to claim forgiveness at His hand, we shall never cease to be at enmity, and to be wanton, to grow in depravity, and to be blind to the Sun of Righteousness which has risen…. He has showed you the true light; if you shun it, and runnest back again into the darkness, what shall be your excuse? What sort of allowance shall be made for you? None from that moment. For this is a mark of unspeakable enmity. When indeed you knew not God, then if you were at enmity with Him, you had, be it how it might, some excuse. But when you have tasted the goodness and the honey, if you again abandonest them, and turnest to your own vomit, what else are you doing but bringing forward evidence of excessive hatred and contempt?… Again, what is stealing? Is it matter of necessity? Yes, a man will say, because poverty causes this. Poverty, however, rather compels us to work, not to steal. Poverty, therefore, has in fact the contrary effect. Theft is the effect of idleness; whereas poverty produces usually not idleness, but a love of labor. So that this sin is the effect of indolence…. We have anger given us, not that we may commit acts of violence on our neighbors, but that we may correct those that are in sin, that we may bestir ourselves, that we may not be sluggish. Anger is implanted in us as a sort of sting, to make us gnash with our teeth against the devil, to make us vehement against him, not to set us in array against each other. We have arms, not to make us at war among ourselves, but that we may employ our whole armor against the enemy. Are you prone to anger? Be so against your own sins: chastise your soul, scourge your conscience, be a severe judge, and merciless in your sentence against your own sins. This is the way to turn anger to account. It was for this that God implanted it within us…. But again, is plunder a matter of necessity? No, in no wise. Tell me, what manner of necessity is there to be grasping: what manner of compulsion? Poverty, a man will say, causes it, and the fear of being without common necessaries. Now this is the very reason why you ought not to be grasping. Wealth so gotten has no security in it. You are doing the very same thing as a man would do, who, if he were asked why he laid the foundation of his house in the sand, should say, he did it because of the frost and rain. Whereas this would be the very reason why he should not lay it in the sand. They are the very foundations which the rain, and blasts, and wind, most quickly overturn. So that if you would be wealthy, never be rapacious; if you would transmit wealth to your children, get righteous wealth, at least, if any there be that is such. Because this abides, and remains firm, whereas that which is not such, quickly wastes and perishes. Tell me, have you a mind to be rich, and do you take the goods of others? Surely this is not wealth: wealth consists in possessing what is your own. He that is in possession of the goods of others, never can be a wealthy man; since at that rate even your very silk venders, who receive their goods as a consignment from others, would be the wealthiest and the richest of men. Though for the time, indeed, it is theirs, still we do not call them wealthy. And why forsooth? Because they are in possession of what belongs to others.”
1:16-20 “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead….”
One should not presume that merely because one calls Jesus “Lord and Savior” that one is filled with “wisdom and revelation.” The supremacy of private judgment and interpretation is false.
Eternal life in heaven is a hope that God calls us to, a hope not merely for non-Christians but for Christians too. One cannot have a certain possession or hold on something that one is hoping for. Christians must hope, not merely wait. What Paul is saying here and throughout chapter 1 is based on the context of Christian obedience provided in chapter 2. Paul is speaking to presumably obedient Christians.
1:20-22 “…and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; and he has put all things under his feet….”
Jesus is the King of the world, above all nations and states. Some so-called Christians need a reminder of this, that there is a difference between God and Caesar.
1:22-23 “…and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all.”
Make no mistake: the Church and the Body of Christ are one and the same. This metaphor of the body is crucial to understanding which church is the one, true Church. The Church is the perpetuation of the Incarnation, the bodily presence, of Jesus on earth. Those within whom Christ literally dwells are the Church, the Body of Christ. It is no coincidence that the Catholic Church believes that its members truly have Jesus’ body within their own bodies through the Eucharist and also claims to be the true Body of Christ, the true Church.
And notice that the Church does indeed “contribute” something to Christ in a certain sense: the Church is the “fullness” of Christ because it is Christ made present physically in the world. The implication is that if Christ did not continue to be present in the world in some bodily form, something in Christ would be incomplete in some sense.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Amazing again, whither has He raised the Church? As though he were lifting it up by some engine, he has raised it up to a vast height, and set it on yonder throne; for where the Head is, there is the body also. There is no interval to separate between the Head and the body; for were there a separation, then were it no longer a body, then were it no longer a head…. In order then that when you hear of the Head you may not conceive the notion of supremacy only, but also of consolidation, and that you may behold Him not as supreme Ruler only, but as Head of a body…. As though this were not sufficient to show the close connection and relationship, what does he add? ‘The fullness of Christ is the Church.’ And rightly, for the complement of the head is the body, and the complement of the body is the head. Mark what great arrangement Paul observes, how he spares not a single word, that he may represent the glory of God. “The, complement,” he says, i.e., the head is, as it were, filled up by the body, because the body is composed and made up of all its several parts, and he introduces Him as having need of each single one and not only of all in common and together; for unless we be many, and one be the hand, and another the foot, and another some other member, the whole body is not filled up. It is by all then that His body is filled up. Then is the head filled up, then is the body rendered perfect, when we are all knit together and united…. Let us feel awed at the closeness of our relation, let us dread lest any one should be cut off from this body, lest any one should fall from it, lest any one should appear unworthy of it…. Yet is the body of this Head trampled on by the very devils. Nay, God forbid it should be thus; for were it thus, such a body could be His body no longer. Your own head the more respectable of your servants reverence, and do you subject your body to be the sport of them that insult it? How sore punishment then shall you not deserve?… Further, our discourse is concerning this Body, and as many of us as partake of that Body and taste of that Blood, are partaking of that which is in no wise different from that Body, nor separate. Consider that we taste of that Body that sits above, that is adored by Angels, that is next to the Power that is incorruptible. Alas! How many ways to salvation are open to us! He has made us His own body, He has imparted to us His own body, and yet not one of these things turns us away from what is evil. Oh the darkness, the depth of the abyss, the apathy!… Do you not see, that even in our own body, when any part is superfluous and useless, it is cut off, is cut away? It is of no use that it has belonged to the body, when it is mutilated, when it is mortified, when it is decayed, when it is detrimental to the rest. Let us not then be too confident, because we have been once made members of this body. If this body of ours, though but a natural body, nevertheless suffers amputation, what dreadful evil shall it not undergo, if the moral principle should fail? When the body partakes not of this natural food, when the pores are stopped up, then it mortifies; when the ducts are closed, then it is palsied. So is it with us also, when we stop our ears, our soul becomes palsied; when we partake not of the spiritual food, when, instead of corrupt bodily humors, evil dispositions impair us, all these things engender disease, dangerous disease, disease that wastes. And then there will be need of that fire, there will be need of that cutting asunder. For Christ cannot endure that we should enter into the bride-chamber with such a body as this. If He led away, and cast out the man that was clothed in filthy garments, what will He not do unto the man who attaches filth to the body; how will He not dispose of him? I observe many partaking of Christ’s Body lightly and just as it happens, and rather from custom and form, than consideration and understanding…. And yet it is not the Epiphany, nor is it Lent, that makes a fit time for approaching, but it is sincerity and purity of soul. With this, approach at all times; without it, never. ‘For as often,’ (1 Corinthians 11:26) says he, ‘as you do this, you proclaim the Lord’s death,’ i.e., ‘you make a remembrance of the salvation that has been wrought for you, and of the benefits which I have bestowed.’ Consider those who partook of the sacrifices under the old Covenant, how great abstinence did they practise? How did they not conduct themselves? What did they not perform? They were always purifying themselves…. And how shall you present yourself before the judgment-seat of Christ, thou who presumest upon His body with polluted hands and lips? You would not presume to kiss a king with an unclean mouth, and the King of heaven do you kiss with an unclean soul? It is an outrage. Tell me, would you choose to come to the Sacrifice with unwashen hands? No, I suppose, not. But you would rather choose not to come at all, than come with soiled hands. And then, thus scrupulous as you are in this little matter, do you come with soiled soul, and thus dare to touch it? And yet the hands hold it but for a time, whereas into the soul it is dissolved entirely. What, do you not see the holy vessels so thoroughly cleansed all over, so resplendent? Our souls ought to be purer than they, more holy, more brilliant. And why so? Because those vessels are made so for our sakes. They partake not of Him that is in them, they perceive Him not. But we do—yes, verily. Now then, you would not choose to make use of a soiled vessel, and do you approach with a soiled soul? Observe the vast inconsistency of the thing…. In vain is the daily Sacrifice, in vain do we stand before the Altar; there is no one to partake. These things I am saying, not to induce you to partake any how, but that you should render yourselves worthy to partake. Are you not worthy of the Sacrifice, nor of the participation? If so, then neither are you of the prayer. You hear the herald, standing, and saying, ‘As many as are in penitence, all pray.’ As many as do not partake, are in penitence. If you are one of those that are in penitence, you ought not to partake; for he that partakes not, is one of those that are in penitence…. Look, I entreat: a royal table is set before you, Angels minister at that table, the King Himself is there, and do you stand gaping? Are your garments defiled, and yet do you make no account of it?— or are they clean? Then fall down and partake. Every day He comes in to see the guests, and converses with them all. Yes, at this moment is he speaking to your conscience; ‘Friends, how are you standing here, not having on a wedding garment?’ He said not, Why did you sit down? No, before he sat down, He declared him to be unworthy, so much as to come in. He says not, ‘Why did you sit down to eat,’ but, ‘Why did you come in?’ And these are the words that He is at this very moment addressing to one and all of us that stand here with such shameless effrontery. For every one, that partakes not of the mysteries, is standing here in shameless effrontery. It is for this reason, that they which are in sins are first of all put forth; for just as when a master is present at his table, it is not right that those servants who have offended him should be present, but they are sent out of the way: just so also here when the sacrifice is brought forth, and Christ, the Lord’s sheep, is sacrificed; when you hear the words, ‘Let us pray together,’ when you behold the curtains drawn up, then imagine that the Heavens are let down from above, and that the Angels are descending! As then it is not meet that any one of the uninitiated be present, so neither is it that one of them that are initiated, and yet at the same time defiled…. And you may, afterwards, come near, and behold: when, however, He is present, depart. You are no more allowed to be here than the Catechumen is. For it is not at all the same thing never to have reached the mysteries, and when you have reached them, to stumble at them and despise them, and to make yourself unworthy of this thing…. That I may not then be the means of increasing your condemnation, I entreat you, not to forbear coming, but to render yourselves worthy both of being present, and of approaching…. But may He that pricks the heart, He that gives the Spirit of compunction, pierce your hearts, and plant the seeds in the depth of them, that so through His fear ye may conceive, and bring forth the spirit of salvation, and come near with boldness.”
2:1-3 “And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
St. Paul begins talking about the sins that he and the Ephesians (all of us, really) had in the past. Notice the past tense all the way through. Before baptism (and confession of deadly/mortal sins), we are dead in our sins. But St. Paul isn’t saying that Christians can’t return to being “sons of disobedience” and “children of wrath” through rejecting God’s grace and returning to our former sins like a dog returns to his own vomit (Prov 26:11; 2 Pet 2:22).
These verses are very important context for what Paul says next.
2:4-10 “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
This is a very important passage because Protestants love to quote verse 8 ad nauseam but without regard for the context of the entire chapter or letter.
Paul is saying that we were saved from our former sins (Eph 2:1-3) by God’s grace; we obtain the forgiveness of God by virtue of His free gift, not by our works. No works can ever merit forgiveness of our sins. Forgiveness comes from the work of faith alone; faith is the only thing we contribute to Christ’s work and gift of forgiveness. No man can boast that he saves himself, for without Christ there is no forgiveness and salvation from sin. Faith alone saves us from sin, but it does not save us from hell. Paul does not say that faith alone gets us into the kingdom of heaven; it merely gets us forgiveness. Again, the context here is past sins, not heaven and hell.
Notice that there is a future element to what Paul is saying about forgiveness and salvation. God forgives our past sins so that “in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness.” The “immeasurable riches” of the future is heaven. God forgives our past sins, so that we may never sin again, do good works, and, in the end, obtain the immeasurable riches of heaven. There is a process to salvation here.
Why can’t we get into heaven by faith alone without works? Because, as Paul says next, the Christian who is saved from sin must walk in the good works that God has prepared and preordained for him or her to freely choose to do. If the Christian, though forgiven for past sins, refuses to do the good works that God has prepared for him or her, then that refusal itself is a sin, a disobedience against God, which merits death and needs forgiveness itself. Our Lord and Savior Himself echoes this interpretation of Paul’s letter when He says, according to the gospel of Matthew, that no one can enter the kingdom of God without a wedding garment of good works (22:10-14; see also 21:41-43). By the way, the thief on the cross probably didn’t have any good works prepared for him by God; God ordained that he would die and yet enter paradise without any good works.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Or again, if it means, not this, it means that by the laver of Baptism He has ‘raised us up with Him.’… ‘Through faith;’ Then, that, on the other hand, our free-will be not impaired, he adds also our part in the work, and yet again cancels it, and adds, ‘And that not of ourselves.’ Neither is faith, he means, ‘of ourselves.’ Because had He not come, had He not called us, how had we been able to believe? For ‘how,’ says he, ‘shall they believe, unless they hear?’ (Romans 10:14) So that the work of faith itself is not our own…. Was faith then, you will say, enough to save us? No; but God, says he, has required this, lest He should save us, barren and without work at all. His expression is, that faith saves, but it is because God so wills, that faith saves. Since, how, tell me, does faith save, without works? This itself is the gift of God…. That he may excite in us proper feeling touching this gift of grace. ‘What then?’ says a man, ‘Hath He Himself hindered our being justified by works?’ By no means. But no one, he says, is justified by works, in order that the grace and loving-kindness of God may be shown. He did not reject us as having works, but as abandoned of works He has saved us by grace; so that no man henceforth may have whereof to boast. And then, lest when you hear that the whole work is accomplished not of works but by faith, you should become idle, observe how he continues…. Not merely that we should begin, but that we should walk in them, for we need a virtue which shall last throughout, and be extended on to our dying day. If we had to travel a road leading to a royal city, and then when we had passed over the greater part of it, were to flag and sit down near the very close, it were of no use to us. This is the hope of our calling; for ‘for good works’ he says. Otherwise it would profit us nothing…. For a single virtue alone is not enough to present us with boldness before the judgment-seat of Christ; no, we require it to be great, and various, and universal, and entire. Hear what Christ says to the disciples, ‘Go, you and make disciples of all the nations—teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19). And again, ‘Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, shall be called least in the kingdom of Heaven,’ (Matthew 5:19) that is, in the resurrection; nay, he shall not enter into the kingdom…. And observe how it is not possible to enter without works of mercy; but if even this alone be wanting, we shall depart into the fire. For, says He, ‘Depart, you cursed, into the eternal fire, which is prepared for the Devil and his angels.’ Why and wherefore? ‘For I was an hungered, and you gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink’ (Matthew 25:42). Beholdest thou, how without any other charge laid against them, for this one alone they perished. And for this reason alone too were the virgins also excluded from the bride-chamber, though sobriety surely they did possess. As the Apostle says ‘and the sanctification, without which no man shall see the Lord’ (Hebrews 12:14). Consider then, that without sobriety, it is impossible to see the Lord; yet it does not necessarily follow that with sobriety it is possible to see Him, because often-times something else stands in the way. Again, if we do all things ever so rightly, and yet do our neighbor no service, neither in that case shall we enter into the kingdom. Whence is this evident? From the parable of the servants entrusted with the talents. For, in that instance, the man’s virtue was in every point unimpaired, and there had been nothing lacking, but forasmuch as he was slothful in his business, he was rightly cast out. Nay, it is possible, even by railing only, to fall into Hell. ‘For whosoever’ says Christ, ‘shall say to his brother, You fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire’ (Matthew 5:22). And if a man be ever so right in all things, and yet be injurious, he shall not enter…. And let no one impute cruelty to God, in that he excludes those who fail in this matter, from the kingdom of Heaven. For even with men, if any one do any thing whatsoever contrary to the law, he is banished from the king’s presence. And if he transgresses so much as one of the established laws, if he lays a false accusation against another, he forfeits his office. And if he commits adultery, and is detected, he is disgraced, and even though he have done ten thousand right acts, he is undone; and if he commits murder, and is convicted, this again is enough to destroy him. Now if the laws of men are so carefully guarded, how much more should those of God be. ‘But He is good,’ a man says. How long are we to be uttering this foolish talk? Foolish, I say, not because He is not good, but in that we keep thinking that His goodness will be available to us for these purposes….For it is with this object that I too discourse so much concerning His goodness, not that we may presume upon it, and do any thing we choose, because in that way this goodness will be to the prejudice of our salvation; but that we may not despair in our sins, but may repent. For ‘the goodness of God leads you to repentance,’ (Romans 2:4) not to greater wickedness. And if you become depraved, because of His goodness, you are rather belying Him before men. I see many persons thus impugning the long-suffering of God; so that if you use it not aright, you shall pay the penalty. Is God a God of loving-kindness? Yes, but He is also a righteous Judge. Is He one who makes allowance for sins? True, yet renders He to every man according to his works. Does He pass by iniquity and blot out transgressions? True, yet makes He inquisition also. How then is it, that these things are not contradictions? Contradictions they are not, if we distinguish them by their times. He does away iniquity here, both by the laver of Baptism, and by penitence. There He makes inquisition of what we have done by fire and torment…. He puts this before all terrible things; for if it is our duty to love our enemies, of what punishment shall not he be worthy, who turns away even from them that love him, and is in this respect worse than the heathen? So that in this case the greatness of the sin will make such an one go away with the devil. Woe to him, it is said, who does not give alms; and if this was the case under the Old Covenant, much more is it under the New…. Let us not, I pray and entreat you, let us not vainly deceive ourselves and comfort ourselves with arguments like these; no, let us practise those virtues, which shall avail to save us…. [L]et us have a regard for our own salvation, let us make virtue our care, let us rouse ourselves to the practice of good works, that we may be counted worthy to attain to this exceeding glory….”
2:11-12 “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
Again, Paul returns to the theme of past sins like at the beginning of this chapter. Past sins is the clear context for Eph 2:5-8. He uses the past tense.
Paul wants the Ephesians to remember their past sinfulness. Why? Because he wants the Ephesians to be obedient to God! Because obedience is actually important to their salvation and admission into heaven! Because he doesn’t want them to fall back into their former sins, to fall from grace!
It isn’t until chapter 4 that Paul finally explicitly spits out his reason for urging the Ephesians to remember their past sinfulness (all of chapter 3 is one big aside or digression with Paul talking about himself): “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called…. Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds…. Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (4:1, 17, 22-24). The rest of this letter (chapters 4, 5, and 6) is one big exhortation to obedience, or else the Ephesians will once again fall back into sin and death.
2:13-16 “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.”
Again, Paul says that Christ’s blood brought forgiveness for our past sins, thus reconciling us to God and establishing peace and communion among the saints. One should not gloss over the strong declaration of communion that Paul makes: “made us both one” and “one new man” (the “one body” of Jesus Christ).
It is also important to clarify that Paul is not saying that the death and resurrection of Jesus literally abolished the moral law and its obligations upon Christians. Paul is saying that Christ abolished the enmity between man and God that the law produced and that He abolished the Jewish ritual laws (though really, they have been transformed, fulfilled, and then perpetuated in some sense through the sacraments). If Paul really meant to say that Christians are no longer bound to obey the moral commandments of God, then why the heck would he dedicate the rest of his letter, the last three chapters of the letter (out of 6 total chapters and thus half of the entire letter) to moral commands and injuctions on a variety of topics?
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Oh! amazing loving-kindness! He gave us a law that we should keep it, and when we kept it not, and ought to have been punished, He even abrogated the law itself. As if a man, who, having committed a child to a schoolmaster, if he should turn out disobedient, should set him at liberty even from the schoolmaster, and take him away. How great loving-kindness were this!”
2:18 “… for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” The Holy Spirit is given to all members of the Church but through mediation, according to God’s will. Jesus confers the Spirit on the apostles at Pentecost as we know from the book of Acts. Through apostolic ministry, through the ministry of the apostles and their successors, the Spirit is conferred upon the rest of the members of the Church through the sacraments of Baptism and especially Confirmation. It is through this mediation of the Church (the Body of the Son) and the Spirit that we know and have access to the Father.
2:19-22 “So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
The one, true Church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles.” Any church that is not built upon the apostles is a heretical sect. To be “built upon the foundation of the apostles” means that the one, true Church can actually trace its institutional existence and its doctrines from the present day all the way back in history to the time of Jesus and the apostles.
Those who are part of this one, true Church are “no longer strangers and sojourners” but are home with family. Again, the communion of saints is alive and real, here and now even. The Christian here on earth, as long as he or she is truly a member of the Church in both faith and action (in a state of grace), is already “joined together” in communion with the saints. The Catholic has one and only one home and knows with certainty where home is; the Catholic is at peace. Protestants, if they are consistent and faithful in their doctrinal fallibilism and scientific approach, can never be settled and at home in their church, for they can never really be certain that they know the truth and are following the Truth. Thus the Protestant cannot truly be at peace intellectually and spiritually.
It is also very possible that Paul is referring specifically to Gentiles and Jews respectively in saying “strangers and sojourners.”
3:2-3 “…assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.”
Notice that Paul is acknowledging the possibility that the Ephesian Christians have already heard about Paul by word of mouth from other Christian apostles.
Paul and the rest of the apostles are stewards of God’s grace. A Protestant would never put it that way, but a Catholic would. Priests, bishops, and popes, as the successors of the apostles, are stewards of God’s grace. A steward is more than someone who parrots or speaks on behalf of the owner/master; a steward is intimately involved and responsible in managing the affairs of the owner/master’s property or enterprise.
The truth of Christianity and its mysteries were not made known to Paul by the apostles and their preaching. He is a special and exceptional case because he received the truth by revelation, by a direct encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. This is NOT the ordinary means of coming to faith and the truth. Protestants should not think that every interpretation they have of a Bible verse is a revelation from God. The Church and its authoritative ministry and teaching are the ordinary means of coming to the one faith and one truth.
Paul says that he has written briefly about how God revealed Himself to Paul on the road to Damascus and afterward was given stewardship of God’s grace like the other apostles. He may be referring to certain passages in his letter to the Galatians or maybe previous letters to the Ephesians which we do not possess today.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Perhaps he had informed them of it by some persons, or had not long before been writing to them.”
3:4-5 “When you read this you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit….”
The Holy Spirit uniquely revealed the fullness of truth about the mystery of Jesus Christ to the apostles, not to every disciple of Jesus. It is crucial then that a Christian be able to trace back historically his beliefs and doctrines through the successors of the apostles to the apostles themselves. For that is how we will know that a certain doctrine is true and inspired by the Spirit.
3:6 “… that is, how the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
Again, the Church, the Body of Christ, is one, is unified in communion. There is only one Church, and it cannot be divided or destroyed; people can only refuse to join its communion or remove themselves from its communion by their free choice.
3:7-10 “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”
St. Paul was made a minister by extraordinary means, as we are told in Acts, chapter 9. The ordinary means of becoming a minister is “through the Church,” through the laying on of hands by the apostles and their successors. Protestants err in taking St. Paul as the ordinary example for how faith, authority, and ministry are confirmed and sustained in the Church.
However, notice that even though Paul was called to faith and ministry in an extraordinary way apart from the Church militant on earth, Paul does not despise or rebuff the Church but rather sees himself as a leader of the Church. It is also good to remember that Paul also visited with Peter for 15 days and got his gospel approved by the apostles with the most authority (Gal 1:18, 2:1-2).
3:11-12 “This was according to the eternal purpose which he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confidence of access through our faith in him.”
Boldness and confidence are what faith should give us. It should not give us certain assurance of our getting to heaven, but it should give us confidence and great hope that we will, if we love God, if we humbly ask Him forgiveness for our past sins and obey His commandments. Moreover, we should have boldness and confidence in speaking about God, Jesus, the faith, and the Church. We should never be shy or ashamed of speaking about these things and living out the faith.
Again, within the context of the whole letter (1:18; 2:15-16; 4:27; 5:15; 6:11, 13), Paul is not telling the Ephesians that they have nothing to fear, that they should have absolute certainty about their eternal fate.
3:14-19 “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.”
Notice that St. Paul expects the fruit of faith to be rootedness and grounding in love, which is active, not passive.
Also, notice that full comprehension of God is in fact possible, contrary to the fallibilistic and scientific approach to theological truth that Protestantism has. Fullness of godly knowledge is possible.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “However, he does not ask the whole of God, but demands of them also faith and love, and not simply love, but love ‘rooted and grounded,’ so that neither any blasts can shake it, nor any thing else overturn it.”
3:20-21 “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.”
If we truly have faith and love God, then He and His power will be at work in us.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “‘The glory in the Church.’ Well might he say this, forasmuch as the Church alone can last on to eternity.”
4:1 “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called….”
It is now clear why Paul started off talking about past sins, about life before faith in Christ, and urged the Ephesians to remember their past sins: because the misery of that former life should be motivation not to fall back into it. And the contrast of that with their present life in Christ, in grace, should motivate them to lead a life worthy of that grace they have received.
All Christians are called to perfect holiness, to sainthood. We are called to be holy as God is holy. If we repent, embrace Jesus’ forgiveness in faith, and continue in obedience and charity after being forgiven, we will be worthy of the promise of eternal life.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “It is the virtue of teachers to aim not at praise, nor at esteem from those under their authority, but at their salvation, and to do every thing with this object; since the man who should make the other end his aim, would not be a teacher but a tyrant. Surely it is not for this that God set you over them… ‘Now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord’ (1 Thessalonians 3:8); for he ever earnestly desired the salvation of those whom he was instructing…. [W]ith great fervency, he was both himself baptized, and all his house. Yes, not like most men now-a-days, who suffer both servants and wives and children to go unbaptized.”
4:3-6 “…eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
The one, true Church founded by Jesus Christ and upon the apostles is one and must remain one. The unity of the Church must be something that all Christians strive for. It is completely unbiblical to be satisfied with countless divisions and sects of Christianity all with different doctrines on a variety of major issues.
The following verses explain how this unity is to be maintained in practice (i.e. through aposotolic authority).
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “The body is composed of members both honorable and dishonorable. Only, the greater is not to rise up even against the meanest, nor this latter to envy the other…. Some indeed there are, which are more especially principal members, others less so…. There are great numbers in the Church; there are those who, like the head, are raised up to a height…. Now this house is not of equal honor throughout, but of the stones which contribute to it, some are bright and shining, while others are smaller and more dull than they, and yet superior again to others.”
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “He then beautifully adds, ‘and one Spirit,’ showing that from the one body there will be one Spirit: or, that it is possible that there may be indeed one body, and yet not one Spirit; as, for instance, if any member of it should be a friend of heretics: or else he is, by this expression, shaming them into unanimity, saying, as it were, ‘You who have received one Spirit, and have been made to drink at one fountain, ought not to be divided in mind….’ For can it be, that you are called by the name of a greater God, another, of a lesser God? That you are saved by faith, and another by works? That you have received remission in baptism, while another has not?”
4:7, 11-16 “But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift…. And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.”
Some are given more grace, greater gifts, than others by God, and such people are to use these greater God-given gifts to serve, build up, and secure the Church, their fellow members of the Body.
Hierarchy and authority are fundamental to Christianity, to the Church, the Body of Christ. They are the means by which “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son” is maintained, Christians are secured from “every wind of doctrine,” and Christians attain “mature manhood” and “the fulness of Christ.” Thus the Catholic doctrines regarding the superior authority of bishops and popes.
Hierarchy and authority have been given to bishops and popes by Christ’s grace for the purpose of unifying His Body and of speaking the truth with authority and certainty. It is the Church and her clergy who ensure that Christians attain the “fulness of Christ,” who is the Truth, and thus attain the fullness of Truth.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “If then this or that man possesses any superiority in any spiritual gift, grieve not at it; since his labor also is greater. He that had received the five talents, had five required of him; while he that had received the two, brought only two, and yet received no less a reward than the other. And therefore the Apostle here also encourages the hearer on the same ground, showing that gifts are bestowed not for the honor of one above another, but for the work of the church…. And by this too he shows, that it is not of his own intrinsic merit that one has received more and another less, but that it is for the sake of others, as God Himself has measured it…. Yes, surely; those who were settled and employed about one spot, as Timothy and Titus, were inferior to those who went about the world and preached the Gospel…. That is, until we shall be shown to have all one faith: for this is unity of faith, when we all are one, when we shall all alike acknowledge the common bond. …and some He has appointed to one office, and others to another. For example, the Apostle is the most vital vessel of the whole body, receiving everything from Him; so that He makes eternal life to run through them to all, as through veins and arteries, I mean through their discourse…. For there are two kinds of separation from the body of the Church; the one, when we wax cold in love, the other, when we dare commit things unworthy of our belonging to that body; for in either way we cut ourselves off from the ‘fullness of Christ.’ But if we are appointed to build up others also, what shall not be done to them who are first to make division? Nothing will so avail to divide the Church as love of power. Nothing so provokes God’s anger as the division of the Church. Yea, though we have achieved ten thousand glorious acts, yet shall we, if we cut to pieces the fullness of the Church, suffer punishment no less sore than they who mangled His body…. [N]ot even the blood of martyrdom can wash out this sin. For tell me for what do you suffer as a martyr? Is it not for the glory of Christ? Thou then that yieldest up your life for Christ’s sake, how do you lay waste the Church, for whose sake Christ yielded up His life?… I mean these remarks for those who give themselves up indiscriminately to the men who are dividing the Church. For if on the one hand those men have doctrines also contrary to ours, then on that account further it is not right to mix with them: if, on the other hand, they hold the same opinions, the reason for not mixing with them is greater still. And why so? Because then the disease is from lust of authority. Do you not know what was the fate of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16:1-35)?… Tell me, do you think this is enough, to say that they are orthodox? Is then the ordination of clergy past and done away? And what is the advantage of other things, if this be not strictly observed? For as we must needs contend for the faith; so must we for this also. For if it is lawful for any one, according to the phrase of them of old, ‘to fill his hands,’ and to become a priest, let all approach to minister. In vain has this altar been raised, in vain the fullness of the Church, in vain the number of the priests…. Therefore I assert and protest, that to make a schism in the Church is no less an evil than to fall into heresy. Tell me, suppose a subject of some king, though he did not join himself to another king, nor give himself to any other, yet should take and keep hold of his king’s royal purple, and should tear it all from its clasp, and rend it into many shreds; would he suffer less punishment than those who join themselves to the service of another? And what, if withal he were to seize the king himself by the throat and slay him, and tear his body limb from limb, what punishment could he undergo, that should be equal to his deserts? Now if in doing this toward a king, his fellow-servant, he would be committing an act too great for any punishment to reach; of what hell shall not he be worthy who slays Christ, and plucks Him limb from limb?… The Church is our Father’s house. ‘There is one body, and one Spirit.’… I speak not of you that are present, but of those who are deserting from us. The act is adultery. And if you bear not to hear these things of them, neither should ye of us. There must be breach of the law either on the one side or the other. If then you have these suspicions concerning me, I am ready to retire from my office, and resign it to whomsoever ye may choose. Only let the Church be one. But if I have been lawfully made and consecrated, entreat those who have contrary to the law mounted the episcopal throne to resign it.”
4:17-19 “Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart; they have become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness.”
Having reminded the Ephesians of their past sins, commanded them to lead lives worthy of their call to eternal life, and explained the necessity of apostolic authority over doctrine, with full apostolic authority “in the Lord,” Paul commands them not to live like the Gentiles, who live sinful lives. Such sins alienate one from the life of God and thus deprive one of eternal life.
4:20-21 “You did not so learn Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus.”
Notice that Paul does not say “assuming you have read about him.” The early Christians were taught primarily by personal oral preaching.
4:22-24 “Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
For the third time now, Paul tells the Ephesians to avoid sin and practice righteousness and holiness. Thus begins a long section of Paul giving commandments by which the Ephesians should live.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “He is now speaking of that clothing which is from life and good works. Before, the clothing was from Baptism, whereas now it is from the daily life and from works…. Our part then is, never to put off the garment of righteousness, which also the Prophet calls, ‘the garment of salvation’ (Isaiah 61:10), that so we may be made like God…. Seest not those beggars whom we are wont to call strollers, how they roam about, how we pity even them? And yet nevertheless they are without excuse. We do not excuse them when they have lost their clothes by gaming; and how then, if we lose this garment, shall God pardon us?… Perceive ye how great is the power of Christ’s coming? How He dissolved the curse? For indeed there are more virgins than before among women, there is more modesty in those virgins, and there are more widows.”
4:26-27 “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”
There is a kind of anger that is not sinful, but such anger should be temporary and give the devil no opportunity to lead your anger into sinful anger or other sins. Moral outrage at immorality is not sinful.
What does Paul mean by “opportunity to the devil”? Opportunity to do what? To tempt you to abandon the new Christian life, to return to sin, to lose one’s salvation and eternal life.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Would you be revengeful and be at enmity? Be at enmity, but be so with the devil, and not with a member of your own. For this purpose it is that God has armed us with anger, not that we should thrust the sword against our own bodies, but that we should baptize the whole blade in the devil’s breast. There bury the sword up to the hilt; yea, if you will, hilt and all, and never draw it out again, but add yet another and another. And this actually comes to pass when we are merciful to those of our own spiritual family and peaceably disposed one towards another.”
4:28 “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need.”
Notice that Paul upholds the right of private property (otherwise theft would be incomprehensible). Thieves should abandon theft and seek honest work. And why should they work? So that they may be able to give to those in need. Notice that Paul implicitly says that one cannot be charitable with another’s property and wealth; one must work oneself and give to others from one’s own property and wealth.
4:30 “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
Again, within the context of the whole letter (1:18; 2:15-16; 4:27; 5:15; 6:11, 13), Paul is not telling the Ephesians that they have nothing to fear, that they should have absolute certainty about their eternal fate. Rather he’s telling them that they have nothing to fear on the part of the Holy Spirit. We are not to doubt the Spirit or blame the Spirit for when we sin. But we should fear our own sinfulness, for by our own free will, we can break the seal we received in Baptism and Confirmation and choose hell.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “If we are to attain to the kingdom of Heaven, it is not enough to abandon wickedness, but there must be abundant practice of that which is good also. To be delivered indeed from hell we must abstain from wickedness; but to attain to the kingdom we must cleave fast to virtue…. For as I was saying that the departure from evil is sufficient to prevent our falling into hell, while I was speaking, there stole upon me a certain awful sentence, which does not merely bring down vengeance on them that dare to commit evil, but which also punishes those who omit any opportunity of doing good. What sentence then is this? When the day, the dreadful day, He says, was arrived, and the set time had come, the Judge, seated on the judgment seat, set the sheep on the right hand and the goats on the left; and to the sheep He said, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungered, and you gave me meat’ (Matthew 25:34). So far, well. For it was meet that for such compassion they should receive this reward. That those, however, who did not communicate of their own possessions to them that were in need, that they should be punished, not merely by the loss of blessings, but by being also sent to hell-fire, what just reason, I say, can there be in this? Most certainly this too will have a fair show of reason, no less than the other case: for we are hence instructed, that they that have done good shall enjoy those good things that are in heaven, but they, who, though they have no evil indeed to be charged with, yet have omitted to do good, will be hurried away with them that have done evil into hell-fire. Unless one might indeed say this, that the very not doing good is a part of wickedness, inasmuch as it comes of indolence, and indolence is a part of vice, or rather, not a part, but a source and baneful root of it. For idleness is the teacher of all vice. Let us not then foolishly ask such questions as these, what place shall he occupy, who has done neither any evil nor any good? For the very not doing good, is in itself doing evil. Tell me, if you had a servant, who should neither steal, nor insult, nor contradict you, who moreover should keep from drunkenness and every other kind of vice, and yet should sit perpetually in idleness, and not doing one of those duties which a servant owes to his master, would you not chastise him, would you not put him to the rack? Tell me. And yet forsooth he has done no evil. No, but this is in itself doing evil….. If therefore both in the case of servants, and of mechanics, and of the whole body, not only the commission of evil, but also the omission of what is good, is great unrighteousness, much more will this be the case in regard to the body of Christ…. For where, tell me, is the advantage of all the thorns being cut out, if the good seeds be not sown? For our labor, remaining unfinished, will come round and end in the same mischief…. And our abandonment of the one thing is not sufficient to settle us in the habitual practice of the other, but there is need again of some fresh impulse, and of an effort not less than that made in our avoidance of evil dispositions, in order to our acquiring good ones.”
5:2 “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Love is about sacrifice. Love and sacrifice cannot be separated. If you are not giving of yourself and sacrificing for a person, then you aren’t really loving that person.
5:5-6 “Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”
Notice that Paul is speaking with absolute certainty. With full apostolic authority, he is telling the Ephesian Christians not to be deceived, not to think that they can engage in sexual immorality/impurity (and in disobedience generally to God’s commands) and still inherit the kingdom and escape God’s wrath. A Christian who returns to grave sins forfeits his previous inheritance in the kingdom of God.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “There were, it is likely, in the time of our forefathers also, some who ‘weakened the hands of the people’ (Jeremiah 38:4), and brought into practice that which is mentioned by Ezekiel,— or rather who did the works of the false prophets, who ‘profaned God among His people for handfuls of barley’ (Ezekiel 13:19); a thing, by the way, done methinks by some even at this day. When, for example, we say that he who calls his brother a fool shall depart into hell-fire, others say, ‘What? Is he that calls his brother a fool to depart into hell-fire? Impossible,’ say they. And again, when we say that ‘the covetous man is an idolater,’ in this too again they make abatements, and say the expression is hyperbolical. And in this manner they underrate and explain away all the commandments. It was in allusion then to these that the blessed Paul, at this time when he wrote to the Ephesians, spoke thus… ‘Sons of disobedience’; he thus calls those who are utterly disobedient, those who disobey Him…. Observe how wisely he urges them forward; first, from the thought of Christ, that you love one another, and do injury to no man; then, on the other hand, from the thought of punishment and hell-fire…. That is to say, thinking what ye once were, and what you are now become, do not run back into your former wickedness, nor do ‘despite to the grace’ (Hebrews 10:29) of God.”
5:11 “…for once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret; but when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.”
Christians are called to be Christ, to be light for the world. To fulfill that calling Christians must expose evil as evil, though prudently. Christians must be courageous in confronting evil, though prudently.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Now he is not saying this with reference to the unbelievers only, for many of the faithful, no less than unbelievers, hold fast by wickedness; nay, some far more.”
5:15-16, 18 “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil…. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit….”
Caution and care are necessary for the Christian; otherwise, he or she will fall into the evil of the world.
Drunkenness is immoral and not Christian. It is a sin to drink to the point of drunkenness. But drinking alcohol in and of itself is not a sin; it’s the intemperance which is the sin.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For indeed intemperance in this renders men passionate and violent, and hot-headed, and irritable and savage. Wine has been given us for cheerfulness, not for drunkenness. Whereas now it appears to be an unmanly and contemptible thing for a man not to get drunk. And what sort of hope then is there of salvation? What? Contemptible, tell me, not to get drunk, where to get drunk ought of all things in the world to be most contemptible?… Would you know where wine is good? Hear what the Scripture says, ‘Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto the bitter in soul’ (Proverbs 31:6). And justly, because it can mitigate asperity and gloominess, and drive away clouds from the brow. ‘Wine makes glad the heart of man’ (Psalm 104:15), says the Psalmist. How then does wine produce drunkenness? For it cannot be that one and the same thing should work opposite effects. Drunkenness then surely does not arise from wine, but from intemperance. Wine is bestowed upon us for no other purpose than for bodily health; but this purpose also is thwarted by immoderate use. But hear moreover what our blessed Apostle writes and says to Timothy, ‘Use a little wine for your stomach’s sake, and your frequent infirmities.'”
5:21-24 “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.”
Notice that these verses, unpopular to modern egalitarian ears, are preceded by a general command that everyone “be subject” to one another. Christians are called to serve and love one another, regardless of sex, but according to the truth.
But with respect to marriage and family specifically, the wife is morally obligated to obey her husband, as long as her husband is not commanding evil. Why is she obligated so? Because this is the nature of the feminine as God created it in the female person, body and soul.
Now, contrary to modern thought, authority and dignity are not equivalent or proportional. The fact that the husband has more authority than the wife does not mean he has any greater dignity as a human being . The fact that the wife must obey does not lower her dignity. To be under authority is not in itself to be of lower dignity.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “And why so? Because when they are in harmony, the children are well brought up, and the domestics are in good order, and neighbors, and friends, and relations enjoy the fragrance. But if it be otherwise, all is turned upside down, and thrown into confusion. And just as when the generals of an army are at peace one with another, all things are in due subordination, whereas on the other hand, if they are at variance, everything is turned upside down; so, I say, is it also here…. Let us take as our fundamental position then that the husband occupies the place of the ‘head,’ and the wife the place of the ‘body.’… For indeed the head is the saving health of the body. He had already laid down beforehand for man and wife, the ground and provision of their love, assigning to each their proper place, to the one that of authority and forethought, to the other that of submission.”
5:25-31 “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.'”
The world would be transformed if men, if husbands, took these verses seriously and lived them.
The love of Christ for the Church is fruitful, sacrificial, and joyful. That means the sexual act must be open to procreation, to the creation of a new human life, the primary fruit of marriage. And to deliberarely bring a child into the world is indeed to make a sacrifice of future time, attention, energy, and resources for the sake of the child and the spouse. Lastly, the sexual act should be one of joyful celebration. It should celebrate (and consummate) the love that should already exist between husband and wife. Yes, sex should be pleasurable (otherwise, you’re doing something wrong, haha). But love is a cause for joy, not mere pleasure. The natural physical pleasure of sex should complement the joyful celebration of marital love. But to have pleasure without joy is worse than pain itself. And to take joy in the wrong things is to be a miserable creature.
A husband is also called to sanctify his wife through his love of her, so that she, like the Church, may be “holy and without blemish.” In fact, husband and wife are to sanctify and save each other (1 Cor 7:16).
Jesus washes His Bride the Church through Baptism and thus cleanses her from her sins and saves her.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “You have seen the measure of obedience, hear also the measure of love. Would you have your wife obedient unto you, as the Church is to Christ? Take then yourself the same provident care for her, as Christ takes for the Church. Yea, even if it shall be needful for you to give your life for her, yea, and to be cut into pieces ten thousand times, yea, and to endure and undergo any suffering whatever—refuse it not. Though you should undergo all this, yet will you not, no, not even then, have done anything like Christ. For thou indeed art doing it for one to whom you are already knit; but He for one who turned her back on Him and hated Him. In the same way then as He laid at His feet her who turned her back on Him, who hated, and spurned, and disdained Him, not by menaces, nor by violence, nor by terror, nor by anything else of the kind, but by his unwearied affection; so also do thou behave yourself toward your wife. Yea, though thou see her looking down upon you, and disdaining, and scorning you, yet by your great thoughtfulness for her, by affection, by kindness, you will be able to lay her at your feet. For there is nothing more powerful to sway than these bonds, and especially for husband and wife. A servant, indeed, one will be able, perhaps, to bind down by fear; nay not even him, for he will soon start away and be gone. But the partner of one’s life, the mother of one’s children, the foundation of one’s every joy, one ought never to chain down by fear and menaces, but with love and good temper. For what sort of union is that, where the wife trembles at her husband? And what sort of pleasure will the husband himself enjoy, if he dwells with his wife as with a slave, and not as with a free-woman? Yea, though you should suffer anything on her account, do not upbraid her; for neither did Christ do this…. Praise her not for her beauty. Praise and hatred and love based on personal beauty belong to unchastened souls. Seek thou for beauty of soul. Imitate the Bridegroom of the Church. Outward beauty is full of conceit and great license, and throws men into jealousy, and the thing often makes you suspect monstrous things. But has it any pleasure? For the first or second month, perhaps, or at most for the year: but then no longer; the admiration by familiarity wastes away. Meanwhile the evils which arose from the beauty still abide, the pride, the folly, the contemptuousness. Whereas in one who is not such, there is nothing of this kind. But the love having begun on just grounds, still continues ardent, since its object is beauty of soul, and not of body…. And if moreover disease come too, all is at once fled. Let us seek in a wife affectionateness, modest-mindedness, gentleness; these are the characteristics of beauty. But loveliness of person let us not seek, nor upbraid her upon these points, over which she has no power, nay, rather, let us not upbraid at all, (it were rudeness,) nor let us be impatient, nor sullen. Do ye not see how many, after living with beautiful wives, have ended their lives pitiably, and how many, who have lived with those of no great beauty, have run on to extreme old age with great enjoyment. Let us wipe off the “spot” that is within, let us smooth the “wrinkles” that are within, let us do away the “blemishes” that are on the soul. Such is the beauty God requires. Let us make her fair in God’s sight, not in our own. Let us not look for wealth, nor for that high-birth which is outward, but for that true nobility which is in the soul. Let no one endure to get rich by a wife; for such riches are base and disgraceful; no, by no means let any one seek to get rich from this source…. As great love as each entertains towards himself, so great he would have us entertain towards a wife. Not because we partake of the same nature; no, this ground of duty towards a wife is far greater than that; it is that there are not two bodies but one; he the head, she the body.”
5:32-33 “This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
The comparison of Christ and the Church to the husband and wife, and vice versa, is so very important for both theology and marriage. Blessed Pope John Paul II delved deeper into this profound mystery with his Theology of the Body discourses.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “The wife is a second authority; let not her then demand equality, for she is under the head; nor let him despise her as being in subjection, for she is the body; and if the head despise the body, it will itself also perish. But let him bring in love on his part as a counterpoise to obedience on her part. For example, let the hands and the feet, and all the rest of the members be given up for service to the head, but let the head provide for the body, seeing it contains every sense in itself. Nothing can be better than this union. And yet how can there ever be love, one may say, where there is fear? It will exist there, I say, preëminently. For she that fears and reverences, loves also; and she that loves, fears and reverences him as being the head, and loves him as being a member, since the head itself is a member of the body at large. Hence he places the one in subjection, and the other in authority, that there may be peace; for where there is equal authority there can never be peace; neither where a house is a democracy, nor where all are rulers; but the ruling power must of necessity be one. And this is universally the case with matters referring to the body, inasmuch as when men are spiritual, there will be peace…. Because he would rather that this principle prevail, this, namely, of love; for where this exists, everything else follows of course, but where the other exists [i.e. fear], not necessarily. For the man who loves his wife, even though she be not a very obedient one, still will bear with everything. So difficult and impracticable is unanimity, where persons are not bound together by that love which is founded in supreme authority; at all events, fear will not necessarily effect this. Accordingly, he dwells the more upon this, which is the strong tie. And the wife though seeming to be the loser in that she was charged to fear, is the gainer, because the principal duty, love, is charged upon the husband. ‘But what,’ one may say, ‘if a wife reverence me not?’ Never mind, you are to love, fulfill your own duty. For though that which is due from others may not follow, we ought of course to do our duty. This is an example of what I mean. He says, ‘submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ.’ And what then if another submit not himself? Still obey thou the law of God. Just so, I say, is it also here. Let the wife at least, though she be not loved, still reverence notwithstanding, that nothing may lie at her door; and let the husband, though his wife reverence him not, still show her love notwithstanding, that he himself be not wanting in any point. For each has received his own…. For the man that leaves his father for the sake of his wife, and then again, leaves this very wife herself and abandons her, what forbearance can he deserve?… However, when you hear of ‘fear,’ demand that fear which becomes a free woman, not as though thou were exacting it of a slave. For she is your own body; and if you do this, you reproach yourself in dishonoring your own body…. Supply her with everything. Do everything and endure trouble for her sake. Necessity is laid upon you…. She is a second authority, possessing indeed an authority, and a considerable equality of dignity; but at the same time the husband has somewhat of superiority. In this consists most chiefly the well-being of the house…. If we thus regulate our own houses, we shall be also fit for the management of the Church. For indeed a house is a little Church. Thus it is possible for us by becoming good husbands and wives, to surpass all others. Consider Abraham, and Sarah, and Isaac, and the three hundred and eighteen born in his house…. And he again so loved her, that in all things he obeyed her commands…. If any marry thus, with these views, he will be but little inferior to monks; the married but little below the unmarried…. If thus we regulate ourselves, and attentively study the Scriptures, in most things we shall derive instruction from them.”
6:4 “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
A father must rule wisely and lovingly over his wife and children. If he abuses his authority, the entire family suffers. He is obligated to ensure and participate in the bringing up of his children in the faith and discipline them accordingly.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “He has spoken of the husband, he has spoken of the wife, who is second in authority, he now goes on by gradual advances to the third rank— which is that of children…. How is it not absurd to send children out to trades, and to school, and to do all you can for these objects, and yet, not to ‘
bring them up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord’?… Tempers are wanted, not talking; character, not cleverness; deeds, not words. These gain a man the kingdom…. Otherwise with what sort of boldness shall we stand before the judgment-seat of Christ? If a man who has unruly children is unworthy to be a Bishop (Titus 1:6), much more is he unworthy of the kingdom of Heaven. What do you say? If we have an unruly wife, or unruly children, shall we have to render account? Yes, we shall, if we do not with exactness bring in that which is due from ourselves; for our own individual virtue is not enough in order to salvation. If the man who laid aside the one talent gained nothing, but was punished even in such a manner, it is plain that one’s own individual virtue is not enough in order to salvation, but there is need of that of another also. Let us therefore entertain great solicitude for our wives, and take great care of our children, and of our servants, and of ourselves…. For He does not vouchsafe us His assistance when we sleep, but when we labor also ourselves. For a helper, (as the name implies,) is not a helper of one that is inactive, but of one who works also himself. But the good God is able of Himself to bring the work to perfection, that we may be all counted worthy to attain to the blessings promised us, through the grace and compassions of His only begotten Son….”
6:5-9 “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ; not in the way of eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that whatever good any one does, he will receive the same again from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. Masters, do the same to them, and forbear threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”
Though St. Paul does not call for the outright abolition of slavery and servitude in his letter, he challenges and undermines the institution. Slaves are not to obey their masters because of any quality of their masters but because in serving their masters they can serve Christ, sacrificing as Christ sacrificed. And masters are serve their servants and to remember that God shows no partiality to the free versus the enslaved; all people have equal dignity in His eyes because all are His creation, His children. For a good explanation of how Christianity historically weakened and paved the way for abolition, click here.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Slavery is nothing but a name. The mastership is ‘according to the flesh,’ brief and temporary; for whatever is of the flesh, is transitory…. He is a brother, or rather he has become a brother, he enjoys the same privileges, he belongs to the same body. Yea, more, he is the brother, not of his own master only, but also of the Son of God, he is partaker of all the same privileges; yet do you say, ‘obey your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling’? Yes, for this very reason, he would say, I say it. For if I charge free men to submit themselves one to another in the fear of God—as he said above, ‘submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ’;— if I charge moreover the wife to fear and reverence her husband, although she is his equal; much more must I so speak to the servant. It is no sign of low birth, rather it is the truest nobility, to understand how to lower ourselves, to be modest and unassuming, and to give way to our neighbor…. For inasmuch as it was probable that many masters, as being unbelievers, would have no sense of shame, and would make no return to their slaves for their obedience, observe how he has given them encouragement, so that they may have no misgiving about the remuneration, but may have full confidence respecting the recompense. For as they who receive a benefit, when they make no return, make God a debtor to their benefactors; so, I say, do masters also, if, when well-treated by you, they fail to requite you, requite you the more, by rendering God your debtor…. For the master himself is a servant. ‘Not as men-pleasers,’ he means, ‘and with fear and trembling’: that is, toward God, fearing lest He one day accuse you for your negligence toward your slaves. ‘And forbear threatening;’ be not irritating, he means, nor oppressive. Ah! How mighty a Master does he hint at here! How startling the suggestion! It is this. ‘With what measure you measure, it shall be measured unto you again’ (Matthew 7:2); lest you hear the sentence, ‘Thou wicked servant. I forgave you all that debt’ (Matthew 18:32).’… Think not, he would say, that what is done towards a servant, He will therefore forgive, because done to a servant. Heathen laws indeed as being the laws of men, recognize a difference between these kinds of offenses. But the law of the common Lord and Master of all, as doing good to all alike, and dispensing the same rights to all, knows no such difference. But should any one ask, whence is slavery, and why it has found entrance into human life, (and many I know are both glad to ask such questions, and desirous to be informed of them,) I will tell you. Slavery is the fruit of covetousness, of degradation, of savagery; since Noah, we know, had no servant, nor had Abel, nor Seth, no, nor they who came after them. The thing was the fruit of sin, of rebellion against parents. Let children hearken to this, that whenever they are undutiful to their parents, they deserve to be servants. Such a child strips himself of his nobility of birth; for he who rebels against his father is no longer a son; and if he who rebels against his father is not a son, how shall he be a son who rebels against our true Father? He has departed from his nobility of birth, he has done outrage to nature. Then come also wars, and battles, and take their prisoners. Well, but Abraham, you will say, had servants. Yes, but he used them not as servants. Observe how everything depends upon the head; the wife, by telling him ‘to love her’; the children, by telling him ‘to bring them up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord’; the servants, by the words, ‘knowing that both their Master and yours is in Heaven.’ So, says he, you also in like manner, as being yourselves servants, shall be kind and indulgent…. But I say that the house of the poor also is a city. Because here too there are offices of authority; for instance, the husband has authority over the wife, the wife over the servants, the servants again over their own wives; again the wives and the husbands over the children.”
6:10-13 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
God has given His people many weapons and defenses against evil. The whole array of God’s armor is in the Catholic faith. The Catholic faith is so rich and comprehensive; it is not limited merely to the Bible and abstract faith. It appeals to habit and the senses to provide a more thorough defense against the devil. Catholicism has Mary and the rosary and a wide variety of sacramentals, blessings, prayers, icons, cards, saints, etc. to draw upon for strength and defense. It is amazing how few Catholics take advantage of the arsenal available to them and how well less-armored Christians fight the good fight.
St. Paul clearly implies here that it is possible that some Ephesian Christians may not “be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” and thus wander away from the path of salvation that they started along.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “He speaks not merely of doing the deed, but of completing it, so as not only to slay, but to stand also after we have slain. For many who have gained this victory, have fallen again. ‘Having done,’ says he, ‘all’; not having done one, but not the other. For even after the victory, we must stand. An enemy may be struck, but things that are struck revive again if we do not stand. But if after having fallen they rise up again, so long as we stand, they are fallen. So long as we waver not, the adversary rises not again…. For many there are who are united forsooth to Christ, and who yet love Him not…. If we were not able to trample down one who had fallen, who had been disgraced, who had been despised, who was lying beneath our feet, how shall the Father give us a Father’s rewards? If we subdue not one so placed in subjection to us, what confidence shall we have to enter into our Father’s house? For, tell me, suppose you had a son, and, that he, disregarding the well-disposed part of your household, should associate with them that have distressed you, with them that have been expelled his father’s house, with them that spend their time at the gaming table, and that he should go on so doing to the very last; will he not be disinherited? It is plain enough he will. And so too shall we; if, disregarding the Angels who have well pleased our Father and whom He has set over us, we have our conversation with the devil, inevitably we shall be disinherited, which God forbid; but let us engage in the war we have to wage with him.”
6:18 “Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints….”
Perseverance in the faith is necessary for salvation.
6:19-22 “…and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. Now that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tych’icus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.”
The apostles spread the gospel by word of mouth, from person to person. And then they wrote letters to churches that had already been established in person by an apostle. Script and letters were not held in higher esteem or authority than in-person apostolic preaching, teaching, and governing.