God's Word For You is a free Bible Study site committed to bringing you studies firmly grounded in the Bible – the Word of God. Holding a reformed, conservative, evangelical perspective this site affirms that God has provided in Jesus Christ his eternal Son, a way of salvation in which we can live in his presence guilt free, acquitted and at peace.



Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley 2003



Task 1: In 5:15-18 God gives us a number of criteria by which to govern our choices of behaviour. Identify these criteria which should motivate our living.
Criteria by which to choose our behaviour





Paul commands us to be 'careful ... how you live.' So that we will live worthy of our calling as God's children he gives us a few criteria by which to assess the rightness or wrongness of each moral choice that confronts us moment by moment in our lives.

      • Is it wise or unwise? [5:15] Wisdom relates to our knowledge of Christ. Here Paul is telling us to make choices that tie in with our knowledge of God, God's character and God's purpose [1 Corinthians 2:6-16; Ephesians 1:17; 4:20-21]. While the world searches for enlightenment through its own mind, the Christian has received and continues to receive wisdom from God in Christ [Colossians 1:9,28; 2:3] and it is this wisdom that acts as the filter affirming or rejecting the choices that confront us [Colossians 3:16; 4:5; James 3:13-18].
      • Does it maximize the moment? [5:16; Colossians 4:5] KJV: 'redeeming the time'; GNB: 'make good use of every opportunity you have'. Because 'the days are evil' [Ephesians] and we live among 'outsiders' [Colossians] we, the children of light, should use every moment to display the light, we should 'redeem' [buy back] each moment from the evil with which it is saturated and fill it with the glory of God. Each moment of time lived by the Christian should be a moment redeemed from sin's corruption and evil.
      • Does it express our own foolishness or the will of the Lord? [5:17] The first sin expressed human foolishness. Instead of submitting to the revealed will of God, Adam and Eve chose to disobey that will. It is the same with every sin: we in our self-centredness and self-conceit deceive ourselves into thinking that something is okay, even though God has clearly stated that it is not. We come up with all sorts of arguments and excuses to validate our actions and attitudes. God has revealed his will to us: he has given us clear commands; he has laid down all-embracing principles; he has given us an example of the perfect human life in Jesus Christ. He has demonstrated in the death of Christ how horrific sin and its consequences are. He has left us with no excuse for our foolish, sinful choices. All we need to do is to govern our all of choices by his commands that are clearly stated in the Scriptures.
      • Is it generated and motivated by the Spirit of God? [5:18] Paul tells us that our lives should be fully controlled and dominated by God. God dwells within every genuine believer; Jesus taught that the coming of the Holy Spirit is nothing less than the coming of the Father and the Son to indwell the believer [John 14:15-18,20,23]. Paul's challenge here is this: am I allowing God to direct all my choices, to control my life, or am I allowing something or someone else to control me? Is God the source and motivation of this action or attitude? Is this the kind of choice the Spirit of God would affirm? If I do this, is it in rebellion against God or in submission to him? Will it please him or grieve him? Is this action in line with the Gospel of Jesus Christ or is it in line with the religions of men? The Spirit of God will never tell me to do something contrary to the Word of God [compare Ephesians 5:15-20 with Colossians 3:15-17, where 'the Spirit' and 'the word of Christ' are used in parallel passages], or contrary to Jesus Christ.

We need to notice in all of these that our emotions/feelings have no role. Not once are we told to go by our gut feelings, or do what feels right or best. It is all very practical and rational, grounded in the solid facts of God and his commands.


In the Greek text there is only one command in these four verses: to be filled with the Spirit. This one command is followed by five participles, which identify five ways in which being filled will be expressed in our lives.

Task 2: Verses 19-21 list five expressions of being 'filled with the Spirit'. In the Greek they are all present participles. Discuss and record the meaning of each one. [Explanatory notes follow.]

'speaking ... '


'making music in your heart'

'always giving thanks'

'submitting to one another'

B.1 The command to be filled

The command 'be filled' is in the present, continuous tense. It is not a one-off occurrence that lifts us onto a more spiritual level of faith or holiness. It is a command that calls us to on-going repentance, on-going faith and on-going obedience every present moment of our lives. It requires us to keep on deciding at each moment whether or not we are going to honour God. Moment by moment, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, this is what God requires of us: that we keep on being fully controlled and motivated by him, that we keep on acknowledging him as God in every aspect of our lives.

The command to be filled is also in the passive voice. This means that the Spirit of God is the active person and we are the object or recipients of his action. The perfect human life is a life lived in total dependence upon God. This is exemplified in the life of Christ [see John 5:19; 8:28-29; Hebrews 10:7b], and explained in his teaching [John 15:1-5]. The rebellion in Genesis 3 was a rebellion against dependence on God, a grasping for a life of independence. Here in this command to be filled with the Spirit we are being recalled to our original identity and our original human significance and dignity: the high calling of a dependence on God so acute that our lives reflect his life. [See Genesis 1:26,27; Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:16-18; Colossians 3:10]. A mirror, an image, has no significance in itself; it takes its significance and its identity from the reality it reflects or images. The life to which Paul calls us here is a life thoroughly dominated by God and obsessed with God.

Each of the five words that express the effect of being filled with God's Spirit are in the form of present participles. Each of these five participles is dependent on the main verb. Each refers to present, continuing action.

B.2 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs [5:19a]

When God is Number One in our lives, when who he is and what he has done for us in Christ, are the most significant factors in our lives, our overwhelming desire or passion is to talk about him. Consider these expressions of this absorption with God that spilled over into the lives of those who were 'filled' with him:

      • 'My whole being will exclaim, "Who is like you, O LORD?"' [Psalm 35:10]
      • ' ... may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, "The LORD be exalted!"' [Psalm 40:16]
      • 'Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long ... How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!' [Psalm 119:97,103]
      • ' ... if I say, "I will not mention him or speak any more in his name," his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.' [Jeremiah 20:9]
      • 'My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work' [John 4:34].
      • 'We cannot help speaking about the things we have seen and heard' [Acts 4:20]
      • ' ... I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!' [1 Corinthians 9:16]
      • 'Christ's love compels us ... ' [2 Corinthians 5:14]

B.3 singing and making music in your heart [5:19b]

While the previous expression of being filled with the Spirit involved the way we talk with each other, this second expression describes our inner state of mind. To know God through knowing Jesus Christ , to be reconciled to God through the death of Christ, is to be liberated from that fundamental inner division and despair that has characterized every human being since Genesis 3. Self-awareness and self-centredness are replaced by God-awareness and God-consciousness. When God is the centre of our lives there will be a deep joy within us, a joy that sings its own quiet song irrespective of the traumas and troubles that surround us in our circumstances.

      • 'You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound' [Psalm 4:7]
      • ' ... my soul will rejoice in the LORD and delight in his salvation' [Psalm 35:9]
      • 'I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God.' [Isaiah 61:10]
      • 'I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.' [Habakkuk 3:18]
      • ' ... we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have now received reconciliation [Romans 5:11]
      • 'Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!' [Philippians 4:4]
      • 'Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy' [1 Peter 1:8].

B.4 always giving thanks [5:20]

Paul states that the person being filled with God's Spirit will always be giving thanks to the Father, concerning everything, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The opposite of giving thanks is discontentment, grumbling and complaining. It is exemplified in the attitude of the Israelites recorded, for example, in Exodus 15:24; 16:2-3, 7-8; 17:3; Numbers 11:1; 14:2-4; Deuteronomy 1:27. This murmuring or grumbling is understood as a failure to trust God. God had rescued them from Egypt, brought them safely through the Red Sea and defeated their enemies. After all he had done for them, after all they had seen, they should have trusted him, they should have been thankful, they should have been rejoicing in their freedom.

The attitude of thankfulness listed by Paul as an expression of being filled with the Spirit is the attitude of trust in God which is grounded in God's faithfulness, love and power. God is for us; he has demonstrated that clearly in the death of his Son. This means that we can trust him in every situation, that we can be thankful, not grumbling or complaining, in every situation. [Read Romans 8:18-39; 1 Timothy 6:6]. Because of our knowledge of Jesus Christ we also know that no situation means that God is against us or is punishing us, and that no situation means that we are severed from his love.

B.5 submitting to one another [5:21]

The idea of 'submitting' to others evokes an automatic negative reaction in most of us. Our original sin in Genesis 3 displayed a refusal to submit to God and at the same time the promotion of what we perceived to be our own benefit and gain. It then expressed itself in the self-defending, self-justifying excuse of Adam 'the woman you put here with me - she gave me some ... '. In our ever-present efforts to promote, defend and justify ourselves we refuse to submit our well-being to the well-being of the other. Rather we promote ourselves, even if it means hurt to the other. Such is our self-centred sinfulness.

But here Paul tells us that submission to God's control - that is, constant filling by his Spirit, - will express itself in this: that we, like Christ, putting aside our own rights and our well-being, will constantly be looking out for the good of the other . Out of respect for Christ, who, for our good, thought nothing of leaving aside his eternal glory and honour, out of respect for Christ, who, for our salvation, for our liberation, willingly bore our guilt and died our death, out of respect for Christ, there is only one mindset that gives him honour - the mindset of self-denial that reflects his self-denial [Matthew 16:24-26].


Task 3: In 5:21 'submitting to one another' is listed as an expression of being filled with the Spirit. In 5:22,25; 6:1,4,5,9 we are given examples of how this 'submitting' works out in 6 roles in 3 relationships. What are these 6 roles?





Paul gives us these three common relationships by which he illustrates the kind of mutual, reciprocal, submitting to the other that he has in mind. We must note clearly that this is not a one-sided submission. Each party, if subject to the control of God's Spirit, will 'submit' to the other. That is particularly hard to swallow for the side of the relationship that had assumed its own primacy.

Task 4: What does this reciprocal 'submitting' to each other mean in the practice for:

A wife in relation to her husband? [5:22-24,33]


A husband in relation to his wife [ 5:25 -33]


Children in relation to their parents [6:1-3]


Parents in relation to their children [6:4]


Slaves in relation to their masters [6:5-8]


Masters in relation to their slaves [6:9]


C.1 Submission in the marriage relationship [5:22-32]

Taking as his first example the relationship most fraught with tensions and dominance struggles, Paul explains first to the wife then to the husband what it means for each of them to 'submit to one another'.

The measure of the wife's submission to her husband is the submission that she, as part of Christ's church, gives to Christ: it is 'as to the Lord.' Does she put aside her own inclinations and do what pleases the Lord? She should do the same for her husband. Does she subject her will to the will of Christ? She should do the same for her husband. The active love that she has for her husband will reflect the love of the church for Christ. As explained in Proverbs 31:11,12: 'Her husband has full confidence in her ... she brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.' There is nothing here saying that the husband's role is to 'lord it over' his wife; all it is saying is that, in this principle of submitting to one another, the wife will 'submit' to her husband.

Paul then moves to the responsibility of the husband in this 'submitting to one another'. How does this expression of being filled with the Spirit of God impact the way a husband relates to his wife? As we look at Paul's answer we realize that 'submitting' is not about a cringing, servile, tail-between-the-legs attitude, and that its opposite is not about dominance, control or superiority. The husband, Paul commands, will love his wife 'as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her'. The husband's example is not that of Christ in his power and majesty, but Christ in his self-denial, Christ in his death.

Here Paul challenges the husband to a far deeper and more costly level of submission than that which he requires of the wife: a self-denying, self-negating, self-sacrificing submission to her well-being that is measured by the incarnation and sacrifice of Christ. In the same way, says Paul, the husband controlled by the Spirit of God, will be committed to the well-being of his wife, even at great cost to himself. For the good of his wife he will subject himself to misunderstanding, to ridicule, to suffering; for the good of his wife, he will even die.

C.2 Submission in the family [6:1-4]

The command that children are to obey and honour their parents was first recorded in Exodus 20. The reason is clear 'that it may go well with you'. Without direction children would destroy themselves. The necessity for this 'submission' goes without saying. Let us note in passing that the 'obey' of Ephesians 6:1 is linked with the 'honour' of Exodus 20. Obedience can exist without respect, but Spirit-controlled children will express both obedience and respect towards their parents.

But, this is 'submitting to one another'. Not just child to parent, but parent also to child. In what way does this apply to parents? Again we see that Spirit-controlled submission is not the opposite of authority, for parents, who are in authority over their children, are here also challenged to submit to their children: 'do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.' Or, as it reads in the King James Version 'Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.'

The easiest thing for parents is to wield the baton of their authority, to demand obedience irrespective of whether the rules are just or loving or kind or fair or necessary or not, and to rebuke and punish without stopping to consider the necessity or relevance or appropriateness of the punishment. It is very easy to stir up anger in one's children, and to reap the seeds of that anger right through this life and into eternity. Parents are here challenged to stop and think about the well being of the child, rather than take the easy way out. To stop and talk, to stop and reason, to stop and instruct: all of which takes time and patience, and repetition of the same things over again. To act towards them with pity, teaching them of the Lord's mercy, grace and forgiveness by action and example, not just by word - 'bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.'

C.3 Submission in the workplace [6:5-9]

Nobody questions the necessity of 'slaves' [or in our culture, 'employees'] having to do what their bosses require. Such a 'submission' is built into the employer-employee paradigm. The boss has to state what job has to be done, and the worker has to do the job. That's the way it is.

But this concept sees 'submission' only on a simple, superficial level. The Spirit-controlled employee, however, will have a deeper respect for and commitment to his employer: he will not just 'obey' his boss, he will obey 'with respect and fear', 'with sincerity of heart', 'from the heart', 'wholeheartedly' in the same way that he would work for the Lord Jesus Christ. He will not do this only when the boss is present, but all the time. Because he is first the slave of Christ he is happy also to be the slave of his earthly master.

The masters who are Spirit-controlled express this 'submitting to another out of reference to Christ' by treating their slaves 'in the same way'. What does this 'in the same way' mean? In the same way that the slaves had to relate to them: knowing that Christ is their common Master. In the eyes of that Master, both slaves and masters, employer and employee, are equal, all one in Christ Jesus [Galatians 3:26-28]. A respect is demanded based on a shared relationship with Christ. Here the masters are called to forego the 'rights' that the world gives them, and to fulfil their God-given responsibilities towards those dependent on them [see Job 31:13-15; Matthew 25:31ff].

C.4 Summary of 'submitting to one another'.

Hidden deep within Paul's words here is the radical concept that in every relationship we are to evidence two standards:

    1. That we act towards this other person as we would act toward Jesus Christ.
    2. That we treat this other person as Christ has treated us.

In such submission to the dignity and well-being of the other person we demonstrate the very nature of God whose Spirit indwells and seeks to control us. In such submission we demonstrate our allegiance to Christ [John 13:35]. In such submission we follow the example of Christ [John 13:14,15,17].


Task 5: The relationship between Christ and the church is described in 5:22-33. What do these phrases mean?

Christ is head of the church, his body

Christ ... gave himself up for her to make her holy

... cleansing her by the washing with water through the word ...

... present her to himself as a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless

... he feeds and cares for it just as Christ does the church

D.1 Christ is head of the church, his body [5:23]

Paul has already taught us that Christ is the 'head': he is 'head over everything for the church' [1:22] and he is 'the Head' [4:15]. The significance of this imagery is that

    1. Christ is in charge of the church [1:22]; and
    2. The church is dependent on Christ for its unity and its growth towards maturity [1:22,4:13-15].

D.2 Christ gave himself up for the church to make her holy.

This refers to the justification [acquittal, declaration 'not guilty'] by which the legal righteousness of Christ is credited to the believer, thus enabling the believer to be seen by God as 'holy' [that is 'set apart' by God for God]. This is positional sanctification. Paul has referred to it in 1:4, and assumed it in 2:6, for only the holy can enter the presence of God.

D.3 Cleansing her by washing with water through the word.

This explains how Christ made the church holy. He cleansed her ... 'through the word.' This recalls the words of Christ to his disciples:

      • 'You are clean, though not every one of you.' [John 13:10]
      • 'You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.' [John 15:3]

The genuine reception of the word of Christ cleanses spiritually, just as washing with water cleanses physically. The word of Christ cleanses those who believe it. This cleansing means the erasure or deletion of the record of our sins, the removal of the record of our guilt. [See Colossians 2:13-14; 1 John 1:9]

D.4 to present her ... without blemish ... holy and blameless

This echoes what Paul has already said in the previous verse. It has its parallel in Colossians 1:22. Through his sin-bearing death, Christ presents us to himself and to his Father, perfect in him. [See also Hebrews 10:10-18].

D.5 Christ feeds and cares for his body, the church

Not only did Christ being the church into being through his death, not only did he do all that was necessary to remove the record of our sin, he also nourishes and nurtures the church. He supplies in himself, and in the knowledge of him, all that is necessary for the well being of the church. Thus he himself said:

      • 'I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never by thirsty.' [John 6:35]
      • 'I have come into the world as light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness' [John 12:46]

This is what Paul has already spoken of in 4:14-16. In Christ, our head, is found all that is needed for our spiritual well-being.