Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering, and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason, it says,
“Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.”
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
Husbands love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband (Ephesians 5, NASB1995).
There is tremendous controversy within the church and Christian marriages about how to interpret Ephesians 5:21-33 as far as roles for husbands and wives in marriage. Most of the passionate disagreement is about what words such as head, submit, love, and respect mean. There are whole books and studies and passionate online discussions about how to interpret the Greek behind these words.
The primary disagreement is whether this passage supports a more traditional view of marriage (where the husband has an authority role or leadership role different than his wife) or whether the husband and wife are true equals in all aspects of their roles (an egalitarian view of marriage).
I want to look back at the context surrounding these verses.
Most of Ephesians 5 is addressed to the whole church (and thus, husbands and wives are included). The thrust of this passage seems to be instructing the church on what to do in life, how their lives should look, and what things to avoid if Christ is living within them.
Some things that both men and women should be doing are walking in love, walking as children of the light, being wise, making the most of our time, being filled with the Spirit, singing songs, hymns, and spiritual songs, and being thankful. When walking in these various attributes, life, relationships, and marriage can be very pleasant even if tough things happen to us or around us.
Paul also warns against greed, immorality, evil deeds, drunkenness, and being foolish. If you have ever been around a secular environment, you may have noticed that it is often not a pleasant place to be. Some of these more blatant sins, such as drunkenness or immorality, may not be part of many Christians’ lives. Still, it is very easy to get sucked into things that Paul warned against in Ephesians 4:31: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”
When you get sucked into those things in your marriage or in church debates about roles for men and women, it is not a pleasant place filled with love, songs, and hymns.
It seems to me that regardless of what you, your spouse, or theologians believe about the correct interpretation of the various controversial words in Ephesians 5, if we focus on things such as being loving, having a heart of thankfulness, and being filled with hymns, and spiritual songs these other issues are more likely to take their proper place in life.
If you are a man walking in love and thankfulness with songs in your heart and who sincerely believes Scripture teaches that you have a special leadership role in your marriage, you are not going to be saying things like, “I am the head of the family, and I have decided we are going to the mountains for vacation this summer even though I know you want to go to the beach. You just need to go to the mountains with me and be happy.”
And if you are a couple that sincerely believes this passage shows an egalitarian marriage, and you are walking in love and thankfulness with songs in your heart, you are not going to be having a big verbal tug of war between equals as to whether to go to the beach or the mountain on vacation.
It is important to focus on both the big-picture encouragement and the big-picture warnings and then really focus on the specific instructions that apply to us as husband or wife. When we have all of these things in mind and incorporate them into our lives, we are less likely to get so wrapped up in exactly what the most controversial words mean because we will already be focused on living a life of love with our spouse.
Yes, it is still worthwhile to study the more controversial words. Still, I think when we are less focused on having our interpretation be accepted by our spouse and others as the only possible interpretation, we are likely to have a more peaceful life and marriage.