In Ephesians 5, Paul presents critical truths that establish the foundations of a biblical, powerful marriage. When reading the passage, many skip ahead to Ephesians 5:22 and Paul’s assertion that wives are to submit to their husbands. Others read on to Ephesians 5:25, and Paul’s exhortation to husbands to love their wives as Christ loves His church. However, Paul’s teaching really begins in Ephesians 5:15. There, Paul charges those who are in Christ to walk carefully and walk in wisdom. “Care” and “wisdom” in Paul’s understanding are natural expressions of being loved well by Jesus, which in turn empowers us to love others well.
Therefore, the foundations of a healthy marriage begin with the foundations of a healthy relationship. Healthy relationships with those around us are a product of a healthy relationship with Christ. This is why Paul doesn’t begin his exhortation on marriage with “submit” or “serve”. He begins it with, “be filled with the Spirit.” The active, ongoing, dynamic life of the believer is found in a vibrant life filled with the Spirit. When a believer is born-again into newness of life, they receive the full measure of the Holy Spirit in their innermost being. We will never have “more” of the Holy Spirit than what we receive the moment we are born again in Christ. To be “filled with the Spirit”, then, is the believer’s reach in prayer to connect with and experience the glory of the Spirit in everyday life. We want our lives “saturated” with the activity of the Spirit on our heart and lives. This means walking with the Spirit by talking with the Spirit. A critical aspect of being “filled with the Spirit” is filling our day with prayers, short and long.
Great friendships that last are the product of the grace of God. His love for us – love that we experience as it transforms us – enables and empowers us to love others well. The ongoing power of the Holy Spirit in our lives keeps us tender and able to overcome hurt, offense, insecurity, fear, and more. We continually walk in real brokenness and weakness that injures relationships we care about. It is the grace and help of God that enables us to overcome our own brokenness and the brokenness of others to truly give and receive love in a healthy way. To love well, we need more of the power, presence, and person of Christ on our minds and alive in our hearts. Therefore, we seek a life filled with the Spirit.
“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18)
In emphasizing this first lifestyle practice, Paul compares “being filled with the Spirit” to being “drunk with wine”. Why? Beyond the power to relate and love well, the critical issue in relationships is who we are going to give others. Beneath the layers of fear, self-protection, and insecurity we can find our true self – who we really are. Drunkenness exposes who we really are, not who we think we are. The courage of “strong drink” is a means of overcoming fear and engaging in relationships with our defenses removed. The problem is, drunkenness exposes who we really are now, and much of who we are now is immature and very broken. Drunkenness has no regard for process or where we are going. It only exposes who we are.
To be filled with the Spirit is to allow the power of His glory to reveal a little glimpse into who we really are. When we see someone in Christ filled with the Spirit, we see a bit of who they ultimately are and who they will be in the age to come. Our lives, Paul said, are “hidden in Christ” (Col. 3:3). John the Apostle taught that our “true selves” in Christ will be fully revealed to all (including ourselves!) at His coming (1 Jn. 3:2). One of the glorious aspects of being filled with the Holy Spirit is that it empowers us with the ability to give others a chance to connect and be moved by who we really are in the best sense. What a glorious way to begin a true, deep friendship!
“Speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19a)
Another key to great friendships is a life filled with the word of God. Jesus said that, “out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) Whatever we fill our hearts with will fill our conversations. How do we speak to one another? We must seek to fill the content of our conversations with the truths of the word. This requires more than Bible reading or Bible study. This requires an immersion into the word of God in a way that causes it to flow out of our hearts naturally. In the same way that being filled with the Spirit involves prayer, so too does being filled with the word of God. We must add praying the scriptures and, as Paul states here, singing the scriptures to reading and studying them. To read, study, pray, and sing the word is to naturally begin to talk about the word with others.
The more the word of God governs our heart, the more it will govern our conversations in a healthy way. The scriptural paradigms and ideas fuel our conversations, the healthier and more vibrant our relationships will be.
“Singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:19b)
The word of God has to move our hearts. Is the Bible something we know, or is it something that we know and feel? Truth from the word of God should be experienced, which means that it must touch and reshape our emotions. What causes us to sing? Melodies get into our heads, but spontaneous singing is often a product of a moved heart. As we read in the word, we want to grow in tenderness as we grow in truth. We want to feel the truths about God’s love for us. We want to be moved to tears at times, moved to sing at other moments. As we are introduced to the word of God, the fire of it touches our cold, disconnected hearts. As our hearts become “warmed” by the flame of truth, we become tender and grow in love for God and for others.
When our hearts are made tender by the truth of how God loves us, we are quicker to forgive, to bless, to encourage, and to serve. Our relationships are transformed when we are filled with the word and the Spirit, and as a result are moved deeply to real love and devotion. A great measure of our spiritual vitality is our “singing life”. If love songs are flowing out of us naturally, it is likely the product of a heart awakened and changed by the love of Christ. Love from Christ touching our hearts naturally produces real love for others – the kind that easily overlooks frustrating weakness and inconvenient brokenness to “bear long” with our friends. A moved heart quickly becomes a fiercely loyal heart.
“Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20)
The subject of thanksgiving and gratitude are worthy of their own books – and many have been written about the power of gratitude in our daily lives. As we are filled with the Spirit and the word, and moved by the truth, we grow into a daily orientation of gratitude that forms a “wall of protection” around our heart. We become more difficult to wound and offend. Why? We have shifted from a sense of “deserve” and entitlement to a sense of awe and wonder at the gift of a wholly undeserved life. We receive power from the love of Christ to escape the dreariness of self-absorption, which empowers us to see the beauty of the world and the people around us. We can relate to people without the burden of expectation or need that we accidentally place upon them. We are free to love and give.
An orientation of gratitude is absolutely critical to a healthy, vibrant life in God. As such, it is also central to truly healthy friendships that last for decades. We cannot view a friend on the basis of what they owe us, what we deserve in the relationship, or the needs they must meet. True and lasting friendships are ones fueled by our gratitude to the Lord for “the riches of His mercy” and “the riches of His grace”. He has loved us so well – far beyond what we deserve. He has blessed us so richly – far beyond what we ever could have earned. The fact of His underserved love and grace changes the terms of every relationship we enter. Any friendship and trust we are blessed with is a rich and undeserved blessing, not an unspoken rule dictating continued relationship. True humility, rest, and contentment – the pillars of relational stability – all flow from a heart filled with thanksgiving to God for “all things”.
“All things” means “all things”. Since we live in a new state of continual undeserved favor from God (related to His love and provision), we are knit to One who turns all things for good in our lives. Even trials, troubles, and testing can become, for the saint, an opportunity for love and faith to grow and for greater trust to be developed in the heart. The dynamic activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives means that anything and everything can turn towards grace, blessing, provision, and transformation. Negative circumstances no longer define our lives. We are no longer powerless. The very power and glory of God is our present and eternal portion regardless of any blows to the heart we suffer today.
“Submitting to one another in the fear of the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:21)
The last lifestyle practice is mutual submission. In other words, the first four lifestyle practices enable us to cultivate a culture of honor in our friendships. We honor one another when we have a clearer sense of who it is we are in relationship with. Who are we friends with? In the body of Christ, our friends are “more than conquerors” and “kings and priests“. We are friends with the great men and women of the earth, of whom “the world is not worthy“. We can only truly see this in the fear of the Lord. In other words, we see who people really are when we see them through the eyes of the Lord and not our own opinion.
We continually judge people according by their behavior and who they are in the moment. This is arrogance, and a severe deficiency of the fear of the Lord. God is clear: man looks at the outward appearance, but only God judges the heart. Therefore, when it comes to relationships between saints, we cannot relate to one another “according to the flesh”. We must relate to one another “according to the Spirit” (2 Cor. 5:16). This means that we are to exalt the Lord’s perspective and how He feels about others over our own opinions. We must walk with a measure of the spirit of prophecy as we relate to those around us. Who are they to God? Why did He die for them? How does He feel about them? These questions must drive our friendships and not behavior.
If behavior is the sole measure of honor and graciousness towards one another, then we will never willingly submit to the perspective and wisdom of another. We will rarely listen and learn from one another. We will always be on the defensive, expecting to be disappointed. We will be continually aware and annoyed by the weaknesses and immaturity of those around us. Eventually, we will withdraw and self-protect. The way forward is sacrificial love with a prophetic spirit. In other words, we press into friendship with a heart to honor and prefer one another. We walk in the spirit of Philippians 2. Jesus, who considered equality with God something to be grasped, came near to us and considered us “better than Himself”. He honored us when we deserved no honor at all.
In the same light, our invitation from Paul is to be filled with the Spirit, filled with the word, and moved by the word. As we grow in those areas, we become more tender, more thankful, and more honoring of those around us. In the process of maturity and growing in love, we cannot help but stumble into rich, deep, wonderful friendships with like-minded lovers of God that are seeking someone to pursue Jesus with. We end up with something better than a friend. We end up with true family, true brethren and comrades in the fight to love well.