Ephesians 5:21

There are three points in this exhortation to thanksgiving that arrest our attention, viz. the time, the objects, and the method.

I. THE TIME FOR THANKSGIVING. There is a time for everything. When, therefore, is thanksgiving seasonable? Always. As we should pray without ceasing by living in constant communication with God, so a spirit of gratitude should pervade our whole life and express itself by the brightness and color that it gives to every action (Psalm 34:1). If the context limits the application of St. Paul's words to public worship (ver. 17), the breadth of their incidence is still very significant. Every Christian assembly should be joyous with praise, in every prayer supplication should be mingled with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6). There are times when this is difficult, e.g. in trouble and in moods of spiritual depression. But the difficulty would be diminished if we thought less of our own feelings and more of the gifts and deeds of God's goodness. Modern religion is too subjective, and therefore it fluctuates with our varying phases of experience. Thanksgiving should call us out of ourselves to contemplate and praise God. Under the darkest cloud a thankful heart will ace innumerable causes of gratitude. But let our thanksgiving be honest. If we do not feel grateful, do not let us try to force the expression of gratitude.


1. Personal blessings. While we thank God for common gifts to all mankind, our gratitude would be warmer and more genuine if we reflected on the special proofs of his goodness in our own lives.

2. Fresh blessings. If thanksgiving is to be perpetual it must constantly find new food for gratitude. This, of all parts of worship, should not be a mere repetition of old, worn thoughts. Our ideas on this point are too narrowed by conventionality. If we are careful to say grace before meat, why should we not be equally ready to thank God for a good book, a cheerful visit, or a refreshing walk?

3. Things that we cannot see to be blessings. Gratitude for troubles is difficult to realize. It is only possible through faith. But if we believe that God is blessing us in them we should thank him as one would thank a surgeon for even amputating a limb to save his patient's life.


1. It should be offered to God our Father. It is a direct speaking to God. As he is the Father of mercies, his fatherhood should be the attribute that is most in our thoughts when we praise him. We are not rendering adulation to a distant monarch who claims it as the condition of sparing our lives; we are expressing our love and genuine devotion to our Father. There should, therefore, be no cringing abjectness in our worship. It should be cheerful and confident.

2. The thanksgiving is to be given in the Name of Christ; i.e.

(1) in recognition that God's blessings come to us through Christ; and

(2) as receiving and appreciating them in the spirit of Christ. - W.F.A.

Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
I. In the first place, observe the NECESSITY of the precept. Pride is the great besetting sin of our fallen nature. In our unregenerate state it rules, reigns, and tyrannises; and in our regenerate state, it still harasses, entangles, and tempts us in all we do. Some are proud of their learning, and some of their ignorance. Some are proud of their intellect, and some of their stupidity. Behold then, the necessity of the precept. What is it leads men, beloved, to that insubordination as to ranks in society, that is so very manifest in the present day? What is it leads men to pull down their superiors? What makes men behave so unsuitably to their equals? What makes men look down so on their inferiors? It is the pride of our hearts.

II. But observe, secondly, there is not only a necessity for this precept, but there is an especial SUITABLENESS in it. These are addressed as servants of Christ. What a Master! Why, His whole life was one submission; it was subjection to the work and will of God. Observe, even in His intercession, in His exaltation at the right hand of God, it is according to the will of God. And let me remark this one thing more; not only was our Lord one exhibition of subjection to God His Father, but He was subject unto His parents. More than that, He was subject in a sense to His very disciples. Look into that twenty-second chapter of Luke's Gospel. Oh! blessed truth! may we have grace to learn it out! "There was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And He said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth."

III. Now see the EXTENT of the precept. Many seem to say that it means submission to the "powers that be" — those in authority, them that have the rule. But that is not the meaning of this passage; and I cannot see any reason to think so for one moment. It takes it in, certainly; it necessarily includes submission to those who are above us; to him who is our superior in age, our superior in position in the Church, our superior in gifts, or our superior in grace. It takes in submission from the wife to the husband; from the children to the parent; and from the servant to the master. But it includes more; for it includes the duty of submission on every part. It is mutual; it is universal; it not only belongs to one party, but it belongs to all; so that each one of God's children shall feel the solemn obligation there is for subjection to those around him. What! does this break in on the different ranks of men? By no means. Does this bring the world into confusion? Masters still remain masters; servants still remain servants. Still, the command — "be subject to the powers that be," "give honour to him to whom honour is due," is a precept for us to obey. Here, then, we have to consider the respectful and affectionate bearing ordered and enjoined by this portion of God's Word to all, without distinction; to those our superiors, to those our equals, and to those who we think beneath us. But observe, why is it added, "in the fear of God"? Is not this a motive? Is not self-consideration enough to give us a motive? This man has many infirmities, manifest infirmities; but how little do I know how much grace he receives from the Lord, hour by hour. Perhaps I should take my place at his feet, instead of placing him at my feet. How little do I know how soon he may have to bear my infirmities? How soon may he have to take up my burden! My dear hearers, yet the great motive here is, submitting "in the fear of God." All these things are motives; yet this motive is especially remarked — "in the fear of God" — as under His eye; remembering, "Thou God seest me."

(J.H. Evans, M.A.)

In the words observe —

1. The connection or dependence; for the construction is continued from that clause, "Be filled with the Spirit, submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God." The construction is the same. The Spirit's influence is necessary for the duties of our relations, as well as the duties of worship.

2. The substance of the duty — "Submitting yourselves one to another." The exhortation is to mutual submission, keeping the order set by God.

3. The manner of performance — "In the fear of God"; that is, so as they would approve themselves to God, who is the author of all order in every community and society of mankind; and to Him we must give an account as our proper Judge (1 Peter 1:17).That mutual condescension to one another in the duties of our places and relations doth very much become those who are filled with the Spirit.

I. I shall inquire wherein this mutual condescension doth consist? I answer — It may be considered with respect to ecclesiastical, or civil, or economical power.

1. With respect to ecclesiastical power, which must be determined by the nature of that community for which it serveth.

2. There is political or civil power, principally greatness and authority in the civil state. This is the Lord's ordinance, and must be submitted to for God's sake (1 Peter 2:13, 14).

3. There is economical power; that of the husband, parent, master. There are duties which belong to these relations. Well, then, this submission is by discharging the duties we owe to each relation. But why is this called submission?(1) Because superiors have a debt of duty upon them, as well as inferiors, which in some cases is hard to perform. This submission on the superior's part lieth in the faithful and loving discharge of their duty to the meanest within their charge. The husband is to cherish the wife in all conditions, sick and well; masters to stoop to do good to the meanest of their servants, and not rule them according to passion and will; they have souls to save or lose as well as the best of the family, and therefore they are to take care of all of them, that they may serve the Lord, they and all their household; their outward condition doth no way hinder our duty to them.(2) Because this duty calleth upon us for the meanest services for the common good; as when a magistrate defendeth the poor against the mighty, and disdaineth not to appear for his meanest subjects (Job 31:34).(3) With all patience to bear their infirmities.(4) As to equals, there is a submitting ourselves one to another (Romans 12:10; Philippians 2:3). We are better acquainted with ourselves than others, we want some perfection and accomplishment God bath given to them. We ought to speak of our own gills with modesty, of theirs with charity; to be severe at home, without a jealous inquiry.(5) We are to speak to one another by way of instruction and reproof (Colossians 3:16; Leviticus 19:17), Now it is a submission to take it well.

II. The graces which are necessary for this, to submit ourselves one to another. It is required that we be filled with the spirit. But I answer —

1. Love, which is the cement of human society; for where love reigneth, there will be mutual service and submission (Galatians 5:13).

2. Humility, which is opposite to fastidiousness, disdain, and contempt (1 Peter 5:5).

3. "The fear of God," that is in the text. Now this "in the fear of God" —(1) Noteth the impulsive cause, that obedience to this precept floweth from this cause. It is done in conscience to His command, and then it is acceptable to God.(2) The fear of God is the rule and measure of this submission. As it influenceth, so it limiteth it (Acts 5:29).(3) The fear of God is necessary, and a great help to this duty. (a) Partly to tame that natural fierceness that is in the heart of man, that we may not refuse the yoke; as Nabal was "such a son of Belial, that a man could not speak to him" (1 Samuel 25:17).

2. To check our pride, that we may not be ashamed to serve our neighbour in love.

3. To bridle and curb excess of power.

III. I am now to prove that this is an unquestionable duty.

1. It is required in Scripture (Galatians 5:13).

2. I prove it by example. I shall first produce the example of our Lord Jesus Christ (John 13:3, 5).

3. Now I shall give you the reasons of this duty.

1. To prevent contempt. Human nature is incapable of bearing it. Whatsoever rank we are in, we should not despise others, but acknowledge the gifts of God in them.

2. Because there are none living whom God alloweth only to live to themselves. We are all bound to promote the common good.

3. Submitting ourselves to one another is required for a supply of mutual necessities. We lack something that the meanest have; if they have strength for labour, others have wisdom and conduct for government. There must be a contemperation; if some are fitted to serve, those that have wealth should bless God that He hath put them into such an able condition to hire their service; if some have wisdom to contrive, others have elocution to recommend a good design; both must serve one another in love.

4. Because of equality; the equity of this mutual submission is built upon a double equality.

1. The actual equality of all men by nature.

2. The possible equality in the course of God's providence.

1. To show how much the Christian religion befriendeth human societies; for we owe duties one to another in our several stations. It is neither injurious to princes nor subjects, but it commandeth everyone to do good according to his calling.

2. Where the fear of God is rooted in the heart of any, it will make him tender and careful of his duty to man, and from a right principle and motive, and in a right manner, and to a right end.

(T. Manton, D. D.)

When a Scottish chieftain desired to summon his clan, upon any emergency, he slew a goat, and making a cress of any light wood, seared its extremities in the fire, and extinguished them in the blood of the animal. This was called the "Fiery Cross," or the "Cross of Shame," because disobedience to what the symbol implied inferred infamy. It was delivered to a swift and trusty messenger, who ran full speed with it to the next hamlet, where he presented it to the principal person, with a single word, implying the place of rendezvous. He who received the symbol was bound to send it forward, with equal despatch, to the next village; and thus it passed with incredible celerity through all the district which owed allegiance to the chief. At sight of the Fiery Cross every man capable of bearing arms was obliged instantly to repair to the place of rendezvous. He who failed to appear suffered the extremities of fire and sword, as indicated by the bloody and burnt marks upon this warlike signal.

(Sir Walter Scott.)

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