"Be imitators of God . . . and walk in love, as Christ loved us . . ." The essential guidelines for this new life in Christ is to be students of Jesus and to learn to walk as he walked and to love as he loved. The challenge is, in fact, impossible for us to do alone. It is not possible through human effort alone to live up to this standard. Only with God's help, support, grace and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit can we ever attain this goal. And, yet, it is the goal: to become as much like Christ as we possibly can. We strive, we try and at the same time we surrender, we turn for help, we lean and trust in God. It is the only way.
5:3-20 has to do with rejecting pagan worship in and around Ephesus. Ephesus was the home of the temple of Artemis (one of 7 wonders of the ancient world). Artemis was a fertility goddess and was worshiped through engaging in ritual fornication with the temple priestesses (aka prostitutes). St. Paul's admonition to leave the dark and walk in the light, to abandon fornication and impurity and all other forms of idolatry is all about not returning to the rituals and practices of the worship of Artemis. In Ephesus the major religious obstacle was Artemis worship and the major philosophical obstacle was the teachings of Gnosticism.
The directions for the Christian household (5:21-6:9) is one of the most misunderstood and maligned passages in the New Testament. It was common for first century writers of all philosophical flavors to include in their writings some practical, real life, applications of what they are teaching. It is often misinterpreted and usually misused in the modern world. The controlling phrase in this passage is 5:21 "be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." Remember that the verse is not the basic unit of the Bible and that the Bible must be understood in light of itself. When Paul says "wives be subject to your husbands (22)" and 25 "Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church" and 6:1 "children obey your parents in the Lord" and 6:5 "slaves obey your earthly masters" we have to understand this in dialogue with other things Paul has said. For example, "in Christ their is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Galatians 3:28)." When we are subject to one another through the Church, our homes and in life, the oppression and violence that has been done the name of "being subject" is revealed as the non biblical evil we thought it was.
I have often thought that the biggest problem with this passage is that people are worrying about everyone else's instructions instead of dealing with their own. If husbands loved theirs wives as Christ loved the church they would earn and preserve the respect they believe they deserve. When we begin to treat one another with the dignity and respect, in all circumstances and situations, that every human being deserves. These things rather quickly sort themselves out.