And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:21 NLT
Our relationship with Jesus Christ should change everything – especially our relationships with others. Saving faith is practical and applicable. It should make a difference in the way we relate to and interact with others in our lives. Paul uses the term “submit,” which was typically used in a military context. It referred to the attitude of a soldier who was expected to have “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.” It carried with it the sense of being part of a larger whole, and serving within a unit that shared a common cause and answered to a higher authority. So Paul tells us to “submit to one another.” Notice that this is a command to any and all within the body of Christ. Too often we skip this verse and go right to the next verse where wives are told to submit to their husbands. This verse has caused much confusion, anger and anxiety over the years, especially within the minds of modern Christians. Many women find the idea of submission as antiquated and outdated. Some find it outright demeaning. But to understand what Paul is saying, we must keep all of the verses within their context. Paul is calling ALL believers to submit and he gives various examples of what that submission will look like for each of them.
Remember, Paul has just finished talking about being filled or controlled by the Spirit. Now he provides us with submission as a result of that filling. When we are living under the influence of the Spirit, we will submit to one another as to the Lord. Paul is going to deal with three pairs of people: husbands and wives, children and parents, and slaves and masters. The primary subject when talking about each is submission, made possible by the filling of the Spirit. It is critical to understand that each example is an illustration of submission. Women are told to submit to their husbands. This is not a command to subservience and is not meant to communicate that women have a lesser value or worth. It reflects a Spirit-empowered willingness on the part of wives to serve their husbands as they would Jesus Christ. This is not a call to passivity or a command to become a doormat. It is a call to Christ-like servanthood and submission. The key phrase here is “as to the Lord.” That theme runs throughout these verses. God has established an order and a structure to the family. He has made the husband the head of the home, just as Christ is the head of the church. Headship comes with authority, but also responsibility. The husband will answer to God for how he lead and cared for his family, including his wife. When a wife submits to her husband, she is simply coming under God’s ordained structure for the home. The wife’s ability to submit is directly tied to the next verses that deal with the husband’s responsibility to love. Paul tells husbands that for them, submission takes the form of selfless, sacrificial love. They are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Christ gave His life for the church. He placed the needs of the body of Christ above His own. He loved the church so much that He was willing to die for it. And that is the degree to which husbands are to “submit” to their wives. They are to love them so much that they are willing to sacrifice everything for their holiness. The kind of love husbands are called to express toward their wives was not to be based on her performance or merit, but was an unconditional acceptance based on her intrinsic worth as God’s gift to her husband. That kind of love will create an atmosphere where willing submission is easy.
Paul now turns his attention to parents and children. Children are commanded to obey and honor their parents. Again, this is an illustration of Spirit-empowered submission within the home. And it’s important to recognize that Paul tells children that their obedience stems from their relationship to the Lord. All of these relationships are to be God-centered and Spirit-filled. But there’s a second half to this equation. Fathers, as the head of the home, are commanded not to exasperate and frustrate their children by unloving and inconsistent parenting. Lack of loving leadership on the part of the father and an absence of structure and protective rules can end up causing children to become angry and, ultimately, rebellious. Love masquerading as license and leniency, can be damaging and destructive. Fathers are to provide an environment that is loving and disciplined, creating an atmosphere where obedience and honor come naturally.
Finally, Paul takes on a somewhat awkward topic of slave and masters. As modern-day Christians, we find this discussion distasteful and outdated. After all, we live in a nation that outlawed slavery a long time ago. But in Paul’s day it was alive and well. In fact, the local churches typically had members who were slaves, and oftentimes they attended the same church their masters did. Becoming a believer did not set slaves free from slavery. It did not change their circumstance, but it did radically alter the way in which they were to relate within that circumstance. Because of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, slaves were expected to do their jobs differently. They were expected to relate to their masters differently. They were to obey with “deep respect and fear.” And they were to do it as they would serve Christ. Their subservience was now to become willing submission, performed for the Lord, not for their earthly masters. Their work ethic was to be motivated by their love for the Lord. They were still slaves, but they were slaves who had been changed by Christ and had a new capacity to love – even within the context of their slavery. And those masters who happened to be believers, were to treat their slaves with dignity and respect, knowing that they would be held accountable for their actions to God some day. Paul makes a significant statement regarding God’s view of slaves and masters. He says, “remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites” (Ephesians 6:9 NLT). God doesn’t see as man sees. While He has ordained there to be order, structure and degrees of authority in the world, He sees all men as equal. He sees husbands and wives as equal. He sees parents and children as equal. And He sees slaves and masters as equal. The key issue is how His Spirit can radically change those relationships and give them a new capacity to interact and interrelate in such as way that He is honored. Spirit-filled, Spirit-controlled believers bring a whole new meaning to their relationships. They view their roles and responsibilities differently. They see their positions as opportunities to serve others and honor God. They do their work as unto the Lord. They serve others as they would serve Christ. They submit to others as they would submit to Him. They love as He would love. They obey as if He were the one giving the command. Living under the influence of the Spirit is a life-changing, relationship-altering experience.
Father, may we learn to live under the influence of the Spirit more and more. We can’t always change our circumstances, but we can change the way we relate in the midst of them. Our marriages need to be Spirit-controlled. Our homes need to be Spirit-filled. Our work relationships need to be Spirit-empowered. Show us how to make our faith practical and applicable to each and every one of our relationships. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men