Submission. Now, there’s a word that incites immediate debate.
I think it is normal that unbelievers find the idea of submission distasteful, because it is a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that makes biblical submission possible.
But what I find unfortunate is that within the church we find an eagerness to reject submission.
Before we look at what true biblical submission is, we need to revisit a portion of Ephesians 5 that sets the stage for Paul’s directive to women, men, children and employers.
And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.
Paul instructs believers to be daily filed with the Spirit; and then he gives four things that result from being filled with the Spirit.
- Speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs
- Singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord
- Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ
- Submitting to one another in the fear of God.
There are two things we should notice about what Pauls says about submission here.
The first is that we are to submit to one another. This isn’t directed to just women. Actually, the following verses support the idea that submission only works when it’s mutual; when each person is actively upholding the other.
The second is that submission needs to be in the fear of God. Why do you think that Paul would say “in the fear of God”? I think it is because God is going to hold us each accountable for our attitude toward each other.
God will hold wives accountable for honoring their husbands in their hearts. He will hold husbands accountable for how they treated their wives and for choosing to humbly lay their lives down. He will hold children accountable for obeying their parents, and fathers for not provoking their children to anger. He will hold employees accountable for how they behaved on the job, and employers for how they treat their employees.
When we know that God is watching and will hold us accountable for our actions, we will walk in the fear of the Lord.
In the previous article we talked about what submission looks like for wives, but Paul addresses 3 other areas of submission.
What I find interesting is that Paul didn’t just command obedience. After he laid out God’s expectation of obedience and submission, he then turned to the one to whom submission and obedience is given and commanded them to behave justly.
By this, Paul is saying, “If you want to be a leader, if you want to be obeyed and submitted to, you must be deserving of that obedience and submission”.
You can’t be a brute of a husband and expect your wife will willingly submit to your authority.
You can’t be a cruel and demanding father and expect that your children will meekly obey you.
You can’t be a harsh and overbearing employer, giving a pittance for hard and demanding work, and expect that your employees will give you 100% on the job.
Submission must be mutual. It requires mutual respect and honor.
I find it interesting that while most teaching about submission focuses on the wife, Paul actually took more time to talk to husbands than he did to wives.
He addresses wives with only 3 verses, but spends 8 verses talking to the husbands. Nearly 3 times longer.
Love your wives as Christ loves
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,
The word love in this context is Agape love. It’s not a familial or friendly love, it’s not a passionate love between a husband and wife, it’s God’s love.
Of course Paul would use Agapeo in this context, because he says, “Love your wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.”
In the same way that Christ willingly sacrificed His life, endured pain and ridicule, bore the sins and pain of mankind, endured the rejection of His own Father God; so men ought to be willing to humbly love their wives sacrificially.
Paul gives three reasons why Christ loved the church in this way:
that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,
that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.
Love your wives as you love yourselves
So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.
And just as with the wives, Paul once again reveals how marriage reflects God’s design for the church. “For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”
Just as the husband and wife become one flesh, so we are one flesh with Christ!
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
I need to say that obedience is one area that is of utmost importance in our home, with regard to raising our children.
Parents are the first picture of God that they have.
Their relationship with us as their parents (and with their father in particular) will have a direct impact on how they relate to God.
If we are too lenient and do not expect their obedience, that will impact how they view God and His Word.
But then Paul turns to the fathers specifically and instructs them: “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”
The words “training” and “admonition” mean chastisement, instruction, and rebuke; as if to say, “Father’s don’t punish your children so as to humiliate them into obedience, but let your discipline shape their spirit so that they grow up walking in the ways of the Lord.”
There is an enormous difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment focuses on the behavior, discipline shapes the spirit.
Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.
It helps to understand a bit of history when reading these verses.
Even though in the Greek this portion addresses slaves, we cannot approach this passage with our understanding of slavery in the context of recent history and African slavery.
It wasn’t the inhumane slavery that we understand, but an employee position; and masters were the employers.
Employees are to obey their employers
- In the fear of God
- With a sincere heart. Not doing your work just so that you get a promotion or a raise.
- Being consistent. Don’t just work when you’re employer’s around, but let your work be with the same quality when he’s gone.
- Remembering that the quality of work you give to your employer is the same quality you’re giving to God, because God is ultimately your boss
But then Paul turns to the employers and says this, “And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.”
What does he mean by “doing the same things to them”?
In the previous verse Paul reminds employees that “knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.”
When you see that your employee is giving quality work from the heart, be sure to reward him for a job well done. Give your employees incentive to go above and beyond!
Then he finishes this up by telling employers to:
- Give up threatening their employees
- Remember that you have a higher up, and your higher up is in heaven
- He is not prejudiced. He doesn’t give preferential treatment to those who have titles and positions, but in His eyes everyone is equal.
Let’s sum this up:
Circling back to Ephesians 5:18-21, let us remember that Paul is addressing the church. He is saying that a result of being filled with the Spirit is learning to be mutually submissive.
Imagine if the church put these commands in practice?
Imagine a church where wives honored their husband and husbands sacrificially loved their wives; where children were taught to be honoring and respectful, and employees served from the heart and employers were respectful of their workers.
This honor would come out in the church relationship. It would result in mutual honor and respect of each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
It would create an atmosphere for the Holy Spirit to work mighty works, and would be a great testimony to the world of the changing power of God to transform mankind into His likeness!