This morning we are continuing our monthly series called Together where we are looking at the passages that describe how we are to act toward one another as followers of Jesus. Our goal for this series is that we would draw closer together and be more of what God has called us to be as the family in Christ by considering and learning from these passages in God’s word. The scripture we are going to look at this morning is found in Ephesians 5:18-21.
18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18–21 ESV)
In particular, we are focusing our attention on verse 21 where we are told to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. We have the tendency in bristle at the word “submit.” The idea of submitting ourselves to another person seems to invoke a reaction within us that this cannot be right. Surely the scriptures are not telling us that we have to submit to other people. Being submissive seems to be one of the worst concepts a person could say in our society. How dare you say that I have to yield to another person! We are able to see the fruit of this idea and belief system in the actions of society. There is no longer a general respect for others because we do not have to yield to another person. It is seen in the frequency of people running red lights and stop signs today. With a little reflection you will be able to think of areas in society where the unwillingness of people to submit has caused a number of societal problems.
Why Submission Is Important
One of the problems we have is that we cannot see why submission is important. Why do I need to submit? Why do I need to yield? Why can’t we just do what we think is best and worry about ourselves? So we need to spend a few minutes talking about submission and why it is important. We cannot understand the importance of submission or see the beauty of submission until we consider the nature of God. When we look at God we see something that is absolutely stunning. Turn to Philippians 2 to see this concept. This is a passage that Christians often know well so I will use a different translation so that we can see these words with fresh eyes.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5–8 NIV)
Look at this description of Jesus. Jesus is God. There was nothing lesser about Christ Jesus. He was not less in importance, value, power, or anything else. But he did not consider his equality with God as something to be used to his own advantage. He did not use this position of importance, value, and power as something that he would use selfishly. He did not say that he is God in every aspect and so he will therefore only act for his own good. Instead, he made himself nothing by taking on the very nature of a servant by being made in human likeness. He humbled himself. He subjected himself. Submission is not something that is to forced upon another person. That would violate the scriptures. Submission is always voluntary and we see this in Jesus. Thus, the apostle Paul says that we are to have the same mindset in our relationships with other people that Jesus also had: that you do not consider your nature, your power, your intellect, your strength, your importance, and your value as something to be used to your own advantage. You do not use these things for yourself but you willingly yield for the good of others. Jesus taught that this is what it meant to be a disciple of his.
25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25–28 ESV)
Jesus brought a whole new approach to relationships. We are called to submit to one another, no matter what our position is. The whole of our life before God is a life of submission. We are called to look just like Jesus and be a servant to other people. We cannot put ourselves first because Jesus did not put himself first. This is why submission is so important and is not optional. Our failure to submit ourselves to one another shows that we are not a disciple of Jesus. So what does this look like in our lives? What does submission look like in our daily dealings with each other and the world? This is exactly what the apostle Paul gives us in a number of passages.
Submit to the Government (Romans 13:1-2)
1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1–2 ESV)
The word of God tells that we are to submit ourselves to the government. Rebellion to the government has become a popular thing to do now. But this cannot be in the heart of a Christian. A Christian submits to the governing authority, even if we do not like what the government is doing. There is nothing in the scriptures that says that we only must submit if the government is righteous or if the government is a capitalistic democracy. If our government became a totalitarian dictatorship, we would be just as liable to submit ourselves to the government. By submitting to the government we are showing our submission to God and to rebel against the government reveals our lack of submission to God. We yield to the will of the government.
But now I would like for us to return to Ephesians 5:21 and notice that this records the general teaching that we are to submit to one another. From Ephesians 5:21 through the rest of the book, the apostle Paul is teaching us what that submission looks like in our lives. We are going to take the text in reverse order and I hope that will help us see that idea.
Submission For Masters (Ephesians 6:9)
What Paul does in Ephesians 6:9 is explain what submission looks like if you are a master in a work environment. Even though they have a position of authority, they are not to threaten, submitting themselves to the true Master who is in heaven. They are to do good and not do evil to those who are under them.
Submission For Slaves (Ephesians 6:5-8)
For those who have a master who has authority over them in their work, they are to obey their earthly master. You are to do the work with a sincere heart, not working just because the boss is watching. You render your work as doing the will of God from the heart. In verse 8 Paul says that whether you are a slave or free you will do this work knowing that you will receive back from the Lord how you submit in this work relationship.
Submission For Fathers (Ephesians 6:4)
Fathers show their submission to others in that family relationship by not provoking their children to anger. They will spend their time and efforts in bringing up their children in the discipline and the instruction of the Lord. I hope we can see how this is submission. They are not doing their own will. They are not saying that I am the father and I can run this house how I want. The submission is displayed by doing what is in the best interests of the children, training them and disciplining them in a way that reflects the fear of the Lord. But this training and discipline will be carried out in such a way so that the children are not provoked to anger. So we change how we would raise our children to fit what God says. We are yielding to our children’s interests by being a father like this.
Submission For Children (Ephesians 6:1-3)
Children show their submission in this relationship by obeying your parents and honor your parents. Children will not do what they think is best but will listen and respect the parent. They will do as they are to because that is the role God has given for the children. Children have to be taught how to do this. Children do not naturally obey their parents, nor do they naturally honor and respect their parents. This is a concept that must be taught, expected, and demanded.
Submission For Husbands (Ephesians 5:25-32)
Husbands show submission in the marriage relationship by loving their wives as Christ loved the church, giving themselves and sacrificing themselves. They love their wives as their own bodies, nourishing and cherishing. Like Christ, husbands do not put themselves first in the relationship but sacrifice, doing what is in the best interest of their wives.
Submission For Wives (Ephesians 5:22-24)
Wives show submission in the marriage relationship by respecting their husbands (5:33) and they yield to their husbands. I hope that we are able to see by this point that every person is to submit in all the relationships we are in. Whether we are married, have children, and have jobs there is a particular way that we show our submission just as Jesus showed submission. I want to emphasize again that this does not mean that a person is not valuable, not important, or not equal. Jesus was valuable, important, and equal to the Father. The point is our willful submission to others.
This is the point of Ephesians 5:21. We submit to others. All of us submit to one another in different ways and we do this in our reverence for Christ. When we look at Philippians 2 and consider the submission of Christ for us, then we understand how far-reaching this command for us to submit to one another means. If Jesus, who is God in every way, equal in every way, and valuable in every way, submitting himself to the point of death, then we now can understand the expectation as disciples of Jesus that we will submit to others. People do not make us submit. Submission is voluntary and from one’s own desire.
Think about the kind of family we will have here if we would apply this principle and submit ourselves to each other. Think about how glorious this would look with every person showing deference to each other. We would be able to end conflicts and strife immediately. We would be able to work together through any issues that arise. The harmony that God desires us to have without division would always exist. Let these questions be at the front of our minds when we are with each other: What can I do to show deference to you? What can I do that is for your good? What can I do to show the heart of submission as Jesus did?
The life of the Christian is a life of submission. We have been called to have the same attitude of submission that we see in Christ. Let us apply this submission in our marriages, in our family, in our jobs, toward the government, toward each other, and toward God in every area of our lives.