Scripture: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. Ephesians 5:21-22 NIV
Observation: In chapter 5, Paul first addresses the broader church to walk out their faith journey in love, following the example of its bridegroom, Christ, who “gave himself up for us” (verse 2). He then proceeds to list examples of unloving behavior (verses 3-7, 17-18) that he likens to “works of darkness” (verse 11) and encourages his audience to “walk as children of the light” (verse 8), filled with the Spirit (verse 18) as expressed in heartfelt worship and thankfulness (verses 19-20). Finally, he challenges the body of Christ to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (verse 21 above). This last appeal leads to additional instruction for married couples. Following the relational dynamic between Christ and his church, Paul urges wives to submit to their husbands and husbands to love their wives sacrificially (verses 22-33).
Takeaway: The overarching principle here is mutual submission. We sometimes lose sight of this command when focused on headship (Ephesians 5:23. 1 Corinthians 11:3, 1 Peter 3:4-6). But if we unpack spiritual headship, following the example of Christ, who came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom” (Mark 10:45), then we can understand our leadership positions as subordinate to mutual submission. How so? Consider Jesus’ life; he:
- Submitted to his parents and grew in favor before the Father and humankind (Luke 2:51-52);
- Submitted to the Holy Spirit when led into the wilderness to prepare for ministry (Matthew 4:1);
- Submitted to his disciples and the crowds when he instructed them and tirelessly gave of his time and energy to provide provision, healing, and restoration of their souls;
- And, submitted to the Father when he unilaterally forgave us sinners (Luke 23:34) and gave his very life to bring us reconciliation.
Similarly, Jesus’ disciples submitted to his lead and commands, and they submitted to one another (the Jersusalem council as one paramount example, Acts 15). So here are some practical ways to submit to fellow believers:
- Pray for ourselves that we might see our sins before trying to remove the “plank” from others’ eyes, and pray for others that we might gain insight into the best way to communicate respectfully and lovingly to resolve conflicts.
- Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Move away from a defensive posture and listen to how the other person is hurting. Then communicate our understanding of the issue and their concerns.
- Talk to each other as one adult to another. When we are hurt or scared, we tend to talk as a “parent to a child” (condescending and demanding) or as a “child to a child” (ranting at each other).
- Seek to find ways to love each other with words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, gifts, and non-sexualized touch. We may need to go slow and easy if there is a history of hurt and distrust.
As you may have noticed, all four points bear aspects of godly communication that typically proceeds action. And each step of the way, we sacrifice our interests for the more urgent needs of others. Indeed, mutual submission is foundational to walking together in the light of Christ.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who mutually submitted to you, your Spirit, and us. Would you please help us to follow his example and submit to one another that we might walk in your Son’s light to the glory of his and your names? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling