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Submit To One Another

Ephesians 5:21-6:9


- Do the “radioactive” game.

- Ask, “what would happen if people tried to power their way through on their own?” “What makes it possible to be successful in this game?” Do you know that this is how God wants us to live our lives as Christians? Listen to what the Bible says in Ephesians 5:21, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." Read it together, put it on an overhead.

I. Submission Commanded

In many life situations, we try to use power to gain an advantage for ourselves. We are naturally selfish and we try to get ahead by selfish actions.

      Everyone has power and everyone abuses it. Husbands have physical power over their wives and some abuse that power through beatings. But wives also have a certain power. I have observed wives who through nagging and manipulation drive their husbands crazy. Parents have power over their children and some use that power wrongly through physical and even sexual abuse. But children also have a certain power over their parents. We can probably think of children who through tantrums and misbehaviour drive their parents to despair. Employers have power over their employees and sometimes abuse that power by underpaying or demanding more than is reasonable. But employees also have a certain power over their employers and sometimes use that power by stealing from them or not giving them a full days work. We abuse power with each other even as friends. We might use the power of talking to get our way. We might use the power of silence to shame people into doing what we want.

In Christ, there is a new way and that is the way of power yielding instead of power taking. As part of our new life in Christ, we are commanded in the Bible to submit to one another.

II. Why Submit?

      How many of you like this idea and want to do it? Submission does not come naturally. In fact, it is probably one of the most difficult things for any of us to do. When your parents ask you to go and mow the lawn when your favorite show is on, is it something you do gladly? When your teachers assign homework, do you do everything they say all the time? If your brother is sitting in your favorite chair, do you let him sit there every time? When the government says, “wear a seat belt or put on a motorcycle helmet” do you like doing it? We hate submission. So, it is important that we listen carefully to why God wants us to submit.

The reason given in the verse is, “out of reverence for Christ.” What does that mean?

      When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, the devil came to him with three temptations. Each temptation was a temptation to use power and not to submit to God. The first temptation was a temptation to supply his own needs by the use of the power he had to make stones into bread. He did not submit to Satan, but did submit to God when he said, “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” The second temptation was to get people to follow him by demonstrating power. He was tempted by Satan to fall from the temple and show everyone that he could do that without hurting himself. They would be impressed and follow him. Once again, Jesus did not submit to Satan, but submitted to the Word of God, by not testing God. The third temptation was to avoid the hard way of the cross in order to win back the world and do it by bowing down to Satan. It would have been much easier to do that, but he did not submit to Satan, rather he submitted to God. As a result, he ended up submitting his body to the Jewish leaders and the Roman soldiers and dying on the cross. Jesus submitted by giving himself for us. We read in Ephesians 5:25,26, “…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.” The reason we are to submit is because this is what Jesus did. Like Jesus, we are not to submit to Satan or sin, but we are to submit to the will of God and to one another as we follow the example of Jesus.

Now the thing we need to take note of is that Jesus did this not because he was weak and couldn’t stand up for himself rather, it was his strategy for winning. It was a deliberately chosen way of winning because it is more effective. Jesus won victory over sin by submitting to death. It was his plan, his way of doing a better thing than using power. Submission is not an acquiescence, but a strategy. We do it because according to Jesus example it is a much better strategy. One time, I watched an interview on TV. The four people who were talking together were all trying to talk at once. It was annoying to listen to that conversation and so I turned it off. Submission is letting someone else speak. It is deferring to the other so that order and peace can reign.

      The basis of submission is selflessness. Jesus did not die so that he would be happy. He died so that we would have life. Submission requires that we try to live in such a way that others benefit. So submission is a way of being selfless and obeying the command of Jesus to “Do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”

      The biggest problem with submission is that we are afraid that it will cost us too much. There is a word for this attitude and that is lack of faith. When we submit, we do so because we believe that God, who is just and holy and loving, is in charge. Thus, when we submit, we do it as an act of trust in God.

III. Practical Submission

We know that naturally we like to use power. In Christ, we are invited to choose a new way of acting. What does submission mean in the most significant relationships we have in life?

A. Among God’s People

      The context of the verse is one about the church and that says that we ought to submit to one another in church and among our Christian friends. Can you imagine what kind of a world it would be if instead of God’s people all insisting on their own way, we learned to submit to one another? What would it do in your circle of friends if you were less demanding and more submitting with one another?

B. In Marriage  5:22-33

      Someday, you will get married. Submission is important in your relationship as husband and wife.

      Wives give up their power in the marriage by voluntary submission to their husbands. It does not say women in general are to submit to men in general, but rather that Christian wives are to chose to lay down power and submit to their own husbands.

      Such submission does not in any way suggest that the husband is better than her. Rather, it is a voluntary decision to submit. When we look at it that way, then submission is not servility to an autocrat, but rather it ought to be voluntary, wholehearted, sincere and enthusiastic. The "wife fulfills her duty by properly submitting to her husband, not by compelling him to love her."

      The husband also lays down his use of power in the relationship and defers, or submits to his wife by loving her.

      This was written in the context of Paul's day. Marriages in that day were in trouble in every culture. Among the Jews, men could divorce their wives fairly easily. If their wife did not please them, they could get a divorce. Among the Greeks there was a lack of companionship in marriage and sexual pleasure was often sought outside of marriage. Many Romans practiced what was no less than serial polygamy in which wives were little more than disposable property.

      In such a context, the call for a husband to love his wife was a radical call. It was and is a different way of living than many in the world. The husband must defer to his wife in love.

C.  In The Family  6:1-4

      Mutual submission is also relevant in the context of the family.

      Children are called to give up their power to nag, manipulate and disobey. Instead they are to submit to their parents in obedience and honor. This is a command to children who are Christians and are seeking to follow the example of Christ.

      This is partly for the purpose of order in the home, but also a recognition of the new relationships which are the rule for believers.

      It is right for them to do this and also contains a promise and that is a promise of a long life. This was a promise contained in the Old Testament and is carried over into the New Testament. It is not a guarantee which overrules the sovereignty of God in regards to illness or accidents, rather it is a promise that if a child follows the direction of a Christian parent, he will be spared from the kind of accidents and dangers which come to those who are rebellious and disobedient.

      A child's obedience must show itself in attitude, speech and actions.

      But children are not the only ones who submit. Fathers or parents are also called to submit to their children. Parents are to give up using their power to exasperate their children. Parents can exasperate their children through irritating them, making unreasonable demands, harshness, cruelty, favouritism, overindulgence, humiliation, suppression, sarcasm, ridicule. When parents do this, they are misusing their power over their children.

      They are also to give up the power they sometimes use to instruct their children. Instead of using power to teach and instruct them, they are to instruct them in the way in which Christ trains them. This does not mean that they will not use discipline, instruction and direction. But it does mean that they will not use inappropriate power to achieve their goals for their children.

      Children have a legitimate dignity of their own and parents recognize that dignity when they follow the rules for new relationships. Children are not their property, but are children of God. Parents recognize this when they give up inappropriate uses of power in order to train up their children as the Lord trains them.

D. At Work 6:5-9

      The other primary relationship is in the world of work. In the first century the most common such relationship was that of slaves to masters. By some counts, there were in the neighbourhood of 60 millions slaves in the Roman Empire. With the abolition of slavery, many have wondered how to deal with this passage. The most common way has been to apply it to employers and employees. I think this is a good application, because the basic premise of the entire passage remains the same. As an expression of the new "in Christ" relationship we defer power in the closest human relationships including those at work.

      Slaves were called to defer power to their masters and to serve them as if they were serving Christ. Instead of using their power to get as little done as possible or stealing from the master, they were called to submit and work as if they were working for Christ.

      Of course it makes a big difference if you are working as if God was watching and not only as if the boss was watching.

      Whether we are working for someone as a slave or as an employee, the same is true. The question to be asked is, "who is my boss?" The answer is, "Christ is my boss."

      But masters are also called to defer to their slaves or employees. Their act of submission is to be in recognition that they have a master who is watching them. Practically, this means that they are not to threaten but rather to treat the workers fairly.


      When a choir sings, if one person sings too loud, the choir sounds bad. There is harmony among the singers as they submit to one another so that the whole is beautiful.

      Christ sets us into a new relationship with God. We are the body of Christ and he is our head. He has demonstrated the new ethic for all human relationships by giving his life for us and seeking to make us new and pure and holy. This pattern sets out the pattern for all human relationships. Mutual submission rather than power grabbing is the pattern for relationships which have been renewed in Christ.

May God help us to truly live in these transformed relationships because of what he has done for us in Christ.

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