|Series Theme: Meditations in Ephesians|
Meditation No. 44
Meditation Title: Submission
Eph 5:21-24 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Paul, in this chapter, has been covering aspects of the Christian life. He's moved on from what God has done to what we must now do. He started with a call for us to imitate God (v.1,2), and followed it by a continuation of things that must not appear in the Christian life (v.3-7). He then went on to explain why, using the analogy of light and darkness (v.8-14), followed by a call to be wise as to how we live and to live a Spirit-filled life (v.15-20). Earlier on he had spoken about unity (4:3) because there is just one body (4:4).
This present paragraph is difficult because of what is viewed today as its contentious nature, as he speaks about husband and wife relationships. However, we should see it in the context of the unity of the body (which crops up within it) and it is clear that Paul has this in his mind when he writes. He starts out with a general call to all the church: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” We have commented in the past about the fruit of ‘gentleness' which, when it is there, produces a pleasing, conciliatory approach to others. Submission has the same feeling behind it.
Taking the negative approach first, when you submit to another, there is no room for pride or arrogance and no room for you to push your will to the detriment of others. Now to be positive , when you submit to someone you make yourself open to them, to listen to them, to receive them and what they have to say. Submission is a practical outworking of love.
Paul had the same idea in mind when he said, “Honour one another above yourselves.” (Rom 12:10) and “in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3). Peter had the same idea when he said, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Pet 5:5) Submission and humility go hand in hand. Those who object to the concept of submission fail to realise that it is a call to humility.
We should note in passing that it is a call to “submit to one another,” i.e. it is mutual submission. This is a clever strategy for it does not mean, ‘be a doormat to all others' because it is mutual submission and so NO ONE becomes dominant! I have never heard this spoken about and so I conclude that it is something that is rarely realised. We are ALL to be servants of one another and therefore there is NO room whatsoever for anyone to dominate or domineer over another. The kingdom of God has only one master – Jesus! The rest of us are servants.
When Paul comes to the marriage situation, he realises that the sinfulness of mankind is given fertile ground in which to flourish. If these verses have been seen as contentious, it is simply because sin is lurking, waiting to rise up and make claims on behalf of ‘self'. Now we really do need to see this before we carry on, otherwise, depending on whether you are a man or a woman, you may take particular ‘sides' and so generate or egg on what the world calls ‘the battle of the sexes'. This should NOT exist in the Christian world, and it is this very thing which works against unity in the body and works against harmony in relationships.
Now because we can only take a certain amount each day, we will only be touching on the woman's side today, but any men reading this should realise that their part is coming soon and it speaks death to ‘self' even more, so there is no grounds whatsoever for men to be able to take these words and use them as ammunition in the ‘battle of the sexes.' You have been warned!
Paul continues: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” Ladies this is not to make you a grovelling heap, for the reasons we have given above – he is to submit to you as well! However, if you consider what we said initially about submission above, it does mean that “when you submit to someone you make yourself open to them, to listen to them, to receive them and what they have to say,” and “there is no room for pride or arrogance and no room for you to push your will,” and “Submission is a practical outworking of love.” (The same is going to apply to him so don't get all defensive!).
In case you think this is just Paul, remember the apostle Peter has the same ideas: “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” (1 Pet 3:1,2). Notice the ‘without words' – which means no nagging. Modern science suggests you are more capable with words but therein is a danger that you try to browbeat your partner with words – and that does nothing for harmony and unity. (Prayer does a lot more!)
Then Paul gives his reasoning: “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” The buck has to stop with someone he is saying. God looks to husbands to carry the can for what happens in the family. That's all that this ‘head' language means. It's all about responsibility. Women are often wiser than men, I believe, simply because they often also work on emotions, care, concern, and intuition, but each of those things also makes them vulnerable. Paul is trying to protect them at their most vulnerable point but sadly that is the opposite of how so many see it today (and yes, men have so often neglected their side – see the following meditations – and given cause). You may need a lot of grace to work through to the truth as God sees it, in the light of the pressures of ‘the world' today, but there is something better than we've had in the past or that we've got today. There is God's way.