Submission to Each Other

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Ephesians 5:21-33
Ephesians 6:1-9

Let’s think today about your most important human relationships, with your boss, with your children, with your spouse. What’s the key to making them good relationships?

Listen to this great word from the apostle Paul, chapter 5:21: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” It’s important to see the connection between this and what has gone before. Paul is still spelling out what is meant by living a life “worthy of our calling,” fitting for those called to belong to Christ. Here is how Christians are to fulfill their roles as husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants in a way that honors the Lord.

Also, this submission, together with worship and thanksgiving, is what is to result from being filled with the Spirit. We sing together to the Lord, we are thankful to him, we express our loyalty to him, by being submissive to one another in the power of the Spirit.

Notice that the section about husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants, is introduced by this general call to mutual submission. In other words, all Christians, whatever their sex, age and position, are to show respect for one another as persons. All are, in lowliness of mind, to esteem others as better than themselves, and all are to seek the other’s rights and interests above their own.

This makes it clear that “submission,” as the apostle uses it here, is not in any way degrading or dehumanizing. The person who gives submission is not inferior to the one who receives it. In all of this teaching, there is a distinction between the person, a being of value and dignity, made in God’s image, and the role, that is, the particular place and status the person occupies. The wife is not inferior to her husband, nor is the child inferior to parents, nor the employee to an employer, although they are cast in different roles at different times in their lives.

And the apostle makes it plain that the submission we owe to others is really a recognition of the Lord’s authority over us all. We are to be submissive to others out of reverence for Christ, as a part of our Christian obedience. We do it, ultimately, for his sake.


In this setting, Paul speaks first to wives. They are to be submissive to their husbands, recognizing their God-given role of headship, or leadership, in the family. But the person they are ultimately obeying when they do so is not the husband but the Lord. They are submissive to their husbands out of reverence for Christ.

Paul gives this reason: “. . . the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church” (v. 23). Just as the church is submissive to Jesus Christ, recognizing his headship, so the wife is to be toward the role of her husband in the family system. In this way she expresses her commitment to the lordship of Jesus. She does it ultimately for the Lord, whatever kind of man her husband happens to be.

The husband, on the other hand, is to express his loyalty to Christ by loving his wife as Christ loved the church, with utterly self-sacrificing devotion. Here we see that for Paul, a husband’s headship is to be the very opposite of selfishness and tyranny. He has absolutely no right to bully, abuse, or lord it over his wife. In fact, he is to consistently put her interests above his own, even to the point of self-sacrifice.

The apostle goes on to describe Christ’s love for the church as that of making her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the Word, that he may present her in splendor, not having spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind, holy and without blemish. In other words, husbands are to love their wives in a way that helps them to become all that they can be in God’s service, that frees them, enhances them, and brings forth their true beauty.

And there are husbands among you who do that. You husbands care about your wife’s happiness, her fulfillment, her education, her enjoyment, even to the point of making sacrifices for her. That’s the heart of the husband’s calling, to help his wife fulfill her potential and find her highest joy.

Paul has a further word to husbands in which he shows that loving his wife in this way is the path to joy and fulfillment for him. Loving his wife is loving himself. We all take care of our bodies with much interest, as the Lord cares for us, who are members of his body. Husbands and wives are joined in such a way as to become profoundly one, in a union that hints at the bond between the Lord and his people.

So, you can’t injure your wife without hurting yourself. You can’t insult her without degrading yourself. And whatever love you show her, for the Lord’s sake, will bring certain blessing to you as well.

I’m struck by the fact that Paul has a good deal more to say here to husbands than to wives. I don’t know exactly why that is, but my hunch is this: He saw that generally speaking wives do a much better job of submitting to their husbands than husbands do of loving their wives with self-giving love. He saw that husbands needed more instruction and more incentive.

He concludes by saying again that husbands ought to love their wives, and wives ought to respect their husbands. Should a husband also respect his wife? Surely. Should a wife also love her husband? Of course. But maybe Paul is speaking to the point where each is weakest, where each needs the most encouragement – the wife to respect, and the husband to love.

Here is a word of personal testimony. My wife Helen and I have been married for over 48 years. We’ve had our ups and downs, sorrows and struggles, hurts and arguments. But Helen has never refused to follow my leadership, never rejected my role of headship in our family. Nor have I ever ordered her to do anything she was unwilling to do. When husbands and wives seek to love each other and put each other’s interests first, there aren’t many things you can’t work through together. In fact, we haven’t found one yet!

God’s way is good. When each spouse is seeking to be filled with the Spirit, and to show love and respect, a marriage gets better and better through the years. Love grows and joy deepens. By honoring each other, we help each other to honor Christ.


Now, about children and parents. Children are to obey their parents “in the Lord” for this is right. It’s appropriate to do. Think of this: It’s a child’s way of obeying the Lord. And it carries with it a blessed promise: “it will be well with you, and you will live long on the earth.” Children are to give special “honor” to their parents, respecting them, appreciating them.

As time goes on, and the children grow up and leave the family home, the call to obey parents recedes, but the responsibility to show them honor and respect never ends. Even after they die, it’s a blessed thing to honor the memory of our parents, doing all we can to live in a way that would reflect well on them.

Parents, on the other hand, are not to provoke their children to anger – by physical or verbal abuse, or by unreasonable demands. They should not belittle them, using ridicule and sarcasm at their expense. Because a child is small and defenseless, he or she has a special claim on our care and compassion. We parents are to bring them up in “the discipline and instruction of the Lord” – correcting, training and teaching them, but always with patience and love, as those who represent the Lord. We are to be the ones in whom the kindness of our heavenly Father becomes real to them.

I’ll never forget an experience I had in Uganda. When I was speaking on this subject, a father came to me afterwards weeping. He was a Christian man but he acknowledged that the way in which he treated his children had not helped them to see the heavenly Father’s love. Later on that night he confessed this to all of his children. He and his wife, with many tears, had a marvelous experience of realizing their role as representing God and his love before their children.


Now about masters and servants. Here again the place of reverence for God is prominent. Servants are to obey their masters, or workers their bosses, as they obey the Lord. Not simply when they are being watched, or to win their favor, but as those who realize that they are ultimately serving the Lord. I remember working on the railroad years ago when the attitude among the workers was such that if you ever worked when the boss was not watching, you were under heavy disfavor from the rest of the workers. I mean, talk about “eye service as men pleasers,” that was what it was. You worked only when you were watched! Paul is talking about working as those who realize that we really are working for Jesus Christ. And so we’re actually to render service with enthusiasm, knowing that any good we do will come back to us from the Lord.

And masters are to act toward their servants with the same spirit, knowing that they and their servants have the same master in heaven – who is without partiality. Before him servants are spiritual equals and should never be mistreated or even threatened with harm.

Aren’t you impressed with the way, arching over all this, we are called to live our lives as to the Lord and not to people? That’s really what the Bible means by the “fear of the Lord,” that you live your life with an awareness that you are before God. You are in his presence. You are accountable to him. You do everything with that awareness. The fear of the Lord means we take him into account always and endeavor first of all to please him. That’s why in all our relationships we are to show love, honor and respect for those around us because in doing that, we show reverence for our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, if you’re married, talk these things over with your spouse, surely before you go to sleep tonight. Maybe you’ll want to apologize about something, or express appreciation. And how good it would be to pray together. Talk with your wife or your husband about the respective roles you play and about the calling of God to you in your particular station and place in life. That could make all the difference in your marriage. Pray together for the power of the Holy Spirit to be able to live that out.

And if you’re in touch with your children or your parents, do talk about these family ties with them. Let there be confession, as it was with that father in Uganda, as to where you may have failed. Let there be expressions of forgiveness and the fresh give and take of love. This is our calling, friends. This is why we are brought to Christ. This is why we are filled with the Spirit, that we may be submissive to one another out of reverence for Christ. And if you would like prayer about these things, if you would like further counsel about them, do get in touch with us. The Lord bless you as you seek to honor Christ in every relationship.