In Christ, Submission Works

August 29, 2021

Pastor John Hering

Ephesians 5:21-33

Ephesians 5:21-33

18  Instead, be filled with the Spirit…. 21 by submitting to one another in reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he himself is the Savior. 24 Moreover, as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, in the same way as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, by cleansing her with the washing of water in connection with the Word. 27 He did this so that he could present her to himself as a glorious church, having no stain or wrinkle or any such thing, but so that she would be holy and blameless. 28 In the same way, husbands have an obligation to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 To be sure, no one has ever hated his own body, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will be one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 In any case, each one of you also is to love his wife as himself, and each wife is to respect her husband.

This summer the WELS Women’s Ministry team has produced a study series called “Reflections on our Unique Callings: Men, Women and the Body of Christ.” 

It is a hot topic for discussion when we consider all that relates to this discussion. Of all the advice offered by secular counselors, online resources, and talk-show hosts, none compares to the guidance which God gives men and women in his Word. 

Who can better define the roles of men and women than he who created them in the first place?  Who can better help us all, whether single or married, to receive strength for a faithful confession of this topic in God’s Word?  When we talk about the respective roles of men and women a word that often gets targeted is “submit.”  This word may be the subject of controversy, but we dare not sidestep it.  Actually, I have good news.  If our lives are grounded with what God’s Word says about submission, then we can have great confidence in knowing

In Christ, Submission Works

It works for husbands to love their wives

Joshua challenged the Children of Israel with the words, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness …. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh 24:14).  A great way to serve the Lord is to listen to God’s Word and apply it to our lives.  St. Paul ends his letter to the Ephesians with guidance from the Lord on just how to do that.  We need the guidance from God’s Word because our sinful flesh is never converted and remains hostile to both the law and the gospel.  Because fewer and fewer people are actually reading the Bible, it should not surprise us that many are hostile to what God’s Word says regarding submission.  Yet, as God’s people it is our prayer and our daily battle to love what God loves, and to hate what God hates.

God wants his people to make wise decisions and make the most of every opportunity to avoid evil and to be filled with God’s love as the Holy Spirit works on our hearts through his Word.  Then comes his specific guidance for couples and for God’s people. I started Paul’s instructions with verse 18 (because many start this topic in verse 22). 18  Instead, be filled with the Spirit…. 21 by submitting to one another in reverence for Christ.”  We note submission is a specific way in which one is identified as having a Spirit-filled life.  A Christian’s willing submission is an attitude and conduct that reflects the Holy Spirit is working and living in a person.  So, just what is biblical submission? Jesus encourages the same attitude in Matthew 20:26, “Instead whoever wants to become great among you will be your servant.”  What a sharp contrast to the view of greatness in the eyes of the world! Most people today will not be able to understand biblical submission because they don’t understand Paul’s all important words, “in reverence for Christ.”  Simply put, be submissive because this shows worship, respect and devotion to Christ.

Before we get to the specific application our lives, let’s be sure we have a proper understanding of God’s meaning of submission.  If you look up this word in a dictionary it will say something like this: “to place oneself under someone, to be subordinate to.”  The point is that submission indicates that an order has been established. For example, when the driver of an 18-wheeler comes driving down the road and comes to a school crossing, and the crossing guard steps into the street with his orange flag in the air, the truck driver will stop.  The truck driver is not stopping because he is has less value, is weaker, less intelligent, gifted, important, or in any way inferior. But he willingly submits because he recognizes that there is an order of authority established by the government for the good of school children, drivers, and the general public. So, he willing submits, he willing lines himself up to the will of the crossing guard who has the authority.  Point #1: Submission has to do with order, not value

With this biblical understanding of submission, what does God say to husbands? “25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”  I want to speak to husbands first because St. Paul is inspired to spill more ink talking to the men than to the women.  Let our first impression be this: A husband’s commitment of love is a vital role in the overall well-being of a Christian marriage.  Also, a husband’s love for his wife is not something that is an option, but it is a command from God.  The last verse says, “….each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself.”  What is this love that God calls husbands to have for their wives?  It is to be like Christ’s love for the church. You’ve probably heard the Greek word used, Agape, to identify this love. This is love for the unlovable. It is the sacrificial, unconditional, active love and it is best seen by Jesus who laid down his life for a world of sinners who hated him! “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Who would say that Christ’s submission to his Father meant he was less or inferior! No, he willingly submitted to the authority of his Father in order to save the world! This sacrificial love is not only a love that is willing to die, but it is a love that is willing to live!  Jesus’ love for the church meant he lived every day for God’s people, undeserving as we are. So, husbands are to love their wives every day, unconditionally, sacrificially, actively.

Christ’s love for us is not only the model for husbands to love their wives, but it is also the motivation. For right now, I would imagine that wives are thinking, “I wish my husband loved me like that,” and husbands are saying, “I’ve sure not loved my wife like that—I’m a failure.” But, that’s just the point. God’s demand for husbands to love their wives needs to sting our sinful nature, our rebellion against God’s standard, and cause us to realize how much help we need.  Then, only when we understand how much Jesus has loved us, in spite of our failings, can husbands in turn love their wives.  When the love of Christ for us is the model and the motivation then let the submissive attitude of husbands not be, “How can I better rule my wife?” but, “How can I better love my wife?”  For in Christ submission to God’s design works as husbands love their wives.

It works for wives to respect their husbands

Now that we understand God’s order for husbands, let’s consider God’s role and order for wives. 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he himself is the Savior.”  Again, we remember that submission has more to do with order than with value.  Paul is telling wives more than simply submitting to their husbands, he is telling Christian wives to submit voluntarily to the God-given authority of their husbands. Did you catch it? Paul said, “as to the Lord.” Paul’s focus for women is not that they should focus on their husband’s activities, but on their own God-given role. What role are they to willingly line themselves up to?  Paul ended this section by saying, “each wife is to respect her husband.”

When I begin pre-marriage counseling one of the first things we do is say, “What do we need for a marriage?”  The answers are many including commitment, love, money, home, and honesty.  It’s rare to have “respect” in the list.  The word Paul uses here for respect is the same word in Matthew 9 after Jesus healed the paralyzed man who picked up his mat and walked home. Then it says, When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe.” You know what the crowd felt: Jesus has value, to hold in high esteem, to respect. Again this is a tall order to fulfill, unless we listen to God’s reasoning for such an attitude from wives toward their husbands. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he himself is the Savior.”  Stop and think what an awesome responsibility God has given to husbands! Wives are to willingly line themselves up to their husbands and respect them because God has appointed the husband to be the head of his wife and his family. This principle was established by God in the Garden of Eden when he said, 18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is a suitable partner for him. 22 The Lord God built a woman from the rib that he had taken from the man and brought her to the man.  23 The man said, Now this one is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.  She will be called “woman,” because she was taken out of man” (Gen 2: 18, 22, 23).

We learn that the relationship between husband and wife is not comparable to a master-slave relationship. Rather, the relationship between men and women is modeled after the relationship between Christ and his church. 24 Moreover, as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything.” The fact that he has proven his unconditional love for us, in addition to the fact that he would never ask us to do anything that is not in our best interest, gives us all the more reason to submit ourselves willingly to him.  As members of Christ’s body we do not resent his headship.  We appreciate it.  We respect it.  It’s not a dual, it’s a duet!  So, Dear Wives, even though husbands are not perfect, God commands you to respect your husband for the God-given role they have. For in Christ submission works as wives respect their husbands for the role God has given husbands in caring for their spouse and family.

This is God’s plan for a solid family and a God-pleasing marriage.  Paul quotes God’s establishment of marriage from Genesis: 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will be one flesh.”  This is why God made men and God made women.  They make up a new family as each one submits to their God-given role.  In Christ submission works when husbands love their wives, and wives respect their husbands and receive God’s intended blessings of companionship, sexual purity and children—God willing.  Want to see how beautiful this relationship can be?  Then listen what happens when in Christ submission works….

It works for the Church to love our Savior

But, there is more in this Word of God before us than just for husbands and wives. St. Paul digs deeper into the purpose of Christ’s sacrificial love. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, by cleansing her with the washing of water in connection with the Word. 27 He did this so that he could present her to himself as a glorious church, having no stain or wrinkle or any such thing, but so that she would be holy and blameless.”  One of the purposes for Christ’s submission to his Father in heaven was to set apart a people for God. He did this “by cleansing her with the washing of water in connection with the Word.” The result: Christ washed our sins away in our baptism to bring us back together into a relationship with God.  It is proof of Christ’s love for the Church, his bride.  For all of us who have dirtied God’s plan relationships, dating, sex and marriage have been washed by Jesus’ holy blood and dressed us in his righteousness so that we might be holy and blameless when we are presented before the Lord God on the Last Day.  Christ is the head of the Church and his perfect love for you and me brings us great blessings.

As God’s people, the Church, now we get to submit—willingly line ourselves up to our dear Savior and expect all the blessings that belong to men and women.  We have forgiveness of sins, eternal life and deliverance from the devil.  We rest secure in his promises to love and cherish each of us in sickness and in health.  We rejoice in Jesus’ faithfulness to us, and willingly line ourselves up to be faithful to him as his holy and blameless bride.

We want to shout with Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!”  However, your heart may have guilty feelings about your past failures and feeling frustrated to meet God’s high standards in the future. Our goal today is not that you walk away today feeling deflated and discouraged.  Our goal today is for you to enjoy a generous helping of the good news of Christ’s unconditional forgiveness and enjoy the power he gives husbands, wives and all people for Christian living.  Our goal today is for all us to walk out of here recharged and renewed in Christ and joyfully submit to God’s will as the bride of Christ.  In Christ, dear husbands, love your wives.  In Christ, dear wives, respect your husbands. In Christ, dear Church of God, love your Savior, love what he commands as you joyfully and willingly submit to Christ! Amen.

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