Ephesians 5:21-24

Sunday Morning Bible Study

July 30, 2006



Stubborn Ship

Actual transcript of a radio conversation of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October 1995. Radio conversation released by the Chief of Naval Operations 10-10-95.

Americans: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.

Canadians: Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.

Americans: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, DIVERT YOUR COURSE!

Canadians: No, I say again, you divert YOUR course.


Canadians: This is a lighthouse! Your call!

We Americans have a problem with authority.  It seems it’s in our DNA.

American was founded on rebellion.  We don’t want some King of England telling us what to do.

Back in the sixties the cry was against “authority”.  In some ways it almost seems anti-American to give in to authority.

This morning is going to be a look into how we handle authority, how God wants us to handle authority.

Last week we talked about God’s will for us to be filled with the Spirit:

(Eph 5:18-20 NKJV) And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, {19} speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, {20} giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

:21 submitting to one another in the fear of God.

submittinghupotasso to arrange under, to subordinate; to subject, put in subjection; to subject one’s self, obey; to submit to one’s control; to yield to one’s admonition or advice; to obey, be subject; A Greek military term meaning "to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader". In non-military use, it was "a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden". This “verb” is classified as a “participle”.

Note:  I made a mistake last Sunday when I said that the rest of the verbs in the chapter were all participles, that they all flowed from the command to “be filled with the Spirit” in verse 18. And though this verb is also a participle, the commands in the following verses are not (wives submit, husbands love, etc.)

But here in verse 21, the idea is that submission flows from the command to be filled with the Spirit.


Submission is for all of us

Somehow we’ve gotten into our heads that submission is only for wives.
We all have a responsibility to learn submission.
This is not a strange word only used a few times in the New Testament.  The verb is found 32 times in the New Testament, including …
(Luke 2:51 NKJV)  Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart.

Jesus as a young teenager was “submissive” to His parents.

(Rom 13:1 NKJV)  Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.

We are all supposed to be “submissive” to the government.

(1 Pet 2:13 NKJV)  Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme,

We are to “submit” to the laws of the land.

(1 Pet 2:18 NKJV)  Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.

We are to “submit” to our boss.

(1 Pet 5:5 NKJV)  Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."

Youth should “submit” to their elders.  We ALL ought to “submit” to one another.  Humility is the key.

(James 4:7 NKJV)  Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

Ultimately, we all need to learn to “submit” to God.

Kevin Miller writes,
I’d just finished mowing the lawn, and it seemed like the perfect time to spray Weed & Feed on the grass. Except I didn’t have any Weed & Feed.
“I’m going to the store,” I told Karen.
“But the kids and I are waiting for you to go to the pool with us,” she said.
“That can wait,” I said.
“Honey,” she said, “we promised the kids we’d all go.”
Next thing I knew, we were having a heated argument. I knew what I wanted; what she wanted could wait.
Most of us stumble over the words of Ephesians 5:21 because we’re concentrating on what’s fair. But if we insist on playing out our marriage that way, we only bring pain to our spouses and ourselves. To paraphrase Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, “If you insist on an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, you’ll both end up blind and toothless.” God wants to spare us that pain, so he gives us a better way: “Submit to one another.”
That doesn’t come naturally. Scripture has to remind me: Exaltation comes after humility. You have to descend into greatness.

-- Kevin A. Miller, an editor in suburban Chicago. Men of Integrity, Vol. 1, no. 1.

The disciples had a hard time with this concept.  They didn’t want to learn submission, they wanted to be “in charge”.
(Mark 10:35-45 NKJV)  Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask." {36} And He said to them, "What do you want Me to do for you?" {37} They said to Him, "Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory."

They wanted to be the ones giving orders…

{38} But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" {39} They said to Him, "We are able." So Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; {40} "but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared."

Even here Jesus is demonstrating that He wasn’t “in charge”.

{41} And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. {42} But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. {43} "Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. {44} "And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. {45} "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

Maturity in the Christian life doesn’t mean having more people to order around.  Maturity comes from greater humility and learning to be a servant of others.


Submission is a work of the Spirit

Martin Luther wrote,

In domestic affairs I defer to Katie. Otherwise, I am led by the Holy Ghost.

Submission isn’t easy.
The real test of submission is when you are asked to do something you don’t want to do.
It’s not hard to do something you want to do.  Order me to Baskin Robbins, and I’ll obey real quick.  Ask me to clean the bathroom or take out the trash and I just may drag my feet a bit.
I think one of the real tests of whether I’m learning to walk in the Spirit is whether I’m learning submission.
How do I respond when I’m asked to do something I don’t want to do?
My response will show me a lot about my relationship with the Holy Spirit.

:22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

submittinghupotasso – This is the same word that was used in verse 21, but here is a specific command, an “imperative”.

This is not the only passage that talks about a wife being submissive to her husband.  It’s also found in Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5; 1Pet. 3:1.

as to the Lord …


It’s easier to serve your mate if you envision your loving Lord rather than your flawed spouse. Picture doing it for Jesus. The imposition then becomes an honor.
-- Jim and Sally Conway, Christian Reader, Vol. 33, no. 6.

:23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.

Paul is going to be painting a picture throughout this passage, not just of marriage, but of the relationship between the church and Christ.

Savior of the body

Jesus is our savior because of how He demonstrated His love toward us:

(Eph 5:25 NKJV) Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,
The Gospel – Jesus saw our greatest need, our need for Him.  And He saw that there was a problem with us being able to come to Him, our problem was sin.  Jesus was willing to lay down His life, so sacrifice Himself in order to pay for our sins.
When we come to learn to trust Jesus, to trust Him to pay for our sins, He saves us from the ultimate consequence of our sin, He saves us from hell.
And we enter into a love-relationship with God, like a marriage.

:24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.

Ladies, do you submit to your husband in the same way that you think the church ought to submit to Christ?

7 Lessons on submission

1.  Submission does not mean “inferior”

Some churches teach and practice this.  I talked with a gal once who went to a church that made all the women stay out in the hall while the men went into the sanctuary.
Jesus submitted to His earthly parents, and He was far superior than they were (Luke 2:51).
Paul wrote,
(1 Cor 11:3 NKJV)  But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

Jesus isn't inferior to the Father, but He submits to Him.

Submission has to do with order, not with value.

2.  Submission is not based on a nice husband

Some gals say, “I’ll submit to my husband as long as he loves me like Jesus loves the church”
Peter gives us some more help on the subject of submission:
(1 Pet 3:1 NKJV)  Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives

A wife is to learn submission especially during the times when her husband is being disobedient to God, when he does “not obey the word” (vs. 1).

3.  There are limits

Does this mean that a wife MUST do everything that her husband COMMANDS?
The American in me is smart enough to realize that there are always limits to submission.
When Peter and the apostles were commanded by the governing authorities to stop talking about Jesus,

(Acts 5:29 NKJV)  But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: "We ought to obey God rather than men.

Gals, if your husband is asking you to do something illegal, I have a problem of you giving in to him.  If he is asking you do sell drugs, just say “no”.  If he is bringing the family into real danger, there’s a time to say no.
But be careful where you draw this line.  Don’t let the American in you say “no” because your husband’s idea makes you uncomfortable.
Don’t be quick to not submit because …

4.  Submission brings change

Submission is one of the chief ways that God uses to change your husband (1Pet. 3:1)

Ruth Graham said it was a great day in her life when she realized it was not her job to change her husband. She said “It was my job to love Billy and God’s job to change him.”

-- Robert Russell, "Releasing Resentment,"

God will be at work through the actions of a wife, not just their words.
I believe God wants men to learn how to lead.
I’ve got this sneaking suspicion that most gals are miles ahead when it comes to making decisions.  I haven’t figured out if it’s that “woman’s intuition” thing, or if they’re just smarter, but for the most part, they seem to make decisions much easier than guys.

But gals, your husbands need to grow in making good decisions.

If you always decide for him, he'll never be a strong, decisive leader. But if you let him decide, even fall on his face, he can grow and learn to make better decisions.

Give him your opinion and support him.

If you give your opinion but sit in the back taking potshots at him, he’ll never have the confidence to make another decision.  But if you give your opinion and then support WHATEVER decision he makes, even if he fails you’ll find that the two of you are closer together through the whole thing.  You’ll also find that he’ll probably think twice before discarding your opinion.

Guys, if you’re smart, you’ll give your wife’s opinions a LOT of weight when it comes to making your decisions.
Men have a built in need for support and appreciation.

Mrs. Leon Apple, the wife of a preacher who recently died, was speaking to the 120-man committee, mostly preachers, of the North American Christian Convention in St. Louis. She said, “I always said I’d rather hear Leon Apple preach than any man I knew, because I was sure that he lived what he preached at home, and I wasn’t sure about some of you guys.”

Every preacher sat there thinking, “Boy, I wish my wife felt that way about me”. Wives, don’t underestimate the size of the man’s ego. He wants to be the hero. And when you cut him down in public, when you’re disinterested in the things that he’s interested in, when you ridicule the things that are important to him, it discourages him.

-- Robert L. Russell, "God's Design for Marriage,

5.  Submission does not mean “shut up and obey”.

(1 Pet 3:5-6 NKJV)  For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, {6} as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.
I counseled a couple once where the wife had a REAL problem with submission because she thought it meant “Just shut up and obey me woman!”
But ladies, the example for you to follow is Sarah, and she was not a “silent wife”.

She may have called Abraham “Lord” (Gen. 18:12), but she also spoke her mind.

She was the one who gave Abraham the idea of taking Hagar as a wife (which was a mistake).

She was the one who felt it was time for Hagar and Ishmael to leave the family. 

And God told Abraham to pay attention to his wife!

Sometimes she was wrong, sometimes she was right, but she shared her opinions.
The president is not the expert on all the issues, but he surrounds himself with people who are.  When it comes to making decisions, a wise person will ask advice from the best people and then make their decision. 

Who knows most on specific subjects?  The advisors.

Who makes the decisions?  The president.

6.  Submission is not the husband’s right

It is the wife’s responsibility.  This command is written to the wife, not the husband.
God doesn’t command the husbands to order their wives’ submission.  They have a different command to be concerned about (next week’s passage).

7.  Submission requires faith

(1 Pet 3:5 NKJV)  For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands,
The difficult thing is when a wife says, “But he’s going to take us over a cliff if I let him make all the decisions.”
That could be true.  But on the other hand, perhaps God wants you to go over a cliff.  Maybe that’s where you need to be.  Maybe that’s the only place he’ll learn to make wise decisions.
The bottom line is that this is God’s pattern in the home.
You may not agree with the things we’ve shared today, but your problem isn’t with me or this church.  Your problem is with God.

There comes a point where God is going to ask you to trust Him that He knows what He’s doing.