2008-04-20 Ephesians 5:21-33 Submission
It is going to take more than one Sunday to study this passage. This is the climactic passage in the book of Ephesians. This is precisely what the Apostle Paul has been leading up to.
We’ve already noticed that Jesus Christ is the major emphasis of this book. Repeatedly, Paul uses the phrase, in Christ, through Christ, on account of Christ, for Christ, to Christ, etc. And, here in verse 21 he uses it again, saying, “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Notice that it doesn’t say, submit one another out of reverence for one another, out of respect for one another, out of tolerance for one another. It says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ!”
This is central to Christian living! This is worship. Have you talked to people about worship? When you do, it isn’t long before you get to a point where you agree that worship needs to be reverent.
This is important, reverence is worship. So, in this case, Paul is telling us that worship requires reverence to Christ, and reverence to Christ involves submission to one another!
Now, we submit to one another because we’ve first submitted to Christ. Paul has made it abundantly clear that Christ deserves our submission, and that since Christ has all power and authority, in heaven and on earth, Christ is the only true object of our reverence, of our submission.
Of course, there are people who submit themselves to other people in unhealthy ways, and for unhealthy reasons. There are people who are more concerned with the latest celebrity gossip, who submit to the latest fashions because so and so is wearing them, and so on and so forth.
But only Jesus Christ deserves our submission. Paul has gone through great lengths to show the surpassing greatness of Christ including His love for us. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Christ empowered His Holy Spirit to work in us, even before we were aware of Him, so that we could follow Him.
Christ made us alive, even though we were dead. He placed us with Him in the heavenly realms. He has given us true wisdom and knowledge. He has made us one with Him. He has united us together, to be one body, under Him, the head.
That too is another reason to revere Christ: He is our head.
But Jesus is quite different from other heads of state. See, we still use this terminology, head of state, head of the household, head of the government, head of the world, etc. Jesus is different, He doesn’t demand reverence and submission simply because he is who he is, though he could easily have done that.
Instead, Jesus humbled himself, took on human flesh, lived on earth, became a servant suffered and died in order to give glory to God through perfect obedience and submission; in order that the world might be saved through Him.
You see, in the Trinity, there are three equal persons, but in function, there is a hierarchy, a wilful hierarchy of function. The Father creates and recreates. The Son is the means of creation and recreation, the Spirit is the power of creation and recreation. The Son is willingly, functionally, submissive to the Father, and the Spirit to the Son and the Father.
But these functional submissions do not make the Son or the Spirit, less eternal, less praiseworthy, less a part of the Godhead.
In some ways, our society and in many churches, we’ve lost this distinction. Some have come to believe that in order to have perfect unity, perfect equality, people have to be functionally equal. But that is not the case at all!
The persons of the Godhead are equal, make no mistake about it, but the Father is not the Son, nor is the Son the Father or the Spirit. And these three persons, though in actuality perfectly one God, not three Gods, these three persons are able to be submissive toward one another without it affecting their equality, their identity as God!
So, when we look at this passage this morning, and when we pick it up again in May, we need to be clear on what submission means.
Submission isn’t becoming a doormat. It doesn’t mean that you let people run all over you.
You’ve heard the expression, “turn the other cheek”. Which comes from this familiar passage: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Mt 5:38-42).
Do you understand that passage? It has everything to do with submission, but nothing to do with being a doormat. Do you see the difference? This is completely counter-cultural. The world, not just the Old Testament runs on the eye for an eye thing. But Jesus changed everything.
This is totally applicable today. What happens when someone offends you? Don’t you get your guard up? Don’t you, if you don’t have the courage to confront that person directly, though to your credit most of you do, don’t you rather say complain to your friends about how you’ve been wronged? Don’t get this wrong, we’re not talking about the sin of gossiping here, we’re talking about righteous indignation, seeking vengeance. If we’ve been wronged, we want to see the person who wronged us brought to justice. And at times, we’d really like to do the eye for an eye thing.
But clearly, in Ephesians, Paul is saying, and his teaching here is right in line with Jesus, that we cannot live on that system. Under that system, we’re dead. For justice is this, we’re sinners and we deserve hell. But God’s justice is this: Christ paid for our sins, so that we’re made righteous in Christ, in Christ we’re given His righteousness, and we get not hell, but heaven!
So, if we, who have been given all the treasures of heaven, if we, who have every spiritual blessing in Christ, if we, who have the Holy Spirit in us, the guarantee of everlasting life, if we demand an eye for an eye type of justice, we make mockery of God’s grace, His gracious love and salvation!
So, Jesus tells us, Paul, Jesus servant, tells us to submit to one another. The turning the cheek attitude demonstrates, proves the grace we’ve been given. If our enemies demand injustice from us, we operate out of God’s grace, we realise that eventually justice will catch them up, and God will take care of it. So, we instead, turn the other cheek, if sued, we give them more than what they’re asking for, if they require us to help them out by doing something we might conscientiously object to, we go beyond the requirement, we give more!
Why? Because we’ve received far more than we deserve!
In our submission to Christ, we keep in mind two things. First, that there was nothing about us that was good enough to deserve God’s love, mercy and grace. He simply chose us out of the goodness of himself. This doesn’t mean that we constantly beat ourselves up over how bad we are, as I’ve done to myself and in a way to you also, in the past. No, we remember where we came so that we stay humble, otherwise the temptation might be that we start thinkin’ we’re all that. We’re not.
Second, in Christ, we’re more than what we were! We’re children of the light. We’re children of God! We have the righteousness of Christ! We have the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that hovered over the waters way back at the beginning—that Spirit is in us!
The power of the Holy Spirit in us empowers us to submit to one another in Christ. Out of respect for Christ! That’s what we have to keep in mind! We have to focus on Christ. We live and behave like Christ. Jesus was perfectly submissive to the Father! That’s how he was able to live a perfect life. If Adam and Eve had chosen perfect submission, then they would have stayed in the garden. If not for the temptation of sin, of Satan, they might have progressed in their understanding of God, and learned more and more and eventually reached full knowledge as we’ll have when Christ returns.
But they did not, in fact, God knew in advance that they would not, and yet because of his love and His grace, he allowed them to live freely.
You see, submission is an act of the will; you have to be willing to submit. If you are willing, you’ll submit, if you are unwilling, you won’t.
So Paul is telling us to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
There are several things going on here. We submit to Christ and to one another because we are so amazed by Jesus Christ. We look at what He did for us, even though we were His enemies, and we revere him, him for that, and it impacts how we live.
That’s one way to look at it, but there is a better way. For, out of that perspective, we’re still the focus of the attention! Did you notice that? I said we revere Christ on account of what He did for us. That sounds great, doesn’t it? But still the focus is wrong, the focus isn’t on Christ, it’s on what He’s done for us!
It makes it sound like we can choose whether or not we want to revere him in a way. Well, if I don’t appreciate His gift or if I don’t want His gift, I can do whatever I want.
Remember the Children’s message? Do you love people because they give you gifts? NO! You love that person for who they are!
It is the same with our attitude toward Christ. We revere Him because He is the Son of God! We revere Him because He is God! We revere Him because He is loving even to the point where He was willing, submissive to the point of giving up His life for ours!
We submit to one another, not based on our love for one another, though that’s a part of it, for sure. No, we submit to one another, Paul says, out of reverence for Christ. We revere Christ for who He is, all powerful, all authoritative, all loving, all gracious, all faithful. And out of a total, consuming love for Christ, we demonstrate our love for one another, through submission.
Now, here we are, almost at the end of the sermon, and I haven’t even reached the main part of the text. Yep, we’re definitely going to need to spend some more time on this. Or, the other option is that I keep on preaching for at least another hour.
Yeah, I thought so, we’ll pick this up again after next week.
How do we demonstrate our love for God? By being willing to submit, and submitting to Him and to one another. This is so difficult, so backwards from what we are taught, from what we know from society.
And yet, there is a simple example of what the Christian relationship with God is like. All this talk of submission has an earthly example.
Are you ready for this? The Christian life with God has an earthly parallel. We must be very careful here. The parallel is supposed to reflect the reality of our relationship with God, and often it doesn’t. Often, we try to reflect the earthly parallel in our relationship with God, with disastrous results.
But the earthly example of the Christian’s relationship with God is marriage.
Now, we have to put aside our earthly understanding of marriage here, and try to grasp a Godly understanding. An earthly understanding showed up appropriately in a student blooper. A student, asked what the definition of marriage was said, it is when a man and a woman spend their lives together in monotony. Yes, he wrote monotony instead of monogamy.
It is easy to look at the example, marriage as the pattern. But marriage is supposed to follow the Christian relationship with God. And that relationship is submission out of respect.
We’ll get into this more yet, but it is very important for us to understand. If we, in our relationship with God, or in our relationship with each other don’t submit, then we’ll be demanding things. We’ll think we’re entitled to stuff. We’ll start to think we love the other person because of what they do for us, not because of who they are. The moment we do that, we’re in danger. The focus of our love becomes us, not the other person.
So let us examine our hearts and minds this week. Here’s how we’ll do it. First of all consider someone close to you, your siblings, your spouse, your boyfriend or girlfriend, fiancée, or whatever. Then think of how you love them. Do you love them for who they are or for what they do for you? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that appreciation is wrong. It is good for us to appreciate our loved ones, particularly for what they do for us. But that is not the basis of our love.
And this is why it is not the basis of our love. Suppose something happens to them, suppose they are unable to do the things we’ve grown accustomed to having done. Suppose they change. If we love them for what they do to us, we’ll be disappointed, and we’ll stop loving them.
But if we love them simply for who they are, then we’ll be able to get through any situation, because our love isn’t based on performance.
The same thing applies to God. We have to love God because of who He is. God is who He is; there is no one, nothing like God. There is nothing in this entire universe that is more loving, or more worthy of being loved than God. But if we base our love on what we perceive God does for us, then if God, for whatever reason, and we’ll look more closely at this tonight, allows evil things to happen to us, we’ll stop loving God, because God’s actions no longer fit our understanding of God.
But if we’re able to love God for who He is, realising that He doesn’t change, then even if our circumstances change, we’ll still love God no matter what. So, let us examine our love for God, and why we love God this week. Amen.