By Semi-Retired Pastor Jeremy Stopford

Our controversial scripture passage:

…submitting to one another in the fear of God.

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

For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church;

and He is the Savior of the body.

Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ,

so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.”

— Ephesians 5:21-24 NKJV

Wait! Don’t quit yet. Let’s get a better grasp of this word, and its implication for men as well as women.

Marriage. The world likes to joke about marriage – why even sometimes the jokes are “clean!”

For example, one of my favorite lines to describe marriage: “marriage is not a word; it’s a sentence.” Hmmm.

I like the story about when a cyclone hit a farmhouse in Kansas. The force of the wind lifted off the roof, picked up the bed where the farmer and his wife were sleeping, carried them away, and then just as suddenly set them down in a field in the next county! The wife began to cry. “Don’t be scared, Mary! We’re not hurt,” encouraged the farmer to his beloved. “I’m not scared,” replied Mary. “I’m happy! This is the first time in 14 years we’ve been out together!” Hmmm again.

Our text today uses one of the most controversial words in Scripture: “SUBMIT!”

What impressions come first to your mind when you hear that word?

The impression of a military rule?

Or, He says jump, she says how high?

Or, He snaps his fingers, she moves?

We need to show the true Biblical pattern. Let’s understand a simple definition for the word “SUBMIT”: “to place under, to be voluntarily subservient to.” The Good Book gives us at least 3 good examples of the amazing use of this word:

First, the Son submitted to the Father! What Son? The Lord Jesus Himself! What Father? Why, His own Heavenly Father! Let’s look at some Scriptures:

“ I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.” John 5:30

“For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.” John 12:49

“Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.” John 14:10-11

But wait, there’s more! The Lord Jesus was not only submissive to His HEAVENLY Father. He was submissive to His EARTHLY parents as well. Remember when the family of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus went to the temple at the occasion of Jesus’ twelfth birthday? Somehow He got left behind. When 3 days later He was found in the temple teaching the leaders, He stated, “I must be about My Father’s business.” But look at what the Scripture says when He finally went back to Nazareth with his earthly parents: “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.” Luke 2:51.

Remember: to be submissive means “to place under, to be voluntarily subservient to”.

Well, how about Christians? Are WE supposed to be submissive? Brace yourselves – let’s take a little spiritual journey! The Bible says that Christians are to be submissive…

TO GOVERNMENT: “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.” Romans 13:1

TO ONE’S EMPLOYER: “Bondservants [that’s us – workers, employees], OBEY in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men…”. Colossians 3:22-23

TO AN ELDER: “Likewise you younger people, SUBMIT yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be SUBMISSIVE to one another, and be clothed with humility…”. 1 Peter 5:5a

But let’s not forget the admonition found in our text, Ephesians 5:21:

“submitting to one another in the fear of God.”

I first began in the pastorate in 1986. I wasn’t so much nervous about preaching or about ministering to the “sheep” of my flock. I was more nervous about conducting my first funeral (which I did not do for another 3 years) or my first wedding. Beaver Meadow (NY) is a wonderful community stretched out over land which is highly conducive to dairy farming. The church is (still) the only fundamental, Bible believing, gospel preaching church in town! Well, actually it is the ONLY church in town. The church always has had its faithful members and attendees – even before the building was built in 1872! Being the only church in town gives it a wonderful connection with the towns folks, many of whom rarely come to church – EXCEPT for weddings and for funerals. I learned that fact soon after coming to the church when, in September, I was asked to officiate my first wedding! The groom was from a long established family in town; the bride was from the town just over the hill. It was a nice day for a wedding. About 5 minutes before the 10:30 am start of the service, I was talking with the bride’s father. “First wedding?”, he asked. “Yes!” All of a sudden there was an huge CRASH coming from the front of the church. No, no one fainted. The bride’s dad and I rushed to the front of the church and perused the situation: apparently 4 slightly overweight men and women sat down on a pew at the same time. The pew shattered to smithereens! The father said, “you’ll never forget this wedding!”.

Ephesians 5:21 is the key, not only to a successful marriage; it is the key to all life! The bride and groom are first of all to be submissive to one another. They are to what? “To place under, to voluntarily be subservient to.” My Number 1 desire to my wife is to please her in all things. Her Number 1 desire to me is to please me in all things. Together, we are ONE and daily growing in our oneness.

So when we come to the instructions concerning the “duty of the wife”, as found in Ephesians 5:22-24, remember it is prefaced with verse 21! Without verse 21, the rest of the chapter makes no sense! In fact, without verse 21 the rest of the instructions sounds like something out of a military journal.

That reminds me of the line, “the views expressed by the husband are not necessarily those of the management.” Ok, ok. That might be funny except for the reality that Who is really “the management?” Why, it is the Lord Jesus Himself!

In fact, even before zeroing in on the “duties of the wife” or the “duties of the husband”, take a very close look at two other subjects: “the Lord Jesus” and “the church”! This is one of the most comprehensive passages in Scripture of the connection with the Savior and His church. Then He uses the role of the husband and wife as an illustration of His love for the church! Do I hear a “WOW!”?

Before the Savior came along, in the early history ALL women were subservient to ALL men! The women really had no role in society but to serve the men. The Lord Jesus then elevated the position of women as being under HER own (one) husband’s protection!

Notice a few quick thoughts:

Verse 22: the wife’s “submission” is “as to the Lord”. In essence, the husband is to so live, so love his wife as well as his Savior that the wife will gladly, what? “Place herself under, be subservient to” her husband!

Verse 23: in essence, the husband is the human representative of the Savior before his wife! Think about that for a while!

Verses 22-24: Once again, be sure to read the instructions surrounding “the church” and once again say, “WOW!” – or even a “PRAISE THE LORD!”.

But what IF! You don’t know my husband! How am I supposed to love HIM as the Savior loved His church? Let’s turn to 1 Peter 3:1-6, in particular, the first 4 verses:

“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, 2 when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. 3 Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— 4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of A GENTLE AND QUIET SPIRIT, which is very precious in the sight of God.”

The early preacher of the 1900’s, D.L. Moody (who founded the “Moody Bible Institute” in Chicago, Illinois, originally for the purpose of training future Sunday school teachers), is supposed to have said the classic line: “Preach the gospel at all costs. If necessary, use words.”

A gentle and quiet spirit. No words, simply a character which represents the Savior Himself!

Years ago, I was asked to give a message at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of an area pastor and his wife, Tom and Mary. Near the end of the message, I asked Tom if I could have his approval to officiate the renewing of their wedding vows. Tom wisely said, “only if you get it right this time.” Confused, I asked him, “and how am I to get it right?”. He said, “by being sure to put in the word OBEY!” Apparently, the minister who originally conducted their wedding left out that word when having the bride give her vows! And yes, for Tom’s sake, at their renewal “OBEY” was included!

“SUBMIT”! Are you submissive to your husband?

“SUBMIT”! Are you submissive to your wife?

“SUBMIT!” Are you both FIRST OF ALL submissive to the Lord Himself?

What would the home look like if it was FIRST OF ALL submissive to the Lord?

Would it look like yours? Like mine?