Speaker: Dave Jenkinson
A number of years ago, Saturday afternoon's sport on TV included wrestling matches featuring larger-than-life wrestlers such and Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy. The aim was to knock your opponent out or to force them to ‘submit’, and so win the contest.
This morning, we're looking at the scripture verse in Ephesians 5:21 which says, ‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.’ Although the word submit occurs, it's got nothing to do with wrestling, although, we do sometimes wrestle with ourselves if we're going to submit, because sometimes it's not easy.
Let me say first of all that submission has got nothing to do with status.
The Bible says quite clearly that we're ‘all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28), so whether you're male or female, rich or poor, an employee or employer, red or yellow or black or white, we’re all precious in God’s sight, we're all equal.
But there are some times when we have to agree to submit to one another out of reverence for Jesus Christ. And there is an order in our submitting to one another, a mutual submission, an example of which is clearly seen in the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The unity and purpose of the Trinity has nothing to do with status, but exemplifies the way that each person of the Godhead fulfils their role in the salvation of mankind and the restoration of all things. We are similarly called to submit to one another in order to fulfil the purposes of God.
The Greek word used in the New Testament for the English word submit is hupotasso, which literally means ‘to stand under’. This word indicates obedience, submission, subordination, or subjection. And this seems totally contrary to what we've just been saying, that we're all one in Christ. You might think that if you were being obedient or subservient, then you were of lower status, but no. It's not about that, it's about our behaviour towards one another, rather than status.
The Bible verse we’re thinking about comes from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (5:21), written from prison in Rome, but it’s also relevant for us too in our very different situation in 2022. Paul had spent a lot of time teaching and encouraging the new followers of Jesus in Ephesus and his last meeting with them, recorded for us in Acts 20, showed the love and concern he felt for them.
Our verse comes near the end of the Ephesian letter which divides nicely for our purposes into two sections: the first, chapters 1-3, our position in Christ, and the second, chapters 4-6, our practice in Christ. God has blessed us immeasurably in sending His Son to bring us His salvation, and Paul wants to show us how we can live out that blessing in our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ as well as in the wider community.
‘God…. has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (1:3), and so, 'Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (5:21)’
Just before writing that we should ‘submit to one another’, Paul exhorts us to ‘be filled with the Spirit’ (Ephesians 5:21), and it’s important for us to realise that part of that outworking of being ‘filled with the Spirit’ is that we will not only ‘submit to each other’, but also demonstrate other characteristics and behaviour as evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.
We have to admit that we often find it hard to submit to one another. We may think we’re always right and struggle to realise that we may in fact be wrong at times. We’re so often quick to interrupt and not listen to each other carefully because we don’t agree with what the other is saying. We can often be guilty of pride and arrogance in thinking that we are in some way superior to the other in our thinking or understanding of doctrine.
Recalling Proverbs 3:34, James reminds us that ‘God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble’ and goes on to urge us to ‘Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.’ (James 4:6-7). Let’s be known as people who put into practice what the word of God says. Let’s put things right with one another, showing humility and submitting to one another.
Paul sums it up in Philippians 2:1-4, ‘Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’
Because of all that God has done for us in Christ, our response should always be to love him, serve him and love one another. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:5-8 that we should have the same attitude as Jesus, who ‘humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!’ We might never be called to go that far, but his example should be our motivation.
Romans 12:10 asks us to ‘be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves.’ (NIVUK). Other translations speak of ‘giving preference to one another’ or ‘taking delight in honouring each other’, emphasising that same thought of submitting to one another.
Submission can never be required or demanded of one another. It can only be given on the basis of trust, trust in the word of God and developing trust in each other. We need to believe God's word and be willing to grow in our relationships because that's what it's all about.
As we carry out these ‘one anothers’ we’re growing together in love and coming together as family. Lack of submission to one another can have devastating effects not only on natural family relationships, but also within the church family. So, let’s agree that submission to one another is a good thing.
Paul’s reasons for requesting this submission are clear: ‘…..you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.’ (Ephesians 4:1-3 NLT)