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Ephesians 5:21-3:32, Relationships and Mutual Submission

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In Ephesians 5:15-21, Paul wrote to the church that in their lifestyle they should submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit and let God run their lives. The foolish self-destructive person runs his/her own life by being ruled by selfish desires and emotions. In our relationships, the Spirit of God will lead us to mutually submit to each other, meaning we will deny ourselves and serve others. In Ephesians 5:2 we read, “Walk in love just as Christ also loved you”. By this he meant that Christ sacrificed Himself for us and He loved us unconditionally. Therefore, we are to live by being willing to love unlovable people who may not deserve it. Ephesians 5 does not tell us to understand each other, only to love each other. We should seek first to edify others, even before ourselves. The most obvious relationship that needs this sort of mutual submission is the marriage relationship, and in Eph.5:21 we read the “bridge” between being led by the Spirit and our lifestyle in our marriage relationship. The key to all good relationships is to “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Eph.5:21). The subjection is to be mutual and based on your reverence and fear of God. The most important of all your relationships is the marriage relationship. After your relationship with Christ, the number one priority should be your spouse. The Bible says that there is an important change that takes place when we marry. Genesis 2:24 says we become one in God’s eyes. Paul will say that a husband should love his wife as himself because she is his own self. Look at each other as one, so that you will treat each other differently.

The Shocking Changes in the Last 50 Years

The number of poodles is down by over 50% while the number of Rottweilers and Pit Bulls has risen. There are now more private security officers than police officers. The number of people with phobias has increased greatly. 50 years ago it was rare for a wife to leave her husband, but now more wives leave their husbands than vice versa. The one statistical change that is the most revealing and problematic is that the divorce rate for Christians is about the same as non-Christians—both are over 50%. It is so bad in California that they actually have jewelry stores that will rent wedding rings. The irony is that literally everyone who gets married is sincere and idealistic about the union. Even Hollywood nut-job celebrities think they will be together forever. The reality is that all marriages are happy, it’s the living together afterwards that causes all the trouble. Dr. Howard Hendricks had a student who had been married for ten years come to complain about his wife. He asked the guy, “If she is so horrible why did you marry her? She wasn’t like that when we got married, he said. So Hendricks said, “So ten years with you ruined her?”

Everyone goes into relationships to be personally fulfilled, and to find personal happiness. This is the wrong attitude, and why so many marriages fail. The common complaint is I’m not happy, and he/she is not meeting my needs. The truth is that no face is ever beautiful enough, no body ever sensual enough, and no physical pleasure is ever fulfilling enough—so the search is endless and fantasy is elevated above reality. Comedians have had a field day with marriage jokes, like—Adam and Eve had the ideal marriage. He didn’t have to hear about all the men she could have married, and she didn’t have to hear about how good his mother could cook! A son asked his Dad “I’ve heard that in some places a man doesn’t know his wife until he marries her”. The Dad says, “Son that’s true everywhere.” Rodney Dangerfield said, “My wife and I were happy for 20 years, then we met!” One lady said her husband was like a volcano, and she was so upset she was losing weight. Her friend asked if she was going to confront him about it and she said “Yes as soon as I get down to 120! A critic said two selfish people are like a tick on a dog, they are only in it for what they can get out of it. The problem in marriage is that there are two ticks and no dog!

Ephesians 5:21-33

In Eph.5:21-22, “be subject to” means to relinquish your rights for the benefit of the other person. The husband gives up his life for his wife as Christ gave up His life for the church. The wife respects him in his leadership role, which is strictly a functional appointment. Men and women are equal in every way except for God’s appointment. I remember the first time I heard this passage taught by a very dogmatic teacher who said the man was the boss and the woman’s job was to obey because she was the weaker party. That sounded like Ralph Kramden in the old HONEYMOONERS TV show. I knew at the time something was wrong with that because the guy’s wife was way smarter and better than he was! Remember the equality passages like Galatians 3:28, “there is neither male nor female (in Christ’s view), for you are all one in Jesus Christ”, and Ephesians 4:4-6, “There is one body and one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is over all and in all”. Men and women have the same spiritual gifts, and are equal in every way in God’s view.

Before we go further let us discover the context of this passage. Paul’s purpose is to teach unity, love, and Christ like living. In Eph. 5:22-33, the comparison he uses to illustrate this in the marriage relationship is Christ’s relationship with the church. In this comparison, the wife is like the church, and the husband should be like Christ in how He treated the church. Christ was motivated by His love in everything He did for the believing church. First He voluntarily gave up His position in heaven where everything was perfect, and He took on the flesh through the incarnation to enter this depraved violent world. Then Christ suffered and died a sacrificial death in order to save all those who would believe in Him. Christ had such unconditional love that even on His way to the cross, when people were harassing Him, He prayed “Father forgive them”. Therefore, the husband is to have that same unconditional sacrificial love for the wife that Christ had. We read in v.25, “Husbands love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her”. Christ is the “head” of the church, but He exercised that role as a servant. He lived for the church, suffered for the church, and gave Himself up for the church. That is biblical headship. Naturally, that is not the way of the world so most people just don’t get it—just like the Apostles did not in John 13. The disciples of Christ had been arguing for a year about which one of them would be the greatest, yet Christ continually taught them that to be great was to be a servant. He gave them a visual demonstration at the Last Supper when He washed their feet, and then commanded them to do the same. The husband is to exercise his role as a leader by serving the wife, loving her unconditionally, and by being willing to sacrifice himself for her. He can’t force her to respect him, but he earns it. In response the wife should respect and be willing to “subject” herself to his role as a leader. The wife might say, “I would if he was ever right!”, but in this passage the reason given to respect the husband is to do it “as to the Lord”. She respects him not because he is smarter or he deserves it, but because her primary relationship is to the Lord God. She yields to her husband in order to please the Lord. You both must remember that there is a third party in your marriage who is the Lord of your life.

Someone defined marriage as “Two people both in search of personal fulfillment and happiness who come together on a collision course”. This portrays the two as rivals, but you are not rivals–you are partners. In Eph.5:28-33, Paul speaks of the two individuals as one in God’s view, and quotes from the creation account in Genesis 2:24, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” You would never hurt yourself or hate yourself, nor should you hurt or hate your spouse. You nourish yourself, build up yourself, cherish yourself—just as you should your spouse.

Ten Commandments of Marriage

A minister named John Hamby preached a famous sermon entitled “The Ten Commandments of Marriage”, which might give us some practical advice on marriage. He gave five for the ladies and five for the men. I will be brief in listing these—the first five are for the wives: 1. Give up on your quest for a perfect marriage. Both people are imperfect, so marriage requires a great deal of patience and commitment. 2. You can’t change your husband through criticism. Perhaps God will change you positively through the husband’s faults. 3. Give him praise and acceptance—make sure he knows you are on his side. 4. Provide a peaceful place. Don’t make him come home to a stress-producing environment. 5. Set out a time regularly to have fun together.
Hamby’s Five Commandments for Husbands are: 1. Assign Top Priority to your marriage relationship—don’t make her compete with your work or recreation. 2. Be willing to talk and reassure using pleasant words. 3. Listen to her without feeling you have to solve her problem. Often the wife just wants to air it out, not have you solve it. 4. Avoid criticism, it only causes negativity. 5. Remember the importance of little things like birthdays and anniversaries. Gifts and cards are remembrances of your love and affection.

A fulfilling biblical relationship does not depend on finding the right person—it depends on BEING the right person! You may not be able to change your spouse, but you can change yourself.


About the Author: Charlie Taylor
About the Author: Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor grew up in Dallas, Texas, graduated from the University of Texas Business School and went into the commercial real estate business for about twenty years before enrolling in and graduating from Dallas Theological Seminary with honors.

Since that time he has been a sought after Bible teacher in the Dallas area. He currently is teaching about six different non-denominational weekly Bible studies to different audiences at different locations throughout the Dallas area.

Charlie is a born humorist and storyteller. He describes himself as a “nobody telling everybody about somebody who can save anybody”.

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