Summary: If we’re truly united with Christ then our basic approach to our relationships will be one of mutual submission, working together to do Christ’s work.
I hope you’ve picked up as we’ve gone through this letter over the last few weeks that Paul isn’t just giving us lessons in Godly behaviour. He isn’t just telling us how to live lives that will please God. Rather, he’s telling us how to live lives that’ll recommend the gospel to those around us. God wants us to show the world how great is his wisdom and glory.
So how can we do that? So far we’ve seen that we can learn to speak the truth in love. We can learn to put away falsehood, wrath, anger and malice. We can earn a living so we can give money away. We can tame our tongues so that everything we say is gracious, uplifting, life giving. We can live lives that are counter-cultural, in that they shun immorality, obscenity and greed. Instead we can seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that others are blessed by our presence among them. And today we discover how we can do our part in the context of our household and work settings.
Now there’s an issue here that might cause us some trouble. It’s to do with one of the words that we find here. That’s the word ‘head’. You see, in our world the head is most often the one we look to for instruction or leadership. So we have headmasters or occasionally headmistresses. We have heads of government. We have head office. “head” has to do with ruling over someone. As a result I think in the Christian world we’ve accepted, probably unthinkingly, that headship has to do with leadership and rule. But let’s have a quick look at how head is used in Ephesians.
In Eph 1:22-23 we read “22[God] has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” At first glance that sounds like Christ is our head in the sense of the one in charge. That’s true, except that God has made him head over all things for the church. Christ is over everything else for our sake. Why over everything else and not us? Because we’re his body, his fullness. We’re part of him. Now you need to hold that idea for the moment.
In 4:15-16 we get a better idea of what this idea of headship entails: “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.” Can you see how Christ as head has more to do with resourcing and enabling growth than it does with direction or instruction? Christ as head enables the body to do what it’s made for, to grow and build itself up as each part works properly. In fact the growth doesn’t even come from Christ; growth comes naturally as the body does its thing. That’s how a body works. You lift weights and your muscles grow. You train and your stamina increases. You use your mind and your thinking improves.
Again, hold on to that idea as we think about how to live in our household settings?
He begins by telling us to “21Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Submission is one of those things we don’t like in our modern, liberated world, isn’t it? But we need to realise that there’s no sense here that our submission to one another is out of inferiority; there’s no sense of subordination in what he’s saying. In fact you could argue that you can only submit yourself to another if you’re free to do so. That is, if in fact you’re an equal. If you’re not free, if you’re not acting as an equal, then it isn’t submission, it’s oppression.
Submission here means giving up the rights you have in order to serve others. This is an instruction for wives, for husbands, for parents, for children, for employers and employees. And it’s a very confronting, a very counter-cultural instruction in a culture where rights are so important.
But notice this is not an arbitrary rule. Rather, it’s an instruction to give up your rights for the greater good of God’s kingdom.
He begins by talking to wives. Now at this point I could suggest that husbands get out the news sheet and read the notices for a while, because this isn’t written to you. Your turn’ll come in a couple of minutes.
These instructions are for wives. He says “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.”