Summary: Submitting to one another is not a matter of law, but of liberty. It is not the chain of bondage we tend to make it out to be. Rather, it is the triumph of one who has been set free.
You are Free to Submit to One Another
Pastor Jim Luthy
In our study of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we have learned the importance of pursuing understanding and receiving grace. Those who understand the blessings we have in Christ and have received the grace to proclaim him, possess him, and present him to a lost and desperate world, are invited to live on another level. Living on that level is living within the Kingdom of God. We have already seen that living on another level means living a life of love and living as children of light. Now this letter invites us to "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." – Ephesians 5:21.
Most of my life (and I think this is true for most of us), I’ve looked at this verse as a burden for which I just had to trust God. I don’t want to submit! It goes against my selfish nature. I’m a capable person. Most of the time—maybe not all the time, but 99 and 44/100 percent of the time—I like my opinion better than the next guy’s. I might accept these words "submit to one another" and make every effort to follow them if I have any commitment to obey God, but it will never be natural nor rational as long as I view it as a law. Add it to the list of do’s and don’ts of what most people believe is Christianity and I crumble under the weight of it. Under it, I am a failure as a husband and a father. If you know the feeling, I want to encourage you to look at these words as an invitation to life rather than the weight of another rule to be followed. Submitting to one another is not a matter of law, but of liberty. It is not the chain of bondage we tend to make it out to be. Rather, it is the triumph of one who has been set free.
Life is a matter of where you stand by faith. If you are not confident of what Christ has done for you, you will view Ephesians 5:21 as another burdensome command that robs you of life. If you are confident in the blessings you have in Christ, you will understand that submitting to one another is an invitation to that life on another level—a level where your life is free from all the trappings of this world and able to bear fruit, to make a difference, to see Jesus in his glory and make his glory known. Is that how you want to live?
1 Peter 5:5 expresses the invitation to submission well: "All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time." The invitation is not "submit or die" but it is an invitation to live or die. Actually, it is an invitation to die and live. As you humble yourself with submission, he pours out his gifts of grace. That’s real life!
Four years after I began working for the Washington State Patrol, I was assigned to the Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit. One of the benefits of that position was that I was able to attend periodic Forensic Study Groups. At these groups, detectives, medical examiners or coroners, forensic dentists or other forensic investigators would present case studies from actual situations they worked or encountered. After attending the first of these study groups with the woman who was training me to be her replacement, I was asked to do an assignment. She gave me a list of the types of people I might encounter at future study groups—detective, police officer, medical examiner, forensic dentist, forensic scientist, police chief, and, of course, my specialty, fingerprint examiner. She asked me to rank the list in order of importance. I refused. "They’re all important!" I protested. "I cannot in good conscience claim that any of these people are more important than any other." My protests were in vain. She insisted that I make my best effort to rank these people, if only in order of perceived importance.
The point of this exercise, I learned, was to correct me for being too casual in addressing one of the detectives at the study group. During a time of interaction I called him by his name instead of addressing him as detective so-and-so. I received the correction, but I’ll never forget the thinking that was behind it. The world loves to categorize people. It’s in our nature. We value people in order of importance, and we measure their importance with power and prosperity and fame. Those in authority are to be revered. Those who have are to be treated more respectfully than those who have not. And we mistakenly give more attention to the famous than the familiar.