Summary: The analysis of the concept of submission in Ephesians 5:21 teaches us what God expects of his new society.
Today we are beginning a new sermon series in Ephesians 5:21-6:9 that I am calling, “Focus on the Family.”
In our previous study (of Ephesians 5:18-21) we saw that Paul gave two commands, one negative and one positive. Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:18: “And do not get drunk with wine [that is the negative command], for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit [that is the positive command].” Then Paul gave four participles in verses 19-21, which are evidences of being filled with the Spirit: “…addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs [that is fellowship], singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart [that is worship], giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ [that is gratitude], submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ [that is submission].”
Sometimes a Greek participle was used as an imperative (command). That is what Paul was doing in verse 21, where he wrote, “…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The Greek participle is, of course, “submitting,” but it really forms the transition and the command for what follows. The New International Version actually translates this verse as a command, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Moreover, there is no verb in verse 22 because the call for submission in verse 21 is intended to carry over into verse 22. The call for submission is in fact the necessary foundation for the three sets of relationships in Ephesians 5:22-6:9. John Stott puts it this way, “What is beyond question is that the three paragraphs which follow are given as examples of Christian submission, and that the emphasis throughout is on submission. Thus, wives are addressed before their husbands and are told to submit to them (verse 22); children are mentioned before their parents and are told to obey them (6:1); and slaves are addressed before their masters and are told to obey them (6:5).”
Let’s read about the necessary foundation of Christian submission in Ephesians 5:21, although for the sake of context, I shall read verses 18-21:
18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18b-21)
A. The Breaking Down of Society
Let’s begin by reflecting on the breaking down of society.
I don’t have to tell you that marriage and family have seen massive changes in just the last few years. Ten years ago, when President Obama took office, he affirmed that marriage should be only be between one man and one woman. During his presidency, the law changed to allow so-called “same sex marriage.” And today people are promoting vigorously—and largely successfully—for all kinds of sexual and gender identities and family relationships.
The Biblical view of marriage and family is disappearing from our society. Christians who hold to a biblical view of marriage and family are being told that they are bigoted and are increasingly shunned for their views.
This break down of society is not new however. In the ancient world, disdain for women in particular was almost universal. Commentator William Barclay sums it up this way:
The Jews had a low view of women. In the Jewish form of morning prayer there was a sentence in which a Jewish man every morning gave thanks that God had not made him “a Gentile, a slave or a woman”…. In Jewish law a woman was not a person, but a thing. She had no legal rights whatsoever; she was absolutely in her husband’s possession to do with as he willed…. The position was worse in the Greek world…. The whole Greek way of life made companionship between man and wife next to impossible. The Greek expected his wife to run his home, to care for his legitimate children, but he found his pleasure and his companionship elsewhere…. In Greece, home and family life were near to being extinct, and fidelity was completely non-existent…. In Rome in Paul’s day the matter was still worse…. The degeneracy of Rome was tragic…. It is not too much to say that the whole atmosphere of the ancient world was adulterous…. The marriage bond was on the way to complete breakdown.
We will continue to see a breaking down of society in our day. That is why the proclamation of the gospel is so urgent.
B. The Building Up of Society
God calls his people to the building up of society.