This is the fifth post in a series of posts on submission. In the first few posts, I explained that submission is a Universal Biblical Command that needs to be built on the Proper Foundation of submission to God. In order to be in proper submission to God, we also have to understand that God Transfers Authority to others and expects us to submit to those he transfers his authority to. The first authority we examined that God calls us to submit to isThe Church and Its Leadership. In this post, I want to look at a second institution that God has ordained an authority structure for. That institution is the family.
The family is the most basic, and the most important, God ordained authority structure in the Scriptures. It is the first authority structure ordained for mankind, and it’s the only authority structure that existed before the fall. Before the fall of man, there was no church and there was no government. Before the fall there were no pastors, elders, deacons, or priesthoods. Further, before the fall of man there were no kings, presidents, congressmen, senators, or treasurers. However, in the Garden of Eden there was a husband, and a wife, and although there weren’t any children yet, the structure was already in place for there to be a mother and a father for children.
In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul lays some pretty basic ground rules for how husbands, wives, and children are to interact within the family. Many teachers begin with verse 22 which says “Wives, submit…”. This is an understandable, but dangerous way to approach the Scriptures. Ephesians 5:1-21 is all about the individual and how they are to walk in love, walk in the light, and walk in wisdom. Before we get to “Wives, submit…” we need to take great care in reading these twenty-one verses. These twenty-one verses are intended to be understood and applied to husbands, wives, and children before understanding and applying their submission to one another in verses 22-36.
Walk In Love – Ephesians 5:1-6
In verses 1-6, Paul writes that we are to be imitators of God as dear children. Parents, remember that you too are a child of God. As your children frustrate you, remember how you frustrate your heavenly Father sometimes. When you’re angry, remember the grace your Father has had on you. The text says to “Imitate God.” One question we should always be diligent in asking ourselves is: “What would God do in this situation?”
This leads us to the second verse which says:
And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Before we ever understand the marriage covenant, or the necessary sacrifices involved in parenting, we must recognize that Christ-emulating self-sacrifice is expected of all believers regardless of marital status or a parent/child relationship. The love that Christ has on each one of his children is the same kind of love that we are called to express towards those around us. This love is a sacrificial, not emotional, love. It’s a love that pours out of a knowledge that Christ died to save us, and we need to die to ourselves for the sake of others.
Further, Christ-emulating, sacrificial love displays itself in a life of humble gratitude. The opposite of this kind of love is a life dedicated to self gratification and foolish talking.
But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
Whether we’re talking about husbands, wives, or children, there is an understanding that our submission to God requires these things to already be true in us. We, as individuals, ought to be already avoiding sexual immorality, covetousness, and filthy talk. Our hearts should exude grateful thanksgiving and cast aside the things of impurity before we ever walk an aisle.
Walk in Light – Ephesians 5:7-14
Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
This next series of verses makes it abundantly clear that there should be a dramatic life change in the heart of the individual who has encountered Jesus Christ. If we are submitting to God first, we ought to be seeking to answer the question What is pleasing to the Lord? We should not be participants of “the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Repentance ought to be a normal part of our lives as believers. As we come together in the marriage covenant, repentance should become a regular part of our family. Husbands and wives who are in Christ ought to be well-acquainted with the process of admitting error, seeking forgiveness, and turning away from that error.
Further, those same husbands and wives should be well acquainted with the limitless forgiveness of the blood of Jesus Christ associated with confession of, and repentance from, sin. Having been forgiven so much in Christ they should be able to forgive their spouse to the same extent that Christ forgave them. This is never easy, especially with repeat offenders, but the general rule in Scripture is that we are to be a continually forgiving people because we serve a continually forgiving God. Walking in the light requires a willingness to be vulnerable, and a willingness to forgive.
As we walk in the light by exposing our sin to one another, and to God, and as we seek forgiveness, we will return to the Gospel afresh. Even more, our kids will learn to emulate us as we do this. When we are honest, and repent to them, and ask their forgiveness, they in turn will see that admitting wrong, and pursuing right, is a normal part of life. If we live in our marriages as though we have no sin, and we are constantly defending our mistakes, our kids will learn to lie when they do wrong, and will imagine that not getting caught is somehow more advantageous than being honest. Learning to walk in the light is a journey all believers are on. That journey is not only a part of family life, but a part of every day life.
Walk in Wisdom – Ephesians 5:15-21
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Finally, Paul calls on all believers to walk in wisdom. Paul specifically references our use of time. Before we ever get married, we need to learn how to best use God’s time. Never forget that we don’t own “our time.” We have a tendency to want to schedule out our days, weeks, months, and years. We set a plan for our lives and then we seek to achieve those plans. One problem: it’s not our life and they aren’t our days, weeks, months, and years. They are his. When we are planning our days, months, and years the right question to ask is “How can I best use the time God has given me?” The reason Paul tells us to walk in wisdom is because “the days are evil.” If we do not look ahead, and anticipate our own selfishness, the days will overcome us and we will use them for our own selfish and foolish devices.
Paul gives us a great road-map in these verses to walk in wisdom and to discern what the will of the Lord is. It is no small thing that the primary context of walking in wisdom is closely tied to what appears to be the local church or a local assembly of believers. He tells us, rather than fraternizing at and getting drunk with wine, we should instead be filled with the Spirit and address one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We should be making merry in our hearts and giving all kinds of thanks to God for what we have in Jesus Christ. In short, I would argue that Paul says we should be having a Gospel party. Hang out with other believers and let the central focus of your conversation be not things of this world, but Jesus Christ.
When the world parties it parties around the things of this world. It parties around music, dance, alcohol, drugs, movies, video games and the list could go on. The church has something better to get drunk on. The church has something better to party about. The church has the glorious person of Jesus Christ to worship and rejoice in. As we do that together, we influence each other toward following him, rather than following the things of this world. The church ought to be an incredible influence for radical service to Jesus Christ.
There’s one last line in this text that leads us to Paul’s description of the authority structure of the family. It says “submitting one to another out of reverence for Christ.” Although I believe the family is the most important, oldest, God ordained institution I think the church has a close relationship with the family. It’s one of the reasons I wrote Submission—The Church and It’s Leadership before I wrote regarding the family. We are called to have, in the local church, a relationship to one another that is foundational to marriage. In the church, the body of Christ, we are all called to be in submission to one another. Before there is ever an “I do,” there should already be a mutual submission between two believers. Before there is ever a veil, there should already be an overflowing love for Jesus Christ. Before there are ever any rings, there should be a desire in the heart of both the man and the woman to walk in wisdom, and to seek the Lord’s will in everything. Before there is ever a reception, there should be a body of believers who are ready to party around the Gospel of Christ, and willing to love and submit to one another.
This may irritate some, but if a foundation of submission hasn’t been established before a marriage, then the marriage is going have problems. Practicing submission isn’t easy and whatever causes you to stand and fight, will be the very thing that will cause you to stand and fight in your marriage. If those things are, indeed, Christ honoring, then you will stand and fight together. Sadly, if they are self-honoring, you will find yourselves standing, and fighting each other unless you learn to submit to and love one another out of reverence for Christ. This is true not only in marriage, but it proves to be true in the local church. If we are constantly fighting our brothers and sisters in Christ, rather than loving them, that will bear itself out ten fold in our marriages.