Sermon: Submit to One Another (Ephesians 5:21–6:4 | Pentecost 20B)

Sermon Text: Ephesians 5:21-6:4

Date: October 6 & 7, 2018

The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B


Ephesians 5:21–6:4  

21… and by submitting to one another in reverence for Christ.

22Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he himself is the Savior. 24Moreover, as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything.

25Husbands, love your wives, in the same way as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, by cleansing her with the washing of water in connection with the Word. 27He did this so that he could present her to himself as a glorious church, having no stain or wrinkle or any such thing, but so that she would be holy and blameless. 28In the same way, husbands have an obligation to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29To be sure, no one has ever hated his own body, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30because we are members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones. 31“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will be one flesh.” 32This is a great mystery, but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33In any case, each one of you also is to love his wife as himself, and each wife is to respect her husband.

6:1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2“Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with a promise: 3“that it may go well with you and that you may live a long life on the earth.” 4Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Submit to One Another


If you have paid any attention to current events, you’ve seen a great deal of time spent and ink spilled on personal relationships. How should a man treat a woman? A woman a man? A husband his wife? A wife her husband? A parent their child? A child their parent? How should coworkers interact with each other? How should friends treat each other? How do members of a congregation interact with one another in a way that brings glory to God?

We almost always answer those questions in ways that are self-serving. I make demands of you in how you should treat me. I spend more time thinking about how you treat me than I think about how I treat you. And that should be no surprise. As sinful human beings, we are all fundamentally selfish and self-serving and want what is good for us and only after we’re ok do we want what is good for other people.

In the lesson before us, God gives us directions for how those interactions should go, following the example of what he’s done and continues to do for us. We should prioritize others before ourselves. We should think of others before we think of ourselves. We should serve others with our whole heart, rather than serving ourselves. In other words, submit to one another.

Every problem we have in personal relationships, and especially in man / woman relationships can be traced back to the Garden of Eden. We heard in our first lesson that when Adam was created, he was alone and missing his other half. God already knew this would not be the way it would be permanently. It would not be good for Adam to remain alone, so he created Eve to be a helper who is a suitable partner for Adam, forming her from Adam’s rib. Bible commentator Matthew Henry explained the creation of Eve this way in 1706, “The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.” I don’t know if Henry is right and that God specifically used a rib to communicate all of that, but where he ends up is absolutely correct. When God made Adam, he was incomplete. Even in the perfection of creation, Adam had areas where he lacked skills, and a suitable partner would solve that. In the perfection of Eden, Adam found his completion in Eve, and Eve found her completion in Adam.

But after the fall into sin, things changed, even in the family unit. God told Eve that her desire would be for her husband, but that he would rule over her (Genesis 3:16). Not that this is what God wanted, but this would reality in the sinful world. Sin wreaks havoc in the home, so much so that when the role of head-of-household meets sin, it turns what should be a loving, caring role into that of dictator or “king of the family.” Likewise, when the role of supporter and suitable helper meets sin, that role runs headlong into resentment.

We, though, have been freed from sin. Jesus has forgiven every single wrong that we have committed. We’ve been arrogant and spurned the roles that he’s given us to fill. But, he, then, has made us clean, washed us of those sins. Paul puts it this way, Jesus “loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, by cleansing her with the washing of water in connection with the Word.” Jesus sacrificed himself, his life, to completely cleanse us from our sin. We saw that in action this morning as Chelsie was baptized, made a dear daughter of our heavenly Father through water and the Word.

Because of Jesus’ selfless love for us, we are forgiven, restored, and assured of eternal life with him. Because of Jesus’ selfless love, we also get to spurn the world’s way of looking at things and embrace God’s plans and his viewpoint for our lives. We love our Savior and serve him with our lives. We dedicate ourselves to him, trying to reflect the love he has already shown to us.

That, Paul says, is the model for all of our human interactions. Sacrifice, submission, support. Jesus sacrificed everything for us; we want to sacrifice all we can for others. And he uses the picture of the family to support that. He says that husbands should love their wives in the same self-sacrificing way as Jesus loved us. He says that wives should love and submit to their husbands in the same way that we love and submit to Jesus. He says that the love of God should drive the attitude of parents toward their children, and that the thanksgiving of God’s blessings should drive the attitude of children toward their parents.

So, husbands and men of the congregation, let’s start with you. What does it look like to be a self-sacrificing head of a household? Let’s use a hypothetical example of some moderate stakes. If Karen and I are talking about what vacation to take, we might come to a disagreement. Maybe I would like to go to Vancouver and she would like to go to Hawaii. What are we to do? We won’t be taking separate vacations. After much discussion and prayer, what am I going to decide for our family, for her? Well, if I really want to be in Vancouver and she really wants to be in Hawaii, our family is going to Hawaii. Not because she demands it, not because she controlled it, but because I love her and will, ideally, set aside my preferences to serve her. Unless there is some safety or financial reason why Hawaii just will not work, I want to make what she wants a reality.

Wives and women of the congregation, what does it look like to submit to your husbands as the church submits to Jesus? First of all, we need to understand that word submit. It’s not the dirty or spineless word here that it has come to be used today. The word submission literally means “supporting the mission.” To submit in a family is to support the work of a family. What does that look like? Suppose a couple has run into an impasse in their family finances. The rent on the home they are renting is just too expensive to make ends meet, to save, and to give the way they want. So, they are left with a choice: move from the bigger house they are in to a smaller apartment and stay in the same area or move farther away and have the same size or economic level of home. A husband and wife will talk to each other, weigh the pros and cons of each option together, maybe even develop hypothetical plans for each situation to try to think through the details. In the end, it’s the responsibility of the husband to make the decision that is best for the family, and the wife supports that decision and that family by ensuring that everything is done as well as it possibly can be. She may not be excited about it, it may be a difficult time, but submitting will mean doing everything possible to make the decision a success.

Wives gathered here this morning may recognize a glaring issue with Paul’s comparison to the church. No woman here is married to Jesus. You have sinful husbands who do not always love you as Jesus loved the church. There will be times when the wife’s role as submissive, suitable helper will be to confront sin in her husband with God’s Word that they may also rejoice together in Jesus’ forgiveness. That, too, is supporting the mission of the family, submitting as the church submits to Jesus.

In the end both husbands and wives ought to prioritize each other in decisions and actions. The husband that leads with Jesus’ love makes it a joy for his wife to submit as the church submits to Jesus. The wife that submits to her husband’s leadership makes it a joy for her husband to lead with self-sacrificing love.

Parents, what does it mean to parent with Jesus as guide and model? Paul says, “do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Loving your children is to correct them and train them in God’s Word. Loving your children is to prioritize that time with God above all else. It means bringing your children to be baptized, bringing your children to hear God’s Word in Sunday School and worship, if at all possible bringing your children to a full-time Christian education, letting God’s Word be a constant part of your family’s life in prayer and family devotions. It means not over scheduling the family to the point that worship becomes just another chore to accomplish, or one that often gets pushed aside for sleep or parties or sports or anything else that distracts from lovingly bringing your children up in God’s Word. You know that your children’s eternal well-being is the most important thing in their lives. What a joy it is to always bring them to Jesus where they find their sins forgiven and heaven opened!

Children, what does it mean to treat your parents as God wants you to? When Mom or Dad tell you to clean your room, you know things go much better if you just do it right away. No one is upset, you’re not in trouble, and there’s probably time left in the afternoon to do some fun things. But more than all of that, listening to your parents is thanking God. When you obey your parents, God says it’s really obeying him. Your parents love you just as God loves you. Your parents want what is best for you, so listen to them.

And even grown children, God calls on us to honor our parents as a way to thank him for all he’s done for us. That honor may look a little bit different than it did when we were young, but it remains a priority of our lives.

All of these applications have been focused in the family setting, but they have broader applications. Paul’s discourse began before our lesson in addressing Christians at large. So how can you, as a member of this congregation, submit to your fellow Christians? How can you submit to others at your job, in your commute, as you go to the movies, or play sports, or go to school? How can you sacrifice for them? Submit to others. Prioritize others. Makes others more important than you are.

Your sinful nature doesn’t like any of this. It hears words like “sacrifice” and “submit” and recoils. Thankfully, you don’t have to listen to your sinful nature or care what it thinks. Because your Savior lived and died for you to free you from sin and death, you are now free to sacrifice and submit to one another, supporting people in any and every part of your life, in reverence for Christ. God bless your personal relationships, all driven by the love of our God! Amen.