In our last few studies on Ephesians we have seen the importance of living appropriately before God; living in holiness, love, light and wisdom. The Apostle Paul now brings it “home”, so to speak, and describes how freedom was designed to flourish in family life. The last idea Paul presented was to be constantly filled with the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit is essential to enjoy our freedom in Christ and with each other. It is somewhat easy to live a Spirit-filled life for one or two hours a week on Sundays, but it is a different story in our everyday relationships between wives and husbands, children and parents and slaves and masters. In each of these three relationships the first person mentioned is called to submit or be obedient in the case of children and slaves, whereas the second person is to show love and care for the other. And all people involved are to live out their faith as service to the Lord.
It is important to understand the context of the culture of Paul’s day in Ephesus. Women, children and slaves were seen as inferior and often uneducated. Male authority was dominant in Graeco-Roman world; it was a patriarchal society. There were household rules for conduct that the Roman Empire operated on that we not fully Biblical. Submission in Paul’s day has a different practical outworking in present day culture. We will look more at that are we carry on in our study.
Submit to one another
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph 2:21) is the last thought of being filled with the Spirit and the first thought of the Christian household. Submission needs to be understood in several ways as we look at the Scripture today. Submission often carries with it the sense of authority, i.e. - “submit” is one-directional. Submission speaks to coming under someone with greater power or authority. In Paul’s time it was someone who is lower in age, position, or even gender needs to submit; wives and children were seen as the responsibility of the husband. So, what does Paul mean when he says, “submit to one another”? How can husband and wife both submit to the other? Do husbands and wives each have authority in the home? We seem to have an oxymoron. In one sense, Paul adheres to social norms by requesting that wives be subject to their husbands, but at the same time he subverts social expectations by calling all believers, including husbands, to submit themselves to everyone—not just those in positions of leadership. This is the Upside-Down Kingdom of God confronting the Greek and Roman leaders and philosophers of Paul’s day. There are passages of Scripture that are less offensive but communicate similar characteristics of submission:
· Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil 2:3-4).
· Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves (Rom 12:10).
· Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up (Rom 15:2).
Paul is instructing the church of Ephesus in a new “household book of conduct”. In it he elevates wives to come alongside of their loving husbands (not authoritative or dominant), children are not servants but sons and daughters of the household who learn freedom through obedience and both slaves and masters need to remember Christ in their dealings with each other. Submit one to another because you are filled with the Holy Spirit.
Wives and Husbands
Paul now speaks to wives and husbands and their relation to each other in Christ. The cultural model for marriage in Ephesus and the Roman Empire was male patriarchal leadership. The theology of Ephesians is all about being IN CHRIST, and now Paul makes this practical for wives and husbands. So how do wives submit in the context of the church in Ephesus? Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything (Eph 5:22-24).
· The wife’s submission, which was expected by Graeco-Roman values, is placed in the context of spiritual submission to Christ – as to the Lord. In other words, submission to Christ is a good thing bringing with it freedom, love and care.
· “Head” is an often misunderstood term. In Roman culture the Emperors were the Head of the Empire and were often unrighteous and vile; they abused their authority and served themselves with selfish pleasures. In contrast, Paul uses this term in Ephesians and it applies first to Christ as the head of the Church (Eph 1:22; 4:15; 5:23) and then to husbands as the head of the wife-husband relationship. For sure Jesus has authority over the church but never used this authority to abuse or dominate his followers. This is the context for Headship in the home; husbands are to be like Jesus to their wives, serving them as a Saviour not as an Emperor, not demanding their service and submission.
· A wife’s submission to her husband “in everything” refers back to as the church submits to Christ. Jesus would never violate or be unfaithful to his church in any way, so the wife can have confidence in submitting to her husband with the same understanding and confidence.
Now let us look at husbands in the home. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body” (Eph 5:25-30).
· In the Greco-Roman household codes, husbands were to make or force their wives to submit, but they never listed love as a duty of the husband. Paul breaks the mold when he instructs husbands to love their wife. This was a culture shock for husbands in the same way of submitting to one another.
· Paul then defines this crazy love. Die for your wife. Serve your wife in spiritual matters. Serve your wife in practical matters. In other words, love is totally unselfish, which would be a huge culture shock for the pampered Roman husband.
Paul affirms this new model to the church in Ephesus by using an Old Testament passage; “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Eph 5:31; Gen 2:24). One of the key passages that sum up the marriage relationship between a husband and wife is this – “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Eph 3:33). This is the constantly being filled with the Spirit link between a husband and wife; love and respect.
The entire teaching today on submission and love as related to wives and husbands is empowered by the constant filling of the Holy Spirit. We must remember that Paul begins this entire section with this culture smashing statement – “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21). Lording it over someone was one of the problems of religious leaders in Jesus and Paul’s day. The abuse of authority was rampant in the Roman Empire. The rich and wealthy took advantage over the poor and needy. Paul’s hope for the church of Ephesus is simple, he wants the marriages to experience the fulness of their freedom in Christ.
Many of the verses studied today underline love and selflessness, which results in harmony, one evidence of the Spirit’s work.
Here are the key points that apply to every generation of Christian.
“Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18).
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21)
However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband (Eph 5:33).