The Expository Files

"Submitting to One Another in the Fear of God"

Ephesians 5:21 

Everyone wants to be in charge these days. Whether at work, home, school or church people are seeking leadership roles and often for the wrong reasons and with the wrong attitude. Part of the wrong attitude in seeking positions of authority is outlined in the following quote.

One very common error misleads the opinion of mankind-that authority is pleasant and submission painful. In the general course of human affairs the very reverse of this is nearer the truth. Command is anxiety; obedience is ease. –Paley

To become a Christ-like leader we must be willing to first make ourselves over into servants. How can we achieve the kind of humility that would bring us God's grace while avoiding the anxiety attached to holding authority? Through submission.

Strong's Greek Dictionary defines submission: to subordinate; reflexively, to obey: be under obedience (obedient), put under, subdue unto, submit self unto (hupotasso).

The Bible clearly teaches that we are obligated to submit to:
1. God (Rom. 6:13) [And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists. --Herman Melville]
2. One Another (Eph. 5:21)
3. Earthly Authorities (1 Pet. 2:18-21)
4. Masters (Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:22-4:1)
5. Parents (Eph. 6:1-4; Col. 3:20, 21)
6. Husbands (Eph. 5:22, 23; Col. 3:18, 19; 1 Pet. 3:1-7)

Note that it will be impossible to submit properly to kings, masters, parents or husbands unless we learn first to submit to God and second to submit to one another.

If there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female in Christ (Gal. 3:28), then what subordination is called for among Christians whom Paul says are his equal? Paul and Peter address this seeming contradiction in such passages as already suggested, namely wives submit to husbands; slaves submit to masters; children obey parents; citizens to governments; etc. But none of these relationships will work effectively for the cause of Christ unless we are willing to submit to one another in the Lord.

It is this willingness to submit to one another in the Lord, which causes Christians to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).

Mutual submission

Eph. 5:21 - submitting to one another in the fear of God. (NKJV) or Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. (RSV) Mutual submission will begin to take place when each Christian learns how to consider others better than self. This way of living will call for a large dose of Christ-like love and humility as we look out for the interests of others first (Phil. 2:3-4).

Whatever role we have been given provides us an opportunity to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ. (Larry Richards, The Teacher's Commentary, p. 930.) It is when we accept our role as husband, wife, employer, employee, community leader, or citizen in light of Christ's teaching and example, with a reverence for Him and His heavenly Father that we will begin to serve one another.

Mutual responsibilities

Scripture (such as those passages mentioned earlier) indicates how God's plan for our interaction with one another demands a level playing field. Please notice the mutual responsibilities outlined in the following relationships:
Ø Children are to obey their parents in the Lord, but parents are not to provoke their children.
Ø The slave is to serve with no reservations, but the masters are to treat their slaves with consideration, concern, and total fairness.
Ø Wives are indeed in subjection to their husbands but husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loves the church.

No matter which role we find ourselves in as Christians, we are to be guided by a deep abiding concern for others – this is agape.

Occasion to serve

Any Christian relationship that relies on authority and submission (such as the ones already suggested) are not to be viewed as humiliating, but instead as opportunities to serve one another. Example: The master serves his slaves by treating them with fairness and respect, while the slave serves the master loyally.

Obviously, this is not the world's view of authority and submission. In the world authority is exalted and servitude is debased. In the world a person's position determines their value.

Christ rejects this worldly pattern in His church and among His people. A person's value exists apart from his role. Example: The slave, the wife, the child, the citizen and the church member are as equally important to God as the master, the husband, the parent, the king, and the elder under Christ's scheme.

Final Thoughts

"God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6) This is the very lesson our Lord was continually trying to teach the disciples while here on earth (John 13:1-10). He is our perfect example of leadership by example of service.

Some governmental figures portray themselves as "servants of the public" and so they should be. Many police departments use the motto, "To protect and serve," and what a good motto it is. Our local school board's aim asks, "Is it for the good of the children?" and that is a noble aim. Unfortunately, these portrayals, mottos, and aims are often times just "ear candy" and are not backed up with action.

Christ expects more than words from His followers, he expects action - action from everyone on everyone else's behalf. If the Lord Himself is our servant-master, then we must prepare ourselves to be servant-leaders, servant-mothers, servant-children, servant-husbands, servant-employers, and servant-employees. In whatever position we find ourselves either in the church or in the world we must be prepared to lead through service.

[Discussion points adapted from Larry Richard's, The Teacher's
Commentary, pp. 929,930.]

By Carey Dillinger
 From Expository Files 10.3; March, 2003