(Notes on Ephesians 5:21-33)


Submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ.

                                                                        Ephesians 5:21


In our world, since the Fall, submission is always a one-way affair.  The strong one rules, the weak one submits.  The smart one controls, the not-so-smart submits.  The high rank commands, the low rank submits. 


We see it in government, business, union, sports, entertainment---and even in churches.   In churches there is almost always a visible or invisible hierarchy.  Bishop, clergy, laity; or chief elder, elders, laity.  "Authority" in this system too often implies power to command one-way-submission.   We accept this as normal.  It's efficient.  It makes for good order. 


But our Lord Jesus taught something quite different.  

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For the Son of man also came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."                                                            Mark 10:42-45

Jesus is calling for two-way submission, genuine servanthood.  Wherever we have one-way submission in the Body of Christ we grieve the Holy Spirit and drive out the power of God's kingdom.  Kingdom power functions only where believers are in genuine submission to each other out of reverence for Christ.  


In the Body of Christ we treat each other with high honor.


In the Body of Christ we submit ourselves to each other out of reverence for Christů..

            Whether it's husband and wife.

            Or two believers who may not see eye-to-eye on all things.

            Or a gathering of believers for prayer.


We cannot minister God's life to each other until we have learned to submit to each other out of reverence for our Lord Jesus. 


Mutual Submission In Marriage 

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.  Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that the church might be presented before him in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.                                     Ephesians 5:21-28.


Two-way submission: "Be subject to one another."


For the Lord's sake:  "Out of reverence for Christ."


If the husband is, under God, the head of his wife, that makes him, according to Jesus, her servant, not her boss.  His job is not to make her submit, but to love her. Because the tendency in men is to take the woman for granted, to use her, instead of loving her. 


The woman's job, as the man's wife, is not to make him love her, but to treat him with respect.  Because the tendency in women is to see through the dummy with all his male vanity.  "The reason he doesn't love me, is because he's in love with himself."


In two-way submission the husband is head of his wife as a servant, not as a boss.  He honors her.  He submits by loving her, giving himself for her as Christ loved and gave himself up for the Church.  And the wife is subject to her husband, not as a slave, but as his royal queen.  She honors him. 


Mutual submission, in a marriage or in any relationship in the Body of Christ, is a mutual honoring of each other.  The minute we dishonor each other in any way, the unity of heaven is threatened. 


Mutual Submission In The Body


Mutual submission in all relationships in the Body of Christ manifests itself in four ways:


  1. We treat each other with high honor.


Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.                                             Philippians 2:3


Acknowledging that holy blood covers them we regard each member of the Body with high honor.  Without exception.  Whether they appear to be above us or beneath us in "social level," intellectual achievement, ethnic background, or age, each member of the Body is to be thought of and treated with honor.  In churches where this is not practiced, we have the makings of a club or a cult, where one-way submission is the norm.  


But treating each other with high honor does not come naturally.  It requires practice on our part, as the Spirit continues to point the way.   

For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "Have a seat here, please," while you say to the poor man, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?"                                                            James 2:2-4

From the earliest days of the Church the Spirit was at work exhorting believers to learn two-way submission.   It was new to them, and they frequently slipped back into their old habits. 

When you meet together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat.  For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk.  What!  Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?  Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?  What shall I say to you?  Shall I commend you in this?  No, I will not.                                                      I Corinthians 11:20-22

Where believers are serious about following Jesus, he has a way of directing people into their assembly who may be desperately poor, or mentally troubled, unrefined, perhaps disruptive.  The temptation is to consciously or unconsciously impart the message that they would "be more comfortable" in a fellowship that matches their "unique characteristics."   Hence the obvious homogeneity in vast numbers of "Christian" congregations.  


It's easy enough to "love those who love us" and to "salute only our brethren."  But our Master calls us to much, much more: 

"For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."                                                  Matthew 5:46-48

If our Lord commands us (and empowers us) to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, surely he will impart the grace we need to treat our brothers and sisters in the Body---who differ from us in a thousand ways---with honor.  


  1. Our fellowship with each other is a "School of Forgiveness."

"Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will. And whenever you stand praying, forgive if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses."             Mark 11:24-26

The life of faith is a life of forgiveness.  And the actual living of such a life is Spirit-taught through practice.  The place where we learn to forgive is in the Body of Christ, as we interact with other struggling saints like ourselves. 


Any genuine congregation of believers is a place where feelings are hurt, folks are taken for granted, needs are ignored, strong differences emerge.   We wrong and are wronged by each other.   And we think to ourselves, "Is this the Body of Christ?  Why did the Lord lead me into such a collection of human beings?"


The answer is: to teach us forgiveness.  To learn how to humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness; to soften our hearts and obey the Master's command to "forgive, if you have anything against anyone."


The more we practice forgiveness, the clearer our faith becomes.  "When you stand praying, forgive if you have anything against anyone."


  1. Our fellowship with each other is a Place of Healing and Renewal


As we submit to each other out of reverence for Christ, the Spirit imparts healing, refreshment, encouragement, and correction.  Our fellowship becomes a foretaste of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  


We come together in the name of our Master to give each other strength, as we "speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord." 


Notice that even our worship together is never one-way submission, where we simply sit and receive, as the worship leaders, teachers, and preachers impart the Word.  We interact.  We connect personally with each other. 


We pray for each other.

We encourage each other.

We share with each other.

We rejoice with each other.


Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.           James 5:16


Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.   Philippians 2:3-4


We are gathered in the Master's name.  He is among us.  As we yield to each other and reach out to each other and pray for each other, the power of the World-to- Come moves among us, healing, restoring, enlightening, encouraging.  Things happen in the gathered fellowship (where mutual submission is practiced) that will take our breath away.  We come in weak, we walk out strong.  We come in weary, we walk out refreshed.  Week-after-week we are touched by the healing hand of the Lord Jesus himself, because we have found unity around him.


  1. Our fellowship produces Laborers for the Harvest.


We have been drawn together in fellowship for a purpose beyond ourselves.  Our worship of the Master transforms us into servants in his Vineyard---as we obey his command to love one another.


"You did not choose me, but I chose you and ordained you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.  This I command you, to love one another."                         John 15:16-17


As we submit to each other in the Body, we become a City set on a hill, a corporate ministry, an army of harvesters in the immense harvest field that surrounds us. 


The Lord Jesus gave himself for us on the cross, and now gives himself for us as our intercessor.  In response, we give ourselves to him in thanksgiving and praise by submitting to each other in honor, forgiveness, healing and encouragement. 


And now we find ourselves led into the streets and lanes of our city, bringing in the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind; reaching out to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  Inviting them all to the Banquet of the Lord, bringing them to a place of joy which they've never tasted. 


We tremble in awe at the response.  These people are listening!  They're paying attention to our message!  They are drinking in our words of hope.  They are asking for our prayers.  Hidden beneath a crust of apathy was this ripe harvest field, these hungry souls!  And now they're coming with us to the Banquet of the Lord!


And it all began as we learned to practice the essential ingredient of true fellowship in the Lord Jesus: Mutual Submission.  


When the harvest is over, when every living soul of all time has been offered redemption through the Lamb's blood, the present age will come to a sudden end.  The new age will begin with the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.


Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying,


"Hallelujah!  For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory!

For the marriage of the Lamb has come,

and his Bride has made herself ready.

It was granted her to be clothed in fine linen, bright and pure."

For the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

                                                            Revelation 19:6-8