Authority can be such a divisive topic not only in churches, but in the family, and in the workplace as well. We all know who’s in charge, sometimes they won’t let us forget it! And those who are not in charge, those who feel they don’t have power, what do they do? They find ways to undercut and manipulate and get what they want by going around the powers that be. This kind of worldly authority patterns don’t get us very far. They make those in charge bullies, and those subordinate bitter. This passage has been used in the past to justify the worldly system, to defend abuse and slavery. I want to tell you this morning that if that is the way we read these words, we have been getting it wrong. This passage, just like the rest of this letter to the Ephesians, is calling not for an authoritative power structure, but for unity in spite of its existence in the world.
Many times we forget that this book in our bibles is not a theological treatise, but a letter. It was not written to be dissected, but as an encouraging letter to be read from start to finish. When we forget and begin chopping the letter into sections, we tend to leave behind the previous sections and content and see each section as a separate entity. So, to review and connect our passages together, Paul started by telling the Ephesians to praise God because of his gift to them of every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ; reminded them of their adoption into God’s family; showed them where they were—far away—and how they had been brought near; told them of how he prayed for them—for God to open their eyes and enlighten their hearts to his love for them and his power at work within them; and then lines out how their lives should be different from their old way of living since Christ has made them new. And through all of this, there is a continued emphasis on unity; of our level footing at the cross--salvation by grace not works; of God’s destruction of the hostility that divides us; of his bringing together and making us one; and how this new life lived in gentleness, patience, humility, and love leading to unity through the bond of peace. The last section that we read ended with some ways the Holy Spirit shows up in our lives: speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing to God, and giving thanks.
Now, without pausing to take a breath, Paul says "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." This statement is so much a part of these two sections, it is a manifestation of the Spirit at work within us, and it is also the beginning of the section we will study today. “Submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Everyone usually "amens" that verse, and cringes at the next. Today we are going to stop being afraid of the word submission. We are going to stop being held captive to the view that submission is somehow a reinforcement of the world’s system of oppression and abuse. Instead we are going to see this word as a blessing. It is going to become something encouraging and a blessing to us in all of our relationships. Submission. Who would have thought?
Let’s look at this word, submission. In the Greek, the root is hupotasso. It has a military definition, which is going to be key to our boldness with this word from today forward. The military definition is to line up troops, to arrange them under a commander for battle. In this case, an ending is placed on the word that makes it not an absolute command, but a matter of our own decision--hupotassomai. Not just “submit!” but instead submit yourself voluntarily. Paul says to these Ephesians “Submit yourselves (voluntarily) to one another out of reverence for Christ.” In that verse, who is our commander? Christ! He is the leader of our army. We are to voluntarily submit to one another—line up for battle with one another, out of reverence, respect and fear for our commander. That puts a whole new spin on our way of thinking, doesn’t it? Suddenly we are not fearing each other. We are not fearing the person in authority over us. We are acting out of reverence for Christ. It does not take away the earthly authority, but suddenly we have a greater purpose and a greater authority that we know we can trust with every part of our lives.
Now Paul takes this into our daily lives--marriage, family, and work--where we are most likely to experience conflict and anxiety over authority and power. He starts with the one closest to home. Paul says “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ; wives to your husbands as to the Lord.” Then he finishes by stating the authority structure already in place—for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. Our response to this verse should be to look around and realize we are standing on a battle field. No one argues over power when enemy fire is coming. So, just as the believers are to line up together for battle under Christ, wives are to line up for battle with their husbands. Wives, we have to be watching their backs. When troops line up for battle, everyone looks out for everyone else. Submission is a matter of seeing the bigger picture: we have to remember our trust, and our hope is not in our husbands. Our hope and our trust is in the Lord. On the field of battle, sergeants and captains don’t lay out the battle plan. The plan comes from the general or the commander. Christ is our commander, and we put our trust in him, because he already proved he would die for us. This gives us the boldness to be respectful of our husbands, not manipulative, not steamrolling them, and not heckling them to pieces.
Husbands, Paul says something radical to you, love your wife as Christ loved the church. Think about that for a moment. What did Christ ever do for himself? What did he ever do that had a purpose other than to raise up the church and glorify the Father? Nothing. Are you ready for that kind of sacrifice? That takes some serious trust in God. Laying down your life for your wife, being willing to sacrifice your wants for her needs, that is tough stuff. But that is exactly what Real Men of God are called to do. Husbands, your wives are lining up for battle with you, you need to line up with them as well. You are under fire from a common enemy, this is not the time for power plays and bullying. This is not the time to bellow, “I am the king of my own castle.” What good is a castle if all your troops are lying dead around it? Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church, sacrificed himself in the battle so he could win the war.
This lining up for battle does not take away the authority roles that are already in place, it just makes them less of a focus. Children obey your parents, for this is right, and so that you will have a long life. If privates don’t obey the more experienced captains and sergeants on the field of battle, they are toast. Children, even you need to know that we are at war. We have an enemy who would like nothing more than to ruin your lives by leading you astray. Line up for battle with your parents and trust their lead. Parents, since we are at war, don’t exasperate your children, they may just decide to join the other side. You need to raise them in the instruction of the Lord Jesus. That means not only teaching them facts, but living out the new life that Christ has placed in us through the Holy Spirit.
The next groups addressed are servants and masters. Today we could read this employees and employers, or working people and managers. You all know how it goes in a work environment. The boss uses his power to make himself feel important and the working people all stand at the water cooler and conspire to play minesweeper for an hour everyday to get back at him. We start to see each other as enemies, when in reality we are all under fire from the same source. Even co-workers and managers who are not Christians are under fire from the enemy. They sometimes pass that fire along to others, but a lot of it is internalized. If we could see the bigger picture, and decide to stop undermining each other, we could line up for battle together. What if employees chose to voluntarily do their work as though they were serving Christ? What if Bosses saw that they were going to be held accountable for their actions by the same judge as those who worked for them? If we could do this in the workforce, we would stop losing ground and the witness of Christ would advance.
I know the whole military analogy is sometimes hard to swallow, but let’s not forget that Paul does not transition to another topic in chapter 6 verse10. No, he says “finally,” to sum it all up. After we get our attitudes toward each other in the right perspective, one more reminder that we must put on the armor God provides for us so that we can stand against the enemy who is not flesh and blood. Your enemy is not your spouse, your children, your parents, your boss, or your workforce! There is an enemy, and unlike an earthly enemy, this is one that we cannot defeat. Only God can defeat him, but God has given us the armor necessary to stand our ground. So, stop fighting each other for control. Stop the power struggle at home, in your marriage, and at work. Open your eyes to the battle raging around you and choose to line up and stand in formation under our one commander Jesus Christ, looking out for the wellbeing of those around us, and standing our ground together.