submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ
I went back to verse 21 even though it ends the sentence of verses 18-21 because, we have not just suddenly begun a new letter or a new thought in this letter, Paul is teaching the Ephesians and the rest of Christendom that being a Christian means being different, it means being like Jesus. We are sons and daughters of Almighty God and we are like Him not the prince of the power of the air. Paul here said that our difference is we submit to one another out of reverence of Christ.
We recognize that just as we ourselves have confessed Jesus as Lord, so too have our brothers and sisters and that they are indwelled with the Spirit of God just as we are so we submit to one another. We put our pride to the side, we lay away our need to exalt the self and we submit, acquiesce to one another. Let’s not try to put any weaker meaning to the word than is meant here. Paul used the word upotassw, pronounced hoop-ot-as'-so. It means to “reflexively obey, to make one’s self subordinate, to be in subjection to.” This is a deliberate choice; we choose to submit. We choose to make Jesus Lord and we choose to acquiesce, comply, yield, and concede our will to one another.
I get such a beautiful picture when I imagine all of us submitting to one another. There is no person trying to get her own way, no person who considers her will more important or better than anyone else in the body, after all we have the same Lord, same Spirit, same faith, and same hope. What extraordinary worship of God, what excellent expression of love is it to be so unified, so in love with one another that our old selves and old wills mean nothing in the light of Jesus and we only care about exalting and glorifying Him. Paul said it like this in Romans 12:1-5
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
I wonder if a man can understand how difficult it is for a woman to truly put her own will aside for him? He is, as a man physically stronger, he has been raised to be the leader, he has the responsibility for his family on him, and he can tend to use that power in harmful ways if he is operating in his own pride. A woman knows she has strength of a different kind than a man. She knows she is capable and intelligent. She has been told she is second fiddle in many ways. She is more fragile both physically and emotionally. She is more sensitive, therefore notices more about others; this is ‘female intuition.’ That sensitivity creates emotional tenderness. She is vulnerable in so many ways. This makes submission to her husband very difficult, it puts her at risk for misuse and exploitation. A man can hurt her in countless fashions that she herself is unable to do to him. A woman alone cannot take a man by force and she is not strong enough to overpower him or stop him. We’ve seen it in the news lately as more women speak up about having to put up with harassment, mistreatment, and worse. We’ve seen it for centuries as some men have abused their wives. We are taught that being a woman means we must tightly hold onto whatever power, self-pride, and strength we can. We are taught is it abhorrent to say we will obey anyone. We’ve been told that if the husband is the head of the house, we are the neck, the one who turns the head. We are taught that we to cannot give that long fought for power to anyone else. It takes a lot of trust for a woman to be able to choose to submit to her husband. That is why Paul’s command to wives is to submit. Verses 22-25 read,
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Paul reminds the woman that as we all submit to Christ, as we all choose to obey Christ who is in authority over the church, we can choose to submit to our husbands the same way. This doesn’t give the man permission to treat his wife like a whack-a-mole, a slave, or a lesser person. It gives the woman the right to choose humility as an expression of her faith, trust, and love. It gives her the honor of trusting. She can honor her husband by knowing that he would not hurt her or use his natural born strength and power in this world over her because she trust that God is her Everlasting Father, Savior, and Comfort.
Paul had words for the husband too. Men were raised more freely than women, “It’s a boy!” has more often been parents’ more celebrated phrase. They are reared to enjoy their power with the understanding that they are leaders, warriors, providers, and carry the weight of the family, the business, and the government on their shoulders. It is manly to provide, it is manly to express power, strength, and wealth. It is not considered manly to put the needs of others ahead of your own. It is survival of the fittest, strongest, and most powerful. So, in verses 26-30 Paul said,
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body.
Husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church. How did Christ love the church? He gave Himself up for us, He became flesh to give us eternity. He died to give us life. He became sin, so we could become righteousness. He submitted Himself to The Father for us. And when He was raised up to sit at the right hand of God, He lifted us up to sit with Him in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:20, Ephesians 2:6 ). Why did Jesus do that? Why did He put aside all of that for us? So that we could be saved, presented in splendor that is glorious nobility to himself, so that we could be His perfect bride.
Jesus loved us with His entire being and literally gave Himself up for us, not just His physical life, but His entire self so that we could be lifted up. Paul says, husbands are to love their wives in this same way. The amazing strength it requires for a man to lay his ego to the side in order to let his wife shine in beautiful nobility and lifting her up to be by his side. What absolute valor it requires to set aside himself so that he and his wife can be one, united physically, emotionally, and spiritually. When you are so united that your wife is your own flesh, how can you do anything which might possibly hurt her? When God created the first woman to be Adam’s wife, He did so by using Adam’s own bone, to demonstrate that they were not two separate beings created from the dirt, but that Eve was part of Adam, the same flesh. They were created in unity that was only spoiled by the sin of pride. When Adam saw this he exclaimed,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:23).
This is why marriage symbolizes the actual joining of two lives, two people becoming one. This is what marriage was meant to be, it is the image of Christ’s marriage to us as we become united with Him, one, many members of the body of Christ becoming one with Him. He is the head, we are the body. Verses 31-33 read,
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Paul quotes Genesis 2:24. He explains that this is one of those profound mysteries, a deep layered living parable, a metaphor to teach us the Gospel. Our relationships with one another are intended to reflect Hs relationship with us. As we become the image of Christ, it reflects in every aspect of who we are and that is evidenced by how we treat those closest to us, our other selves, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, children, employees, bosses, leaders, lost people, and our brothers and sisters. Jesus shines through His Spirit in us and it is all encompassed in the commandment we were all given, the commandment which looks just like Paul’s command to husbands. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). He said it again in John 15:12, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” And the greatest commandments which are the basis of Jesus “New Commandment” say the same thing, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39).
Paul’s commands for husbands and wives are both commands for all Christians, we just read that we are to love one another as Jesus loved us and that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. But remember how this part of Paul’s letter began, Ephesians 5:21 says we are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
The marriage relationship is purposed to be a working prototype of Christ’s relationship with us. Our relationships with one another are designed to show the world that God is Love, that Jesus carries out that Love, and that we are His followers being transformed from our old-selves to the image of Christ by the Holy Spirit. We can submit to one another without fear. Wives can submit to their husbands without fear. We can love each other as Jesus loved us without fear. Husbands can love their wives as Christ loves the church without fear. Because there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. In fact, Believer, we have the freedom to love each other with abandon. 1 John 4:11-21 describes it this way,
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
Read those same verses in The Message,
11-12 My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love!
13-16 This is how we know we’re living steadily and deeply in him, and he in us: He’s given us life from his life, from his very own Spirit. Also, we’ve seen for ourselves and continue to state openly that the Father sent his Son as Savior of the world. Everyone who confesses that Jesus is God’s Son participates continuously in an intimate relationship with God. We know it so well, we’ve embraced it heart and soul, this love that comes from God.
17-18 God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.
19 We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.
20-21 If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.
Believer, love freely and without fear. Love like Jesus, not like the world. Love as if you are the son or daughter of God filled with His Spirit.