“…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” – Ephesians 5:21
Before we dive into this post, I wanted to provide some frame of reference on the structure of Ephesians. Ephesians was a letter to a church, written for the purpose of it being read aloud to the entire congregation. The first three chapters in Ephesians deal with our vertical relationship with the Lord – who we were before Christ, who we now are in Christ, and the beauty of the Gospel. The last three chapters in Ephesians deal with our horizontal relationships – within the body of Christ (the Church), with the world, and within the context of family and work.
In reading Ephesians lately, the Lord has really been instructing and challenging my heart on what it looks like to honor and submit in relationships. We are quick to quote and recognize verses on submission in the context of marriage and parenting, but in reading Ephesians in its entirety in one sitting, I realized that maybe we’re missing the broader message Paul is trying to convey – where honor is sown into any relationship, life is reaped.
Before he encourages us to submit in specific relational contexts, Paul encourages the church to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. In other letters like Philippians, Paul encourages the church to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit” and to “look not only to your own interests but also to the interest of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4). Before he gets into the weeds of gender roles, Paul sets the framework for how we are to function in relationships across the board: In light of how God sees this person – created in the image of God Himself and dearly loved by the Living God – walk in honor towards them.
*Let me be clear – before we are called to submit to one another, we are called to follow Jesus. We are not called to submit to someone who is leading us away from Christ. Neither is it in the character of God to want someone to be “submissive” in an abusive relationship. You are worth the death of Christ, you are created in the image of God, and if you are in an abusive relationship my heart and strong encouragement for you would be to tell someone safe so that they can help you get out of your current situation. Friend, you are worth far more than you could ever dream and there is hope.*
For this feminist heart, hearing words like “obey,” “submit,” and “respect,” are often met with a feisty spirit. I want to demand another person be worthy of my obedience, submission and respect – ultimately, my trust and vulnerability – beforehand. I reject the notion that because I am a woman, I am somehow inferior to a man. In as much Ephesians 5:22 has been thrown around and manipulated, it doesn’t change the reality that it is in Scripture and cannot be ignored. So how do I walk it out in my own life?
Submission and respect do not equal inferiority, incompetence, or discrimination. Rather, in light of who God is we are to honor that which He has created and assigned.
My obedience to the Lord cannot be determined by how well another person is obeying Him. More specifically, my obedience as a wife is not determined by how well my husband is obeying the Lord in that moment. Just because Ray may not love me like Christ loves the church in a particular scenario, does not give me license to treat him with disrespect, disdain or dishonor in that encounter. Just because I treat Ray with disrespect, does not give him license to stop pursuing me in love like Christ loves the church in that moment. My obedience ought to always be a response to God, full of faith expressed in worship. I am called to honor and submit to my husband, not because he deserves it, but because God has commanded it – and if I am to believe that God is a good Father who has my best interest at heart, I cannot pick and choose to follow only the commands I like. Ultimately, I am accountable for my choices and I can choose to obey the Lord and trust Him even in hard moments.
This does not mean that we don’t lovingly address the wrongs we experience in our marriage. You are not a helpless doormat. You are, however, empowered to honor your spouse because you know where God is glorified, therein lies your best interest, your good. Part of honoring one another is setting up healthy boundaries in our relationships that enable us to love and respect one another well. Part of honoring one another is lovingly and truthfully calling one another up into who they are in Christ.
Walking in respect, honor, and submission does not mean you walk silently as an inferior victim and let someone repeatedly mistreat, dishonor, or devalue you.
Paul goes onto encourage children to honor their parents, reminding them that this is the first commandment with a promise that they would live long in the land. Paul encourages fathers not to exasperate or provoke their children – a verse I was quick share with my dad during my teenage years. Now that we have little man, my Momma’s heart wants to know, “How do I instill the value of honoring others into my child’s heart?”
I don’t have this parenting thing down at all, but in reading Ephesians, I have found tremendous comfort in Paul’s wisdom.
How do we encourage our children to walk in honor?
- When we follow God’s model in Ephesians 4-5 for relationships and marriage.
- When we choose to honor our children and dignify their spirits, feelings, and experiences rather than provoking and exasperating them.
- When we operate in relationships from the knowledge that our battle is not against flesh and blood. You can have conflict and disagreements without sacrificing honor and dignity.
- When we model honor from a sincere heart “as to Christ.”
Beyond the act of obedience, the root of obedience is just as important (if not more important) to the Lord.
- When we honor without distinction, knowing that the Lord shows no partiality.
- When we teach our children who they are in Christ and how to stand firm in their identity.
When we know who we are in Christ and how He sees us, it can change the way we see others, the ways that the Enemy seeks to destroy and divide, and the tools of the Holy Spirit that will foil his plans each time.
In sum, when we choose to walk in honor rooted in position, regardless of performance, life follows suit – and where there is life, death cannot dwell. If we want to experience life in our relationships – in our friendships, in our marriages, in our families, we must sow seeds of honor from a sincere heart.
Wishing you life, peace and joy this holiday weekend,