Ephesians 5:17-Ephesians 6:9

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Submitting to One Another in the Fear of God

17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of God.

A. Husbands and Wives
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own 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 the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

B. Children and Parents
1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: 3 “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” 4 And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.

C. Slaves and Masters
5 Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; 6 not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. 9 And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.

Paul lived in a pluralistic world where many different ideas about human relationships existed together. While the ancient world is often remembered for its tendency to subjugate women, children and slaves, there were other forces at work. Paul is addressing Ephesus, a place where the temple of Diana is a key social force. It is possible there forces struggling for women to receive fairer treatment. In this matrix, all societal relationships were potentially up for question. Put all this in the context of the church (where all relationships are equalized in the sacrament of baptism) and there could be questions about how people should relate to one another. Rather than lay down rigid guidelines, Paul gives us a framework for understanding how relationships should work. His comments are as relevant today as the day when he wrote them.

I. Submitting to One Another in the Fear of God
Paul provides a list of ways people in the body should relate to one another (17-21) at the end of the list he says “submitting to one another in the fear of God.” This is the basis of all relationships within the covenant community. Mutual subordination rooted in the fear of God. This fear is not a terror of judgment but a fear rooted in love. The love of God overwhelms us and we shrink back from acting in ways that offend that love (or grieve the Spirit). Our treatment of one another is rooted in the love that God pours out upon us. We act in the reality of that love which he has and continues to demonstrate. Thus the defining foundation for all relationships within the covenant community is fear of treating God’s love with contempt. Paul proceeds to develop three sets of relationships within the covenant community where we might see the pattern of submitting to one another in the fear of God.

II. Husbands and Wives
The first and primary foundation for other relationships is that between a husband and a wife. This fundamental relationship is in some sense a building block for community as well as society. It is where children learn their pattern for relationships; it is the ultimate place of stability. The focal point of the marriage passage is upon the Messiah and his love for the church. By looking to Jesus, we begin to see what true covenant love looks like. As a result, we begin to pattern our lives after this covenantal love. The key in understanding this passage is the responsibility and directive given to the man. In some sense, the wife is simply responding to the husband’s action: the husband is called (must)  to be head (source), savior, sanctifier, groomsmen, servant, and lover. The wife responds to his action and should submit and respect. This is a submission based on her response to the Lord and the church’s response to the Lord. The Lord Jesus does not eliminate the particular personalities of people in the church but He brings all of them to fullness. Submission is not the abandonment of identity or vision or purpose but allowing the husband to serve and help her receive the glory due her.

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also (because) Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.
24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.
28 So husbands ought to love their own 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 the Lord does the church.

30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular (MUST) so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

III. Children, Parents, Slaves and Masters
Paul completes his example of submission in the fear of God with two other relational examples. In both cases, he does something revolutionary. He directly addresses children and salves (two non-entities). In the culture, they have no choice but to submit to the rule of the man. But Paul addresses them specifically and requests that their submission is based on their particular will. In other words, they are not non-entities, but they are persons who are welcomed into the covenant community. While the society fails their status as persons, in the community of Jesus, they have a place at the table and in the final eschaton they will all be acknowledged as equal members of the community.

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