\”Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ\” Ephesians 5:21
Since the 1970\’s one of the mainstays of pop-psychology has been that in order to be an emotionally healthy human being you absolutely must look out for yourself first. You must make sure that you have a strong sense of self esteem. Most importantly, you must never put yourself in a position of considering others to be more important than yourself. That is seen as degrading and demeaning. You should be strong, positive, stand up for yourself, and rise above the others. In the corporate world that translates into winning by having people serve you, getting the corner office, making people bend to your will. In the marriage relationship it becomes, taking care of yourself, making sure that you are being fulfilled.
Certainly the last thing on the minds of pop psychologists and the liberated 21st century human being is that in order to really be fulfilled we should actually submit to others. Yet that is exactly what the Bible teaches, over and over and over again. The wisdom of God is completely counter-intuitive. Jesus said that if you want to gain your life, you must lose it. He said that if you want to be the greatest among people, then you must become the servant of all. The Bible says that if we want to truly live, then we must die to ourselves. In Ephesians chapter 5 Paul says that if we want to be truly fulfilled, then we need to empty ourselves and submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Somehow in our vocabulary, to submit means to give up and be the ultimate loser. It means that someone else is dominant and rules over you and you have no control of your life. Most recently being submissive is defined in terms of \”having no voice\”. It is the image of a person who, cowering in such fear and humiliation, that they can\’t even speak to defend themselves. What a sad and pitiful definition of a wonderfully powerful and empowering biblical concept.
Mutual submission is not about one person winning and everyone else losing. It is not about having no voice or no power or no control. The reason it is none of these things is because submission as a biblical concept is fulfilled when everyone submits to everyone else because we love Jesus. Submission is never a one way street. Paul tells wives why and how to submit to their husbands. But he also tells husbands why and how to submit to their wives, and children to parents and even parents to children.
You see, what Jesus wants to see happen is that we never have to worry about guarding or building up our self esteem. We should never have to worry about ourselves because others are loving and serving us, even submitting to us with the result that we have every confidence that we are valued and loved. When we in turn submit to others and esteem them, not only are they built up, but we are too. We are built up because in submitting ourselves to others and deferring to them out of love for Christ, we end up being like Jesus. Whenever we live and love like Jesus there is an empowering as well as a blessing that comes our way.
But let me give you an even deeper reason to submit to others. It is not simply in order to be a part of God\’s plan to feel better about yourself and have your esteem built up. The real reason to submit to others is given in the text. we do it out of reverence for Christ. So what does that mean? Jesus made a big deal out of saying that whenever we serve the poor, visit the prisoner, comfort the sick, and so on, we do these things for Jesus and in fact do them to Jesus. When you feed a hungry person, you are feeding Jesus. When you clothe a naked person, you are clothing Jesus, when you house a homeless person, you are housing Jesus. Likewise, when you submit to a brother or sister in Christ, you are submitting to Jesus. You submit to Jesus as he lives in them. So out of reverence for Jesus in them, you need to consider them before yourself. You need to honor them instead of yourself.
When we submit in that way, it is not about us putting ourselves down. It is really about lifting them up. When a husband submits to his wife it is in order to help her become the most wonderful person in Christ that she can be. He lifts her up. And in the amazing way that God works, that husband ends up being lifted in the process. How? Well he is one with his wife so if she is lifted up, so is he. As Paul says, \” if one of us is honored, we are all honored\”. When a parent submits their own desires for the sake of a child and the child is lifted up in love and esteem, then the parent is too, because they are a part of one another. In the Body of Christ, we are all part of one another and when we lift one another up by submitting to one another, in a miraculous way, we are all lifted up.
But the flip side is also true. When one of us is put down, we are all put down. If my wife suffers humiliation, so do I. If my kids suffer, so do I. If my brother in Christ suffers, so do I. So if I try to raise myself up, by putting others beneath me, what I really end up doing is pushing all of us down. By trying to raise myself up, I actually lower myself, because I am spiritually tethered to those I am pushing beneath me. I don\’t even realize that as a result, we are all sinking. How much better is it to willingly submit myself to the task of raising others higher and being pulled aloft by the upward momentum of my connection to them.