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Solving Problems Out of Reverence for Christ(e)

Ephesians 5:21-6:1-9

James R. Davis

My son told me of a couple that had just gone through a divorce. They were our mutual friends. They made such a nice couple. They were both Christians. Of course I hadn't seen them in years, but I couldn't help but wonder what had happened. Was it the pressure of guiding two children through adolescence? Was it financial troubles? Maybe it was just the problem of two people looking at each other and each expecting the other to make his or her life meaningful. Or was it just a problem of two hearts that failed to meet the needs of each other in the midst of the worldly clamor.

I am always sympathetic to those having difficulty in relationships because there is one thing I do know about relationships . . . it takes a lot of bearing with one another to make relationships work.

As we come to Ephesians 5:22, Paul makes application concerning the how to of Ephesians 4:2 where he instructs us to be completely humble, gentle, patient and how to bear with one another in love. It is here that Paul begins telling us how to bear with one another.

Ephesians 5:21-27
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Today's Approach to Problem Solving

Everyone knows something about the importance of learning how to disagree, as we relate to others. In the book of Ephesians Paul introduces what seems to be a revolutionary new principle for solving relationship problems. Yet Paul's approach to solving problems has been used throughout history. Through his approach we can live enriched complementary lives rather than living conflicted lives.

The trouble with today's approach to problem solving is that we want quick, comfortable answers to our problems. Many people won't tolerate God's solutions to their problems because His solutions don't make us feel good about ourselves. Larry Crabb wrote, "Whenever we place a higher priority on solving our problems than on pursuing God, we are immoral." (Larry Crabb, Finding God, Zondervan, 1993) Subjection is a means of finding God's solution to our problems.

Usually when we enter the problem-solving arena, we enter it looking to domination and control where we see only winners and losers. It is amazing that in Ephesians 5:22-6:9 we are instructed on how to disagree. We usually approach this passage like a chain of command to figure out who is in charge and who is going to call the shot. This passage is not about whom is in charge but who is in submission. The principles are to be applied to each family member in a way that will bring peace and harmony to the home through a godly approach to problem solving.

We think of people with authority as people with the ability and power to solve problems. Our concept of authority is that someone has to give in so that the one in authority can be in control. I have heard Paul's teaching in Ephesians 5 referred to as a chain of command, but believe me, the chain of commands that I have seen have always violated the very concept of this passage.

A preacher related an experience he had with a lady as he preached for a church in Tennessee. She was flamboyant and eccentric but the preacher was impressed with her intense commitment to the faith. She did not have a pious bone in her body, but her devotion was nonetheless clear and articulate.

The preacher was visiting her family in her home one evening. They began discussing some theological idea. In the midst of the give and take her teenage daughter, probably frustrated with all of the high-blown discussion of religion, asked, "Mother, why do you talk about religion all the time? Why are you so religious?"

This query brought a loud hush to the dining table. Her mother paused dramatically, pushed her chair back from the table, stood and responded, "Every morning before you are awake, I rise and walk into the living room. I lift my arms and ask, 'Who's in charge here?' The answer always comes back: 'Not you!' That's why I am religious. Because I am not in charge!"

The Christian life begins with the realization that we are not in charge, and from there we can proceed to align ourselves to the One who is in charge as we allow him to lead us into submission to those around us.

A greatly loved Bible teacher knew the secret of true freedom, and she wanted her students to know it too. With young people in mind, she said, "A bird is free in the air. Place a bird in the water and he has lost his liberty. A fish is free in the water, but leave him on the sand and he perishes. He is out of his realm. So, young people, the Christian is free when a Christian does the will of God and is obedient to God's command. This is as natural a realm for God's child as the water is for the fish, or the air for the bird."

There is a source of reliable answers to life's problems. The Bible is a reliable authority because it is the Word of God. God's Word promises stability, insight and maturity to the persons who seek to solve their problems in light of its teaching

Psalms 119:98-100
Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts.

Christ Teaches A Lesson on Relationships (5:25-32)

In Ephesians 6:10 Paul says, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power." How are we strong in Christ's mighty power? The mighty power of Christ was bound up in the word agape. Agape is a word Christ used to correct a perverted concept of love. Agape is to seek the other person's highest good and there is no better way to do this than through doing what is best for the other person. But this takes submission. Paul reminds us how Jesus demonstrated submission in his own life.

Christ is the key to submission for it is out of reverence for Christ that we are encouraged to submit. Christ is the supreme head of his body, which is his church. Christ is the savior of the body. The head and savior are one and the same. There is almost a conflicting role between the head and the savior but herein lies the secret to submission. The supreme head of the church is in total submission to the needs of his body. The head of the church is so caught up in the needs of his body that he loses sight of himself and his pain on the cross and cries out, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." Now that is extreme submission in an effort to solving our relational problem with God! It is God, the one who has the upper hand that chooses to fully submit to the needs of those with whom he has chosen to have a relationship.

For Christ to love those people who were crucifying him was to love himself. To deny his love for them and refuse to be crucified would be to deny his very nature and character; it would have meant denying himself in a far more painful way. When God embraced us in love he also embraced the very essence of his being. After all God is love. There was simply no other way for God to be totally submissive to our needs except to leave himself with no way out. He had to deny himself that he might totally meet his unfathomable need to extend mercy and justice so that the relationship could flourish.

It is in this profound role that God becomes one with us. God cannot be true to himself; he cannot be one with us without fully submitting himself to the needs of his creation. God totally engulfs his creation and becomes one with it as he totally gives himself to meet our needs. As Paul speaks of the relationship of Christ and his church, he calls it a "profound mystery." (Ephesians 5:32)

Charles Spurgeon said, "Paul here speaks only of true believers. Men who are quickened by divine grace and made alive unto God. Of them, he says, not by way of romance, nor of poetical exaggeration, but as an undisputed matter of fact, "We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones." That there is a true union between Christ and his people is no fiction or dream of a heated imagination. Sin separated us from God, and in undoing what sin has done, Christ joins us to himself in a union more real than any other in the whole world."

God has so totally given himself to us that Paul said, "Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another-- to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God." (Rom 7:4 NKJ) Paul sees us becoming one with Christ upon becoming a Christian. It is in this relationship that we are encouraged to submit to one another just as Christ and God submitted their very being to us.

But this is not a lesson on the church, it is a lesson on relationships. It is no wonder that Paul uses God's submission to our needs and our submission to Christ as a backdrop and an example for our need to submit to one another. It is certainly in conflict with our concept of greatness. Paul is saying that it is only through this God like submission that relationships grow and flourish. When you see God on his knees at the Last Supper washing the feet of his disciples, as he is on his way to the cross, you are forced to step back and take another look at this idea of submission. Yet, it is only when we embrace God in total submission that we fully embrace our real personal needs and discover the essence of our being and our reason for existence as we become one with him and those with whom we are in relationship.

The Way of the World

Today's macho image has completely emasculated the idea of submission. It is extremely difficult for the macho man to accept the idea of submission. The macho image carries with it the idea of dominance. When we think about being like Jesus Christ, this creates a dilemma for most men. The personality characteristics of Jesus such as kindness, gentleness, compassion, service -- for the most part, to the modern mind -- are all characteristics of a feminine personality. Someone said that we have made Jesus into a bearded lady. We have emasculated Jesus; it is no wonder that men think it is unreasonable to be like him.

Today's work ethic has emasculated the biblical concept of submission. The idea of submitting to Jesus Christ has been reduced to the idea of working for the church. We work for the church if we mow the churchyard, keep the financial books, give of our means or serve on some committee, lead in prayer, serve on the Lord's Table, teach Bible class, lead singing, etc. All of this is well and good but we may miss the total meaning of having men in subjection to Christ and their wives, their children and their bosses.

Today's concept of liberation as the pursuit of power has emasculated the biblical concept of submission. This world leaves us with the idea that power liberates. True liberation and equality is not found in the pursuit of power. It is found in submission and service. This is true for both men and women. It is not demeaning; it is enabling. The Bible is not teaching that men should have power over their wives, neither is it teaching that the woman should have power over the husband. Power only seeks self-interest. Power is a coercive force, whereas submission is influence and persuasiveness. We should seek to be people of influence through submission.

One man said, "I hate to think that my wife always gets her own way, but she writes everything she gets in her diary a week ahead of time."

Today's idea that submission is a one way street emasculates the biblical concept of submission. When we speak of submission, we may only think of another person's submission to me. But Paul speaks of the three-way design of God. It involves submission to God, man, and woman as all three are in love with each other. It is love that begets love, love prompts obedience, love is the motivating factor and it is this love that transforms and stabilizes a relationship.

A young man asked the lady librarian, "Do you have the book "Man, Master of Women?"

The lady Librarian replied, "Fiction counter to your left."

In another sense submission may initially only be a one way street. Initially it was a one way street for God. He had to totally submit before it became a two way street. Peter is telling the wives how they can win their husbands through submission in the following verses. Keep in mind this is not a sexist approach or an approach of who is in control. Peter is advising that if it is a matter of control, submission is the only thing that will put them in control. That is certainly revolutionary.

1 Peter 3:1-4
Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.

Problem Solving through Submission

Christ stands everyone on their head when it comes to submission. And when it comes to submission, don't be fooled, Paul lets no one off of the hook.

We have seen that submission applies to Christ. Think of Christ's entrance into this world -- manger -- cow's stall, poverty, no financial means -- he who was rich became poor -- no social power -- lived life as a servant -- died as a criminal -- died in submission to our needs -- continues to be our advocate before the father -- continues to intercede -- continues to live among us. Paul writes, "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." (Ephesians 5:25-27)

Submission applies to the church. For a church to refuse to submit to the authority of Christ would be to deny its very right to exist in the first place. That is the very nature of the church, she submits to Christ. Without that submission she is no longer the church. It is through that very submission to Christ that we become washed, sanctified and cleansed. It is through submission that we become a member of Christ body. To deny that submission would be to deny that we are a part of Christ's body.

Submission applies to men as well as women. For a woman to deny submission to her husband would be to deny the very nature of the marriage relationship. For a man to refuse to submit himself to the needs of his wife would be paramount to Christ denying submission to his church or the church denying submission to Christ. It would be like Christ denying his oneness with the church. The woman is to submit to the husband just as the husband is to submit to Christ. Yet, in this relationship where Christ is totally submitted to our needs, we are led full circle to being in subjection to one another through Christ. To fail to submit is to deny Christ. To fail to submit is to deny ourselves the ability to fill our deepest need through submission to one another. It is through this profound relationship that we become the body of Christ and members of one another.

Submission applies to fathers and children. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)

Submission applies to slaves and masters. Paul wrote, "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him." (Ephesians 6:5-9)


What would this approach to problem solving do for our homes, our congregations and our workplaces?


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