Together in Christ: 'Submission?' — Ephesians 5:21

Sunday, January 21, 2024

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

— Ephesians 5:21 NLT

Key Thought

For modern sensibilities, this is one of the most offensive verses in Scripture. This verse feels preposterous to our worldly, selfish, and fleshly instincts. To many, a command to "submit to" anyone is ludicrous. They insist that we fight for our rights, get what's ours, and stand up for what we want. If we don't, they insist, we will be abused and run over, and people will take advantage of us!

So, what gives with this command from apostle Paul? How are we to understand it? Let's look at two important spiritual realities that stand behind Paul's command.

First, Paul challenges followers of Christ, including us, to be filled with the Spirit and live counter-culturally "because the days are evil." [1] We live in a time when the world is out of sync with the will of God! [2] But we have the Holy Spirit to help us navigate these times and live the JesuShaped life. When we are filled with the Spirit, five things enhance and accompany the Spirit's presence and power in us: [3]

  1. Speaking to each other in Spiritual songs.
  2. Singing.
  3. Making music from our hearts to the Lord.
  4. Giving thanks to God through Jesus, the Lord.
  5. Submitting to one another out of reverence to Christ.

In other words, as much as submitting to each other is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive, it's our world that is not in harmony with God on this issue of submission. Just as the apostles said, "We must obey God rather than any human authority." [4] Our world is broken, evil, selfish, and self-serving. God calls us to be different from the world. This command to submit is intended for our lives together in God's family. We are part of the Kingdom of God, where the last is first, and the greatest is a servant. [5] Our Father wants us as His children to live for each other and the needs of each other, just as Jesus did!

The second spiritual reality behind Paul's command in today's verse is that submission isn't just a command God gave us; it is also the example of what God's love led him to do for us in Jesus. [6] God loves us and sent Jesus to save us. When Jesus was here, he washed the feet of those who didn't deserve it because he loved them. He then told them to do the same for each other. [7] When we are irritated or can't get along with other church folks, Jesus serves as our reminder to lay down our rights, power, and preferences in order to help others and bring healing, hope, and salvation. [8]

So, rather than arguing about who should submit to whom, the Holy Spirit said we should submit as Jesus did to both God and us, and we should do it out of reverence for Christ. It's that simple and yet also that challenging. For us, submission isn't an offensive word, but a Jesus-honoring lifestyle!

[1] Ephesians 5:15-16 NIV.
[2] Ephesians 5:17; Romans 12:2.
[3] Ephesians 5:18-21 NIV — in the original language Paul uses, there is one direct command — "be filled with the Holy Spirit" — followed by five participles that tell us how and what accompanies being filled the Holy Spirit. These are the five things listed.
[4] Acts 5:29.
[5] Luke 22:25-27.
[6] Philippians 2:6-11.
[7] John 13:1-17.
[8] Ephesians 4:25-5:1.

Today's Prayer

Father in heaven, please forgive me for not wanting to submit to anyone. I confess that my basic instinct is to look out for myself and protect my position, status, rank, and sense of importance. Please forgive my impertinence, insecurity, insensitivity, and disobedience. I ask that the Spirit produce Your fruit in me so my flesh doesn't make me like others who live by their sinful, fleshly nature. O, dear Father, please teach me to submit to others. Even as I say it, I also want to add, but please do it gently! Nevertheless, I remove that addition and ask that You transform me to be more like Jesus using what You deem as necessary to conform me to Jesus' example. In His name, and out of my deep reverence for Jesus as the Christ, I pray. Amen.

Related Scripture Readings

  • Philippians 2:6-11; 1 Corinthians 7:1-5
  • Ephesians 5:1-2, 22-33, 6:9


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Illustration of Ephesians 5:21 NLT — And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

About This Devotional

Together in Christ is a daily devotional that focuses on what Scripture teaches about godly living in relationships.

'Together in Christ' is written by Phil Ware.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.