An Uncomfortable Position


I have never preached a Mother’s Day sermon. Actually, it is possible that I may have succumbed to elder pressure back in my youth pastor days in Oregon when my wisdom was little and my will was weak. But in recent memory, I have intentionally removed all holidays from my preaching calendar, including Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Arbor Day, and National Pie Day (January 23, in case you’re wondering). The reason for this is that there is only one great sermon that can be delivered for each of these days (scripture reference for Pie Day is Proverbs 17:1), and that one sermon will pretty much say it all. Then the next year rolls around and all you can say on Mother’s Day is, “You remember when I said last year that moms are great? Well, they still are.”

My wonderful church has graciously accepted this holiday avoidance – Christmas and Easter excluded – and everything has gone along just swimmingly. Until this past Sunday, that is. It was Saturday afternoon, as I was finishing my PowerPoint on Ephesians 5:21-6:9, when it finally occurred to me – after a week of working on this sermon, mind you – that I was about to spend Mother’s Day preaching a sermon on submission. I think that the only time the term “wicked” can be applied to God is when speaking of His sense of humor.

To understand submission, we’ve got to start with Ephesians 5:21 – “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Too often folks just skim over that verse, treating it like another one of those section headings that the Bible publishers include to let you know what you’re about to read – “Elisha Is Jeered”, “Regulations About Defiling Molds”, “Submit To One Another”. Women see the word “submit” and decide they’ll just skip over this section. Men see the word, and call out, “Honey, it’s family devotion time!” But this one verse is vitally important because it lays the foundation for the rest of the passage.

Submission is a “one another” thing. The New Testament is full of “one anothers” – “Love one another” (John 13:34), “Serve one another” (Galatians 5:13), “Encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11), “Spur one another on” (Hebrews 10:24). There are around 59 “one another” verses in the New Testament (depending on whose count you use). For “one another” to work, it means “me to you and you to me”. It’s a reflexive concept. If it is only one sided, then “one another” breaks down.

“Submit to one another” is not just a section heading. It is the lens through which we must interpret the relationships Paul discusses in the rest of the passage – husband to wife and wife to husband, parent to child and child to parent, master to slave and slave to master. To be able to understand this, we’ve got to look at what this word means.

We all bring our own preconceived definitions to the word “submission”:

Women: Submission (n) – an archaic concept created by men to keep women down, i.e., “Woman, fetch me another beer”

Men: Submission (n) – God’s perfect plan for creating peace and harmony in the home, i.e., “Woman, fetch me another beer”

The Greek word translated “submission” is hypotasso. Hypo means “under”, like a hypodermic needle. Tasso means “to place”. Submitting is willingly placing yourself under the authority of someone else. It is recognizing that God, because of His desire for structure, order, and unity, has created hierarchy.

This hierarchy is seen within the Trinity. The Son submits His will to the Father, and the Holy Spirit is sent by the Son. No member of the Trinity is less than another. They are all equal – One.

The same is true in the home. The wife submits to the husband, and the children to the parents. No member of the family is less than another. They are all equal – one.

Why did God choose the husband to be the head of the family instead of the wife? It certainly wasn’t because we are of a higher quality – a group of guys sitting around a campfire after a big meal will quickly dispel that thought. We can dig and exegete and postulate and extrapolate and rehabilitate and regurgitate and prestidigitate, but the answer really comes down to this – God chose the husband because He thought it best. Chalk that up to another one of His great mysteries.

Let’s take a moment to step back to what our view of the world and our lives should be. Our priorities are God, then others, then me. Our motto is “It’s not about me, it’s about you.” We are here on mission. We are here to serve God and the people He puts around us. We are here to sacrifice whatever needs to be sacrificed in order to further God’s kingdom. We are not here for our pleasure or our happiness or our comfort or our pride. That doesn’t mean that God has destined us to be miserable wretches in this life, dangling the carrot of eternal life in front of us to keep us slogging forward. It just means that we can’t confuse our purpose. We are here for His pleasure and not our own. We are here to fulfill His will, not our own desires.

What does that mean? It means, women, that if (and please notice the “if”) it was God’s plan for you to be subservient to men in a slavish, burkhaed sort of way, then your heart should be one of willing acquiescence. Remember that parable Jesus told of the servant coming in after serving in the field only to be forced to feed his master before he could finally relax. The Lord sums up, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

(Luke 17:10) If God’s plan was subservience, then your heart should be willing subservience.

Thankfully, that’s not God’s plan. God created submission, not subservience – at least not to one another, only to Him. In the marital context, submission just says that in family matters when every avenue of discussion and compromise have been exhausted, the wife should acquiesce to her husband’s decision and back him 100%. As I mentioned on Sunday, in Nancy’s and my many years of marriage, we have never come to that “acquiesce” point. If we don’t agree, we talk, we pray, we wait, we trust, and God always finds a way to bring us to consensus.

As far as day-to-day submission, the wife is to give up all that is required for the betterment of her husband. And, since submission is “one another”, the husband is to give up all that is required for the betterment of his wife. Guys, this is where the swift kick of God’s holy sandal connects squarely with our backsides.

Generally speaking, women are a whole lot better at the sacrifice-for-someone-else thing. Maybe it’s because of their inherent mothering, take-care-of-the-people-around-her makeup. Guys, generally speaking, have more of a I’m-gonna-let-other-people-around-me-take-care-of-me mindset – at least in the home. This is why Paul felt it necessary to spell out very clearly what the man’s submission role is. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”(Ephesians 5:25) Love as Christ loved. How did He love? He sacrificed everything for us.

Guys, we’ve got to be willing to lay down everything for the sake of our wives and our kids. We are masters of making our lives about ourselves. We must be willing to give up whatever it takes to be able to present our wives and our kids as holy and pure before the Lord (Ephesians 5:25-28). Your family needs you to be with them, building into them, spending time with them, showing them an example of what it means to be a true day-by-day follower of God. If it means turning off the TV, then shut it down. If it means locking your shop or your man-cave, then board it up. If it means switching jobs in order to be present with your family even though you may have to downsize your life, then take the hit. Remember, God first, others second, you third. And right at the top of the “others” food chain is your family.

A marriage where the wife wants nothing more than to be able to love and bless her husband and the husband wants nothing more than to be able to love and sacrifice for his wife, is a marriage that will flourish and will bring joy, depth, security, purpose, mission, and godliness. And it is a marriage that will produce children who know what it means to be a godly woman and a godly man, and who will have an example going into their own marriages of what it takes to have a God-blessed relationship. That’ll pass on to your grandkids and on and on in a generational blessing.

Oh, just saw the time. Going to wrap up now – gotta go see if Nancy finally finished that sandwich I told her to make me.