The Primer on Relationships and Human Submission

March 17, 2023

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

Paul’s letters to his friends and the churches on the Mediterranean Rim are all surrounding what relationships can be and must be for followers of Jesus. In his letter to the Ephesians, he gives basic guidelines for virtually all relationships. His purpose in writing is that they will understand their identity in Christ (1-3) and how their daily lives should reflect their identity (4-6). In 5:15, Paul challenges his readers to walk in wisdom, understanding God’s will and purpose. He says that since God’s Holy Spirit dwells within them, they are to be filled and controlled by Him. The outflow will be that they are rejoicing, thankful, prayerful, and that they should “submit to one another” (5:21).

Why submit to each other? Shouldn’t that be monitored a little better? Who deserves my submission? Paul said deserving is not a part of the equation. Submission is not based on the merits of the other person. Followers of Jesus don’t submit to others because they deserve it. Rather, Paul says we submit to one another out of our reverence for Christ—not because THEY deserve it, but because HE deserves it (5:21b). Because of Christ and what He did for us—we should value others. We become willing to give ourselves up for others.

The idea that we need to submit to one another is the most important principle undergirding every relationship a believer might have. In this letter particularly, Paul gives instructions for various roles in the family, society, and church all based on the principle that believers submit to one another. Spouses align themselves with each other. Parents and children do. Even slaves and masters are to value each other and operate in submission. In the culture of Paul’s day, slavery was generally much like employment is in today’s culture. “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free. Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Don’t threaten them; remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites” (Ephesians 6:5-9 NLT). Mutual submission is required on every level.

We may resist submission because we think it makes us vulnerable. Truth is, though, when both persons are treating the other as Jesus has modeled, both sides are respected, valued, and their needs are wonderfully met. Neither is superior; neither is the underling. Each is serving the other. Mutual submission is God’s way for everyone’s needs to be met in every relationship.

  • Jesus, help me get a picture of how my relationships could change if I took the submission initiative, then help me have the wisdom and courage to do so.