Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ephesians 5:21

21Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Remember v21, which we looked at last time, serves as a transitional verse. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” concludes Paul’s comments on the effects of being filled with the Spirit (v19-21) and opens his letter to the topic of submission in the various relationships people encounter in life (v22-6:9). The Spirit-filled life is about serving, not being served. And the result is mutual edification. It is more blessed to give than to receive. A consequence of being filled with the Spirit is servanthood, and our motive for obeying this command is fear of or reverence for Christ. No one humbled himself or served like Him, yet we ought to strive for that lifestyle (Philippians 2:4-11). Take note that the word “submit” means simply to receive loving care and service from another.

Calvin remarked: “God has bound us so strongly to each other, that no man ought to endeavor to avoid subjection; and where love reigns, mutual services will be rendered. I do not except even kings and governors, whose very authority is held for the service of the community. It is highly proper that all should be exhorted to be subject to each other in their turn…[and out of reverence for Christ], that we may not refuse the yoke, and can humble our pride, that we may not be ashamed of serving our neighbors.” And even the standard teaching of ethics at the time, as far back as Aristotle, taught male headship, but not for the sake of selfless service and nurturing care. Christian living is counter-cultural, upholding the value of women, children, and slaves, as well as men.

I find it interesting that this crucial lifestyle application of the Christian faith – mutual service – can only be obeyed in the context of “worldly” relationships. So much for the hermit, monk, nun, and even spiritual person who denounces churchgoing, removing themselves from society or from the local congregation for the sake of “individualism” or focused holy living. Ligon Duncan says, “Though God wants us to be holy individually, it is impossible for us to express the holiness that God wants us to have individualistically. It must be expressed in the context of relationships. It must be expressed in the context of the communion of the saints. It must be expressed in the context of the body, the corpus, and so it is corporate.”

Submission is radical, because it takes the focus of self and puts in on others. But at the same time, we must be discerning about selfless service, because if we get all gung-ho about sacrificial selflessness and serving the community or the world, we might forsake our families or our jobs or even, strangely enough, ourselves. As we’ll read in this section, “he who loves his wife loves himself” and “no one ever hated his own body.” So we have to balance radical submission with time management. Ligon Duncan helps here: “Mutual subjection requires that you do some thinking about what God’s gifting is to you, and what your present obligations are. You’ve got to prayerfully approach how best you can serve others, but it’s not about other people getting to run your life. It means, in fact, that there are some times that we have to say no.”

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