Eph. 5:21-33,  “Paul Admonishes The Ephesians To Accept The Principles Of Submission In Their Lives


Jim Bomkamp

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1.     INTRO:


1.1.                     In our last study, we looked at verses 15-20 of chapter 5.


1.1.1.  We saw that Christians are those who are wise and Paul told us in that study that we are to act as wise men and women.  We looked at what characterizes both wisdom and foolishness.


1.1.2.  We saw that the Lord commanded us to be filled with the Holy Spirit


1.1.3.  We discussed how to be filled with the Holy Spirit as well as the fact that the filling of the Holy Spirit is a prerequisite that is necessary to applying any of the exhortations of this book.


1.2.                     In this study, we are going to look at verses 21-33 of chapter 5.


1.2.1.  In this study, as an outgrowth of the theology that he has built to this point Paul will begin to admonish the church concerning their responsibilities in properly being submissive to those who are in authority over them.


1.2.2.  We will see that Paul tells the Ephesians that we are all to be subject to one another.


1.2.3.  Paul next admonishes women that they are to be submissive to their husbands in all things.  We will talk about what that means.


1.2.4.  Finally, Paul writes that the submission of husbands is submission to Christ whose will is for them to love their wives in the same way as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.


1.2.5.  In our next study, we will see further admonitions from Paul for slaves to be submissive to their masters and children to be submissive to and obey their parents.


2.     VS 5:21  - 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. -  Paul admonishes the Ephesians to be subject to one another


2.1.                     One of the things that many who teach the Bible do which I believe does much harm is to teach topical messages where you take a section of scripture and attempt to study it outside of its context in the particular book of the Bible it resides in.  This may seem harmless to many however pertaining to many texts, such as the one before us today, to simply begin to teach what these verses mean and how to apply them without laying  the foundation that Paul has laid in this book is really to expect people to apply very difficult truths in their lives without seeing their importance as well as how they relate to everything else in God’s mind and purposes.  Paul in his writings always laid a huge foundation of doctrine pertaining to God’s mind and purposes before he begins to admonish his readers in how they are to apply these truths in their life.  Bible teachers would do well to follow Paul’s example by teaching through the books of the Bible for then the full foundation for every teaching will be taught making it easier to apply the various admonitions that result from that foundation.


2.2.                     The tendency of teachers in the church, especially in the last one hundred years pertaining to these verses has been either to deny their inspiration stating that these were Paul’s ideas and Paul was a chauvinist, or to teach them out of their context which has resulted in men and women sort of taking sides, one sex against the other, according to their own predispositions.  We must never approach the scriptures in these ways for they contain the very word of God. 


2.2.1.  Those who would state that this teaching represents Paul’s ideas and that those ideas are not inspired really need to evaluate what they are saying.  Paul in his writings claimed inspiration of the Holy Spirit as an apostle of Jesus Christ in all cases except for a couple instances in which he sort of stepped aside and said that this was his idea and that the Lord had not directly revealed the truth to him. 


2.2.2.  Even the apostle Peter, the apostle to the Jews, declared by implication in his first epistle  that Paul’s writings were scripture, 2 Peter 3:15-16, “15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” 


2.2.3.  To deny that what Paul wrote is inspired of the Holy Spirit is to deny the inspiration and infallibility of the word of God.  Besides, Paul in his writings never denigrates women but actually lifts them up to the highest place that they could ever be for he declares that they are equal heirs with men of all that Jesus Christ has for His people.  The submission for women that Paul admonishes does not diminish women but rather elevates them to the place where God has intended them to be.  It was Christianity, and Paul’s very writings, which are responsible for women being elevated in societies from the status of mere slaves or possessions, as once was the case.


2.3.                     Having stated the importance of teaching this section of scripture within the full foundation of doctrine that Paul has laid in this book, lets take a look at what we have learned in this book relative to this portion of scripture we will study today.


2.3.1.  We saw in our very first study of this book that the book began not with Paul, not with man, and not with the church, but with God, for Paul began by writing, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.”  Everything that Paul wrote in this book is a revelation of the will of God as well as the result of God’s working.  God was the One who predestined each of us who would become Christians, and that occurred before the foundation of the world.  God chose and elected u as those who would be saved.  God determined before the foundation of the world that He would send His only begotten Son, the second person of the Trinity, One who is divine, to take the sin penalty which all of us one day would accrue against ourselves.  It was God who chose to reveal to us in New Testament times the riches of His grace which He has “lavished upon us.”  It was God who has given to every believer the “unfathomable riches of Christ.”  It was God who determined to make every sinner who is under the condemnation of death because of his innumerable sins, who then repents and accepts Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, to become equal heirs of all that Jesus Christ possesses.  It all began with God and if we remember that fact then it is much easier to accept His will and admonitions for our lives and place ourselves in God’s plan.


2.4.                     The subject matter of this study is “submission” and I would state right from the beginning that if a person does not know the Lord Jesus Christ as his Lord and his Savior he will not understand the importance of applying these truths to his life, nor will he be able to do so even if he wanted to apply them.  Before applying these truths to his own life, a person first has to see that the Lord Jesus Christ, though He was very God of very God, God the Son, from all eternity, He none-the-less willing submitted Himself to God the Father in order to come and be the sin-bearer for all mankind.  Jesus Christ was willing to submit Himself and suffer and die in this horrible manner, even though to do so would cause Him to go through the most excruciating agony a person has every experienced.  The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, submits Himself to both the Father and the Son, and His purpose is to glorify the Son.  Without this understanding concerning submission and the Godhead, and the plan of redemption for mankind, no person will see the importance of submitting Himself in the way that Paul describes in this study.  If a person doesn’t know the Lord, he is self-centered and selfish by nature and thus he will only submit to another if he has to do so or if there is some sort of a personal reward that will be gained by his submission.  This is why there are so many problems in marriages and families.  It is only the Christian who truly practices the principles of submission found in this study.


2.5.                     One of the main reasons we have so many problems in our world today is because of not following these very principles of submission found in this study.  Today, because of not following these problems divorce rates are staggering, children are rebellious and get into lots of problems because of substance abuse and sexual experimentation, sexually transmitted diseases are rampant due to people committing sexual acts of sexual immorality, there are incredible numbers of people who are on welfare, the crime rate is extremely high, etc., etc. 


2.6.                     As further background for this study, remember that in our last study it was stated that Paul had many things to admonish the Ephesian Christians of however he knew that in order for the Ephesians to apply any of these exhortations, or in fact any of the admonitions of the Bible, that they first needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Only as Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit are they empowered and enabled to live such a life of submission as that which Paul outlines here in this study.  A Christian must be dead to self, have Jesus Christ as Lord or Master over his life, and be filled with the Holy Spirit in order to apply the truths found in this study.



2.7.                     This verse that is before us is really the key to understanding the rest of the verses from 22 through verse 9 of chapter 6.  This verse states that it is God’s will for each of us as His people to submit ourselves to each other.  The life of a Christian is to be characterized by submission.  Each of us who are Christians have authorities that are placed over our lives for whom we are called upon to submit, and we are to submit to one another in the body of Christ. 


2.8.                     There have been times when people have talked with me about my responsibilities here in the church as pastor and they have wanted to know who I am in submission to, and I have told them that I am in submission to everyone, and this is the way that I look at my life and my role in the church.  If anyone wants to discuss anything that I do or have done, or if anyone wants to confront me about my life, I am always open to them.  I do ask that they come to me with an open heart and mind to the Lord.  However, I do not consider myself as being above anyone’s scrutiny.  If anyone is concerned about how the church’s expenses are being used related to me, please come and talk to me.  If anyone is concerned about the directions our church takes relative to me, please come and talk with me.  I will listen to you and I will pray about what you tell me.  I cannot promise that I will follow your suggestion, but I will weigh it out before the Lord.  In the same way, each of us as Christians and leaders in the church must have the same sort of willingness to be entreated by our brothers and sisters in the Lord.  This is what it means to be subject to one another.  It involves being open to each other’s ideas and to God leading you through someone else, anyone else in the body of Christ.


2.9.                     Though Paul tells the wives that they are to be subject to their own husbands, he also tells the husbands here that they are to be subject to their wives, for they are to be subject to everyone.  Though in the next chapter Paul will tell children that they are to be in subjection to their parents, he tells parents here that they are to be subject to their children, for they are to be subject to everyone.


2.10.                Now, notice carefully here the motive that Paul tells us that we are to have in being subject to one another.  It is to be done ‘in the fear of Christ.’  To wives, husbands, slaves, and children, Paul gives a similar injunction.  You see, Paul is indicating here that the submission that we are to be under is a submission that is not based upon anything other than our desire to honor and please the Lord.  We are to be in submission in these various ways because the Lord wants us to do so and because we desire more than anything else to show proper honor and reverence for the Lord.   Paul wrote the following in Colossians about how we are to approach everything that we do in this life, Colossians 3:23, “23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.”  We are to submit to one another in the body of Christ and do so “as unto the Lord.”


2.11.                I just want to mention further here that when a person becomes a Christian that his relationship with Christ is supposed to be reflected in everything that he does in his life.  It is to permeate every area of his life, and there must be no compartmentalization in our lives as Christians.  I believe that some of the early pioneers and founders of this country had a compartmentalized view of their lives for we find them writing and speaking great truths concerning their relationship with and belief in Jesus Christ as their Lord and their Savior, and yet you find out things like the fact that they also perhaps had slaves for the purpose of sex and lived a secret life that was anything but Christian.  However, compartmentalizing is a very fatal mentality to have for those who claim to be true saved and born again Christians.  Our relationship with and obedience to Christ must be in every area of our life or we are in perilous territory and perhaps have not guarantee of eternal life whatsoever.


2.12.                I want to say here that acting in proper submission is a testimony to others.  It speaks volumes concerning what God has done in our lives and people of this world will marvel at our lives if we genuinely apply these things in our life. 


2.13.                I have some admonitions to us who are parents. 


2.13.1.                     If a wife is not properly submitting to her husband or if a husband is not truly loving his wife as Christ loved the church, their children will pick up on their attitudes. 


2.13.2.                     Wife you will have a difficult teaching submission to your children if you do not submit to your husband.  If you do not respect your husband you will have a hard time getting your children to respect him. 


2.13.3.                     Husbands you will have a difficult time teaching submission to your children if you really are not loving your wife as you should.


2.13.4.                     Parents also teach submission to their children by being subject to them.  If we do not respect our children and if we are not willing to be subject to them then how can we teach them to be respectful and subject to others. 


2.13.5.                     Also, husbands and wives you are setting a pattern for your children to follow in their relationship with the opposite sex.  If you are rebellious in regard to your proper role of submission don’t be surprised if your children follow your example in their future marriages.  You are setting the pattern both for their expectations for marriage as well as for how they will react in situations with their future mate.  If you are not properly being submissive in the roles God has for you, don’t be surprised if your children end up in heart-breaking failed marriages, or if they end up being a person who does not want to ever get married.  If you divorce don’t be surprised if your children divorce.      


3.     VS 5:22-24  - 22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. -  Paul admonishes the wives to submit to their husbands


3.1.                     Notice first of all here that Paul does not qualify this statement here.  This admonition is not for some wives, not for some churches, not pertaining to some situation.  All wives are to be in submission to their husbands.


3.2.                     Notice that the submission that wives are to have to their husbands is be ‘in everything.’  Wives are not to simply agree to some compromises with their husbands for the sake of their marriage and then live another secret or self-serving life on the side.  The submission of wives is to be complete and pertaining to all areas of their life (no compartmentalism).


3.3.                     Paul knew that there was a major problem in the church with wives being submissive to their husbands, and yet he wanted to address the subject of submission from the widest possible angle.  Then, he begins his admonitions as appropriate, with what was the biggest issue that needed to be dealt with, and that was that wives be in submission to their husbands.


3.4.                     Notice here that in verse 22 that the word ‘subject’ is in italics.  This is because it is not in the text but the translators believed that it was implied.  The fact that this word is not present but implied is proof that verse 21 is the key to understanding all of these admonitions concerning submission for they all come out of that admonition to be in subjection one to another.  It is as if Paul said something to the effect of, “Be in subjection one to another, such as wives to their husbands, etc.”


3.5.                     There has always been a tendency for a recently saved Christian woman whose husband is unsaved to consider that she is now free in regards to this life for the Lord has liberated her.  Therefore, she did not need to be subject to her husband.  However, this is not God’s will for wives.  Likewise, children sometimes have a similar attitude when they come to know the Lord and their parents are unsaved.  They feel sometimes like they do not need to be submissive to their unsaved parents because they now have a superior understanding of spiritual matters in this life.  However, this is not God’s will for them either.  We all need to be in proper submission to the Lord.


3.6.                     Notice here that the motive for the woman’s submission to her husband is supposed to be that she is doing this ‘as unto the Lord.’  Women are always submissive to their husbands when they happen to agree with their husband’s decisions, however the motive for submission to husbands is not supposed to be because they happen to agree with their husband.  Likewise, women are not called upon to be submissive to their husband because they happen to be married to a man who is much more skilled in the area of leadership and making important decisions than they are.  Rather, women are to submit to their husbands only because it is the Lord who requires that wives are to be in submission to their husbands.  God tells them to do so.


3.7.                     Going back and looking more at the big picture, the issue of submission of wives to husbands is found first in the third chapter of the book of Genesis.  Paul points us there in verse 31 where he quotes from chapter 2 in Genesis concerning God’s plan for marriage and the first man and woman whom God created.  Marriage was an institution created by God, it did not originate from man as some sort of societal necessity or convenience.  From Genesis we see in the creation order that man was created first, and he was given headship over creation and began to name all of the animals.  Then, woman was created out of man and for the man, and the woman was brought to the man in order to be his “helpmeet.”  In other words, the woman was created in order to help Adam be the person God wanted him to be and to help him fulfill the things God wanted Adam to fulfill.  She was created to be his helper, and not the other way around.  The man was not created for the woman but the woman for the man.  It can also be argued that the fall of Eve occurred because she usurped authority that was not hers for she should have discussed the tree and the serpent’s words before she ate of the forbidden tree, however she acted independently and as a result fell into sin.  Then, we read in Genesis 3:16 about how part of the curse that the Lord pronounced against the woman was that she would “desire” her husband, which means that women will desire to usurp their husbands’ authority, but that men for their part would tend to “rule over” or “trample down” women,  16 To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.””  Now, since the fall the godly principle of headship of a man over his wife has not changed, it is just that the Lord has told us that there will always be a struggle between husbands and wives concerning headship.  Indeed, this passage in Genesis has been fulfilled for women today and all throughout history have tried to usurp headship, assert their rights and even sometimes be considered as superior.  Yet, at the same time in most countries of the world women have been considered by men as mere slaves or objects to be possessed and dominated.


3.8.                     Lets be clear about what submission of a wife to her husband involves.  It does not mean that the woman is inferior (she is an equal heir of Christ Paul tells us).  It does not mean that she is a slave and in that sense a woman’s submission to her husband is a bit different than the manner in which a Christian is to be submissive to the Lord.  We are slaves of Christ and must do all that He commands us to do without question.  It does not mean that the husband has superior decision-making skills, as was stated.  It does mean that woman is supposed to look for leadership to her husband and submit to his leading and decisions, even when she doesn’t agree with them (except for the case where to be submissive to her husband would mean that she would be sinning) and sometimes even when her husband is not seeking the Lord in his life as he should.  Sarah, Abraham’s wife, is an example for women to follow in this.  She submitted to Abraham’s leadership even when to do so would possibly have endangered herself, for instance when Abraham wanted her to tell Pharoah that she was his sister. 


3.9.                     Every corporation appoints a chairman of the board for the making of tough decisions, every sports team appoints a captain who has leadership skills for the making of tough and important decisions, etc., etc.,  for chaos erupts in any organization if there is no leader.  In the same way chaos results in a home and a marriage if there is not an appointed leader.  In God’s order of creation and by His infinite wisdom and sovereign will He has appointed that man shall be the head over his wife.


3.10.                Paul tells us here that the importance of the headship of a man over his wife can be seen in the fact that Christ is the head over the church. 


3.11.                Note that Paul intimates something about the headship of the husband over his wife when he states that this headship is like that of Christ’s headship over the church because Christ is ‘the Savior of the body.’  In other words, Paul is intimating that like Christ and the church the husband’s role in headship involves providing for, protecting and shepherding his family, i.e. being a savior.  Headship for the man does not mean that he has no responsibilities or that everything that is done for him by his wife or children is strictly for his well-being and prosperity.  No, the husband and father is to serve his wife and family, as he provides for them and protect them.  


4.     VS 5:25-30  - 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. -  Paul admonishes the husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church


4.1.                     Husbands are also to be in submission.  They are to be in submission to the Lord and they are to express that submission by responding to their wives in the same way that the Lord responds to them.  They are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.  They are to lay down their lives for their wife and family even to the point of death, if necessary, in order to provide for, protect, and nurture them in the love of God.


4.2.                     One day, the pastor of a church had just preached a message about the husband’s responsibility before the Lord and how that husbands were to love their wives as Christ loved the church.  A man present in the service decided he would stop by the pastor’s office on his way home and tell him what a good message he had preached.  After he complimented the pastor on his message he told the pastor, “I worship the very ground my wife walks on.”  The pastor then asked the man, “Yes Bob, but do you love her as Christ loved the church?”  The man hesitated for a minute and then in honesty replied, “No, I know that I don’t.”  The pastor replied, “Well Bob, then you’ve got your work cut out for you now.”


4.3.                     Paul discusses here the type of love that Christ has for the church, the same love a man is to have for his wife, and note what type of love the man is to have:


4.3.1.  A self-sacrificing love.      Christ ‘gave Himself up for her.’      Jesus laid down His life for the church and the husband must lay down his life for his wife and family.


4.3.2.  A love that desires that she be made holy in all respects as is God’s desire for us.      That He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.’      A husband must always desire God’s very best for his wife and family.  He must also work to make sure that his wife and family are brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  Husbands are to teach God’s ways to their wives and families.      Husbands sometimes abdicate their responsibilities in these areas and allow their wives to be the teachers and bring up their children in the Lord.  Many times they do this just because it is easier, however they must never do this.


4.3.3.  He must love her as he loves himself, in other words, care greatly for his wife.      Men ‘ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies.’      People go to great lengths to take care of themselves and their own needs.  A husband is to have that same kind of love for his wife.


4.3.4.  He is to nourish and cherish his wife.      As Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body.’      A man must respect his wife and cherish her till death causes them to part, for this is the same type of love that the Lord has for us, His church.  Christ promises that He will never leave nor forsake us. 


4.3.5.  He must love her to the extent or degree that Christ loves the Church.


5.     VS 5:31-33  - 31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.” -  Paul tells the Ephesians that a man and a woman are to become one flesh and that this is a reference to Christ and the church


5.1.                     Here in these verses Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 and refers back to how that it was God’s idea to create a helpmeet for Adam and to create the institution of marriage.  Jesus referred to this verse also in Matthew chapter 19 when He stated that because God had made the first man and woman to be one flesh in marriage that it was never God’s intention that a man and a wife should get divorced, for one flesh cannot be separated.


5.2.                     Cleaving is essential to a good marriage, that is, the becoming of ‘ONE FLESH.’  Whenever I do pre-marital counseling one of the things that I always stress with the couple is that when they get married that they have to leave their own homes and go off and start their own family unit.  They then are to determine the very things that the Lord wants them to do in their marriage and family and stick with those things.  They must not allow mother-in-laws, father-in-laws, uncles, cousins, and other family members to come and drive a wedge between them.  They must determine boundaries for family so that they can be this autonomous family unit under Christ.  Allowing relatives to influence a marriage can and will be very destructive to the marriage.


5.3.                     Paul states here that this concept of a man and a woman being ‘one flesh’ is a mystery and one that reflects upon the relationship of Christ to the church.  The oneness that a man and a woman are designed by God to experience in marriage is a picture, you see, of the relationship that a believer is designed by God to have with the Lord Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.


5.4.                     Paul repeats here that a husband is to love his wife even as he loves himself.  He is to take good care of and cherish his wife just as he does his very own life.


5.5.                     Note here that the woman is told to “respect” her husband.  Women often have a hard time respecting their husbands, especially when their husband has done bone-head types of things, however wives are admonished and commanded here to “respect” their husbands.  I contend that a man is not going to be able to be a spiritual leader over a household as he is called by the Lord to be until his wife in obedience to the Lord begins to show him “respect” and allow him to lead.




6.1.                     With Jesus Christ as our example, the One who submitted Himself completely to the Father in order to lay His life down for us upon Calvary’s cross, lets accept the fact that God’s plans for us involves our being under submission.


6.2.                     In the fear of Christ, lets be subject to one another.


6.3.                     In the fear of Christ, wives be subject to your husbands in all things.


6.4.                     In the fear of Christ, husbands be subject to Christ and love your wife as Christ loved the church.

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