Voluntarily Yield to One Another in Love
“You are #1! You are the center of your universe! What you want is of highest priority!”
Such messages are common in our culture, but they are not the message of the Bible. Ephesians 5:21 summarizes God’s message to us: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
The word translated here as “be subject” is the Greek word hupotassomenoi. The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature states that this word has to do with “submission in the sense of voluntary yielding in love.”
How different the Christian message is from the world’s message.
The world tells me to “win through intimidation.” The Bible tells us to “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
The world tells me to demand my way, my rights, and my wants. Scripture challenges us to yield to the other person out of love.
The world tells me to grab hold of whatever it is that I want. But God calls us to let go and to give away.
The world tells me to look out for myself. But Christ calls us to look out for one another.
This counsel is not presented in Scripture merely as a theoretical talking point. God means for us to live this out in the most basic relationships of our lives. Therefore verse 21 is followed by direct applications to wives and husbands.
Let’s begin with Paul’s words to husbands. In verse 25, Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
Wow! This is a tremendously challenging command!
Consider how Jesus loved his disciples at the Last Supper, when he got up from the meal to wash their feet. He cared for Peter who would deny knowing him. He cared for Thomas who would doubt his triumph over death. He cared for Judas who would betray him. He cared for disciples who would run away and hide. He loved them unconditionally and forgivingly. That is how we are to imitate Jesus in the most basic relationships of our lives.
Or consider how Jesus loved the church as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he sweat blood for the church. He did not put his own wishes and wants first, but said to God, “Not my will but yours be done.” This is what it means for us to yield voluntarily in love, and this is what we are called to do in the most basic relationships of our lives.
Other ways in which Jesus loved the church and gave himself up for her include:
- He gave his time and attention to people
- He was compassionate in his dealings with people
- He was always honest with people
- He was forgiving
- He was tender in the way he cared for others
We are called to imitate such love in our marriages and in the most basic relationships of our lives.
In verse 28, Paul adds, “In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies.”
Consider the implications of this. When my stomach begins to growl, I get something to eat. When I feel worn out at the end of the day, I go to sleep. When I cut my finger, I put a Band-Aid on it. I pay attention to my needs and attend to them. Ephesians 5:28 challenges me to be as attentive to the needs of my wife as I am to my own needs. It challenges us to be mindful of and responsive to the needs of others in the most basic relationships of our lives.
When we turn our attention to Paul’s challenge to wives, it is important to keep in mind that the primary purpose of this passage is not to tell wives how to treat their husbands, but to tell Christians how to treat one another. In the Greek, it is verse 21 that commands us to “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The word for being subject never appears in verse 22. Literally, verse 22 says simply, “Wives to your husbands as to the Lord.” Being subject is inferred from verse 21, as one practical example of Christians being subject to one another.
When Paul cites the reason being that “the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church,” we tend to jump to the conclusion that Paul is arguing that the wife should give in to the husband because the husband is the “boss” of the wife. The word “head” is, indeed, used that way in ancient Greek literature, but it is actually a different Greek word (archon instead of kephale) that is used in such a context. The word Paul uses, kephale, is closer to our use of the word “head” when referring to the source of a river. Paul seems to have in mind the Biblical story of Eve being made from Adam. The focus here seems to be that Eve came to life from Adam as the church came to life through Christ. The call to wives to yield voluntarily to their husbands is because of the interdependency of woman coming to life from man and men coming to life through women. It is a focus on love within the relationship more than on role or domination.
In the most basic relationships of our lives, we are drawn back to verse 21: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”