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Ephesians 5 v 21 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God

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True joy is like a flag flying high from the citadel of the Christian’s heart, indicating that the King of Kings is in residence. Joy is one result of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Likewise thankfulness, thanksgiving is the vibration of the soul’s heartstrings under the soft touch of God’s benevolence. The Spirit filled believer overflows with thanksgiving to the Saviour. And these two are marks of God’s active presence in our lives. Being filled with the Spirit enriches us with the precious treasure of lasting joy, deep insight and inner satisfaction. In Eph 5 v 18 – 20 there are Marks by which we can recognise in ourselves, and others, the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit results in the fact that

1. We will be JOYFUL when we are filled with the Spirit.

v 19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.

Christian joy is a deep experience of confidence in God despite the circumstances around us. A believer can be joyful even in the midst of the most severe trials – pain, suffering, or adversity, whatever it is.

We as Christians who are filled with the Holy Spirit can speak to each other to encourage one another in the scriptures. Our worship in singing should be HEART FELT – with all of our hearts.

Being filled with the Spirit results in

2. Giving thanks v 20 – we will be THANKFUL.

Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;

The Lord Jesus Christ has rescued us and saved us from eternal death. Grateful hearts promote harmony in church, family and society. A grateful, thankful heart is a humble heart.

So this morning we continue with this theme of a third Mark of whether we are filled with the Spirit – Being filled with the Spirit means

3. Submitting ourselves – v 21 – we will be SUBMISSIVE.

Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

The Apostle Paul is continuing what he has already been saying about being filled with the Spirit, and at the same time, is introducing what he is going to say next. Verse 21 is a link verse. It is therefore an introductory verse – an introduction to the contents of verse 22 and onwards to Chapter 6 v 9. He as much as says “You who are filled with the Spirit, must therefore sing together, be thankful to God together and now submit yourselves one to another, because there are other relationships that require submission.”

An Introduction to the Life of Submission for the Christian.

The word “submit” here is a military term that means to arrange or order under someone else. The obvious analogy is that of a soldier in a regiment who lines up under a commanding officer. The man who joins the army, as soon as he goes through the barrack gates virtually ceases to be an individual – he is now a member of a body of men – his regiment. All of the other men together are listening to the commands and orders that the officer is issuing to them. Any man who joins an army is practically signing away his right to determine his own life and activity for the period of his service. He is not conscripted – he is a volunteer. Nevertheless the army takes over his life. He is told when to get up, when to eat, he is obliged to wear the uniform and he must do as he is told. He cannot go on holiday when he likes and is a man under authority. There are rules to be obeyed and if he ever decided to act independently of the other soldiers, he is in big trouble and guilty of insubordination – a failure to submit to and be in subjection to his officers.

Paul is telling us as believers that we who are filled with the spirit are to behave voluntarily in the same way with respect to each other. We are members of the same regiment; we are a unit in the same great army of the elect children of God. We are to do VOLUNTARILY that which the soldier is forced to do – but the difference is that we love our Commander in chief. He is our saviour. He has rescued us from death and hell. He loves us and provides everything for us. He has even shown us what submission is all about – so that it should be the easiest thing in the world for us to submit to Him!

But there is more to submission implied in this 21st verse of Ephesians 5. We are going to see the importance of not only submitting to our Captain and Lord, but to each other as well. Knowledge therefore of the depth of the meaning of this word TRANSLATED submitting here is necessary for our understanding and instruction.

The word is translated in several ways in the NT.

1. It can mean to “put into subjection” as in

Romans 8 v 20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,

The creation was made subject to futility (vanity) – after the fall of man through Adam and Eve, the curse affected the whole of creation – under its effects – and subject to the consequences of the curse. The whole world is bound to submit, be in subjection, to the awful effects of man’s rebellion.

2. It can also mean to be “under someone’s feet.” This does not mean the same as someone getting in the way in the kitchen. It means being under the dominance and rule of someone who has overcome. For instance the word occurs 6 times in 1 Corinthians 15 v 27

For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. 28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him that God may be all in all.

Earlier in Ephesians in Chapter 1 it occurs in this form in verse 22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,

The Lord Jesus Christ has dominion over all creatures; all are placed in absolute subjection to Him, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

3. It is used to convey willing obedience and subjection of oneself to authority. Several examples help us here.

a. With regards to the Lord Jesus Christ –

Luke 2:51 And he (the Lord Jesus) went down with them (Joseph and Mary), and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them:

b. 70 disciples sent out to preach by the Lord –

Luke 10:17 And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.

c. Paul explains the bondage of the natural human spirit that is not regenerated by God the Holy Spirit -

Romans 8:7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.

d. Unconverted people do not and will not subject themselves to the requirements of their capacity as image bearers of God by grace – instead Paul tells us in Romans 10:3

For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.

Finally there is the use that we find here in Ephesians 5 – the Submission of Christians to one another.

So this verse ,even though a prelude to specific teaching about submission in particular relationships, very distinctly primes our thoughts with our duty to be

Submissive in our Church Relationships

1. Submission to Christ.

First of all this implies that we understand our own solemn relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ as individuals. We are subject first of all to Him. Paul said in Chapter 3

Ephesians 3:14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Bowing the knees is willing surrender, submission and subjection to God through the Lord Jesus Christ. We are familiar with our status now as Christians – in that we have, by the grace of God, through repentance and faith, submitted to and believed in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 2 v 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Our submission as believers to our Dear Master means that we long to please Him, serve Him, work for Him, see His kingdom expanded. We want His Name to be exalted because He is worthy of such things. A true Christian is a surrendered person. It has been said that, “He who abandons himself to God will never be abandoned by God.” William Bridge remarked, “If you lay yourself at Christ’s feet, He will take you into His arms.”

I wonder if this is how we see ourselves as believers? Are we fully submitted to the Lord Jesus Christ? Does He have every part of us or do we hold back from Him something that is dear to us? Have we reserved something that we do not want Him to have? Perhaps a portion of our time, our wealth, our energy – are we fully surrendered in every area of our lives?

Indeed I must ask this morning if you are surrendered to Jesus Christ at all? Are you a Christian? Have you seen yourself as God’s enemy whenever you break His laws? Are you aware of the danger that you are in if you die an enemy of God? All who sin and reject God in their lives are against Him and he will one day punish such people with hell – eternal torment.

But God loves His enemies and has made a way that they might be won over to His side. He is ready to receive honest defectors from the enemy camp. And He has provided a sacrifice by which they can avoid the punishment for their rebellion. He sent His own Son the Lord Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for the rebel’s sins! Is not that amazing? This is how God has proved His love for sinners while at the same time, not compromising His justice and holiness. If at the moment you are still an outsider, an enemy, a stranger to God’s love and grace, then think about surrender and submission. You will need to consider your ways and acknowledge that they are sinful – not God’s ways. And when that conviction comes then turn away from those sins that mark you out as an enemy, and go to the Son of the King, the Lord Jesus Christ confessing that you willingly surrender to Him and want Him to be your ruler, your sovereign. Tell Him that you have had enough of the old life of rebellion and you have come to put yourself under His feet, to submit yourself to Him – and He will pardon and forgive you and welcome you onto His side. He is waiting in His love and grace to receive those who earnestly and genuinely desire His peace – and are willing to come on His terms.

A Christian is a person who has submitted absolutely to the Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ.

This submission flows into

2. Mutual Submission within the Body of Christ.

Mutual submission one to another in the fellowship of Church members is a Christian duty. Self-submission is a hallmark of the spirit-filled Christian. There are some other related scripture verses which make submission into a command to the whole body of Christ. Such as:–

1 Peter 5 v 5 Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. 6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:

Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

Romans 12 v 10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;

These verses teach us that Christians are not and should not be isolated individuals, independent of each other. This letter to the Ephesians has had the constant theme of the Church at the local level being ONE BODY. And just as much as there is that needed unity in an army, all the men pulling together, knowing their role, faithful to their respective tasks and place in the army, so it is the same in the local church.

Submitting to one another has both negative and positive features.

a. The Negatives are what submitting is NOT about –

1. Submissive believers in a church should not be thoughtless.

Thoughtlessness often indicates prayer-lessness and we all must work on this together. Interest in one another without intrusiveness and busy bodying is a blessing when it is properly exercised. Thoughtlessness leads to discouragement and the feeling that people do not care.

2. Submissive believers must not be selfish and self-centred.

And here it must be said that while Christians are still individuals in their own rights, yet they are not to be individualistic. As soon as we become individualistic we are wrong. Individualism is doing one’s own thing whether or not it affects others. It is more the characteristic of a spoilt child than a submissive team member. Mutual submission can never flourish while members wish to retain individualism.

3. Submissive believers must seek to avoid self-assertion.

Self-assertiveness is the world’s way of pushing yourself forward and is a supposed antidote to what is called low self-esteem. What does the child of God have to do with this? Surely low self-esteem is what the Christian life is all about. Because of the reality of sin we have come to see that we cannot esteem ourselves highly at all – we are lost in our sins and debtors to God. We have nothing to feel good about while still in our sins, and everything to feel sorry about. BUT – when Christ comes in to fill our lives by His Holy Spirit our esteem is lifted – not self esteem – but Christ esteem – we can feel good now that Jesus Christ lives within us and we highly esteem Him. And others esteem the Christ who lives in us first before we ourselves ever can take any credit to ourselves. Our assertiveness then has its roots in the Word of God alone not in our own self-assertion. And mutual submission depends on our esteeming Jesus first, others second

(Philippians 2 v 3 but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves)

and ourselves last. Notice as an aside that this crucifying of self leads to JOY – Jesus – Others – Yourself.

4. Submissive believers must not be self-opinionated.

A Christian has and must have opinions – but the submissive Christian cannot be self-opinionated. There is a difference between someone who has good strong, Bible based opinions, and someone who is opinionated – someone who is self-conscious and proud of his opinions. Often the opinionated man is much more interested in the fact that he believes than in what he believes: he is always looking at himself, parading his beliefs. And opinionated people regularly cause clashes. This is not the way of mutual submission.

5. Submissive believers must not be dictatorial.

Some will immediately think that this “must not” only applies to those in leadership in the Body of Christ. They will cite scriptures such as 1 Peter 5 that we referred to before. There the elders are told that they must not be Lords, to Lord it over the flock. This is because those in eldership are particularly exposed to the danger of temptation to be dictatorial. Nevertheless this passage in 1 Peter exhorts the elders to be examples to the flock of a non-dictatorial leadership – and if examples, then the flock similarly are exhorted to follow the example – by avoiding the same temptation – of being dictatorial - of giving orders – of manipulating circumstances and people to gain their own ends. It is not just the leaders of the church who are vulnerable in this trait that prevents or destroys mutual submission.

So these are some of the negatives.

b. Now the Positives.

1. To be truly submissive one to another we need true affection for each other.

We have to be honest – in local churches this is not automatically true – not all feel the same way with regards to affection and love for all the saints.

Yet we have no option!

Romans 12 v 10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;

This is an imperative – an order from the Lord Jesus through Paul. You and I must love each other! What a tall order this is! But we must not forget some vital advantages that we as Christians have. First the Lord Jesus Christ loved us even before the foundation of the world; before we were saved; when we were utterly unlovely and unlovable in our sins. He loved His enemies. We are not asked to love our enemies in the Church – mutual submission means that there should be no enemies – only brothers and sisters who should be best friends!

Secondly when we realise that we cannot naturally love some people, believers though they may be, we can love them SUPERNATURALLY – by virtue of the Filling of the Holy Spirit in our souls.

May the mind of Christ my saviour,
Live in me from day to day,
By His power and love controlling,
All I do or say.

If you have an enemy in the church – love Him or her with supernatural Christ given love. If you are an enemy to anyone in the Church seek to love that person with supernatural Christ given love. And you will find enmity evaporating and affection of a mutual kind. Mutual submission absolutely excludes enmity of all kinds – the filling of the Holy Spirit is the answer to lack of affection. It is an outworking of what we saw in Ephesians 4 v 2

With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Which leads us to the next positive –

2. To be truly submissive one to another we need true humility towards each other.

Pride, that principle impediment to mutual submission must be counterattacked with mutual humility. Once again that scripture in 1 Peter 5 v 5 throws out the challenge –

Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. 6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:

Someone has said that, “Humility is the repentance of pride.” And another “Humility is that grace that, when you know you have it, you have lost it.”

Humility is the sacrifice of self-recognition. Humility prefers others to get credit for something than take it ourselves. Humility seeks earnestly to build up others even when it costs us personally.

How are we doing friends in spirit-filled humility? How is the battle with pride and self-seeking? Unless we are constantly on the offensive against pride we will not enjoy the sweet and blessed fruits of mutual submission amongst ourselves.

3. To be truly submissive one to another we need a genuine willingness to cooperate with one another.

What is our greatest desire as members one of another after we state that we long to see God honoured and His Son’s Kingdom extended? Is our greatest desire to hold office – or to be involved in the organisation? To be seen as a pillar or principle person in the church? To make sure that others respect our rights as Christians in a Church society? Are these our desires? If they are then we will never achieve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. While we seek to assert our individualism we are missing the point of true mutual submission one to another.

It is the forgoing of our rights that draws people together. The Christian who wishes to see the church body advancing will be interested in the development and advancement of others first and the church in the long run. The Christian who sees the greater goal of the unity of the body does not worry any longer about his or her rights as such, talking about them, always watching them and guarding them – these things depart. Then there is a readiness to listen to others, to seek to understand others and patience with others. He or she will not ever be ready to voice their opinion cutting the other person off – rather to give a full opportunity to others to speak.

This is the atmosphere of cooperation – and it always needs to be worked at in the church. And before any of us say that this is idealism and unachievable – friends – this text in Ephesians 5 leaves us no option – we all must submit ourselves one to another, knowing that the Lord Himself has given us the supernatural equipment to do it – are we using that equipment – are we filled with His Spirit?

4. To be truly submissive one to another we need 3 more things to be in place.

a. We need accountability to one another.

If we are to be subject one to another we need to be brave enough to account to each other. Again we have scriptural guidance in this –

Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

This requires each one of us to be ready to be answerable to each other; ready to admit our failures and ready to depend on each other’s prayers in our areas of weakness. Only true mutual submission will permit this to flourish.

b. We need responsibility to one another.

Each one of us is responsible to each other for our faith and practice in the church so that we work and speak with one voice. Like-mindedness, mutual respect and adherence to pure teaching take responsibility – and in these days of error and foolishness in the churches, we have a responsibility to our saviour to preserve the purity of His Gospel. We achieve that by being responsible to each other – by knowing what we believe and a willingness to defend that against those who may wish to gain entrance and destroy our unity.

c. We need loyalty to one another.

Such loyalty as defends other members when they are attacked. Such loyalty that refuses to believe an outsiders accusation against a member until the facts are known. Such loyalty that demonstrates to an outside world that these Christians at Whiddon Valley love each other. Such strength of loyalty that refuses to be satisfied with a mediocre standard of church fellowship that does not strive for true loving submission in an atmosphere of accountability, responsibility and loyalty.

Once again we fear that these standards of Church Unity and mutual submission are beyond us, weak creatures that we are. But that would be the wrong kind of fear to have – because at the tail end of our text this morning there is a precious qualifying statement that brings such fears to nothing.

Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

The word for fear in this phrase is reverential fear of God that becomes a controlling motive in the Christian’s life. This is not the fear of God’s power and righteous retribution only – it is that, because that must always be the case for all people unless they are trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ to remove His sentence from them.

This fear is a wholesome fear of displeasing God, a fear that “banishes the terror that ordinarily makes us shrink from His presence.”

This fear of God influences us as we seek to submit to Him and to one another.

This fear gives us a reason for submission one to another – it pleases God when we are united – and therefore it displeases Him when there is disunity and lack of mutual submission.

Do we want to displease our Saviour my Christian brothers and sisters? All of our circumstances are guided by God’s loving hand and we trust Him. He has given us His Holy Spirit in order to demonstrate what the power of God can do amongst people who belong to His church.

Are we ready for the adventure here in this Church, to so submit ourselves one to another in the fear of God, that the Lord Jesus Christ will indeed be honoured and glorified – and the needy world outside will take notice. They will come here and find no pride, no self-seeking, no self-assertion, no selfishness and no dictators.

Rather they will be amazed at the affection and mutual esteem that there is amongst the members – and they will praise God for His miraculous working in all of our lives!

May he make this gloriously true for us today and in the future as we seek to obediently,

Submit ourselves one to another in the fear of God.



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