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Ephesians 5 v 21 - 24 ‘The Life of Submission for the Christian

To read the whole of the chapter click HERE

Please read 1 Corinthians chapter 7

It was A W Tozer who remarked that

"to believe actively that our Heavenly Father constantly spreads around us providential circumstances that work for our present good and our everlasting well-being, brings to the soul a wonderful benediction. Most of us go through life praying a little, planning a little, jostling for position and prestige, hoping but never quite being certain of anything, and always secretly afraid that we will miss the way. This is a tragic waste of truth and never gives rest to the heart. There is a better way. It is to repudiate our own wisdom and take instead the infinite wisdom of God.

Our insistence of seeing ahead into the future is natural enough, but it is a real hindrance to our spiritual progress.

God has charged Himself with our eternal happiness and He stands ready to take over the management of our lives, the moment that we turn in faith and surrender to Him."

Tozer knew the secret of submission and surrender to God in everything.

As we listen to God's word concerning our responsibilities towards each other in the body of Christ, the Church, we are bound to take on board some huge considerations that are bound to make us think deeply and be exercised in our souls.

No literature is more honest in facing the harsh facts of life - than the Bible. There is no suggestion in the Book of Books that our life, lived in faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, exempts us from difficulties.

What it DOES promise is preservation from all evil IN our difficulties. All of the water in all of the seas of the world cannot sink a ship unless it gets inside it. Nor can all the trouble in the world harm us unless it gets inside us. There is a promise in Psalm 121 that says

The Lord shall preserve Thee from ALL EVIL.

In spite of the fact that the Church has the Bible as her textbook and guide for all living, she is in almost in as much trouble as the culture around her. Generally speaking, the modern church has embraced the world's value system - fame, success, materialism and celebrity. Instead of fixing our gaze upon Christ and deriving our behavioural code from the Bible, we have looked at the leading churches and the leading Christians for our cues. We have seen how they have been driven by the big business culture and higher management techniques, and a compromised worldliness amongst professing Christians has sent the wrong message - particularly in the realms of relationships between men and women.

We have spent four weeks looking at the Bible word Submission and its synonym subjection - from Ephesians 5 v 21 - 24. Our main heading has been

The Life of Submission for the Christian

All believers are to submit themselves first to the Lord Jesus Christ and then to each other in love and forbearance.

Wives are to submit themselves to their husbands because Christ is the head and saviour of the church and members are to likewise submit to Him alone.

We understand the principles. We receive the doctrine as the Word of God from the mouth of God through the pen of His apostle Paul.

Before we move forwards to identify God's order for men and husbands - there are a few loose ends to tie up by way of practical application of the teaching. We do not look to the world for our answers to perplexities but to the Scriptures. We read 1 Corinthians 7 earlier.

Some commentators are unkind to Paul. They seem to think that Paul did not know what he was talking about assuming that he was not married. But it all depends what you mean by UNMARRIED. It certainly appears that way from 1 Corinthians 7 v 7

For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. 8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.

There are two ways of being unmarried - the one is being single and the other is through the loss of a wife or husband through death. Is it not reasonable to suppose that the Apostle Paul had been married but was a widower? And that he had decided not to remarry? Certainly this interpretation fits these 2 verses.

Whatever it was he speaks with God's authority that it is better to marry than to fall, into sin. Voluntary asceticism has no place in marriage. Then he says that the experience of salvation does not annul the marriage bond. The Christian must stay with the unbelieving or pagan partner who wished to continue with the relationship - because this may lead to the conversion of the unbelieving partner v 10 - 16.

10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. 12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. 13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. 16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?

There are some helpful scriptures here to interpret and to apply Ephesians 5 to our hearts and most of our study this morning will be rooted in 1 Corinthians 7 - please turn to it.

1. Some major points in 1 Corinthians 7 briefly stated.

This chapter is Paul's answer to a list of questions that the Corinthians had put to him in a letter. He addresses, under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, issues to do with marriage and singleness. But it is not an exhaustive statement of the teaching on marriage that we have begun to see in Ephesians 5. It appears that Paul is teaching that singleness; the unmarried state or celibacy is superior to marriage. But that is not the Apostle's teaching at all. Celibacy is good if it comes as a gift from God - marriage is natural and also God's gift to men and women. Indeed the rest of scripture tells us that marriage and family life is the oldest, most basic and fundamental institution in society. The church in its formal sense, and the state as a formal institution were not yet in existence when God brought the family into being. God ordained marriage as we saw in Genesis 2 as a covenant - a most binding and solemn arrangement. And because marriage is from God marriage is good. It is holy and righteous.

So what is Paul saying when in verses 1 and 26 he states

1 It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
26 I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be?

We need to be aware of 2 vital facts about the situation in Corinth. Firstly it was a pagan society where immorality and particularly fornication was the norm. Generally throughout the Roman Empire monogamy was the law and bigamy outlawed, although even amongst the Romans there was a range of indiscretions practised. In chapter 6 Paul had addressed how the Corinthians were to live in purity amongst their immoral neighbours. Here he tells them that marriage would protect them from becoming involved in worldly practices.

Secondly Paul sincerely believed, and it transpired that he was right, that a time of persecution was imminent. During oppression and opposition there would be for some believers in Corinth certain advantages of celibacy and disadvantages in marriage. He is therefore speaking not in terms of generalising but in the matter of a special situation. He foresaw a terrible blood bath about to come on the church. What he said to them was in the light of the then world situation - this 26th verse has his exact words -

"present distress".

In view of the present distress it will be better for the moment for a man to stay as he is - if single to stay single. Paul's recommendation for celibacy was ONLY for the time of persecution. Those who practice celibacy on religious grounds today either believe that persecution has continued for 2000 years or they have misunderstood scripture - or more than this they have added to scripture their own traditions. Paul's further words on this persecution are in verse 29 - 31a.

29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; 30 And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; 31 And they that use this world, as not abusing it:

Celibacy then was an emergency measure. It was going to be easier for individuals than for families to endure persecution. Every ounce of physical, emotional and spiritual energy was needed for the unique work of spreading the Gospel and during persecution, standing firm for the gospel. Family ties could limit a man's effectiveness during persecution. Celibacy is not commended in scripture as a HIGHER state than marriage - Paul speaks here of an exceptional situation not setting these things as a rule or a norm.

The normal state in scripture is marriage. It was not good for the man to be alone. God would never have said these words if He considered the married state as inferior. It is better therefore for a man to be married.

The chapter also addresses the calling to singleness or to marriage. Every believer needs to be so in touch with the Lord Jesus Christ that he or she knows his or her calling to either marriage or singleness - v 20 - 24 read.

20 Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. 21 Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. 22 For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant. 23 Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. 24 Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.

There is no general command to be married or general command to be single - rather there is an individual calling to either state - v 27 - 28a.

27 Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. 28 But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned.

Fathers are given guidance regarding unmarried daughters. In v 36 the term virgin is "unmarried daughter." Fathers have the headship over their daughters according to this verse. And again in the context mentioned already of perilous times of persecution coming, Paul says in verse 38

So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.

Before we move to applications we should note that Paul appears in 1 Corinthians 7 to be, according to some, self opinionated and that he added to the law. Whereas much of the teaching of the chapter can be cross-referred to the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself - on marriage and divorce in particular, we must remember that all scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable. Paul was an Apostle. He was supernaturally empowered to receive from the Lord His word and deliver it to us through the Bible. His remarks in 3 verses in particular have put people off -

6 But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.
25 Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.
40 But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.

There is no need for any difficulty if we remember the author of all scripture is Almighty God Himself. To object to the teaching because we do not like it is one thing - but to attack or cast aspersions on the trusted messenger is quite another. God will hold us to account for our treatment of His word whoever has proclaimed his word. How then can we benefit from these scriptures? First let us think about

2. Wives with Husbands who do not believe.

In the history of the church it has never been uncommon to find Christian women married to unbelieving husbands. The phenomenon is not new. Who was it that remained at the foot of the cross after the men had fled?

Women. Where did the men go? We are not told. Who was it that came to the garden on the first resurrection morning? Women. It seems that the church from the beginning had faced the situation of faithful women who were married to men who were not quite so faithful.

How did they become wives with unbelieving husbands? It was because these women believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and were converted, but their husbands were not. Neither of them would have believed when they were first married.

Immediately this raises an issue for us today and needs to be made plain. God does not countenance under any circumstances, the marriage of a believer with an unbeliever. In this chapter before us this morning God clearly says in verse 39

The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.

In the Lord means within the common faith that Christians hold towards the Lord Jesus Christ - the faith that identifies them as part of the body of Christ. It is the same principle as the forbidding of the unequal yoke - believer with unbeliever. This scripture therefore has nothing to do with justifying mixed marriages.

More often than not when couples are contacted evangelistically it is the wife who becomes a believer rather than the husband. There is no explanation for this but then there is none needed. What is true is that there are more couples where the wife is a believer and the husband is not than the other way round.

Either way the scripture is clear about what should happen. The believing wife is to continue to live with the unbelieving husband as long as he wishes to do so. A Christian may not abandon an unbelieving spouse. Read verse 12 - 16.

12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. 13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. 16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?

These words are so clear. If the unbeliever wants to continue the marriage then the believer has no right to break it up. Paul gives the reason for this - for the sake of the children and for the sake of the spouse. Notice the principle in verse 14

for the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the husband sanctifies the unbelieving wife: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.

What a dynamic there is here - what happens when a believer stays in the home? Other people who live in the same home with a believer bear a certain unique relationship to God that they would not if that believer was not in their midst.

A friend of ours took his wife to an evangelistic service at a Gospel Hall. She had not wanted to go but he insisted since he had been invited by some friends of his and he didn't want to let them down. By the end of the evening his wife had come under conviction of sin and was converted. This was 30 years ago - her husband to this day is still unconverted. But for the following 20 years after her conversion the husband stayed in the home - and he was blessed. His wife thrived as a wife and mother. She was loyal, faithful and submissive. Even though he rarely came to church he recognised the value of her attendance and membership of the local church to the extent that he made sure that she was able to go as much as possible. While he was in the home he was under the protection of almighty God - sadly he left the home 10 years ago and has gone downhill physically mentally and morally. He left the sanctifying influence of his believing wife.

Our friends illustrate Paul's teaching in both of its aspects. Blessing while he stayed - but also that he was free to leave

v 15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.

As long as he stayed there was the possibility of him being won for the Lord –

v 16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?

Or the possibility of the unsaved wife being won for Christ by a believing husband.

How then does the believing wife go about seeking to win her husband? Are there ways for her to behave, things she should do, or things to avoid?

Another Apostle helps to answer these questions - Peter in his first letter chapter 3 –

1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; 2 While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. 3 Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; 4 But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.

Peter emphasises here that it is the behaviour of the wife rather than her verbal evangelism that is likely to win her husband. When first converted a wife should show her husband that the Lord has changed her, rather than telling him.

A wife was finding great difficulty in this and became upset over the fact that her unsaved husband was rejecting the Gospel. She went to see her pastor who asked her what she had been doing to reach her husband. She said that she had Christian music and some of her Pastor's sermons playing on the tape recorder when he came home which she turned up as he came down the path. He would go around covering his ears - he didn't like the music nor the preaching and was getting fed up with his wife and with the gospel.

Her Pastor advised her to stop playing the tapes and to start paying attention more to the way that she was living. He urged her to show more concern for her husband as a wife and to bombard him with acts of love and concern rather than with sermons. She was a little nervous about that. She was afraid that he would laugh at such attempts. But she prayed about what she should do. She did stop the tape when he came home but said nothing.

Then one evening she had prepared an extra special meal, and lit some candles on the dining table - dressed up, met him at the door took his coat and ushered him to the table. This first thing he did was to dart upstairs to fetch something. He reappeared with a camera! He wanted to record the occasion for it had been so rare in the past. The wife changed over the next few weeks and it was not long before that husband began to attend church, heard the gospel preached because he wanted to, and was soundly converted. She realised that rather than win her husband she had been driving him away. This time she didn't SAY anything - she DID something.

A wife must be careful not to lecture or preach to her husband or even be a person who pleads with him to go to church. She should not deceive or trick him constantly manoeuvring him into situations where he is constantly inundated with Biblical preaching. Husbands can be turned off wives who do these things.

But one thing that cannot turn a husband off, one thing that he usually doesn't want to turn off, is a wife who is a wonderful person! Peter puts the stress there - she must win him by her conduct.

Peter 3 v 1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation (conduct) of the wives;

Unbelieving husbands need to see that Someone has been working supernaturally in their wives'. They need to see a wife who is ever working at being a good wife no matter how careless he is. They need to see kindness and love in his wife, even when they are resentful, bitter, nasty and do not seem to listen or show sensitivity. They need to see and notice that imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit; and a pure and respectful demeanour.

Some wives have given their husbands cause to be suspicious. She comes home all too enamoured of the preacher or elder or other Christian man who has shown her respect. Deep down she sees this man as so different from her wretched unsaved husband at home and the grass could become greener. How nice it would be to have a wonderful Christian husband or to be the wife of a courteous believing man. Such a wife is in grave danger - and Peter anticipates this with v 2

While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.

Pure conduct coupled with respect for her own husband. She will be the Proverbs 31 woman

v 12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.

To conclude this thought - there is one message to the wife of an unsaved husband - win him by your life.

3. For single women and widows.

Going back to 1 Corinthians 7 v 32

But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: 33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. 34 There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.

Singleness is always a sensitive area. There are young people who are anxious to find their calling in life as Christians with regard to relationships. There are older believers who have not been blessed, yet, with the man or woman of God's choice; and there are others often older, who have been called by the Lord to remain longer in this world than their lifelong friend and partner of their married years who has been taken from them.

Whoever God calls to the unmarried state he also equips for the unmarried state. Remembering what was said earlier that married life is not less spiritual than the single life, it must also be noted that the single unmarried life has less distractions from godliness. There is far more potential for service and fulfilment in the Lord's work for single people than for married people.

He or she that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord:

So the Lord would have the younger single Christians to know this. Now is the time to use your energy and every opportunity that you can get to serve the Lord. Now is the time that you can focus on serving Him, getting to know Him and being a blessing to others. You need to discover your gifts and use them to the full for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. As the years go by some younger people will begin to lose hope that they will ever be married. But God knows what He is doing and how He is doing it. The oft quoted Romans 8 v 28 can include

"All things (even gifts for marriage or for the single life) work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."

There are some single believers who have discovered their gift has been to care for relatives, sometimes on the behalf of other members of the family. This is such a special gift and the Lord rewards such believers with a special sense of fulfilment in what they do. And some, even towards the end of their lives are eventually granted a change in their gifting, and given the gift of marriage as the Lord did with our sister Sandra.

And what about those who are on their own because their loved one has been taken away? Oh my friends, there is such a ministry for you. For some, and we have known some, the Lord has blessed them with another marriage. But for many that does not happen. Yet there is a work for all in the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. What experience, wisdom and common sense there is in the older believer who has time to pray, time to think things through within the fellowship of the church. How blessed the church is to have such precious members. Widowers and widows can bring a fresh lease of life to serve the Lord bringing godly counsel to younger believers. My older brothers and sisters are you following the Lord's calling for you in this?

If we accept the fact as suggested earlier that Paul was a widower, what can we learn from him about how he handled his situation? Philippians 4 v 11 is a strong clue -

11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Paul learned in any and every circumstance the secret of facing every situation. This was Paul's submission; Paul's subjection of Himself to the Sovereign will of God. When we consider all of the things that Paul had to endure he was a walking recipe for bitterness and resentment! He was shabbily treated, attacked and molested many times. He was imprisoned and falsely accused. His reputation was demeaned - certainly Paul had much to be discontented about. But he was never like that. How was it for him? It was because he How could he be so contented in every situation?

He learned it? Have we learned it my friends? It doesn't merely happen - but we do have something in common with Paul - in fact it is not something but SOMEONE. It is the same Lord Jesus Christ who strengthened Paul who strengthens us whether married, single, widowed, grieved, molested or disappointed with life. The secret is to learn of Christ and his ways. To submit to Him and His ways - to surrender to His will. He becomes to any believer the best friend we can have. His love for us is higher and more consistent than any husband or wife or fellow believer. He showed that love at Calvary when He died for sinners like us. He gave Himself for us - He saw us in our need - our need of pardon and forgiveness and our need to be delivered from our sins.

Is He your friend today? If not repent and believe.



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