By Steve Long, M.S., M.A., LPC – In his letter to the church of Ephesus, Paul writes about how new believers can live a life worthy of our calling (Eph. 4:1). Part of the conduct to which we are to adhere is walking in unity, truth, holiness, and love, as we walk as the wise (Eph. 5). Paul then describes how families should conduct themselves, broaching the controversial subject of submission. This is couched in his treatise on the responsibilities of wives, husbands, children, fathers, servants, and masters (5:22-6:9).
In order for us to walk in such a way as to display God’s wisdom, we are required to submit our will to others, as illustrated by Jesus and described in various texts of the New Testament. Paul says we are to submit ourselves to one another in the fear of God (5:2-11). He uses the word hupakas, a military term that means to “rank under.” What a great illustration of how we should live out our lives with others! Many sermons have been preached on the subject of submission, generally from the text, “Wives submit to your husbands” (5:22). This has led to much debate among scholars and believers, but if we walk in wisdom and live lives worthy of our calling, the most practical way to do this is through our most intimate relationships, which are with immediate family. It is with our families that others see how we love one another, and in the setting of the church unbelievers observe how believers deal with crises, love one another, and relate to difficult situations. There is so much potential to demonstrate wisdom through submission and to follow other principles of the gospel, such as love, sacrifice, honesty, and fairness.
So what are some practical ways in which we can walk in Christ fearfully, while submitting to others? Paul gives us multiple examples (Philippians 2:1-8). Become servants to others as Christ did. Be like minded with Christ Jesus and look after the interests of others. But we must first submit to the Holy Spirit. It is easier to submit to others when we have already submitted our own will to the Spirit and aligned our lives with God’s purpose and plans. Then we must not demand our own way, doing things out of selfish ambition or hold tightly to our rights and privileges. Finally, we are to speak the truth with one another, always humbling ourselves so we can be straight with one another while being mature enough to handle criticism and correction without taking offense.
Submission is not surrender, withdrawal, or lack of intimacy. Rather, submission is a mutual commitment filled with compassion and cooperation with others. This is what allows believers to live lives worthy of our calling.