“Submitting to Each Other”
13th Sunday After Pentecost B, 8/23/15
Given at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church and Fahlun Lutheran Church, Nelson, MN
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT!?!?! Did that guy just say what I think he just said!?!? Did he just tell women to submit to their husbands? What kind of guy does this Paul person think that he is? I mean, its 2015 folks. Why should a modern woman feel the need to submit to her husband in anything?
Did anyone have a reaction like that when we read this piece of Scripture today? I’m telling you, it’s ok if you did. Many people do. A lot of people don’t like this passage of Scripture at all for this reason, and they might have good reason to. This passage has been misused by those in power to oppress women. It works, doesn’t it? It’s almost too easy! Your wife disagrees with you or tells you to do something, what do you do as a quote-unquote Christian man? You whip out your Bible to this bookmarked and highlighted passage and clobber her with it. Bam! She has to obey you now! No wonder some Christians like to pretend that this part of Ephesians doesn’t exist. And a lot of them do. In fact the Revised Common Lectionary, the schedule of Bible readings used in many different denominations doesn’t even have this passage read in church at all.
Maybe that’s what this passage might mean if that was the only thing that St. Paul had to say to the Christians of Ephesus in his letter. Thankfully however, St. Paul had other things to say. This is only one thing that St. Paul had to say about relationships.
What people often don’t realize is that both of these instructions to husbands and wives are both being introduced with the instruction to submit to each other that we see in verse 21. Sometimes people don’t like to include this first verse of our reading from today in this passage. Just like some churches don’t like to include this entire passage in their studies of Ephesians, some others don’t want to include this one verse in this section. Some translations of the Bible will even separate verse 21 from the rest of the passage by putting it in a whole different section or paragraph to try to make it seem like it belongs somewhere else. In my humble opinion, however, please never read any part of Ephesians chapter 5 without paying attention to this verse.
The reason is, that no matter how much people may try to use this passage to make women submit to their husbands, we are in fact told that we are supposed to submit to each other in the verse right next to it! Women may have to submit to their husbands, yes, but husbands are supposed to submit to their wives too! As Christians we are not called to figure out who should be in charge of who, we are called to love each other, and as Jesus said sometimes that means that the “last will be first and the first will be last (Matthew 20:16).” Submission to each other’s needs is part of being in relationship with other people. We submit to each other not only because we are told to, we submit to each other because that is one of the ways that we “show reverence to Christ,” as St. Paul puts it. This sentiment is echoed in the final verse of our reading for today, where St. Paul reminds the Ephesian Christians that husband and wife are supposed to love and respect each other.
The plot thickens, however. I think that its funny that how often people get upset about what St. Paul says to the Ephesian wives in chapter 5, no one bats an eye about what he says to the Ephesian husbands. I think that more guys would be complaining about these few verses if they really understood what they meant. Right away in his first sentence, Paul says “husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church.” For anyone who has read any of the Gospels, they know how Christ loved the Church. He didn’t just take care of the Church, he died for it. Jesus gave his life up for his bride, the Church. I don’t know about you, but that is a really high standard to meet.
There is one thing here in what St. Paul says that no husband or wife can ever do, though. In verse 26 St. Paul said that Christ made the church holy and blameless without any blemish. Even though we are supposed to love each other, and I pray that we do, especially in marriage, we can never make anyone holy and blameless.
You can see it in your everyday lives. I mean, you do your best to do everything right and to get everything just so for the wedding. The bride’s dress and the groom’s suit are looking great, and everyone manages to get to the altar. The pictures are beautiful. What happens so soon after that point though? Often fighting and arguing erupts over petty reasons. As much as we try to present ourselves as holy and blameless, we can never do it on our own. No matter hard we try to dress it up and make ourselves look “holy and blameless”, our sinful selves come out sooner or later.
It is this same Church that Christ chose to take as his bride. He took a Church that cannot be righteous and beautiful on its own and turned it into something new, which St. Paul would call a “new creation.” This church, mottled and dirty and scarred by sin is taken in by Jesus Christ and is washed by His blood in order to be turned into something beautiful, as beautiful as a “bride beautifully dressed for her husband” as Scripture calls the Church in Revelation (21:2).
It isn’t because of something that you did or I did that makes us into this Bride of Christ. Our own washing can only come by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ Himself, who came to us to be in the words of John the Baptist the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) We are only here because Jesus invited us to be His beloved bride, the church. I’m sure you’ve noticed that the church throughout the world in all of its forms definitely isn’t perfect. However, the Groom of our Church, Jesus Himself, is.
The relationship between a husband and wife surely is not always a perfect one. Anyone who has ever been married can attest to that. What we can see from St. Paul’s teaching to the Christians in Ephesus is though that marriage is not about power. This passage has been about power struggles between husband and wife for far too long. We need to make sure that we recognize St. Paul’s teaching for what it really is: an admonition for love and respect in marriage because Jesus Christ loved His Bride, the Church, enough to die for it on the cross to redeem us from ourselves.
Let us pray. Lord, we thank you for the relationships of husband and wife that we have in marriage. Please enable each married person here to love and respect their spouses, and we thank you that you came to make us all into your bride that can be truly presented as Holy and Blameless. We pray this in your name, our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.