Ephesians 5.21-33: Mutual Submission

Paul has been telling us through this book that as children of God we have left “being a normal human” far behind us. We no longer think as we used to, feel like we used to, or act anything like a normal human being. We now have access to the mind of God, the heart of God, and God is now our hands, feet, eyes and mouth. From the beginning of chapter 4, Paul has been showing us how dramatic the changes have been and can be. We can be completely humble and gentle, yet powerful in the Spirit. We can find the point of unity with each other in our relationship with God even though we may disagree about many elements of theology and ministry strategy. We are no longer subject to faith manipulators or the deceits of people using human reasoning because we stand so firmly on the truth as God has revealed it. As a result we have left behind every kind of worldly behavior and have even squelched the desires that fed those actions. All of those corrupting and compromising urges and behaviors are thrown out like a cheap set of worn-out clothes. We have learned how to be truthful with each other and still be loving, how to speak kindly and compassionately with each other even when we disagree, and how to give ourselves sacrificially for each other. All of those behaviors are part of the way humans may live, but it’s not fitting for a child of God. We now live above life as children of light. We are filled with the Spirit of God, and His presence bursts forth from us like a resurrection man from the grave or a beacon in the night. Nothing is the same as it used to be.

Marriage relationships will be one of the first areas that shows a dramatic difference. Marriage relationships can show the kind of dynamics Paul has addressed when talking about the church: disunity, some scheming, loss of sensitivity, speaking falsehoods, anger, bitterness, sexual immorality, and empty words. Instead of power plays, selfish acts, guilt-inducing statements, bossy leadership, subversion, or any kind of anger, malice or dishonesty, marriage relationships will now be characterized by mutual submission (v. 21). Wives will live and love sacrificially so that husbands can be exalted and be all God ever intended them to be (22-24). Husbands will, in like manner, live and love sacrificially so that their wives are exalted and be all God ever intended them to be (25). Wives are to live for their husbands as they do for God with the same love, devotion, and respect (22). Husbands are to live for their wives as Christ would, with the same sacrificial love, devotion, and respect (25). The goal of the wife is that the husband be lifted up (24). The goal of the husband is that the wife be lifted up (27).

The two are in sync with each other like a head with a body. They belong to and nurture each other as the same flesh (28). Husband and wife are a source of life for each other. The reference to the “one flesh” text in Gn. 2.25 is not about marriage or sexuality, but a statement of the equality of both of them to each other. Genesis 2.23 is about her being equal in dignity and worth to him. She is the same nature as he is, even though differing in gender. The passage is saying that every time a man and woman establish a common life through a committed relationship they are manifesting their role as co-priests in the presence of God who have co-value as they fulfill the mandate of God. Together they are flesh-and-blood partners and allies, equals in function, submission and sacrificial love—each one regards the other as his or her better half.